In its spring issue, the venerable Washington Quarterly asked what has become a perennial question, and the central theme of “Under the Influence”: Is the United States entering an age of decline or renewal? But while everyone agrees on the question, it seems that no one can make up their minds on the answer. At first glance, recent events seem to point to the former, or decline. The financial crisis has not only hobbled the U.S. economy, but has discredited the free-market messages it has long propagated abroad. Years of war without decisive victory in Iraq and Afghanistan has added […]

On June 7, voters in tiny Lebanon will go to the polls. On the surface, the result of the parliamentary elections might seem to make almost no difference at all. But in the peculiar Middle East laboratory that is Lebanon, the outcome of the vote will represent a barometric reading for the entire region. In the end, it may ultimately have serious repercussions that reach beyond the byzantine mechanics of Lebanese politics. Some might consider the elections inconsequential, because the two main factions of Lebanese politics have essentially agreed to grant each other veto power over major decisions. The outcome […]

During the Cold War, U.S. military forces operated in big, firepower-heavy formations, designed to fight equally big and powerful Soviet formations — or what the Pentagon calls “peer” opponents. Times have changed, but the military hadn’t — until now. In recent months, reformers have successfully fought for sweeping changes to military force structure. The changes are meant to boost the Pentagon’s ability to fight in low-intensity, “persistent” conflicts, as opposed to the short, high-intensity major conflicts expected in the recent past. In addition to the structural changes, persistent conflicts demand new ways of thinking about — and training for — […]

Two frustrating EU summit meetings last week, with China and Russia, served to illustrate the EU’s well-known difficulties in conducting foreign policy under its presently awkward institutional structure. These problems have propelled efforts to adopt the Lisbon Treaty, which will restructure how the EU manages its foreign policy representation and decision-making. Even with more coherent foreign policy machinery, however, the EU would still find it difficult to achieve its objectives in the case of difficult dialogue partners such as China and Russia. The May 20 meeting in Prague with a visiting Chinese delegation marked the 11th EU-China summit since 1998. […]

When the global financial contagion kicked in last fall, the blogosphere was quick to predict that a sharp uptick in global instability would soon follow. While we’re not out of the woods yet, it’s interesting to note just how little instability — and not yet a single war — has actually resulted from the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression. Run a Google search for “global instability” and you’ll get 23 million hits. But when it comes to actual conflicts, the world is humming along at a level that reflects the steady decline in wars — by 60 […]

For more than half a century, the United States has held the reins of the world’s most powerful economic institutions. By design, Washington has long dominated decision-making at both the International Monetary Fund and at the World Bank — responsible, respectively, for big loans to states and economic development. At the same time, domestic institutions within the U.S., like the Treasury Department, have also exerted significant influence in the economies of foreign lands. The ideology underpinning much of this leverage — based on free markets and limited government intervention — was for a long time known formally as the Washington […]

When two sides emerge from a diplomatic encounter and both of them can claim to have achieved their goals, we can consider the meeting a success. We don’t know exactly what transpired at the White House on Monday, and short of reading the minds of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or of President Barack Obama, we have no way of knowing how they truly believe their meeting went. Still, there are signs that both sides feel they achieved their objectives. As I predicted, the media focused sharply on the tension over Netanyahu’s reluctance to openly embrace the two-state solution for […]

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U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan have established an experimental security force drawn from local Afghan fighters, in a bid to better provide the street-level security that has proved instrumental to defeating entrenched insurgencies. Despite tens of thousands of incoming American reinforcements, most Afghan districts still do not have a permanent troop presence to defend against Taliban incursions. The new Afghan Public Protection Force “enables respected young men of local communities to become public protectors,” said U.S. Army training officer Capt. Marco Lyons. But the force, currently operating only in Wardak province, just south of the capital of Kabul, risks […]

During a three-day visit to Japan last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pushed commercial deals and received an honorary degree from Tokyo University for his efforts to improve Russian-Japanese ties (as well as for his knowledge of judo, in which he holds a black belt). But as expected, the Russian and Japanese governments made little progress in resolving their territorial dispute over four islands that Russia seized from Japan at the end of World War II. The dispute over the islands — the Russians call them the Southern Kurils, while the Japanese refer to them as their Northern Territories […]

Last week I gave a plenary address to the Joint Warfighting Conference 2009 — the annual East Coast naval extravaganza co-sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA). This mega-conference opened my eyes to just how much things have changed inside our naval forces thanks to the ongoing long war against violent extremism. To give you an idea of the ground covered, I have to take you back almost 17 years. That’s when the Department of the Navy came out with its post-Cold War strategic white paper entitled, “. . . From […]

Will President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court alter American foreign policy? It’s a question not many have bothered asking. Instead, the lion’s share of speculation about Obama’s pick has focused on the wealth of women candidates available and the hot-button domestic issues — like abortion, gay marriage and gun rights — likely to face the court in coming years. Obama himself explained early on that he is less interested in a candidate’s devotion to abstract legal theories and more in a justice who thinks about “[h]ow our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives.” Finally, the Supreme […]

When President Barack Obama finally announced the location of his much-heralded speech to the Muslim world, the news came as a surprise. As a candidate, Obama had promised to give such an address during his first 100 days in office, as part of an urgent campaign to repair relations between the United States and Muslims. Observers wondered where Obama would go for the potentially historic occasion. Many believed the U.S. president would choose a democratic, Muslim-majority country for the event. Favorites included Jakarta, where Obama lived as a child. Turkey, a U.S. ally, also seemed like a good choice. Even […]

A fresh round of fighting near the town of Abeche, in eastern Chad, has claimed the lives of 225 rebels and 22 government troops, according to the Chadian government. The violence is a fixture of life in this dusty desert outpost just 50 miles from Sudan’s embattled Darfur province, and has complicated delicate efforts by regional and world bodies to build a framework for a lasting peace, as well as to care for hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. “A column of mercenaries in the pay of the regime in Khartoum, comprising more than 400 heavily armed […]

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s political legacy is inextricably linked to that of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, in ways that go beyond mere political lineage. After then-President Putin endorsed Medvedev to succeed him in December 2007, Medvedev announced his intention, if elected, to name Putin as prime minister. With their slogan, “Together we will win,” the two reassured voters that they would continue the popular policies of Putin’s presidency. With the backing of Putin and his allies, and with the government restricting the activities of opposition candidates, Medvedev easily won the March 2008 presidential elections with more than 70 percent of […]

The world continues to hold its breath over a swine flu that, while perhaps slowing, is still likely to kill in the low hundreds and remains balanced on the edge of a true pandemic. Although only a mere 2-3,000 cases have — so far — been recorded worldwide (80 percent of them in co-sources Mexico and America), this variant of H1N1 influenza penetrated dozens of nations and all mass-populated regions of the globe in a matter of days — a truly humbling reminder of how globalization enhances mankind’s epidemiological interdependency. Has the media overreacted? It’s possible that round-the-clock coverage in […]

We’re very happy to introduce WPR’s newest regular columnist, Thomas P.M. Barnett, appearing every Monday beginning next week. Most of you are probably already familiar with Barnett’s work, but for those of you who aren’t, you’re in for a real treat. In addition to being a New York Times best-selling author and a sought-after public speaker, Barnett is a challenging and iconoclastic thinker, who combines intellectual creativity with clarity of analysis. The result is a far-reaching vision of U.S. grand strategy that somehow manages to be both provocatively novel and intuitively obvious at the same time. If you like big […]

In the years since Arab countries proclaimed their infamous “Three Nos” policy towards Israel — no peace, no recognition, no negotiations — the official stance of most Arab governments has eased. A number of Arab leaders now openly speak of normalizing relations with Israel under certain conditions. But despite the change in policy at the top, hundreds of millions of Arabs continue to receive a steady barrage of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-American propaganda, much of it coming in the official government-sanctioned press. The quest for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors faces no shortage of obstacles. Not least of […]

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