“Rebalancing” has been the watchword of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy to date: rebalancing the global economy between East and West, rebalancing domestic needs and foreign responsibilities, and — soon enough — rebalancing the international security burden among the world’s great powers. One number explains why that last rebalancing is necessary: It costs the United States $1 million a year to keep a soldier inside a theater of operations such as Afghanistan. The math is easy enough: For every thousand troops, the price comes out to $1 billion a year. So when the president announces, as he’s expected to do […]

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In May, I raised concerns that the “first steps” taken by President Barack Obama had given the administration some “breathing room” in terms of deliverables. No one expected back then that Washington would be moving on key initiatives. It was understood that the new team needed to get settled: The first hundred days is not a good time for breakthroughs. But six months later, it still doesn’t seem like a good time for them. At the Guadalajara summit in August, any effort to move forward on a series of important issues dealing with North America — trade, energy security, coping […]

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have ranged over the years from coolly cordial to openly hostile. After all, the two countries see themselves as rivals in the quest for regional influence and for leadership of the Muslim world. They have very different histories and conflicting political ideologies, and they stand on opposing sides of the Shiite-Sunni divide. In recent months, strains in the relationship have greatly intensified. Today, the differences between Tehran and Riyadh have brought the neighbors dangerously close to open confrontation. How serious is the crisis? Consider the recent headline in the respected pan-Arab newspaper Alsharq al-Awsat: […]

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Two years after its formation, a controversial military program to embed civilian social scientists inside combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan is scrambling to recover from a string of crises. How the so-called “Human Terrain System” responds to a spate of combat deaths and a disastrous employee pay cut will determine whether the program survives in its current form. Human Terrain System, headquartered at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas, is the brainchild of Montgomery McFate, a Harvard- and Yale-trained anthropologist. In a series of journal articles(.pdf) in 2005, McFate outlined the basic shape of what would become HTS. […]

Last week, the European Union (EU) filled the two new positions established by the recently ratified Lisbon Treaty — president of the European Council and EU high representative for common foreign and security policy. Most of the press coverage following the appointments has focused on the personalities of the individuals selected for the jobs. But this preoccupation with personalities risks obscuring the more profound implications of the EU’s first steps toward implementing the treaty’s provisions. Commentators have generally disparaged the selection of Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as president and Britain’s EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton as foreign policy […]

Over the course of its long history, America has experienced numerous religious “awakenings,” certain of which served as important precursors to the American Revolution, the abolition movement and Civil War, the Progressive Era (1890-1920), and the Civil Rights Movement. In effect, each “great awakening” served as a populist wellspring for radically new rules within our society, our economy and our political system. By most expert accounts, the world today is experiencing its own significant “awakening” of religious fervor, one triggered — in my opinion — by globalization’s rapid expansion around the planet over the past three decades. By penetrating previously […]

During his trip to Asia, President Barack Obama laid out a grand rhetorical vision for the future: a U.S.-China partnership working together to solve the world’s most pressing issues. Speaking in Japan, Obama declared, “America will approach China with a focus on our interests. It’s precisely for this reason that it is important to pursue pragmatic cooperation with China on issues of mutual concern, because no one nation can meet the challenges of the 21st century alone, and the United States and China will both be better off when we are able to meet them together.” It sounds very dramatic, […]

Middle Eastern diplomacy has intensified enormously in recent months, but don’t expect to see peace break out any time soon as a result of that new burst of activity. That’s because the latest wave of diplomacy has surfaced in a most unlikely place: South America. In November alone, Brazil is playing host to the presidents of Israel, Iran and the Palestinian Authority. Why have these leaders, all facing pressing problems at home, suddenly decided to travel thousands of miles to spend time with the heads of developing nations? The visits are hardly routine. When Israeli President Shimon Peres landed in […]

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Afghan helicopter, a brand-new Russian-made Mi-17*, wasn’t clearly his, but U.S. Air Force Maj. Darren Brumfield was still determined to keep it. His unit, the 438th Air Expeditionary Training Group, needs four transport helicopters to perform its mission, and in early November, the group had just three. Assembled in Kandahar in April and tasked with mentoring the local Afghan National Army Air Corps wing, the group “shadows” and advises its Afghan counterparts as the Afghans maintain and fly the helicopters on behalf of the Afghan military. But of the three helicopters the unit did have on […]

BEIJING — Although nuclear arms control is not likely to be a major agenda item during President Barack Obama’s visit to China, it should be. One of the obstacles facing the president as he seeks to realize the ambitious goals endorsed by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee is the need to transform the primarily bilateral strategic arms control relationship inherited from the Cold War into one that places greater emphasis on multilateral frameworks. Although Moscow and Washington have made progress in negotiating a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that expires this December, other nuclear weapons states must […]

President Barack Obama has successfully transformed America’s strategic dialogue with the world for the better in his first year, impressing Europe — or at least eminently sensible Norway — enough to win a Nobel Peace Prize. In relationship after relationship, America now finds itself talking about what really matters, which in most instances means prioritizing economics above terrorism (George W. Bush’s one-note presidency) and climate change (Al Gore’s shrill post-vice-presidency). For those who prefer a diet of constant fear, Obama’s maddeningly calm approach is not nearly as filling as an American foreign policy forever focused on perceived existential threats. The […]

It’s with great pleasure that we welcome Nikolas Gvosdev to WPR as a regular weekly columnist. As the former editor of the National Interest and a frequent commentator in both the print and broadcast media, Gvosdev is a well-known and well-respected foreign policy voice. We believe his approach to geopolitics, combining sharp-eyed realism with insightful and thought-provoking lines of examination, is a great fit for WPR. Beginning next week, his column will appear every Friday. We’d also like to take this opportunity to provide a brief overview of some of the changes we’ve made recently here at WPR. As you’ve […]

One year after his election as president, Barack Obama has reached out to America’s enemies and critics, improving the popular standing of the United States in many countries. Ironically, though, relations between Obama and the leaders of countries closely allied to the U.S. have turned rather frosty, particularly in Europe. If the first foreign policy chapter of the Obama presidency was marked by engagement with America’s foes, the next chapter may well require improving ties with its friends. Tension between Obama and friendly world leaders is particularly striking, because the “No Drama Obama” White House tries to avoid what it […]

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — When the gate opened at the U.S. Army outpost in Baraki Barak district on the morning of Oct. 25, it seemed the Army’s long-planned strategy to win over local farmers might fail. For weeks, Able Troop, an element of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, had prepared to provide free veterinary services to potentially hundreds of local farmers — coordinating with the local government, hiring vets, stockpiling medicine, and spreading word of the event. The idea was to win the farmers’ allegiance, and create what 3rd Squadron commander Lt. Col. Thomas Gukeisen called “dislocated envy.” That would, in […]

BEIJING — One of the issues President Barack Obama will inevitably discuss when he visits China next week is the deadlocked Six-Party Talks seeking to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Perhaps the most important difference between the 1994 Agreed Framework (.pdf), which settled the 1992-94 nuclear crisis, and the current Six-Party Talks is that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been considerably more involved in supporting the latter process. Chinese policymakers initially promoted the Six-Party Talks primarily as a means of preventing Washington from adopting more coercive measures — whether severe sanctions or military attacks — toward the […]

For roughly four decades, a clear foreign policy rule set has existed between the United States and Latin America, centering largely on the question of counternarcotics. Starting with Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs,” an explicit quid pro quo came into existence: U.S. foreign aid (both civilian and military) in exchange for aggressive Latin American efforts to curb both the production and trafficking of illegal narcotics (primarily marijuana and cocaine). By virtually all accounts, that logistics-focused strategy has proven to be a massive failure. America’s focus on interdiction and prohibition has not stemmed domestic drug abuse. Instead, all indications are that […]

Editor’s note: As noted below, this will be the final “Under the Influence” column at World Politics Review. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Andrew Bast for his contributions to WPR over the past 10 months. It’s been a pleasure working with him, and we wish him the best of success in all his endeavors. As this will be the final “Under the Influence” column here at World Politics Review, it seems only fitting to tackle what Charles Krauthammer, the iconic commentator, recently had to say about the question this column has been exploring for the last 10 […]

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