In examining possible approaches to Iran policy in my last several columns, I concluded that “focusing on deterrence in the short run while increasing efforts to promote regime modification — by internal means — over the long haul” might end up being the most effective one. Some of the feedback I received suggested that I was being too pessimistic about current efforts to bring about a new round of punitive sanctions on Iran, and that there were signs that even Russia and China were moving closer to the U.S. position. Those hopes received a serious setback on Thursday, when Russia […]

If you want to get an early read on the ultimate success or failure of the Obama administration’s policies for the Middle East, keep an eye on Syria. From the earliest days of the administration, even before it assumed power, its planned strategy for dealing with a number of conflicts in the region has included changing Syria’s behavior. After all, Damascus has not only complicated life for U.S. forces in Iraq, it has also proven over the years to be an important ally of the Iranian regime and a key partner of radical militant organizations in Lebanon and Gaza. Syria […]

For U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Carol Pottenger, Haiti was a wake-up call. In the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left millions homeless on the island nation, the U.S. military deployed tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen to help with aid efforts. Pottenger, commander of the Navy’s nearly four-year-old Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), which oversees coastal forces, realized that almost all her 10 divisions had sent people to Haiti. “Every one of my capabilities has a piece of the action down there,” Pottenger told World Politics Review. […]

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Just when it looked like Russia and the United States were about to finalize the terms of a bilateral nuclear arms reduction agreement to replace the START I Treaty that expired last December, their longstanding bilateral missile defense dispute has exploded again. The latest crisis arose after the president of Romania, apparently for domestic political reasons, gratuitously revealed that his government would allow the United States to station ground-based interceptor missiles on Romanian territory. A week later, Bulgarian officials confirmed that they, too, were contemplating hosting U.S. missile interceptors, although no formal talks had begun. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov […]

We Americans tend to have an overly inflated sense of our place in this world. If there is an enemy, we must defeat it. If a global challenge looms, we must lead the way forward. When somebody reaches for a weapon, we must strike before they can use it (against us, naturally). And should we fail to do so, we would be to blame for whatever tragedy might result. That’s not to say that our sense of global responsibility doesn’t have deep and logical roots. Armed with the world’s largest gun after World War II, we set about creating an […]

Pundits and politicians alike have been making a number of predictions of late about Iran’s future trajectory. To the extent that the scenarios they are outlining serve to justify the policy options they propose and endorse, it may be useful to step back and examine the logic that guides them. After all, many of the assumptions that drove our approach to Iraq policy in the run-up to our invasion of that country were based on intellectual quicksand that would not have stood up to closer scrutiny — among them, the idea that a post-Saddam Iraq would recognize Israel and become […]

There were no bright explosions lighting up the horizon, but this week’s coordinated deployment of U.S. diplomats as well as military, intelligence and political leaders — all warning of dire consequences for a defiant Iranian regime — amounted to an Obama-style re-enactment of the Shock and Awe tactics made famous during the opening salvo of the war in Iraq. The tactically synchronized detonations of tough talk were accompanied by a loud blast from Washington, where one administration official openly considered the possibility of regime change in Iran. But it was the Middle East that saw a swarm of high-ranking members […]

The last two weeks have seen a mixed message from Beijing regarding U.S.-Chinese military ties. The ambiguous signals are indicative of China’s continuing fixation on Taiwan and its uncertainty regarding its place among world powers. In January, the U.S. moved forward on a long-delayed, $6.4 billion arms deal for Taiwan that includes assault helicopters, surface-to-air missiles and mine-hunting vessels. The deal had initially been approved by the Bush administration in 2008, but the new administration under President Barack Obama was slow to issue the individual contracts necessary to provide the weapons. Under the terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, […]

The Group of Experts assisting with the drafting of NATO’s new Strategic Concept traveled to Moscow last week, in an effort to reassure Russia about NATO and its activities. The Feb 9-11 visit followed the release of Russia’s new military doctrine, adopted on Feb. 5, which characterizes the alliance’s activities as threatening to Russia. Led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the group, consisting of a dozen members, consulted with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, National Security Secretary Nikolay Patrushev, and members of the Russian parliament, and held additional meetings with other Russian security experts. Albright also delivered […]

Throughout its first year in office, the Obama administration has completed numerous course corrections across the breadth of American foreign policy. Demonstrating the power of a much-needed apology, President Barack Obama’s new-look foreign policy was charming enough to earn him a Nobel Peace Prize. But it struck many observers as a change in style, not substance: Many of Obama’s “changes” merely extended or expanded upon those made during the last two years of the Bush administration, following the repudiation of the 2006 mid-term Congressional elections. Fair enough. But expecting anything more amid the worst global financial crisis in decades was […]

Whenever I ponder some of the challenges U.S. foreign policy faces today in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Yemen, I inevitably return to a passage in Bob Woodward’s “Veil,” describing how Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, after an attempt to assassinate him had failed, was persuaded to restrain his followers in Lebanon from launching attacks on U.S. interests: The Saudis approached him and asked whether . . . he would act as their early-warning system for terrorist attacks on Saudi and American facilities. They would pay $2 million cash. Fadlallah accepted, but said he wanted the payment in food, medicine and education expenses for […]

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When Iran announced this week that it would start enriching its uranium stockpiles to 20 percent — a level much closer to that needed for nuclear weapons production — it closed the first chapter in the history of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. That chapter has ended in failure. Now the administration’s push to get started on Chapter Two is already visible, presumably adopting a more muscular American posture to confront international challenges in Iran and beyond. In his first year, President Barack Obama tried a radically different approach from the confrontational policies practiced by his predecessor, George W. Bush. […]

Forces belonging to the U.S.- and U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia have mobilized for a major offensive against Islamic militants who control much of southern and central Somalia. On Friday, a local journalist who spoke with World Politics Review reported seeing government forces, as well as peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), preparing for battle. “In the last 24 hours, we have seen many convoys, including tanks from the AMISOM bases,” reported the journalist, who requested anonymity to protect him from Islamist reprisal. “I can see the logistics [convoys] of AMISOM troops going through the […]

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At a Feb. 5 session of the Russian Security Council, President Dmitry Medvedev finally approved Russia’s updated comprehensive military doctrine, which was published on the president’s Kremlin Web site the following day. But notwithstanding a lengthy period of discussion and consideration, and despite all the developments of the past decade — including the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Georgia — the latest version generally supports the same policies as the previous military doctrine adopted in 2000. The doctrine depicts Russia as the target of increasing military threats emanating from NATO collectively and its members individually. It also expresses unease at […]

Last week in Cape Town, South Africa, I was a keynote speaker at the massive Mining Indaba conference, the premier annual gathering of global extractive companies involved in Africa’s dominant economic sector. And the difference between the many military and aid conferences I’ve attended on Africa and this international commodities convention in Africa was telling. If you think most Americans now obsess over a “rising” China, you should know that we take a backseat to the Africans on this score. But whereas we often see China’s rise as a potential threat, Africans see it as an opportunity, and China’s “positive […]

“Iran engagement” is beginning to take on the attributes of kabuki theater, with all of the major participants engaging in pre-determined, stylized dance steps. The latest case in point is the announcement earlier this week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Tehran is now open to some form of the scheme proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency last October, by which Iran would export its low-enriched uranium to France and Russia to be turned into fuel rods for its research reactor. As Howard LaFranchi reported, this “was received favorably by Russia, and it prompted Chinese officials to call for […]

In the 11 years since Hugo Chávez became president of Venezuela, the country has experienced almost constant political and economic drama. The past decade brought a cinematic — and ultimately failed — coup d’état against the president, a national strike that brought the economy to its knees, border disputes complete with tank deployments, and a string of controversial nationalizations of private businesses, to name just a few of the remarkable developments that have marked the Age of Chávez. Despite the stiff competition of years past, though, 2010 is already taking shape as a year of reckoning for the country, the […]

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