CHOWKAY VALLEY, Afghanistan — When U.S. Army Capt. Joe Snowden first asked the elders in this remote valley in eastern Afghanistan to stop growing poppies, they laughed. The poppies, once processed into heroin, fuel the drug trade that provides much of the financing for the Taliban and other fighters in the area, explained Snowden, who is deployed here from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy. Although the elders assured Snowden that they understood this, his request still bordered on the absurd. So did Snowden’s request for the name of the leader of the local insurgent cell, which made the […]

President Barack Obama had multiple audiences in mind during his lightning 6-hour visit to Afghanistan this weekend. In both his meetings and his speech delivered to U.S. soldiers and broadcast worldwide, Obama wanted to catalyze improved Afghan government performance, reassure Afghan citizens, bolster U.S. troop morale, and make his commitment to winning the Afghan war clear to global audiences. For security reasons, Obama departed unannounced from Washington on Saturday night, arriving at Bagram airfield, on the outskirts of Kabul, early Sunday evening. He then flew by helicopter to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Afterwards, Obama returned to Bagram to address […]

In the last half-decade, blogs have gone from a quirky personal sideline activity to a mainstream, almost de rigeur professional activity — following the previous trajectory of Web sites and, before them, e-mail itself. To many, this democratization of the flow of information is a distinct blessing, to others it is the epitome of data deluge. As someone who has now posted blog entries every day for six years and recently passed the 10,000-unit mark (fulfilling Malcolm Gladwell’s quota for expert practice), I wanted to take stock of what this has meant to me as a writer and thinker. First, […]

Some foreign policy analysts believe that President Barack Obama’s legislative victory on health care reform this week will have a positive impact on his ability to make progress in the foreign policy realm as well. Clearly, Obama’s credibility in the eyes of foreign governments would have been severely — perhaps even irreparably — damaged had he failed to pass the flagship legislation of his domestic agenda, despite overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. But the White House is not out of the woods just yet. For the president to build on the momentum he gained from the health […]

As the first day of spring swept across the northern half of the globe, Iranians at home and abroad celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The ancient holiday’s traditions date back centuries, but new customs have started taking hold in more recent times. This year, amid profound internal divisions and growing international tensions, the Official Nowruz Greeting became a new vehicle for mobilization and an occasion to outline strikingly different visions of the past, the present, and the future of Iran. The Nowruz messages offered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s two top opposition leaders, and U.S. President Barack […]

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The two Russian-made helicopters swooped low over the village of Mahageer, pushing a stinging swirl of dust over the vineyards and pastures. The Mi-17 transports from the Afghan National Army Air Corps’ Kabul Wing touched down in close formation, their rotors just yards apart. Squads of Afghan National Army commandos leaped from the choppers and fanned out, aiming their M-16 rifles. With the perimeter secure, the commandos pulled cardboard boxes from the helicopters. When their holds were empty, the Mi-17s lifted off, blasting the fields with a fresh wave of grit. Last week’s Afghan air assault had […]

Despite genuine efforts at engaging Tehran, such as the Nowruz greetings issued by President Barack Obama this past Saturday and a similar Internet video released the previous year, the Obama administration has proven unable to resolve U.S. differences with the Iranian government over Iran’s nuclear program, regional security issues, or other disputes. Developments thus far do not portend any greater success this year. The decades of hostility and mistrust between Washington and Tehran made any bilateral reconciliation effort inevitably problematic. The unanticipated advent of a powerful mass movement in Iran seeking to change the regime’s policies — and, perhaps, the […]

For close to a decade now I’ve been roaming the world, delivering in Johnny Appleseed fashion a message that I refined just after 9/11 for the secretary of defense’s Office of Force Transformation: The world’s core powers must develop a systemic approach to postwar and post-disaster coalition interventions inside what I call the “Non-Integrated Gap,” by which I mean those countries and regions least connected to globalization. This vision encompasses the so-called “whole of government” approach, but extends it vigorously to also include the private sector, based on the knowledge that jobs are the only exit strategy. In short, when […]

One of the most troubling features of the environment in Washington these days is the inability to make tough strategic choices. This is particularly apparent when foreign policy objectives conflict with domestic political priorities: Because the two policy areas are usually compartmentalized, our diplomats don’t have much leverage to negotiate and bargain with other governments. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Brazil, where she unsuccessfully sought to enlist support on the question of Iran sanctions, is a case in point. There are a number of issues currently causing friction in the bilateral U.S.-Brazil relationship. One is our continued […]

Does President Barack Obama harbor anti-Israel sentiments? The question has gnawed at supporters of Israel in and out of the Jewish state ever since then-Sen. Obama became a credible presidential candidate. The fears were exploited during the campaign by Obama’s political opponents, who unleashed an e-mail barrage of rumors falsely claiming that Obama was a secret Muslim. Those rumors have been snuffed out, but concerns about Obama’s true feelings towards Israel persist. The questions have gained currency in the midst of the crisis sparked by Israel’s announcement of new housing construction in a disputed part of Jerusalem, made during last […]

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Gov. Abdul Basir Salangi grew worried as the snow fell heavily in Afghanistan’s Parwan province on Feb. 8. Every day, some 14,000 cars, trucks and buses pass through Parwan’s Salang Pass — a system of winding roads and tunnels cutting through and over the Hindu Kush Mountains into northern Afghanistan. The snow could strand motorists, or even trap them in tunnels. In 1982, hundreds of people died when Soviet military convoys collided inside one of the tunnels. Vehicles idling behind the accident site filled the tunnel with carbon monoxide, suffocating the people inside. Salangi grabbed some security […]

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China’s Southeast Asian neighbors are engaging in a sustained military buildup, with their imports of major conventional weapons systems almost doubling in volume in the five-year period from 2005 to 2009, compared to the 2000-2004 period. Although some of these imports may have replaced obsolete weapons or matched purchases by other Southeast Asian countries, China’s massive military buildup is an important factor driving the region’s defense modernization efforts. According to the latest data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), imports of major conventional arms by Indonesia rose by 84 percent in the two five-year periods. For Singapore, […]

A recent report issued by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights an enduring but growing mismatch between how America conducts its foreign policy and how the world beyond the West is spiritually evolving. Describing what the newspapers immediately dubbed a “God gap,” the report (.pdf) decries Washington’s “uncompromising Western secularism” as a self-imposed obstacle to broadband engagement of religious groups and parties in emerging economies and failed states. This, despite the fact that many of these religious actors are playing leading roles in facilitating their societies’ embrace — or driving their rejection — of globalization’s numerous opportunities and challenges. […]

One of the strengths of the Naval War College is that it constantly reviews and assesses its curriculum. In support of that effort, I have been reacquainting myself with E. H. Carr’s seminal work “The Twenty Years’ Crisis,” which got me to thinking: Will we look back on the period of time between 1991 and 2011 as another two-decade interregnum marked by crisis and opportunity? This isn’t an entirely original thought. James Goldgeier and Derek Chollet opened this discussion two years ago when they published, “America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11.” But I wanted to focus on the […]

As the United States steps up its campaign to impose economic sanctions on Iran, fears are growing in Washington and in the Middle East that Iran will try to trigger a new war in the region in order to shift attention from its nuclear activities, throw the U.S. and its allies off balance, and put Israel on the defensive. Few people, if any, envision Iran launching a direct attack. Rather, the concern is that Tehran will manage to stir up trouble in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, or even Syria, in order to spark a new confrontation between Israel […]

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Standing on a mountaintop, 1st Lt. Maximilian Soto swept his arm from side to side, indicating a 400-square-mile expanse of fields, rivers and streams surrounding the village of Estalef in Parwan province, just north of Kabul. “All this,” he said, “is mine.” With a force of just 26 men from the Special Troops Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, Soto provides security for a chunk of Afghanistan the size of a typical American county. “It’s quite difficult,” he told World Politics Review. In December, U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would be sending 30,000 new […]

It could take over a month before the Iraqi Supreme Court confirms the results of Sunday’s legislative elections, but the process itself has already shown significant successes in several dimensions. Even so, important questions regarding Iraq’s future, and America’s role in it, remain unresolved. Most importantly, this latest election confirms Iraq’s status as a functioning democracy in which multiple candidates and political parties compete for office in essentially free and fair elections, whose outcome could not be predicted in advance. While such an achievement would not be remarkable in many parts of the world, it is a rarity in the […]

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