The 2003 Iraq war split the Security Council, but the United Nations ultimately sustained only limited long-term damage from the incident. In the 11 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the council has passed over 600 resolutions on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to African conflicts. Now the U.N. faces another war in Iraq, at a time when its overall credibility may be in greater danger than it was in 2003. The Security Council has played an exceedingly minor role during the past month’s crisis in Iraq. After the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria […]

How to best explain Vladimir Putin’s zigzags on Ukraine? Over the past few months, spokesmen and leading officials have confidently made statements about Russian policy only to have the Russian leader suddenly change course. It can be quite confusing for analysts and commentators to assess Russia’s true intentions—and makes Putin look dangerously unpredictable. Putin’s long-term goals are clear: to prevent Ukraine’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic world; to preserve some semblance of Ukraine’s former position as a neutral intermediary and buffer between Russia and the West; and to retain Russia’s special relationship with the country, particularly its southern and eastern […]

Barely 10 days after the Palestinian Authority (PA) swore in a new unity government, three Israeli teenagers, including one with U.S. citizenship, were kidnapped in the West Bank. The abduction of the Israeli teens triggered a number of reactions in the area, including an Israeli dragnet searching for the captives, which was aimed at Hamas operatives and supporters in the West Bank. Somewhat less visible than the Israeli operation is the reawakening of enmity between Hamas and Fatah, a dispute the two sides suppressed with great effort in order to make possible the reconciliation agreement that produced the unity government. […]

As extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria march on Baghdad and much of the Iraqi army runs away, there has been a torrent of writing from national security experts, journalists and pundits. This made it easy to miss an important story by Greg Jaffe and Kevin Mauer about American military veterans struggling to understand why the government and military that they worked so hard to create in Iraq has failed so miserably. This is more than simply soul searching: As Jaffe and Mauer noted, the outcome of this debate could have far reaching implications for the future […]

One of the major issues affecting U.S. deliberations over whether to accept a nuclear deal with Iran or to cooperate with Tehran in Iraq is the question of how much Iranian foreign policy has changed under Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. In fact, a comprehensive survey of Iranian foreign policy during the past year shows, from Washington’s perspective, major improvements in only a few areas, such as the regime’s nuclear diplomacy, with a harder line on some other issues and broad continuity in most cases. In the November 2013 interim deal over Iran’s nuclear program, which expires July 20 unless renewed, […]

The race to succeed Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general of the United Nations is heating up. More or less open candidates are emerging with growing frequency. This may seem premature: Ban will not leave office until the end of 2016, and he has a lot of unfinished business to attend to. He hopes to seal deals on climate change and the future of international development next year. He also needs to contain the crises in South Sudan and Syria, both of which threaten to cast a profound shadow over his legacy. The pressure seems to have given Ban extra energy. He […]

When the Obama administration took control of U.S. foreign policy in 2009, it undertook to mitigate what it considered the damage wrought by the George W. Bush team. The Iraq War was to be wound down, although, as it happens, more or less along the timeline laid down by the previous president. Afghanistan, the forgotten war, was to be quickly turned around by a judicious application of U.S resources and attention. A deft wielding of diplomacy would end the standoff with Iran, “reset” relations with Russia and bring China into a new dialogue to solve global problems. After the massive […]

When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched its blitzkrieg assault on Iraq, it suddenly put the entire country in play, threatening its very existence. The rapid territorial gains by the ultra-extremist Sunni militant group put enormous pressure on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it is not only Maliki who faces difficult and urgent choices. The Iraqi crisis is also a pressing challenge for U.S. President Barack Obama. As Obama and his advisers survey the disastrous scene, examining the possible scenarios that could emerge from the crisis and weighing the options for Washington, all […]

For years Iraq has been a deeply troubled nation spiraling deeper and deeper into sectarian violence. The primary causes were Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s exclusion of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs from power and his politicization of the Iraqi military, which the United States expended so much money and effort to build. Then sparks from Syria’s civil war leapt back across the border to ignite Iraq’s political tinderbox. Yet even the most pessimistic observers did not foresee the events of the past two weeks, as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—a jihadist movement so violent and extreme that al-Qaida disavowed […]

In a revealing quirk of history, the crisis in Iraq caused by the sudden onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can help us better understand possible scenarios for Afghanistan moving forward. Despite their many differences, both countries are exposing the consequences of America’s decreased leverage combined with the rising but often mutually competing influence of other powers. Notwithstanding the desire of both Iraqi and U.S. leaders to keep U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2011 in order to train and equip Iraq’s still developing security forces, domestic political opposition in both countries combined with flawed diplomatic negotiations […]

Editor’s note: This is Heather Hurlburt’s final “Full-Spectrum Diplomacy” column at World Politics Review. We’d like to thank her for filling in for Richard Gowan, who will be returning next week, and look forward to featuring her work in WPR in the future. This is going to be a rough week for Americans, who like their politics simple and their geopolitics even simpler. Give us plucky honest underdogs for good guys, nasty corrupt villains for bad guys, open-field battles where everyone shoots straight, and we are the most generous people on Earth. Really. Though the U.S. ranked 19th in government […]

Over the past two years, whenever Russia has undertaken steps in the international arena that the United States disapproves of, there has been a predictable response in Washington: a parade of somber-faced U.S. officials solemnly warning Moscow that its actions are opposed by the “international community” and that Russia risks isolation by its policy choices. Indeed, #RussiaIsolated has become the hashtag of choice in the State Department’s social media arsenal. Certainly, the U.S. has had some successes in turning the hashtag into reality: winning some symbolic votes at the United Nations; getting a coalition of states to impose limited sanctions […]

The news from Iraq was nothing short of stunning: A group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) managed to take control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, adding to a growing expanse of territory on both sides of the border between Iraq and Syria now under the control of the ultra-extremist Sunni militant organization. As shocking as the sudden conquest was the impact it had on the population. Within hours of the Iraqi military’s retreat and the ensuing hoisting of the Islamists’ flag, half a million residents of Mosul started streaming out of the city in what […]

The election of Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as president of Egypt will further inflame the jihadist insurgency that took off after the Egyptian military removed Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, from power in 2013. If history is any guide, el-Sisi, a former general, will hold tightly to power, justifying it as the only way to protect Egypt’s security, thus repeating a common pattern across Africa and the Middle East as elections lead to de facto dictatorships with a few trappings of democracy. Invariably this will further anger and radicalize the Islamist opposition, empowering the extremists who believe that the […]

One can read the Pentagon’s latest report on Chinese military power, released last Thursday, in many ways, but two interpretations come to mind most easily. On one hand, one sees clear continuities with previous versions of this congressionally mandated annual assessment. This year’s report does not highlight any radical changes or breakthroughs in Chinese military capabilities during the past year and does not foresee any revolutionary developments over the coming one. On the other hand, the document depicts a comprehensive and unrelenting Chinese military buildup whose sheer size and persistence should, if trends continue, propel China to superpower status in […]

Underneath the politicking, exaggeration and sensationalism, the angry national conversations about wait times for veterans’ health care, on the one hand, and the alleged transgressions of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, on the other, have offered a clear window into some rough realities of military life. Americans have learned a number of things in recent days that, judging by the evidence, we would rather not know. The release of audits of the workings of the Veterans’ Administration confirmed that too often whole branches of government charged with meeting our commitment to care for veterans have resorted to deception and dishonesty instead of […]

President Barack Obama has delivered a consistent message during his trans-Atlantic sojourn this week, including a stirring address in Warsaw, and hit all the right rhetorical notes. To Europeans concerned that the long-announced “rebalance to the Pacific” means less U.S. attention to their continent, the president reaffirmed that European security is the “cornerstone of our own security, and it is sacrosanct.” The former Soviet-bloc countries were promised that they “will never stand alone.” Now comes the hard part: translating words into policy. The initial signs are not encouraging. The president’s announced “reassurance plan” for European security, with a price tag […]

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