President Donald Trump’s rushed move to block entry to the U.S. for refugees and travelers from selected Muslim-majority states is sure to exacerbate the perception of a “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Islamic world. It will likely lead to more radicalization, shrink America’s soft power, and weaken its brand as a rule-of-law country. The silver lining to this story is the showcase it has provided for the vitality of American civil society, which has mobilized to resist these harsh measures. Seeming to savor his role as disruptor in chief, Trump blithely undermined several essential features of U.S. […]
It has been hard to keep up with the sheer torrent of dreadful political proposals that have emanated from the United States in the past 10 days. President Donald Trump’s decision to block refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. is undoubtedly the vilest of the lot. But the new administration has also managed to promulgate a bundle of ideas about international crisis management that will, if put into action, prove pretty disastrous. Last week, I predicted that Trump would adopt “haphazard” approaches to conflicts overseas. That may have underestimated both his sense of purpose and […]
In last week’s column, I assessed the threat from America’s “big five” adversaries: Russia, Iran, China, North Korea and the self-styled Islamic State. Some or all of these five, I believe, will test the incoming Trump administration as it gets its feet wet and redesigns U.S. strategy to reflect the new president’s unorthodox ideas and style. I suggested that challenges from the big five will stay below the line of provocation that might drive the United States to respond forcefully. Instead they will rely on the ambiguous, camouflaged, multidimensional aggression and pinprick applications of force that security experts call “hybrid” […]
Could Trump’s Hard-Line Support End Up Backfiring for Israel’s Far Right?
Ever since Donald Trump won the presidential election in the United States, observers of the Middle East have been nearly unanimous about the ramifications of his presidency for Israel. Trump, they concluded, would help usher in a further consolidation of the Israeli right, dealing another blow to the political center and left, and further worsening Israel’s relations with Palestinians. While that consensus scenario remains highly probable, there is a sharply different possible turn of events that should not be discounted. In fact, there is a significant chance that in the coming months the Israeli center could rise, which would lead, […]
With his inauguration address last Friday, President Donald Trump announced to Americans and the world that the “America First” era had arrived. No longer will the U.S. put the interests of other nations ahead of its own. No longer will America’s global role as backstop of the international order take priority over its own domestic needs. The address represents a sea change in America’s foreign policy discourse. It is not just the words that are different, but the very grammar and syntax of its logic, which calls into question the international order that the U.S. built and backstopped over the […]
Presidential transitions are always a time of apprehension and uncertainty for the career civil servants who keep the big machine of government running. President Donald Trump’s plans make this particular transition scarier than most. His performance at the CIA on Saturday, in particular, is an ominous sign. Bureaucracy is often used as an epithet, usually conveying cautious, inefficient cadres that Trump considers part of the swamp he plans to drain. But in reality, bureaucrats are the career civilian workforce—2.5 million strong across the U.S., in Washington agencies and abroad—who keep the U.S. government functioning. Not always efficiently or transparently, to […]
What will international peacemaking look like in the Trump era? Here are five tentative but credible predictions. One: The U.S. will play an increasingly haphazard, and often counterproductive, role in peace processes. Two: Organizations that have always relied on American largesse to function, like the United Nations and NATO, will also struggle to stay relevant. Three: A small host of aspiring alternative peacemakers, ranging from Russia to midsize African powers, will try to fill the resulting political vacuum. Four: The majority of these new peacemakers will dump post-Cold War niceties, such as giving human rights a prominent role in peace […]
America’s adversaries are almost certain to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump early on, testing his inexperience in national security affairs and his propensity to personalize political interactions. How he and his team respond will show the mettle of the new administration and determine whether other adversaries mount challenges of their own. What is not clear, though, is which of America’s adversaries will move first. Russia, which appears to have launched a multidimensional assault to weaken Western democracies, seems the least likely to challenge the new administration. Indications are that Trump will get along well with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He […]
Under normal circumstances, most Americans don’t pay much attention to foreign policy unless the country is engaged in a major war or experiencing high-profile terrorist attacks. Though neither is occurring now, these are anything but normal times. With just hours until Donald Trump assumes the U.S. presidency after the most unusual presidential election in living memory, Americans are breaking with tradition and giving foreign policy a prominent place on the list of national concerns. Americans, it turns out, are watching with great interest to see how exactly the Trump administration manages bilateral ties with Russia and how Trump deals with […]
Just when it seemed like the European Union’s troubles couldn’t get any worse, Donald Trump seemed to rub salt in its wounds last week. In a joint interview with German newspaper Bild and The Times of London, he lauded Brexit, disparaged German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, and derided the EU as a “vehicle” for German economic domination. Trump clearly would shed no tears were the union to collapse on his watch. But could he instead end up being the EU’s savior? Trump’s most recent comments follow reported assurances given by the Trump transition team to British Foreign Secretary […]
On Iran, Can Trump Make the Transition From Campaign Rhetoric to Policy?
The one-year anniversary of the Iran nuclear agreement’s implementation on Monday—combined with Senate confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees last week and the death of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Jan. 8—has put Iran back in the spotlight. In their congressional testimony, Trump’s nominees for foreign policy and national security posts offered a range of views about the nuclear agreement and the larger problem of Iran for U.S. national interests. At the same time, Iranians are debating the implications for Iran’s foreign policy of Rafsanjiani’s final exit from the political stage. While the net effect of […]
Most of the policy shops and intelligence agencies in the U.S. government focus on near-term threats or issues, reflecting the time horizon of elected officials who often have little interest in events beyond the next election. But long-term thinking, as senior intelligence officer Gregory Treverton noted, “is critical to framing strategy.” For this reason there are a few government agencies designed specifically to peer deep into the future. The Pentagon, for instance, has its small Office of Net Assessment. The intelligence community has what is called the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Every four years, the NIC’s Strategic Futures Group publishes […]
Venezuela’s roiling crisis just became far more complicated for the country’s political opposition and exponentially more unsettling for the United States. On Jan. 4, President Nicolas Maduro reshuffled his Cabinet and named a new vice president, Tareck El Aissami, a man who has reportedly helped forge back-channel links for Caracas to terrorists and drug traffickers. Until now, Washington has mostly treated Venezuela’s dramatic social and economic disintegration as a matter to be watched from afar: troubling, to be sure, but without very significant repercussions beyond its own borders or neighborhood. But the appointment of El Aissami means that the next […]
When U.S. President Barack Obama took office eight years ago, his two overarching foreign policy goals were to oversee the winding down of America’s costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to repair the damage to America’s global standing and reputation that the invasion of Iraq and the excesses of the global war against terrorism had caused. A major component of the latter project involved reassuring America’s allies, partners, friends and rivals that Washington would recommit itself to the global order it had helped build and defend during and after the Cold War. This meant not only backstopping the rules-based […]
This week, the National Intelligence Council released its quadrennial report about global trends, and it’s a sober read. Governance is getting harder, and the nature of power is changing. While the report doesn’t predict major power conflict, it sees Russia and China both exploiting the erosion of confidence in the West to expand their influence in the international system. One policy-relevant judgment is about resilience: Countries that invest in infrastructure, innovation and relationships will fare better in this unstable future. Every four years, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) produces an unclassified, broad-gauged assessment of long-term global trends. The work of […]
Antonio Guterres is off to a strong but slightly surreal start as the United Nations’ new secretary-general. Since replacing Ban Ki-moon at the start of the year, the former Portuguese prime minister has moved fast to place his stamp on the organization. Yet, while U.N. officials are keen to see their boss succeed, all are conscious that the administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could soon place the institution under severe political pressure. The new secretary-general’s chances of leading the U.N. effectively over the next five years may be shaped by how he handles Trump in the next few months. […]
Why Defeating the Islamic State Won’t Be All Good News for the U.S.
The battlefield defeat of the self-styled Islamic State in eastern Syria and western Iraq is far from certain but increasingly likely. Iraqi government forces, in conjunction with Shiite and Kurdish militias, are slowly liberating Mosul, the largest city the Islamic State has conquered. While the Syrian government is less concerned with the group than with other rebel forces it faces, a Kurdish-Arab militia alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces is pushing toward Raqqa, the Islamic State’s most important stronghold after Mosul. In parallel, a global coalition led by the United States is undercutting the group’s economic base. The extremists still […]