Let’s get this out of the way first: President Donald Trump didn’t actually say the words “red line.” In fact, he, his National Security Advisor, and his Secretary of State say so many different things that it can be hard to tell whether there are red lines, let alone where they are.
In August 2012, President Barack Obama explicitly laid down a red line to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria: Move chemical weapons around, and we will strike. A few days later, Assad brutally killed over a thousand people in Ghouta with sarin. Congress and allied nations were reluctant to back a military strike in response. But then Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered another response: Syria would join the Chemical Weapons Convention and give up its stock of chemical weapons and the means to make more. Read More
President Barack Obama’s statements and decisions around responses to Bashar al-Assad’s use of Sarin against Syrian opposition provide a test case for three issues: Intervening in conflicts that have only indirectly to do with US interests, assumptions about the use of force that have gendered aspects, and how a president communicates. If we are to end our forever wars and avoid stumbling into more, we need to understand these issues. Read More
I am not fond of the bloggy format of dissecting a piece of writing sentence by sentence by sentence, although Gerecht’s piece could easily provoke such a response. Each sentence presents a misrepresenation or other ugliness that it seems wrong to allow to pass. But I’d like to make my response more succinct.
Since the title begins with “The Iran Deal,” one might expect that that would be the subject of the article. But few words are expended on the substance of the deal compared to, for example vituperation against Barack Obama. The personalization of Gerecht’s argument is typical of criticism by opponents on Twitter and elsewhere. Read More
It’s one thing to act as one thinks a great power would act. It’s another to be acknowledged as a great power. Vladimir Putin thinks a great power would freely take a bite of a neighbor’s land, intervene on behalf of a client, and flaunt its cruise missiles. But the real prize is negotiating with other great powers over spheres of interest. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
But the great powers, particularly the United States, are not cooperating. Read More
Jeffrey Goldberg has written an outstanding summary of President Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy. Goldberg deserves much credit for conveying ideas that he does not fully agree with. The picture agrees closely with the one I have been building in my mind from observing Obama’s actions and speeches. So much so that I withdrew an article I had written from consideration at another publication because what Goldberg wrote made my speculations obsolete. I agree with Paul Pillar’s summary of the article’s high points. Read More
Last Friday, I figured it was just a matter of time before someone asks “But what if the Paris attackers had a nuclear weapon?” The first showed up last night. Before the attacks, another article appeared on nuclear smuggling, of which much was made by the usual suspects. Read More
Realist political thought is said to focus on national interests. But you wouldn’t know that from recent commentary, like Stephen Walt’s piece touting Vladimir Putin as a master strategist and Barack Obama as bumbler. Or Edward Luttwak’s paen to Putin’s strategic brilliance. Both Walt and Luttwak are regarded as being of the realist foreign policy school, but neither seems to consider national interests. Rather, they focus on – well, both articles are conceptual messes, so it’s hard to tell what they are focusing on. But it’s not national interests, unless you define national interest, as many are doing these days, in terms of the nebulous “reputation.” Read More