Paul Pillar

Hold the Iran Deal–Killers Accountable

At least President Trump’s statement today about Iran made clear exactly what step he was taking: an outright material breach of U.S. obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral agreement that restricts Iran’s nuclear activities. Trump said he will pile new sanctions on Iran, contrary to the commitment that was the U.S. side of the bargain that the JCPOA embodies and the United Nations Security Council has endorsed, even though Iran has been scrupulously observing its side of the bargain.

The Trump Administration Is Ready to Redefine a North Korea 'Win'

Believing one’s own puffery and press releases is a hazard for many public figures, but probably especially so for Donald Trump. Although the true beliefs of any demagogue may remain hidden, this hazard can be expected to be all the greater to the extent a leader who makes lying an all-consuming way of life, closes himself off from many sources of insight and information, and prefers the company of sycophants.

Netanyahu Makes a Case for the JCPOA

Benjamin Netanyahu’s display of a cartoon bomb before the United Nations General Assembly nearly six years ago received much ridicule but at least was grounded in some facts about uranium enrichment levels and how they relate to the ability to make a nuclear weapon. These days, Netanyahu doesn’t reprise that part of his General Assembly speech, and it’s not because of the ridicule.

New Deals, Old Deals and Non-Deals with Iran

The discussions at the White House with French president Emmanuel Macron about devising, in Macron’s words, a “new deal with Iran” may be an instance of different governments using similar words to mean very different things. In that regard, it may be akin to how “denuclearization” means different things in the Korean context depending on which government uses the term.

The Terrorism Label

A recent op-ed from Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) calls for officially designating Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.  Gardner offers a long indictment—a “moral case”, as he calls it—against Russia that mostly involves activities other than terrorism, such as invasions of Georgia and Ukraine and information warfare against Western democracies.  Such a designation would have little practical effect; as Gardner himself acknowledges, the United States already has imposed diverse sanctions on Russia using

Non-Accomplishment in Syria

The missile strike against Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack has given many people a cathartic moment without having to produce any new and effective ideas about how to deal with the ugly conflict in Syria.  For President Trump, it was an opportunity to follow his guiding principle of doing something different from what Barack Obama did.  On policy toward Syria, he has struggled to find such opportunities.  For many customary critics of Trump, supporting the strike has been an opportunity to look tough on Syria and to avoid looking like reflexive oppositionists.  One might add

The Bolton-Pompeo Package

This week John Bolton assumes the job of national security adviser.  Given that a key function of that position is to ensure that the bureaucracy provides the relevant options and most accurate information to the president before major national security decisions, it is hard to think of anyone more ill-suited to that duty.  Bolton's method of policy formation has been to try to bully any part of the bureaucracy that does not subscribe to his personal agenda, and to try

Syria and Donald Trump's Impulses

Impending decisions about U.S. troops in Syria will be the next significant outcome of the continuing tussle, between a president’s urges and his appointees, that constitutes Donald Trump’s foreign policy.  Given Trump’s limited attention span and the erratic way in which he allows others to influence his decisions, however, policy on Syria will not necessarily reflect a larger pattern extending to other issues.

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