Paul Pillar

Dragging U.S. Intelligence into the Anti-Iranian Mud

The most widely remembered episode of a U.S. administration using an intelligence-based public presentation to stir up hostility toward a country with which it was intent on picking a fight was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation on Iraq to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003.  That presentation and the Bush administration’s year-long campaign, of which Powell’s speech was a part, to sell the U.S.

Outside-In Won't Resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Donald Trump never has given evidence that he has new, fresh, and promising ideas to achieve his declared objective of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.  His statements on the subject can more plausibly be interpreted as another piece of braggadocio about his self-declared deal-making ability.  The obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace have long been painfully apparent, even if much discussion of the subject does not candidly acknowledge them.  The contours of any fair and stable resolution of the conflict also have long been well known and have found expression in, for example, t

Misusing Intelligence to Sell Conflict with Iran

Although nobody knows exactly where Donald Trump intends to go with his campaign of seeking confrontation with Iran, his administration already has provided disconcerting parallels with the techniques an earlier U.S. administration used in selling its launching of a war against Iraq.  Among these techniques is the cherry-picking of intelligence not to inform policy-making or to enlighten the public but instead to inculcate false perceptions among the public and thereby to muster support for a policy already chosen.

Emulate Russian Realism

Donald Trump seems eager to learn at the knee of Vladimir Putin.  During his Asian trip, Trump expressed his willingness to believe Putin’s denials about Russian interference in last year’s U.S. election, rather than the judgment of U.S. security agencies that there was indeed such interference.  He later only grudgingly backtracked, with the backtracking accompanied by a fusillade of invective against former U.S.

Saudi Arabia, Wellspring of Regional Instability

The anachronistic family enterprise known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been politically fragile.  In some respects it is remarkable that this entity has endured into the twenty-first century.  A clan of royals lives on rake-offs from the country’s petroleum wealth, while using more of that wealth to buy off a fast-growing population.  The Saudis have had to continue playing that game through vicissitudes of the oil market, on which the Saudi economy depends.  The potential for breakdown has always been present.  Now a king and his favorite—and ambitious and inexperienced—son are

The New York Attack, Trump's Outbursts, and Misconceptions About Terrorism

Donald Trump’s tweets in response to the terrorist attack along a bike path in Manhattan demonstrated some of what we already knew all too well about Trump, but they also reflected more widely shared and counterproductive American ways of thinking about counterterrorism.  Among the Trumpian habits exhibited is the inclination to use any occasion, no matter how solemn or tragic, to excoriate or smear political opponents.  In this case, instead of expressing solidarity with all citizens of his native New York City, Trump assailed Senator Chuck Schumer for sponsorship of a 27-year-old visa pro

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