Paul Pillar

Heartstrings and Aleppo

Among large-scale tragedies involving human suffering and the many examples of man’s inhumanity toward man, only a few capture our imaginations and sway our collective emotions.  The question of which specific episodes achieve this special salience does not seem to depend on the scale of the suffering or even on the degree of immorality involved.  The salience instead arises through accidents and vagaries of history.  The villains in particular episodes may have been primed to play such a role because of previous affinities and alignments and how we had already come to see them as villains.

Partisan Tribalism and Attitudes Toward Russia

A poll conducted by YouGov shows that sentiment among Republicans toward Russian President Vladimir Putin has become significantly more positive (or at least significantly less negative) than it was just a couple of years ago.  This sort of finding is easily subject to over-interpretation, in terms of grand realignments or sweeping transnational movements or the like. The truer explanation is much simpler than that, although the explanation operates slightly differently at different levels.

Will the Trump Administration Start a War with Iran?

The direct stakes in whether the Trump administration adheres to the agreement that restricts the Iranian nuclear program are important enough, in terms of nuclear nonproliferation.  Also important are the opportunities to build on that agreement constructively to address problems of concern to both Iran and the United States.  But at stake as well, as the new administration makes policy toward Iran, is the need to avoid a potentially disastrous turn, highly costly to U.S. interests, in the U.S.-Iranian relationship.

George C. Marshall: Statesman, Not a Warrior

Useful perspective on issues surrounding the nomination of the retired Marine Corps general James Mattis to be secretary of defense, including the issue of civilian control of the military, can come from reflecting on the career of the one other general ever to be U.S. defense secretary.  Whether the appointment of Mattis turns out to be good or bad will depend as well on other things, but for comparison and context, consider the role and talents of the third secretary of defense, George C. Marshall.

The Post-Truth President and U.S. Credibility

Just when we may have started to hope that the excesses of Donald Trump’s campaign will give way to a more sober and reasonable mode of behavior once in office, the president-elect has a way of lurching back to the familiar excesses, usually with an outburst on Twitter.  This past weekend it was his return to the Big Lie with the accusation that millions of people voted illegally in this month’s election.  It was an assertion so far removed from truth that the New York Times dispensed with journalistic political correctness and

Climate Change and the Priority of the Irreversible

Anti-Trump street demonstrations since the election have had an aimless quality.  It is hard to see anything they accomplish besides expressing frustration and letting off steam.  The lack of focus is one indication that many of those united by abhorrence of a Donald Trump presidency are likely to start tripping over each other.  The different emphases that different abhorrees give to different issues will mean competition for attention, energy, and resources.  Roots of such competition can be found in the habit, displayed in much Democratic Party politics and by Hillary Clinton’s president

Ideology is Supplanting Intelligence

With Donald Trump’s earliest appointments to senior national security positions, some of the disturbing implications for the making of foreign policy of his own lack of qualifications for office are beginning to appear.  A president-elect whose outrage-filled campaign alienated many serious thinkers in both parties has made personal support even more of a paramount consideration in the appointment process than it usually is, and even more than Trump’s own inclinations would have made it in the first place.  Not only does the priority given to insight and objectivity thereby lessen; the pres

The Unnecessary and Undemocratic Quadrennial Shuffle

Disarray in the Trump transition apparatus has been a major news story, so much so that one of the president-elect’s recent Twitter offensives has been to assert that there isn’t any disarray and to castigate the New York Times for covering the disarray.  Amid all the transition horse race coverage of who’s in and who’s out and which appointment will be even more controversial than other appointments, almost no one is taking this episode as another reminder of how needless is much of this confusion and turmoil.  The United States is alone among advanced representative democracies i