Stephen M. Walt

Uncle Sucker to the Rescue

Washington is making all its favorite mistakes in (another) Iraq war.

In case you hadn't noticed, the new U.S. war in Iraq is not going well. The alliance we've been trying to assemble to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State (IS) is looking like a lot of other recent U.S.-led coalitions: Uncle Sucker takes the lead and does most of the work while our allies free-ride, engage in mostly symbolic military actions, or actively undermine the common effort. No wonder U.S. President Barack Obama was reluctant to get into this war, and why he keeps warning that it will take longer than the rest of his presidency.

Continue Reading

Much Ado About the Islamic State

Terrible though they may be, even the worst events of late -- from IS to Ebola -- may not make a lasting imprint on the world. Or your investment portfolio.

Isn't 2014 wonderful? We've got a new war going against the Islamic State. Separatism continues to simmer in Catalonia and elsewhere. There's a frozen conflict in Ukraine and Ebola cases popping up outside Africa. Beijing faces demonstrations in Hong Kong, while drug gangs corrupt Mexican politics and commit crimes every bit as heinous as the Islamic State's. There's shelling on the India-Pakistan border, and Hezbollah detonated a bomb on the border between Israel and Lebanon. And back in Washington, another former official is blaming everyone but himself for shortcomings in U.S. foreign policy.

Continue Reading

Competence Not Required

Julia Pierson’s ouster is the exception that proves the rule: In Washington it is nearly impossible to get fired.

Something unusual happened in Washington, D.C., this week: A federal official was fired ("resigned under pressure") for doing her job badly. I refer to former Secret Service chief Julia Pierson, who stepped down after a series of embarrassing revelations, most notably the recent incident during which an intruder managed to scale the fence, get across the grounds, and then get all the way inside the White House. And the Secret Service couldn't even get its version of events straight for several days.

Continue Reading

Survey Says

The Chicago Council's new report might have answers as to what Americans want when it comes to Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. The only problem is, it asked the wrong questions. 

What do the American people want from U.S. foreign policy? If you're a die-hard neoconservative, a committed liberal interventionist, or somebody who thinks the solution to most global problems should be Made-in-America, then you're probably worried that the American people are becoming disenchanted with the costly and mostly unsuccessful foreign policy of the past couple of decades. But if you seek reassurance and would enjoy reading a "glass half-full" analysis of that issue, then I commend to you the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' recent survey of U.S. public opinion, titled "Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment."

Continue Reading

Hacks and Hired Guns

Are America’s think tanks in hock to the highest bidder?

Is American foreign policy on sale to the highest bidder? Are wealthy foreign governments buying influence at prominent think tanks, and using it to brainwash gullible Americans and warp our national discourse? A recent article in the New York Times suggests that this problem is serious, focusing its attention primarily (but not exclusively) on the venerable Brookings Institution. The article prompted impassioned affirmations of objectivity from Brookings' president Strobe Talbott, along with assorted "told-you-sos" from a diverse array of critics (including yours truly here) and useful comments from experts who have been studying this issue for some time.

Continue Reading