Stephen M. Walt

Pay No Attention to that Panda Behind the Curtain

It doesn't matter what Obama says -- his Asia trip is all about China.

President Barack Obama is in Asia, ostensibly to reassure U.S. allies that he really does mean it when he says we're "pivoting" to Asia (or "rebalancing," or whatever). Yet even as he attempts to put the focus on Asia, events elsewhere are raising precisely the sort of doubts that he'd like to dispel. And that makes me worry that he'll spend all his time on this trip making promises and flowery speeches, instead of getting some commitments from his hosts. 

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No Hawks Here

When it comes to conflict in world politics, realists are the peaceniks of post-Cold War America.

Once again, trouble is brewing in some corner of the world -- this time it's Ukraine -- and neoconservatives and liberals are calling upon the United States to "do something" to stop the irrational predations of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the latest villain du jour. And once again, foreign policy realists are pointing out that 1) the United States has no treaty obligations to Ukraine, 2) U.S. vital interests are not at stake, 3) Russia's behavior is not surprising given its history, its geographic location, and the past 20 years of NATO expansion, and 4) pursuing a confrontational policy with Moscow will undermine more important objectives. In other words, realists are telling Americans to keep their rhetoric under control and their powder dry.

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Two Chief Petty Officers Walk Into a Bar...

America used to love laughing at the military. When did it become so taboo?

War is not a funny topic, but military life used to be a bountiful source of comic inspiration. The grim reality of the battlefield prompts plenty of black humor and the rigid orthodoxies of modern military organizations have been ripe fodder for satire in the past. Given that the United States has been at war for two out of every three years since the end of the Cold War, you'd think there would be lots of dark comedy and irreverent commentary on military topics, and not just when some randy commander gets caught with his pants down.

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Why Are We So Busy Trying to 'Figure Out' Vladimir Putin?

On personality politics, great men, and the fallacy of thinking that individuals actually shape the world.

Do leaders matter in foreign policy? Of course they do. But if you read a lot of Western commentary on foreign affairs, you might conclude that individual leaders were the only thing that made much of a difference. If we could just put the right people in charge in Washington, Moscow, Paris, Baghdad, Beijing, Kabul, Cairo, Islamabad, etc., then everything would be peachy and any minor conflict that might arise could be easily and quickly resolved. In this view, most problems in the world are caused by political leaders who are myopic, old-fashioned, rigid, ill-informed, aggressive, paranoid, or just plain evil, and the key to successful diplomacy is figuring out what makes them tick (and getting rid of them if the opportunity presents).

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Would You Die for That Country?

Why the United States needs to think twice before calling Ukraine an ally.

Now that Russia has taken Crimea back from Ukraine, what does the rest of the world owe Kiev? Not surprisingly, Russia's act has made many (though not all) Ukrainians eager for stronger connections to the West, and as sure as the sunrise, plenty of American politicians are eager to embrace them. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) thinks the United States ought to be sending Ukrainians small arms so they can protect themselves, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has already said it's time to get busy expanding NATO further. Plenty of Democrats are of like mind, with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) declaring in a statement, "The United States must stand with the people of Ukraine in the wake of Russia's attack on and occupation of Crimea."

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