Stephen M. Walt

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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The Solve-Everything, Do-Nothing White House

How big goals and low bandwidth scuppered Obama's overburdened foreign policy agenda.

At the moment, U.S. foreign policy is in considerable disarray, and the vultures are circling the White House. Hawkish critics such as John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, and Niall Ferguson are lambasting Obama for his alleged "weakness" on Ukraine, Syria, Benghazi, or whatever -- even though their main complaint seems to be that he isn't willing to repeat the same costly blunders they either made or supported in the past. Still, the New York Times's David Sanger wonders if Obama's more restrained approach to running the world has reached its limits, and he quotes one former Obama aide saying "we're seeing the 'light footprint' run out of gas." And Tom Friedman thinks Obama can't decide if he's Pollyanna, John Wayne, or Henry Kissinger (as if these are the only options).

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Condemned to Repeat It

Why Washington's foreign policymakers desperately need to study up on their history.

By now it is painfully obvious that U.S. policymakers blew it big-time in Ukraine. As I argued last week, the United States and the European Union backed the anti-Yanukovych forces in Ukraine in a fit of idealistic absentmindedness, and don't seem to have considered the possibility that Russia would see this action as a threat to its vital interests and would respond in a sharp and ruthless manner. It is the latest in a string of bipartisan foreign-policy failures, a long list that includes the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Afghan "surge" in 2009, and the ill-fated interventions in Somalia, Libya, and several other countries.

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