March 24, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – After Brussels

Belgian Queen Mathilde and King Philippe attend a ceremony outside the Brussels International airport following bomb attacks in Brussels metro and Belgium's airport of Zaventem, Belgium, March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Frederic Sierakowski

The deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels this week shook the world. In their wake, a renewed sense of insecurity and fear has swept across the United States and Europe—and with it, an urgent call for national leaders to take action. But whether the response to these attacks is borne out of emotion or wisdom is still an open question. We are already seeing some of the effects of Brussels: on the treatment of Syrian refugees, on the closure of European borders, and on the national security debate at home and abroad. Still, many questions remain. What comes next for the fight against ISIS? Will Russia’s recent posturing in Syria strengthen or weaken the terrorist group? This week’s recommended reads help to shed light on some of these important questions:

A View of ISIS’s Evolution in New Details of Paris Attacks

Rukmini Callimachi, Alissa J. Rubin, and Laure Fourquet/The New York Times

In a preview of what we were to see in Brussels, a recent report compiled by the French antiterrorism police following the Paris attacks details the scale and sophistication of the Islamic State’s abilities and network in France, Belgium, and Europe. In a summary of the 55-page document, The New York Times team explains how ISIS evolved over several years to establish a consistent protocol for bomb production, avoiding detection by international authorities, and providing advanced logistics that continue to stump authorities. The document chronologically examines the events in Paris and just how well-planned the carnage was


Putin’s Syria Tactics Keep Him at the Fore and Leave Everyone Else Guessing

Neil MacFarquhar/The New York Times

MacFarquhar argues that Putin’s inclination to shock and surprise is a calculated decision to both demonstrate Russia’s independence to the world and provide a public relations stunt. By withdrawing Russian military forces almost as suddenly as it inserted them, Putin is simultaneously reasserting his country’s role in the Middle East, positioning Russia for renewed peace talks, and distracting attention from both the war in Ukraine and the economic costs of sanctions on Russia.

Russia Cuts Its Losses in Syria

Sam Jones/Financial Times

While it may seem Russia is conceding the battle in Syria by partially withdrawing its military, Putin’s decision still places him in a powerful position. By successfully securing al-Assad’s regime, the Russian campaign achieved the very least of its expectations, according to Jones. In the long run, Putin has asserted Russian military influence in the region with an air base facility in Syria that provides him with what Jones refers to as a permanent trump card.

A Strategy of Spectacle

The Economist

Russian state media manipulation has allowed Putin to remain the idol of a resurgent nation despite a long-term economic degradation, according to The Economist. By focusing on the restoration of Russia’s political prowess abroad against America and the West, state television sensationalizes so-called foreign adventures and brushes past domestic news that would undermine the country’s self-image.


Jeffrey Goldberg’s extraordinary article in The Atlantic on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, which I highlighted in last week’s reads, generated significant commentary. The following—including several follow-up pieces in The Atlantic—are the best I’ve read this week.

Fatalism Taints the Obama Doctrine

Philip Stephens/Financial Times

US power does not stem from an ability to solve every global problem, but Stephens argues the Obama doctrine fails to recognize that American influence is being eroded with inaction.

Why Credibility Matters

Stephen Sestanovich/The Atlantic

Sestanovich explains Obama’s definition of credibility—of acting even without direct threats to self-interest—and the accompanying removal of the United States from defending the interests of its friends and allies runs the risk of lessening American influence in the world.

Barack Obama’s Revolution in Foreign Policy

Niall Ferguson/The Atlantic

Ferguson argues that Obama’s disinclination to follow traditional foreign policy guidelines has led to a revolution that has had more consequences than solutions.

How Russia Saw the ‘Red Line’ Crisis

Julia Ioffe/The Atlantic

While Obama is criticized domestically for backing away from Syria in 2013 and letting Putin take the lead in both Damascus and Ukraine, Ioffe explains that Russian analysts disassociate the two events and even praise Obama for his strength.

One President’s Stand Against the Washington Herd

Derek Chollet/The Atlantic

Chollet compares how Washington traditionally rewards quicker rather than permanent foreign policy solutions with what Obama envisions strength and leadership to be.

Obama Is Not a Realist

Josef Joffe/The Atlantic

Joffe argues that by preferring the price of inaction to action, the Obama administration opened a power vacuum that has invited its historical adversaries to edge America out of the top spot in foreign policy.

Obama’s Biggest Gamble

Andrew J. Bacevich/The Atlantic

Obama’s strategy of bringing Iran back into the fold will either make or break his legacy, according to Bacevich.

The End of the US-Dominated Order in the Middle East

Martin Indyk/The Atlantic

The refocus of American foreign policy from a regional to a global agenda, Indyk explains, has critics condemning Obama for permitting a power vacuum in the Middle East and betraying American moral values.

Obama: Fighting Wars He Believes Unwinnable

Kori Schake/The Atlantic

Schake argues inaction has more costs than Obama recognizes, both to American foreign policy and the international order that has seemingly eroded since he began enforcing the Obama doctrine.


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