This is the first in a two-part series.

On December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Congress declared war on Japan. Two weeks after al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, the CIA was on the ground in Afghanistan.

The Russian attack on US democracy in 2016 was not deadly, but it was similarly harmful to US national security. The West, however, has still not pushed back strongly enough to stop the hybrid war Moscow continues to wage against the United States and its European allies.

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Massive cyberattack targets politicians, celebrities, and journalists in Germany

The personal information and correspondence of hundreds of German politicians, celebrities, journalists, and public figures has reportedly been leaked on Twitter since early December 2018. German media reports that the leaks were first discovered late on January 3 and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among the targets.

The targeted leaks “[look] like a clear attempt to disrupt German politics,” said Ben Nimmo, an information defense fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab).

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The detention of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, in Canada in December at the request of the United States heightened tensions in an already fraught US-China relationship. Huawei has been the target of the ire of China hawks in the United States dating back to the early 2010s amid scandals tied to sanctions evasion in Iran and concerns about possible espionage. Yet in the buzz about its ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army, the company’s extensive dollar exposures have received little coverage.

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US President Donald Trump has an uncanny ability to divide both Americans and the United States from its democratic allies. The first two years of his administration have seen intense polarization within the United States and unprecedented slights against American friends around the world. Despite these divisions, the United States and its allies are more strategically aligned in grand strategy – endorsed by Republicans and Democrats – than they have been since 9/11, if not 1989.

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The unprecedented nature of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation letter to President Trump raises a host of disturbing questions. The most significant of them arise from Secretary Mattis’ suggested differences with his Commander-in-Chief regarding the value of allies — and the dangers of strategic, authoritarian competitors.


Read Mattis’ words closely and they serve to both define and narrow the range of his possible successors to those who better embrace President Trump’s world view. The President will be looking for an individual who will share in his suspicion of allies (who he believes don’t carry sufficient defense burden while enjoying unfair trade benefits), and who will be more willing to work with adversaries, particularly Russia.

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US President Donald J. Trump’s demand that the Pentagon plan for the withdrawal of 7,000 US troops from Afghanistan should not be viewed in isolation as it coincides with his decision to disengage from Syria, which, in turn, seems to have triggered the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis—viewed by many as a seasoned strategist and supporter of a nuanced approached to the US missions in Syria and Afghanistan.

Trump’s Afghan withdrawal coincides with an ongoing effort, kicked off with the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad as the US special representative in September, to end the seventeen-year-old war in Afghanistan. If not coordinated, the withdrawal of US troops could hinder Khalilzad’s efforts and bolster the Taliban’s negotiating position. This, in turn, could weaken the positions of the US and Afghan governments, including political elites in Afghanistan, domestically as well as at the regional level. 

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Presidential decision-making is one of the world’s most difficult tasks. The late and distinguished Fred Greenstein reminded us in his classic book, The Hidden-Hand Presidency, that things in the White House are often not exactly as they appear. In President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s case, he didn’t get the proper credit for governing diligently based on a fully-formed worldview. Is it possible that, despite the constant lashing of media pundits and armchair military strategists, President Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy decisions are more enlightened than meets the eye? Is it possible that his strategy will yield more peace and stability than neoconservative military interventionism? Yes and, almost certainly, yes.

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US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ departure removes the strongest Cabinet voice against dismantling the US-led post-World War II international order. Mattis’ stunning resignation letter is a historic rebuke of the policies and person who chose him two-plus years ago to lead the US armed forces.  There were disquieting trends in the Mattis Department of Defense, but there is little doubt that the outgoing secretary served the nation with distinction and was able to thwart some of US President Donald J. Trump’s worst impulses. 

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On December 13, 1918, Woodrow Wilson arrived in France, the first US president to leave American soil while president, aiming to make peace of a new kind at Versailles. The Allies had won the Great War, as World War I was known at the time, thanks to US power, and Wilson was trying to use military success to lock in a strategic breakthrough at the upcoming peace conference in Versailles, which was to begin the next January. Instead of a settlement which gave a province or two to the winners, Europe’s practice for centuries, Wilson—in a breathtaking combination of vision and ambition—would try to set to order a rules-based world which favored freedom, a lasting peace built on a foundation of US power, and reflected US values.


Wilson had set out US war aims—his famous Fourteen Points—in January 1918. These challenged the imperial, balance-of-power system of the European powers (on both sides) that had started the war, and at the same time took on the revolutionary alternative which Lenin’s Bolsheviks had proclaimed. The French, British, and Italians, US allies, had fought for territorial prizes, spelled out in secret treaties between them.

Wilson was trying to have none of that.

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Back in the spring of 2008, I was enjoying a quiet moment in my office at NATO headquarters when the phone rang. My assistant told me that the new Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), Gen. James Mattis, was making his courtesy calls to NATO in Brussels and would drop by in ten minutes to talk to me. 


Frankly I was mystified.  NATO has two supreme commanders, SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) and SACT, and in all my thirty-eight years on the NATO international staff I have never known either of these individuals to call on an official below the rank of secretary general, the chairman of the Military Committee or the NATO ambassadors on the North Atlantic Council. At that time I was the director of the Policy Planning Unit. If he had an issue at my level, Mattis would normally dispatch an aide or one of his section chiefs. What could I contribute that would make our new SACT wish to come to see me in person?  

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