James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

Friday File: How Will Obama Respond to the North Korea Missile Test?

by James M. Lindsay Friday, April 13, 2012
North-Korea-Missile-Control-Room-2012-04-13 North Korean scientists work as a screen shows the Unha-3 rocket on a launch pad, at a control center on the outskirts of Pyongyang. (Bobby Yip/courtesy Reuters)

Above the Fold. Despite warnings from President Obama that there would be “consequences,” North Korea went ahead and launched a ballistic missile to honor the 100th birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung. The test was a dud; the missile broke up a minute into flight and fell harmlessly into the Yellow Sea west of Seoul. The launch violates a series of UN resolutions and means the end of the so-called Leap Day deal in which Washington promised to send food aid to North Korea in exchange for good behavior. Read more »

The World Next Week: North Korea’s Satellite Launch, the Summit of the Americas, and the IMF and World Bank Meetings

by James M. Lindsay Thursday, April 12, 2012
north-korea-satellite-2012-04-12 A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 rocket on a launch pad, at a control centre on the outskirts of Pyongyang. (Bobby Yip/courtesy Reuters)

The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed North Korea’s satellite launch; the Summit of the Americas in Colombia; and the International Monetary Fund’s and World Bank’s spring meetings. Read more »

Lessons Learned: General MacArthur’s Dismissal

by James M. Lindsay Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A new installment of “Lessons Learned” is now out. This week I discuss President Harry Truman’s announcement on April 11, 1951, that he had dismissed General Douglas MacArthur as commanding general of U.S. forces in Korea. In the video, I look at the principle of civilian control of the military and discuss when exercising that control is justified. Here’s a question to consider when thinking about wartime decision-making: How much deference should presidents give to the military, and under what conditions should they overrule military advice?  I encourage you to weigh in with your answer in the comments section below. And one quick correction. I mistakenly say in the video that General MacArthur sent a letter critical of the Truman administration’s policy in Korea to the “Republican speaker of the House.” MacArthur actually sent his letter to the House Republican minority leader.

I hope you enjoy the video.

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TWE Remembers: Secretary of State Dean Acheson

by James M. Lindsay Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Former secretary of state Dean Acheson in 1965. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum) Former secretary of state Dean Acheson in 1965. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum)

Many secretaries of state have written memoirs. George Shultz penned Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State. James Baker wrote The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989–1992. Madeleine Albright has Madam Secretary: A Memoir. Condoleezza Rice is the latest entrant in the memoir sweepstakes, having released No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington just last year. Not to be outdone, Colin Powell plans to release his second memoir next month, and political junkies are no doubt eager to read what Hillary Clinton has to say about her service in the Obama administration. But my favorite memoir by a secretary of state is Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department, by Dean Acheson, who served under President Harry Truman. Born in Middletown, Connecticut on April 11, 1893, Acheson could truly say that he had a hand in crafting an entirely new American foreign policy. Read more »

Friday File: Malian Rebels Proclaim Independent Country of Azawad

by James M. Lindsay Friday, April 6, 2012
sanogo-tuareg-rebels-2012-04-06 Captain Amadou Sanogo, leader of Mali's military junta, speaks during a news conference. (Luc Gnago/courtesy Reuters)

Above the Fold. Tuareg rebel fighters in northern Mali today declared the independent country of Azawad. The announcement comes on the heels of the rebels’ rapid success in driving government forces out of Northern Mali in the two weeks since Malian soldiers overthrew the country’s democratically elected president, Amadou Touré, a former general who first came to power in a coup two decades ago. (Touré oversaw Mali’s transition to democracy and then stepped down from power, earning him the nickname “the soldier of democracy.” He was elected president in 2002 and again in 2007.) The new ruling junta justified its coup on the grounds that Touré had failed to put down the Tuareg rebellion. Tuaregs, a semi-nomadic people spread across Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria, and Burkina Faso, make up an estimated 10 percent of Mali’s population. They have been fighting for their independence since even before Mali won its own independence from France in 1960. Read more »

TWE Remembers: Juvenal Habyarimana’s Plane Crashes and the Rwandan Genocide Begins

by James M. Lindsay Friday, April 6, 2012
President Clinton speaks to survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide at the Kigali airport on March 25, 1998. (Win McNamee/courtesy Reuters) President Clinton speaks to survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide at the Kigali airport on March 25, 1998. (Win McNamee/courtesy Reuters)

Planes crashes have killed a regrettable number of world leaders. Legendary UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld died in 1960 in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) in mysterious circumstances while on his way to negotiate a ceasefire in neighboring Congo. Pakistani president Muhammed Zia-ul-Haq died in 1988 in similarly disputed circumstances. Just two years ago, Polish President Lech Kaczynski  died when his plane crashed attempting to land at a Russian airport in bad weather. But no plane crash involving a world leader has led to the kind of consequences that followed the death of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994. His death did more than disrupt Rwanda’s day-to-day routine; it ushered in one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century. Read more »

The World Next Week: Will the P5+1 Negotiations Succeed?

by James M. Lindsay Thursday, April 5, 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton listens to EU foreign policy chief Ashton during a NATO foreign ministers meeting. (Francois Lenoir/courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Clinton listens to EU foreign policy chief Ashton during a NATO foreign ministers meeting. (Francois Lenoir/courtesy Reuters)

The World Next Week podcast is up. This week, Bob McMahon and I had the week off. Fortunately, Isobel Coleman and Toni Johnson graciously agreed to step in for us to preview next week’s news. They discussed the resumption of Iran and the P5+1′s nuclear talks; the Summit of the Americas in Colombia; the continuing trials of foreign NGO workers in Egypt; and World Health Day. Read more »

Lessons Learned: North Atlantic Treaty Signing

by James M. Lindsay Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A new installment of “Lessons Learned” is now out. This week I examine the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, DC, on April 4, 1949. In the video, I look at how American membership in NATO marked a fundamental shift for U.S. foreign policy and discuss how difficult it can be for a country to undertake such a shift. Here’s a question to consider when thinking about these kinds of changes: Does the emergence of China, India, Brazil, and other rising powers require a fundamental rethinking of American foreign policy? I encourage you to weigh in with your answer in the comments section below.

I hope you enjoy the video.

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TWE Remembers: Woodrow Wilson Asks Congress to Declare War on Germany

by James M. Lindsay Monday, April 2, 2012
The first page of President Woodrow Wilson's Declaration of War Message to Congress, April 2, 1917. (National Archives) The first page of President Woodrow Wilson's Declaration of War Message to Congress, April 2, 1917. (National Archives)

Presidents win elections by making promises to voters. But keeping those promises can prove impossible to do. Just ask Woodrow Wilson. He won reelection in November 1916 on a pledge to keep the United States out of World War I. Five months later he was asking Congress to declare war on Germany.

Foreign policy, let alone war, was far from Wilson’s mind when he first won election in 1912. Read more »