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2021-11-29t125728z_1872391217_rc2deo98rmhp_rtrmadp_3_global-poy-2021-scaled

Responsible Statecraft 2021: Top 5 most-read articles of the year

This was a see-saw year with major headlines emphasizing the volatility of US relationships with the world. Our most popular stories reflect that.

Analysis | Washington Politics

The year 2021 was a see-saw in the classic sense: the Biden Administration accomplished the incredible feat of withdrawing the U.S. military from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.

Yet on many other fronts, stasis: the new president has failed to return the United States to the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal; tensions with Russia and China remain the same or are in many cases worse, and the crippling war in Yemen continues. Promises by the administration to stop assistance to the Saudi coalition in order to help bring about an end to that war, have gone unfulfilled.

In many ways the most-read articles on Responsible Statecraft tin 2021 mirror those major foreign policy issues and audience interest in them, with the added bonus that they provide analysis not usually found in mainstream, establishment outlets. Below are the Top 5.

Other popular pieces not on that list nonetheless reflect the concerns and outrages of the day, as well as some of the best reporting RS had on offer. This included Eli Clifton (#6) uncovering the defense industry ties held by a majority of task force members advising the president to stay in Afghanistan, and Nick Turse (#13), who found a surprising number of U.S. commandos stationed in Europe today. Annelle Sheline (#14) explored some interesting connections between American Exceptionalism in Iraq and this year's Hollywood blockbuster, "Dune," and Rachel Odell slammed Washington rhetoric painting China as a threat to the "world order" (#17). On the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, John Mueller started a big debate suggesting the U.S. should have never invaded Afghanistan in the first place (#20).

Check out our five most read articles of 2021:

#1 Trita Parsi : Revealed: How Biden rejected a reasonable way forward in Iran Deal talks (Aug. 20)

The White House reportedly wouldn’t commit to staying in the deal for the remainder of the president’s term.

#2 Jim Lobe : Three major networks devoted a full five minutes to Afghanistan in 2020 (Oct. 20)

It should be no surprise then that Americans were shocked at the speed at which the U.S.-backed Afghan army and government collapsed and the Taliban returned to power in Kabul in a rout.

#3 Anatol Lieven: What war with Russia over Ukraine would really look like (Nov. 24)

In recent statements, Moscow seems much more realistic about the consequences of actual conflict with Kiev and Western powers.

#4 Anatol Lieven: The generals lied and the fantasy died(Aug. 16)

H.R. McMaster and other apologists for the failed policy in Afghanistan would like us to focus on anything but their complicity in it today.

#5 Alex de Waal: Ethiopia: Salvaging a failing state(Nov. 10)

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has lost the war; the time has come for a ceasefire to negotiate the country’s future. (A more recent update by de Waal explores how Abiy was able to turn the tide in a matter of weeks.)

An Afghan man rests in his shop as he sell U.S. second hand materials outside Bagram U.S. air base, after American troops vacated it, in Parwan province, Afghanistan July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
Analysis | Washington Politics
What Washington got wrong about Niger and Russia

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, U.S. Army Special Operations commander, meets with Brig. Gen. Moussa Barmou, Niger Special Operations Forces commander, to discuss anti-terrorism policy and tactics throughout the region, at Air Base 101, Niger, June 12, 2023. U.S. Department of Defense agencies partner with the Nigerien Army and Special Operators to bolster anti-violent extremist organization action throughout northwest Africa.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Younger)

What Washington got wrong about Niger and Russia

Africa

On March 17 Niger’s National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) suspended its military agreement with the United States after a visit by senior U.S. officials to the capital, Niamey. A CNSP spokesman said the decision was made after the U.S. delegation warned the military regime against partnering with Russia and Iran. Niger, which hosts around 1,000 U.S. troops and a drone base, has been an important partner in Washington’s counterterrorism operations in the region. But relations have deteriorated considerably since July 2023, when Niger’s presidential guard removed democratically elected Mohamed Bozoum and installed General Abdourahamane Tchiani.

Russian influence looms large in Western discourse on the Sahel, and now informs U.S. policy and decision-making in places like Niger. This is a mistake. Outsized focus on Russia misunderstands the scale and scope of Moscow’s presence. More importantly, it ignores longstanding patterns of governance and denies the role of Africans in emerging pro-sovereignty movements and political blocs.Neither the U.S. nor Russia are in a position to force Africans to choose sides, efforts to do so will only result in rebuke.

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DOD budget reform panel's elephant in the room: Bad strategy

Andrew Angelov via shutterstock.com

DOD budget reform panel's elephant in the room: Bad strategy

Military Industrial Complex

A Pentagon reform panel almost entirely comprised of industry insiders has suggested that the department scrap its budgeting system.

In its place, the group unsurprisingly proposed that the Defense Department implement a new system that the panel considers better suited to “embrace changes” so that the Pentagon can “respond effectively to emerging threats” and leverage technological advancements.

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South Korean president faces setback in elections

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol casts his early vote for 22nd parliamentary election, in Busan, South Korea, April 5, 2024. Yonhap via REUTERS

South Korean president faces setback in elections

QiOSK

Today, South Korea held its quadrennial parliamentary election, which ended in the opposition liberal party’s landslide victory. The liberal camp, combining the main opposition liberal party and its two sister parties, won enough seats (180 or more) to unilaterally fast-track bills and end filibusters. The ruling conservative party’s defeat comes as no surprise since many South Koreans entered the election highly dissatisfied with the Yoon Suk-yeol administration and determined to keep the government in check.

What does this mean for South Korea’s foreign policy for the remaining three years of the Yoon administration? Traditionally, parliamentary elections have tended to have little effect on the incumbent government’s foreign policy. However, today’s election may create legitimate domestic constraints on the Yoon administration’s foreign policy primarily by shrinking Yoon’s political capital and legitimacy to implement his foreign policy agenda.

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Israel-Gaza Crisis

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