Ask CFR Experts

This archived feature invited members of the public to submit questions to CFR's experts on various topics related to U.S. foreign policy. Selected questions on matters ranging from the latest news headlines to long-term international issues were answered by CFR fellows. This feature is now retired.

Featured Question

Answered by:
Elliott Abrams

What could be done to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Asked by Michael Varacalli, from New York University

Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians began even before the State of Israel was established in 1948, and the two populations have opposing claims to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that have defeated numerous U.S. efforts to broker peace. Right now there is little hope of a comprehensive solution—one that resolves all the issues and involves not only Israel and the PLO but the Arab states as well. Today, the most that Israel can realistically offer is less than the least the Palestinians can realistically accept. For now, the best way forward is to continue talks, but to emphasize practical steps forward on the ground that move Palestinians toward construction of a state.

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Past Questions

Answered by:
Elizabeth C. Economy

Is China still “rising” or has it already “risen”?

Asked by Lauren Billi, from New York University

Both are accurate. China certainly "has risen" to become a global economic power: in only three decades, it has transformed itself into the world's second largest economy, largest exporter, and largest provider of loans to the developing world. At the same time, China is rising: its economic and political system, as well as its foreign policy, is still developing. To state categorically that China "has risen" is to accept that the China of today will be substantially the same as the China of five to ten years from now, and few people in or outside China would accept such a conclusion.

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Answered by:
Michael A. Levi

What should the red lines be for the Iranian nuclear program?

People love to talk about "red lines" for all sorts of challenges, and the Iranian nuclear program is no exception. The United States can, in principle, threaten stronger sanctions if Iran crosses certain red lines. It can threaten military action if Iran crosses others. But it's not clear that setting red lines—particularly in public, where failing to follow through on threats can be costly—is a productive course.

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Answered by:
James M. Lindsay

Why can’t the United States cut military spending?

The United States has cut defense spending in the past, and it is doing so again today. In 1989, for example, the Defense Department spent $295 billion; seven years later it spent $253 billion, or about 14 percent less in nominal dollars. When inflation is taken into account, defense spending dropped by more than 25 percent during the 1990s. U.S. defense spending will likely follow a similar trajectory over the next decade with the Afghanistan war ending and pressure mounting to cut government spending.

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Answered by:
Micah Zenko

What right does the United States have to use drones?

Due to the 9/11 attacks and the continued threat posed by international terrorism, the United States claims it is "currently at war with al-Qaeda and its associated forces," a conflict that extends beyond traditional battlefield settings to any country that is "unwilling or unable" to take action itself. The United States reserves the right to conduct targeted killings, although only against "senior" members of al-Qaeda who "pose an imminent threat the United States of America." Although the U.S. military has a vast array of tools in its arsenal, the primary vehicle for its targeted killings program are drones, which have been used in over 95 percent of the 420—and counting—targeted killings over the last decade.

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Answered by:
Steven A. Cook

Should the United States continue to provide economic aid to Egypt?

The Egyptian uprising presents a rare opportunity for the United States to resolve the tension between its strategic priorities in the Middle East and its desire to support democratic change in the region. Washington's past approach to aiding Egypt was based on relations with authoritarian leaders who could be counted on to advance the United States' interests. With the fall of Hosni Mubarak and Egyptian efforts to build a more open political system, a policy based on "authoritarian stability" is no longer possible, and the United States is now forced to alter the way it appropriates and distributes bilateral assistance.

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