U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the U.S. military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Airbase in Iraq on Dec. 26, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the U.S. military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Airbase in Iraq on Dec. 26, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the U.S. military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Airbase in Iraq on Dec. 26, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

5 Top Reads

Our Best Weekend Reads

Including Trump’s surprising comments on Syria and Afghanistan and a game of musical chairs at the Pentagon.

A new year has begun, but the news cycle features many familiar flash points. The United States continues to suffer from a government shutdown, with President Donald Trump warning he is ready for it to last for years. Global stock markets have swung up and down, with a strong U.S. jobs report counteracting the news that Apple will badly miss its sales forecast. And meanwhile, a race to secure the long-term top job at the U.S. Defense Department is underway, with repercussions for conflicts around the world.

Below are five essential pieces Foreign Policy published this week. Read them to understand the week that was—and the year that lies ahead.

1. Trump’s 2019 Vision: Let Others Fight Our Battles

In a surprising set of comments in front of reporters this week, Trump said he had no interest in Syria: “Syria was lost long ago. … We’re talking about sand and death. I’m getting out.” And on Afghanistan, the president said the United States was better off letting Russia and Pakistan intervene, leaving, as FP’s Michael Hirsh writes, “many Washington observers aghast.”

A new year has begun, but the news cycle features many familiar flash points. The United States continues to suffer from a government shutdown, with President Donald Trump warning he is ready for it to last for years. Global stock markets have swung up and down, with a strong U.S. jobs report counteracting the news that Apple will badly miss its sales forecast. And meanwhile, a race to secure the long-term top job at the U.S. Defense Department is underway, with repercussions for conflicts around the world.

Below are five essential pieces Foreign Policy published this week. Read them to understand the week that was—and the year that lies ahead.


U.S. President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal at the White House on May 8, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Trump’s 2019 Vision: Let Others Fight Our Battles

In a surprising set of comments in front of reporters this week, Trump said he had no interest in Syria: “Syria was lost long ago. … We’re talking about sand and death. I’m getting out.” And on Afghanistan, the president said the United States was better off letting Russia and Pakistan intervene, leaving, as FP’s Michael Hirsh writes, “many Washington observers aghast.”


Then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis listens while President Donald Trump speaks before a meeting with military leaders in the White House in Washington on Oct. 23, 2018. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

2. With Mattis Gone, the Pentagon is Playing Musical Chairs

Despite his initial influence, former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis had been losing battles with the president for months. But now, FP Pentagon correspondent Lara Seligman explains, Mattis’s departure could mean more impulsive decisions that alienate U.S. allies.


Senator Elizabeth Warren attends a news conference to discuss immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Nov. 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

3. Trump’s Foreign Policy is Here to Stay

2020 will be a turning point for leadership in the United States. FP’s James Traub looks into steps the next U.S. president can take to reverse the damage Trump has already done. But it won’t be easy—and it can’t simply be wished away.


A Chinese policeman secures an area ahead of the arrival of U.S. First Lady Melania Trump on the Great Wall of China on the outskirts of Beijing on Nov. 10, 2017. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

4. Walls Don’t Work

From Pamela Kyle Crossley: Trump has touted his plan for a border wall with Mexico since he was on the campaign trail. He claims that walls have always worked to keep people out—but history has proved otherwise.


Saudi Army artillery fire shells toward Yemen from southwestern Saudi Arabia on April 13, 2015. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

5. 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2019

From the war in Yemen to U.S.-China tensions, Robert Malley rounds up the top global crises that will shape the year ahead.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.