The Great Debate

Secret meetings with Cuba finally pay off

By William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh
December 17, 2014

A rainbow is pictured in the sky over Havana


Presidents frequently conduct sensitive diplomatic dialogues in secret, because the furor of public attention makes it politically impossible to reach the compromises necessary for agreement. These secret talks are often crucial for diplomatic advances — as we learned Wednesday with the stunning revelations about the impending talks between Washington and Havana that have been underway secretly for the past few months. President Barack Obama’s far-reading initiatives are reminiscent of the secret talks Henry Kissinger held with Beijing to lay the groundwork for President Richard M. Nixon’s historic diplomatic opening to China.

Will Pakistan’s grief force it to cut ties with Islamic militants?

By Matthew Green
December 17, 2014

A mother mourns her son Mohammed Ali Khan, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at her house in Peshawar

Pakistan’s army knew it would pay a price when it launched an offensive in the mountains of North Waziristan. But even in their worst imaginings, few officers could have foreseen the way revenge would be served: an attack on an Army-run school that cost the lives of 132 students. Many were the teenage sons of soldiers.

Strong or weak, bully or buffoon? Will the real Russia please stand up?

By Michael Kofman
December 17, 2014

Russia's President Putin speaks during a commemoration of the Hermitage's 250th anniversary at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg

The West has been unable to develop a coherent strategic policy toward Russia. There is little agreement on what Russia is and how to deal with it, too much speculation about what President Vladimir Putin will or will not do.

Iran transformed Syria’s army into a militia that will help Assad survive another year

By David Axe
December 17, 2014

A man inspects a damaged site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs thrown by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on al-Ghariya, in the east of Deraa province

In early 2015, the civil war in Syria will turn four years old. If current trends hold, the terrible conflict — which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions — will almost certainly continue to rage through the end of the year. That’s my prediction.

Top 5 political predictions for 2015

By Bill Schneider
December 16, 2014

Hillary Clinton speaks on "Smart Power: Security Through Inclusive Leadership"  at Georgetown University in Washington

1. The Obama boom will finally arrive.  Only it will be more like a boomlet.

Americans have been waiting for the boom since they elected President Barack Obama in the teeth of the 2008 financial meltdown. After all, we elected Ronald Reagan during an economic downturn in 1980, and by his second term, the economy had turned around (“Morning in America”).  We elected Bill Clinton in an economic downturn in 1992, and by his second term, the economy had come roaring back (the “dot-com boom,” now known as the “dot-com bubble”).  Now we’re deep into Obama’s second term. Where’s da boom?

In 2015, Vladimir Putin may witness his empire’s death knell

By Strobe Talbott
December 16, 2014

Russia's President Putin chairs a meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi

The year ahead could see the outbreak of the third Chechen war, which, in turn, could be the death knell of the Russian Federation in its current borders. 

from Alison Frankel:

Sony’s big bluff can’t beat First Amendment

By Alison Frankel
December 15, 2014

Word broke this weekend that Sony Pictures Entertainment has hired celebrated lawyer David Boies of Boies Schiller & Flexner to warn news organizations away from publishing stories based on information hacked from the studio's servers. Boies' letter, sent to top in-house counsel at the New York Times, Bloomberg, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, said the hacked documents contain trade secrets, Sony intellectual property and privileged legal advice. If news organizations use the stolen material, the letter said, Sony "will have no choice but to hold you responsible."

Is the Rev. Al Sharpton still president of black America? Was he ever?

By Jamal Eric Watson
December 15, 2014

McSpadden and Sharpton smile as they lead the national Justice For All march against police violence, in Washington

The Rev. Al Sharpton didn’t rocket to stardom.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he was, at best, a regional activist who had successfully used outrageous tactics to call attention to the plight of dozens of unarmed black men who had lost their lives at the hands of angry white mobs and police officers.

Feds can help reform police, but watch out for unintended consequences

By Inimai Chettiar
December 15, 2014

People take part in a protest against Eric Garner grand jury decision in Manhattan in New York

In the aftermath of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, protesters across the nation are looking to Washington for action and answers. This seems a strange disconnect, however, because policing is regarded as a local matter. The federal government, the public is told, has no jurisdiction over local law enforcement issues.

Saudi Arabia is playing chicken with its oil

By Mohamad Bazzi
December 15, 2014

Saudi King Abdullah sits before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Kerry at the Royal Palace in Jeddah

In August 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat paid a secret visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to meet with King Faisal. Sadat was preparing for war with Israel, and he needed Saudi Arabia to use its most powerful weapon: oil.