The Great Debate

Iraq airstrikes: You read the news, now get the context

By Allison Silver
August 8, 2014

Relatives mourn the death of a Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighter, killed during clashes with Islamic State fighters in the Iraqi city of Rabia on the Iraqi-Syrian border, during his funeral in Ras al-Ain

Once you read the latest news about the U.S. airstrikes and humanitarian drops in Iraq, turn to commentary for the context you need to fully understand what is happening and how we got here. Here is a quick tour:

If at first you don’t succeed in Iraq, Surge, Surge again

By Peter Van Buren
July 17, 2014

Major-General Hertling, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, walks during a battlefield circulation patrol on the streets in Mosul

America’s new strategy for resolving the Sunni-Shi’ite crisis in Iraq? The Surge — again.

If Iraq must be divided, here’s the right way to do it

By Michael O'Hanlon and Edward P. Joseph
July 4, 2014

Shi'ite volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight ISIL, hold a sign during a graduation ceremony in Najaf

As Iraq spirals toward chaos and its Kurdish region talks independence, the issue of partition, or federalism, has resurfaced. This is a concept that then-Senator Joe Biden strongly advocated in 2006. Though it would be difficult to accomplish, federalism could still be a helpful element as Iraqis struggle through their current tragic mess.

from John Lloyd:

Are we at war? And why can’t we be sure anymore?

By John Lloyd
June 30, 2014

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron poses for group photograph taken with G8 leaders at the Lough Erne golf resort in Enniskillen

The question -- “Are we at war?” -- seems absurd. Surely, we would know it if we were. But maybe we’re in a new era -- and wars are creeping up on us.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

World War One: First war was impossible, then inevitable

By Anatole Kaletsky
June 27, 2014

British troops advance during the battle of the Somme in this 1916 handout picture

Why does the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand -- the event that lit the fuse of World War One 100 years ago Saturday -- still resonate so powerfully? Virtually nobody believes World War Three will be triggered by recent the military conflicts in Ukraine, Iraq or the China seas, yet many factors today mirror those that led to the catastrophe in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

from Mark Leonard:

Decline of U.S. influence in the Middle East could make for some strange bedfellows

By Mark Leonard
June 25, 2014

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Thirty-five years ago Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran chanting “death to America.” But today Iran wants to work with the United States to stabilize Iraq while negotiating a deal on its nuclear program. The journey from death threats to diplomacy is both a triumph of U.S. statecraft and a symbol of its declining power.

Is this Obama’s ‘malaise’ moment?

By Bill Schneider
June 24, 2014

Obama addresses the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington

Malaise is back.

President Barack Obama’s situation is getting perilously close to President Jimmy Carter’s in 1979.

Should U.S. work with Iran in Iraq? Yes, if it wants to take on the real challenge: China

By Trita Parsi
June 23, 2014

A member of the Kurdish security forces takes up position with his weapon while guarding an oil refinery, on the outskirts of Mosul

To work with Iran or not to work with Iran? That’s the question dogging Washington as Iraq descends into chaos, reminding America that its mission there was never truly accomplished.

from Ian Bremmer:

Obama isn’t the only one with a passive-aggressive foreign policy

By Ian Bremmer
June 19, 2014

 China's President Xi speaks during his meeting with U.S. President Obama, on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, in The Hague

America and China are the world’s two major powers, with the largest economies and militaries. The stakes are high for them to practice what they preach on foreign policy: their words and actions influence the global economy, as well as the behavior of allies and enemies.

US-Iran relations: When history isn’t history after all

June 19, 2014

STUDENTS MARCH TO GATES OF TEHRAN UNIVERSITY AFTER NATIONAL STUDENT'S DAY RALLY.

I learned what a trickster history can be 20 years ago at Hanoi airport. After everything the United States gave and lost in Vietnam while trying to keep it safe from Communism, who would have thought you would find the lion lying down with the lamb at a business convention? But there it was, capitalism in capital letters, a billboard advertising VIETNAMERICA EXPO!