The Great Debate

Seven unlikely events in the fight against Islamic State, and their likely outcomes

By Aki Peritz and Tara Maller
November 17, 2014

Shi'ite fighters, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), take part in field training in the desert in the province of Najaf

It’s easy to get depressed about the Middle East these days. The bloodshed continues unabated in Syria. Islamic State advances across Iraq, sacking towns and slaughtering innocents. Millions are refugees. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seems well ensconced in Damascus, on track to outlasting President Barack Obama in office.

The U.S.-Iran non-alliance alliance against Islamic State

By Aki Peritz and Faris Alikhan
October 29, 2014

Smoke rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border

One irony about the fight against Islamic State is that the nations now striking the extremist group the hardest also dislike each other the most.

Five questions for America on Syria

By Aki Peritz
October 3, 2014

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq

When the United States began bombing Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Syria last month, it entered into a conflict that has been grinding on for more than three years. Here are five major questions America needs to answer as the fighting unfolds in the weeks ahead:

Avoid a classic blunder: Stay out of religious wars in the Middle East

By Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman
September 16, 2014

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Muslims in the Middle East are fighting wars of religion. Like the carnage between Protestants and Catholics that haunted Northern Ireland during the last third of the 20th century, there is little anyone can do until local peoples crave peace so intensely they are willing to cultivate it.

To beat Islamic State, Obama needs Iran

By William B. Quandt
September 11, 2014

Masked Sunni gunmen pray during a patrol outside the city of Falluja

President Barack Obama delivered a speech Wednesday night designed for an American public that has been losing confidence in its commander in chief.  Much of his address was about attitude — we are tough, we will act, we will prevail, but we will do all this with airpower, not boots on the ground (or not many) and in cooperation with friends and allies. This mission will not be a repeat of Afghanistan or Iraq (President George W. Bush’s wars), Obama promised, but will be more like Obama’s campaigns against al Qaeda — don’t forget he killed Osama bin Laden! — and the continuing strikes against radical Islamists in Somalia and Yemen.

If U.S. joins Islamic State fight, how will it get out?

By Bill Schneider
September 10, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

When President Barack Obama makes the case for military action against Islamic State militants on Wednesday night, it won’t be hard to convince Americans to get involved in the conflict. The hard part will be explaining how we get out.

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.

How — and why — the U.S. must support Iraq

By Anja Manuel
June 13, 2014

Mourners carry the coffin of a victim killed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up inside a tent filled with mourners in Baghdad, during a funeral in Najaf A disaster is unfolding in Iraq. It is in part a result of the failed Syria and broader Middle East policies pursued by the West in the past four years.

The religion-fueled fight in Syria

By David Patrikarakos
February 19, 2014

The second round of peace talks in Geneva between representatives of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria and rebel forces has ended with both sides blaming each other for the lack of progress. Beyond the finger-pointing, however, lies a growing danger to the goal of a negotiated settlement. The civil war’s religious divides are widening, making compromise unthinkable.