The Great Debate

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.

It’s a weird war when Iran and the U.S. are bombing the same country

By Michael Williams
December 10, 2014

A Syrian Air Force fighter plane fires rockets during an air strike in the village of Tel Rafat

The McDonnell Douglas’ F4 Phantom was a workhorse of the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. It was retired from the USAF and the British Royal Air Force some 20 years ago. But the vintage fighter-bomber put in a surprise performance a few days ago over the skies of northern Iraq.

The pope’s door is always open to ISIS. Why America’s should be, too.

By Jonathan Powell
December 8, 2014

Hamas fighter speaks on the phone as he sits inside the personal meeting hall of President Abbas after they captured his headquarters in Gaza

Pope Francis strayed into controversy recently when he said that, while he supported military action against Islamic State, he also would not rule out speaking to the group if it would help bring peace to Syria and Iraq. “It is difficult, one could say almost impossible, but the door is always open,” he said.

Here’s why killing the head of Islamic State wouldn’t yield results

By Arie W. Kruglanski
November 27, 2014

Aerial view of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad

Many believe that killing the leaders of terrorist organizations like Islamic State could change the course of events in Iraq and Syria. Like the cutting off of a snake’s head, eliminating the chief of a terrorist organization is assumed to deal it a fatal or near fatal blow. The U.S. government, for instance, has often boasted about eliminating major al Qaeda leaders, and viewed such assassinations as a clear mark of progress in the ‘global war on terror.’

Hunting for scapegoats, Obama bagged the wrong guy in Hagel

By Lawrence Korb
November 24, 2014

U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel listens as President Obama announces Hagel's resignation at the White House in Washington

The timing of Chuck Hagel’s resignation as secretary of defense may have been a surprise, but the fact that he was on his way out has been rumored for weeks. The real issue is why he either stepped down or was forced to leave after such a comparatively short time in office.

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.

from John Lloyd:

Should the West withdraw from the world to win its love?

By John Lloyd
November 6, 2014

Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st rest as they wait to pack their weapons for shipment back to the United States at Camp Virginia, Kuwait

In his original and argumentative history of the Anglo-American domination of the past three or more centuries, Walter Russell Mead writes that both the UK and the United States believed their imposition of a world order served the highest interests of humanity. From Oliver Cromwell’s denunciation of Spanish cruelty in the 1650s to Ronald Reagan’s characterisation of the Soviet Union as an evil empire in the 1980s, the two main Anglophone states have seen their global expansionism as a blessing for the world: what’s good for us is good for everyone.

from Stories I’d like to see:

Did Islamic State really call a convention of nuts and have 15,000 people show up?

By Steven Brill
November 4, 2014

Islamic State fighter gestures from a vehicle in the countryside of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, after the Islamic State fighters took control of the area

Last week, the Guardian reported, “The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on ‘an unprecedented scale’ and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants to global terrorism.”

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.

How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (and funds terror)

By Sam Hardy
October 27, 2014

1“Many antique collectors unwillingly support terrorists like Islamic State, ” Michel van Rijn, one of the most successful smugglers of antique artifacts in the past century, told German broadcaster Das Erste this month.