James Traub

Going to Ground

As Obama tucks further into his shell, I'm headed out again to see the world.

I am giving my thumb a rest. I have been sucking it for almost five years now. For the 30-odd years beforehand, I was a journalist, which is to say that I went to places and talked to people in order to gain direct knowledge of my subject. I developed what I think of as the journalist's heuristic: If you haven't seen it yourself, you don't know that you know it. So my resolve: less thumb-sucking, more direct experience. I will still be writing regularly for Foreign Policy, and I will continue to pontificate every now and again; but I will be spending more time in the world beyond my door, and beyond America's borders.

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Take One for Tehran

Why President Obama needs to stand up to the warmongers who want to kill the Iranian nuclear deal.

July 20 is drop-dead day for negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. On Jan. 20, diplomats gave themselves six months to reach an agreement to bring Iran into compliance with the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Barring an eleventh-hour miracle, negotiators in Vienna will not finalize a deal, and instead will have to agree to an extension, perhaps for another six months. As that moment approaches, President Barack Obama will be the target of howls of outrage from Congress, the Israel lobby, Israel itself, and Saudi Arabia -- all of whom have been pushing the United States into confrontation with Iran.

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Doing Nothing Is Now out of the Question

Obama may finally have changed his calculus on Syria -- but is his plan for the U.S. to train rebels two years too late?

Mass atrocities do not intrinsically threaten world peace, much less Western interests. The genocide in Rwanda did not, nor did the mass murders in Sierra Leone, Liberia, or Darfur. The slaughter in the former Yugoslavia did, which is why the West intervened in Bosnia. Those of us who favor the doctrine known as "the responsibility to protect" wish it were otherwise, but with rare exceptions (Libya), it is not.

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A Democracy Made of Straw

Why did it take two administrations to learn that Baghdad doesn’t work like Washington?

Vice President Joe Biden always had a clear idea of America's exit strategy in Iraq. President Barack Obama gave Biden the vexed Iraq portfolio in mid-2009, and when I flew with the vice president to Baghdad that summer, he explained to me that Iraq's sectarian leaders were, at the end of the day, politicians, like him, and faced the quandaries all politicians face. With an election looming the following year, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had to hang on to his base while appealing to Sunnis and Kurds. "If he wants to stay in power," Biden asked, "how does he do it?" Sectarianism was a losing proposition in a multi-confessional state like Iraq. With a great deal of American help, Biden believed, Iraqis could learn how to use politics in order to settle disputes without bloodshed. Now that Iraq is teetering on the edge of civil war, or at the very least, state fragmentation, that faith looks very naïve indeed. It's fair to wonder if Biden was kidding himself, or me.

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The Hillary Paradox

How the former secretary of state pulls off being softer than soft and harder than hard.

It's Hillary Week! The former secretary of state/senator/first lady has published a memoir with the startling title Hard Choices. (See Time's "Political Memoir Title Generator" for your very own clichéd memoir title.) Clinton has presided over a book signing, where crews from Fox trawled for fresh material to renew an old hate affair. She has played Q&A patty-cake at the Council on Foreign Relations. And she has offered pundits (like me) a one-week timeout from real-life calamities in order to reassess her legacy.

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