James Traub

The Arab War on Terror

Obama's Middle East allies are signing up for the fight against the Islamic State. But it's not for the reason you think.

Arab states have a new defining cause: the war on terror. Almost four years ago, popular uprisings across the region upended an old order and created a new set of aspirations and a new collective meaning. That was the Arab Spring; save in Tunisia, where the spirit survives, it lasted for two years at the most before giving way to chaos and violence, backlash and regret.

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Would American Money Have Saved James Foley?

European governments pay millions of dollars in ransoms to free their hostages. The White House needs to decide whether it’s willing to sacrifice principle for people.

The bloodthirsty jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) have murdered James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012. They also have threatened the life of Steven Sotloff, another American freelancer, who was seized last August, and who has written for Foreign Policy on three occasions. The executioner in the video warned President Barack Obama that Sotloff would die if the White House continues its bombing campaign in Iraq. I assume that the president has asked intelligence and special forces operatives whether Sotloff could be freed in a raid. I hope he determines that he can be, but it's very unlikely. According to the New York Times, a rescue attempt earlier this summer came to naught when commandos air-dropped into a remote region of Syria failed to find the hostages. The record of rescue attempts has not been good since American helicopters came to grief in the Iranian desert in 1980. And IS could be shuttling Sotloff anywhere in their vast "caliphate."

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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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