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Washington’s World: February 23rd, 2015 – February 29th, 2015

With few breakthroughs and many more frustrations on display, the foreign policy debate in Washington has become circular. For many of the problems of the day – led by Islamic State and UkrainePresident Obama emphasizes the long-term and the impossibility of purely military solutions. His critics – who include both  Republican and Democrats – take the opposite tack, demanding immediate US interventions and calling for more recourse to the military. The confrontation with the Islamic State illustrates the paradigm. While Obama emphasizes a wide palette of mainly non-military actions, an influential Atlantic Magazine article about the IS theologically-based ideology has energized those demanding an attack on IS-held territory. If, as seems certain, the conflict outlives the Obama presidency, a more hawkish line is forming – irrespective of which party wins the White House. Jeb Bush, the Republican frontrunner, is assembling a foreign policy team from the veterans of both previous Bush Administrations and the foreign policy figures who are close to Hillary Clinton tend to favor an assertive approach. For the moment, much of this debate remains mostly confined to foreign policy salons, as Obama shows little sign of bending to these voices. It is possible, however, that a development in the real world may soon demand more practical responses, namely the late March deadline for a deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Whether a deal is reached – an outcome which US officials describe to us a within reach – or whether the negotiations break down, a real choice of accepting the deal or rejecting it in favor of a new round of confrontation with Tehran will lie before Congress. The Administration will have to work very hard to make any deal stick. On Ukraine, trust in Russian President Putin reaches new lows on practically a daily basis, with no US policy-makers believing that the Minsk ceasefire will hold. The question of whether to send defensive weapons to Ukraine continues to gain traction. All this leaves little time for Asian issues, but US officials continue to seek to mediate between China and its neighbors on the various territorial disputes in East Asia. In the background, talks with Cuba will resume in Washington next week, with much of the initial opposition to this initiative much attenuated.  



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