Obama has two options on Iraq. Both are terrible.

In Washington right now, one hears two kinds of strategies discussed. One strategy, put forth primarily by people who championed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, is to intervene forcefully from the air on the side of the central government in Baghdad and to provide extensive military support, even possibly launching a no-fly zone, to aid the opposition to Bashar al Assad in Syria. This strategy might make sense if the two wars were unconnected and had not degenerated into religious conflicts. As it stands, however, the strategy would seem to put us on different sides in two ethno-religious civil wars—with the Sunnis in Syria and the Shiites in Iraq. In addition, I don’t think the American people or Congress would support it, or that Obama would do it.

The second strategy would consist of seeking stability and an end to the two civil wars by accepting some form of partitioning of both countries—or at best a strict federalism with a weak central administration. It would also include—although no one is willing to say this aloud—the perpetuation in government of some unsavory people, including Assad or his close supporters. That kind of strategy would necessarily have to involve close cooperation between the United States and Iran, which is the main power behind Baghdad and Damascus. It would involve extensive diplomacy and linkage with the Iranian nuclear talks—the kind of amoral underhanded dealing for which Henry Kissinger became famous, but which the Obama administration has avoided.