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Everyone Agrees Iraq Is in Crisis. Not Everyone Agrees About What to Do About It.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) continued its seemingly relentless push towards Baghdad, conquering nearly enough territory to attack the Iraqi capital from three different directions. The al Qaeda offshoot also took its offensive into cyberspace, disseminating brutal photos on social media that appeared to show the group's fighters executing dozens of unarmed Iraqi security personnel. And on Sunday, the United States announced that it would temporarily evacuate some of its over 5,000 embassy employees in Baghdad in the face of the ISIS advance.

Thousands of miles away in Washington, lawmakers, retired military officers, and former senior Obama administration officials agreed that the crisis posed a historic threat to Iraq. They clashed, though, on a pair of key questions: what to do, and how much of the blame should be placed on the shoulders of President Obama.

Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham had simple answers for both: airstrikes, and a lot. Graham assigned the recent security collapse -- and its potentially dire implications for Iraq and the region -- to the Obama administration's 2011 decision to withdraw all American troops from Iraq after the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to sign a long-term security agreement between the two countries. "The decision to withdraw U.S. forces created a vacuum," he said on CBS's Face the Nation. His support for renewed military action was clear. "We need airpower immediately to stop the [ISIS] advance toward Baghdad." Democrats, including former Obama advisor Tom Donilon and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, presented conditional support for airstrikes, but argued that greater intelligence-gathering -- and political reconciliation among Iraq's clashing factions -- would be prerequisites.

Left unchecked, Graham and other Republicans argued, ISIS threatened Iraq and the entire region.

"This is another 9/11 in the making," Graham told CNN's Gloria Borger on State of the Union, referring to the ongoing ISIS assault. "If the central government in Iraq collapses," Graham said, "the Iranians [will] dominate the south -- they'll own all the resources in the south -- these [ISIS] guys will operate from Baghdad to Kurdistan all the way into Syria. They will consolidate economic and military power, they'll march toward Jordan and Lebanon, and they will use that space to attack us."

Democrats defended the White House and said the insurgents' ability to quickly conquer large swaths of Iraq showed the consequences of Maliki's crackdown on the country's Sunni minority. Maliki, Democrats and several retired generals have said in recent days, alienated Sunnis so completely that many are openly or tacitly supporting ISIS.

Tom Donilon, the former Obama national security advisor, defended the administration's record. "The Iraqi government was given the space and time to put together the kind of inclusive government needed" to address sectarian tensions, he told CBS's Bob Schieffer. "It failed to do so." The problem, Donilon said, was not the Obama administration's withdrawal -- it was the Iraqi government's failure to build a sustainable political climate after American troops packed up.

Neither opponents nor defenders of the Obama administration's 2011 pullout advocated for the deployment of American ground forces. But assessments diverged on the course and timeline of potential U.S. action. Donilon, echoing President Obama's statement on Friday, argued that any American strike should come after the Iraqi government has "pulled itself together politically." But Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, claimed that the violence was moving faster than any potential political process. "We can't wait days and weeks and months to scratch our heads," Rogers said on Fox News Sunday. "We have to ask one single question: is al Qaeda holding land the size of Indiana a problem for the United States?"

The lawmakers, generals, and former Obama administration officials pointed to a range of other questions, too: How should the government in Baghdad facilitate the inclusion of Sunnis in the midst of civil war? How can the Iraqi army develop into a force not for sectarian interests, but for the rule of law? And how could Maliki, with his history of sectarian favoritism, realize whatever the answers to these difficult questions might be?

Few answers were ventured Sunday morning. The more tempered assessments -- from Paul Eaton, the retired general formerly charged with training Iraqi troops, on State of the Union; from former Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli, on This Week  --  stopped short of the Iraqi political scene. Chiarelli, who suggested that ISIS might not make it to Baghdad, alluded only to "some kind of inclusion of the Sunnis into the government." Eaton, who noted the "bad optics" of civilian deaths in potential airstrikes, said that the United States should provide Baghdad with intelligence support -- but didn't indicate how Washington might encourage the rebuilding of Iraq's fragile domestic politics. Manchin, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reiterated the problem of morale in the Iraqi army. But he closed his interview on Meet the Press with bluster. "If you intend to do America or any Americans harm," he said to David Gregory, "we will bring a ring of fire that you never, ever could've imagined upon you." On This Week, Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, suggested that Washington would best leave these problems to its experts. "I would call the top team of commanders and diplomats who won this war," he said.

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

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South American Drug Trade Deja Vu

After overtaking Colombia as the world's top producer of coca, cocaine's main ingredient, in 2013, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced this week that Peru greatly decreased cocaine cultivation, reducing coca production by 17.5 percent. U.N. officials herald it the "most remarkable reduction rate achieved in the last 14 years."

But no one is declaring victory in the war on drugs quite yet: Although Peruvian yields are down, the price of coca leaves has increased by 30 percent. Similarly, the price of base cocaine has increased more than 17 percent. Most importantly, the street form -- cocaine hydrochloride -- increased almost 32 percent from 2013 prices, according to the UNODC. Though authorities have squeezed the supply of coca and its products some, demand remains high. Moreover, if the Andean drug trade's history is any indication, supply will simply shift to another country.

Drug researchers call this the "balloon effect" -- where pressure from the authorities in one country or region pushes drug production elsewhere. Squeezing the balloon at one end causes drug producers to compensate and expand into another. Since the U.S.-led war on drugs began in the 1980s, the balloon effect has shaped the cocaine trade.

In 2013, fumigation and forced eradication of coca crops in Colombia finally hit a turning point and the South American nation bequeathed its crown as the world's top coca producer to its neighbor, Peru. Both the United States and the U.N. declared it a milestone. Unsaid was that the Colombian government's efforts to crack down on production -- in part under the banner of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-backed effort to combat left-wing guerrillas and drug traffickers -- simply shifted production to Peru.

Colombia and Peru have swapped the coca-producer champion crown for decades. In the mid-90s Peru launched an intense eradication campaign and Colombia was back on top. In 1990, Colombia was only responsible for 19 percent of the global coca market, behind top producers Bolivia and Peru. By 1997, it was the world's top producer. See the pattern here?

Growing global demand is a big factor in shifting supply locations. Even though demand for cocaine is dropping in the United States -- still the world's largest cocaine consumer -- it's up in Brazil, Europe, and Africa, according to the 2013 U.N. World Drug Report. Colombia is the United States' largest cocaine supplier but Brazil -- the No. 2 cocaine market and No. 1 crack-cocaine market -- and Europe are supplied by Peru and, to a lesser extent, Bolivia. Peru's crackdown will undoubtedly move coca central again but exactly where is unclear. History makes Colombia and Bolivia top contenders. Coca growers in Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, and Brazil are trying to increase production in those countries.

Meanwhile, Brazil is also becoming a vital transit route for shipping cocaine to West Africa and Europe, where markets are growing. Brazilian consumption, as well as trade of the substance, will only open up more emerging markets to the high of cocaine. And as incomes rise in Asia, cocaine consumption there will likely spike, possibly more than making up for Americans' shrinking appetite.

As before, the South American drug trade will find a way to persevere.  

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