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Responsible Statecraft 2021: Top 5 most-read articles of the year

This was a see-saw year with major headlines emphasizing the volatility of US relationships with the world. Our most popular stories reflect that.

Analysis | Washington Politics

The year 2021 was a see-saw in the classic sense: the Biden Administration accomplished the incredible feat of withdrawing the U.S. military from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.

Yet on many other fronts, stasis: the new president has failed to return the United States to the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal; tensions with Russia and China remain the same or are in many cases worse, and the crippling war in Yemen continues. Promises by the administration to stop assistance to the Saudi coalition in order to help bring about an end to that war, have gone unfulfilled.

In many ways the most-read articles on Responsible Statecraft tin 2021 mirror those major foreign policy issues and audience interest in them, with the added bonus that they provide analysis not usually found in mainstream, establishment outlets. Below are the Top 5.

Other popular pieces not on that list nonetheless reflect the concerns and outrages of the day, as well as some of the best reporting RS had on offer. This included Eli Clifton (#6) uncovering the defense industry ties held by a majority of task force members advising the president to stay in Afghanistan, and Nick Turse (#13), who found a surprising number of U.S. commandos stationed in Europe today. Annelle Sheline (#14) explored some interesting connections between American Exceptionalism in Iraq and this year's Hollywood blockbuster, "Dune," and Rachel Odell slammed Washington rhetoric painting China as a threat to the "world order" (#17). On the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, John Mueller started a big debate suggesting the U.S. should have never invaded Afghanistan in the first place (#20).

Check out our five most read articles of 2021:

#1 Trita Parsi : Revealed: How Biden rejected a reasonable way forward in Iran Deal talks (Aug. 20)

The White House reportedly wouldn’t commit to staying in the deal for the remainder of the president’s term.

#2 Jim Lobe : Three major networks devoted a full five minutes to Afghanistan in 2020 (Oct. 20)

It should be no surprise then that Americans were shocked at the speed at which the U.S.-backed Afghan army and government collapsed and the Taliban returned to power in Kabul in a rout.

#3 Anatol Lieven: What war with Russia over Ukraine would really look like (Nov. 24)

In recent statements, Moscow seems much more realistic about the consequences of actual conflict with Kiev and Western powers.

#4 Anatol Lieven: The generals lied and the fantasy died(Aug. 16)

H.R. McMaster and other apologists for the failed policy in Afghanistan would like us to focus on anything but their complicity in it today.

#5 Alex de Waal: Ethiopia: Salvaging a failing state(Nov. 10)

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has lost the war; the time has come for a ceasefire to negotiate the country’s future. (A more recent update by de Waal explores how Abiy was able to turn the tide in a matter of weeks.)

An Afghan man rests in his shop as he sell U.S. second hand materials outside Bagram U.S. air base, after American troops vacated it, in Parwan province, Afghanistan July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
Analysis | Washington Politics
The moderate wins in Iran. So what does it mean for the US?

Iran's President-elect Masoud Pezeshkian gestures during a gathering with his supporters at the shrine of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in south of Tehran, Iran July 6, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

The moderate wins in Iran. So what does it mean for the US?

Middle East

Political moderation has won a victory in Iran.

Cardiac surgeon and former health minister Masoud Pezeshkian defeated stalwart conservative Saeed Jalili in a presidential runoff election, by a margin of 16.3 million votes to 13.5 million votes.

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Biden: Like the nation, I am indispensable too

ABC News interview with President Biden Friday July 5 (Screenshot/ABC)

Biden: Like the nation, I am indispensable too

Washington Politics

The president insisted that his campaign would continue and that he was the best candidate for the job in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Friday.

Rejecting calls for him to step aside, Biden defended his determination to remain in the race by using one of his favorite foreign policy talking points, the conceit that America is the indispensable or essential nation. Building on the idea expressed by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright a quarter century ago, the president said, “You know, not only am I campaigning, but I'm running the world. Not — and that's not hy — sounds like hyperbole, but we are the essential nation of the world. Madeleine Albright was right.”

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Diplomacy Watch: A peace summit without Russia
Diplomacy Watch: What’s the point of Swiss peace summit?

Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine, West prepare for an uncertain future


As November’s election approaches, the Ukrainian government and NATO member countries are planning for the possibility that European and American leadership may be less enthusiastic about supporting Kyiv’s war effort.

Meanwhile, Trump’s team-in-waiting is preparing for how it might deal with the thorny issues of rethinking the NATO alliance and managing the war in Ukraine.

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Israel-Gaza Crisis