Teaching with the News Archives

This lesson was published in March 2008.

Conflict in Iraq: Confronting Policy Alternatives

An important debate is taking place in the United States concerning U.S. policy. This is not a new debate. Some would date it back to the pre-war period in 2002 through early 2003. Others would begin with the discussion prior to the first Gulf War in 1991. At this point in the conflict, discussion is focused on the question of the U.S. presence in Iraq. What is our purpose? Who should be involved in solutions? Are U.S. troop levels right? How long should U.S. troops stay? What does this mean for the larger question of America's role in the world today?


Policy Options

The Policy Options presented in this material are not intended as a menu of choices. Rather, they are framed in stark terms to highlight very different policy approaches, the values that underlie them, and the critiques. (Note: Critiques come from the perspective of supporters of the other Options.)

It is important that students understand that no one Option as it is framed here reflects the views of any one organization or national leader. It is the students' job to sort through the three Options, think about their concerns and values, discuss these with their peers, and then frame an "Option 4" that reflects their own views. When they have done this, we encourage them to read the papers, listen to the views of others, think about the ways in which they agree and disagree, and look for areas of common ground.

Policy Options in 2003 (summary)

In order to provide historical context to the current debate and help students to connect this discussion to the larger issues of U.S. foreign policy and the role of the United States in world affairs, you may wish to introduce students to the issue of Iraq as it was being discussed prior to the current war. Crisis with Iraq was developed in fall 2002 and used extensively in the winter and spring of 2003.

Guidelines for Deliberation

Deliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options

Online Ballot: The U.S. Role in the World

DAY I—Preparation and Presentation of the Options

Break your class up into four groups. Assign three of the groups a Policy Option (one for each group). Assign the remaining group the role of the president and his advisors or of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Options Presenters: Their task will be to review their assigned Option, consider the values that underlie it as well as the tradeoffs involved, and then develop a short presentation to give to the class. This presentation should make the best possible case for this Option.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Their task will be to review each of the Options presented in the material and prepare clarifying questions to ask of the "advocates" of each Option after their presentation. The intent is to make sure that the Options, as they are written, are fully understood prior to deliberation on their merits, risks, and tradeoffs.

Foreign Representatives: If your class is large, you may want to assign some students the role of representatives of other nations. They can be asked to present their views on the Options after all of them have been presented.

DAY II—Shared Deliberation and Individual Judgment

With the Options presented and understood, students have a foundation for deliberation on the merits and the tradeoffs of each. Ultimately students will articulate their own perspective on the issue.

Deliberating on the Options:Begin your deliberation by asking students to identify the things they like and the things that concern them about each of the options presented. Encourage students to listen carefully to each other rather than to try to "win" the argument. The intent of deliberative discourse is to see that all perspectives are heard and considered and that all participants have a place at the table. The outcome should involve a more sophisticated understanding on the part of all participating. See Guidelines for Deliberation. You may also find Deliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options a useful activity.

Articulating Their Own Views:After students have deliberated together on the merits and tradeoffs of the Options presented in this lesson, give all of the students an opportunity to come to terms with their own views on this issue. What should we do? Have them articulate their own considered judgments on the issue by framing their "Option 4" using the format of the Options presented. It may help them to use the questions provided with the Options as an organizing tool.

Online Ballot: Finally, students are encouraged to participate in an online ballot activity focused on the overarching question of the role of the United States in the world. "The U.S. Role in the World" provides an opportunity for students to express their beliefs and concerns after considering alternative views on a range of international issues. A report will be developed periodically and disseminated to elected officials and policymakers.

Let Your Voice Be Heard: Encourage your students to express their views.

Contacting Elected Officials: Students could write letters to elected officials. They can find contact information for the White House at www.whitehouse.gov/contact and their U.S. Senators and Representatives at thomas.loc.gov.

Writing Locally: Students could write letters to the editor of a local paper. Or they could write an article for the school or community newspaper.

Additional Online Resources

BBC News Online
Provides contiually updated interviews, news stories, analysis, and fact sheets on post-war Iraq.

Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (PBS)
Provides continually updated interviews and news stories on a range of issues related to post-war Iraq.

Global Policy Forum
Public opinion polls in Iraq gathered by the BBC, ABC, and NHK news programs.