For anyone interested in a behind-the-headlines understanding of US foreign policy, the 2007 UC Berkeley lecture series Issues in Foreign Policy after 9/11 is a great place to start.
One of the best lectures is the lecture dated 11/4, with guest speaker Edward Luttwak, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Luttwak is a very entertaining speaker, with a sarcastic, wiseguy persona. Example (paraphrased): I knew that Iraq would be a disaster because of the historical precedent. I’m sure you all know to what I am referring. (Here my mind casts around for possible parallels. I think perhaps he’s talking about US interventions in Haiti or perhaps Central America.) It is the French invasion of Spain in 1810. Luttwak goes on to describe how the French invaders thought of themselves as liberators. They were freeing the oppressed Spanish peasants, bringing them a democracy and liberation from the Catholic Church which taxed them heavily. Instead the Catholic Church easily convinced the peasants to mount a guerrilla war against the invading French.
Luttwak seems to enjoy making provocative statements like “War should be allowed to do its job (pause for audience to gasp) which is, to bring peace, by destroying the resources and the will to keep fighting.”
Perhaps his most interesting point was his take on the nature of strategy. He said that that strategy is complicated because you always have to deal with a possible reaction that will nullify your strategy. For example, if you are the United States with overwhelming air power they can strike anywhere in the world, your enemies will disperse and hide so that it is difficult to strike them.