Five Best Wednesday Columns
Tim Weiner on John Brennan, Jonathan Chait on elusive centrist debt solutions, J. Michael Cole on Japan-China hostilities, David Hirst on a possible Kurdish state, and Leonid Bershidsky on Gerard Depardieu taking Russia.
Tim Weiner in The New Republic on John Brennan Not everyone thinks Obama made the right choice in nominating John Brennan for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Most pointedly, some have questioned his involvement in targeted drone assassinations in the Middle East. Tim Weiner has his reservations, too, but after looking over the CVs of others potentially qualified to run the CIA, he concludes that Brennan is "the best of a bad lot." Weiner argues that he's uniquely prepared to modernize the agency, writing, "Having served in the CIA command structure, Brennan knows how bloated and bureaucratic the Agency can be. Langley hasn’t had anything approaching a major overhaul since the 1950s."
Jonathan Chait in New York on elusive centrist debt solutions After reading the same boilerplate argument — that Washington needs a centrist solution to the deficit crisis — Jonathan Chait argues that not only is it meaningless... it's deceptive. "The elite centrist drone is emitted by people who deem non-partisanship an essential part of their job description," Chait writes. "If they concede that one party is advocating their agenda, then you could flip the sentiment around and correctly conclude that they are advocating the agenda of a party; therefore, they would be partisan and have thus forfeited the entire basis of their claim to respectability."
J. Michael Cole in The Diplomat on Japan-China hostilities Yesterday, Japan's ruling party announced plans to ramp up military spending. Their defense ministry is probably starting to consider various war scenarios with China, argues J. Michael Cole. Skirmishes could break out over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands or other contested territories. Or war could erupt over Taiwan, Cole predicts. "There has been much speculation over the years about whether Tokyo would intervene if the PLA ever invaded Taiwan," he writes. "Reports in 2007 alleged that Japanese and U.S. officials, alarmed by growing Chinese might, were considering a plan to coordinate their actions under such a contingency." Tellingly, Cole notes, current Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was in power back when those plans were laid.
David Hirst in The Guardian on a possible Kurdish state Even Baghdad newspaper editor Abd al-Jabbar Shabbout now wants to talk about creating a Kurdish state, and David Hirst thinks that the Kurdish people might actually get what they've been fighting for all these years. "The 'Kurdish question' has now reached another critical stage, and it is intimately bound up with the region-wide cataclysm that is the Arab spring," Hirst writes. "So are the Iraqi Kurds now on the brink of their third, perhaps final, breakthrough, and the great losers of Sykes-Picot about to become, 90 years on, the great winners of the Arab spring?"
Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg View on Gerard Depardieu taking Russia Having given up his French passport in order to skirt taxes, Gerard Depardieu has already found a new home of sorts. Vladimir Putin granted the actor Russian citizenship, a move that Leonid Bershidsky calls "a comic plot come true." Putin seized the occasion to highlight his dissatisfaction with the Russian passport-granting process, Bershidksy argues. "Russian legislation does not allow anyone to gain citizenship in less than three months," he notes. But no amount of red tape can stop Putin from making a point. "After playing his part in Putin’s promotion campaign for Russian citizenship, Depardieu is back on the European star circuit. Putin, meanwhile, is back to the business of convincing his people that they live in a great country that famous French actors would be happy to call home."