Five Best Wednesday Columns

On leaving Afghanistan, European forces in Libya, and the AT&T, T-Mobile merger

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Lakhdar Brahimi and Thomas Pickering on Getting Out of Afghanistan Now Lakhdar Brahimi and Thomas Pickering declare, after a year as chairmen of an Afghanistan task force set up by the Century Foundation, that the US needs to start negotiating reconciliation in order to get out of Afghanistan right now. The former UN representative to Afghanistan and the undersecretary of state, respectively, write in the New York Times today that the U.S.'s counterinsurgency efforts will never topple the influence of the Taliban in the region. "The stalemate can be resolved only with a negotiated political settlement involving President Hamid Karzai's government and its allies, the Taliban and its supporters in Pakistan, and other regional and international parties," they explain, acknowledging that "none of it will be easy." Conversations with locals reveal that the country is split between all-out rejection of foreign presence and an open-mindedness toward peace talks. The writers argue that "a neutral international facilitator is needed" for a successful peace-keeping agreement. They conclude that "Afghanistan is a particularly challenging case, but it is not hopeless."

Con Coughlin on Europe's Ability to Handle Libya Itself  The Telegraph's Con Coughlin wonders if, after being the biggest pushers of Libyan intervention, Britain and France can actually handle the conflict on their own. The U.S. does not want the lead role here, it's up to Paris and France to lead the way. Europe's military capability is sorely lacking, writes Coughlin, noting that in previous conflicts the Americans have undertaken a majority of the action. Also, European leaders "just can't agree on how the command structure should be run." David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy wanted a no-fly zone but Germany, among others, was opposed. "We know from bitter experience in Afghanistan the damage that can be done when individual countries insist on imposing their own caveats on what their forces can and cannot do in military operations," he writes. If Britain and France can't get their act together, with Germany on board, "Europe's ability to run a war of its own will be seriously compromised."

Steve Kornacki on Not Underestimating the GOP in 2012  Steve Kornacki warns against underestimating the Republican party's seemingly motley crew of 2012 presidential candidates, recalling that in 1992 Bill Clinton emerged from another flawed group as "the first Democrat in 16 years to win the White House." Salon's news editor argues that it was the bad economy that made George H. W. Bush weak as he ran for reelection, and that today's economy may have the same effect on Barack Obama. "This doesn't mean that it's impossible for the GOP to muck up a winnable '12 race--if it ends up being a winnable race--by nominating an egregiously flawed candidate. It's just not too likely." Chances are high Republicans will go with the least-obviously flawed option, Mitt Romney, the harshest accusation against whom would be calling him a flip-flopper. "But as Clinton proved in '92, the country will happily elect a flip-flopper--if he's challenging an unpopular president weighted down by a bad economy."

Holman Jenkins on the Reality of the 'Wireless Crisis'  The Wall Street Journal columnist takes a look at how the AT&T and T-Mobile merger will affect customers in the face of what "FCC Chief Julius Genachowski touts [as a] looming wireless crisis." Jenkins clarifies that "talking about a spectrum shortage is a bit like talking about a real-estate shortage. There is plenty of real estate, most of it of little value because it's in places where nobody wants it. The same is true of spectrum." In fact, in cities where "concentrated populations of mobile users are overwhelming local cell towers," the merger actually presents a possibility for "lower costs and more efficient use of existing spectrum without hurting customers," as the market of competing service providers continues to multiply. Jenkins argues that the FCC's approach to limited spectrum is actually counterproductive and that "back-door deregulation" may be the most appealing option for wireless retailers looking to appropriate unused spectrum from broadcasters.

Joanna Weiss on Flexibility in the Workplace At the Boston Globe, Joanna Weiss notes the recession has prompted companies to allow for "flexible work arrangements" in a "Results ONly Work Environment," which "posits that when and where people work is irrelevant, so long as the work gets done." This "makes life manageable for working parents," and allows companies to "attract and retain employees, and save costs." But, Weiss suggests, instead of treating flexibility in the work place as an added benefit, "perhaps we should be changing the ground rules instead, seeing flexibility as a point of pride--a way for employees to show off how much they can achieve in a crisis or a crunch." This may yet be the way to solve the problem of mothers and the working world. Juggling motherhood and a corporate career, she adds, is a significant accomplishment and should be treated as such.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.