Five Best Friday Columns

On the Afghanistan end game, the word of the decade, and a very unspecial relationship

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Barbara Boxer on Exiting Afghanistan "Although we must remain vigilant in our efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and must continue our support for the Afghan people, there is simply no justification for the continued deployment of 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan," declares California Sen. Barbara Boxer in today's Los Angeles Times. "As quickly as can be safely accomplished, American forces should be drawn down to a point where they are sufficient only to conduct targeted counter-terrorism operations, train Afghan security forces and protect American and coalition personnel."  She describes a new bill that demands a definitive "end date" from the White House. Boxer argues that instead of attempting to achieve the impossible goal of creating "Western-style democracy" in Afghanistan, the U.S. needs to "focus on what we can and must accomplish: preventing Al Qaeda from threatening the United States, and supporting Afghans as they determine the way forward." She also points to the "daring special forces raid that killed Bin Laden" as evidence that defeating Al Qaeda can be accomplished without risking the lives of so many soldiers.

Misha Glenny on the Hunt for Ratko Mladic  Despite opinions to the contrary, Serbian president Boris Tadić "placed the capture of [Ratko] Mladic at the top of his political agenda from the moment he was elected president in 2004," The Guardian's Misha Glenny explains. "He knew full well that until that happened, Serbia's aspiration to join the EU would be blocked." It is also, he insists, "thanks to Tadić that the revelations about Mladic's psychopathic tendencies have been properly aired in Serbia." Many predicted a Mladic arrest might spark "nationalist backlash," especially from his supporters in the military. But, Glenny argues, "most Serbs inside Serbia are no longer interested in the fate of Mladic...furthermore, enough has now been published and broadcast in Serbia for people to realize that Mladic was not the knight in shining armor many once thought he was." Glenny predicts that Mladic's capture will open the pathway to EU membership for Serbia, though its refusal to recognize Kosovo as independent will continue to impede "peace and the region." Still, Glenny writes, "what Boris Tadić has done with Mladić is to take a huge step towards the moral rehabilitation of Serbs and Serbia whose reputation was so catastrophically compromised by the wars of the 1990s. He deserves our support and respect."

Peggy Noonan on Our 'Unsustainable' Economy Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan observes that "the American establishment, on both sides of the political divide, is admitting as never before that we are in an existential challenge. And this is progress." She points out, as politicians now recognize, that the American people were the first to notice how "unsustainable" our debt is. "The great question now is whether the people who alerted the establishment to the crisis will trust that establishment to deal with it." Not only did today's politicians effectively create the mess we're in, "some of the politicians talking about how to stop the spending crisis are the same politicians who, for many years, said there was no crisis." Specifically, she argues, these politicians are the ones who must agree on how to fix Medicare before it collapses. The Democrats' opposition without an explicit rebuttal to Paul Ryan's plan is "transparent demagoguery," she writes. "Democrats will speak not of what they'll do but only of what they would never do, such as throw grandma out in the show. In honeyed tones [Obama's economic advisor Gene] Sperling said both parties should 'hold hands and jump together,' like Butch and Sundance," she writes. "But it was clear Sundance was going to stop at the edge of the cliff and hope Butch gets broken on the rocks."

Peter Oborne on British Pandering to the U.S. The Telegraph commentator notes that David Cameron's insistence that, under his leadership, Britain "would no longer be 'America's unconditional associate in every endeavor'...has been at least partly forgotten." Oborne calls President Obama's visit to London this week "a national embarrassment," blaming not only Cameron but also Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. "I have detected very little sense that Britain is a proud, independent nation with a distinct sense of our own values and traditions, many of which are very sharply different and, in some cases, contradictory to America's." Politicians' scrambling for a word with the President after his speech at Westminster Hall "was like teenagers surrounding a pop star, but with very much less excuse." Not only does Oborne think the Cameron's and Obama's barbecuing and ping-pong playing were "tasteless" at a time when both countries are involved in multiple wars, "it was made worse by the lack of substance, [no] hard analysis taking place, between the US President and the British Prime Minister in regard to our complex and morally treacherous wars in Libya and Afghanistan." Oborne points out that Obama and George Bush are the only American Presidents "who have been granted state visits, with all the associated grandeur which we witnessed this week," since the end of World War II. This is telling, because "when the relationship between Britain and the United States really was the hinge on which the world was constructed – think Churchill and Roosevelt, Macmillan and Kennedy, Reagan and Thatcher – nobody needed grand state ceremonial occasions to make the point. Now that it matters very much less, we do."

The New York Times Editors on the Conservative Backlash to Obama's Middle East Speech  The Editors observe that it only took a few minutes after Obama gave his speech on the Middle East last week before "Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers began twisting his words to suggest he was calling for an epochal abandonment of Israel." They acknowledge that "pandering on Israel in the hopes of winning Jewish support is hardly a new phenomenon in American politics, but there is something unusually dishonest about this fusillade," they point out. "Republicans know full well that Mr. Obama is not calling on Israel to retreat to its 1967 borders. He said those borders, which define the West Bank and Gaza, would be the starting point for talks about land swaps." The Editors' wonder whether those accusing Obama of drastically threatening Israel's safety "even agree on the need for a Palestinian state next to Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel says he does." Mitt Romney, for example, says he wants a "two-state solution," but, they ask, "what could the outline of that solution be if not the one Mr. Obama mentioned?" They point to the difference between Obama and such lawmakers, writing, "It is one thing to make noise on the campaign trail. It is quite another to lead a quest for peace."

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