Five Best Monday Columns

On Obama's prudence, the Syrian people, and Shakespeare's appeal in China

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Mohammad Ali Atassi on the Syria the World Forgot  During the forty years of the Assad regime's rule, Syria was forgotten by the rest of the world. But, Mohammad Ali Atassi observes in today's New York Times, recent uprisings against the Assad family "remind[s] us that [Syria] cannot be forever set aside, that its people did not spend the decades of the Assads' rule asleep, and that they aspire, like all people, to live with freedom and dignity." While the government was refusing reform, the Syrian people evolved and developed demographically and geographically, expanding the population and moving it from the country to the cities. Atassi recalls the suffering of his father, imprisoned and denied cancer treatment, and compares his family history to that of the Assads, where brutal rule passed down from generation to generation. "My own father governed Syria for four years, but I inherited from him neither power nor fortune. What I inherited was a small suitcase, sent to us from the prison after he died," he writes. "The next time I visit my father's grave, I will tell him that freedom is reviving again in Syria."

E.J. Dionne Jr. on the Case for Obama's Foreign Policy  The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. notes President Obama's prudent approach to foreign policy is similar to that of former president George H.W. Bush. "The problem for Obama is that what he sees as a grand revival of bipartisanship in foreign policy is being dismissed widely as an improvised set of split-the-difference tactical choices," Dionne writes. He predicts that "with so many Republicans moving to the dovish side, Obama could find himself caught in a weird pincer movement between these newly antiwar Republicans and those who will say that he squandered a chance to 'win' in Afghanistan by not giving the generals time to use our surge troops during one more 'fighting season.'" Dionne acknowledges that "there are times when Obama's obsession with finding some sensible middle ground is deeply frustrating," such as during the budget talks. But, he argues, "his effort to find a more stable middle ground in foreign policy deserves more support than it's getting."
Thomas Wright on America's Incoherent Cyberattack Policy  Thomas Wright points out "an unsustainable double standard" within the U.S. government with regard to cyber attacks: "while Barack Obama's strategy treats cyberdestruction by someone else as an act of war, his administration's actions imply that cyber-destruction by America is a normal covert action, equivalent to espionage." Wright explains in the Financial Times that "while it has several advantages," this approach "will severely undermine the new cyber-strategy. Suspicion that the U.S. uses cyberweapons whenever conventient will hamper its attempts to press other states to be transparent about their intentions. In particular, it takes the pressure off China, widely believed to be the leading state source of cyber attacks. It may also dissuade the U.S. from developing the technology to trace the source of an attack." Wright suggests America "demonstrate that it regards all destructive cyberattacks, including its own, as acts of war." Obama should acknowledge the country's involvement in Stuxnet if it had one. "Going public would allow the U.S. to create an international coalition of the willing vital for finding, isolating and containing serial cyber-aggressors," he argues. But, "it must demonstrate that its use of cyber-weapons will be extremely rare and subject to the same rules and standards as the conventional use of force. Stuxnet must be the exception, not the norm."
Boris Johnson on Shakespeare's Chinese Appeal  Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson marvels at Chinese premier Wen Jiabao's appreciation of William Shakespeare as he visited the playwright's birthplace this week and declared him "the greatest writer who ever lived." Although it's "a huge tribute to Mr. Wen that he can follow Hamlet as Shakespeare wrote it, picking it all up off the bat in a way that most GCSE English students would struggle to immitate," it is not necessarily surprising that Shakespeare's work would be considered acceptable by the strict communist regime. Censorship in England was heavy during Shakespeare's time, and "he was, frankly, the poet of the established order." The moral of almost all of the stories in Shakespeare's plays is "usurpers never prosper," and the fact that "he ended his life quite hardly surprising when you think that his plays contained so much poetry, so many insights into the human heart--and such ingenious defences for keeping things as they are, and keeping the ruling party in power." Johnson argues that Shakespeare's ability to "cope with censorship, the secret police and the absence of anything that we would now call pluralist democracy" explains why "it is very safe and correct to admire him in Beijing."
Niall Ferguson on the False Connection Between Foreign Policy and Fiscal Problems  The consensus that we should "bring the troops home ... verges on the supernatural ... considering how polarized American politics is supposed to be," writes Newsweek's Niall Ferguson. Yet the reasoning behind this position is misguided. "Welcome to the brave new world of IOU-solationism--the theory that strategic calculation takes second place to nasty fiscal arithmetic." Ferguson knows that "the United States certainly needs to get its fiscal house in order. But any serious analysis of the benefits of defense cuts needs to consider the potential costs of walking away from countries like Afghanistan and Iraq," he counters. "If radical Islamism is a declining force around the world, I hadn't noticed." He also denies the argument that "'Bush's wars' are the principal cause of our current fiscal malaise ... It's not defense spending that's bankrupting America; it's the spiraling cost of entitlements as the baby boomers retire," he insists. "Meanwhile, the world beyond our borders isn't getting any safer (just watch Yemen)."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.