Five Best Friday Columns

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Fouad Ajami on respecting the end of a despot "The end of despots is always odd," writes Fouad Ajami in The Wall Street Journal, "exhilarating to those who suffered their tyrannies," and "anti-climactic" when we see that "these tyrants were petty, frightened men after all." Muammar Qaddafi grew up poor and came to power in "an era when the Arab world still believed that rough men from the military would dispense justice, upend the old order of kings and notables, and bring about a 'revolutionary' society." He "modeled himself" after Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and when Nasser died, many saw him as "inheritor of the revolutionary mantle." Oil gave him power, and slowly he set up a police state. Western powers deferred to him because of his oil, wealth, and flattery, Ajami says, but then Arab Spring broke out in Tunisia and Egypt. Qaddafi's mistake was to threaten a "bloodbath" in his own rebellious city of Benghazi, allowing America and others to take action. Obama hadn't sought this conflict, but the threat against Libya's people and the urging of Britain and France settled it. And, in fact, Tripoli should hold historical meaning for Americans, Ajami writes. Our nation's first foreign battles took place there. Americans aren't now in the mood for foreign conflict. "This awakening -- the Arab Spring -- is being second-guessed at every turn. Islamists stalk these rebellions, we are told." But America didn't start this movement, and we owe it respect. "We needn't dispatch our forces to all lands of trouble, but our burden of celebrating liberty on foreign shores endures."

Lisa Jackson on Republican polluters This year, "Republicans in the House have averaged roughly a vote every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation's environmental laws," writes EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in the Los Angeles Times. "[J]ust last week they voted to stop the EPA's efforts to limit mercury and other hazardous pollutants from cement plants, boilers and incinerators." The Republicans have rolled back environmental protections, claiming they prevent job creation, a job plan which Jackson calls "too dirty to fail." Republicans want to give polluters "a pass" on regulations with which many plants already comply. "The measures would indefinitely delay sensible upgrades to reduce air pollution from industrial boilers located in highly populated areas," and that could mean "the difference between sickness and health -- in some cases, life and death -- for hundreds of thousands of citizens." Many of the pollutants that could be allowed in the air cause life-threatening diseases, and Republicans want Americans to choose "between their health and the economy," even though "No credible economist links our current economic crisis -- or any economic crisis -- to tough clean-air and clean-water standards." Better, she says, to heed President Obama's idea for agencies that will revise unnecessary regulations "while ensuring that essential health protections remain intact." We could even employ Americans in installing pollution controls in outdated plants, simultaneously preventing "asthma, respiratory illness and premature deaths." In the past, Americans have treated environmental protection as "non-partisan matters." "Our environment affects red states and blue states alike. It is time for House Republicans to stop politicizing our air and water. Let's end 'too dirty to fail.'"

Recommended Reading

David Brooks on a shift in understanding human nature When Daniel Kahneman was a child in Nazi-occupied Paris, he wore a Star of David on his clothing. One night, he stayed out past curfew, so he turned his shirt inside out to hide the star. An SS trooper approached him, but not noticing the star,  the officer "picked him up and gave him a long, emotional hug. The soldier displayed a photo of his own son, spoke passionately about how much he missed him." Kahneman reached home "convinced that people are complicated and bizarre. He went on to become one of the world's most influential psychologists and to win the Nobel in economic science," writes David Brooks in The New York Times. In an upcoming book, Kahneman leaves out that story, focusing instead on his research. The book, Brooks says, is "sure to be a major intellectual event," so Brooks wants to explain how his "astounding" research caused a cultural shift. Previously, people tended to assume humans were rational agents. "They assumed that people are basically sensible utility-maximizers and that when they depart from reason it's because some passion like fear or love has distorted their judgment." But Kahneman ran experiments to show that not just emotions, but basic cognition sometimes caused us to act in irrational ways. "Shoppers," Brooks notes for instance, "will buy many more cans of soup if you put a sign atop the display that reads 'Limit 12 per customer.'" The new ideas that come out of Kahneman's work are that we have two ways of thinking -- the slow cognitive way and the quick associative one -- and that humans "seem to share similar sets of biases. There is such a thing as universal human nature." "Fifty years ago, people may have assumed we are captains of our own ships, but, in fact, our behavior is often aroused by context in ways we can't see ... We have much less control over ourselves than we thought."

David Ignatius on Obama's wise Libya policy A White House team has been figuring out what will happen the day after Qaddafi is gone, writes David Ignatius in The Washington Post, and so far, their "potential disasters" haven't come to pass. "Without Gaddafi's galvanizing presence, the role of sect and tribe may yet increase in Libya," Ignatius writes. "But today, NATO's war in Libya looks like a success -- and for some interesting, contrarian reasons." In taking the back seat, Obama denied Qaddafi an "apocalyptic confrontation with the United States that he craved." Obama probably "played it right." He "deliberately kept the United States in the background even when critics began howling for a show of American 'leadership'" and he stayed patient rejecting calls to step up or get out. Qaddafi's "capricious experiment," Ignatius says, has made tribal power more, not less, important. "What Libya needs now is 'nationhood,' which isn't as simple as it sounds ... Indeed, you can argue that the history of the Arab world over the past century has been a search for some such organizing principle as an alternative to the Sunni caliphate." The first job will be to unite militias into one unified army, and then the task of building a nation will become "a U.N. headache" rather than a U.S. one. "Obama took a lot of shots along the way to Thursday's symbolic end of the Libya campaign. But it seems fair to say that his vision ... worked out pretty well."

James Marson on Ukraine's choice As the West criticized Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for jailing his main opposition leader, he heard some reassuring words from Russia. "'It's Ukraine's internal affair,' Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said of the seven-year jail term handed down last week to Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The Kremlin chief then suggested he could offer Ukraine a discount on gas prices and called for Kiev to turn its back on its long-held desire for European integration by instead joining a Moscow-led trade bloc," writes James Marson in Time magazine. The European Union cancelled Yanukovych's visit to Brussels, casting doubt on potential free trade and political cooperation deals. Ukraine now faces a "fork in the road." When he came to power in 2004, Yanukovych's predecesor Viktor Yushchenko annoyed Russia with a pro-western foreign policy. But Yanukovych reclaimed power in 2010, beginning a balancing act between the two even as he pursued his former opposition leaders with legal action, jailing Tymoshenko on charges most see as "a crude way for Yanukovych to sideline his main political rival." Yanukovych may be stubborn on thie issue in part for personal reasons. He doesn't want to retreat. Still, "the E.U. has signaled it will pause relations with Ukraine if Yanukovych doesn't take steps to strengthen judicial independence and rule of law." But Russia would be happy to fill the void. "Even if Ukraine holds firm against Moscow's attempt to woo it back into the fold, the country risks seeing its experiment with democracy cut abruptly short."

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