Five Best Thursday Columns

Beth Pond on Merkel, Dennis Ross on the Middle East, Nicholas Kristof on gun control, Ramesh Ponnuru on the midterms, and Emma Brockes on "hate-watching."

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Beth Pond in The Financial Times on how Angela Merkel has been playing the long game with her policy towards Russia. Pond describes Merkel's systematic and effective approach to dealing with Vladimir Putin since the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea. "Europe’s de facto leader has been working night and day to persuade three very different audiences that peace and security trump European economic interests, and will now require European financial sacrifice. Ms. Merkel’s first audience was Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. The second was the domestic business lobby, and the 6,200 companies that make Germany by far Russia’s most important trading partner. The third consisted of Berlin’s fellow EU members, especially Britain, France and Italy, which have their own pro-Russian business lobbies." Pond writes that both the United States and Russia have underestimated Merkel. "The US commentariat, like Mr. Putin, has defaulted in recent months to a consensus that Germany would never agree to tough sanctions because its economy is too beholden to Russian energy and trade.  That view discounts Ms Merkel’s service in decelerating the pace of western sanctions to leave room for escalation as and when needed; and to keep Mr Putin talking, rather than shooting."

Dennis Ross in Politico on why the United States should approach the Middle East differently. Ross suggests that a changing Middle East explains why Hamas is continuing to fight against Israel. "Egypt had cut off the smuggling tunnels from Sinai into Gaza, which accounted for most of Hamas’ revenues. Hamas’ other main source of funding, the Iranians, has dried up given differences over the Syrian conflict and Iran’s other priorities ...  With little to lose, Hamas launched this round of fighting, hoping that by being the focal point of resistance, winning sympathy because of large Palestinian civilian casualties, and imposing at least some losses on Israel, it could re-emerge as a player that must be dealt with and satisfied." He goes on to say that The Obama administration's Middle East policy must recognize the new realities of the region. "In its remaining two and half years, the administration needs to approach the Middle East with a broader goal and judge how its day-to-day policies support or detract from that goal: How can it ensure that U.S. friends in the region are stronger in January 2017, and their adversaries (and ours) are weaker?"

Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times on why America has a blind spot when it comes to guns. Kristof explains that the successful regulation of cars in the 20th century could serve as a model for how to regulate guns in the 21st.  "We could have said, 'Cars don’t kill people. People kill people,' and there would have been an element of truth to that. Many accidents are a result of alcohol consumption, speeding, road rage or driver distraction. Or we could have said, 'It’s pointless because even if you regulate cars, then people will just run each other down with bicycles,' and that, too, would have been partly true. Yet, instead, we built a system that protects us from ourselves. This saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year and is a model of what we should do with guns in America." Kristof cites the introduction of car safety laws, which greatly reduced the number of car deaths, as reason to for us to act similarly with respect to passing reasonable gun laws. "A century ago, we reacted to deaths and injuries from unregulated vehicles by imposing sensible safety measures that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives a year. Why can’t we ask politicians to be just as rational about guns?"

Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View on how Democrats running in 2014 cannot escape the shadow of President Obama. Ponnuru writes that when candidates try to distance themselves from an unpopular president of the same party they are usually unsuccessful. "When there's a wave for one party or the other in an election, voters simply don't seem to do much discriminating among the candidates. Bob Ehrlich was a successful governor of Maryland in 2006, when he ran for re-election. But that was a terrible year for Republicans. He was a moderate and had healthy approval ratings. None of it saved him. He was brought down by the unpopularity of the Iraq war, even though, as a governor, he had nothing to do with it." He contends that part of the reason for this is that in trying to appeal to more moderate 'swing' voters, candidates often turn off their own base. "When a candidate tries to separate himself from his party's leadership, he's assuming that the party's core supporters will understand that he needs to do it: that the checks will keep arriving and the activists will keep knocking on doors. But there's always the risk of demoralization."

Emma Brockes in The Guardian on how 21st century audiences have popularized the genre of films we love to hate. "Between the two poles of entertainment experience – mindless fun and serious engagement – is a category that used to be thought of as so-bad-it’s-good. But it now has its own prefix: the hate-watch (or hate-read or, more rarely, the hate-listen." Brockes writes that a "hate-watch" isn't simply bad, it's so bad that it can be confused with parody. "Sharknado 2, which aired Wednesday – and which a lot of people gathered around their second screens to laugh their way through– is a franchise so confident that it’s in control of the joke that it may well have killed it. (Mark McGrath actually uttered the words 'jumped the shark.') Snakes on a Plane, likewise, doesn’t qualify as a hate-watch because, from the title alone, it is apparent that everyone on board is too aware of being a joke."

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