Five Best Tuesday Columns

A.O. Scott on Robin Williams, Eugene Robinson on Iraq, Chrystia Freeland on Ukraine, Jill Lawrence on Obama, Quentin Peel on Merkel. 

This article is from the archive of our partner .

A.O. Scott in The New York Times on why Robin Williams captivated the world. Scott writes, "Part of the shock of his death on Monday came from the fact that he had been on — ubiquitous, self-reinventing, insistently present — for so long. On Twitter, mourners dated themselves with memories of the first time they had noticed him. For some it was the movie 'Aladdin.' For others 'Dead Poets Society' or 'Mrs. Doubtfire.' I go back even further, to the 'Mork and Mindy' television show and an album called 'Reality — What a Concept' that blew my eighth-grade mind... Back then, it was clear that Mr. Williams was one of the most explosively, exhaustingly, prodigiously verbal comedians who ever lived. The only thing faster than his mouth was his mind, which was capable of breathtaking leaps of free-associative absurdity." Scott suggests that it was his seemingly never ending catalogue of work that made the news of Williams' death so shocking. "He was very good at playing it cool or quiet or restrained as other actors in his movies — Nathan Lane in 'The Birdcage,' Robert DeNiro in 'Awakenings,' Matt Damon in 'Good Will Hunting' — brought the heat, the noise or the wildness. He was an excellent and disciplined character actor, even as he was also an irrepressible, indelible character, a voice — or voices — that many of us have been hearing for as long as we can remember."

Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post on how President Obama's foreign policy is a reaction to George W. Bush's 2003 decision to invade Iraq.  Robinson dismisses critics of the President's handling of Iraq, placing the blame on Bush and Cheney. "Could Obama have found a way to keep more of our soldiers in Iraq if he really wanted to? Perhaps. But this would have required trusting Maliki, who has proved himself a far more reliable ally to the terrorist-sponsoring government of Iran than to the United States. And anyway, why would U.S. forces be needed to keep the peace in the 'relatively stable' democratic Iraq of Cheney’s hazy recollection?" Robinson contends that instead of obliviousness, Obama's policy with regards to Iraq shows that he has learned from the mistakes of his predecessors. "Why is Obama intervening with airstrikes in Iraq and not in Syria, where the carnage is much worse? My answer would be that the United States has a special responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Iraq — because, ultimately, it was our nation’s irresponsibility that put their lives at risk.... Obama’s cautious approach — ask questions first, shoot later — may or may not work. But thanks to Bush and Cheney, we know that doing things the other way around leads to disaster."

Chrystia Freeland in POLITICO on how Ukraine is winning the war against Russia. Freeland writes that Ukraine's success is the result of a decades-long struggle for democracy in the aftermath of the Cold War. "No matter how hard Putin tries to spin it (or to turn from attack line into a reality), Ukraine isn’t a failed state, prey to domestic extremists and weakened by civil war. This is a young country swiftly uniting around the democratic idea in the face of foreign aggression. Ukraine’s new leaders aren’t angels. Their ranks include oligarchs with checkered biographies and politicians who were members of past, failed governments. But, after 23 years of chaotic post-Soviet independence, Ukraine now has a wired and educated civil society prepared to fight for democracy and a leadership that knows how the West works and wants to emulate it." Freeland points to the election of President Poroshenko, which she sees as an example of Ukrainian commitment to democracy, as a turning point in the crisis."The dividing line in what Ukrainians call their 'dignity revolution' is instead the choice between Western liberal democracy and the Kremlin’s neo-authoritarianism. What has been striking is how determinedly most of Ukraine has chosen democracy. For Ukrainians, this isn’t about the reshaping of the world’s geostrategic chessboard—who would chose to be a pawn in someone else’s power play? But Ukrainians have now seen both Western democracy and Putin’s post-Soviet kleptocracy up close. They have made the same choice all of us would, and they are proving they are willing to fight, and to die, for it."

Jill Lawrence in Al Jazeera America on why John McCain and Hillary Clinton are criticizing President Obama's foreign policy. Lawrence notes that Obama defeated Clinton and McCain in 2008 in large part because of his promise to pursue a more cautious foreign policy. "Granted, Obama's choice of language falls far short of the hardline 'good vs. evil,' 'dead-or-alive' rhetoric of the George W. Bush White House. But that doesn’t mean Obama won’t try to decimate the IS, if and when he decides that is necessary... McCain, Clinton and Obama have very different ideas about how to measure and respond to threats and about the ultimate helpfulness of military interventions and pugnacious rhetoric. But McCain and Clinton can’t ignore another reality: Obama beat both of them in 2008 in large part by running against the Iraq War, which he called a 'dumb war.'" Lawrence continues that Obama is not only upholding the foreign policy promises he made during the campaign, but he is pursuing a course of action in Iraq that the majority of the American people want. "On the left and in the general public, Obama’s reticence is welcome. Recent polls confirm that, like Obama, the public would like to see Iraq receding rapidly in the rearview mirror. More than half the respondents said the United States doesn’t have the responsibility to do something about the violence in Iraq. Six in 10 say the war was wrong in the first place, and nearly that many say Obama was right to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country in 2011. Majorities say it’s very or somewhat likely that Islamist militants would attack the United States if they took over Iraq — and yet in poll after poll, most Americans also say they oppose intervention and it’s not in the national interest to get involved."

Quentin Peel in The Financial Times on why Vladimir Putin has underestimated German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Peel contends that after the Russian invasion of Crimea, Merkel began systematically unifying the European Union in an effort to mount a response. "When the 28 EU member states agreed to impose tougher sanctions on Russia last month because of Moscow’s support for armed separatists in the Ukrainian civil war, the decision was greeted with shock in the Kremlin. Mr Putin had expected the German chancellor to resist taking any action that would seriously affect German exporters... He was wrong. The sanctions package was driven by Berlin. Central to German policy, led Ms Merkel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, foreign minister, was determination to maintain a united European front." Peel suggests that Merkel's pragmatic approach to the crisis in Ukraine caught Putin off guard. "There is certainly no enthusiasm in Germany for 'putting boots on the ground'. On that score, Mr Putin is right to think Berlin is not prepared to intervene militarily in Ukraine. But he is wrong to think that means doing nothing... Mr Putin may have misread Ms Merkel because her instinct is to wait and see. She is a pragmatist who looks for solutions to problems, and eschews ideology."

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