Five Best Wednesday Columns

Zalmay Khalilzad on Iraq, Thomas L. Friedman on Gaza, Jill Lawrence on the GOP, Nick Spencer on atheism, and Leymah Gbowee on Ebola. 

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Zalmay Khalilzad in The Washington Post on why the United State's needs to act swiftly in Iraq. Khalilzad writes that because of the Islamic State's recent advances, it is important for the U.S. to supply the Kurds and the Iraqis with increased aid. "Given the great expansion of the threat, U.S. support should be expedited. The United States should move immediately to work with local forces opposed to the Islamic State — not just the government in Baghdad but also Sunni Arabs and the Kurds. Washington is open to the idea, according to testimony by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk before the Senate last month; it should urgently implement it. In particular, the United States can play a key role in expediting the provision of ammunition and training, operational advice and coordination among these local forces and some of Iraq’s concerned neighbors." Khalilzad suggests that, because of the changing conditions on the ground, U.S. policy must also change. "Washington should consider military measures that would degrade the Islamic State’s ability to threaten others. This could come in the form of U.S. airstrikes by unmanned or even manned platforms against Islamic State camps and supply routes. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, the Islamic State is vulnerable to air power. Such attacks would also have a positive psychological effect on the morale of the pesh merga, the Iraqi army and Sunni Arabs fighting the extremists."

Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times on why Israel must empower the Palestinian Authority. Friedman explains Hamas's three-part strategy towards Israel. "Since the early 2000s, Iran and its proxies Hezbollah and, until recently, Hamas, have pursued a three-pillar strategy toward Israel. The first is asymmetric warfare, primarily using cheap rockets, to paralyze Israeli towns and cities... The second pillar, which debuted in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, is to nest Hamas fighters and rocket launchers among the densely packed Gazan population and force Israel into a war where it can only defeat or deter Hamas if it risks war-crimes charges... [And] the third pillar of the Iran/Hezbollah/Hamas strategy is: Israel must forever occupy Palestinians in the West Bank because the perpetuation of that colonial occupation is essential for delegitimizing and isolating Israel on the world stage..." Friedman writes that Israel's best chance at defeating Hamas is to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in exchange for their policing of Gaza. "The only way Israel can hope to stabilize Gaza is if it empowers the Palestinian Authority to take over border control in Gaza, but that will eventually require making territorial concessions in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, because it will not act as Israel’s policeman for free. This is crunchtime. Either Arab and Israeli moderates collaborate and fight together, or the zealots really are going to take over this neighborhood."

Jill Lawrence in Al Jazeera America on why the GOP is trying and failing to reach out to minorities. Lawrence writes that while Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus has tried to make outreach to minority groups a large part of his strategy, the Republican House continues to undermine him. "The autopsy Priebus commissioned after Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election to Barack Obama was unsparing in its message: The party desperately needed to build relations with minorities and back comprehensive immigration reform that offers 'positive solutions' responsive to the concerns of Latino, Asian and black communities. Priebus is trying to follow that script. But as last week’s behavior demonstrates, the House is determined to thwart him — and the party’s future — by moving in the opposite direction." Lawrence contends that while the House's hard-line stance on immigration and its lawsuit against President Obama may help Republicans in the short term, it is devastating to them in national elections. "Minority backlash has already damaged the GOP. Some election experts say the party’s attempts to restrict voting through voter registration and ID requirements in swing states drove up black turnout in 2012. Others are convinced that Romney’s tough language on immigration led to higher Latino turnout and to his abysmal share of the Latino vote... The House’s most recent moves will excite the GOP base and swell victory margins this year in elections the party would have won anyway, Republican strategist Mike Murphy said Sunday on NBC. He predicted the real threat will become apparent in the 2016 Senate and presidential races..."

Nick Spencer in Politico on why the rise of atheism has less to do with science and more to do with politics.  Spencer rejects the notion that atheism gained popularity with the rise of science in Europe. "'Science'—if we can treat that collection of disparate disciplines as one single, coherent enterprise—did have something to do with the growth of atheism in the West, but very much less than most imagine. Those three great moments of scientific progress—the Copernican revolution in the 16th century, the scientific revolution in the 17th and the Darwinian in the 19th—were hardly atheistic at all. Copernicus was a priest; Francis Bacon, the father of modern science, devout; and Charles Darwin incredulous that anyone could imagine evolution demanded godlessness." Despite scientific advancements, the U.S. did not become an atheist nation in the 20th century but instead fell more in line with its Christian roots. "In the middle third of the 20th century, atheistic regimes in Russia, China, Romania, Albania and elsewhere managed to murder on a scale that even the religious hadn’t managed. And still they failed to eliminate God. As Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, at the time a leading anti-religion campaigner in the Soviet Union, once lamented, 'Religion is like a nail, the harder you hit, the deeper it goes in.' Such activity served to retard atheism still further in America. Just as to be British in the 18th and early 19th century meant largely not to be French—which entailed a self-conscious rejection of the atheism of the philosophes and their revolutionary successors—so being American in the mid-20th century meant not being communist."

Leymah Gbowee in The Guardian on how Ebola is threatening to derail the political success of Liberia. Gbowee, who was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, writes that the spread of the Ebola virus is not just a medical threat, but a social one. "Liberia is battling a virulence that threatens to destroy all of our progress. The Ebola outbreak has closed all schools. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and two airlines have stopped flights to the country. Ebola is resurrecting old traumas for Liberians who survived the war. Those with the right passports are able to leave. Those with resources can buy soap and protective gear to keep safe. But people cannot conduct their business as usual. Children no longer attend classes, and many are shuttered inside their homes." Gbowee calls on Liberia and the world to take immediate and significant steps to respond to the spread of the virus. "This epidemic is rewriting how we care for one other. But we must also equip communities with the resources they need. A slapdash government response has aided Ebola’s spread . The purpose of the US-Africa Leaders Summit is to secure development funds for governments. Let’s also provide resources to the people who are most vulnerable to Ebola."

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