Five Best Wednesday Columns

Owen Jones on James Foley, Shashank Joshi on ISIL, Mohamed A. El-Erian on Jackson Hole, Ruth Marcus on political corruption, and Maureen Dowd on Obama. 

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Owen Jones in The Guardian on how the West should respond to James Foley's murder. Jones writes that U.S. and European intervention in the Middle East plays into the hands of ISIL. "The 'war on terror' began 13 years ago. It has involved bombs raining down on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. And with what success? Jihadism is stronger than ever; Isis is not only more extreme than al-Qaida, but what it has achieved surely exceeds Osama bin Laden’s wildest ambitions. Who can deny that the west has served as a recruiting sergeant for Islamic extremism, that it effectively helped hand large swathes of Iraq and Libya over to such elements... " Jones suggests that in the wake of Foley's death, the West must pressure Arab states to assume increased responsibility for the ISIL threat. "What needs far more scrutiny is the role of western allies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia – which is armed to the teeth by Britain and the US, and whose social norms are all but identical to those of Isis... According to the veteran Middle Eastern correspondent, Patrick Cockburn, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies are the “foster parents” of Isis. And the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, has pointed out that Saudi financial support has proved critical to the rise of Isis. How long can western public opinion tolerate support for the Saudi dictatorship?.. Foley appears to have suffered a despicably barbaric death; it is a fate being inflicted on many others. Because Isis has proved so successful in spreading terror, it will be difficult to have a rational debate about how to defeat them. But a rational debate is exactly what we need."

Shashank Joshi in The Financial Times on why the Arab world should confront the threat posed by the Islamic State. Joshi offers three reasons why Arab states aren't helping the U.S. and its European allies fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria. "First, the Sunni-led Arab states view Iraq through the lens of Iranian power and sectarian balance. They are loath to fight the brutal Sunni militants of Isis if doing so strengthens a Shia-led, pro-Iranian government in Baghdad at the expense of Iraqi Sunnis... Second, Arab states are concerned that weakening Isis, which has won significant territory in Syria, might boost the regime of President Bashar al-Assad... Third, Arab states fear what Isis might do if attacked. The borders of Syria and Iraq are long and porous, and Arab citizens have joined the group in droves. Why make oneself a target?" Joshi suggests that the rewards of defeating extremism greatly outweigh the perceived risks in the Arab world. ​"The more Isis spreads, the stronger it grows. It seizes resources, builds local networks and nurtures its most effective weapons: momentum and repute. But if Iraq’s neighbours will not recognise and address the threat, outsiders can achieve little. Iran’s nakedly sectarian policies in Syria and Iraq have helped bring things to this point, but Arab states are not without blame. The priority must be to confront a revolutionary movement that has no precedent in the modern era. The region must step up and take responsibility."

Mohamed A. El-Erian in Bloomberg View on what the annual economic meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming should address. El-Erian talks about some of the important issues central bankers should address this weekend. "What can be done to put more people back to work? Long-term unemployment and youth joblessness remain big problems throughout the developed world, threatening to aggravate inequality (of income, wealth and opportunity) and permanently impair the ability of economies to grow and raise living standards. Some question whether the U.S. Federal Reserve can persist in its efforts to reduce unemployment without fueling inflation and financial instability. This will be the topic of Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s keynote speech." In addition to unemployment El-Erian also touches on the importance of tackling questions about the global role of central bank policies. "After a long period in which the world's largest central banks were all pushing in the same direction, they're now reaching the point where their policies will diverge. The Bank of England and the Fed are in the process of taking their foot off the stimulus pedal. The European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan will be going the other way. This multispeed world of increasingly contrasting policies could have big effects on markets and people far beyond the U.S., Europe and Japan. Jackson Hole offers a rare opportunity for central bankers to consider the international consequences in a direct and frank manner."

Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post on how the indictments of Governor Rick Perry and former Governor Bob McDonnell reveal two sides of political corruption. Marcus asks why Perry's indictment looks sketchy while McDonnell's looks valid. "The difference between these two prosecutions is the difference between the appropriate — indeed, the necessary — function of criminal law in punishing political corruption and the risk of prosecutors wielding the threat of jail time in cases where voters should be free to judge for themselves the behavior of elected officials.... It is the difference, too, between hardball politics practiced in the light of day and the kind of furtive self-dealing that requires a grand jury and subpoena power to unearth effectively." She contends that an important difference between the two men's perceived wrongdoing was that Perry's was a public action while McDonnell's was a private deal. "Still, where Perry’s veto threat and demand for Lehmberg’s resignation were public, the actions of McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on behalf of businessman Jonnie Williams — and Williams’s lavish 'gifts' to the McDonnells — were shielded, at times deliberately, from public view... Trial testimony has underscored the rapaciousness of the McDonnells’ appetite for cash, private jet services and Ferrari rides, luxury vacations, an engraved Rolex and other favors from Williams, who was seeking state support for his dietary supplement... The over-criminalization of politics is not a left-right issue. Prosecutors have overstepped when it comes to Democrats (former North Carolina senator John Edwards) and Republicans (former House majority leader Tom DeLay). Criminal law is a powerful tool for overseeing politicians. This is why it needs to be used sparingly — and with exquisite care."

Maureen Dowd in The New York Times on why Barack Obama has become detached. Dowd writes that President Obama no longer exhibits the charisma, energy and excitement that landed him in the White House in 2008. "First the president couldn’t work with Republicans because they were too obdurate. Then he tried to chase down reporters with subpoenas. Now he finds members of his own party an unnecessary distraction... His circle keeps getting more inner. He golfs with aides and jocks, and he spent his one evening back in Washington from Martha’s Vineyard at a nearly five-hour dinner at the home of a nutritional adviser and former White House assistant chef, Sam Kass... The president who was elected because he was a hot commodity is now a wet blanket." Dowd suggests that Obama must re-engage in order to salvage his remaining years in office. "Why should the president neutralize himself? Why doesn’t he do something bold and thrilling? Get his hands dirty? Stop going to Beverly Hills to raise money and go to St. Louis to raise consciousness? Talk to someone besides Valerie Jarrett?.. The Constitution was premised on a system full of factions and polarization. If you’re a fastidious pol who deigns to heal and deal only in a holistic, romantic, unified utopia, the Oval Office is the wrong job for you. The sad part is that this is an ugly, confusing and frightening time at home and abroad, and the country needs its president to illuminate and lead, not sink into some petulant expression of his aloofness, where he regards himself as a party of his own and a victim of petty, needy, bickering egomaniacs."

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