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Five Best Wednesday Columns

Thomas Graham on Vladimir Putin, Richard Haass on Assad as partner, Erwin Chemerinsky on SCOTUS and police, Clint Hinote on ISIL's leader, and Rami G. Khouri on Gaza. 

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Thomas Graham in Politico on why Vladamir Putin cares about Ukraine and the West doesn't. Graham contends that despite condemnation of Putin's aggression, the West is not currently prepared to take significant steps in supporting Ukraine. "Western governments have made clear the limits to which they are prepared to go to counter Moscow’s aggression and help defend Ukraine. At the very beginning, they ruled out the use of force in favor of political and economic sanctions. They then tailored sanctions to punish Russia, while risking as little damage to their own economies as possible. The United States has pressed for harsher sanctions, but it risks considerably less than its European partners..." He writes, "Putin knows all this, even if many armchair generals in Washington do not. This balance of interests, resources, and sacrifice means that the West and Kyiv will have to accommodate Russia to some extent, especially on the question of Ukraine’s geopolitical orientation and Russian influence in Eastern Ukraine, to resolve the crisis."

Richard Haass in The Financial Times  on why the U.S. might be forced to work with Bashar al-Assad to destroy the Islamic State. Haass writes that it is not clear that the United States must take some military action in Syria to defeat the Islamic State. "The first thing that needs to be done, despite White House reluctance, is to make good on what General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, suggested last week. The US should attack Isis targets across the border from Iraq inside Syria. More could and should be done, too, to slow the flow of recruits, arms and dollars." Haass concludes that although the worst of bad options, supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be the only viable choice for the U.S. "The calculus argues for determining whether creating a pan-Arab force or developing a viable internal opposition are possible in the near future; if not, the US and Europe may have to live with, and even work with, a regime they have for years sought to remove."

Erwin Chemerinsky in The New York Times on how the Supreme Court has made it almost impossible to convict police officers. He writes that SCOTUS has a history of not holding police officers and local governments accountable for civil rights violations. "When there is not absolute immunity, police officers are still protected by 'qualified immunity' when sued for monetary damages. The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia in 2011, ruled that a government officer can be held liable only if 'every reasonable official' would have known that his conduct was unlawful." Chemerinsky concludes that in the current U.S. legal landscape it will be almost impossible to ultimately hold anyone accountable for the death of Michael Brown. "In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations... How many more deaths and how many more riots will it take before the Supreme Court changes course?"

Clint Hinote in The Washington Post on why targeting the leaders of ISIL, Abu Bakr ­al-Baghdadi, may not be an effective strategy in Iraq. Hinote writes that while killing an enemy leader can be effective if it hinders their strategic and tactical capabilities, sometimes assassinating the symbolic head of an organization can be dangerous. "Eliminating a symbolic leader can be a watershed event for an adversary, with unpredictable results. The attack on Zarqawi in 2006 did little to quell the wave of violence perpetrated by al-Qaeda in Iraq, but Zarqawi received widespread honor as a martyr. Given that the Islamic State appears to exhibit tremendous skill at strategic communication, the United States needs to be cautious." Hinote concludes focusing too much energy and resources on Baghdadi is unwise. "Better to use those to identify and disrupt the Islamic State’s middle layers, where strategic direction is translated into tactical action."

Rami G. Khouri in Bloomberg View on why the United Nations might be the best hope for a lasting peace in Gaza. Khouri writes that the U.N. Security Council should seriously consider an agreement that lets them keep a monitoring force in Gaza. "This missing element was a major reason why previous cease-fires collapsed. If Hamas expects Israel to lift border restrictions on travel and imports, and if Israel expects Hamas to forswear attempts to rearm, U.N. observers trusted by both sides will have to be in place to ensure compliance." He contends that for a lasting peace, both sides must feel represented, something that was lacking in the U.S. led talks. "The failure of U.S.-mediated talks over the past two decades should prod both sides to reconsider a more multilateral approach, whether through the Security Council or an international conference. The process might be more complex and cumbersome than having John Kerry shuttle between Ramallah and Jerusalem. It is also more likely to succeed, since the involvement of powerful backers of both Palestinians and Israelis would help reassure each side that its core concerns will be taken seriously."

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