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Five Best Friday Columns

David Brooks on President Obama, Emile Simpson on ISIS, Joanne Liu on the response to Ebola, Peggy Noonan on American intervention in the Middle East, and Steven Thrasher on voter suppression.

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David Brooks in The New York Times on why many of the best leaders in history have been reluctant to lead. Brooks contends that just because President Obama has been reluctant to use military force against ISIS in the past, doesn't mean he won't adapt to the circumstances presented to him and assume the mantle of leadership. "History is full of reluctant leaders, too. President Obama is the most recent... The defining characteristic of a reluctant leader is that he is self-divided. He feels compelled to do things he’d rather not do." But Obama has the chance to be a successful 'reluctant leader' as he moves forward against ISIS. "Everybody is weighing in on the strengths and weaknesses of the Obama strategy. But the strategy will change. The crucial factor is the man. This is the sternest test of Obama’s leadership skills since the early crises of his presidency. If he sticks to this self-assigned duty, and pursues it doggedly, he can be a successful reluctant leader. Sometimes the hardest victories are against yourself."

Emile Simpson in Financial Times on why the United States must plan to hand the fight against ISIS over to regional states. Simpson writes that while initial U.S. military action is reasonable, the American public is not prepared for a sustained conflict. "It is reasonable for the US to lead the initial phase of military action, to prevent Isis from exercising overt control of the territory it seeks by hitting their forces when they appear in the open, and striking their leadership, both from the air. However, if the mission is to remain within clear bounds, it cannot take responsibility for the permanent defeat of Isis, which must lie with local actors and regional states." Simpson has further warnings about the difficulties an open-ended U.S. presence in the region would bring. "Even where local forces can overwhelm Isis, there will be little the west can do to shape the politics on the ground, especially if it moves in undemocratic directions. That is a real possibility, given that a common enemy does not equate to a common political goal... The lessons of the past decade suggest that a clearly bounded extension of US military action means taking responsibility at most for the initial phase, not the permanent defeat of Isis, in which the west should only play a supporting role."

Joanne Liu in The Washington Post on why the international community needs to provide a stronger response to the Ebola outbreak. The International President of Doctors Without Borders writes that health organizations need help fighting Ebola. "Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain the disease. Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat... In the face of this worsening disaster, WHO has delivered a clear road map for Ebola. But huge questions remain about who will implement elements in the plan. Who has the correct training for the tasks that are detailed?" Liu advocates for increased international support in fighting what she calls something "akin to war." "We need a large-scale deployment of highly trained personnel who know the protocols for protecting themselves against highly contagious diseases and who have the necessary logistical support to be immediately operational. Private aid groups simply cannot confront this alone... This is a transnational crisis, with social, economic and security implications for the African continent."

Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal (subscription) on why the U.S. public has found an appetite for military action against ISIS. In the midst of large American support for strikes against ISIS, Noonan asks why there weren't stronger calls to intervene in Syria in 2013. "Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics who would normally back strong military action were relatively silent in 2013. Why? I think because they were becoming broadly aware, for the first time, of what was happening to Christians in the Middle East. They were being murdered, tortured, abused for their faith and run out of the region. And for all his crimes and failings, Syria's justly maligned Assad was not attempting to crush his country's Christians." Noonan argues that despite new polling, the overall war-weariness of the American public hasn't changed, but this case is different. "The anguish and indignation of American Christians at what is being done, by Islamic State, to their brothers and sisters in faith is surely part of the reason Americans are backing U.S. action against the terror group... It would surely also be a misreading of the polls to announce the American public is suddenly 'interventionist.'"

Steven W. Thrasher in The Guardian on why the United States is making it harder for people to vote. Thrasher writes that obstacles to voting disproportionately affect low income and minority voters. "Technology exists to allow individual election boards to similarly track voters’ moves – even just syncing voter rolls with, say, a state’s motor vehicle registration or drivers license database would be more efficient and cheaper... But, as Jonathan Brater, the counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, pointed out, people who are more transient 'tend not to be homeowners, to be poorer, and to be non-white' – and, since they don’t vote as often, there’s little political will to make it easier for them to do so." Thrasher continues, "Does America really care about making voting a serious and accessible right for all? Given the obsessive focus on voter ID initiatives aimed at minority communities in the absence of evidence of widespread voter fraud, and the myriad ways in which we make it difficult for the very young and the very old, the poor, the transient, those who served their time in our nation’s disgusting prison pipeline, the non-white, those who don’t speak perfect English and even members of the armed forces serving overseas (and their families) to vote, the answer, it seems, is no."

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