Five Best Friday Columns

The New York Times on Eric Holder, Charles Krauthammer on containing ISIS, Peggy Noonan on a GOP message, Todd S. Purdum on Bill Clinton, and Ali Gharib on sectarian divides in the Middle East.

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The New York Times on the complicated legacy of Attorney General Eric Holder. The Times praises Holder for his leadership on issues like same-sex marriage, voting rights, and criminal justice. "In a position that rarely rewards boldness — and in the face of a frequently hostile Congress — Mr. Holder has continued to stake out strong and laudable legal positions on many of the most contested issues of our time." However, The Times criticizes the Attorney General for his approval of controversial programs. "Under Mr. Holder, the Justice Department approved the targeted killing of civilians, including Americans, without judicial review, and the Obama administration fought for years to keep the justifications for such efforts secret... Mr. Holder brought more prosecutions under the Espionage Act than during all previous presidencies combined. In tracking the sources of leaks, prosecutors seized phone and email records of journalists who were doing their jobs."

Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post on why President Obama's strategy against the Islamic State can be successful. Krauthammer writes that Obama's strategy to slowly roll back ISIS is similar to the Cold War strategy of containment. "Late, hesitant and reluctant as he is, President Obama has begun effecting a workable strategy against the Islamic State... If Obama can remain steady through future fluctuations in public opinion, his strategy might succeed... But success will not be what he’s articulating publicly. The strategy will not destroy the Islamic State. It’s more containment-plus: Expel the Islamic State from Iraq, contain it in Syria." Krauthammer contends that defeating ISIS will require patience and resolve. "Stop them, squeeze them and ultimately they will be defeated by their own contradictions. As historian David Motadel points out, jihadist regimes stretching back two centuries have been undone by their own primitivism, barbarism, brutality — and the intense hostility thus engendered among those they rule."

Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal on why the Republican party needs a coherent strategy. Noonan writes that while many 2014 GOP candidates will most likely win because of an unpopular President, they shouldn't settle for that tactic. "The metaphor used most often is the wave. If Republicans can't make, catch and ride a wave in an environment like this, they've gone from being the stupid party to the stupid loser party... It's good to win, but winning without a declared governing purpose is a ticket to nowhere." Noonan continues, "Some feel a vague list of general stands might solve the problem and do the trick. They think it's probably too late to do more than that. But there are 6½ weeks before the election, and plenty of voters would be asking for more information and open to changing their minds."

Todd S. Purdum in Politico on why Bill Clinton could be a liability for Hillary should she decide to run for President in 2016. Purdum writes, "As Clinton ponders her second run for the White House, many variables are in play, from her age to her health to her economic platform to her status as a soon-to-be grandmother. But an unspoken issue that floats above all others—and that keeps some very smart Democrats awake nights—is how to keep Bill in a box." He also suggests that Bill's unique talents might overshadow Hillary on the campaign trail. "Any Democratic candidate for the presidency would be foolish not to bask in his glow... It’s not that Bill would actually be likely to hurt Hillary’s chances of winning either the nomination or the White House. It’s more that at the very moment she’d be trying to establish her own alpha qualities of leadership, he would almost inevitably overshadow her, and reveal her limitations as a candidate by contrast."

Ali Gharib in The Guardian on how the United States is being forced to take sides in a sectarian conflict in the Middle East. Gharib writes that Washington's embrace of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni allies in the fight against ISIS could alienate Shias. "Obama’s response to the surprisingly effective marauding in Iraq by the virulently anti-Shia Isis has its own sectarian flavor: the US sided with the same Sunni dictators that have fanned sectarian flames. And America built its coalition of the somewhat-willing at the expense of Iran – the one country that has been most aggressively aiding military efforts against Isis..." Gharib continues that the U.S. should take steps to calm sectarian divides in the region. "Obama could have started with last year, when hopes for the Arab Spring were merely fading rather than extinguished. It was then at the General Assembly that the American president insisted upon 'efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface' as one of several means to press democracy in the Middle East... That, too, was 'the task of a generation', Obama said at the time. But so long as US policy enables Sunni dictators who have done as much to stoke anti-Shia sentiment as anyone without pressing them, the task will perpetually fall to the next generation."

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