Five Best Thursday Columns

George E. Condon Jr. on Obama's U.N. speech, Dana Milbank on Obama's transformation, Ahmed Rashid on Afghanistan, Bloomberg View on de-radicalizing terrorists, and Danielle Henninger on Derek Jeter

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George E. Condon Jr. in National Journal on how President Obama's foreign policy has evolved since he took office in 2008.  Condon compares Obama's previous speeches to the United Nations General Assembly to one he gave Wednesday as evidence of his evolution. "In that first address, on Sept. 23, 2009, the still-new president described himself as 'humbled' to be there... He spoke of ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and talked of 'extremists' rather than 'terrorists.' Russia was a partner, Guantanamo Bay would soon be emptied, and negotiators would find a way to close the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Overhanging all else was the need to pull the world back from the economic abyss." Now, Condon says that Obama has been replaced by a more recognizable realist. "And, today, 28,000 words and five U.N. addresses later, 'hope and change' has taken a step back; realpolitik has stepped forward... The words could have been said by any Cold War president from Truman to Reagan."

Ahmed Rashid in The New York Times on why Afghanistan is at a crossroads between chaos and stability. The author argues that the fragile power sharing agreement that was reached in the Afghan presidential election coupled with the upcoming U.S. military withdrawal leaves the country on the brink of instability. "This deal, which was brokered with help from Washington, is yet another makeshift compromise that only reveals the shortcomings of the United States’ 13-year presence in Afghanistan... And yet anything less than a heavy dose of honesty and fresh thinking by Afghans and their Western supporters will almost certainly mean the relapse of Afghanistan into civil war and the emergence of groups even more extreme than the Taliban, as has happened in Iraq and Syria." Rashid continues, "History will not look kindly on the legacy of the U.S. government and Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan. But this also means that Afghanistan’s new leaders can do better, and now, simply by acting responsibly — and working together to legitimize the results of this problematic election that has brought them to power."

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on how President Obama's speech at the United Nations was able to effectively justify America's latest war. "This is how a Nobel Peace Prize laureate goes to war... He smiles warmly at the members of the U.N. General Assembly. He mentions his grandmother’s village in Kenya and notes that 'Islam teaches peace.' He admits his country’s own flaws, praises 'the path of diplomacy and peace,' and asserts that lasting gains cannot be 'won at the barrel of a gun'.... Also, he wades a good 19 minutes into his 40-minute speech (the official time limit is 15 minutes) before getting to the nub of the matter: 'The terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded and ultimately destroyed.'" Milbank lauds the President's speech, adding "This is a different Obama from the one who spoke in Cairo five years ago, urging a new era in relations between America and the Muslim world... It was a powerful expression of American exceptionalism — rooted not in power but in justice — and an artful way for a man of peace to make the case for conflict."

Bloomberg View on why extremists should be de-radicalized once they're captured. The editors write that programs to de-radicalize Islamic extremists are already working with relatively high success rates in Singapore and Saudi Arabia. "Independent, moderate clerics challenge prisoners' warped views of Islam. Psychologists and social scientists assess their motivations and the sincerity of their conversions. And, further along in the process, prisoners engage in team-building activities designed to replace the camaraderie of jihad... Several of these programs claim impressive success rates -- at least 80 percent in Saudi Arabia, virtually 100 percent in Singapore. But attaining such numbers takes a big commitment." Despite problems with the programs, including cost, rehabilitation is a powerful tool in fighting extremism. " [It] can be well worth the effort, because any 'defectors' who can be turned can become sources of intelligence or, at least as important, propaganda. More than any number of moderate clerics, they can present a powerful and graphic argument against jihad."

Danielle Henninger in The Wall Street Journal on why Derek Jeter is the last remnant of a previous era (free today). The retiring Yankees shortstop is one of the last role models currently in professional sports, according to the author. "Baseball's most unhinged fans can find reasons to qualify any stat any player has ever achieved. No one, however, is doing a logarithmic refutation of the most common assessment of Derek Jeter's two-decade career: It was exemplary." Henninger asks whether professional sports will have other role models like Jeter in the future. "In 1967, Paul Simon wrote an elegiac song, 'Mrs. Robinson,' about the state of the nation then. He wondered: 'Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio ? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.' And he answered: 'Joltin' Joe has left and gone away'... Now we have Derek Jeter's departure, and Paul Simon's 47-year-old question returns, still relevant—whether Derek Jeter is the norm, or whether American culture has ratcheted down to something less admirable... The Jeter era is over, but the compass that got him through the storms may be ready for a comeback."

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