Five Best Tuesday Columns
The Washington Post on U.S. airstrikes in Syria, Michael Hirsh and Gary Younge on Obama's legacy, David Brooks on the world in decline, Peter R. Orszag on worker mobility.
Michael Hirsh in Politico on why President Obama's war against ISIS will redefine his legacy. Hirsch writes that Obama must embrace his role as a war president. "Obama must go from being the president who was elected to end wars—his most treasured self-image—to the president who finally leads one effectively ... It’s not that Obama has been shy about using force in the past six and a half years. But he has preferred to do it covertly. His entire presidency has been about downgrading war to something we don’t even call war any more, and keeping it out of the headlines when necessary." Hirsch argues that Obama now has an opportunity to reshape his presidency. "Clearly, Obama’s entire legacy as president is now at stake all over again... Few saw it coming, but the campaign against the Islamic State will loom large in the history of the Obama presidency."
The Washington Post on why American airstrikes in Syria represent a new battlefield in the war against the Islamic State. The editorial board contends that the U.S. should continue its policy of air strikes in Syria, but recognize that a bombing campaign alone will not be enough to defeat ISIS. "If the airstrikes are a recognition that the United States cannot defeat the Islamic State by fighting it only in Iraq — and leaving it a haven in Syria — they are to be welcomed. As he did in August in Iraq, Mr. Obama would be justified in shaping the campaign to rescue a vulnerable population — in this case the Syrian Kurds." The attacks also serve a more immediate humanitarian purpose. "If, in the near term, they can save the Syrian Kurds from a situation described as 'urgent' and 'dire' by their deputy commander... they will be eminently justifiable."
David Brooks in The New York Times on why the world is better today off than it has been in the past. Brooks writes that those claiming America and the world are in decline should look at history. "... there hasn’t been a time in American history when so many global cultures percolated in the mainstream, when there was so much tolerance for diverse ethnicities, lifestyles and the complex directions of the heart, when there was so little tolerance for disorder, domestic violence and prejudice... Widening the lens, we’re living in an era with the greatest reduction in global poverty ever — across Asia and Africa. We’re seeing a decline in civil wars and warfare generally." Brooks suggests that the world does need better leadership. "We don’t suffer from an abuse of power as much as a nonuse of power. It’s been years since a major piece of legislation was passed, and there’s little prospect that one will get passed in the next two.. [But] instead of sliding into fatalism, it might be a good idea to address our problems without exaggerating our plight."
Peter Orszag in Bloomberg View on how rising inequality could be a function of decreasing worker mobility. The former head of the Office of Management and Budget writes that while overall inequality is rising, the number of individuals moving from company to company is falling. "Rising inequality in the amount of money Americans earn turns out to be mostly explained by where they work. And that may help solve another puzzle about the economy: why fewer and fewer workers are moving from one company to another." Orszag suggests a correlation between rising inequality and workplace stagnation. "If most of the rise in earnings inequality is due to bigger pay differences across companies, one might expect that few people would leave the higher-paying employers once they’re in the door. And while workers at the lower-paying companies may want to jump, the opportunities to do so would be limited."
Gary Younge in The Guardian on how President Obama has struggled to live up to expectations. Younge writes that while Obama came into office promising large scale change, he has found it difficult to deliver. "He ran as the embodiment of liberal electoral aspirations, and now he stands as the emblem of the limitations on those aspirations... His campaign slogan was 'Yes we can'; those who defend him by blaming others carve a presidential epitaph that reads: 'At least he tried.' After the midterms, when the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are up for grabs, it won’t just be his performance that’s in question but his relevance." Despite this, Younge suggests that the public's dissatisfaction with the president ultimately reflects a larger dissatisfaction with Washington in general. "With Congress less popular than head lice, clearly disaffection with Obama cannot be divorced from disillusionment with the broader political class. But he promised to be both better and different. At this stage his problem is not that people are disappointed; it’s that they have long ceased believing."