Five Best Wednesday Columns
Thomas L. Friedman on ISIL, James Goldgeier on the case for NATO, David Ignatius on U.S. ambassadors, Marc Champion on a cease-fire in Ukraine, and Robert Reich on vocational training.
Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times on why the U.S. should remain cautious in dealing with ISIL. Friedman writes that America shouldn't overreact to the threat posed by the Islamic State. "There are no words to describe the vileness of the video beheadings of two American journalists by ISIS, but I have no doubt that they’re meant to get us to overreact, à la 9/11, and rush off again without a strategy. ISIS is awful, but it is not a threat to America’s homeland." Friedman suggests that any large scale U.S. intervention should be part of a multilateral, regional solution. "When you have a region beset by that many civil wars at once, it means there is no center, only sides. And when you intervene in the middle of a region with no center, you very quickly become a side... I support using U.S. air power and special forces to root it out, but only as part of a coalition, where everybody who has a stake in stability there pays their share and where mainstream Sunnis and Shiites take the lead by demonstrating that they hate ISIS more than they hate each other."
James Goldgeier in POLITICO on why NATO is still relevant two decades after the end of the Cold War. Ahead of this week's NATO summit in Wales, Goldgeier writes that the recent Russian aggression in Ukraine shows why the organization remains as important as ever. "Suddenly, the bedrock principle of the alliance, enshrined in Article V of the 1949 Washington Treaty – that an attack on one or more NATO members 'shall be considered an attack against them all' – has once again come to the fore. Countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Poland have sought reassurance that NATO will be there to defend them if necessary." He contends that NATO must broaden its scope and include new partners in its continued quest for stability. "Global partnerships are key to building greater capacity as well as the legitimacy to act outside the transatlantic region. As NATO marks its 65th anniversary, it must resolve to reaffirm collective defense against the threat posed by the Putin regime and deepen its global partnerships to ensure not only that it survives, but that it thrives long into the future."
David Ignatius in The Washington Post on why blocking President Obama's nominees for U.S. ambassadors is threatening American foreign policy. Ignatius blames Senate Republicans' for holding up confirmation hearings. "[Senate Republicans] denounce President Obama’s inaction on foreign policy — and simultaneously refuse to confirm his nominees for U.S. ambassadors to such hot spots as Turkey, on the front lines against the Islamic State, and Sierra Leone, epicenter of the Ebola outbreak." Ignatius suggests that while Senate Republicans are trying to embarrass their Democratic colleagues, they are hurting the country. "Ambassadors matter, even in the age of Twitter. They can open the door at a key ministry, or introduce a prominent business official. The State Department estimates that this year U.S. businesses have sought embassy help in $119 billion in contracts in countries where we have no ambassador..."
Marc Champion in Bloomberg View on why the possible cease-fire agreement between Russia and Ukraine is showing early signs of collapse. Champion writes that Putin's reaction to the Ukrainian cease-fire announcement is an immediate red flag for peace. "... the Kremlin promptly cast doubt on the value of the deal. While Poroshenko's press service described it as a 'permanent cease-fire' (later changing that to a 'cease-fire regime'), Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders merely exchanged views on how to end the conflict. Putin couldn't, however, agree to a cease-fire, because Russia wasn't a party to the conflict, Peskov said." Champion suggests that Putin is once again finding new ways to deflect blame. "Putin has, yet again, found a way to play his opponents without changing his goals or strategy. By speaking to Poroshenko and saying the two leaders agree, he suggests he is not the obstacle to a cease-fire. That suggestion, in turn, provides EU countries that oppose tougher sanctions with ammunition to make their case. By leaving the decision on whether to stop fighting to local rebel leaders in Ukraine, Putin can still keep the conflict alive -- if he wishes."
Robert Reich in Salon on why promoting a liberal arts college education isn't the most effective way to strengthen the American workforce. Reich suggests that vocational training is the best way to reduce student debt and strengthen the middle class. "As our aspirations increasingly focus on four-year college degrees, we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated...businesses, for their part, aren’t sufficiently involved in designing community college curricula and hiring their graduates, because their executives are usually the products of four-year liberal arts institutions and don’t know the value of community colleges." Reich argues for a change in the U.S. education system. "Too often in modern America, we equate 'equal opportunity' with an opportunity to get a four-year liberal arts degree. It should mean an opportunity to learn what’s necessary to get a good job."