Five Best Wednesday Columns

Krishna Guha on ISIS and the Arab state, Frank Bruni on Obama, Dana Milbank on GOP war hawks, Jason Zengerle on Rand Paul, and Mark Whitaker on Bill Cosby.

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Krishna Guha in The Financial Times on why the United States must work harder to secure support from Arab states in the fight against ISIS. Guha suggests that much of the Arab world remains disillusioned and distrustful of the U.S. "Nobody has forgotten America’s failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, its abandonment of the region after the failures of the Arab uprisings and the millions of refugees and homeless those failed wars have spawned." Guha urges the U.S. to recognize this and put substantially more effort in reinforcing these fragile alliances. "This history explains why Arab states have offered only tepid support for the US plan to overthrow Isis and for Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip around the region... That is not to say that the Arab regimes are not fearful of Isis... Yet they do not trust the Americans to sustain the long-running military and political campaign that is needed because Washington’s policies are so fickle. Worst of all, the US refuses any kind of accountability for its past mistakes in the region."

Frank Bruni in The New York Times on why America should stop comparing President Obama and President Bush. Bruni writes that blaming Bush for Obama's current problems is obscuring an important discussion about the present realities. "I hear so much about Bush’s failings and Bush’s sins that you’d think he were still huddled over a desk in Washington rather than dabbing at a canvas in Texas... Enough. It’s true that Obama hasn’t replicated Bush’s offenses, and it’s consoling. But it isn’t exactly reason for a parade, and it doesn’t inoculate him." Bruni contends that America is ignoring the complexities of the moment by judging Obama on the standard of past Presidents. "The bungled rollout of Obamacare was not as bad as the botched response to Katrina... It’s apples and hurricanes, but they’re put in the same basket, in a manner that recalls a child trying to evade punishment by ratting out a sibling for something worse. Don’t be mad, Mommy, about Operation Fast and Furious and all those guns that ended up with Mexican drug cartels. Ronnie traded arms for hostages as part of this whole Iran-contra affair!"

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on how the Republican Party has quickly become interventionist again. Milbank writes that Republicans in Congress have shifted their foreign policy positions to counter President Obama. "The sudden desire for a ground war is a bit suspect, both because many Republicans adopted this view only after Obama came around to their previous view and because many Republicans oppose even the modest funding Obama has requested to train Syrian fighters." While Milbank suggests that this relatively sudden shift may be political, he nevertheless warns that calls for increased aggression are growing in the GOP. "It may be that Republicans embraced the boots-on-the-ground position because Obama rejected it. Whatever the cause, the militancy is spreading — even though polls indicate that while Americans favor military action against the Islamic State, they aren’t keen on ground troops."

Jason Zengerle in The New Republic on why Rand Paul's seemingly contradictory foreign policy makes sense. Zengerle writes that Paul has been slowly moving away from the isolationist roots that have long been advocated for by his father Rand Paul. "... he’s spent much of the past four years putting distance between himself and his father on foreign policy. Even during his Senate campaign, Paul privately solicited advice from a few of his father’s biggest foreign policy critics, including Bill Kristol and Dan Senor." Zengerle contends Paul's cautious foreign policy reflects the traditional conservative pragmatism of Kennan, Kissinger and Scowcroft. "Whatever his motivations, Paul, through it all, has arrived at something of a coherent foreign policy philosophy. As he explained it in his biggest foreign policy speech to date, at the Heritage Foundation last year, 'I am a realist, not a neoconservative nor an isolationist.' If that sounded Obama-esque in its attempt to find a middle way between competing straw men, the fact is that, in GOP foreign policy debates, those straw men are real people like John McCain and Ron Paul."

Mark Whitaker in Time on how modern television owes many of its roots to The Cosby Show. Writing about the new show Black-ish, Whitaker discusses how revolutionary The Cosby Show was when it first aired in the 1980's. "Shooting the second season premier, Cosby threatened to walk off the set when the network sought to appease advertisers by removing an 'Abolish Apartheid' sign from Theo’s bedroom door. 'There may be two sides to apartheid in Archie Bunker’s house,' he declared. 'But it’s impossible that the Huxtables would be on any side but one.'" Whitaker contends that the brilliance of Cosby was his ability to focus on the reality of American family life rather than be swayed by false racial stereotypes. "While his show was still in development, Cosby reached out to Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard psychiatrist whose specialty is minority children, and asked him to read scripts to make sure they reflected genuine child psychology and family dynamics... Combined with Cosby’s insistence on sticking to universal themes of family life, that naturalism allowed his show to go in new and unpredictable directions every week. Some episodes could have nothing to do with race; others could revolve around jazz, or black art, or remembering the March on Washington."

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