Nicholas Burns on the U.S. relationship with India, Edward Luce on Saudi Arabia, Paul Krugman on America's invisible wealth gap, Michael Schuman on the Hong Kong protests, and Jonathan Steele on Assad.

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Five Best Columns
Today's Top Opinions on the News

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nicholas Burns in The Washington Post on President Obama's chance to revive America's relationship with India. As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the U.S. this week, Burns writes that Obama should forge new ties with India. "Modi’s key question in Washington, however, will be whether Obama sees India as a vital U.S. partner in Asia. Many Indians fear the United States ultimately will limit its strategic political and military engagement with Delhi in deference to a paranoid Pakistani leadership. They predict the United States will fall short of a full strategic partnership with India to avoid stoking resentments in China as well. India, after all, was never really described by the Obama team as a key partner in the Asia pivot." Burns continues, "Despite these differences, the upside of future U.S. strategic ties to India is obvious. With Modi’s arrival in Washington, Obama has a rare second chance to get India right after this country’s ties with Delhi atrophied over the past two years."

Edward Luce in The Financial Times on why the United States continues to support Saudi Arabia while the Arab monarchy fosters extremism. Luce contends that the adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" guides U.S. policy in the Middle East. "You go to war with the allies you have, not the ones you wish for, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld. President Barack Obama’s war on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) is a good example. His Middle East coalition comprises five autocracies, four of which are monarchies. To one degree or another, each represses dissent." Luce continues, "After a year from geopolitical hell, Mr Obama deservedly won praise last week for a clear-eyed speech to the UN. It was his first robust statement of liberal interventionism since becoming president. In it he hinted strongly at declining US patience for the financial and ideological sponsors of intolerance in madrassas and mosques around the world. These were the breeding grounds of terrorism... But he was careful not to mention Saudi Arabia and others by name. How could he? They are America’s allies. At times of war especially, you do not bite the hand that feeds you."

Paul Krugman in The New York Times on why the American public doesn't fully understand the wealth gap in the United States. Krugman suggests that one reason Americans underestimate the degree of inequality is because they can't see it.
"So how can people be unaware of this development, or at least unaware of its scale? The main answer, I’d suggest, is that the truly rich are so removed from ordinary people’s lives that we never see what they have. We may notice, and feel aggrieved about, college kids driving luxury cars; but we don’t see private equity managers commuting by helicopter to their immense mansions in the Hamptons. The commanding heights of our economy are invisible because they’re lost in the clouds." He continues, "Does the invisibility of the very rich matter? Politically, it matters a lot. Pundits sometimes wonder why American voters don’t care more about inequality; part of the answer is that they don’t realize how extreme it is."

Michael Schuman in Time on why Hong Kong won't remain a global power without political freedom. Schuman writes that the current protests in Hong Kong — while viewed by many as detrimental — are broadly reflective of why the region is thriving. "On the Chinese side of the border, capital flows are restricted, the banking sector is controlled by the state and regulatory systems are weak and arbitrary. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, financial regulation is top-notch, capital flows are among the freest in the world, and rule of law is enshrined in a stubbornly independent judicial system. Those attributes have given Hong Kong an insurmountable advantage as an international business hub." He argues that Hong Kong needs to retain its democratic spirit if it wants to remain a global financial power. "The fact is that Hong Kong’s economic success, the nature of its institutions and the civil liberties enjoyed by Hong Kongers are all inexorably entwined. If Beijing knocks one of those pillars away ­if it suppresses people’s freedoms, or tampers with its judiciary, ­Hong Kong would become just another Chinese city, unable to fend off the challenge from Shanghai."

Jonathan Steele in The Guardian on why U.S. airstrikes in Syria have opened the door for a truce in the country's civil war.  Steele writes that American strikes against ISIS in Syria have made it clear that the U.S. no longer prioritizes the removal of Bashar al-Assad. "Unlike the Iraqi government, which expressly pleaded for US air support, Syria gave repeated warnings that if the US did not coordinate any air strikes with the Syrian government, they would be regarded as illegal acts of aggression. Opposition activists say Assad now has the best of all worlds: he gets the benefit of the air strikes against his Isis enemies without having had to ask. Better still, the wall of isolation which the US and its allies erected around his regime has been broken." Steele argues that the U.S. is now in a better position to oversee a cease fire in Syria. "... perversely, the emergence of Isis has created an opportunity for one positive outcome – a common front between the Syrian army and the non-jihadi opposition to tackle Isis... The political settlement which Syria needs cannot depend on top-down Geneva conferences. Better to build it up on the foundation of local ceasefires, common fronts against jihadis, and the gradual restoration of communities’ trust. In time it could lead to the more inclusive government that many still dream of."

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