Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Turkey complicating Middle Eastern conflicts:
Turkey's alert to NATO while increasing its involvement in the Syrian war threatens to drag the United States further into an already complex Middle Eastern conflict.
Citing a threat to its "territorial integrity, political independence or security," Turkey called an emergency meeting Tuesday of NATO in Brussels. It was only the fifth such meeting in the alliance's 66-year history. The 28 NATO countries promised Turkey their full support.
Turkey's first objective was to obtain NATO's sanction of its bombing of Islamic State group targets in neighboring Syria, which began last week. The United States supports the Turkish bombing and was pleased to receive Turkey's assent to carry out U.S. attacks from Incirlik Air Base. Another Turkish goal backed by the United States is the creation of a safe zone along the Syrian border to which some of the estimated 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey could return.
Unfortunately, the new game plan gets complicated for the United States as Turkey seeks indirect NATO approval of its air attacks against Syrian Kurdish forces and elements of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, in Syria. America does not support the separatist PKK, but PKK forces have been effective in combating the Islamic State, now considered America's number one enemy in the Middle East.
Perhaps even worse, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated that the 2013 truce between his government and the PKK is over, with negotiations no longer possible. Turkey is concerned about the momentum building toward formation of a Kurdish state, since 20 to 25 percent of its people are Kurds, an ethnic group also found in Iran, Iraq and Syria. The United States has provided support to the Kurds, including military aid, since the first Gulf War in the 1990s.
With all of these moving parts, the conflict has become more complicated for America. Washington would do well to refine its policy and its role.
Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on Cuban embargo's days being numbered:
Someday, inevitably, the United States will end its embargo against Cuba. Normal diplomatic relations will resume.
Rather than continuing to be the Communist Menace on Our Doorstep, Cuba will be seen simply as another Latin American neighbor. Someday.
"Someday" isn't coming any time soon. Current law says that for the embargo to be lifted, Cuba must install a democratic government and improve its human rights record, among other things.
And while there have been a lot of changes since the harshest days under Fidel Castro, Cuba still has steps to climb.
But there are rumblings. A Republican congressman has introduced a bill to end the embargo. That won't go very far, because leaders of his party are solidly against it.
The mere fact that an attempt is being made to change the law is significant. It suggests that we haven't forgotten about our close neighbor.
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota, decided after a trip to Cuba in June to pursue repeal of the embargo.
"I understand there's a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand," he said.
"But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn't about the Cuban government; it's about the people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life."
Change can occur when the interests of the people take precedence over the niceties of government.
Miami Herald on fixing America's deteriorating infrastructure:
Congress has a chance this week to provide a strong boost for America's badly deteriorating infrastructure, but only if a promising solution worked out in the U.S. Senate prevails over a short-sighted fix passed by the House earlier this summer.
The House version provides a five-month extension of current programs, essentially kicking the can down the road, while the Senate version provides $350 billion in transportation programs for six years, although only three of those are paid for. Even so, it is a far better alternative than extending the bill through the end of the year, at which point another short-term fix would be necessary.
Adding urgency to the need to act now is a looming deadline on the federal program. Authority for federal highway aid payments to states will expire Friday at midnight without action. And if Congress doesn't act before then, the balance in the federal Highway Trust Fund is forecast to drop below a minimum cushion of $4 billion that's necessary to keep aid flowing smoothly to states.
"How can you plan, as a researcher or a civil engineer in a transportation department, if you don't have long-term certainty" about funding, asked Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. Answer: You can't. States and local communities that rely on the federal funding are facing a dead end if the House and Senate can't agree.
It's no secret by now that the nation's interstate highway system, a proud legacy from an earlier generation to ours, is badly in need of repair. The latest report from the American Society of Civil Engineers give the system a D. Nearly one-third of the country's 4 million miles of roads are in poor or mediocre condition, the report found. Further, the Federal Highway Administration estimates it would take $170 billion a year to make a significant improvement in road conditions and performance.
In large measure, Congress has abdicated its leadership role in planning and funding our national infrastructure. Instead of being lured by the open road, American drivers face more potholes, more congestion and fewer safety improvements.
One particularly poignant reminder of the crumbling infrastructure is the deterioration of Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River between Washington, D.C., and Virginia, connecting two of the nation's iconic landmarks: Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial. Earlier this year, two lanes of the iconic bridge were partially shut down for at least six months to repair corrosion damage. Safety experts imposed a 10-ton load limit across the bridge, thus eliminating most bus traffic for an even longer period until the entire structure is rehabilitated.
The Senate bill will provide six years of policy improvements and contract authority for highways and transit programs, thus ending a long cycle of short-term program extensions. It also offers three years of dedicated revenue to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) so states can deliver more long-term projects and increases funding levels for highway, transit and passenger rail programs.
It won't fix everything that's wrong with the nation's infrastructure. That would require an increase in the gasoline tax that provides a reliable stream of funding and has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. Still, the Senate version represents a vast improvement over the House's proposed short-term solution and should be approved by lawmakers before they go on their own summer recess starting next week.
Los Angeles Times on Guantanamo Bay prison still being open:
One of President Obama's first acts in office was to promise that he would close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in order to "restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism." Six years later, the facility is still open, although the population has dwindled to 116, 52 of whom have been cleared for transfer if security conditions can be satisfied.
Part of the problem has been congressional obstructionism, but Obama also is to blame. Rather than veto defense authorization bills that limited his ability to transfer inmates, he has signed them, while raising questions about whether they intruded on his constitutional authority. And he hasn't pressed the Defense Department hard enough to approve the release and resettlement of detainees who aren't deemed a threat.
Now the White House says it is preparing to present Congress with a new plan to close the facility. That effort is welcome, but it will fully succeed only if the administration recognizes that the problem with Guantanamo isn't just its location, but that the prison has become a symbol of a denial of due process.
Opposition to closing Guantanamo involves two issues. One is whether even "low-risk" detainees should be released to their homelands or to some other country. The other is whether inmates — including dozens of more dangerous detainees the administration says it can neither release nor try — should be moved to the United States. The administration argues persuasively that "supermax" prisons in this country provide adequate protection for public safety.
We agree with Obama that Guantanamo has been a stain on America's reputation and a recruiting tool for terrorists. The administration should make good on its threat to veto a new National Defense Authorization Act if it makes it harder to release detainees or to shut down the prison. But even if the administration wins congressional support for closing the facility and accelerating the release of some detainees, it shouldn't be content with simply relocating the rest and continuing to hold them without charge or trial.
In a 2013 speech, Obama acknowledged that indefinitely detaining suspected terrorists without a trial was a problem but said it could be resolved "consistent with our commitment to the rule of law." The way to do so is to urgently revisit the question of whether supposedly high-risk detainees really pose a danger if they are released. The government should also take a fresh look at whether it really is impossible to prosecute some detainees because of missing or compromised evidence.
In the same speech, Obama warned that "history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it." The way to forestall such a judgment is to close Guantanamo and not reconstitute it elsewhere.
Boston Herald on how to deter Iran:
Israel's Channel 2 said U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter would discuss a new package of military aid to Israel during his visit to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week. After the meeting, briefing officers told reporters such a proposal did not come up.
It's still an excellent idea.
Israel gets $3 billion a year in U.S. military aid, and it's hard to see that it needs anything in the ordinary course of things at the moment. Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon — clearly only slowed by the proposed pact with the United States and five other major powers — is not ordinary.
Israel has nuclear weapons it has never acknowledged. Their deterrent value against a nuclear-armed Iran — which has never repudiated past threats of its leaders to wipe Israel off the map — is extremely uncertain.
One U.S. weapon could boost Israel's military capability and signal Iran that, realistically, its chances of a successful attack on Israel were extremely slim. That's the bunker-busting MOP, "Massive Ordnance Penetrator," a 30,000-pound bomb capable of penetrating 200 feet of earth or 60 feet of concrete.
Iran has thousands of centrifuges capable of producing weapons-grade uranium inside a mountain at Fordo kept secret until 2009. Most centrifuges are now supposed to be turned off. A group of Iranian dissidents has released commercial satellite photos of what it says are the surface facilities of another secret underground installation on the outskirts of Tehran.
Israel's possession of the MOP would remind Iran of Israel's history of pre-empting perceived threats — its warplanes destroyed nuclear reactors in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007) and the Egyptian air force to begin the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
President Obama, determined to enhance Iran's power and prestige, would never in a million years give Israel the MOP. Our country will elect a new president in 15 months; we can hope he or she will bring realism to the office.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Donald Trump making presidential race harder for GOP, easier for Democrats:
As Donald Trump surges in the polls against his numerous rivals in the Republican Party, Hillary Clinton and her Democratic supporters must be smiling. The increasingly muddled and contentious race for the GOP nomination is making things easy for the Democrats.
At last count, 16 Republican candidates are in the race - most of whom have insignificant levels of support on a countrywide level. They do, however, have the effect of undermining and draining support from each other. The Democrats, on the other hand, currently only have five candidates vying for their party's nomination, which Clinton is almost certain to win.
In particular, Trump represents a nightmare scenario for the GOP establishment. He's already managed to attract a significant number of Republicans away from the "mainstream" candidates by pandering to the fears and anti-immigrant sentiments of the furthest extreme of American voters.
If in the end Trump runs as a third-party candidate rather than as a Republican, the election is as good as over before it even begins. By attempting to marginalise him and push him to the margins of the GOP - no matter how well deserved - the rest of the Republican candidates are making this outcome more likely.
Statistics swing dramatically in favour of Clinton. An ABC/Washington Post poll last week found that, as things stand, Clinton leads Jeb Bush 50 per cent to 44 per cent. The inclusion of a third-party candidate would bring Clinton to 46 per cent, compared to Bush's 30 per cent.
These factors all combine to make a GOP victory very difficult. But the elections are still 16 months away and a lot of things can happen before November 2016.