5 Best Friday Columns
On Obama Sr., whether WikiLeaks could have prevented 9/11, and how to rebuild American infrastructure
Gov. Schwarzenegger, Gov. Rendell, Mayor Bloomberg on Building Better Infrastructure The three elected officials outline their designs for building infrastructure in the opinion pages of Politico. They note that other countries, particularly in Asia, have made tremendous progress, while the United States continues to "rely on the antiquated infrastructure our parents’ generation built." President Obama promised to spend $50 billion on transportation improvements, but the the issue is not a matter of spending, it is "about making tough choices that could maximize economic return." Namely, each state "should be forced to compete to earn its slice of the pie--with more money for projects that yield the greatest economic return." Fixing the "worst bottlenecks," they conclude, could lower transportation costs, increase private investment and ultimately help the economy grow.
- Coleen Rowley and Bogdan Dzakovic on WikiLeaks and 9/11 The two authors--one a former agent for the FBI, the other a former FAA air martial--propose a hypothetical scenario: "If WikiLeaks had been around in 2001, could the events of 9/11 have been prevented?" If intelligence we now know was possessed, but ignored, had been published to the Internet instead of going through "ossified bureaucracies" that were "incapable of acting quickly and decisively," perhaps the attacks could have been thwarted. WikiLeaks, Orwley and Dzakovic contend, also might have been able to provide cover "for those agents who were terribly worried about what might happen and frustrated by their superiors' seeming indifference." Many "government careerists" are risk averse and some "have gone to the media, but that can't be done fully anonymously, and it also puts reporters at risk of being sent to jail for refusing to reveal their sources." WikiLeaks, in their opinion, currently provides a "crucial safety valve"--they should know: Dzakovic "filed a formal whistle-blower disclosure against the FAA for ignoring the vulnerabilities documented by [a pre-9/11 team exploring security problems]. For the past nine years he has been relegated to entry-level staff work for the Transportation Security Administration."
- Joe Klein on Ignorance as Authenticity America's belief in the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington myth--that an "inspired amateur" and well-informed citizen might reform a soulless bureaucracy by force of will--is directly related to the rise of the Tea Party movement, writes the Time columnist. "I'd take a couple of average citizens like [Mr. Smith] in the Senate anytime," admits Klein. But unlike Smith, Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell is not actually yester-generation's well-informed citizen. Rather, "she is attractive, to some, because she doesn't know anything. ... There is no way she could ever be confused with a member of the elites; there is no way she could be confused with an above average high school student. Her ignorance, therefore, makes her authentic." According to Klein, the rise of candidates like O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Carl Paladino embodies a trend much more troubling and insidious than run-of-the-mill anti-intellectualism. Their ascent--despite an absence not only of credentials, but of the desire to even acquire credentials--reflects "a society that no longer takes itself seriously."
- Bruce L.R. Smith on Barack Obama Sr. In a rebuttal to Dinesh D'Souza's controversial article on Obama Sr., the George Mason professor recalls his interactions with the president's father when they were both at Harvard in 1964. Smith saw nothing of the "militant anti-colonialism" described by D'Souza. He was, well, normal. Smith remembers him as "an urbane, Western-oriented intellectual...overall, though, a serious man." He was also capable of cutting loose. "Judging from the times we had a beer in one or another Cambridge hangout for students," recalls Smith, "Obama Sr. was no teetotaling Muslim." Smith invited Obama to his wedding, an engagement he couldn't attend, which didn't stop the future president's dad from "calling my wife at her parents' apartment at 3 a.m. on our wedding day. He said it was a Kenyan custom; he was in high humor, possibly aided by a few drinks." D'Souza, Smith believes, is guilty of trying to build up a narrative around the president's largely-absent father that doesn't square with reality.
Philip Stevens on Europe's View of a Weakened President "Europeans struggle to make up their minds about American presidents," but The Financial Times columnist makes one point very clear: "On almost every measure, a weakened White House is bad for Europe." He notes that when "Bush was in charge no-one really asked what Europe could bring to the transatlantic table. Mr Obama was ready to recognise the US as an insufficient as well as the indispensable power. But that very fact robbed Europe's leaders of their alibi." Stevens also notes a theory floating around that if the Democrats lose the House then the president will focus more time on foreign policy. That means that Europe may be asked to shoulder more of "pulling the world from recession" than it is currently doing. Europe should be worried about Democrats' fate, he concludes.