Five Best Tuesday Columns

On China, Breivik, the debt ceiling, and more

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Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen on Relations with China  With the important but challenging relationship between the Chinese and U.S. military, "dialogue is critical," writes Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Mullen invited Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde to the United States in May and visited Chen himself this month, he recounts in The New York Times. "We broke new ground by, among other things, showing him Predator drone capabilities in detail and a live-fire exercise; the Chinese reciprocated with a tour of their latest submarine, a close look at an SU-27 jet fighter and a complex counterterrorism exercise," Mullen writes. The two nations must recognize their common goals, including counter-terrorism, stability in Korea and Pakistan, and threats of drug and weapons trafficking, but also their differences, including conflicts over operating rights in the South China Sea. Mullen says bluntness about differences and openness in general is preferable to China's current policy of cutting off relations when they are displeased and the U.S. strategy of alternately engaging and overreacting. "We both believe that the younger generation of military officers is ready for closer contact, and that upon their shoulders rests the best hope for deeper, more meaningful trust," he writes.

Bret Stephens on Breivik's Philosophy  Bret Stephens questions popular characterization of Oslo gunner Anders Behring Breivik as "Christian" or "right wing" in The Wall Street Journal. More important than Breivik's association with these groups is his "fetishisitic medeivalism" manifested in his association with the Knights Templar and his self-designed military uniform. "Like Osama bin Laden and his epigones, his worldview seems mainly defined by the politics of the 13th century," Stephens writes. "And that worldview is fundamentally geared toward hastening an apocalypse." Like the Islamists he hates, Breivik believed that a small, strategic chaos would set off a huge chain of events. He hopes that the media surrounding his trial will recruit followers to his cause, just as bin Laden hoped the 9/11 attacks would spark a movement. Breivik's philosophy "can hardly be called religious (what then would be the point of an afterlife?), or Christian (murdering children en masse is not a tenet of any Christian faith), or conservative (a political tendency that is fundamentally anti-utopian)," Stephens says. "What it is is millennarian: the belief that all manner of redemptive possibilities lie on just the other side of a crucible of unspeakable chaos and suffering."

Jeffery Goldberg and the Pakistani Ambassador  "The ambassador with the hardest job in Washington is undoubtedly Pakistan's Husain Haqqani," writes The Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg in Bloomberg, "a skilled and wily diplomat who faces the near-impossible task of representing a country that Washington considers at once a crucial ally and a treacherous adversary." Haqqani's job has grown even more difficult since U.S. Navy SEALs found Osama bin Laden within Pakistan's borders. Some on Capitol Hill increasingly see Pakistan as hostile, and many in Pakistan are turning anti-American, so Haqqani must serve as an interpreter to both countries. "'Because we are a democracy now, the political leadership, while maintaining good relations with the United States, does not want to risk too much politically in terms of speaking out on behalf of this relationship,'" he quotes Haqqani saying. "'So I end up having to do the speaking out for this bilateral relationship.' He paused, then said, 'Which causes issues for me.'" Haqqani has done well diffusing tensions, yet more issues continue to push the two countries to a breaking point. Goldberg finally warns, "There's only so much a single ambassador can do."

James Surowiecki on Abolishing the Debt Ceiling  No other democracy, save Denmark, uses a debt ceiling to regulate their spending, and America too should depend solely on congressional approval of the federal budget to control the debt, writes James Surowiecki in The New Yorker. "The only reason we need to lift the debt ceiling, after all, is to pay for spending that Congress has already authorized," Surowiecki writes. "If the debt ceiling isn't raised, we'll face an absurd scenario in which Congress will have ordered the President to execute two laws that are flatly at odds with each other." When the debt ceiling was adopted in 1917, the president had much more unregulated control of federal spending. Now that Congress passes budget resolutions itself, the ceiling has become "an anachronism." Some like the debt ceiling because it acts as a "precommitant device" to ensure against future recklessness. Others like it becuase it forces debate over federal debt into the news cycle. "But it's too strong because its negative consequences (default, higher interest rates, financial turmoil) are disastrously out of proportion to the behavior it's trying to regulate," Surowiecki says. "For the U.S. to default now, when investors are happily lending it money at exceedingly reasonable rates, would be akin to shooting yourself in the head for failing to follow your diet."

Andrew Gilligan on the Lesser Danger of Right-Wing Extremists  Soon after discovering that the perpetrator of the attacks in Norway was not Islamic, some began to argue that right-wing extremists are more dangerous than Islamic terrorists, reports Andrew Gilligan in The Telegraph. "To even suggest equivalence between years of Islamist terror and the far Right, based on a single, awful case, is deeply dangerous and false," he says. Looking just at his own country, Gilligan lays out evidence that Muslims are gaining widespread acceptance in Britain while those that hate them are losing traction. "Over the past decade, half a dozen or so white British Right-wingers have been convicted of possessing explosives and other weapons. But all were loners not acting in concert with any group," he says. "In contrast, there have, over the same period, been 138 convictions for Islamist-related terrorism in the UK, many relating to serious, carefully organised, often multinational plots against specific targets involving substantial numbers of people." Europe has learned to ignore right-wing extremists, but some, like Ken Livingstone, still "court" Muslim extremists, Gilligan asserts. "The white Right should not be ignored by the security authorities--but it would be dangerous to divert our attention from the real threat," he concludes.

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