Five Best Friday Columns
Dexter Filkins on women in combat, Ron Fournier on Obama's great liberal expectations, Malcolm Potts on fighting terrorism through education, Jonathan Weil on Caterpillar's missing millions, and Jim Yong Kim on climate change.
Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker on women in combat Recalling the time he met female soldiers fighting for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, Dexter Filkins argues that there's no reason to think women can't handle the pressure of being on the front lines just like men. And, he notes, the notion of a frontline is already out of date. "Who’s in greater danger? A male Marine on a foot patrol in Helmand Province, or a female Marine driving a fuel truck on a highway to Kandahar?" Filkins asks. "Technically speaking, the former is a combat job, and the latter is not. But the distinction, in both of our recent wars and in any we are likely to fight in the foreseeable future, is meaningless."
Ron Fournier in National Journal on Obama's great liberal expectations Though many progressives praised President Obama for delivering a rousing, determinedly liberal address during his second inauguration, Ron Fournier argues that he only set himself up for failure. Just like he did at the outset of his first term, "Obama is raising expectations," Fournier writes, "this time for combat over a liberal agenda that will save the planet, fortify the middle class, protect entitlements, regulate guns and extend gay rights. Even if he fails to push his policies through Congress, Obama can now claim he fought the good fight."
Malcolm Potts in the Los Angeles Times on fighting terrorism through education As French-led forces continue their campaign to quash Islamist insurgents in Mali, Malcolm Potts urges counterterrorism experts to focus on another front: female education. "Without radical new policies, we can be certain that there will be more conflicts, more failed states and more easy pickings for Islamic fundamentalists," Potts writes, noting that girls in certain regions of Mali get married at an average age of 14. And only 8 percent of women in the country use contraception. The lack of opportunity that results from such realities feeds terrorist impulses. "The only genuine path to peace in the Sahel is by investing in women. It will be a long, difficult process, but it is not impossible if we start today and on a realistic scale."
Jonathan Weil in Bloomberg View on Caterpillar's missing millions Almost half a billion dollars up and vanished from the hands of the heavy equipment company Caterpillarin 2012. But don't ask how the company lost the money. The sum was "non-cash," and therefore cannot be accounted for. "Calling the loss non-cash makes it seem like Caterpillar didn’t lose any real money," writes Jonathan Weil, who suspects they made a bad business deal in China but don't want it recorded on their books. "It’s like reverse alchemy, turning gold into straw, at least for public-relations purposes ... There ought to be a rule that says companies aren’t allowed to call writedowns 'non-cash' if they paid cash to buy the assets they’re writing down. The label might not be false. However, it is misleading."
Jim Yong Kim in The Washington Post on climate change The President of the World Bank is one of the members of an unexpected new coalition trying to bring attention to the threat of climate change. Though his organization focusses mainly on development, Jim Yong Kim writes, "Climate change should also be at the top of our agendas, because global warming imperils all of the development gains we have made ... After the hottest year on record in the United States, a year in which Hurricane Sandy caused billions of dollars in damage, record droughts scorched farmland in the Midwest and our organization reported that the planet could become more than 7 degrees warmer, what are we waiting for? We need to get serious fast. The planet, our home, can’t wait."