Five Best Tuesday Columns

David Brooks on Chuck Hagel, Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly on guns, Ramesh Ponnuru on the debt ceiling, Simon Tisdall on Syria, and Michael Specter on genetically modified crops.

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David Brooks in The New York Times on Chuck Hagel Questions about his support for Israel and his attitudes toward Iran have so far dominated the discourse surrounding President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel. But David Brooks thinks the real reason Hagel was picked has everything to do with defense spending. "So far, defense budgets have not been squeezed by the Medicare vice. But that is about to change," Brooks writes. "Chuck Hagel has been nominated to supervise the beginning of this generation-long process of defense cutbacks ... All the charges about Hagel’s views on Israel or Iran are secondary. The real question is, how will he begin this long cutting process?"

Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly in USA Today on guns After Aurora, Sandy Hook, and a number of other mass shootings, we've heard many impassioned takes on how to approach America's gun violence problem. Gabrielle Giffords, one of the most high-profile victims of a recent shooting, is personally disappointed that Congress hasn't taken up the issue at all. Giffords says that's why she and her husband Mark Kelly are launching a new political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions. In a new op-ed Giffords and Kelly write, "When it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we're not even trying—and for the worst of reasons."

Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View on the debt ceiling Everyone ready for the sequel to the fiscal cliff? It's coming to a 24-hour news cycle near you soon. And, believe it or not, Ramesh Ponnuru is actually looking forward to the fight. He argues that, considering how Republicans aren't proposing significant ways to raise revenue and Democrats aren't prepared to slash spending, this showdown is actually healthy for the country. "More and more of our spending rises on autopilot because of decisions made long ago, and nobody is forced to take responsibility for the gap between revenue and commitments," he writes. "Bills to raise the debt ceiling are the only occasions when congressmen and the president come close to doing so. They are thus appropriate moments to attack the trends that are driving our rising debt."

Simon Tisdall in The Guardian on Assad With an intervention in Syria looking less and less likely, Simon Tisdall argues that ruthless dictator Bashar al-Assad may soon claim victory in the embattled country. "Explanations for this remarkable feat of survival lie not with Assad's personal abilities, which are limited, nor with the durability of his domestic supporters, who are in the minority, nor with the president's ruthlessness in prosecuting the military campaign," writes Tisdall. "More potent has been his subtler achievement in convincing would-be western interventionists that awful though he is, what might follow him would almost certainly be worse."

Michael Specter in The New Yorker on genetically modified crops Environmentalist Mark Lynas used to be one of the fiercest opponents of genetically modified crops. A few years ago he wrote in The Guardian, "we should be aiming at a more holistic ecological approach" rather than "intensifying human technological manipulation of nature." But now that he's looked hard at the science behind genetically modified crops, Lynas has reversed his opinion, and just last week he told the Oxford Farming Conference that he was, "sorry that I helped to start the anti-g.m. movement." Considering Lynas' conversion—and all the people who need to be fed throughout the world—Michael Specter writes, "What he found changed his position and his life; and if a sufficient number of environmentalists listen to him, it may help change the lives of millions of others."

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