Five Best Wednesday Columns

On secretaries, Ben Bernanke, and Syria's D.C. lobby

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Lynn Peril on the Plight of the Modern Secretary  The recession-induced unemployment of "around two million administrative and clerical workers" clashes with the bright future predicted for secretaries in the 1960s, Lynn Peril observes in today's New York Times. Technology, first hailed as a help, soon became feared as competition. But, over years of both advancing technology and women's rights, existing secretaries continue to be reprimanded and even fired for refusing to do the most menial of tasks. "Secretaries of today and 60 years ago would probably agree on something: the one technological advancement they wish existed never will. After all these years, a human being still needs to plug in Mr. Coffee and deliver his output," she writes. "Secretaries can only hope that bosses won't take the human in question for granted, a sign that not everyone will be celebrating this Administrative Professionals Day."

Philip Zelikow on Refocusing America's 'Strategic Initiative'  "Every day that the U.S. worries about events such as the escape of hundreds of painstakingly detained insurgents from an Afghan jail is a day in which America loses the power of initiative elsewhere," insists Philip Zelikow at the Financial Times. He references a General MacArthur quote Robert Gates used recently in a West Point address: "any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,'" which, in today's landscape is "an argument about America's strategic initiative." The U.S. needs to reconsider this "initiative" before it loses track of Libya and the other parts of the Arab world on which it should be focused. "Libya may be the irritable object of some experts who are fatigued with or even disgusted by American overcommitment. It is not, however, the impediment to recovering this initiative."
The Wall Street Journal Editors on Holding Syria Accountable  Looking at Assad's "serially misbehaving regime" ruling a "small and energy poor" country, The Wall Street Journal's editors discuss the "Syria lobby's" power in Washington. Several members of Congress have expressed support of Syria over the years and the Obama Administration's "single biggest strategic failure during this Arab spring has been not distinguishing between enemies and friends"--belatedly and hardly criticizing Assad.  "Run by an Alawite minority, the regime was never going to break with its Shiite benefactors in Tehran and join the Arab Sunni orbit. A regime that builds its domestic legitimacy on hostility to Israel is also unlikely ever to make peace, even if it recovered the Golan," they argue. "The sooner the Administration abandons the counsels of the Syria Lobby, the likelier it will be that Syria becomes a country worth lobbying for."
David Leonhardt on Grilling Bernanke  At Ben Bernanke's upcoming news conference, The New York Times' David Leonhardt urges members of the media to "ask hard questions." Says Leonhardt, "we shouldn't let him get away with the evasions and half-answers that members of Congress too often allow Fed chairmen during their appearances on Capitol Hill." He counters Bernanke's predicted argument for "why [he's] decided to accept widespread unemployment for years on end, even though he believes he has the power to reduce it"--that the risks involved in acting aggressively are too high--by pointing out that the risks don't outweigh the benefits. "Mr. Bernanke is an admirable public official in many ways, [but] his job performance over the last year or so has been flawed. Despite his core belief in letting facts guide decisions, Mr. Bernanke has let himself be overly influenced by a group of colleagues who see inflation always and everywhere as a threat and unemployment as a mere nuisance."
Joshua Kurlantzick on Standing Up to China  Joshua Kurlantzick writes at The Daily Beast that Obama's recent "sniping" at Beijing over China's human rights abuses "is a positive sign that the Obama administration has learned that its toothless approach to China over the past two years has failed" and now realizes that "Washington can criticize the pragmatic Beijing regime on human rights while continuing to work with it on other important global issues." This change of tune might come too late, though, as the Administration's previous bowing to Beijing has taught China that "if it tries to bully the U.S., Washington is likely to give in." The Obama Administration must be tough to reverse this attitude, "but if the change proves lasting, it will likely benefit the United States no less than the dissidents currently languishing in Chinese prisons."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.