The Five Best Saturday Columns

On the Middle East trade-off, "Bad Grandpas," and cupcake fatigue.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Joe Queenan on the Darker Side of Cupcakes. "Like the Macarena, Tofutti, the pedestrian scooter, the urban cowboy look of the early 1980s and America's brief, misguided obsession with Paris Hilton, the era when the cupcake was in the ascendant deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history," writes Joe Queenan. "What a nightmare it has been." So how did it begin? Queenan blames the television show "Sex and the City," a "television program I have never seen for the obvious reason that it launches stupid Barbie doll-ish trends like cupcake mania." But cupcakes' cutesyness only masks their far darker elements, says Queenan. "With their fawning subservience to the cupcake, Americans had once again been led by the nose into mortifying behavior by the marketers who invent odious social trends and then trick everybody into thinking they result from a real paradigm shift bubbling up from the heartland." But there is "a subversive element at work here, too. The cupcake, to me, symbolizes compromise and acquiescence, a retreat from American greatness." Good riddance, but be aware: "A society that would roll over and play dead for Machiavellian cupcake merchants is a society capable of anything."

Raffi Khatchadourian on the Case Against WikiLeaks, One Year Later. Over the next week will the one-year anniversary of the naming of Bradley Manning as WikiLeaks' major source of U.S. classified documents. The case against Julian Assange under the Espionage Act remains hinged on whether Assange or close associates ever communicated with Manning. Khatchadourian points to logs where Manning indicates to Adrian Lamo that he had spoken with Assange, but many doubt the veracity of these logs. But Khatchadourian adds a piece of corroborative evidence for why they should be believed: "In May of last year, my piece about WikiLeaks was making its way through the last stages of production at The New Yorker ... I did not interview Manning for the article; nonetheless, while we were working on the piece, he wrote to Lamo on May 25th and said, “new yorker is running 10k word article on on 30 may, btw.” This turned out to be a dead-on prediction. But how could he have known specifics about our piece before we had published it? The answer is pretty clear: someone involved in WikiLeaks, or an intermediary, told him." Why did Khatchadourian then hold off on this evidence? "I thought about relaying this little observation in a blog post and have refrained, somewhat out of fear of being subpoenaed or otherwise assisting the Justice Department in a case that I profoundly don’t believe in."

Roger Cohen on Obama's Middle East Trade-off. Obama's proposal of a return to 1967 lines at the Israeli border, according to Reger Cohen, was a "brave" move on his part, surrounded as he was by an unyielding Netanyahu and disgruntled Jewish donors. But regardless of how this move affects Obama politically, Cohen argues that it was the right one.  "Arabs by the tens of millions have been overcoming the paralysis of fear. It is past time for Israel to do the same. A specter — Iran, Hamas, delegitimization campaigns — can always be summoned to dismiss peace. These threats exist. But I believe the most corrosive is Israeli dominion over another people." In short, Obama made the correct move: "The essential trade-off is Israeli security for Palestinian sovereignty. Each side must convince the other that peace will provide it ... This is difficult but doable." It is now up to Israel to recognize this. "Palestinians have been making ominous wrong moves. What has improved their lot is the patient institution-building of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on the West Bank, his embrace of nonviolence, and his refusal to allow the grievances of the past to halt the building of a future. To all of this Netanyahu has offered only the old refrain: Israel has no partner with which to build peace. It does — if it would only see and reinforce that partner."

Leslie Savan on the "Bad Grandpas." Newt Gingrich's problem, according to Leslie Savan, is not unlike the problems faced by several other politicians (Trump, Schwarzenegger, and Strauss-Kahn) between the ages of 62 and 67 in the past couple of weeks, all of whom "have fallen steeply and suddenly from their former glory." Savan argues that in each case, "the tragic flaw that led to the pol’s quick demise had been obvious for a long time: All four suffered from an outsized ego that made them feel bulletproof ... With 10 marriages among them, all four Bad Grandpas apparently felt they could woo women and the press at the same time. I can’t pretend to plumb the French media’s notions about l’amour fou—Strauss-Kahn appeared to be sailing towards the French presidency until he tried his charms on a maid in a fancy New York hotel room. But the three Americans weren’t bulletproof just because they filled their mirrors frame-to-frame."

Michael E O'Hanlon on the Rise of the Afghan Police Force. Amid skepticism regarding the possibility of the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan, Michael O'Hanlon offers some hopeful news: the "competence and trustworthiness of the Afghan security forces" appears to be on the rise. "[M]ost major roads are serviceable, and government officials now generally use them instead of NATO helicopters to get around. Markets are open; schools have increased almost 50 percent in number since late 2009; twice as many Afghan officials work in local governments as did a year ago; and poppy production is down. The even better news is that Afghan forces deserve an increasingly large share of the credit." O'Hanlon peppers his column with anecdotes about the Afghan forces' new effectiveness. While problems remain, such as high desertion rates and overstayed military leaves, the "trends point in the right direction" to suggest "significantly reduced NATO forces in southern Afghanistan by next year."

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