Five Best Friday Columns

Jill Lepore on Planned Parenthood, Jonathan Alter on Gingrich's attacks, Robert Pape on humanitarian intervention, Peggy Noonan on Obama's Catholic decision, and Charles Krauthammer on Syria and Iran.

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Jill Lepore in The New Yorker on Komen and Planned Parenthood Lepore opens with an anecdote in which Ben Franklin offers his sister advice on a potential cure for the breast cancer that is killing their other sister. "There was no cure. There is still no cure," she writes. This week, the Susan Komen for the Cure Foundation, a breast cancer charity, caused an uproar when it decided to deny funding to Planned Parenthood. The decision "exposes more than a division over contraception and abortion. It exposes a gruesome truth about politics in this country. In American politics, women's bodies are not bodies, but parts," she argues. Lepore tells the story of the women's health movement through this lens, and describes the politics surrounding this week's decision and the larger movement to defund Planned Parenthood. She ends with another history of the women in Benjamin Franklin's family, many of whom died early, leaving behind young children named after their fallen relatives. "For the unending pregnancies and difficult deliveries that felled young women, [Franklin] had no cure. There was no cure. Not then."

Jonathan Alter in Bloomberg View on Gingrich's attacks After a bitterly fought campaign of attacks on both sides in Florida, Newt Gingrich didn't congratulate Mitt Romney in his election night speech, nor did he call to concede. "Now he's hell-bent on chasing Romney around the U.S. for the next seven months making his life miserable. Who does this help? I say Romney," writes Alter. He describes conventional wisdom that has the attacks helping only Obama. But he notes past campaigns in which a more extreme candidate kept up attacks on politicians like Bill Clinton, arguing they help a candidate look more moderate as he heads into a general election. After taking conservative positions through the primaries, Romney could use that move to the center. "[T]he weak economy still gives [Romney] a strong chance if he can find the median strip of American politics. Newt Gingrich wants to push him there, inadvertently helping the man he despises to become president."
Robert Pape in The New York Times on intervening in Syria As the casualties of Bashar al-Assad's attacks on dissidents clime to 7,000 in Syria, some in the West wonder why we haven't mounted an opposition similar to the one in Libya to stop the killings. "A new standard for humanitarian intervention is needed. If a continuing government-sponsored campaign of mass homicide ... is occurring, a coalition of countries ... should intervene to stop it, as long as they have a viable plan, with minimal risk of casualties for the interveners," writes Pape. He describes failures of current U.N. policy on stopping genocide, and he proposes a lower bar with more pragmatic goals. But he says we probably can't replicate the Libyan intervention in Syria yet because the opposition has yet to stake out a city or territory of control. "A mass-homicide campaign is under way there, but a means to stop it without unacceptable loss of life is not yet available."
Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal on Obama's Catholic decision This week President Obama approved a ruling that says Catholic institutions must provide insurance that covers abortions and contraception. "There was no reason to pick this fight. It reflects political incompetence on a scale so great as to make Mitt Romney's gaffes a little bitty thing," writes Noonan. She devotes some of her column to discussing Romney's comment on "poor people" and the mainstream Republican disillusionment with him. But she returns to the Catholic decision, arguing that Obama had little political incentive to make it. Nor, she says, is it compatible with the Church's first amendment rights. Catholic voters in swing states helped elect him, and their outrage will not help his chances in 2012. "There was nothing for the president to gain, except, perhaps, the pleasure of making a
great church bow to him."
Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post on Syria's strategic importance to Iran There's more than enough moral incentive to intervene in Syria, writes Krauthammer, but there's also strategic reason for it. "Imperial regimes can crack when they are driven out of their major foreign outposts ... The fall of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria could be similarly ominous for Iran," he writes. Krauthammer describes Syria's strategic importance to Iran, describing their religious, ethnic, and sectarian alliance. and he also writes of Iran's growing influence in other countries. He argues a fallen Assad would significantly weaken Iran in the region, noting that this probably motivates the Arab League's support for his ousting. "In diplomacy, one often has to choose between human rights and strategic advantage. This is a rare case where we can advance both — so long as we do not compromise with Russia or relent until Assad falls."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.