Five Best Tuesday Columns

George Packer on Sergeant Bales, Emily Bazelon on Dharun Ravi, Jeffrey Goldberg on Israel and Iran, Dana Milbank on the Supreme Court, and Bryan Walsh on gas prices.

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George Packer in The New Yorker on understanding Robert Bales The many facts of accused Staff Sergeant Robert Bales's history, troubles, and deployments should not matter to those of us who wonder what led him to allegedly murder 16 Afghan civilians. "Pundits and commenters of all stripes find that the Panjwai episode proves what they were saying all along. How satisfying. No: shame is the only response the rest of us are allowed," Packer writes. The shame, he says, stems in part from the distance America's civilians have kept from the wars we've conducted for 10 years. The military seems to embrace this state of affairs, in part because it allows them to deal with war crimes internally. The war, and Bales's actions raise many serious questions, ones Packer hopes we answer in the coming years. "But to be honest, what I expect in the next few years is the willful amnesia that always comes with the end of unsuccessful wars. We will have a lot to forget, starting with Robert Bales."

Emily Bazelon in The New York Times on Dharun Ravi's hate crime conviction Last week, a jury convicted Dharun Ravi of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation after he used his computer's web cam to spy on his roommate who was with another man. "What's out of whack about Mr. Ravi’s case is the harsh punishment he now faces... Mr. Ravi could go away for years because, on top of spying, he was convicted of a hate crime," writes Bazelon. She makes the case that civil rights laws that shield vulnerable groups from violent crimes are useful, but Ravi had those laws used against him because of the national attention currently being paid to non-violent bullying. She gives several examples of bullying between students where she believes charges of hate crimes were overreaching. "States like New Jersey and Massachusetts should narrow their civil rights laws so that [Ravi's] not the first of many stupid but nonviolent young people who pay a too-heavy price for our fears about how kids use technology to be cruel."

Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg View on Israel's Iran strategy "A widely held assumption about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is that it would spur Iranian citizens -- many of whom appear to despise their rulers -- to rally around the regime. But Netanyahu, I’m told, believes a successful raid could unclothe the emperor, emboldening Iran’s citizens to overthrow the regime," writes Goldberg. He reports from Israel that Netanyahu is likely not bluffing, and is in fact coming closer to ordering a raid on Iran's nuclear program. He describes war games that show why this might drag the U.S. into war but describes the alternative thinking that has Iran keeping an attack quiet to help ensure their regime's security. "The Israeli political leadership increasingly believes that an attack on Iran will not be the disaster many American officials, and some ex-Israeli security officials, fear it will be," he sums up.

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on the Supreme Court's odd debate This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether a woman who used her deceased husband's sperm to conceive twins could then use her husband's social security survivor benefits. "The Constitution is silent on the question of posthumous conception, in large part because people back then did not sire children after death ... mostly the case shows the struggle of an 18th-century legal system to keep up with 21st-century technology." Milbank reports the profound but occasionally absurd legal questions each of the justices posed. They were wading into territory that the 1939 social security law couldn't have possibly foreseen. The case, Milbank says, and the confusion around it, have parallels in other reproductive debates where new technologies like morning after pills complicate our legal understandings.

Bryan Walsh in Time on Obama and gas prices Republican candidates depict President Obama as doing everything he can to keep gas prices high, but they ignore that the environmental Democrat is making an unusually public case about his promotion of domestic oil production. "But is Obama really 'fully responsible for what the American public is paying for gasoline?' ... The short answer is no — and pretty much so is the long answer," writes Walsh. He describes the global market for oil, which dictates the price of gasoline, and notes that even if America drilled in every available resource, something the public would probably oppose, we wouldn't contribute enough to global supply to significantly move the global price. "The best we can do is to work to become more energy efficient, while supporting responsible domestic oil development along with alternatives," Walsh says.
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