Five Best Thursday Columns

Amy Davidson on sexual assault in the military, Fareed Zakaria on U.S. credibility toward Syria, Jill Filipovic on "purity culture," Michael Hirsh on the Benghazi "cover-up," and Farhad Manjoo on his dog dilemma.

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Amy Davidson at The New Yorker on sexual assault in the military Amy Davidson appraises the U.S. military's efforts to combat sexual assault within its ranks, which led to a shocking annual report on its progress this week. "Why was the new report so dismaying?" she asks. "It included two measures: one based on reported, recorded incidents of sexual assault of one kind or the other—there were three thousand three hundred and seventy-four of those last year, an increase of six per cent—and a detailed, anonymous survey of active-duty servicemembers, which showed that more than six per cent of women and one per cent of men had experienced these crimes, also an increase." Davidson continues: "The way the numbers worked together is what was so jarring. ... But that’s not what had happened here: 'I mean, I got a team of Ph.D.s and statisticians that look at this every year,' [General Gary] Patton said. 'And—and what we saw this year was, as I mentioned, for the active-duty females, an increase in the prevalence.'" Eleanor Clift at The Daily Beast adds, "This is not a new challenge for the military. It's been more than 20 years since the Tailhook scandal exposed a Navy and Marine Corps culture where women were sexually assaulted and male perpetrators rarely held accountable ... there is still much to be done."

Fareed Zakaria at The Washington Post on U.S. credibility toward Syria "Syria is a humanitarian nightmare, which the United States should do more to address," writes Fareed Zakaria in a discussion of President Obama's vaguely drawn "red line" in terms of Syria. "Washington should help create and sustain more havens — in Jordan and elsewhere — for refugees and should coordinate with other countries to get aid in faster and more effectively to those in need. ... But we must understand that the Syrian conflict is fundamentally a civil war between a minority elite and the long-oppressed majority — similar to those in Lebanon and Iraq. People fight to the end because they know that losers in such wars get killed or 'ethnically cleansed.' The only path to peace in such circumstances is through a political accord among the parties." But Leon Wieseltier at The New Republic thinks direct intervention is necessary, and now: "Wouldn’t the prevention of ethnic cleansing and genocidal war be reason enough? Is the death of scores and even hundreds of thousands, and the displacement of millions, less significant for American policy, and less quickening? The moral dimension must be restored to our deliberations, the moral sting, or else Obama, for all his talk about conscience, will have presided over a terrible mutilation of American discourse: the severance of conscience from action."

Jill Filipovic at The Guardian on "purity culture" Weighing recent statements by Elizabeth Smart, who as a 14-year-old was kidnapped in Utah, Jill Filopvic argues that Smart's testimony indicts larger culture assumptions about female bodies and "purity": "Smart's speech is largely being interpreted as a critique of abstinence-only education, but she's pointing to an entire culture that fetishizes purity. The more extreme versions of our collective obsession are seen in conservative Christian churches, which offer purity rings, purity balls and sermons that insist wives give their virginity as a 'gift' to husbands. But purity culture is mainstream, even in a country where sexualized images of women are on every magazine rack and Girls Gone Wild series thrive." She continues: "It goes without saying, but it's too important not to repeat: men are not judged as women are for consensual sexual activity. Men who have sex aren't chewed up pieces of gum or moral failures — they're studs." Lindy West at Jezebel, addressing women, writes: "You do not exist to please men, and your value as a human being is not contingent upon your sexual capital. "Purity" is a lie. Do not even worry about any of this garbage, because it's about as real as a fucking unicorn."

Michael Hirsh at National Journal on the Benghazi "cover-up" "There was tragic incompetence, plainly, in the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks, and even possibly some political calculation," writes Michael Hirsch. "It is a record that may well come to haunt Hillary Clinton, the first Secretary of State to lose an ambassador in the field in more than three decades, if she runs for president in 2016." But the idea that's there's a scandal to be found is less persuasive: "The obvious Republican effort to turn this inquiry into the Democratic (Obama) version of the Iraq intelligence scandal that has tarred the GOP since the George W. Bush years — led by that least-credible of champions, the almost-always-wrong Darrell Issa — is just not going to amount to much." Rich Lowry at Politico disagrees: "The falsehoods about Benghazi weren’t a product of the fog of war; they were the product of the fog of politics. Desperate to minimize the attack and deflect responsibility, Team Obama evaded and obsfucated." And Jason Chaffetz at U.S. News & World Report adds, "Even more appalling than the government’s refusal to provide adequate security before the attack or to provide available resources during the attack is the failure to provide answers after the attack. Eight months after our own ambassador was murdered and we were told the cause was a YouTube video, we still can't get a straight answer out of the Obama Administration."

Farhad Manjoo at Slate on his dog dilemma Farhad Manjoo inveighs against dogs and the strange space in public life they awkwardly occupy: "There’s now a cultural assumption that everyone must love dogs. Dog owners are rarely forced to reckon with the idea that there are people who aren't enthralled by their furry friends, and that taking their dogs everywhere might not be completely pleasant for these folks." Comparing dogs to his toddler son, Manjoo writes, "I love him unconditionally and just don’t understand why even strangers wouldn’t want him around all the time. Indeed, I think almost everything he does, even the inappropriate things, is the cutest behavior ever exhibited in human history. And yet, still, I rein him in. I realize that, although he’s impossibly cute, it's possible he might aggravate some people." He continues: "But dog owners? They seem to suffer few qualms about their animals’ behavior. That’s why there are so many dogs running around at the park, jumping up on the bench beside you while you’re trying to read a book, the owner never asking if it’s OK with you." In response, Asawin Suebsaeng at Mother Jones  called Manjoo's column "fascist." But Ryan L. Cooper at Washington Monthly defended him: "Eh, I'd say [Manjoo] more than half right about this."

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