5 Must-Read Profiles of the Week

Tim Geithner saves the economy, Peter Singer saves morality, Rahm Emanuel saves himself

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Every week, in-depth magazine and newspaper profiles explore leading personalities from government leaders to leading academics. Beyond the human-interest view of their subjects' inner lives and origins, the profile writers often offer distinct interpretations and conclusions. Here, the Wire looks at the five most significant profiles of the week.

  • Tim Geither Saved The Economy   The Atlantic's Josh Green finds that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, despite bipartisan derision as an "agent of socialism or lapdog of Wall Street," played an invaluable role in staving off economic disaster. But the same things that made Geithner an unsung hero in saving the economy could hinder his ability to regulate Wall Street. Also see the New Yorker's John Cassidy, whose profile reaches similar conclusions.
Any study of Geithner is unavoidably a study of how both political parties came to agree that the interests of the financial sector must predominate, of what went wrong when those interests did predominate, and of how someone whose glittering career is a product of that system wound up at the center of an effort to write new rules for it. At the center, really, of the whole Obama presidency. [...]

Geithner doesn't breed nuance of opinion. You're either for him or against him, and popular sentiment leans strongly toward the latter. But it's possible to view him as someone who was indispensable in halting the crisis (his understanding of Wall Street's psychology was particularly valuable) while still doubting whether someone so steeped in the institutional cultures of Washington and Wall Street has the necessary distance to direct their reform. [...] The charge that the White House has coddled Wall Street isn't just true--it was key to the whole endeavor!

  • Rahm's Risky Strategy Potentially lost amid controversy over a slew of highly complimentary Washington Post profiles of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, not to mention a cover story in the New Republic, the New York Time's Peter Baker takes a hard look at Emanuel's shaping of White House politics and policy. Emanuel has become a "virtual prime minister" but "Rahmism," writes Baker, has its limits.
If picking the leading practitioner of the dark arts of the capital was a Faustian bargain for Obama in the name of getting things done, why haven't things got done? [...] The disaffection with Emanuel has swelled since the Massachusetts election, and the knives have come out. Each nick has led to another.

For Emanuel, the last two months have been particularly frustrating. He finished last year boasting that Obama had the most productive first year of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and now he hears all the time about Obama's lost first year. Emanuel for months has reminded anyone who would listen of a succession of victories that, he laments, have gone largely overlooked [...] but they all passed in the first half of last year. It is far harder to name examples of major legislation signed into law in the past nine months.
  • Yemen's Self-Serving President The Washington Monthly's Haley Edwards gives a look at our new ally, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
At the end of the day, Saleh's ability to sell his own temporary allegiance to the highest bidder is his main political asset, and for the time being the U.S. seems to have secured the dubious prize. While the concern, following the attempted Christmas bombing, was that Yemen would be the next Afghanistan, and Saleh the next Hamid Karzai, in truth the Yemeni president resembles no one so much as former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Like Saleh, Musharraf took vast amounts of American military aid intended for the fight against terrorism and spent it on his own military priorities, including an arms buildup against India and a secret nuclear weapons program. Like Saleh, he balanced occasional crackdowns on al Qaeda with a broader live-and-let-live gentleman's agreement, allowing the organization to thrive and metastasize in the tribal areas. And like Saleh, he was seen by Washington as the best available partner we had, regardless of his flaws--which, perhaps, he was, at least for awhile. In Yemen, as in Pakistan, the only thing more daunting than the odds of the alliance producing anything of value is the lack of other options.
  • The Academic Who's Changing Morality The New York Review of Books' Thomas Nagel explores the one principle of Peter Singer, an academic whose "radical morality" is turning the world of moral philosophy inside-out. Declares Singer, "If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so." Nagel has dour conclusions: "I think Singer has taken the wrong path here."
But you and I know that you are not going to do this, and so does Singer. In fact, Singer says he himself doesn't give away as much as he thinks he should (a New Yorker profile ten years ago reported that he gave away 20 percent of his income). And that poses the question whether any of us believes Singer's principle, plausible though it sounds. Does Singer himself really believe it? [...] The answer to these questions depends on the relation between morality and human motivation, a difficult topic in moral philosophy, for which Singer's claims are crucially important.
  • Our Man In Kabul? The New Republic's Michael Crowley skeptically examines Gulbiddin Hekmatyar, Afghanistan's diehard mujahideen commander who over thirty years has fought both with and against virtually every force to enter Afghanistan. He helped vanquish the Soviets before turning on other anti-Soviet Afghans, battled the Taliban before he allied with it, and accepted massive American funding before deciding to make America his enemy. Now he may be considering switching allegiances again, this time with the Americans. But can he be trusted? Crowley is skeptical.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.