Five Best Saturday Columns

On the dream GOP candidate, lessons from piracy, and the anti-Palin

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Dana Milbank on the Tour We Should Be Watching. While Sarah Palin rides a bus "emblazoned with her name in three-foot letters," Dana Milbank writes that "there is a tour underway that highlights the great things about America, but it isn’t Palin’s." Robert Gates, defense secretary to presidents George W. Bush and Obama, whose work over the past four years "has dramatically improved the state of the U.S. military," is on a tour of Asia and Europe where he "is receiving the gratitude of soldiers and the acclaim of allies." Compare Gates and Palin. "Gates... took on sacred weapons programs at the Pentagon, fired ineffective generals, won the surge in Iraq, revived a crumbling war effort in Afghanistan and got Osama bin Laden. During that same time, Palin quit midway through her term as Alaska governor, then went on to a life of $100,000 speaking fees, reality TV shows and incendiary political speech." While both call themselves Republican, the "dueling tours of Gates and Palin show the best and worst in American public life... It says something about the infirmity of our politics that Gates can’t wait to go home while Palin is again being taken seriously as a prospective presidential candidate."

The New York Times Editors on the Global Response to Syria. The Editors at the New York Times cite just how bloody the revolution in Syria has been. "Human rights groups believe that more than 1,000 protesters have been killed in a three-month crackdown and that 10,000 more have been arrested." The murder of the 13-year-old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb and "at least 30 other children who joined the protests show the depths to which Mr. Assad and his thugs have sunk." But while the United States and Europe imposed sanctions — mostly travel bans and asset freezes — on certain key regime officials, only later did they add Assad to the list. Some "American and European officials still buy the fantasy that Mr. Assad could yet implement reforms." Moreover, the United Nations Security Council is "unable to muster the votes to condemn the bloodshed much less impose sanctions," which the Times calls "appalling." Opposition comes from Russia, "cynically protecting longstanding ties with Damascus," and China "has fallen in lockstep." If Russia and China, which have veto power, can’t be won over, the "United States and Europe must push a robust sanctions resolution and dare Moscow and the others to side with Mr. Assad over the Syrian people."

Glenn Greenwald on The Washington Post's Protection of Politicians. Glenn Greenwald amalgamates a series of arguments from Washington Post Editors over the years when "political elites are targeted for prosecution, even for serious crimes." Greenwald argues that "in some of these cases (Libby, Mubarak), the Post couches its defense of political elites in terms of concerns about the process while claiming they're receptive to the possibility of punishment.  In others (Edwards), the concerns they raise are not invalid.  But whatever else is true, Post Editors are deeply and almost invariably disturbed when political elites are subjected to criminal accountability for their wrongful acts." Greenwald goes further to suggest that Post Editors are, comparatively, "wholly indifferent -- if not supportive -- when ordinary Americans are mercilessly prosecuted for far less serious wrongdoing." This is a far more serious and less substantiated claim than his first. Nonetheless, his column is provocative for its exhaustive look at the Post's aversion to criminal sanctions for politicians. "'The political satirist Finley Peter Dunne famously said that the most valuable role of journalism is that it "comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.' The Post -- speaking on behalf of the establishment political culture it represents -- has perfected the art of doing exactly the opposite."

Dorothy Rabinowitz on What Republicans Want from a Candidate. A Republican candidate with a chance to win the 2012 election will need "a credible passion for ideas other than cost-cutting and small government," writes Rabinowitz. At this point, from the Republican side "comes an incessant barrage of doomsday messages and proclamations that the nation is imperiled by the greatest crisis in a generation—not, as we might have supposed, by our ongoing, desperate unemployment levels, but by spending on social programs." A Republican who wants to win will have to recognize that "most Americans aren't sitting around worried to death about big government—they're worried about jobs and what they have in savings." As to foreign policy, a candidate will have to "begin, above all, by showing he actually has one. The near silence on the subject among Republicans consumed by domestic policy battles has been notable." In these respects as well as others, to stand a chance, a Republican candidate "will have to have more than a command of the reasons the Obama administration must go."

Holman Jenkins on Government-Sponsored Piracy. In a blog post this week, Google announced that hacking attacks from Jinan, China. On Thursday, the White House acknowledged some of its own personnel were among those whose Gmail accounts were targeted. The FBI is investigating, writes Jenkins, but most firms "remain mum, fearing to antagonize China." The world should look at one precedent: "the epidemic of high seas piracy in and around Southern China in the mid-1990s." At that time were similar questions of government involvement. "Was the central government abetting piracy as a way to assert Chinese sovereignty in international waters? Had it merely lost control?" Those questions were "inconclusively debated" as they are now, until Eric Ellen, then-head of the International Maritime Bureau, said in a public interview that "there is no doubt that these moves against ships operating in international waters were government-inspired." This prompted the government to make a show against piracy. "Name-and-shame prevailed not because Beijing craved to be seen as a good citizen. Beijing craved to be seen as in control."

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