It's been a big week for national security and terrorism, with much fallout from and revelations about Flight 253 and the suicide bombing attack that killed seven CIA officers in Khost, Afghanistan. The surprisingly disappointing jobs report also made headlines late in the week. Here are the top five Sunday ruminations on these and other topics.
- To Be A Spy Former CIA clandestine service officer Robert Grenier writes in the New York Times, "In a world of fear and desperation, today’s friend can become tomorrow’s deadly enemy. [...] there is much soul-searching going on, at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley and elsewhere, about what happened in Khost on Dec. 30." But, he tells us, "In the wilderness of mirrors that defines human intelligence in counterterrorism, the threat of disaster is an inescapable presence." He defends the agency against "politicians and bureaucrats [...] posturing shamelessly" to blame the CIA, which he says we should appreciate for its selfless and dangerous risks for American safety.
- Terrorism, America, And The Aughts National Journal's Ron Brownstein writes, "Terror loomed over the decade from start to finish. So did excessive partisan conflict, over security and everything else." He finds growing demographic splits, formed around social and economic issues, exacerbated by national security debates. "Foreign threats that once might have unified the nation instead fuel these flames. [...] The Christmas attack and the fierce GOP assault on Obama that it ignited underscored two acrid truths: The terrorist threat isn't diminishing, and our ability to link arms against it, or any of our other urgent challenges, isn't increasing."
- Is 2010 The Year of Unemployment? The Nation's John Nichols calls the issue a "political timebomb" that will dominate the coming year. Despite a focus on health care and national security, "But the most serious matter facing this White House and this Congress is mounting unemployment." He writes, "President Obama and the Democrats in Congress face the prospect of serious setbacks in 2010 congressional and state races if they do not recognize that there is a disconnect between their focus and that of the American people who will decide the political direction of the country in November."
- Evaluating the Excise Tax The New York Times's Paul Krugman elevates and explores the long-running, low-level debate over the excise tax and health care reform. "Should there be a limit to the tax deductibility of employer-provided health insurance, which is what the excise tax in the Senate bill is supposed to fix?" He calls it "on balance a good idea," explaining, "what we’re really asking is whether slowing the growth of premiums would reduce the squeeze rising health costs would otherwise have placed on wages. Surely the answer is yes."
- How America Can Rise Again It's not a Sunday column, but James Fallows's just-out cover story in The Atlantic is making big waves. After three years in China, Fallows returns to evaluate if the U.S. is really in decline -- economically, politically, socially and culturally -- why, and what we can do about it. He finds that America, since its founding, has put itself through a constant and totally unique cycle of "Jeremiads": raising the alarm about our decline, climbing back up, and returning to dominance.