Conservative Columnists Spar over Cordoba

First off, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and a Wall Street Journal editorial (not to mention Benny Morris here) question the message being sent to terrorists (as well as other Americans) by allowing a mosque to be built near Ground Zero, while—in a rare moment of solidarity with the current president—former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson disagrees with their analysis, saying that protesting the “non-radical” mosque “assumes a civilizational conflict instead of defusing it.”

Piling on to last week’s widespread commentary, Fareed Zakaria has a column in the Washington Post about Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s attempts to trim defense spending. Zakaria mainly echoes what others have already said (it’s the right thing to do, but it will be very hard), but spends about half the piece comparing Gates to former President Dwight Eisenhower, writing that the SECDEF is “a genuine conservative in Eisenhower’s tradition.”

On the other hand, Claremont Institute fellow Mark Helprin is not so impressed with Gates, or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for that matter. In a Journal op-ed, he dismisses Clinton’s tough rhetoric last month over Chinese actions in the South China Sea as “showy diplomacy” that has nothing substantial to back it up, mainly because of Gates’s initiatives to cut U.S. weapons programs. Also on China, human-rights nonprofit executive John Kamm gives some qualified praise in the Post to Beijing’s recent efforts to limit the use of the death penalty.

And one would be remiss not to point out what’s being said about AfPak. In the Journal, New York University economics professor William Easterly criticizes USAID’s refusal to discuss the difficulties posed by corruption in delivering aid to Afghanistan and says America is “getting very little for our money.” Writing in the Times, author Steven Solomon gives some concrete examples how the United States can help Pakistan recover from its recent flooding and chronic water shortages (yes, Pakistan has both problems and they are related to each other), and says this is a case “where national security and benevolence align.”