MUST READS:

Harvard professor Niall Ferguson, writing for the Wall Street Journal, offers this spectacular analysis of the situation in Iraq. His thesis: The United States needs to stay the course. Don’t leave before democracy has taken root — and absolutely ensure the country doesn’t go the way of neighboring Iran, which has inspired the slogan, “one man, one vote, one time.” After the mullahs won an election in the early ’80s, democracy vanished and theocracy took hold.

Peggy Noonan, also in the Wall Street Journal, touches on the hardy Christian perennial: the redemptive powers of pain and suffering. There is a reason the topic has remained a hot topic for millennia: It touches on some of the deepest mysteries of life. Why do good people suffer so? And what does their suffering prove? Peggy doesn’t dive into the details, but she does touch upon the issue, and that alone constitutes a public service.

One more from the Journal, which is on a roll. Brett Stephens attended the infamous World Economic Forum seminar in which CNN honcho Eason Jordan asserted breezily that U.S. forces had targeted and killed a dozen journalists in Iraq. Stephens provides the most balanced treatment I’ve seen to date, taking a stiletto to talkers who have been pushing the issue (my first reaction was to mewl, “Why didn’t he single out me??”). In talking to him off-air, he questioned Jordan’s fitness to run a news division, citing other potential whoppers, including a terror charge leveled against American troops and the claim that a soldier oppressed a troublesome reporter by sending the scribe to the back of a line. Now comes word that Sen. Christopher Dodd has asked organizers of the forum to release the tapes of the session. In the name of fairness and balance, it’s worth noting that the two most admirable players in this drama have been Democrats — Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, both of whom seem to have treated the original allegations with considerable skepticism, and have been among the most vocal in trying to get the truth before the public. They’re right: This controversy will fester until the public hears the tapes, and the longer Jordan holds out, the worse his fate will be.

An embarrassment on the Right: A freelance “journalist” who called himself Jeff Gannon apparently was a fraud. “Gannon” ruffled the feathers of Has Been Media heavies by asking administration-friendly questions at White House press conferences and pushing administration-friendly stories for Talon News, an operation affiliated with the GOPUSA website. Now comes the rub. The guy’s real name is James Dale Guckert, and left-wing bloggers have outed him as a featured item on several gay websites registered to his nom de plume. (I can’t vouch for the characterization; the sites require registration, and I wasn’t interested in registering.) The G-man told Jennifer Brooks of the Delaware News Journal, that he registered the gay domain names for someone else, as part of an effort to establish an Internet Web-hosting business. Dan Froomkin has a pretty brutal summary of the matter.

Some conservatives are calling the G-man a victim of a left-wing witch-hunt. Wrong: He got outed by some enterprising bloggers, who had their fun with the married man’s hidden sideline, but who also raised an issue of considerable consequence. Even setting aside the come-hither websites, the guy got into the White House using an assumed name. This raises two possibilities: Gannon/Guckert got a fake I.D. past the Secret Service, in which case the Secret Service (and the president) ought to be furious, or the White House Press Office knew he was working under an assumed name, in which case the press corps (and the president) ought to be blowing a gasket. Here’s Howie Kurtz’s take on the tale. I’ll have more on the story tomorrow…

BEHIND THE SCENES:

Ed Gillespie, the engaging former chairman of the Republican Party, phoned in today. Ed, an old pal, is a happy man. He gets to coach his son’s basketball team again, gets to show up at neighborhood barbecues, even gets to take his boat out on the Potomac from time to time (great story: on his first trip in the vessel, he forgot to check the gas — and ran out in the middle of the river in the dead dark of night). He thinks Howard Dean will be a formidable Democratic Chairman, neither as bad as Republicans fear nor good as Democrats hope, and refuses to speculate about the possibility of war in Iran or North Korea. He does think Condi Rice stands a good chance of becoming the next Republican presidential nominee. He also dodged the question of what he will get his wife for Valentine’s Day. It turns out her birthday is Feb. 11, which means he’ll have three days to come up with something better than the customary, Forrest Gump-like box of chocolates.

Also along today, Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund. Jordan heads to court next week to argue against a University of North Carolina directive that would require religious organizations on campus to sign “non-discrimination” agreements with regard to membership. No other campus outfits must submit to such things because campus clubs are by their nature somewhat exclusive. The hidden insinuation is that religious groups, especially Christian ones, are guilty of intolerance and bigotry. Lorence points out that the opposite is true: The intolerant bigots are the ones who are trying to push the religious clubs back into the catacombs.

Brett Stephens, mentioned in the must-reading section, also called in, sharing his recollections of Eason Jordan’s self-immolation in Davos.

Stay tuned for more!

Share your thoughts with Tony. E-mail him at tonysnow@foxnews.com.