Wealthy Frenchman

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Congress goes on vacation while more 'honored dead' come home

McClatchy Newspapers

This week it’s Congress’ turn in the bulls-eye _ all of the elected worms on both sides of the aisles. Especially the new Democratic majority, which arrived last January with the mistaken idea that their long ordeal of wandering, Moses-like, in the desert was at an end.

The late Will Rogers was fond of remarking that the Republic was never in greater danger than when the United States Senate was in session. Thankfully, the senators and their colleagues in the House of Representatives are on vacation this week.

It is to be fondly hoped that those who aren't out inspecting the food and wine in Paris and the carpets in various exotic bazaars in earnest pursuit of "facts" are now back home getting an earful from the unfortunate citizens they were elected to represent.

The mandate that emerged from the mid-term elections last November was not one for Democratic control. It was a thundering vote in favor of reform, or rebellion, if you will. The voters understood that this august body the founding fathers envisioned as one-third of a system of checks and balances was utterly broken, utterly corrupt.

And what's come of it? What have they wrought? Nothing much.

They've reformed nothing, fixed nothing.

The dust from all those victory laps by the grandmotherly Nancy Pelosi of California and the cadaverous Harry Reid of Nevada is still in the air, and to date they and their majority have done nothing of what was demanded of them.

They've been flim-flammed by Mortimer Snerd and Charlie McCarthy into passing a bill that funds the continuation of a war that 70 percent of Americans no longer support.

For all their posturing and demands for withdrawal timelines and benchmarks for an Iraqi government that's only marginally less functional than our own, in the end they caved and gave George W. Bush exactly what he wanted - another $100 billion or so to carry on the killing and dying and suffering.

On Memorial Day, when politicians of all stripes turned up at military cemeteries to bask in the glory reflected off the white marble tombstones of men and women who died for their mistakes, 10 more American soldiers and Marines were killed in Iraq.

One could almost hear the whispering voices of the honored dead, passing the word: Move over. Make some more room.

There's one stark image that lingers in my mind from Memorial Day 2007. It's that photograph of the young fiancee of a slain Army Ranger sergeant stretched facedown and full length on the cold earth of his grave at Arlington National Cemetery. She was embracing with love all that she and we have lost.

Did you weep for her, America? Did you weep for him? Did you feel or even notice the pain and suffering that radiated from that image?

Did it speak to your heart of the events - the grotesque mistakes of a president and his underlings and the utter failures of a Congress and both political parties - that brought the sergeant and his fiancee to that place?

As I write, there's still time, a few hours left of May, 2007, for this month to move, temporarily at least, into the record book as the cruelest month for Americans in Iraq in four-plus years. June and July and August don't promise much relief.

While the president turns his back on reality, his failed war and his failed presidency, and as Congress postures and preens, those who daily risk life and limb in Iraq soldier on. They're the best of us, and the best of their generation, and the politicians blather and dither and pontificate while their blood is shed.

How dare they? How dare they go on vacation in the middle of a misbegotten war? Death in Iraq takes no vacation. The patrols go out 24/7. The medical evacuation helicopters deliver their ghastly cargoes of dead, dying and maimed to field hospitals. The suicide bombers cut down innocent Iraqis as they shop or walk to school. The death squads come in broad daylight and drag away more innocents to the slaughter for their different belief in a same God.

And what do we do? We go on with our lives as if none of this was happening. We sacrifice nothing more than a few of the precious rights that a million Americans bought with their lives in other wars.

We trade away our rights to the privacy of our communications and our personal business. We blink, and under the guise of something the politicians had the gall to call the Patriot Act, we hand over to one deeply flawed man the sole power to declare us outside the protection of both law and the Constitution. He can waive our right of habeas corpus and our right to face our accusers in a court of law.

On a day when a young woman embraced a cold grave with pure love, our elected representatives vacationed while the senseless and unnecessary war that took her fiance raged on. Most Americans didn’t even notice what they'd lost as they shopped and partied and, yes, fiddled while a great dream born 231 years ago in the minds and of the blood of true patriots was being stolen by men and women unfit and unwilling to protect the precious gift our forebears gave us.

Iraq now set up as a school for insurgents ready to be exported

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Anyone who knows anything about cancer knows that the danger point comes when the cancer suddenly and unexpectedly appears in another supposedly "clean" part of the body. As when, say, breast cancer, an implacable traveler, reappears in the bloodstream or the bones.

That there are stunning similarities between what happens medically in the body of man and what occurs sociologically and militarily in the societies of men is far less noticed – but just as frightening and dangerous.

Think of what has happened in only the last week in the Middle East. In northern Lebanon, in the long-established Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, out of the blue arose a new al Qaeda-related insurgent group, Fatah al-Islam. Within days and even hours, the recurring hell of the Middle East was loosed, and refugees poured out of the camp in terror.

There had been none of this kind of terror networking in these northern camps. Indeed, since this camp was established in 1949 to accommodate refugees from northern Palestine after the creation of Israel, it has housed one of the more formal and conservative of peoples.

But it was soon established that these new "insurgents" or "terrorists" – or whatever they really are – had arrived at the camp only recently, that they marched in one day with brand-new weapons, ready to fight.

Two points grip you:

•The first is found in the words of French scholar Bernard Rougier, author of Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam Among Palestinians in Lebanon. "The main point is that these camps are no longer part of Palestinian society," he told The Washington Post . "They are only spaces – now open to all of the influences running through the Muslim world."

•The second is that Iraq, where we were supposed to be "containing terrorism," is now clearly exporting insurgents to other regions – to Lebanon, to Syria, to Gaza, to Bangladesh, to Kurdistan.

And so, on the one hand, you have weakened societies vulnerable to the "new answers" of "new insurgencies," and on the other hand, you have Iraq set up as a school for terrorists with American troops and policy providing the constant inspiration for their fight.

This, of course, is not the way the Bush administration sees it.

The White House sees terrorists as born, not created by history, bearing the mark of Cain, not the mark of circumstance. There is a scarlet "T" written on their foreheads at birth and the only answer is to destroy them. This kind of thinking, of course, relieves the thinker of any responsibility for the presence of the insurgent-terrorist-whatever in our innocent midst.

What's more, there is not much real give in the administration's policies. True, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other American diplomats met Memorial Day weekend with the Iranians in Baghdad (a good first move but limited, since the Iranians have most of the power because of our incredible stupidity in Iraq). But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

The truth of the steadily deteriorating situation in the Middle East is, of course, quite different. The Palestinian people of 40 and even 30 years ago were formal, conservative people who remained closely tied to their families, clans and religious groups. Theirs was a highly stratified society, which has now been shattered.

In the institutional vacuum that is a camp like Nahr el-Bared, a few hundred men trained and tempered in Iraq can make a huge difference. At the same time, the Turkish military is ready to go into northern Kurdistan, al-Qaeda operatives from Iraq are popping up in hitherto untouched places, and the American military's advice to its troops is, "Get down with the people – listen to them!" Only four years and thousands of bombs and night missions too late.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist. Readers may contact her through ltarry@amuniversal.com.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How We’re Animalistic — in Good Ways and Bad


The odd thing is that conservatives wear pinstriped suits. They love the ancients so much that they really should be walking around in togas. The main contribution of the Greeks to modern American politics may have been Michael Dukakis, who once climbed the Acropolis in wingtips.

But that doesn’t stop conservatives — especially the Straussians who pushed for going into Iraq — from being obsessed with ancient Greece, and from believing that they are the successors to Plato and Homer in terms of the lofty ideals and nobility and character in American politics — while Democrats merely muck about with policies for the needy.

Harvey Mansfield, a leading Straussian who taught political science at Harvard and who wrote a book called “Manliness” (he’s for it), gave the Jefferson lecture recently at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington.

It was an ode, as his book is, to “thumos,” the Greek word that means spiritedness, with flavors of ambition, pride and brute willfulness. Thumos, as Philip Kennicott wrote in The Washington Post, “is a word reinvented by conservative academics who need to put a fancy name on a political philosophy that boils down to ‘boys will be boys.’ ”

In his prepared remarks, Mr. Mansfield did not mention the war, which is a downer at conclaves of neocons and thumos worshippers. But he explained that thumos is “the bristling reaction of an animal in face of a threat or a possible threat.” In thumos, he added, “we see the animality of man, for men (and especially males) often behave like dogs barking, snakes hissing, birds flapping. But precisely here we also see the humanity of the human animal” because it is reacting for “a reason, even for a principle, a cause. Only human beings get angry.”

The professor used an example, naturally, from ancient Greece to explain why politics should be about revolution rather than equilibrium: “What did Achilles do when his ruler Agamemnon stole his slave girl? He raised the stakes. He asserted that the trouble was not in this loss alone but in the fact that the wrong sort of man was ruling the Greeks. Heroes, or at least he-men like Achilles, should be in charge rather than lesser beings like Agamemnon who have mainly their lineage to recommend them and who therefore do not give he-men the honors they deserve. Achilles elevated a civil complaint concerning a private wrong to a demand for a change of regime, a revolution in politics.” Mr. Mansfield concluded: “To complain of an injustice is an implicit claim to rule.”

The most recent example of the Hellenization of the Bush administration is the president’s choice for war czar, Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who says he loves the Greek military historian Thucydides.

Other Thucydides aficionados include Victor Davis Hanson, who was a war-guru to Dick Cheney when the vice president went into the bunker after 9/11 and got into his gloomy Hobbesian phase. (Hobbes’s biggest influence was also Thucydides.)

Donald Kagan, a respected Yale historian who has written authoritatively on the Peloponnesian War, is the father of Robert Kagan, a neocon who pushed for the Iraq invasion, and Frederick Kagan, a military historian who urged the surge.

I called Professor Kagan to ask him if Thucydides, the master at chronicling hubris and imperial overreaching, might provide the new war czar with any wisdom that can help America sort through the morass of Iraq.

Very much his sons’ father, the classicist said he was disgusted that the White House, after a fiasco of an occupation designed by Rummy, “is still doing one dumb thing after another” by appointing General Lute, a chief skeptic of the surge.

Professor Kagan said that one reason the Athenians ended up losing the war was because in the Battle of Mantinea in 418 B.C. against the Spartans, they sent “a very inferior force” and had a general in command who was associated with the faction that was against the aggressive policy against the Spartans.

“Kind of like President Bush appointing this guy to run the war whose strategy is opposed to the surge,” he said dryly.

With cold realism, Thucydides captured the Athenian philosophy in the 27-year war that led to its downfall as a golden democracy: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

What message can we take away from Thucydides for modern times?

“To me,” Professor Kagan said, “the deepest message, the most tragic, is his picture of civilization as a very thin veneer. When you punch a hole in it, what you find underneath is hollow, the precivilized characteristics of the human race — animalistic in the worst possible way.”

Compared to Iraq, the Peloponnesian War was a cakewalk.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I lost my son to a conflict I oppose. We were both doing our duty

By Andrew J. Bacevich
Special to The Washington Post

Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.
Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.
This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging "the terrorists," opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops - today's civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.
What exactly is a father's duty when his son is sent into harm's way?
Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.
As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush's response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. Some - the members of the "the-surge-is-already-working" school of thought - even profess to see victory just over the horizon.
I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. In books, articles and op-ed pieces, in talks to audiences large and small, I have said as much. "The long war is an unwinnable one," I wrote in an August 2005 opinion piece in The Washington Post. "The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We've done all that we can do."
Here was my own version of duty.
Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others - teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks - to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.
This, I can now see, was an illusion.
The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."
To be fair, responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.
To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove - namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.
Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.
Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.
Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech into little more than a means of recording dissent.
This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.
In joining the Army, my son was following in his father's footsteps: Before he was born, I had served in Vietnam. As military officers, we shared an ironic kinship of sorts, each of us demonstrating a peculiar knack for picking the wrong war at the wrong time. Yet he was the better soldier - brave and steadfast and irrepressible.
I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought that I was doing the same. In fact, while was he was giving all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.
Andrew J. Bacevich teaches history and international relations at Boston University. His son, 1st Lt. Andrew John Bacevich, died May 13 after a suicide bomb explosion in Salah al-Din province.

Small Incidents Are Creating a Big Problem With the N.Y.P.D.

These are small incidents, but they are accumulating by the tens of thousands, and someday New Yorkers are going to be shocked by the power of the anger that these seemingly insignificant incidents have generated.

The principal of Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn told me about a student who was gratuitously insulted by a police officer at a subway station the other day. The girl had lost her MetroCard and was carrying a note on the school’s letterhead asking that she be allowed to ride the train. This was fine with the token clerk, but the clerk told the girl to show the note to a cop on duty at the station.

The cop, in front of several onlookers, told the girl she was the oldest-looking high school student he had ever seen. He demanded that she tell him the square root of 12. He loudly declared that she was stupid and refused to let her board a train.

The girl left the station devastated and in tears. No big deal. Certainly not newsworthy. Just another case of cops being cops.

Several students from Bushwick Community High were among the three dozen or so who were swept up by the cops last week as they were walking toward a subway station on their way to a wake for a teenage friend who had been murdered. For black and Hispanic youngsters, grieving can be a criminal offense.

One of those arrested was 16-year-old Lamel Carter, the son of a police detective. I interviewed him after he had spent a night in jail.

“It was pretty nasty,” he said. “There were five of us in each cell. One of my friends was throwing up, and another had an asthma attack. The police said they got us for unlawful assembly.”

[I asked the police captain who ordered the arrests, Scott Henderson, to explain the offense of unlawful assembly. He couldn’t. “If you would like the exact definition,” he said, “I would have to look that up.”]

Fifteen minutes after I interviewed Lamel, he was stopped again by two police officers. They asked him where he was going, ordered him to spread-eagle himself against a patrol car, searched him and then him let go.

He was just another black kid (now with a brand-new arrest record) on the streets of Brooklyn. No big deal. Just one of hundreds of similar stops each day.

One of the youngsters arrested while trying to attend the wake was Aliek Robinson, a 17-year-old who had come up from Baltimore. He had known the slain youth, Donnell McFarland, whose nickname was Freshh, since he was 6 years old. When I interviewed him, Aliek told me how one of the cops had gone out of his way to mock his dead friend.

“After we got arrested, the cops were questioning us one by one,” he said. “This one cop had a smile on his face and he said, ‘Your man, Freshh, he was babbling like a little girl when he died.’ And then he started giggling. I don’t know why he said that. He didn’t have to say that.”

Just cops being cops.

The important thing to remember here is that this behavior, in neighborhoods where the majority of the residents are black and Hispanic, is often the norm. This is not unusual police behavior. There is a huge percentage of cops on patrol whose knee-jerk approach to policing is to treat all young blacks and Hispanics as potential criminals.

All high-ranking public officials in the city are aware of what is going on. I asked a black official, who asked not to be identified, why more minority officeholders aren’t objecting publicly to the way minority youth are treated by the police. He said no one wants to be responsible for challenging the cops and then being blamed if crime statistics start to go back up.

The two individuals most responsible for this sorry state of affairs are Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. All it would take is a directive from them to bring the ugly harassment under control.

A big gang problem has quietly developed in New York, and there are fears in the neighborhoods of a troubled summer. The response to this very serious situation should not be to treat all kids like criminals, which is both wrong and self-defeating.

The police need the confidence and cooperation of law-abiding young people. Systematically demeaning them is hardly the way to achieve that.

Trust and Betrayal

“In this place where valor sleeps, we are reminded why America has always gone to war reluctantly, because we know the costs of war.” That’s what President Bush said last year, in a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Those were fine words, spoken by a man with less right to say them than any president in our nation’s history. For Mr. Bush took us to war not with reluctance, but with unseemly eagerness.

Now that war has turned into an epic disaster, in part because the war’s architects, who we now know were warned about the risks, didn’t want to hear about them. Yet Congress seems powerless to stop it. How did it all go so wrong?

Future historians will shake their heads over how easily America was misled into war. The warning signs, the indications that we had a rogue administration determined to use 9/11 as an excuse for war, were there, for those willing to see them, right from the beginning — even before Mr. Bush began explicitly pushing for war with Iraq.

In fact, the very first time Mr. Bush declared a war on terror that “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated,” people should have realized that he was going to use the terrorist attack to justify anything and everything.

When he used his first post-attack State of the Union to denounce an “axis of evil” consisting of three countries that had nothing to do either with 9/11 or with each other, alarm bells should have gone off.

But the nation, brought together in grief and anger over the attack, wanted to trust the man occupying the White House. And so it took a long time before Americans were willing to admit to themselves just how thoroughly their trust had been betrayed.

It’s a terrible story, yet it’s also understandable. I wasn’t really surprised by Republican election victories in 2002 and 2004: nations almost always rally around their leaders in times of war, no matter how bad the leaders and no matter how poorly conceived the war.

The question was whether the public would ever catch on. Well, to the immense relief of those who spent years trying to get the truth out, they did. Last November Americans voted overwhelmingly to bring an end to Mr. Bush’s war.

Yet the war goes on.

To keep the war going, the administration has brought the original bogyman back out of the closet. At first, Mr. Bush said he would bring Osama bin Laden in, dead or alive. Within seven months after 9/11, however, he had lost interest: “I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s at the center of any command structure,” he said in March 2002. “I truly am not that concerned about him.”

In all of 2003, Mr. Bush, who had an unrelated war to sell, made public mention of the man behind 9/11 only seven times.

But Osama is back: last week Mr. Bush invoked his name 11 times in a single speech, warning that if we leave Iraq, Al Qaeda — which wasn’t there when we went in — will be the winner. And Democrats, still fearing that they will end up accused of being weak on terror and not supporting the troops, gave Mr. Bush another year’s war funding.

Democratic Party activists were furious, because polls show a public utterly disillusioned with Mr. Bush and anxious to see the war ended. But it’s not clear that the leadership was wrong to be cautious. The truth is that the nightmare of the Bush years won’t really be over until politicians are convinced that voters will punish, not reward, Bush-style fear-mongering. And that hasn’t happened yet.

Here’s the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a “movement” that “has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he should be treated as a lunatic.

When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of “Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” wants to “bring down the West,” he should be ridiculed for his ignorance.

And when John McCain says that Osama, who isn’t in Iraq, will “follow us home” if we leave, he should be laughed at.

But they aren’t, at least not yet. And until belligerent, uninformed posturing starts being treated with the contempt it deserves, men who know nothing of the cost of war will keep sending other people’s children to graves at Arlington.

Operation Freedom From Iraqis

WHEN all else fails, those pious Americans who conceived and directed the Iraq war fall back on moral self-congratulation: at least we brought liberty and democracy to an oppressed people. But that last-ditch rationalization has now become America’s sorriest self-delusion in this tragedy.

However wholeheartedly we disposed of their horrific dictator, the Iraqis were always pawns on the geopolitical chessboard rather than actual people in the administration’s reckless bet to “transform” the Middle East. From “Stuff happens!” on, nearly every aspect of Washington policy in Iraq exuded contempt for the beneficiaries of our supposed munificence. Now this animus is completely out of the closet. Without Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to kick around anymore, the war’s dead-enders are pinning the fiasco on the Iraqis themselves. Our government abhors them almost as much as the Lou Dobbs spear carriers loathe those swarming “aliens” from Mexico.

Iraqis are clamoring to get out of Iraq. Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That’s a total of some 15 percent of the population.) Save the Children reported this month that Iraq’s child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation’s. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5. Yet for all the words President Bush has lavished on Darfur and AIDS in Africa, there has been a deadly silence from him about what’s happening in the country he gave “God’s gift of freedom.”

It’s easy to see why. To admit that Iraqis are voting with their feet is to concede that American policy is in ruins. A “secure” Iraq is a mirage, and, worse, those who can afford to leave are the very professionals who might have helped build one. Thus the president says nothing about Iraq’s humanitarian crisis, the worst in the Middle East since 1948, much as he tried to hide the American death toll in Iraq by keeping the troops’ coffins off-camera and staying away from military funerals.

But his silence about Iraq’s mass exodus is not merely another instance of deceptive White House P.R.; it’s part of a policy with a huge human cost. The easiest way to keep the Iraqi plight out of sight, after all, is to prevent Iraqis from coming to America. And so we do, except for stray Shiites needed to remind us of purple fingers at State of the Union time or to frame the president in Rose Garden photo ops.

Since the 2003 invasion, America has given only 466 Iraqis asylum. Sweden, which was not in the coalition of the willing, plans to admit 25,000 Iraqis this year alone. Our State Department, goaded by January hearings conducted by Ted Kennedy, says it will raise the number for this year to 7,000 (a figure that, small as it is, may be more administration propaganda). A bill passed by Congress this month will add another piddling 500, all interpreters.

In reality, more than 5,000 interpreters worked for the Americans. So did tens of thousands of drivers and security guards who also, in Senator Kennedy’s phrase, have “an assassin’s bull’s-eye on their backs” because they served the occupying government and its contractors over the past four-plus years. How we feel about these Iraqis was made naked by one of the administration’s most fervent hawks, the former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, speaking to The Times Magazine this month. He claimed that the Iraqi refugee problem had “absolutely nothing to do” with Saddam’s overthrow: “Our obligation was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war.”

Actually, we haven’t fulfilled the obligation of giving them functioning institutions and security. One of the many reasons we didn’t was that L. Paul Bremer’s provisional authority staffed the Green Zone with unqualified but well-connected Republican hacks who, in some cases, were hired after they expressed their opposition to Roe v. Wade. The administration is nothing if not consistent in its employment practices. The assistant secretary in charge of refugees at the State Department now, Ellen Sauerbrey, is a twice-defeated Republican candidate for governor of Maryland with no experience in humanitarian crises but a hefty résumé in anti-abortion politics. She is to Iraqis seeking rescue what Brownie was to Katrina victims stranded in the Superdome.

Ms. Sauerbrey’s official line on Iraqi refugees, delivered to Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” in March, is that most of them “really want to go home.” The administration excuse for keeping Iraqis out of America is national security: we have to vet every prospective immigrant for terrorist ties. But many of those with the most urgent cases for resettlement here were vetted already, when the American government and its various Halliburton subsidiaries asked them to risk their lives by hiring them in the first place. For those whose loyalties can no longer be vouched for, there is the contrasting lesson of Vietnam. Julia Taft, the official in charge of refugees in the Ford administration, reminded Mr. Pelley that 131,000 Vietnamese were resettled in America within eight months of the fall of Saigon, despite loud, Dobbs-like opposition at the time. In the past seven months, the total number of Iraqis admitted to America was 69.

The diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whose career began during the Vietnam War, told me that security worries then were addressed by a vetting process carried out in safe, preliminary asylum camps for refugees set up beyond Vietnam’s borders in Asia. But as Mr. Holbrooke also points out in the current Foreign Affairs magazine, the real forerunner to American treatment of Iraqi refugees isn’t that war in any case, but World War II. That’s when an anti-Semitic assistant secretary of state, Breckinridge Long, tirelessly obstructed the visa process to prevent Jews from obtaining sanctuary in America, not even filling the available slots under existing quotas. As many as 75,000 such refugees were turned away before the Germans cut off exit visas to Jews in late 1941, according to Howard Sachar’s “History of the Jews in America.”

Like the Jews, Iraqis are useful scapegoats. This month Mr. Bremer declared that the real culprits for his disastrous 2003 decision to cleanse Iraq of Baathist officials were unnamed Iraqi politicians who “broadened the decree’s impact far beyond our original design.” The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is chastising the Iraqis for being unable “to do anything they promised.”

The new White House policy, as Zbigniew Brzezinski has joked, is “blame and run.” It started to take shape just before the midterm elections last fall, when Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memo (propitiously leaked after his defenestration) suggesting that the Iraqis might “have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.” By January, Mr. Bush was saying that “the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude” and wondering aloud “whether or not there is a gratitude level that’s significant enough in Iraq.” In February, one of the war’s leading neocon cheerleaders among the Beltway punditocracy lowered the boom. “Iraq is their country,” Charles Krauthammer wrote. “We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war.” Bill O’Reilly and others now echo this cry.

The message is clear enough: These ungrateful losers deserve everything that’s coming to them. The Iraqis hear us and are returning the compliment. Whether Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is mocking American demands for timelines and benchmarks, or the Iraqi Parliament is setting its own timeline for American withdrawal even while flaunting its vacation schedule, Iraq’s nominal government is saying it’s fed up. The American-Iraqi shotgun marriage of convenience, midwifed by disastrous Bush foreign policy, has disintegrated into the marriage from hell.

While the world waits for the White House and Congress to negotiate the separation agreement, the damage to the innocent family members caught in the cross-fire is only getting worse. Despite Mr. Bush’s May 10 claim that “the number of sectarian murders has dropped substantially” since the surge began, The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the number of such murders is going up. For the Americans, the cost is no less dear. Casualty figures confirm that the past six months have been the deadliest yet for our troops.

While it seems but a dim memory now, once upon a time some Iraqis did greet the Americans as liberators. Today, in fact, it is just such Iraqis — not the local Iraqi insurgents the president conflates with Osama bin Laden’s Qaeda in Pakistan — who do want to follow us home. That we are slamming the door in their faces tells you all you need to know about the real morality beneath all the professed good intentions of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Though the war’s godfathers saw themselves as ridding the world of another Hitler, their legacy includes a humanitarian catastrophe that will need its own Raoul Wallenbergs and Oskar Schindlers if lives are to be saved.

Bush’s Fleurs du Mal



For me, the saddest spot in Washington is the inverted V of the black granite Vietnam wall, jutting up with the names of young men dying in a war that their leaders already knew could not be won.

So many died because of ego and deceit — because L.B.J. and Robert McNamara wanted to save face or because Henry Kissinger wanted to protect Nixon’s re-election chances.

Now the Bush administration finds itself at that same hour of shame. It knows the surge is not working. Iraq is in a civil war, with a gruesome bonus of terrorists mixed in. April was the worst month this year for the American military, with 104 soldiers killed, and there have been about 90 killed thus far in May. The democracy’s not jelling, as Iraqi lawmakers get ready to slouch off for a two-month vacation, leaving our kids to be blown up.

The top-flight counterinsurgency team that President Bush sent in after long years of pretending that we’d “turned the corner” doesn’t believe there’s a military solution. General Petraeus is reduced to writing an open letter to the Iraqi public, pleading with them to reject sectarianism and violence, even as the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr slinks back from four months in Iran, rallying his fans by crying: “No, no, no to Satan! No, no, no to America! No, no, no to occupation! No, no, no to Israel!”

W. thinks he can save face if he keeps taunting Democrats as the party of surrender — just as Nixon did — and dumps the Frankenstate he’s created on his successor.

“The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland,” he told Coast Guard Academy graduates. “The enemy in Iraq does. Nine-eleven taught us that to protect the American people we must fight the terrorists where they live so that we don’t have to fight them where we live.”

The president said an intelligence report (which turned out to be two years old) showed that Osama had been trying to send Qaeda terrorists in Iraq to attack America. So clearly, Osama is capable of multitasking: Order the killers in Iraq to go after American soldiers there and American civilians here. There AND here. Get it, W.?

The president is on a continuous loop of sophistry: We have to push on in Iraq because Al Qaeda is there, even though Al Qaeda is there because we pushed into Iraq. Our troops have to keep dying there because our troops have been dying there. We have to stay so the enemy doesn’t know we’re leaving. Osama hasn’t been found because he’s hiding.

The terrorists moved into George Bush’s Iraq, not Saddam Hussein’s. W.’s ranting about Al Qaeda there is like planting fleurs du mal and then complaining your garden is toxic.

The president looked as if he wanted to smack David Gregory when the NBC reporter asked him at the news conference Thursday if he could still be “a credible messenger on the war” given all the mistakes and all the disillusioned Republicans.

“I’m credible because I read the intelligence, David,” he replied sharply.

But he isn’t and he doesn’t. Otherwise he might have read “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” in August 2001, and might have read the prewar intelligence reports the Senate just released that presciently forecast the horrors in store for naïve presidents who race to war because they want to be seen as hard, not soft.

Intelligence analysts may have muffed the W.M.D. issue, but they accurately predicted that implanting democracy in Iraq would be an “alien” idea that could lead to turbulence and violence; that Al Qaeda would hook up with Saddam loyalists and “angry young recruits” to militant Islam to “wage guerrilla warfare” on American forces, and that Iran and Al Qaeda would be the winners if the Bushies botched the occupation.

W. repeated last week that he would never retreat, but his advisers are working on ways to retreat. After the surge, in lieu of strategy, come the “concepts.”

Condi Rice, Bob Gates and generals at the Pentagon are talking about long-range “concepts” for reducing forces in Iraq, The Times reported yesterday, as a way to tamp down criticism, including from Republicans; it is also an acknowledgment that they can’t sustain the current force level there much longer. The article said that officials were starting to think about how to halve the 20 American combat brigades in Iraq, sometime in the second half of 2008.

As the Hollywood screenwriter said in “Annie Hall”: “Right now it’s only a notion, but I think I can get money to make it into a concept and later turn it into an idea.”

Arrested While Grieving


No one is paying much attention, but parts of New York City are like a police state for young men, women and children who happen to be black or Hispanic. They are routinely stopped, searched, harassed, intimidated, humiliated and, in many cases, arrested for no good reason.

Most black elected officials have joined their white colleagues and the media in turning a blind eye to this continuing outrage. And many black cops have joined their white colleagues in the systematic mistreatment.

Last Monday in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, about three dozen grieving young people on their way to a wake for a teenage friend who had been murdered were surrounded by the police, cursed at, handcuffed and ordered into paddy wagons. They were taken to the 83rd precinct stationhouse, where several were thrown into jail.

Leana Matia, an 18-year-old student at John Jay College, was one of those taken into custody. “We were walking toward the train station to take the L train when all these cops just swooped in on us,” she said. “They cursed us out and pushed the guys. And then they handcuffed us. We kept asking, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

Children as young as 13 were among those swept up by the cops. Two of them, including 16-year-old Lamel Carter, were the children of police officers. Some of the youngsters were carrying notes from school saying that they were allowed to be absent to attend the wake. There is no evidence that I’ve been able to find — other than uncorroborated statements by the police — that the teenagers were misbehaving in any way.

Everyone was searched, but nothing unlawful was found — no weapons, no marijuana or other drugs. Some of the kids were told at the scene that they were being seized because they had assembled unlawfully. “I didn’t know what unlawful assembly was,” said Kumar Singh, 18, who was among those arrested.

According to the police, the youngsters at the scene were on a rampage, yelling and blocking traffic. That does not seem to be the truth.

I spoke individually to several of the youngsters, to the principal of Bushwick Community High School (where a number of the kids are students), to a parent who was at the scene, and others. Nowhere was there even a hint of the chaos described by the police. Every account that I was able to find described a large group of youngsters, very sad and downcast about the loss of their friend, walking peacefully toward the station.

Kathleen Williams, whose son and two nieces were rounded up, was at the scene. She said there was no disturbance at all, and that when she tried to ask the police why the kids were being picked up, she was told to be quiet or she would be arrested, too.

Capt. Scott Henderson of the 83rd Precinct told me that the police had developed a “plan” to deal with youngsters going to the wake because they suspected that the murder was gang-related and there had already been some retaliation. He said he had personally witnessed the youngsters in Bushwick behaving badly and gave the order to arrest them.

Many of the kids were wearing white T-shirts with a picture of the dead teenager and the letters “R.I.P.” on them. The cops cited the T-shirts as evidence of gang membership.

Thirty-two of the youngsters were arrested. Most were charged with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Several were held in jail overnight.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly did not exactly give the arrests a ringing endorsement. He said, in a prepared statement, “A police captain who witnessed the activity made a good-faith judgment in ordering the arrests.”

A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, said, “It wouldn’t be unusual for a lot of this stuff to get dismissed.”

The principal of Bushwick Community High, Tira Randall, said, “My kids come in here on a daily basis with stories about harassment by the police. They’re not making these stories up.”

New York City cops stopped and, in many cases, searched individuals more than a half million times last year. Those stops are not happening on Park Avenue or Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Thousands upon thousands of them amount to simple harassment of young black and Hispanic males and females who have done absolutely nothing wrong, but feel helpless to object.

It is long past time for this harassment of ethnic minorities by the police to cease. Why it has been tolerated this long, I have no idea.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Arrested While Grieving


No one is paying much attention, but parts of New York City are like a police state for young men, women and children who happen to be black or Hispanic. They are routinely stopped, searched, harassed, intimidated, humiliated and, in many cases, arrested for no good reason.

Most black elected officials have joined their white colleagues and the media in turning a blind eye to this continuing outrage. And many black cops have joined their white colleagues in the systematic mistreatment.

Last Monday in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, about three dozen grieving young people on their way to a wake for a teenage friend who had been murdered were surrounded by the police, cursed at, handcuffed and ordered into paddy wagons. They were taken to the 83rd precinct stationhouse, where several were thrown into jail.

Leana Matia, an 18-year-old student at John Jay College, was one of those taken into custody. “We were walking toward the train station to take the L train when all these cops just swooped in on us,” she said. “They cursed us out and pushed the guys. And then they handcuffed us. We kept asking, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

Children as young as 13 were among those swept up by the cops. Two of them, including 16-year-old Lamel Carter, were the children of police officers. Some of the youngsters were carrying notes from school saying that they were allowed to be absent to attend the wake. There is no evidence that I’ve been able to find — other than uncorroborated statements by the police — that the teenagers were misbehaving in any way.

Everyone was searched, but nothing unlawful was found — no weapons, no marijuana or other drugs. Some of the kids were told at the scene that they were being seized because they had assembled unlawfully. “I didn’t know what unlawful assembly was,” said Kumar Singh, 18, who was among those arrested.

According to the police, the youngsters at the scene were on a rampage, yelling and blocking traffic. That does not seem to be the truth.

I spoke individually to several of the youngsters, to the principal of Bushwick Community High School (where a number of the kids are students), to a parent who was at the scene, and others. Nowhere was there even a hint of the chaos described by the police. Every account that I was able to find described a large group of youngsters, very sad and downcast about the loss of their friend, walking peacefully toward the station.

Kathleen Williams, whose son and two nieces were rounded up, was at the scene. She said there was no disturbance at all, and that when she tried to ask the police why the kids were being picked up, she was told to be quiet or she would be arrested, too.

Capt. Scott Henderson of the 83rd Precinct told me that the police had developed a “plan” to deal with youngsters going to the wake because they suspected that the murder was gang-related and there had already been some retaliation. He said he had personally witnessed the youngsters in Bushwick behaving badly and gave the order to arrest them.

Many of the kids were wearing white T-shirts with a picture of the dead teenager and the letters “R.I.P.” on them. The cops cited the T-shirts as evidence of gang membership.

Thirty-two of the youngsters were arrested. Most were charged with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Several were held in jail overnight.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly did not exactly give the arrests a ringing endorsement. He said, in a prepared statement, “A police captain who witnessed the activity made a good-faith judgment in ordering the arrests.”

A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, said, “It wouldn’t be unusual for a lot of this stuff to get dismissed.”

The principal of Bushwick Community High, Tira Randall, said, “My kids come in here on a daily basis with stories about harassment by the police. They’re not making these stories up.”

New York City cops stopped and, in many cases, searched individuals more than a half million times last year. Those stops are not happening on Park Avenue or Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Thousands upon thousands of them amount to simple harassment of young black and Hispanic males and females who have done absolutely nothing wrong, but feel helpless to object.

It is long past time for this harassment of ethnic minorities by the police to cease. Why it has been tolerated this long, I have no idea.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Immigrants and Politics


A piece of advice for progressives trying to figure out where they stand on immigration reform: it’s the political economy, stupid. Analyzing the direct economic gains and losses from proposed reform isn’t enough. You also have to think about how the reform would affect the future political environment.

To see what I mean — and why the proposed immigration bill, despite good intentions, could well make things worse — let’s take a look back at America’s last era of mass immigration.

My own grandparents came to this country during that era, which ended with the imposition of severe immigration restrictions in the 1920s. Needless to say, I’m very glad they made it in before Congress slammed the door. And today’s would-be immigrants are just as deserving as Emma Lazarus’s “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”

Moreover, as supporters of immigrant rights rightly remind us, everything today’s immigrant-bashers say — that immigrants are insufficiently skilled, that they’re too culturally alien, and, implied though rarely stated explicitly, that they’re not white enough — was said a century ago about Italians, Poles and Jews.

Yet then as now there were some good reasons to be concerned about the effects of immigration.

There’s a highly technical controversy going on among economists about the effects of recent immigration on wages. However that dispute turns out, it’s clear that the earlier wave of immigration increased inequality and depressed the wages of the less skilled. For example, a recent study by Jeffrey Williamson, a Harvard economic historian, suggests that in 1913 the real wages of unskilled U.S. workers were around 10 percent lower than they would have been without mass immigration. But the straight economics was the least of it. Much more important was the way immigration diluted democracy.

In 1910, almost 14 percent of voting-age males in the United States were non-naturalized immigrants. (Women didn’t get the vote until 1920.) Add in the disenfranchised blacks of the Jim Crow South, and what you had in America was a sort of minor-key apartheid system, with about a quarter of the population — in general, the poorest and most in need of help — denied any political voice.

That dilution of democracy helped prevent any effective response to the excesses and injustices of the Gilded Age, because those who might have demanded that politicians support labor rights, progressive taxation and a basic social safety net didn’t have the right to vote. Conversely, the restrictions on immigration imposed in the 1920s had the unintended effect of paving the way for the New Deal and sustaining its achievements, by creating a fully enfranchised working class.

But now we’re living in the second Gilded Age. And as before, one of the things making antiworker, unequalizing policies politically possible is the fact that millions of the worst-paid workers in this country can’t vote. What progressives should care about, above all, is that immigration reform stop our drift into a new system of de facto apartheid.

Now, the proposed immigration reform does the right thing in principle by creating a path to citizenship for those already here. We’re not going to expel 11 million illegal immigrants, so the only way to avoid having those immigrants be a permanent disenfranchised class is to bring them into the body politic.

And I can’t share the outrage of those who say that illegal immigrants broke the law by coming here. Is that any worse than what my grandfather did by staying in America, when he was supposed to return to Russia to serve in the czar’s army?

But the bill creates a path to citizenship so torturous that most immigrants probably won’t even try to legalize themselves. Meanwhile, the bill creates a guest worker program, which is exactly what we don’t want to do. Yes, it would raise the income of the guest workers themselves, and in narrow financial terms guest workers are a good deal for the host nation — because they don’t bring their families, they impose few costs on taxpayers. But it formally creates exactly the kind of apartheid system we want to avoid.

Progressive supporters of the proposed bill defend the guest worker program as a necessary evil, the price that must be paid for business support. Right now, however, the price looks too high and the reward too small: this bill could all too easily end up actually expanding the class of disenfranchised workers.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A must-read for Memorial Day

By Joseph L. Galloway
McClatchy Newspapers

It's that time of year again. Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of summer fun for most Americans, and as I've done before in this space, I want to pause to take note of the real reason there is a Memorial Day.

It's meant to honor and pay our respects to those Americans who've given their lives in service to our nation, who stand in an unbroken line from Lexington's rude bridge to Cemetery Ridge to the Argonne Forest to the beaches of Normandy to the frozen Chosin Reservoir to the Ia Drang Valley to the sands of Kuwait to the streets of Baghdad.

Over the last 12 months, 1,042 soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel have given their lives in the terrible duty that is war. Thousands more have come home on stretchers, horribly wounded and facing months or years in military hospitals.

This week, I'm turning my space over to a good friend and former roommate, Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, who recently completed a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at the Pentagon.

Here's Lt. Col. Bateman's account of a little-known ceremony that fills the halls of the Army corridor of the Pentagon with cheers, applause and many tears every Friday morning. It first appeared on May 17 on the Web-log of media critic and pundit Eric Alterman at the Media Matters for America Web site.


"It is 110 yards from the "E" ring to the "A" ring of the Pentagon. This section of the Pentagon is newly renovated; the floors shine, the hallway is broad, and the lighting is bright. At this instant the entire length of the corridor is packed with officers, a few sergeants and some civilians, all crammed tightly three and four deep against the walls. There are thousands here.

"This hallway, more than any other, is the `Army' hallway. The G3 offices line one side, G2 the other, G8 is around the corner. All Army. Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz. Friends who may not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few years, spot each other, cross the way and renew. Everyone shifts to ensure an open path remains down the center. The air conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this area. The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares.

"10:36 hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is the outermost of the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the entrance to the building. This clapping is low, sustained, hearty. It is applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length of the hallway.

"A steady rolling wave of sound it is, moving at the pace of the soldier in the wheelchair who marks the forward edge with his presence. He is the first. He is missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating. By his age I expect that he is a private, or perhaps a private first class.

"Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels meet his gaze and nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier. Three years ago when I described one of these events, those lining the hallways were somewhat different. The applause a little wilder, perhaps in private guilt for not having shared in the burden ... yet.

"Now almost everyone lining the hallway is, like the man in the wheelchair, also a combat veteran. This steadies the applause, but I think deepens the sentiment. We have all been there now. The soldier's chair is pushed by, I believe, a full colonel.

"Behind him, and stretching the length from Rings E to A, come more of his peers, each private, corporal or sergeant assisted as need be by a field grade officer.

"11:00 hours: Twenty-four minutes of steady applause. My hands hurt, and I laugh to myself at how stupid that sounds in my own head. `My hands hurt.' Christ. Shut up and clap. For twenty-four minutes, soldier after soldier has come down this hallway - 20, 25, 30. Fifty-three legs come with them, and perhaps only 52 hands or arms, but down this hall came 30 solid hearts.

"They pass down this corridor of officers and applause, and then meet for a private lunch, at which they are the guests of honor, hosted by the generals. Some are wheeled along. Some insist upon getting out of their chairs, to march as best they can with their chin held up, down this hallway, through this most unique audience. Some are catching handshakes and smiling like a politician at a Fourth of July parade. More than a couple of them seem amazed and are smiling shyly.

"There are families with them as well: the 18-year-old war-bride pushing her 19-year-old husband's wheelchair and not quite understanding why her husband is so affected by this, the boy she grew up with, now a man, who had never shed a tear is crying; the older immigrant Latino parents who have, perhaps more than their wounded mid-20s son, an appreciation for the emotion given on their son's behalf. No man in that hallway, walking or clapping, is ashamed by the silent tears on more than a few cheeks. An Airborne Ranger wipes his eyes only to better see. A couple of the officers in this crowd have themselves been a part of this parade in the past.

"These are our men, broken in body they may be, but they are our brothers, and we welcome them home. This parade has gone on, every single Friday, all year long, for more than four years."

(Copyright 2007 by Robert Bateman; reprinted here by permission.)

Thanks, Bob, for this Memorial Day gift.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The world as Shakespearean tragedy

Judging by the body count, modern global politics look headed for the bloody final act of a Bard tragedy.
Niall Ferguson

May 21, 2007

'ALL THE WORLD'S a stage," observes Jacques in "As You Like It." "And all the men and women merely players."

No sphere of human life is more theatrical than politics. And seldom has the world's political stage seemed more Shakespearean than it does today — in "The Tragedy of King George." To judge by the number of bodies that currently litter it, we appear to be nearing the end of Act V. By the concluding scenes of Shakespeare's greatest political tragedies — "Hamlet," "Julius Caesar," "King Lear" and "Macbeth" — nearly all the principal characters lie dead. So it is with King George, the tale of an unworldly fellow who ascends the throne of a great empire, responds heroically to an unprovoked attack, then wreaks havoc by turning from retaliation to preemption.

The latest corpse to slump lifeless beneath the proscenium arch is that of Paul Wolfowitz, who last week finally announced that he would resign as president of the World Bank. Another central character — British Prime Minister Tony Blair — has taken the political equivalent of slow-acting poison.

Think back to 2003, to the invasion of Iraq. One after another, the politicians who most strongly supported the decision have been ousted from office.

As in "Julius Caesar," the fault is not in the central characters' stars but in themselves. President Bush's dominant character traits — his decisiveness and tenacity — at first appeared to be strengths. But once he had been convinced by his advisors that the attacks of 9/11 furnished a pretext for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, these became weaknesses.

As in "Macbeth," King George was soon "in blood, steeped in so far" that turning back seemed no more attractive than wading onward. Remember, the corpses that litter this stage can already be counted in the tens, if not the hundreds, of thousands.

And, as in "King Lear," the whole catastrophe has stemmed from a fatal confusion at the outset between the true and the false, enemies and friends. Lear succumbs to the flattery of the ugly sisters, Regan and Goneril, and casts out the blunt but honest Cordelia (not to mention the straight-talking Kent).

The mistaken identity in the tragedy of King George was that of the real enemy in the post-9/11 war on terror. It is almost certain that the hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. The chief architect of the plot, Osama bin Laden, also was a Saudi. Contrast this list of countries with the "axis of evil" identified by Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address: North Korea, Iran and Iraq. Bush was right to target Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 because the Taliban regime was sheltering Al Qaeda's leadership. But the decision to overthrow Hussein was one of history's great non sequiturs.

The real enemy in the global war on terror is not the "axis of evil" but the "axis of allies." Today, the countries most likely to produce another 9/11 are not Iran, much less North Korea, but countries long regarded as (after Israel) America's most reliable allies in the greater Middle East. Step forward, Saudi Arabia (almost certainly still the biggest source of funding for radical Islamists) and Pakistan (definitely their one-stop shop for nuclear weaponry).

There is, in short, a twist in this tale. Before the curtain can fall on "The Tragedy of King George," we need at least three more scenes to decide the fates of three crucial characters: the only principals left standing aside from King George himself.

First, we need a scene in Israel. Since the failure of the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's popularity has been in free fall. His current approval rating is about 2%, by comparison with which King George is a pop idol. Somehow, Olmert is clinging to political life. But he surely cannot last much longer. What happens next will be crucial; if Benjamin Netanyahu returns to power, the probability of a military confrontation with Iran goes above 50%. Remember, Netanyahu compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler. "It is the year 1938", he recently declared, "and Iran is Germany."

Then we need a scene in Saudi Arabia. Here the key figure is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who, as Saudi ambassador to the United States, was one of the leading advocates of the invasion of Iraq. Since October 2005 he has been in Riyadh as secretary-general of the National Security Council, where he is said to be lobbying hard for another attack: This time — you guessed it — on Iran.

Finally, the action needs to shift eastward to Pakistan, where it is the future of President Pervez Musharraf that hangs in the balance. After eight years of military dictatorship, Pakistan's democratic forces are stirring. But watch out — these include the Islamist coalition known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.

You thought this play was nearly over. But Act V has only just begun. With war looming between Iran and Israel, and Pakistan on the brink of an upheaval that could well end with Islamists in power, the worst bloodshed has yet to come.

American Cities and the Great Divide


A public high school teacher in Brooklyn told me recently about a student who didn’t believe that a restaurant tab for four people could come to more than $500. The student shook his head, as if resisting the very idea. He just couldn’t fathom it.

“How much can you eat?” the student asked.

When I asked a teacher in a second school to mention the same issue, one of the responses was, “Is this a true story?”

A lot of New Yorkers are doing awfully well. There are 8 million residents of New York City, and roughly 700,000 are worth a million dollars or more. The average price of a Manhattan apartment is $1.3 million. The annual earnings of the average hedge fund manager is $363 million.

The estimated worth of the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, ranges from $5.5 billion to upwards of $20 billion.

You want a gilded age? This is it. The elite of the Roaring Twenties would be stunned by the wealth of the current era.

Now the flip side, which is the side those public school students are on. One of the city’s five counties, the Bronx, is the poorest urban county in the nation. The number of families in the city’s homeless shelters is the highest it has been in a quarter of a century. Twenty-five percent of all families with children in New York City — that’s 1.5 million New Yorkers — are trying to make it on incomes that are below the poverty threshold established by the federal government.

The streets that are paved with gold for some are covered with ash for many others. There are few better illustrations of the increasingly disturbing divide between rich and poor than New York City.

“I get to walk in both worlds,” said Larry Mandell, the president of the United Way of New York City. “In a given day I might be in a soup kitchen and also in the halls of Fortune 500 companies dealing with the senior executives. I’ve become acutely aware that the lives of those who are well off are not touched at all by contact with the poor. It’s not that people don’t care or don’t want to help. It’s that they have very little awareness of poverty.”

I’d always thought of the United Way as a charitable outfit. But Mr. Mandell has committed his organization to the important task of raising the awareness of Americans and their political leaders to the pressing needs of America’s cities, and especially the long-neglected, poverty-stricken neighborhoods of the inner cities.

It’s a measure of how low the bar has been set for success in America’s cities that New York is thought to be doing well, even though 185,000 of its children ages 5 or younger are poor, and 18,000 are consigned to homeless shelters each night. More than a million New Yorkers get food stamps, and another 700,000 are eligible but not receiving them. That’s a long, long way from a $500 restaurant tab.

Only 50 percent of the city’s high school students graduate in four years. And if you talk to the kids in the poorer neighborhoods, they will tell you that they don’t feel safe. They are worried about violence and gang activity, which in their view is getting worse, not better.

This is what’s going on in the nation’s most successful big city.

Mr. Mandell is upset that urban issues, which in so many cases are related to poverty, have played such a minuscule role in the presidential campaign so far. “People need to become more aware of the issue of poverty,” he said. “It’s discouraging, frankly, to have it barely mentioned at all in the debates.

“It’s true that John Edwards is the one candidate who seems concerned about it, but to actually have the issue come up just briefly in the debates, and not at all in the Republican debate — well, my view is that we have to change that.”

The United Way of New York has issued a white paper on “America’s Urban Agenda” that says, “The greatest single challenge most American cities face lies in the increasing divide between the haves and have-nots.”

There was a time, some decades ago, when urban issues and poverty were important components of presidential campaigns. Now the poor are kept out of sight, which makes it easier to leave them farther and farther behind. We’ve apparently reached a point in our politics when they aren’t even worth mentioning.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fear of Eating


Yesterday I did something risky: I ate a salad.

These are anxious days at the lunch table. For all you know, there may be E. coli on your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter and melamine in your pet’s food and, because it was in the feed, in your chicken sandwich.

Who’s responsible for the new fear of eating? Some blame globalization; some blame food-producing corporations; some blame the Bush administration. But I blame Milton Friedman.

Now, those who blame globalization do have a point. U.S. officials can’t inspect overseas food-processing plants without the permission of foreign governments — and since the Food and Drug Administration has limited funds and manpower, it can inspect only a small percentage of imports. This leaves American consumers effectively dependent on the quality of foreign food-safety enforcement. And that’s not a healthy place to be, especially when it comes to imports from China, where the state of food safety is roughly what it was in this country before the Progressive movement.

The Washington Post, reviewing F.D.A. documents, found that last month the agency detained shipments from China that included dried apples treated with carcinogenic chemicals and seafood “coated with putrefying bacteria.” You can be sure that a lot of similarly unsafe and disgusting food ends up in American stomachs.

Those who blame corporations also have a point. In 2005, the F.D.A. suspected that peanut butter produced by ConAgra, which sells the product under multiple brand names, might be contaminated with salmonella. According to The New York Times, “when agency inspectors went to the plant that made the peanut butter, the company acknowledged it had destroyed some product but declined to say why,” and refused to let the inspectors examine its records without a written authorization.

According to the company, the agency never followed through. This brings us to our third villain, the Bush administration.

Without question, America’s food safety system has degenerated over the past six years. We don’t know how many times concerns raised by F.D.A. employees were ignored or soft-pedaled by their superiors. What we do know is that since 2001 the F.D.A. has introduced no significant new food safety regulations except those mandated by Congress.

This isn’t simply a matter of caving in to industry pressure. The Bush administration won’t issue food safety regulations even when the private sector wants them. The president of the United Fresh Produce Association says that the industry’s problems “can’t be solved without strong mandatory federal regulations”: without such regulations, scrupulous growers and processors risk being undercut by competitors more willing to cut corners on food safety. Yet the administration refuses to do more than issue nonbinding guidelines.

Why would the administration refuse to regulate an industry that actually wants to be regulated? Officials may fear that they would create a precedent for public-interest regulation of other industries. But they are also influenced by an ideology that says business should never be regulated, no matter what.

The economic case for having the government enforce rules on food safety seems overwhelming. Consumers have no way of knowing whether the food they eat is contaminated, and in this case what you don’t know can hurt or even kill you. But there are some people who refuse to accept that case, because it’s ideologically inconvenient.

That’s why I blame the food safety crisis on Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous or ineffective drugs? “It’s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical companies not to have these bad things,” he insisted in a 1999 interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you can always trust the private sector to police itself.

O.K., I’m not saying that Mr. Friedman directly caused tainted spinach and poisonous peanut butter. But he did help to make our food less safe, by legitimizing what the historian Rick Perlstein calls “E. coli conservatives”: ideologues who won’t accept even the most compelling case for government regulation.

Earlier this month the administration named, you guessed it, a “food safety czar.” But the food safety crisis isn’t caused by the arrangement of the boxes on the organization chart. It’s caused by the dominance within our government of a literally sickening ideology.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Reverend Falwell’s Heavenly Timing

HARD as it is to believe now, Jerry Falwell came in second only to Ronald Reagan in a 1983 Good Housekeeping poll anointing “the most admired man in America.” By September 2001, even the Bush administration was looking for a way to ditch the preacher who had joined Pat Robertson on TV to pin the 9/11 attacks on feminists, abortionists, gays and, implicitly, Teletubbies. As David Kuo, a former Bush official for faith-based initiatives, tells the story in his book “Tempting Faith,” the Reverend Falwell was given a ticket to the Washington National Cathedral memorial service that week only on the strict condition that he stay away from reporters and cameras. Mr. Falwell obeyed, though once inside he cracked jokes (“Whoa, does she look frumpy,” he said of Barbara Bush) and chortled nonstop.

This is the great spiritual leader whom John McCain and Mitt Romney raced to praise when he died on Tuesday, just as the G.O.P. presidential contenders were converging for a debate in South Carolina. The McCain camp’s elegiac press release beat out his rival’s by a hair. But everyone including Senator McCain knows he got it right back in 2000, when he labeled Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson “agents of intolerance.” Mr. Falwell was always on the wrong, intolerant side of history. He fought against the civil rights movement and ridiculed Desmond Tutu’s battle against apartheid years before calling AIDS the “wrath of a just God against homosexuals” and, in 1999, fingering the Antichrist as an unidentified contemporary Jew.

Though Mr. Falwell had long been an embarrassment and laughingstock to many, including a new generation of Christian leaders typified by Mr. Kuo, the timing of his death could not have had grander symbolic import. It happened at the precise moment that the Falwell-Robertson brand of religious politics is being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow. Hours after Mr. Falwell died, Rudy Giuliani, a candidate he explicitly rejected, won the Republican debate by acclamation. When the marginal candidate Ron Paul handed “America’s mayor” an opening to wrap himself grandiloquently in 9/11 once more, not even the most conservative of Deep South audiences could resist cheering him. If Rudy can dress up as Jack Bauer, who cares about his penchant for drag?

The current exemplars of Mr. Falwell’s gay-baiting, anti-Roe style of politics, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, see the writing on the wall. Electability matters more to Republicans these days than Mr. Giuliani’s unambiguous support for abortion rights and gay civil rights (no matter how clumsily he’s tried to fudge it). Last week Mr. Dobson was in full crybaby mode, threatening not to vote if Rudy is on the G.O.P. ticket. Mr. Perkins complained to The Wall Street Journal that the secular side of the Republican Party was serving its religious-right auxiliary with “divorce papers.”

Yes, and it is doing so with an abruptness and rudeness reminiscent of Mr. Giuliani’s public dumping of the second of his three wives, Donna Hanover. This month, even the conservative editorial page of The Journal chastised Republicans of the Perkins-Dobson ilk for being too bellicose about abortion, saying that a focus on the issue “will make the party seem irrelevant” and cost it the White House in 2008. At the start of Tuesday’s debate, the Fox News moderator Brit Hume coldly put Mr. Falwell’s death off limits by announcing that “we will not be seeking any more reaction from the candidates on that matter.” It was a pre-emptive move to shield Fox’s favored party from soiling its image any further by association with the Moral Majority has-been and his strident causes. In the ensuing 90 minutes, the Fox News questioners skipped past the once-burning subject of same-sex marriage as well.

What a difference a midterm election has made. The Karl Rove theory that Republicans cannot survive without pandering to religious-right pooh-bahs is yet another piece of Bush dogma lying in ruins, done in by two synergistic forces. The first is the raw political math. Polls consistently show that most Americans don’t want abortion outlawed, do want legal recognition for gay couples, do want stem-cell research and never want to see government intrude on a Terri Schiavo again. On Election Day 2006, voters in red states defeated both an abortion ban (South Dakota) and, for the first time, a same-sex marriage ban (Arizona).

But equally crucial is how much the “family values” establishment has tarnished itself in the Bush era. Some of that self-destruction followed the time-honored Jimmy Swaggart-Jim Bakker paradigm of hypocrisy: the revelations that Ted Haggard, the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, was finding God in the arms of a male prostitute, and that the vice president’s daughter and her partner were violating stated Bush White House doctrine by raising a child with two mommies. But a greater factor in the decline and sullying of the Falwell-flavored religious right is its collusion in the worldly corruption ushered in by this particular presidency and Mr. Rove’s now defunct Republican majority.

The felonious Jack Abramoff scandals have ensnared a remarkably large who’s who of righteous politicos, led by Mr. Robertson’s former consigliere at the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, who was so eager (as he put it in an e-mail) to start “humping in corporate accounts.” Among the preachers who abetted (unwittingly, they all say) the bogus grass-roots “anti-gambling” campaigns staged by Mr. Abramoff to smite rivals of his own Indian casino clients were Mr. Dobson, the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association and the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Tom DeLay, a leader of the Schiavo putsch in Congress, was taken out by his association with Mr. Abramoff, too. Mr. DeLay’s onetime chief of staff, Edwin Buckham (an evangelical minister, yet), pocketed more than $1 million, largely from Abramoff clients, that was funneled through a so-called U.S. Family Network, ostensibly dedicated to promoting “moral fitness.”

The sleazy links between Washington scandal and religious-right hacks didn’t end when Mr. Abramoff went to jail and Mr. DeLay went into oblivion. The first Justice Department official to plead the Fifth in this year’s bottomless United States attorneys scandal — Monica Goodling, a former top Alberto Gonzales aide — is a product of Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law, formerly known as CBN University School of Law, after the Christian Broadcasting Network. As The Boston Globe discovered, Regent’s Web site boasts that some 150 of its grads were hired by the Bush administration, and not, it seems, because of merit. In Ms. Goodling’s graduating class, 60 percent failed the bar exam on their first try. U.S. News & World Report ranks the school in the fourth — a k a bottom — tier.

Having been given immunity, Ms. Goodling is scheduled to testify before House inquisitors this week. We know already from The National Journal that she was so moral that she put blue drapes over the exposed breasts in the statuary in the Great Hall of the Justice Department (since removed). The Times found that she had asked civil-service job applicants, “Have you ever cheated on your wife?” Yet her strict morality did not extend to protecting the nonpartisan sanctity of the American legal system. An inexperienced lawyer just past 30, Ms. Goodling exercised her power to vet some 400 Justice Department political appointees by favoring Republican and Rovian loyalty over actual qualifications. Though the Monica at the center of the last presidential scandal did enable a husband’s cheating on his wife, at least she wasn’t tasked with any governmental responsibility more weighty than divvying up pizza.

Mr. Giuliani’s rivals for the Republican nomination just can’t leave behind the received wisdom that you still have to appease the Robertson-Dobson-Perkins axis of piety that produces the likes of a Monica Goodling. They seem oblivious to the new evangelical leaders who care more about serving the ill, the poor and the environment than grandstanding in the fading culture wars. They seem oblivious to the reality that their association with the old religious-right taskmasters diminishes them, however well it may play to some Iowa caucus voters. Mr. Romney, a former social liberal whose wife gave money to Planned Parenthood, is crudely trying to rewrite his record by showering cash on anti-abortion-rights groups; he spoke at Regent U. even as a Pat Robertson Web site mocked his religion, Mormonism, as a cult. Mr. McCain, busily trying to disown past positions unpopular with the declining base, is trapped in a squeeze play of his own making: he’s failing to persuade the hard right that he’s one of them even as he makes Mr. Giuliani look like a straight-talker by comparison.

“America’s mayor” has so much checkered history in his closet — by which I mean Bernard Kerik, among other ticking time bombs, not the gay couple he bunked with before 9/11 — that he is hardly a certain winner of his party’s nomination, let alone the presidency. But whatever his ultimate fate, the enthusiasm and poll numbers Mr. Giuliani arouses among Republicans to date are a death knell for the political orthodoxy of the Rove era. The agents of intolerance are well on their way to being forgotten, even in those cases when they, unlike Jerry Falwell, are not yet gone.

Résumé of Doom

Paul Wolfowitz may be out of a job soon, but think of what an amazing résumé he’ll be shopping around:

Work Experience

President of World Bank: 2005-2007

Responsibilities: Reining in European lefties, raining tax-free money on Arab girlfriend, and giving anti-corruption efforts a bad name.

Achievements: Paralyzed the international lending apparatus to the point where small countries had to max out their Visa cards to pay for malaria medicine. Learned the traditions of many cultures, including those of Turkey, where you apparently are not supposed to take off your shoes at mosques to reveal socks so full of holes that both big toes poke blasphemously through.

Deputy Secretary of Defense for President George W. Bush: 2001-2005

Responsibility: Starting a war.

Achievements: Mismanaged the world’s most powerful army. Shattered the system of international diplomacy that kept the peace for 50 years. Undermined the credibility of American intelligence operations. Needlessly brought humankind to the brink of nuclear war. Destroyed Iraq.

Demented Visionary: 1993-2001

Responsibility: Concocting a delusional plan for regime change in Iraq with pals like Shaha Riza, Ahmad Chalabi and his merry band of Iraqi exiles who conjured up phony intelligence about Saddam’s W.M.D.

Achievements: Imagining an Iraq that didn’t exist.

Having Wolfie back on the job market is a tremendous opportunity. What do we want destroyed next? Could this walking curse on the world run Halliburton into the ground?

At the Pentagon, Wolfie tried to help Vice get rid of anything multi — multilateral treaties, multilateral institutions, multilateral alliances, multiculturalism. Multi, to them, meant wobbly, caviling, bureaucratic and obstructionist. Why be multi when you could be uni?

In the end, the forces of multilateralism took their revenge: Old Europe got rid of Wolfie.

But not before his gal pal played the multicultural victim card. In her statement to World Bank directors, Shaha complained that she had been denied promotions even before Wolfie got there. “I can only attribute this to discrimination — not because I am a woman, but because I am a Muslim Arab woman who dares to question the status quo both in the work of the institution and within the institution itself,” Shaha wrote.

She said that she had “met a wonderful American woman who told me that I should fight back for ‘us’: WOMEN. It never occurred to me as an Arab and Muslim woman that one day I would be asked by an American woman to fight on her behalf.”

Already aggrieved, Shaha got really furious when Wolfie came in 2005 and she was told she’d have to work out of the State Department.

“I was ready to pursue legal remedies,” she wrote in her statement, adding, “my life and career were torn asunder.”

According to Xavier Coll, the bank’s human resources vice president, Shaha outlined conditions for her departure that were “unprecedented” in terms of guarantees and rewards and way out of line with bank policy. Mr. Coll deemed it “inappropriate and imprudent for the president to offer Ms. Riza these terms.”

Bob Bennett, Wolfie’s lawyer, told Michael Hirsh of Newsweek that it was Shaha who “worked up the numbers” on a $60,000 raise to a $193,590 salary and cushy new deal. “She was outraged that she had to leave,” Mr. Bennett said.

The self-righteous Shaha played on Wolfie’s guilt, becoming “greedy in terms of power,” as a friend of the couple told Newsweek. Even though she had been a mere flack a few years ago and then a gender coordinator at the bank, Shaha mau-maued her man into giving her a salary that topped the secretary of state’s.

It’s like when Bill Clinton tells friends that he has to work hard to get Hillary elected president because he feels he owes her for bringing her to Arkansas in the 70s and interrupting her career. (But do we?)

Or when Tony Soprano gets Carmela some fancy piece of jewelry after he strays. Indeed, Wolfie sounded Sopranoish when he agitatedly told Mr. Coll to warn those at the bank he believed were attacking him: “If they $%#! with me or Shaha, I have enough on them to $%#! them, too.”

Wolfie used public compensation for private contrition. Gilt for guilt — not a good deal.

The GOP's torture enthusiasts

This week's Republican debate was a Jack Bauer impersonation contest.
Rosa Brooks

May 18, 2007

IT WASN'T AN edifying spectacle: a group of middle-aged white guys competing with one another to see who could do the best impersonation of Jack Bauer, torture enthusiast and the central character on Fox's hit show "24."

In Tuesday's Republican presidential primary debate, Fox News moderator Brit Hume — who appears to have been watching too much "24" himself — raised what he described as "a fictional but we think plausible scenario involving terrorism and the response to it." He then laid out the kind of "ticking-bomb" scenario on which virtually every episode of "24" is premised — precisely the kind that most intelligence experts consider fictional and entirely implausible.

Imagine, Hume told the candidates, that hundreds of Americans have been killed in three major suicide bombings and "a fourth attack has been averted when the attackers were captured … and taken to Guantanamo…. U.S. intelligence believes that another, larger attack is planned…. How aggressively would you interrogate" the captured suspects?

Rudy Giuliani — a man who knows he has a few cross-dressing episodes to live down — didn't hesitate. "I would tell the [interrogators] to use every method…. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of."

"Water-boarding?" asked Hume.

"I would — and I would — well, I'd say every method they could think of," affirmed Giuliani.

As governor of the State That Dares Not Speak Its Name — at least not in GOP circles — Mitt Romney naturally had to up the ante. "You said the person's going to be in Guantanamo. I'm glad they're at Guantanamo…. Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo." I am politician, hear me roar! And, oh yeah: "Enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used."

Not to be left out, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California boasted that, "in terms of getting information that would save American lives, even if it involves very high-pressure techniques," he would offer only "one sentence: Get the information."

And finally, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo: "We're wondering about whether water-boarding would be a — a bad thing to do? I'm looking for Jack Bauer at that time, let me tell you."

Ha ha. This remark was greeted by uproarious laughter and applause from the audience because, after all, who doesn't enjoy thinking about a hunky guy threatening to gouge out a detainee's eye with a hunting knife?

Unlike Hunter and Tancredo, Giuliani and Romney took pains to insist that they didn't favor torture, just … you know, "enhanced interrogation." But water-boarding, which neither would disavow, is unquestionably a form of torture. It involves taking a bound, gagged and blindfolded prisoner and pouring water over him or holding him underwater to induce an unbearable sensation of drowning. It was used in the Spanish Inquisition and by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge — fellas who make Jack Bauer look like a softie.

In Tuesday's debate, only John McCain and Ron Paul bucked the collective swooning over enhanced interrogation. Paul mused about the way that torture has become "enhanced interrogation technique. It sounds like newspeak," he noted, referring to George Orwell's term for totalitarian doubletalk in his novel "1984." Paul obviously never got the memo. For most of the Republican primary candidates, "1984" isn't a cautionary tale, it's a how-to manual.

Only McCain reminded the audience that "it's not about the terrorists, it's about us. It's about what kind of country we are."

McCain's chest-beating Republican rivals would do well to listen to him, and to read the letter Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, sent May 10 to all U.S. troops there: "Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information…. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary…. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight … is how we behave. In everything we do, we must … treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect."

In Tuesday's debate, Tancredo brushed off "theoretical" objections to torture as a luxury we can't afford: If "we go under, Western civilization goes under." And what's a little torture when Western civilization itself is at stake?

But Western civilization isn't about speaking English, or flags, or football or borders. If Western civilization is about anything at all, it's about the arduous, centuries-long struggle to nurture an idea of human dignity that's not dependent on nationality or power. As Petraeus put it, there are some "values and standards that make us who we are."

Tancredo's right about one thing though. If we embrace the use of torture, we won't need to worry that extremist Islamic terrorists might destroy Western civilization.

We'll have killed it off ourselves.

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