Friday, June 30, 2006

Roundup on the "New Paradigm" of Executive Power

As noted in my last post, John Yoo's a leading legal intellectual who's articulated a theory of executive autonomy for the prosecution of the war on terror. Yet, he's obviously not the only current or former Bush administration figure advancing this perspective. As Jane Mayer points out in her "Letter from Washington" at the the New Yorker, David Addington, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, is also a vehement proponent of the executive autonomy theory of executive power under the constitution, and Addington's vision is a major contributor to the "new paradigm" for presidential action in the terror war:

The overarching intent of the New Paradigm, which was put in place after the attacks of September 11th, was to allow the Pentagon to bring terrorists to justice as swiftly as possible. Criminal courts and military courts, with their exacting standards of evidence and emphasis on protecting defendants’ rights, were deemed too cumbersome. Instead, the President authorized a system of detention and interrogation that operated outside the international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war established by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Terror suspects would be tried in a system of military commissions, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, devised by the executive branch. The Administration designated these suspects not as criminals or as prisoners of war but as “illegal enemy combatants,” whose treatment would be ultimately decided by the President. By emphasizing interrogation over due process, the government intended to preëmpt future attacks before they materialized. In November, 2001, Cheney said of the military commissions, “We think it guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.”

Yet, almost five years later, this improvised military model, which Addington was instrumental in creating, has achieved very limited results. Not a single terror suspect has been tried before a military commission. Only ten of the more than seven hundred men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo have been formally charged with any wrongdoing. Earlier this month, three detainees committed suicide in the camp. Germany and Denmark, along with the European Union and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, have called for the prison to be closed, accusing the United States of violating internationally accepted standards for humane treatment and due process. The New Paradigm has also come under serious challenge from the judicial branch. Two years ago, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled against the Administration’s contention that the Guantánamo prisoners were beyond the reach of the U.S. court system and could not challenge their detention. And this week the Court is expected to deliver a decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case that questions the legality of the military commissions.

The Court has now, of course, ruled against the Guantanamo commissions, and according to this Washington Post article, the holding strikes at the core of the administration's implementation agenda for the "new paradigm":

For five years, President Bush waged war as he saw fit. If intelligence officers needed to eavesdrop on overseas telephone calls without warrants, he authorized it. If the military wanted to hold terrorism suspects without trial, he let it. Now the Supreme Court has struck at the core of his presidency and dismissed the notion that the president alone can determine how to defend the country. In rejecting Bush's military tribunals for terrorism suspects, the high court ruled that even a wartime commander in chief must govern within constitutional confines significantly tighter than this president has believed appropriate. For many in Washington, the decision echoed not simply as a matter of law but as a rebuke of a governing philosophy of a leader who at repeated turns has operated on the principle that it is better to act than to ask permission. This ethos is why many supporters find Bush an inspiring leader, and why many critics in this country and abroad react so viscerally against him. At a political level, the decision carries immediate ramifications. It provides fodder to critics who turned Guantanamo Bay into a metaphor for an administration run amok. Now lawmakers may have to figure out how much due process is enough for suspected terrorists, hardly the sort of issue many would be eager to engage in during the months before an election.

Moreover, the decision vindicated the more limited view of executive authority espoused by military attorneys seeking to reign-in the adminstration, as this Los Angeles Times piece indicates:

For four years, they waged what may have been the loneliest fight in the war on terrorism. Facing Bush administration hard-liners intent on finding novel ways to deal with enemy combatants, the armed services' own lawyers fought attempts to rewrite the rules of war." We argued that this would come back to haunt us and it would taint the military justice system," said retired Rear Adm. Donald Guter, the Navy's top uniformed lawyer when "military commission" trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees were first proposed in 2001. "We were warning that you would have to be careful to provide basic protections." In meeting rooms and internal debates, the military lawyers again and again challenged the Defense Department's civilian leaders, insisting that the fight against terrorism was best waged under the recognized rules: the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice. Until now, administration hawks, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, David S. Addington, had won almost every argument. This fight, they said, required more flexible guidelines, with fewer rights for those captured and fewer limits on their captors. But after Thursday's Supreme Court decision, the Pentagon faces the prospect not only of ditching the military commissions, but of rewriting large parts of the rule book it created for fighting the war on terrorism. The court's majority decision held that the war on Al Qaeda and others must be fought under international rules....Judge advocates general, or JAGs, the uniformed lawyers of the Defense Department, first found themselves at odds with the Pentagon's civilian leaders in the weeks after Sept. 11, when some within the administration began arguing that terrorism detainees should not be entitled to the same protections as traditional prisoners of war. Guter, the Navy's chief JAG until June 2002, was one of the first flag officers to argue against the commission plan, saying it was a mistake to ignore the long traditions of military justice when trying terrorism suspects. Senior administration officials told Guter and the other JAGs that the urgency to extract intelligence meant the traditional military justice system could not be used. But there was, Guter detected, more to the administration's maneuvering. "There was another motive," he said. "This was seen as an opportunity, a vehicle to restore presidential power and authority. It was a very convenient vehicle. It was perfect. Fear tends to drive power to authority and to the executive branch."

However, as I suggested in my quick post yesterday, the decision may not be that big a victory for opponents of military tribunals. Via Michelle Malkin, here's what Andrew Cochran, at the Counter-Terrorism Blog, said to that effect:

The decision is actually a huge political gift to President Bush, and the detainees will not be released that easily. The President and GOP leaders will propose a bill to override the decision and keep the terrorists in jail until they are securely transferred to host countries for permanent punishment. The Administration and its allies will release plenty of information on the terrorist acts committed by the detainees for which they were detained (see this great ABC News interview with the Gitmo warden). They will also release information about those terrorist acts committed by Gitmo prisoners after they were released. They will challenge the "judicial interference with national security" and challenge dissenting Congressmen and civil libertarians to either stand with the terrorists or the American people. The Pentagon will continue to release a small number of detainees as circumstances allow. The bill will pass easily and quickly. And if the Supremes invalidate that law, we'll see another legislative response, and another, until they get it right. Just watch.

John Yoo on Presidential Power and the Guantanamo Case

John Yoo's a Professor of Law at UC Berkeley, an American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar, and was Deputy Assitant Attorney General in the first Bush administration. His book, "The Powers of War and Peace," lays out the theory of executive autonomy in the war on terror. Yoo's got a piece up today at USA Today criticizing the Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Hamdan. Check it out:

By putting on hold military commissions to try terrorists for war crimes, five Supreme Court justices have made the legal system part of the problem, rather than part of the solution to the challenges of the war on terrorism. They tossed aside centuries of American history, judicial decisions of long standing, and a December 2005 law ordering them not to interfere with the military trials.

As commander in chief, President Bush has the authority to decide on wartime tactics and strategies. Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln and FDR settled on military commissions, sometimes with congressional approval and sometimes without, as the best tool to punish and deter enemy war crimes. Bush used them to solve a difficult tension: how to try terrorists fairly without blowing intelligence sources and methods.

The circus that was the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui shows the dangers in trying to use normal courtroom rules to prosecute terrorists intent on harming the USA. Bush's decision was supported by Congress, which authorized the president to use force in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Earlier, Congress had recognized commissions in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and last year it created an appeals process for them.

What the justices did would have been unthinkable in prior military conflicts: Judicial intervention in the decisions of the president and Congress on how best to wage war. They replaced his wartime judgment and Congress' support with their own speculation that open trials would not run intelligence risks. Their decision to impose specific rules and override political judgments about military necessity mistakes war — inherently unpredictable, and where our government must act quickly and sometimes secretly to protect national security — for the familiarity of the criminal justice system.

Two years ago, the same justices declared they would review the military's detention of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Congress and the president expended time and energy to overrule them. Hamdan will force our elected leaders to go through the same exercise again, effort better spent preventing the next terrorist attack.
Here's USA Today's editorial: Suspects deserve fair trials. For the background to the Hamdan case, click here.

"Not Everything is Fit to Print": The Wall Street Journal Defends its Editorial Policies

In Monday's post, Burkean Refections asked "Is the Wall Street Journal Equally Responsible for the SWIFT Disclosure?" It's apparently a question on the minds of many, especially since the New York Times has been using WSJ for some cover against the recriminations arising from its June 23 article. Today's lead WSJ editorial provides the answer. They note an important point --something careful newspaper readers likely recognize -- that WSJ editorial sections for news and opinion are separate enitities with different editors (and thus the WSJ's Review and Outlook editors had no hand in the paper's Friday article, "Treasury Tracks Financial Data in Secret Program"). Here's an excerpt from the editorial, beginning with some background:

According to Tony Fratto, Treasury's Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, he first contacted the Times some two months ago. He had heard Times reporters were asking questions about the highly classified program involving Swift, an international banking consortium that has cooperated with the U.S. to follow the money making its way to the likes of al Qaeda or Hezbollah. Mr. Fratto went on to ask the Times not to publish such a story on grounds that it would damage this useful terror-tracking method.
Sometime later, Secretary John Snow invited Times Executive Editor Bill Keller to his Treasury office to deliver the same message. Later still, Mr. Fratto says, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the leaders of the 9/11 Commission, made the same request of Mr. Keller. Democratic Congressman John Murtha and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte also urged the newspaper not to publish the story.

The Times decided to publish anyway, letting Mr. Fratto know about its decision a week ago Wednesday. The Times agreed to delay publishing by a day to give Mr. Fratto a chance to bring the appropriate Treasury official home from overseas. Based on his own discussions with Times reporters and editors, Mr. Fratto says he believed "they had about 80% of the story, but they had about 30% of it wrong." So the Administration decided that, in the interest of telling a more complete and accurate story, they would declassify a series of talking points about the program. They discussed those with the Times the next day, June 22.

Around the same time, Treasury contacted Journal reporter Glenn Simpson to offer him the same declassified information. Mr. Simpson has been working the terror finance beat for some time, including asking questions about the operations of Swift, and it is a common practice in Washington for government officials to disclose a story that is going to become public anyway to more than one reporter. Our guess is that Treasury also felt Mr. Simpson would write a straighter story than the Times, which was pushing a violation-of-privacy angle; on our reading of the two June 23 stories, he did.

We recount all this because more than a few commentators have tried to link the Journal and Times at the hip. On the left, the motive is to help shield the Times from political criticism. On the right, the goal is to tar everyone in the "mainstream media." But anyone who understands how publishing decisions are made knows that different newspapers make up their minds differently.

Some argue that the Journal should have still declined to run the antiterror story. However, at no point did Treasury officials tell us not to publish the information. And while Journal editors knew the Times was about to publish the story, Treasury officials did not tell our editors they had urged the Times not to publish. What Journal editors did know is that they had senior government officials providing news they didn't mind seeing in print. If this was a "leak," it was entirely authorized.

Would the Journal have published the story had we discovered it as the Times did, and had the Administration asked us not to? Speaking for the editorial columns, our answer is probably not. Mr. Keller's argument that the terrorists surely knew about the Swift monitoring is his own leap of faith. The terror financiers might have known the U.S. could track money from the U.S., but they might not have known the U.S. could follow the money from, say, Saudi Arabia. The first thing an al Qaeda financier would have done when the story broke is check if his bank was part of Swift.

Just as dubious is the defense in a Times editorial this week that "The Swift story bears no resemblance to security breaches, like disclosure of troop locations, that would clearly compromise the immediate safety of specific individuals." In this asymmetric war against terrorists, intelligence and financial tracking are the equivalent of troop movements. They are America's main weapons.

The Times itself said as much in a typically hectoring September 24, 2001, editorial "Finances of Terror": "Much more is needed, including stricter regulations, the recruitment of specialized investigators and greater cooperation with foreign banking authorities." Isn't the latter precisely what the Swift operation is?

Whether the Journal News department would agree with us in this or other cases, we can't say. We do know, however, that Journal editors have withheld stories at the government's request in the past, notably during the Gulf War when they learned that a European company that had sold defense equipment to Iraq was secretly helping the Pentagon. Readers have to decide for themselves, based on our day-to-day work, whether they think Journal editors are making the correct publishing judgments.
Read the whole thing. The editors argue that NYT is trying to tie itself to WSJ because the latter has more credibility on these issues. They suggest that readers will have to make the ultimate determination as to whether WSJ erred by publishing its SWIFT story last week. The WSJ editors, I would argue, do a nice job of distinguishing themselves from NYT, particularly Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. Neverthess, WSJ might not have had to respond in this fashion had they waited a bit before publishing their SWIFT story. This Burkean post has links to my previous entries on the topic.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Will Gas Prices Drag Down the Republicans in November?

The new Los Angeles Times poll, "Economic Jitters an Albatross for Bush," finds just half of the respondents indicating satisfaction with the strength of the national economy. Oddly, the survey's results coincide with the new upward adjustment of first quarter GDP growth to 5.6 percent. Presidents are usually blamed for poor economic performance, but Bush can't seem to get a break, despite the administration's aggressive campaign to trumpet the economy's strengths:

The findings suggest that there isn't much Bush can do to improve his standing on these issues in the short run because unemployment is low by historical standards and the price of energy is largely beyond the president's control. The national unemployment rate has been steadily declining over the last three years, from 6.3% in June 2003 to 4.6% last month, the lowest rate since 2001. Bush notes the economy's health almost every time he speaks on domestic issues — most recently on Tuesday, when he told a conservative conference: "We're the envy of the industrialized world … and as the result of the growing economy, the national unemployment rate is 4.6%. That's low. That means your fellow citizens are going to work. That means people are having a chance to put food on the table." But administration officials have expressed frustration at the difficulty of gaining widespread public credit for the economy's strengths in the face of high gasoline prices — a basic economic reality that confronts drivers every day. "Higher energy prices do make it more difficult for people to feel like the economy is doing well," Dan Bartlett, one of Bush's top aides, said Wednesday.He added that the war in Iraq "also makes it difficult for people to feel optimistic about the overall economy. The administration will continue to press the case."
Sixty percent of those polled said that Bush bears responsibility for the high costs of gas. The president's party usually loses seats in midterm elections -- for example, the Republicans lost 5 House seats in 1986 during the Reagan administration, and the Democrats lost 52 seats in 1994, when Clinton was in office. Nineteen-ninety-four was, of course, the year of the GOP electoral earthquake, and perceptions of a slow econonomic recovery contributed to the Democratic losses. Gas prices are coming down though, so it remains to be seen how stable these poll number will be, and what affect they may have on GOP prospects for maintaining majority control this fall.

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Guantanamo Military Trials

The United States Supreme Court today rejected the Bush administration's Guantanamo military detainee commissions. I previously blogged about this term's blockbuster cases here. The Post's William Branigin has the background:

The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners. In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized by any act of Congress and that their structure and procedures violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion in the case, called Hamdan v. Rumsfeld . Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. recused himself. The ruling, which overturned a federal appeals court decision in which Roberts had participated, represented a defeat for President Bush, who had ordered military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. About 450 detainees captured in the war on terrorism are currently held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. Trying them before military commissions would place them under greater restrictions and afford them fewer rights than they would get in federal courts or regular military courts. Bush said he would consult with Congress to seek "a way forward" after the ruling, which reversed the appeals court ruling on statutory grounds, avoiding major constitutional issues. Answering questions at a news conference with the visiting Japanese prime minister, Bush said, "The American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street. . . . I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. . . . I will protect the people and at the same time conform with the findings of the Supreme Court." Bush added, "I want to find a way forward. In other words, I have told the people that I would like for there to be a way to return people from Guantanamo to their home countries. But some people need to be tried in our courts, and the Hamdan decision was the way forward for that part of my statement." The case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 36-year-old Yemeni with links to al-Qaeda, was considered a key test of the judiciary's power during wartime and carried the potential to make a lasting impact on American law. It challenged the very legality of the military commissions established by President Bush to try terrorism suspects.
Bush had been moving to close Guantanamo, in any case, and the court's ruling was largely expected -- and the closing may in fact provide face-saving cover for the administration, even though some of the world's most hardened terrorists are being held there.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Reflections on the Peculiar Institution

I left a comment while surfing the other day at Mentally Unstable. Alison, the blog's author, said she had been reading as many novels as possible, and I asked which ones? On her next blog post, she said she was reading "Atlas Shrugged," by Ann Rand. I'm thinking -- Wow! That's awesome. I read Rand's "The Fountainhead" almost twenty years ago, and I'm meaning to begin "Atlas Shrugged" myself (it's a thick one, so it's been hard to commit).

I'm currently reading "Jubilee," by Margaret Walker. It's a novel of slavery. I'm really fascinated by it so far, and I've only read 50-plus pages. I have a lot of expertise on black politics in America, and I taught a course on the subject as a graduate lecturer in 1999 (UCSB's Political Science 176), but I haven't actually read a whole lot of books on slavery, fiction or non-fiction. I started, but never finished, Ira Berlin's "Many Thousands Gone." However, Leon Litwack's "Trouble in Mind" and Earl and Merle Black's, "Politics and Society in the South" are two of my favorite books, and both have left a deep imprint on my thinking about race in the United States.

As for "Jubilee," I was really moved by a passage I read, whereby one of the main characters, Vyry, along with her Aunt Sally, went to attend a Baptist Church meeting while on leave from the plantation. The meeting turned out to be no ordinary Sunday prayer session, as a number of abolitionists were there. They were agitating for a black uprising against slavery across the South. It was an envigorating speech! But Uncle Joe, one of the older black slaves from Vyry's plantation, was scared, and denounced talk of abolition as foolhardy:

That's foolish talk you talking boy, foolish and dangerous, too. Here you is ain't dry behind your ears and here you come talking bout how us gwine be free. Does you know how many hundreds and hundreds of years we's been slaves? Does you know how long since the white man brung us here from Afficky to this here America? You know how come? Well, you know what God told Ham, don't you? You know what we is, don't you. Just hewers of wood and drawers of water, that's what we is. That's our punishment for being black. Yall can swell up, swell on up if you want to, like a dead dog, until you bust. I knows what you think I is, but I'm telling you now bout getting free. You might be willing to die cause you ain't gotta die, and you might be willing to get whipped, but I ain't fixing to say die, and I ain't fixing to get whipped. Sho, us is uprising, niggers uprising all the time and look what happening. Ain't none of them uprising yet went free. Tell me one time they come free, I'm asking you? Just tell me one time. You know when us gwine free? I can tell you cause I knows. Us gwine free when the Good Lord say so and not before, when He come riding in His chariot bringing a Moses with Him. If He means for me to go free, I'm gwine go free one of these days...Lord knows I'd like to be ables to go wheresomever I wants to go, do what I wants to do, have my own farm, raise my own taters and cotton and corn, and be my own marster, man, and boss like you is, but I knows the Lord's will gwine be, and I'm waiting on the Lord...."
This was an extremely moving passage for me. My dad grew up in Jim Crow-era Missouri. Stories he told me, and stories told to me by his close friends, ring close to Uncle Joe's lament in "Jubilee." Blacks in the antibellum South grew strength from their faith in deliverance to the promised land -- the "old negro spiritual" that Martin Luther King spoke of in his "I Have a Dream Speech." I'll write some follow-ups to this post as I move through the book. It's quite good thus far.

The War on Terror and the "Good War"

World War II is remembered nostalgically as "The Good War." The reference is to the essential goodness in the cause for which Americans were fighting in the 1940s: The utter destruction of fascist totalitarianism and its threat to world freedom. The U.S. is engaged in no less of a Manichaean struggle today, although sometimes the Bush administration's public relations strategy has not been effective enough in selling that point (see Melvin Laird's argument to this effect). Jules Crittenden has an essay up today at the Boston Herald arguing that the enemies of the Bush foreign policy have taken advantage of the adminstration's (early) laid-back approach to selling the global war on terror. It's a very interesting piece. Here's the opening:

Some people just don’t get it. Five years on, some people remain unaware that this is war; that we are facing an enemy that will do anything in its power to destroy us. The fact that on any given day we are free to fly around the world, drive our cars without restriction and buy as much food as we like in rich variety seems to have confused them. The lack of U-boats attacking the shipping lanes has lulled some people into thinking this is not actually a war. Not a real war, certainly not a good war, not like World War II. They mock the very notion that it is a war, having fun with the name “Global War on Terror.” They put forward the notion that, like almost everything else in our American lives, this thing that has been called a war is a choice. A bad choice. Who can blame them? Even fighting in this war, unlike most of the great wars our that threatened our existence in the past, is a choice made by a small percentage of Americans who have joined the Armed Forces. George Bush, while announcing that we were at war five years ago, made a decision to encourage Americans to go about their business as usual. Rather than mobilizing the country for war, he decided he could fight this unconventional war by unconventional means, and with the forces already at hand. Normalcy had its uses as a weapon. It showed that our enemy could not hobble us. In other respects, it was a mistake. With our military now hyperextended in Iraq, we could use an army twice as large or even larger. Our enemies are emboldened by the belief that we are tied down in Iraq. Iran, correctly identified by Bush as an evil menace, is doing everything it can to live up to that reputation. Somalia, which we walked away from under Bill Clinton, is now under the control of al-Qaeda sympathizers. Syria, at best, turns a blind eye to the terrorists who torment Iraq. The Taliban in Afghanistan have stepped up operations to an unprecedented level in an effort to destablize that country. Bush chose not to treat this as total war, insisting it could be done with some finetuning of the resources at hand. His domestic opposition has taken that idea several steps farther, insisting Islamic terrorism is a police problem that does not require military force and certainly not the suspension of some legal niceties. After all, they do not consider it an actual war of the sort faced by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt when they destroyed cities and imprisoned anyone who threatened the security of the nation.
It is an actual war, of course, and our progress in Iraq and elsewhere is bringing positive change, despite the efforts of the mainstream media to sabotage the way forward.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What's Your Political Philosophy? Take This Quiz and See

The Orange County Register ran a fun political philosophy quiz on their commentary page a week or so back (free registration may be required). Here's part of the preamble:

Are you a rock-solid freedom lover, a closet authoritarian or an in-your-face socialist? Take the Register's first Freedom Quiz and see. It's devised with new [high school] graduates in mind, to help them understand their political philosophy as they head out into the real world or back into the not-so-real world of academia. Register editorial writers Alan Bock, John Seiler and Steven Greenhut developed these questions to highlight aspects of "small l" libertarianism, the freedom philosophy that animates our pages. We believe in limited government, respect for the individual, self-responsibility, free markets, free trade and property rights. Enough of that before we give away too much of our testing bias!
I quizzed-out at a about a 15 or 16. I support the executive autonomy theory of presidential power, so I had significant disagreement with the libertarian position on this query (I answered "b"):

Our government seems to get in a lot of wars without a declaration of war by Congress, as the U.S.Constitution demands. You conclude that:
a) The Constitution is a "horse and buggy" document, as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, and in the space age, modern democracy and freedom demand more leeway in the actions of the chief executive to protect us.

b) The age of terrorism demands quicker action to preserve our liberties than allowed by the Constitution. If the president needs to act decisively, he should do so and then later get the explicit approval of Congress for any military actions.

c) Congress needs to re-assert itself and insist that only it can declare war.

Blogosphere Reaction to the SWIFT Program Affair

There's an opinion and blogosphere roundup on the reaction to the SWIFT program controversy over at Opinion L.A., the Los Angeles Times' opinion blog. The post included a link to this compilation of Volokh Conspiracy posts on a potential N.Y. Times prosecution. My posts so far on the controversy can be found here, here, here, and here.

Golden State Magnetism: Why California is the World's Top Immigrant Destination

I've blogged quite a bit over the last couple of months on illegal immigration, for example, on the radical takeover of the recent immigration protests and on the impediments to securing our southern border. Thus it was a real pleasure to read this piece in the Los Angeles Times yesterday on the continued allure of the California Dream. The story is particularly noteworthy because it is a chronicle of the legal immigration process at work. Here are accounts of people moving from all over the world -- the internal migration found in Americans relocating to the sunny climes of the California coast and the external migration of citizens the world over looking for a fresh start in the land of opportunity. Below is a key passage from the article. For the graphic on California's projected growth click here.

For all the attention focused of late on illegal immigration, California is by far the favorite destination of legal immigrants to the United States — about 200,000 in 2005 alone. Moreover, although the numbers fluctuate with the economy, the Golden State remains a powerful domestic magnet as well, with about 600,000 people from other states arriving here last year. No matter how taxing life sometimes seems here in the most populous state in America, newcomers still outnumber defectors, drawn by varying notions of the California dream." California is one of the very few states whose allure has never faded," said Marc Perry, chief of the Census Bureau's Population Distribution Branch. "The faces of the immigrants change, the tongues they speak change, but the people keep coming."Why do they come? One of the strongest and most enduring reasons is the sunshine itself. " A Climate for Health & Wealth Without Cyclones or Blizzards," boasted an 1885 booklet from the Chicago-based California Immigration Commission....

Not everyone comes for the sunshine, of course. Galina Angarova was wooed in part by what all that sunlight produces. Living in Moscow, she met and married a Northern Californian. They moved to San Francisco in August; she never wants to leave. In the Siberian village where she was born, she said, "not a lot of things are available, even food. You will not find an avocado....A lot of my friends don't know what sushi is." Angarova, 30, is eating her way through San Francisco. "The number of good restaurants here on Fillmore Street," she said, "exceeds the number of good restaurants in all of Moscow. "The quality and range of the food here are indeed a wonder, thanks to some of the world's most bountiful soil and accomplished chefs. Even the grumpiest Californians would concede that. But try driving across town to a favorite restaurant, they say. Try to find parking at your favorite market. Still, newcomers tend to see congestion differently from longtime residents' view. When Vasinee Florey, 45, left suburban Bangkok for suburban San Francisco, the first thing she noticed about the traffic was that "it's better" here." You should see the traffic in Thailand, especially in Bangkok," she said. "You cannot go far in an hour." Everything's relative, in other words. Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California, crunched census statistics to uncover the reasons why some people come and go. California's humming economy was the strongest draw; the unemployment rate in several big counties, including Orange, San Diego and Riverside, is significantly under the national rate. More than a third of the arrivals from other states told the Census Bureau recently that they're here for job reason.
Stories like these have been repeated again and again over generations. It's heartening to be reminded of the vibrancy of the American promise and the success of the legal immigration process. This is the way America ought to be taking in its newcomers -- in contrast to the millions of undocumented aliens who cross our borders and then demand to be put in front of the line in securing benefits and legal status.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Is the Wall Street Journal Equally Responsible for the SWIFT Disclosure?

There are some interesting posts up at Patterico's Pontifications, especially this one on whether The Wall Street Journal is equally responsible for the disclosure of the government's financial intelligence program. Patterico's main contention: "The Wall Street Journal simply printed a story using on-the-record interviews with named government officials who knew the East and West Coast Timeses were going to print the story anyway." See this related post from Patterico as well.

Patterico cancelled his LAT subscription over the paper's role in the SWIFT program affair. I'd like to think, though, that perhaps the WSJ might have done better to wait until the Monday's edition to run a marquee story on the whole affair. In any case, the Los Angeles Times, as liberal as it is, regularly runs very centrist commentaries on its editorial page, for example, on the threat coming out of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, as well as this editorial in today' paper on the likely liabilities the Democratic Party may face coming out of last week's debate on an early Iraq withdrawal. Here's an excerpt:

IT'S UNDERSTANDABLE THAT DEMOCRATS in the U.S. Senate would use the war in Iraq to send a political message to the party faithful, as some did last week in voting for doomed resolutions to fast-track the withdrawal (or "redeployment") of U.S. forces from that country. Trouble is, the message sent to the rest of the country may be that Democrats who are more liberal can't be trusted when it comes to national security. That message is likely to stick even if the Bush administration decides on its own to draw down the U.S. presence. Over the weekend, an administration official confirmed reports that Army Gen. George W. Casey has devised plans that could produce sharp reductions in U.S. forces as early as September and cut the number of combat brigades by nearly two-thirds by late 2007. But if President Bush follows that advice, he can say that he is simply living up to his oft-stated promise to defer to the judgment of battlefield commanders rather than play politics with troop levels. Playing politics is, unfortunately, an apt description of last week's Senate debate. It was mostly election-year posturing — on both sides. The debate gave Republicans an opportunity to warn their red-state base that Democrats wanted to "cut and run."

Will the N.Y. Times Face Prosecution in the SWIFT Program Affair?

Top bloggers are likely to have a field day with the fallout from the New York Times' disclosure of the SWIFT financial intelligence program. I put up a blog post about this yesterday. Now, over at Real Clear Politics, blogger Tom Bevan asks: "Should the NY Times be Prosecuted?" Bevan is referencing the call from U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY) for a criminal investigation of NYT. Here are the key remarks from Congressman King, who is responding to Chris Wallace of FOX News:

Chris, I think the administration acted entirely appropriately. The 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case gives them, to me, the absolute right to do this. They're in full compliance with all statutes. To me, the real question here is the conduct of The New York Times. By disclosing this in time of war, they have compromised America's antiterrorist policies. This is a very effective policy. They have compromised it. This is the second time The New York Times has done this. And to me, nobody elected The New York Times to do anything. And The New York Times is putting its own arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda before the interests of the American people. And I'm calling on the attorney general to begin a criminal investigation and prosecution of The New York Times, its reporters, the editors that worked on this, and the publisher. We're in time of war, Chris, and what they've done here is absolutely disgraceful. I believe they violated the Espionage Act, the Comint Act. This is absolutely disgraceful. The time has come for the American people to realize and The New York Times to realize we're at war and they can't be just on their own deciding what to declassify, what to release. If Congress wants to work on this privately, that's one thing. But for them to, on their own — for them to decide — for the editor of The New York Times to say that he decides it's in the national interest — no one elected them to anything.
I first heard the news about this last night from the guys at Power Line Blog. For President Bush's denunciation of the Times this morning, check this post from Power Line as well.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Right Party: Why the GOP Will Remain Dominant after November

I've blogged previously on the Democrats' chances to retake control of the House in the November midterms, as well as on the implications of the 50 congressional district primary earlier this month (see here and here). One main point I've stressed so far is that the Republicans enjoy structural advantages in their efforts to maintain majority control. That theme is addressed by Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger in this commentary in today's Los Angeles Times. Indeed, Wallsten and Hamburger have a new book out on the GOP's structural hegemony and the party's long-term plan to transform American politics. Here's an excerpt from the essay, discussing how the results from the 50th congressional demonstrate how the GOP builds and maintains power:

The fact is that over two or three decades, the GOP has painstakingly built up a series of structural advantages that make the party increasingly difficult to beat. And in the last five years, it has strengthened its hold under President Bush and his political guru, Karl Rove. Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate to take power. And Republicans may well suffer some setbacks. But if the GOP retains control of Congress despite such a gloomy political climate — or even if it keeps control of just one chamber and narrowly loses the other — party leaders can rightfully argue that their long-term goal of constructing a lasting political majority remains viable. The Republican fortress has many underpinnings, such as gerrymandered congressional districts that favor the GOP, an intellectual infrastructure that churns ideas through conservative think tanks and media, an ever-stronger political and policy-based alliance with corporate America, and the most sophisticated vote-tracking technology around. Some of the GOP advantages are recent developments, such as the database called Voter Vault, which was used to precision in the San Diego County special election. The program allows ground-level party activists to track voters by personal hobbies, professional interests, geography — even by their favorite brands of toothpaste and soda and which gym they belong to. Both parties can identify voters by precinct, address, party affiliation and, often, their views on hot-button issues. Democrats also use marketing data, but Voter Vault includes far more information culled from marketing sources — including retailers, magazine subscription services, even auto dealers — giving Republicans a high-tech edge in the kind of grass-roots politics that has long been the touchstone of Democratic activists. As a result, Republicans have moved well ahead of Democrats nationally in their ability to find previously unaffiliated voters or even wavering Democrats and to target them with specially tailored messages. Voter Vault, although it is a closely guarded GOP trade secret, is nevertheless easily accessible to on-the-ground campaign workers and operatives should they need to mobilize votes in a hurry.
I imagine Wallsten and Hamburger's argument is similar to that of Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait's in The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. Of course, the predictive power of their analyses will be tested by fall's midterm results. But Bush's polls numbers have come back up a little bit since the Zarqawi elimination, and the Democrats looked pretty divided this last couple of weeks in the congressional debates on an early Iraq withdrawal. I'm still skeptical that this year's elections will equal those of the electoral earthquake of 1994. We'll see!

Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Press Freedom and Responsibility

I blogged on the New York Times' disclosure of the SWIFT program this morning. But check out this post yesterday at Liberty Just in Case, which quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn's commencement address at Harvard University in 1978:

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media). But what sort of use does it make of this freedom? Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, it does not happen, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance. Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified, they will stay on in the readers' memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters, pertaining to one's nation's defense, publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: "everyone is entitled to know everything." But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era: people also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.
Solzhenitsyn knows a little something about shameless intrusions, in his case more of the totalitarian kind. I read parts of Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelalgo as an undergraduate.

"National Security Be Damned": Heather MacDonald on the New York Times

Heather MacDonald is a Manhattan Institute Fellow and a Contributing Editor at City Journal. She's got a new piece up at the Weekly Standard on the New York Times' disclosure last Friday of the SWIFT financial tracking program:

BY NOW IT'S UNDENIABLE: The New York Times is a national security threat. So drunk is it on its own power and so antagonistic to the Bush administration that it will expose every classified antiterror program it finds out about, no matter how legal the program, how carefully crafted to safeguard civil liberties, or how vital to protecting American lives. The Times's latest revelation of a national security secret appeared on last Friday's front page--where no al Qaeda operative could possibly miss it. Under the deliberately sensational headline, "Bank Data Sifted in Secret by U.S. to Block Terror," the Times blows the cover on a highly targeted program to locate terrorist financing networks. According to the report, since 9/11, the Bush administration has obtained information about terror suspects' international financial transactions from a Belgian clearinghouse of international money transfers....

Now that the Times has blown the cover on this terror-tracking initiative, sophisticated terrorists will figure out how to evade it, according to the Treasury's top counterterrorism official, Stuart Levey, speaking to the Wall Street Journal. The lifeblood of international terrorism--cash--will once again flow undetected. The bottom line is this: No classified secret necessary to fight terrorism is safe once the Times hears of it, at least as long as the Bush administration is in power. The Times justifies its national security breaches by the mere hypothetical possibility of abuse--without providing any evidence that this financial tracking program, or any other classified antiterror initiative that it has revealed, actually has been abused. To the contrary, the paper reports that one employee was taken off the Swift program for conducting a search that did not obviously fall within the guidelines. The truth the Times evades is that while every power, public or private, can be misused, the mere possibility of abuse does not mean that a necessary power should be discarded. Instead, the rational response is to create checks that minimize the risk of abuse. Under the Times's otherworldly logic, the United States might be better off with no government at all, because governmental power can be abused. It should not have newspapers, because the power of the press can be abused to harm the national interest (as the Times so amply demonstrates). Police forces should be disbanded, because police officers can overstep their authority. National security wiretaps? Heavens! Expose all of them.
The New York Times wasn't the only paper to publish the story; the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal did so as well (the first hard-copy article I looked at Friday morning was the WSJ's story on the program). Over at the National Review, Andrew McCarthy denounced the American press altogether, indicting the media's "war against the war." The most depressing aspect of the whole thing is the loss of such a successful counterterrorism operation -- a tremendous blow to the security of the American people. What a tragedy!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Labor Market Polarization: Has the Middle Class Lost Upward Mobility?

Last week, The Economist ran this intriguing piece on rising income inequality in the United States. The article looks at an explanatory puzzle: What accounts for the rising shares of income for those at the very top? Is it disparities in individuals' technology skills? Globalization, and particularly the impact of China and India on the world economy? Outsourcing? Here's some introduction:

AMERICANS do not go in for envy. The gap between rich and poor is bigger than in any other advanced country, but most people are unconcerned. Whereas Europeans fret about the way the economic pie is divided, Americans want to join the rich, not soak them. Eight out of ten, more than anywhere else, believe that though you may start poor, if you work hard, you can make pots of money. It is a central part of the American Dream. The political consensus, therefore, has sought to pursue economic growth rather than the redistribution of income, in keeping with John Kennedy's adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The tide has been rising fast recently. Thanks to a jump in productivity growth after 1995, America's economy has outpaced other rich countries' for a decade. Its workers now produce over 30% more each hour they work than ten years ago. In the late 1990s everybody shared in this boom. Though incomes were rising fastest at the top, all workers' wages far outpaced inflation. But after 2000 something changed. The pace of productivity growth has been rising again, but now it seems to be lifting fewer boats. After you adjust for inflation, the wages of the typical American worker—the one at the very middle of the income distribution—have risen less than 1% since 2000. In the previous five years, they rose over 6%. If you take into account the value of employee benefits, such as health care, the contrast is a little less stark. But, whatever the measure, it seems clear that only the most skilled workers have seen their pay packets swell much in the current economic expansion. The fruits of productivity gains have been skewed towards the highest earners, and towards companies, whose profits have reached record levels as a share of GDP.
The data are not all that startling. As the article notes, the U.S. is known for its huge gaps in economic attainment. Nevertheless, the article argues that labor market polarization will remain a structural feature of the U.S. economy for some time. (Be sure to take a look at some of the empirical economic studies cited.)
Now, articles in The Economist often lack a byline, although the dateline for this story indicates the piece was filed in Washington, D.C. So it could be that Adrian Wooldridge was the author, as he is the The Economist's Washington Bureau correspondent, and the author of The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. It turns out that Wooldridge has got a provocative piece in the new Policy Review that argues that there's some renewed interest in "psychoeconometric" studies of individual-level factors in economic attainment. In other words, it's not structural economic influences that determine labor market mobility. Wooldridge sets up his piece like this:

This essay tries to look at social mobility from the other end of the telescope. It looks back to an Anglo-American world where people started off with the opposite assumption from that of today’s journalists: not that we should be surprised that people follow their parents into their jobs but that we should accept that as the natural state of affairs. It focuses on a group of thinkers who tried to grapple with the emerging problem of social mobility — but whose first instinct was not to look at social forces but at individual characteristics. Why do some people climb up the social ladder while others stay put? What personal characteristics account for the fact that some people “get ahead” in life and others fall behind?

The purpose of this examination is threefold. The first is to remind people that there are two issues involved in any study of social mobility: the social forces that determine the shape of society and the individual qualities that determine the life chances of particular individuals. This is something that the Victorians instinctively understood but that their descendants, particularly since the 1960s, have tended to forget. The second is to remind people that explanations of individual social mobility have varied widely over the years, from individual character to individual intelligence to blind chance. And the third is to argue that the second of these theories — the one concerned with individual intelligence — is much the most interesting. This is the school of thought that flourished from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth and that helped to reshape educational systems from America (through the sats) to Britain (through the 11+) to India and Singapore. This school of thought has lost ground in recent years as social scientists have questioned the science of individual differences and policymakers have made equality rather than equality of opportunity the aim of social policy. This loss of ground, however, has led not to a more egalitarian society but, on the contrary, to the calcification of a once mobile society on the basis of social privilege.

Liberal scholars, politicians, and activists hate looking at individual cultural attributes in explanations of wealth and poverty. But a look at the direction of fiscal and social policies in the last decade reveals that neoconservative remedies have pretty much prevailed (e.g., Clinton "ended welfare as we know it"). This is not to say that personal stories of people trying to adapt to real and dramatic structural economic change are not troubling. It does suggest the continuing power of the American work ethic and of the culture of rugged individualism. For a look at journalistic coverage of the structural changes in the U.S. economy, see the series titled "The New Deal" on economic turbulence at the Los Angeles Times and the series on "Class in America" at the New York Times.

Friday, June 23, 2006

"At the Doorstep": Should the U.S. Launch a Preventive Strike on Pyongyang's Missiles?

Ashton Carter and William Perry, two former Clinton administration defense officials, called for a preventive strike against North Korea's Taepodong missiles in an essay from yesterday's Washington Post. Here's what they say:

North Korean technicians are reportedly in the final stages of fueling a long-range ballistic missile that some experts estimate can deliver a deadly payload to the United States. The last time North Korea tested such a missile, in 1998, it sent a shock wave around the world, but especially to the United States and Japan, both of which North Korea regards as archenemies. They recognized immediately that a missile of this type makes no sense as a weapon unless it is intended for delivery of a nuclear warhead.

A year later North Korea agreed to a moratorium on further launches, which it upheld -- until now. But there is a critical difference between now and 1998. Today North Korea openly boasts of its nuclear deterrent, has obtained six to eight bombs' worth of plutonium since 2003 and is plunging ahead to make more in its Yongbyon reactor. The six-party talks aimed at containing North Korea's weapons of mass destruction have collapsed.

Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not. The Bush administration has unwisely ballyhooed the doctrine of "preemption," which all previous presidents have sustained as an option rather than a dogma. It has applied the doctrine to Iraq, where the intelligence pointed to a threat from weapons of mass destruction that was much smaller than the risk North Korea poses. (The actual threat from Saddam Hussein was, we now know, even smaller than believed at the time of the invasion.) But intervening before mortal threats to U.S. security can develop is surely a prudent policy.

Therefore, if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. This could be accomplished, for example, by a cruise missile launched from a submarine carrying a high-explosive warhead. The blast would be similar to the one that killed terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. But the effect on the Taepodong would be devastating. The multi-story, thin-skinned missile filled with high-energy fuel is itself explosive -- the U.S. airstrike would puncture the missile and probably cause it to explode. The carefully engineered test bed for North Korea's nascent nuclear missile force would be destroyed, and its attempt to retrogress to Cold War threats thwarted. There would be no damage to North Korea outside the immediate vicinity of the missile gantry.
According to Bruce Russett, in his popular textbook, World Politics: The Menu for Choice, preventive action in international relations is often called for when an adversary is "at the doorstep" in the development of new military capability. The classic case of preventive action is Israel's airstrike against Iraq's Osiraq nuclear facility in 1981. Russett notes, of course, that preventive military action is controversial, and perhaps made much more so by the Bush administration's adoption of a full-blown foreign policy doctrine of "preemption" (which in fact advocates preventive actions against imminent threats to U.S. national security). As for the recommendations of Carter and Perry, Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior editor at Commentary Magazine, points out the new "hawkisness" of the former government officials. He suggests in today's Los Angeles Times that had the two called for strikes against North Korean facilities back in 1994, we might not be facing this threat today.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Blog Party: Can "Netroot" Internet Activists Help the Democrats?

This David Broder column at the Washington Post dismisses the significance of Daily Kos and other "netroot" blogging outfits on the development of a coherent Democratic Party agenda. Here's the main thrust of the essay:

Judging from the amount of publicity they gleaned, the liberal bloggers who gathered in Las Vegas recently for the first annual Yearly Kos convention represent the cutting edge of thinking in the Democratic Party. But the blogs I have scanned are heavier on vituperation of President Bush and other targets than on creative thought. The candidates who have been adopted as heroes by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the convention's leader, and his fellow bloggers have mainly imploded in the heat of battle -- as was the case with Howard Dean in 2004 -- or come up short, as happened to the Democratic challengers in special House elections in Ohio and California. Fortunately, there are others than these "net roots" activists working on the challenge of defining the Democratic message. I do not include the Democratic congressional leadership in the hopeful camp. The new legislative "agenda" that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Co. trotted out last week was as meager as it was unimaginative. But a covey of relatively new Democratic think tanks in Washington are sponsoring conferences and lectures where more substantial policy ideas are being aired and debated. And this past week two new publications appeared -- one online and the other in print -- that promise to push the thinking of the opposition party even further. Promising as they are, the two publications also show just how hard it is to break free from conventional wisdom without leaving the universe of realistic policy.
One of these Broder mentions, The Democratic Strategist, has a publishing roster packed with some long-time Democratic Party stalwarts (but this list includes Harold Meyerson, who peddles standard, disgruntled out-party attacks on the GOP at the Washington Post, and his inclusion among the publishers likely limits the prospects for the new journal's novelty -- although Elaine Kamarck's also one of the publishers, and I've assigned some of her insightful writings in the past). For two more essays on the potential of the "Yearly Kos" convention, see Ronald Brownstein's recent piece, and this longer conceptual essay by Ryan Lizza at the New Republic Online.

Moral Outrage: More Commentary on Al Qaeda's Extremism

In yesterday's post I suggested that more commentary on the murders of Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker would be forthcoming. (California Conservative also cross-posted the essay: See "The New Face of Evil": Al Qaeda Murders American G.I.'s in Iraq.") Today's Arizona Republic, for example, argues there's no equivalent to the barbarism committed against these G.I.'s:

Enough with Abu Ghraib. Enough with the self-loathing hand-wringing over the killers harbored in comfort at Guantanamo Bay. Enough with the still-unproved condemnations of U.S. Marines at Haditha. Two U.S. Army soldiers, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca of Houston and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker of Madras, Ore., have been found dead at the hands of the still-potent terrorist insurgency in Iraq. Not just dead, but tortured, we are told. Their unrecognizable bodies dumped at a roadside that had been wired with bombs. According to an Iraqi military spokesman, the soldiers "were killed in a barbaric way." The two young soldiers - both had been in Iraq but a few months - had been captured at a checkpoint on June 16 in an attack that killed a third comrade, Spc. David J. Babineau of Springfield, Mass. If we are to properly understand - and fairly condemn - the revolting moral equivalencies that have sprung up regarding "violence begetting violence" in Iraq, the shocking deaths of Pfcs. Menchaca and Tucker would seem a proper place to start. It is not the policy of the U.S. military to torture enemy combatants, certainly not to the point that DNA tests become necessary to determine which disfigured corpse is which. It is not the policy of the U.S. military to behead captured enemies. Water-boarding and sleep deprivation strike us as bad and likely unproductive policies. Disfiguring torture and beheading strike us as the acts of barbarians and monsters. There is equivalence in this? Whatever one's judgment about the legal rights of enemy combatants held at Guantanamo, drawing parallels between isolated American excesses in a cruel war and such joyously celebrated "policies" of terrorists is just beyond the pale.
Additional moral outrage can be found at the The Squiggler. Tammy Bruce's comments denouncing the terrorists can be found here. According to Michelle Malkin, if it weren't for the media silence, I'd be posting a lot more press commentary denouncing Al Qaeda's barbarity.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"The New Face of Evil": Al Qaeda Murders American G.I.'s in Iraq

On NBC Nightly News last night, Brian Williams suggested the capture and murder of the two American soldiers outside Baghdad earlier this week revealed, in Al Qaeda's latest barbarism, the "new face of evil." The report suggested Abu Hamza al-Muhajer may have emerged as Zarqawi's successor in Iraq. Fox News had a background report on Muhajer on June 12.

The Washington Post ran a front page story on the slayings this morning. Here's the background:
Two U.S. soldiers, missing for three days since their abduction in an insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad, were found dead, a military spokesman said Tuesday, and a top U.S. commander ordered an investigation into why the men were isolated from a larger force in such a dangerous part of Iraq....According to residents of Yusufiya and a relative of one of the victims, the soldiers were beheaded. An Iraqi official said they had been brutally tortured before their death, but provided no further details.
Reports from the scene indicate the bodies of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker were apparently booby-trapped as well, which prolonged the recovery effort of U.S. forces on the scene. This New York Times story provides the details:
An American military official in Baghdad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that both bodies showed evidence of "severe trauma" and that they could not be conclusively identified. Insurgents had planted "numerous" bombs along the road leading to the bodies, and around the bodies themselves, the official said, slowing the retrieval of the Americans by 12 hours. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American military spokesman, said "the remains" of what are believed to be the two Americans were found near a power plant in the vicinity of Yusefiya, about three miles from the site were they had been captured by insurgents. General Caldwell declined to speak in detail about the physical condition of those who had been found, but said that the cause of death could not be determined. He said the remains of the men would be sent to the United States for DNA testing to determine definitively their identities. That seemed to suggest that the two Americans had been wounded or mutilated beyond recognition. "We couldn't identify them," the American military official in Baghdad said. Maj. Gen. Abdul Azziz Mohammed Jassim, the chief of operations of the Ministry of Defense, said that he had seen an official report and that he could confirm the two Americans had been "killed in a very brutal way and tortured." "There were traces of torture on their bodies, very clear traces," General Jassim said. "It was a brutal torture. The torture was something unnatural."
There'll likely be much more commentary in the press over the next few days. In the meantime, here's the editorial comment from The Oregonian, from Portland, Oregon:
It hurts just to read the news from Iraq in this newspaper today. Words on the page are insufficient vessels for the rage and heartbreak arising from the murders of Thomas Tucker of Madras and his fellow soldier, Kristian Menchaca of Houston. And make no mistake, it wasn't war. It was murder. And it's tempting to thirst for the same for the person who executed the two soldiers. If it really was Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, as a statement published online has claimed, then he has succeeded in matching the barbarism of his late, unlamented fellow murderer, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And by his butchery this week, he has brought himself closer to the same rough justice that eliminated al-Zarqawi. Nothing that happened at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay or even Haditha can compare to this. And even in those troubling cases, justice is at work, as soldiers and Marines are called to account for their actions. The process in those cases may be imperfect, and not always as swift, certain or as sweeping as it might be. But it speaks to the effort of an open society to redress its wrongs. There is no trace of justice in the capture and slaughter of two soldiers. Only a person who can justify the murder of nonbelievers in an effort to gain political power can countenance such a thing. The killings seemed to be aimed at influencing policy in this country and in Iraq by spreading fear. The terrorists used these murders to re-state their power to strike violently, undo political progress and humiliate the United States. Our government, as well as Iraq's fledgling government, soon will -- and should -- demonstrate its resolve to prove the opposite....The murders of two American soldiers by terrorists form a bond of sorrow that neither war-weary Iraqis nor Americans sought. But the bond is a testament to the nature of their common enemy. It is an enemy that knows only self-interest, considers violence righteous and exploits the vulnerable. It is an enemy that has no place in tomorrow's Iraq.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Update from Afghanistan: The Taliban's War on Schoolgirls

Here's a disturbing piece from Newsweek's International Edition on the Taliban's campaign in Afghanistan to turn back the clock on the country' s educational revolution. Check it out:

Summer vacation has only begun, but as far as 12-year-old Nooria is concerned, the best thing is knowing she has a school to go back to in the fall. She couldn't be sure the place would stay open four months ago, after the Taliban tried to burn it down. Late one February night, more than a dozen masked gunmen burst into the 10-room girls' school in Nooria's village, Mandrawar, about 100 miles east of Kabul. They tied up and beat the night watchman, soaked the principal's office and the library with gasoline, set it on fire and escaped into the darkness. The townspeople, who doused the blaze before it could spread, later found written messages from the gunmen promising to cut off the nose and ears of any teacher or student who dared to return.
The Taliban's campaign of intimidation didn't work, and within days school authorities had the schools up and running again. Nooria, the Afghani student mentioned above, is committed to her education, and is working hard to become a teacher herself:

Schoolgirls need that kind of courage in Afghanistan. Unable to win on the battlefield, the Taliban are trying to discredit the Kabul government by blocking its efforts to raise Afghanistan out of its long dark age. They particularly want to undo one of the biggest changes of the past four years: the resumption of education for girls, which the Taliban outlawed soon after taking power in 1996. "The extremists want to show the people that the government and the international community cannot keep their promises," says Ahmad Nader Nadery of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Today the Ministry of Education says the country has 1,350 girls' schools, along with 2,900 other institutions that hold split sessions, with girls-only classes in the afternoon. (Coeducation is still forbidden.) More than a third of Afghanistan's 5 million schoolchildren are now girls, compared with practically none in early 1992. In the last six months, however, Taliban attacks and threats of attacks have disrupted or shut down more than 300 of those schools.
Stories like this remind us why we fight. Defeating terrorism also entails rooting out the violent radical fundamentalist ideologies that perpetuate such gender apartheid. Afghanistan's treatment of women is one of the key topics in my Introduction to Comparative Politics course. I schedule every semester a writing assignment around the presentation of the film, "Osama," a film by Afghan-born director Siddiq Barmak. The story's an incredibly compelling portrayal of life in Afghanistan before the U.S. toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. The film received widespread critical acclamation. See, for example, two glowing (and sympathetic) reviews here and here.

Cut and Run? John Murtha's Counsel of Defeat

Representative John Murtha's been the Democrat's most vocal advocate for immediate withdraw from Iraq. The Wall Street Journal slammed his defeatist policy prescription in an editorial yesterday. Here's a excerpt:

American and Iraqi forces are on the offensive once again, deploying around the terrorist stronghold of Ramadi and beginning a drive to bring order to Baghdad. This is welcome news, not least because it underscores how wrong and defeatist Congressman Jack Murtha and his Democratic colleagues are in demanding an immediate U.S. withdrawal in Iraq.

With a new Iraq government finally in place, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi dead, now would be the worst time to tell Iraqis they are on their own. This is the moment to capitalize on this recent run of good news to show the Iraqi public, Sunnis and Shiites both, that the insurgency cannot win. If this requires more American troops and more offensive operations for some months to come, then that is what the Bush Administration should now consider.

It's in this context that last week's votes on Iraq in Congress are so important. President Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad did a lot to assure Iraqis about U.S. resolve. But the free Iraqi media have also made Iraqis acutely aware of debates in the Congress, especially with the American media trumpeting Mr. Murtha's demands for a U.S. retreat and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi describing the war as a "grotesque mistake."

So it was a good idea for Republican leaders to put Democrats on record and see if they really had the courage of their antiwar convictions. On Friday, the House voted 256 to 153 to approve a nonbinding resolution acknowledging Iraq as a central front in the war on terror and asserting that "it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment" of troops. The 153 votes for retreat included three Republicans.

Over in the Senate, meanwhile, former Democratic standard bearer John Kerry was embarrassed Thursday when Republican Mitch McConnell offered for a vote on the floor the text of a withdrawal resolution that Mr. Kerry had been promoting. Democrats cried foul and helped reject the resolution by 93-6. But the vote was useful for exposing Democrats who say the U.S. should leave Iraq but don't want to be responsible for the consequences of their proposal.

The votes were also useful in exposing the kind of policy that the Kerry-Murtha Democrats would pursue if they retake Congress in November. Some three-fourths of House Democrats have now put themselves on record as favoring precipitous withdrawal. This is a policy that even their own potential 2008 standard bearer, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has said is not a smart strategy. And it is surely an issue that voters should be aware of as they head for the polls....

Which brings us back to the Bush Administration and the current opportunity in Iraq. President Bush has himself sometimes sounded as if he too is eager to draw down U.S. forces, and within the Army there is also a strong desire to come home. However, neither Republicans nor Army officers will get any political relief from a withdrawal unless the Iraq project is seen as successful. What frustrates Americans is taking casualties in an endless deployment without a strategy for victory. The only politically winning path to withdrawal is to help the new government provide security by beating the insurgency.

Iraq is different from Vietnam in many ways, but its main similarity is that any defeat won't be inflicted on the battlefield. The U.S. won big military victories at least twice in Vietnam, in the 1968 Tet offensive and the 1972 bombing campaign, only to squander them because of defeatism in Washington. The U.S. has sacrificed too much already in Iraq to withdraw just when victory once again looks possible.
Also yesterday, Betsy's Page had a couple of posts on Murtha, addressing his qualifications as a military expert and his call for a Somalia-like withdrawal.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Robert Kagan on Global Anti-American Hostility

Robert Kagan's a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment. A few years back he published "Power and Weakness," one of the most provocative foreign policy essays to come out during the first Bush administration (which later appeared in a thin book version). Kagan's got a piece in today's Washington Post on global anti-Americanism. He recently attended a public policy panel in London, during which the group's discussion broke out into unrelenting attacks on American foreign policy:

The interesting thing was that the Iraq war was far from the main topic. George W. Bush hardly came up. The panelists focused instead on a long list of grievances against the United States stretching back over six decades. There was much discussion of the "colonial legacy" and "neo-colonialism," especially in the Middle East and Africa. And even though the colonies in question had been ruled by Europeans, panelists insisted that this colonial past was the source of most of the world's resentment toward the United States. There was much criticism of American policy during the Cold War for imposing evil regimes, causing poverty and suffering throughout the world, and blocking national liberation movements as a service to oil companies and multinational corporations. When the moderator brought up nuclear weapons proliferation and Iran, the panelists talked about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As for "failed states" and civil conflict, several panelists agreed that they were always and everywhere the fault of the United States. The African insisted that Bosnia and Kosovo were destroyed by American military interventions, not by Slobodan Milosevic, and that Somalia was a failed state because of American policy. The Pakistani insisted the United States was to blame for Afghanistan's descent into anarchy in the 1990s. The former guerrilla leader insisted that most if not all problems in the Western Hemisphere were the product of over a century of American imperialism.

Some of these charges had more merit than others, but even the moderator became exasperated by the general refusal to place any responsibility on the peoples and leaders of countries plagued by civil conflict. Yet the panelists held their ground. When someone pointed out that the young boys fighting in African tribal and ethnic wars could hardly be fighting against American "imperialism," the African dictator's son insisted they were indeed. When the head of the NGO paused from gnashing his teeth at American policy to suggest that perhaps the United States was not to blame for the genocide in Rwanda, the African dictator's son argued that it was, because it had failed to intervene. The United States was to blame both for the suffering it caused and the suffering it did not alleviate.
Be sure to read the whole thing. In his concluding remarks, Kagan returns to his realist persuasions, concluding -- structurally -- that there's not a whole lot the U.S. can do about negative international reactions: "The fact is, because America is the dominant power in the world, it will always attract criticism and be blamed both for what it does and what it does not do. No one should lightly dismiss the current hostility toward the United States. International legitimacy matters. It is important in itself, and it affects others' willingness to work with us. But neither should we be paralyzed by the unavoidable resentments that our power creates."