Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bush Sees Long-Term Stablization Force for Iraq

In the comments section to an earlier Iraq post, I noted that "I doubt we can stay there [Iraq] forever (it's going to be a much different aftermath than say, Japan, or even Korea)." Well, wouldn't you know it, I've been proven wrong, straight from the top! According to this Los Angeles Times article, the White House Press Spokesman indicated that President Bush envisions a long-term, post-conflict commitment for the U.S. military in Iraq, apparently not unlike the alliance relationship America maintains with South Korea:

President Bush would like to see the U.S. military provide long-term stability in Iraq as it has in South Korea, where thousands of American troops have been based for more than half a century, the White House said Wednesday.

Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Bush believes U.S. forces eventually will end their combat role in Iraq but will continue to be needed in the country to deter threats and to help handle potential crises, as they have done in South Korea.

The United States has 30,000 troops in South Korea; its military presence there dates to the 1950-53 Korean War."

At some point you want to get to a situation in which the Iraqis have the capability to go ahead and handle the fundamental matters of security," Snow said.

The U.S. would have a support role and thus be able to react quickly to major challenges or crises, even though "the Iraqis are conducting the lion's share of the business," he said.

Bush has mentioned the "Korean model" to help make the point that "the situation in Iraq and, indeed, the larger war on terror are things that are going to take a long time," Snow said.

The White House comments come at a time when Congress has been pressing for a troop drawdown, and the administration has been giving mixed signals on its thinking about reducing troop levels.

Bush and officials in his administration are considering what to do after the U.S. military buildup in Iraq announced in January is completed next month, and have raised the possibility of reducing troop levels. But after those suggestions alarmed conservatives, who fear that talk of withdrawal encourages the enemy, U.S. officials emphasized Bush's commitment to Iraq.

Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at Brookings Institution, said Snow's comparison of Iraq and South Korea would hurt efforts to convince Iraqis and others that the United States does not plan an indefinite military stay.

"In trying to convey resolve, he conveys the presumption that we're going to be there for a long time," O'Hanlon said. "It's unhelpful to handling the politics of our presence in Iraq."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also has said that a long-term U.S. military presence would help stabilize the region and provide for U.S. national security.

"It's important to defend this country on the extremists' 10-yard line and not our 10-yard line," Gates said this month.
The U.S. maintained over 30,000 U.S troops in South Korea throughout the 1990s. The security situation on the Korean penninsula is one of the last global flashpoints left over from the Cold War. I don't doubt Bush's word, but I don't see the same type of security environment facing the United States today as was the case during the 1950s (thus my remark that I didn't see the U.S. staying in Iraq 50-plus years, as we have in Korea).

It's no doubt that Al Qaeda and the transnational terrorist movement are dire threats to national security, and the nature of that threat could be existential should al Qaeda operatives develop the means of delivering nuclear weapons to rain down on American cities. For the most part, though, the war on terrorism will be a long struggle, without a clear end -- al Qaeda's operations are networked and diversified, and the threat is of a non-state nature. Importantly, while I would prefer -- and indeed, I see it as an obligation -- that the U.S. stay in Iraq over the duration, I don't know if there will be a public commitment to a long stay in that country. (While some polls show that Americans resist the use of U.S. military power to promote democracy overseas, I need additional survey data to support my broader feeling that the views of American society today are less supportive of our global security obligations than those of earlier eras.)

Hispanic Assimilation and the Immigration Debate

Yesterday over at Powerline, Paul Mirengoff posted a concise entry on Mexican anti-Americanism. First, it turns out, much America-bashing sentiment was on display at the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Mexico City (the crowd booed Miss America). But Mirengoff shifts his focus from the anti-Americanism in Mexico to that displayed by Mexican immigrants in the United States:

In his post from earlier today, John comments on the anti-Americanism on display in Mexico City during the Miss Universe pageant. But one need not journey to Mexico to find displays of anti-Americanism among some Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. One can find it at soccer matches here in the U.S.

It's probably unrealistic to expect illegal immigrants and even first generation legal immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, etc. to root for the U.S. when they play the immigrant's native country. And, given the intensity of the soccer rivalry between U.S. and Mexico, the vehemence of the pro-Mexicans who live here isn't surprising either. But mass booing of our national anthem and harassment of U.S. fans, as
occurred in a U.S. - Mexico match in Los Angeles, is going too far. It was also discouraging when, here in Washington D.C., Salvadoran fans booed our anthem and turned against the local team because it had been forced by salary cap considerations to trade a star player from El Salvador.

One cannot base public policy on what happens at beauty pageants or soccer matches. Better instruction can be found in statistics about drop-out and graduation rates, participation rates in violent gangs, teen-pregnancies rates, and the like. Unfortunately, as Heather Mac Donald shows, the picture of our Hispanic recent-immigrant population that emerges from this data isn't pretty either.

Living in the Washington, D.C. area, I have regular contact with members of the recent-immigrant community, and have provided free legal services to several illegal immigrants. It would be a mistake to demonize these people, but just as big a mistake to
romanticize them, or to label as "know-nothings" or "nativists" those concerned about some consequences of their mass influx into this country.
It's an important topic and a good post, although the example Mirengoff cites on the soccer matches is practically ancient (he links to a sports writer's post from 1998). In fact, Samuel Huntington, in his article, "The Hispanic Challenge," mentioned the soccer matches as an element of the phenomenon of Mexican-American cultural fragmentation in the United States (with Mexican-Americans as the major force of the broader Hispanic challenge). As Huntington notes, "Mexican Americans booed the U.S. national anthem and assaulted U.S. players." Huntington enumerates more examples, but it's worth reviewing his major thesis:

In the final decades of the 20th century, however, the United States' Anglo-Protestant culture and the creed that it produced came under assault by the popularity in intellectual and political circles of the doctrines of multiculturalism and diversity; the rise of group identities based on race, ethnicity, and gender over national identity; the impact of transnational cultural diasporas; the expanding number of immigrants with dual nationalities and dual loyalties; and the growing salience for U.S. intellectual, business, and political elites of cosmopolitan and transnational identities. The United States' national identity, like that of other nation-states, is challenged by the forces of globalization as well as the needs that globalization produces among people for smaller and more meaningful “blood and belief” identities.

In this new era, the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, and the fertility rates of these immigrants compared to black and white American natives. Americans like to boast of their past success in assimilating millions of immigrants into their society, culture, and politics. But Americans have tended to generalize about immigrants without distinguishing among them and have focused on the economic costs and benefits of immigration, ignoring its social and cultural consequences. As a result, they have overlooked the unique characteristics and problems posed by contemporary Hispanic immigration. The extent and nature of this immigration differ fundamentally from those of previous immigration, and the assimilation successes of the past are unlikely to be duplicated with the contemporary flood of immigrants from Latin America. This reality poses a fundamental question: Will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture? By ignoring this question, Americans acquiesce to their eventual transformation into two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish).
I think the cultural angle is actually one of the top issues in the current immigration reform debate. Yet, many immigration enthusiasts (especially those arguing the smooth Hispanic assimilation line) dismiss Huntington's thesis. However, as Mirengoff cites above, Heather MacDonald and a number of conservative writers have chronicled the problems of integration within the Hispanic community, especially in Southern California. See, for example, MacDonald's City Journal essay, "Seeing Today's Immigrants Straight" (scroll down particularly to her discussion of the crisis of academic failure among Hispanics in the Los Angeles Unified School District). Victor Davis Hanson make some similar points in his article, "Mexifornia, Five Years Later." (See also Business Week's cover article from 2004, "Hispanic Nation.")

For balance and comparison, though, let me also cite one recent author, Tomas Jimenez, who argues the pro-assimilation case. Jimenez had a lead essay on "
The Next Americans," in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times opinion section (which I didn't find particularly persuasive). But see also his longer policy paper from the Center for Immigration Studies at UC San Diego.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Formerly Staunch GOP Iraq Supporters Defecting

This morning's New York Times reports that hitherto staunch Republican supporters of the war in Iraq are having second thoughts, with some now calling the war a "lost cause" (via Memeorandum):

Through four elections, Debbie Thompson has supported Representative Mark Steven Kirk, a Republican and staunch backer of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq.

But Ms. Thompson, a mother of two from this affluent suburb of Chicago, says her views on the war have evolved, and she now wants Mr. Kirk to change, too.

“My patience for this war, it’s run out,” said Ms. Thompson, 53. “I think this is the most expensive, stupidest thing ever done. My frustration has reached a level that is so unsettling, something has to be done.”

Though voters here in the 10th Congressional District have elected a Republican to the House for as long as anyone can remember, there is a newfound hostility about the war that is being directed toward Mr. Kirk, who was narrowly re-elected to a fourth term last November.

Nor is Mr. Kirk alone in his struggle to appease increasingly restless constituents. He and 10 other Republicans in Congress recently delivered a warning to President Bush that conditions in Iraq needed to improve soon because public support of the war was crumbling.

While a majority of Republican voters continue to support Mr. Bush and the Iraq war, including the recent increase in American troops deployed, there are concerns that the war is undermining the party’s political position. A majority of Republicans who were interviewed for a New York Times/CBS News poll this month said that things were going badly in Iraq and that Congress should allow financing only on the condition that the Iraqi government met benchmarks for progress.

In a poll in March, a majority of Republicans said that a candidate who backed Mr. Bush’s war policies would be at a decided disadvantage in 2008. They also suggested that they were open to supporting a candidate who broke with the president on the war.
Read the whole thing. Note that this article is to be treated with some skepticism. As I noted in my earlier post on President Bush's endorsement of some of the Baker Commission's Iraq recommendations, polls continue to find majority opinion supportive of the war as long as progress is being made, particularly on the problem of holding the Baghdad government responsible for reaching political accomodation among sectarian parties.

This point is confirmed by checking over at Polling Report,
where some poll findings indicate continued support for the war, depending on question wording. For example, here's one of the questions from the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll of May 4-6, 2007:

"Some proposals would provide additional funds for troops in Iraq and set benchmarks that the Iraqi government must meet to show that progress is being made in Iraq, but would not set a date for troop withdrawal. Would you favor or oppose this bill?"

Favor: 61 percent.
Oppose: 36 percent.
Unsure: 3 percent.

The CNN finding on public support for continued war funding is at a level similar to that of the New York Times poll cited above.

To be clear, I don't want to overstate my case on the fine points of question wording: Americans overall are certainly tiring of the war. Yet,
as I have noted before, the administration's troop surge strategy is not really predicated on a short timetable. Unfortunately, as things are moving now (towards a possible U.S. troop drawdown) the dwindling patience of the American people may not give that strategy enough time to work.

Update: I've taken a look at some additional polling data from the Polling Report Iraq link I cited above. In particular, scroll down to the Quinnipiac University Poll from April 25-May 1, 2007. That survey breaks down support for an Iraq withdrawal timetable by party, and finds that a full 72 percent of Republicans oppose Congress "setting a time-table for withdrawing all United States troops from Iraq?" Thus, to repeat, the New York Times piece is mostly anecdotal, and not to be trusted as an indicator of overall GOP voter sentiment on Iraq. There certainly are some Republican members of Congress feeling the heat from their constituents over Iraq, but those views are localized and not generalizable to the Republican Party's electorate as a whole.

Of course, that hasn't stopped some liberal bloggers from having their fun with the article. See the left-wing posts from Central Sanity, Brilliant at Breakfast, Daily Kos, Down With Tyranny, and Shakesville.

Army Wife Says Good Riddance to Cindy Sheehan

As I was surfing weblogs yesterday, I came across this Amy Proctor post: "Sheehan Abandons Sinking Ship of Antiwar Movement." Proctor is a Catholic, Republican Army wife, whose husband has served in Haiti, Korea, and Iraq. She's been a leader in counter-demonstrations against the radical left's protest movement.

Here's the letter she wrote on her blog yesterday after reading
Cindy Sheehan's self-pitying Daily Kos goodbye:

My Letter to Cindy Sheehan

Ms. Sheehan,

I actually agree with you. The Democratic Party used you as long as you slandered George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Their objective has always been the destruction of a political opponent, and the war is Mr. Bush’s most vulnerable political point. I really enjoyed your stay in the Democratic Party, but it’s best for America that you leave. Now.

The problem is that both you and the Democratic Party overestimated yourselves. You both thought that because you believed something to be true, it was, and that it was your job to help the rest of us see it your way. Your mission failed. Indeed you thought you had a mandate and a majority of the American people behind you. With a slim victory in the House and Senate last October, your rhetoric upped the ante declaring what the American people wanted. Of course with the recent (and repeated) defeats of Democrats in the House and Senate it’s clear there is no mandate… if there were, a war funding bill with a troop withdrawal date would have been made law. Instead, it was vetoed and that initiative was unable to garner enough support to override the veto.

If there were an anti-war mandate, Democrats would have cut the war off at the knees and killed funding. Democrats recognized their constituents did not want to end the war…. At least not that way. Democrats doing what Democrats do best, they retreated into acquiescence to the President.

On top of that, the U.S. soldiers whom you claim to support continued to stand up to challenge an aggressive “in your face” anti-war movement that sided with America’s enemies. They did this by
enlisting and reenlisting above expectations month after month. You pitted yourself against the best and brightest in America, and that was a battle you could not win.

When we met face to face in September of 2005 at your Bring them Home Now tour stop in Columbia, SC, I had a sign which read, ‘Cindy Doesn’t Speak for Me’. You yelled to me, “You with the ‘Cindy Doesn’t Speak for Me’ sign… I never said I did!” Ah, touche’, but that moment was prophetic, Ms. Sheehan, because you seemed oblivious to the America Stands with Cindy sign posted by your own entourage. You’ll want to be tearing up those America Stands with Cindy posters.

Finally you said:

“Good-bye America …you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.”

YOU sacrificed? No wonder you believe your son’s death is in vain. And thank you, Mother Sheehan, for not making our country into a nirvanaic Sodom and Gomorrah… or rather, thanks to America for not letting you.

Good-bye. It must have been hard being the peace movement’s village idiot, but you did a great job.
Proctor has saved Sheehan's Kos letter in her post, just in case even Moulitsas and his pals come to the conclusion that having Sheehan around was a big mistake (you never know, maybe some of those types over there will wake up and jump the nutroots ship).

I applaud Proctor for her support of American military missions, and her work as a pro-victory activist. We need more bloggers like her!

My earlier post on the Sheehan exit
is here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sheehan Quits: Antiwar Queen Bails Antiwar Scene

Prominent radical leftist Cindy Sheehan quit yesterday "as the face" of the antiwar movement, issuing her goodbyes on Memorial Day in a number of venues, including a self-pitying essay at the Daily Kos.

The Houston Chronicle has the story:

Cindy Sheehan, the soldier's mother who galvanized an anti-war movement with her monthlong protest outside President Bush's ranch, says she's done being the public face of the movement.

"I've been wondering why I'm killing myself and wondering why the Democrats caved in to George Bush," Sheehan told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday while driving from her property in Crawford to the airport, where she planned to return to her native California.

"I'm going home for awhile to try and be normal," she said.

In what she described as a "resignation letter," Sheehan wrote in her online diary on the "Daily Kos" blog: "Good-bye America ... you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it.

"It's up to you now."

Sheehan began a grass roots peace movement in August 2005 when she camped outside Bush's Crawford ranch for 26 days, demanding to talk with the president about her son's death. Army Spc. Casey Sheehan was 24 when he was killed in an ambush in Baghdad in 2004.

Cindy Sheehan's protest started small but swelled to thousands and quickly drew national attention. Over the next two years, she initially drew huge crowds as she spoke at protest events. But she also drew criticism for some actions, such as meeting with Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's leftist president.

"I have endured a lot of smear and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called "Face" of the American anti-war movement," Sheehan wrote in the diary.

Kristinn Taylor, spokesman for, which has held pro-troop rallies and counter-protests of anti-war demonstrations, said dwindling crowds at Sheehan's Crawford protests since her initial vigil may have led to her decision. But he also said he hopes she will now be able to heal.

"Her politics have hurt a lot of people, including the troops and their families, but most of us who support the war on terror understand she is hurt very deeply," Taylor said Tuesday. "Those she got involved with in the anti-war movement realize it was to their benefit to keep her in that stage of anger."

When she had first taken on Bush, Sheehan was a darling of the liberal left. "However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the 'left' started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used," she wrote.

I read the Sheehan Daily Kos post last night. For all her passion and movement experience, she demonstrates tremendous naivety. When one takes on all comers -- left and right, Democrat and Republican -- there's going to be some mighty blowback. Her exit's a classic denouement to a ugly chapter of cheap, anti-Americanism. I particularly disliked how she misused and abused the death of her son, Casey, for her attacks on the Bush administation. Casey Sheehan volunteered for national service, even reenlisting in the Army while knowing his unit would be sent to Iraq. His name should be celebrated as a hero, not whored around by a grieving mom looking for some time in the limelight. Cindy Sheehan's 15-minutes have evaporated. More embittered than ever, her goodbye looks mostly like an attempt to be remembered as a martyr to the cause.

By the way,
check out this Memeorandum post featuring a comprehensive roundup of some of the major blog commentary on Sheehan's exit.

Bill Richardson Bombs on Meet the Press

I saw New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press Sunday morning (the transcripts of Richardson's appearance are here). Russert's giving all the major candidates on hour's worth of time on the program. Russert's no Larry King, however, and a Meet the Press appearance is obviously not just a chance to get some airtime -- candidates should be prepared for a little go 'round.

In Richardson's case, here's a guy with one of the best set of credentials compared to any candidate in the Democratic field -- a former member to the U.S. House of Representatives, U.N. Ambassador, Bill Clinton's Energy Secretary, and now Governor of New Mexico -- and he just bombed! Russert had him pinned down on so many issues, and Richardson was just like a netted fish flopping helplessly on the deck. It was a disgraceful performance, and I'd say Richardson's appearance in fact disqualifies him as a serious candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Russert uses past quotes and statements from his interviewees to make them defend their positions. On just about every single question Richardson was in the hot seat. Not only was it difficult for him to defend his past actions or statements, but his body language was so pained, it was embarrassing. How would someone like that, for all his presumed qualifications, really stand firm on the tough issues as chief executive? Not good! I hope New Mexico's voters are happy!

Read the transcript, to be sure, but let me give one example here: Apparently, Richardson had a controversy with the family of a Marine who was killed in Iraq. Richardson, in campaign appearances, has cited the family as thanking him for their federal death benefit payment, and he claims the Marine's mom even showed him a copy of the check. Well, it looks like the Marine's mother denies the story, and Richardson tried to squirm his way out of the issue, and wouldn't issue an apology over the incident. Here's the exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about a controversy that has arisen from some speech you’ve been giving on the stump, particularly in New Hampshire, regarding a mother from New Mexico. Here’s the headline from the Associated Press: “Mother of fallen Marine says Richardson misrepresented conversation with her.”

“On the campaign trail, presidential hopeful Bill Richardson tells a moving story about a New Mexico Marine killed in Iraq and his mom. But is it true?

“Three years ago, Richardson attended a memorial service for Lance Corporal Aaron Austin, 21, who died in April” of “2004. As he campaigns for the Democratic nomination, the New Mexico governor often recounts an emotional conversation with Austin’s mother, saying she thanked him for the federal death benefits she had received and even showed him the government check.

“In speeches in New Hampshire, Richardson has gotten Austin’s name wrong at least once,” “age wrong at least twice. He also has called Austin the first New Mexico soldier killed in Iraq—instead of the third.

“But that’s not what bothers the Marine’s mother, De’on Miller, of Lovington, New Mexico, who says the conversation about money never took place. ‘I don’t know a person rich or poor that would be told that” her “only living child has been killed, and you’re going to strike up a money conversation? Bill Richardson needs to stop pushing this lie. Aaron’s name had better not be used again in any way. Not mine either. A full written apology is due me for this.’” Will you apologize to her?

GOV. RICHARDSON: Tim, she—we have different recollections. That family is heroic, that young man is heroic. But let me tell you what that—my attending that ceremony caused. It inspired me to go to the New Mexico legislature and propose a $250,000 death benefit—life insurance—for every National Guardsman in New Mexico. It’s now $400,000. It passed. I made it happen. And then 30 other states—I went to the National Governors Association, and we pushed this--30 other states have made this happen. And the federal death benefit has gone up.

Now, I, I fully respect that family. We have different recollections. But that’s where I learned, at that ceremony, that the death benefit for our soldiers was $11,000. And look, Tim, I am not going to—there is nobody that has done more for veterans, any governor, I believe, than I have. No state income tax for enlisted people. I was just in North Korea two months ago, and I brought back—I’ve been working on this for years—the remains of six Americans from the Korean War. All kinds of initiatives, such as this life insurance policy that has been...

MR. RUSSERT: But if it troubles her, out of respect for Mrs. Miller and her son Aaron Austin, will you stop using his name and her name?

GOV. RICHARDSON: Yes, I will. I will do that. But we just have different recollections, Tim, and—but, but that family is honorable. I attended that service. I was really moved. You know, I call as many of the mothers of New Mexico soldiers that’ve been killed. But no one will ever question my commitment to help our veterans. I was in North Korea. I rescued—I helped rescue, helped push forward the release of—many years ago—of, of an American helicopter pilot. So I believe very strongly that we have to stand up for our veterans when they come back, coming back PTSD, they’re not getting the help that they deserve.

MR. RUSSERT: But if Mrs. Miller feels used, you would apologize for it.

GOV. RICHARDSON: Well, Tim, I—that’s where I learned about this death benefit. There was an individual there that saw a piece of paper being given to me. I, I don’t want to get into this. I want this to—I respect that woman. I will not mention it again.

MR. RUSSERT: And you’re sorry?

GOV. RICHARDSON: Well, I’m sorry for the way she feels, but I believe I acted honorably. Look at the result. The result was $400,000 life insurance for New Mexico National Guardsmen that served and then 30 states that covered all their veterans. They followed New Mexico’s lead. They followed my lead. The federal death benefit, which was shameful, $11,000, $12,000 is now significantly higher.

Toward the end there -- where he's saying "I don't want to get into this" -- Richardson was waving his hands dramatically, slumping, flabbergasted, and just looking like he wanted to be done with the questioning. He could have helped himself by just issuing a straightforward apology right then and there (and been the big guy about it). In any case, the whole interview was like that. Good thing for the Democrats that Richardson's so low in the polls (though he makes it easy for GOP candidates to hammer him).

Monday, May 28, 2007

Journey of Grief: Military Families Join Together at Arlington National Cemetery

This weekend's USA Today had a moving tribute to the families who come together at Arlington National Cemetery to grieve for their fallen fighters who have sacrificed for the cause of freedom:

Among the headstones of Iraq and Afghanistan war dead buried in Arlington National Cemetery is a small but growing community of broken hearts who have found one another.

Most are the mothers of dead soldiers and Marines. They make journeys of grief, spending hours at the graves writing letters, tending flowers or simply mourning in silence. As time passes, one grieving parent has reached out to another with a touch on the shoulder, a smile or a hug to build a lasting network of support.

"It's a club nobody wants to be in," says Paula Davis, who sets up her lawn chair each week at the grave of her son, Army Pfc. Justin Davis. The 19-year-old was killed in a "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan on June 25. "But here we are," Davis says. "So we look after each other."

Grieving families look after each other at Arlington and national cemeteries throughout the country. Many will comfort each other this Memorial Day weekend. At Arlington, their spontaneous graveside meetings have evolved into more organized gatherings. A core group of about 10 family members will meet each month at the nearby Women in Military Service for America Memorial to work through their sorrows.

A similar cluster has formed in San Antonio, many members grieving for relatives buried at Sam Houston National Cemetery. "I have found a need for these families to be together," says Kim Smith, who formed the group in December. Her son, Pvt. Robert Frantz, 19, was killed in a June 2003 grenade attack.

In Portland, Ore., at the Willamette National Cemetery, Elfriede Plumondore has formed emotional connections with other grieving parents. She is there several days a week to mourn at the grave of her son, Sgt. Adam Plumondore, 22, who was killed Feb. 16, 2005, by a roadside bomb explosion in Mosul, Iraq.

"(Someone) will sit beside me. And we may not say a word. We just sit there. And we know, really know, how the other person feels. And then you hug and you get up and you continue," she says.

Similar instances of bonding have occurred at other national cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, spokeswoman Jo Schuda says.

Sixty-five of those cemeteries are open for burials and have accepted about 600 war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan, she says. As of Thursday, 3,420 U.S. troops and seven Defense Department staffers had died in Iraq; 386 troops and one Defense civilian had died in Afghanistan.

This accidental coming together on hallowed grounds acts as salve for families and friends struggling with grief, says psychologist Therese Rando, clinical director of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss in Warwick, R.I.

"They got thrust into this, and they share experiences," she says. "To be able to have the support and involvement of others who have been through the same thing can be very helpful."

Beth Belle curls up near the headstone of her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Kirven, 21, every Sunday at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed in combat in Afghanistan on Mother's Day, 2005, and she says connecting with others caught in the same cycle of grief eases the pain.

"Somebody who has this kind of loss wants to feel that they're not alone and they're not going crazy and that someone understands," Belle says.

The article continues with information on "Section 60" at Arlington, which is not far from President Kennedy's grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On this and every Memorial Day, I thank the millions of American families for their losses and sacrifices in furtherance of American liberty.

Democrats Dishonor War Dead in Calls for Memorial Day Protests

I was taken aback by this Sunday editorial from the New Hampshire Union Leader on Democratic Party calls for war protests on Memorial Day. I probably shouldn't have been, though. I left the Democratic Party because of their anti-military ideology (noted here, but see also here), and I grieve for the families of our nation's fallen. Here's the Union Leader's editorial in full:

Speaking at New England College's graduation two weekends ago, former Sen. John Edwards advanced his political ambitions by breaking two taboos. He politicized both the college's commencement address and Memorial Day.

Edwards urged Americans to use Memorial Day to protest the war in Iraq.

Even left-wing columnist Joe Conason, a critic of the war, the Bush administration and the American Legion, criticized that move, writing, "it is neither kind nor smart to wave protest signs on Memorial Day."

To call Edwards' move "unkind" is being charitable. Using America's fallen as a backdrop for an anti-war protest is a crass exploitation of our war dead.

"It's as inappropriate as a political bumper sticker on an Arlington headstone," wrote American Legion National Commander Paul Morin.

Sadly, Edwards is not alone in his disregard for our service members. Last week 142 House members, including Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes, and 14 senators, including Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, voted against continued funding for our troops in Iraq. They voted for surrender.

President Bush has mismanaged the war in Iraq. But instead of trying to help make the war succeed, Democrats in Congress are trying to manufacture a defeat so they can claim the ultimate political victory: complete destruction of the Bush presidency. It would be a political victory purchased at the expense of America's national security, as a defeat in Iraq would embolden and energize our radical Islamist enemy.

Meanwhile, anti-war protesters across the country are planning to take Edwards' advice and turn out at Memorial Day parades tomorrow to protest the war, thus insulting the sacrifices of all who lost their lives and their innocence in the swirling desert sands of Iraq.

We remember when Memorial Day was just that: a day to memorialize those who gave their lives to purchase our freedom. If the anti-war Left had any shame or honor it would realize that Memorial Day is not a day for politics, but for remembrance and tribute.

To repeat: Edwards' spur to the antiwar crowds is insulting, disgusting, and unpatriotic, and the Democratic agenda in Congress threatens the nation's security. I have nothing further to say about that.

For a bit more respectful acknowledgement of the sacrifices of our fallen figthers,
please see my post from last year on President Bush's Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Are American Voters Irrational?

Today's New York Times published a brief essay on voting behavior by Princeton political scientist Gary Bass. Here's the opening paragraph, which is interesting:

Of all the people who deserve some blame for the debacle in Iraq, don’t forget the American public. Today, about two-thirds of Americans oppose the war. But back in March 2003, when United States troops stormed into Iraq, nearly three out of four Americans supported the invasion. Doves say that the public was suckered into war by a deceitful White House, and hawks say that the press has since led the public to lose its nerve — but the two sides implicitly agree that the public has been dangerously unsure, or easily propagandized, or ignorant.
Bass uses that introduction to get into reviewing a recent book by economist Bryan Caplan of George Mason University: "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies." For Caplan, voters aren't just uninformed, or even ignorant, they are irrational. To quote Bass:

Caplan’s complaint is not that special-interest groups might subvert the will of the people, or that government might ignore the will of the people. He objects to the will of the people itself.
Now, I need to give a hat tip here to Ann Althouse, as I discoverd the Bass piece on one her Sunday morning posts: "Do Voters Have Any Idea What They Are Doing?" She's mostly commenting on the little debate on Caplan's thesis that's taking place within Bass's essay. But this was a rare chance for me to jump into an Althouse comment thread with something to say on a topic that I might actually know something about! My remarks must have been a bit too political science-ish, because the comment thread continued along its merry way, diverging further and further from voting studies (and my comments) into anti-Bush rants and what not.

For what it's worth, I thought I wrote an informative note, so I'm posting here:

Voter decision-making has a long research history in political science. I haven't read the Caplan book, nor any reviews of it. Surely he's trying to add a new twist to a well-established literature. But much is known about voting behavior, and the argument that voters are ignoramuses is simplistic (though certainly some may be like that). Voters base their voting decisions on the number of factors: Party identification's a big one. Party ID works as a heuristic, giving voters a cue (or shortcut) on how to vote on the issues. When issues are particularly complicated (hard issues), they are not easily broken down into campaign slogans, and voters can generally use party ID to guide them in their choices. (Note that using party ID as a voting shortcut is great example of rational voting, as people have a self-interest in simplifying the voting process). Besides, party ID, voters also evaluate candidate characteristics: What kind of experience does a candidate have? Are they smart? Do they have integrity, and so forth? This is where the media campaigns come in, because research shows that voter decisions can be manipulated by candidate framing and image distortion. Some argue that one reason Bush beat Kerry in 2004 is that the Bush strategy of labeling Kerry as a "flip-flopper" stuck in voters minds, and the argument was credible based Kerry's legislative record. Note that paying attention to candidates' personalities (characteristics) is not irrational, and in fact some research argues that the more educated one is, the more likely one will stress candidates' personal attributes. Another important factor is policy voting (especially retrospective issue voting [what has the party or incumbent done for me?] and prospective voting [what will the party or candidate do for me?]). Then, there are all the demographic issues that political scientists love to sort through: levels of education, socioeconomic status, religious infuences, race and ethnicity, gender, geographic region, and so on. In sum, it's a complicated business, but I don't think voters are necessarily dumb. They may not read the papers and be as well informed on the issues as they might, but a whole bunch of variables determine voting behavior.
Bass concludes his Times essay with something similar, though a bit more intriguing:

Caplan recognizes that politicians, like voters, are prone to error. In his zeal to question the public’s judgment, however, he may underplay the role of political elites in shaping that judgment. Would the public choose badly if it had better guidance? John R. Zaller, a U.C.L.A. political scientist, argues that even the more politically aware citizens are driven largely by partisanship and by the cues they take from political leaders. That sounds like George W. Bush leading the country into war in Iraq or, more happily, Bill Clinton tirelessly explaining how deficit reduction would reduce long-term interest rates and thus strengthen the economy — quite a complex argument. Maybe the public doesn’t measure up because the politicians are not doing their job properly, not the other way around.
Well, that's an interesting thought!

Al Qaeda Strikes Back! The Iraq Stronghold and the Organization's Global Reach

Bruce Riedel's lead article in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs on al Qaeda's global comeback is both stimulating and disturbing. Riedel argues that after the 2001 U.S. toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, al Qaeda regrouped in Pakistan, building a new base of operations in that country geared primarily to the organization's survival. Yet, after the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003 -- amid the festering insurgency -- al Qaeda established a new base of operations there that emerged as one of the group's key strongholds:

The U.S. invasion of Iraq took the pressure off al Qaeda in the Pakistani badlands and opened new doors for the group in the Middle East. It also played directly into the hands of al Qaeda leaders by seemingly confirming their claim that the United States was an imperialist force, which helped them reinforce various local alliances. In Iraq, Zarqawi adopted a two-pronged strategy to alienate U.S. allies and destabilize the country. He sought to isolate U.S. forces by driving out all other foreign forces with systematic terrorist attacks, most notably the bombings of the United Nations headquarters and the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad in the summer of 2003. More important, he focused on the fault line in Iraqi society -- the divide between Sunnis and Shiites -- with the goal of precipitating a civil war. He launched a series of attacks on the Shiite leadership, holy Shiite sites, and Shiite men and women on the street. He organized the assassination of the senior leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, in the summer of 2003, and the bombings of Shiite shrines in Najaf and Baghdad in March 2004 and in Najaf and Karbala in December 2004. Even by the ruthless standards of al Qaeda, Zarqawi excelled....

Zarqawi's group, al Qaeda in Iraq, has continued to foment sectarian unrest. In February 2006, it attacked one of the country's most sacred Shiite sites, the Golden Mosque in Samarra. Zarqawi's death last summer changed little. In October 2006, the group proclaimed the independence of a Sunni state -- "the Islamic State of Iraq" -- in Sunni-majority areas, such as Baghdad, Mosul, and Anbar Province, declaring its opposition not just to the U.S. occupation but also to the Iranian-backed Shiite region in the south and to the Kurdish region in the north (which it says is supported by Israel). Most of all, al Qaeda in Iraq has continued to orchestrate massacres against Shiites in Baghdad.
From Iraq, al Qaeda has been able to shore-up its terrorist partners in Pakistan, as well as extend its global reach, particularly in the West. (Britain's Islamists are cited by Riedel as having particularly strong connections to al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, and the article restates some of the key points on terrorism in the U.K. that I raised in my earlier post, "Londonistan Calling?")

Riedel goes on to note how al Qaeda has been looking to expand its operations in a diverse set of locations, such as Lebanon, Gaza, Bangladesh, and a number of states in Africa, like Algeria and Somalia. Riedal also argues that an ultimate goal of Osama Bin Laden is to foment an all-out war between the U.S. and Iran. The article goes on to make a number of policy recommendations on how the U.S. can defeat al Qaeda going forward.

Read the whole thing. Riedel recently retired from the CIA after 29 years of service, and is now an analyst on Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution. I'm not sure if I completely find his argument persuasive, however. It's no doubt that al Qaeda has regrouped overall, and
the Bush administration has cited al Qaeda operations in Iraq in its recent efforts to maintain public support for the deployment there. However, Riedel's piece, while dutifully mentioning the group's "decentralization" and the activities of copycat terrorist cells, nevertheless conveys the impression of an intensely well-organized global movement, with far-flung ambitions and resources, with a lot of stress on the central role of Bin Laden.

In an earlier post, however, I cited Audrey Kurth Cronin's article in International Security on defeating al Qaeda. Cronin's piece shares some similarities with Riedel's argument, but she's much more clear in stressing the non-monolithic nature of al Qaeda. Cronin points out strongly that the al Qaeda entity is fluid, nebulous, and has strong ties to freelance terrorist operations worldwide -- her characterization of al Qaeda indeed points to more organizational weakness than strength. Much less than Reidel, Cronin downplays the stress on knock-out blows against al Qaeda (like "decapitating" top leadership in Pakistan). Defeating al Qaeda will likely come after a long, twilight struggle, using a range of means, many non-military (like reducing the group's financial and popular support). Both authors agree, of course, that the al Qaeda threat remains a top national security concern for the U.S. policymakers. Unfortunately, as is the case with the Iraq War, victory over al Qaeda may not come on the same short-term timetable that is being called for by American public opinion.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

President Bush to Embrace Iraq Study Group Report

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reported that President Bush was planning on adopting the Iraq Study Group's policy recommendations for major policy shifts on the Iraq War:

President Bush said Thursday that once his troop buildup improved security in the Iraqi capital, he intended to follow the withdrawal plan proposed by a bipartisan study group, embracing recommendations previously spurned by the administration.

Speaking at a White House news conference, Bush for the first time adopted the blueprint outlined in December by the Iraq Study Group, saying he envisioned U.S. troops gradually moving out of their combat role and into support and training functions.

"You know, I would like to see us in a different configuration at some point in time in Iraq," Bush said, referring to the study group by the names of its co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind). "The recommendations of Baker-Hamilton appealed to me.

"Bush's remarks were the clearest yet on his vision for the long-term U.S. role in Iraq.

It also represented a significant shift in his public position on the study group's recommendations, which when they were unveiled were embraced by war critics but largely ignored by the White House....

Some congressional Republicans welcomed Bush's stance.

Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, a bellwether of the party's position on the war, said he wanted Bush to move more quickly in carrying out the study group's recommendations, suggesting the White House shift its strategy as soon as July....

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has suggested that a reduction in troops could begin as soon as September, when the Pentagon has promised a formal evaluation of the effectiveness of the buildup, particularly if significant progress has been made.

On Thursday, Gates declined to say when a shift would occur."It remains to be seen," he said at a news briefing. He said plans for a reduction are underway as part of a contingency effort he ordered several months ago.

When Bush unveiled his troop buildup in January, it was seen as a repudiation of the Iraq Study Group.

Since then, several key Republicans have questioned the administration's strategy as public support for the war continues to fall.

The piece refers specifically to the results of the new New York Times poll on public support for the Iraq invasion. The Times poll finds:

Americans now view the war in Iraq more negatively than at any time since the invasion more than four years ago, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Sixty-one percent of Americans say the United States should have stayed out of Iraq and 76 percent say things are going badly there, including 47 percent who say things are going very badly, the poll found.
Here's a key point though, which perhaps the administration should emphasize more:

Still, the majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war as long as the Iraqi government meets specific goals.
Get that everyone (including congressional Democrats): A majority of Americans are willing to give the administration a chance -- there's no public call for an immediate U.S. withdrawal, specifically if the Maliki regime in Baghdad can get its act together in hammering out some political differences among the various sectarian parties.

Having said that, the political timetable on the Ameircan side is not very long.
Miltary experts are saying the U.S. can defeat the insurgency, but it could take years. But we don't have that time. John Mueller, a top expert on war and public opinion, says that sustained casualties of American personnel in a long deployment will cause a steady decline in support over time, as has happened in past wars, particularly Vietnam. Mueller's conclusions were challenged by another opinion expert, Christopher Gelpi (who stresses that support will rise as Americans see positive, successful results on the ground), but so far I think the Mueller thesis is winning out.

I didn't read the Iraq Study Group's report, but it was widely ridiculed among some foreign policy experts,
like Eliot Cohen of John Hopkins University. See also my post, "Critics of Baker Study Return Fire From the Right," on the conservative backlash against the Baker Group's recommendations. Again, I did not read the report, but there was a whole lot of discussion about how the U.S. should be engaging in diplomacy with Syria and Iran, which would be totally counterproductive as long as those two states remaind the main conduits for al Qaeda operatives and military ordnance heading into Iraq (go back up and click the Cohen piece for more argument along these lines).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Londonistan Calling? Britain's Islamist Challenge

Christopher Hitchens' latest column in the June 2007 Vanity Fair laments the decline of his old Finsbury Park neighborhood in North London, which has become Britain's home base and breeding ground for the country's Islamist jihadis. Hitchens notes that when he was growing up, British multiculturalism was vigorous, but the emphasis then was on assiimilation and incorporation. But things have changed. Here's Hitchens on his old haunting grounds:

It was a working-class neighborhood, with a good number of Irish and Cypriot immigrants. Your food choices were the inevitable fish-and-chips, plus the curry joint, plus a strong pitch from the Greek and Turkish kebab sellers. There was never much "bother," as the British say, in Finsbury Park. Greeks and Turks might be fighting in Cyprus, but they never lifted a hand to one another in London. Many of the Irish had republican allegiances, but they didn't take that out on the local Protestants. And, even though both Cyprus and Ireland had all the grievances of partitioned former British colonies, it would have seemed inconceivable—unimaginable—that any of their sons would put a bomb on the bus their neighbors used.
Hitchens feels out of place when he returns to Finsbury Park nowadays. There's a greater unassimilated refugee flow, with immigrants from Algeria, the Middle East, and Asia (and many more women women who don't shed their chadors or burkas). But especially bothersome is Hitchens' feelings on the spector of Islamist violence. Here's his remarks on the growth of the Finsbury Park Mosque, plus some related implications:

Until he was jailed last year on charges of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred, a man known to the police of several countries as Abu Hamza al-Masri was the imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque. He was a conspicuous figure because, having lost the use of an eye and both hands in an exchange of views in Afghanistan, he sported an opaque eye plus a hook to theatrical effect. Not as nice as he looked, Abu Hamza was nonetheless unfailingly generous with his hospitality. Overnight guests at his mosque's sleeping quarters have included Richard Reid, the man in whose honor we now all have to take off our shoes at the airport, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the missing team member of September 11, 2001. Other visitors included Ahmed Ressam, arrested for trying to blow up LAX for the millennium, and Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian who planned to don an explosive vest and penetrate the American Embassy in Paris. On July 7, 2005 ("7/7," as the British call it), a clutch of bombs exploded in London's transport system. It emerged that one of the suicide murderers had been influenced by the preachings of Abu Hamza, as had two of those attempting to replicate the mission two weeks later.

In fact, the British jihadist is becoming quite a feature on the international scene. In 1998, six British citizens of Pakistani and North African descent along with two other British residents were arrested by the government of Yemen and convicted of planning to kidnap a group of tourists and attack British targets in the port of Aden (scene of the near-sinking of the U.S.S. Cole two years later). One of the youths was the son of the tireless Abu Hamza, and another was his stepson. In December 2001, Richard Reid made his bid on the Paris–Miami flight. By then, two or three Britons had been killed in Afghanistan—fighting on the side of the Taliban. The following year came the video butchering of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, whose abduction and murder were organized by another Briton—a former student at the London School of Economics—named Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. And the year after that, two British-passport holders, Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, took part in a suicide attack on Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv bar.

The British have always been proud of their tradition of hospitality and asylum, which has benefited Huguenots escaping persecution, European Jewry, and many political dissidents from Marx to Mazzini. But the appellation "Londonistan," which apparently originated with a sarcastic remark by a French intelligence officer, has come to describe a city which became home to people wanted for terrorist crimes as far afield as Cairo and Karachi. The capital of the United Kingdom is, in the words of Steven Simon, a former White House counterterrorism official, "the Star Wars bar scene," catering promiscuously to all manner of Islamist recruiters and fund-raisers for, and actual practitioners of, holy war.

In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, which killed 52 civilians (including a young Afghan, Atique Sharifi, who had fled to London to escape the Taliban) and injured hundreds more, I found that American television interviewers were all asking me the same question: How can this be? Britain is the country of warm beer and cricket and rain-lashed seaside resorts, not a place of arms for exotic and morbid cults. British press coverage struck the same plaintive note. One of the murderers, Shehzad Tanweer, was a cricket enthusiast from Leeds, in Yorkshire, whose family ran a fish-and-chips shop. You can't get much more assimilated than that. Yet Britain's former head of domestic intelligence, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller (and you can't get much more British than that, either), said last year that there are more than "1,600 identified individuals" within the borders of the kingdom who are ready to follow Tanweer's example (including those in whose honor we now all have to part with our liquids and gels at the airport). And, according to Manningham-Buller, "over 100,000 of our citizens consider the July 2005 attacks in London justified."
Hitchens also catalogs some interesting and publicly available cinematic and documentary films, particularly Undercover Mosque, a video detailing the Islamist movement's seething hatred toward the West. This is how Hitchens describes it:

And there it all is: foaming, bearded preachers calling for crucifixion of unbelievers, for homosexuals to be thrown off mountaintops, for disobedient and "deficient" women to be beaten into submission, and for Jewish and Indian property and life to be destroyed. "You have to bomb the Indian businesses, and as for the Jews, you kill them physically," as one sermonizer, calling himself Sheikh al-Faisal, so prettily puts it. This stuff is being inculcated in small children—who are also informed that the age of consent should be nine years old, in honor of the prophet Muhammad's youngest spouse.
I'm no expert on Islam, although I read the widely in the policy and security studies literature on the nature of the Islamist threat. Unlike what many of those sympathetic to Muslims might say, I'm personally not persuaded that Islam's "a religion of peace." For example, I assign in my World Politics course, "Terror, Islam, and Democracy," by Ladan and Roya Boroumand. They note, for example, that Islamist terrorism "is first and formost an ideological and moral challenge to liberal democracy." See also, Robert Leiken's 2005 Foreign Affairs article, "Europe's Angry Muslims," where he notes that Europe's Islamist radicals "endanger the entire Western world."

Charles Schumer's Only Goal is Finishing-off Bush

In a discussion this last week with my office mate (he's a political geographer), we talked about immigration reform, and I mentioned that I was disgusted with New York Senator Charles Schumer's positions in the debate, which are mostly directed at preventing President Bush from achieving any type of legislative victory in his remaining years in office. (Side note: The opposition to the Senate immigration reform bill is growing, by the way, with a lots of outrage over its "amnesty" provisions and what not, though I might have been over-influenced in my opinion by Lou Dobbs' broadcast yesterday. Perhaps I'll have more on all of this later, but for now see here and here.)

It turns out, though, that Schumer's hurt-Bush-by-any-means-necessary agenda is also apparent in the controversy over the "scandal" involving Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the firings of the federal prosecutors. Kimberly Strassel, a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, who now has a regular (and great!) Friday column,
has a nice piece up today at deconstructing Schumer's efforts to finish off the weakened Bush administration. Here's a nice quote to get you started:

Nothing exemplified the Schumer strategy better than last week's staged testimony of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Democrats entitled the hearing "Part IV" of their investigation into whether the Department of Justice was "Politicizing the Hiring and Firing of U.S. Attorneys." Curiously, Mr. Comey was the sole witness, and more curiously, Mr. Schumer appeared to be running the show in place of Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy. Yet all became clear when Mr. Schumer explained that his real concern wasn't so much this ole piddling attorneys thing as it was that "law and order take a back seat to the political needs of the president's party." He then invited Mr. Comey to spend the hearing talking not about prosecutors, but about "an incident from the time that Mr. Gonzales served as White House counsel."

That incident involved the visit of Mr. Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in the intensive care unit of the hospital. They wanted Mr. Ashcroft to sign off on the NSA's wiretapping authority, which Mr. Comey (as acting AG) had declined to do.

The Ashcroft-in-his-hospital-bed story is in fact prehistoric news, leaked all the way back in 2005. Mr. Comey's added value was to pad it with a few breathless details about siren-filled races through D.C. and orders to FBI agents that he not be allowed to be removed from Mr. Ashcroft's hospital room. Tom Clancy couldn't have spun a better yarn, and the Washington press corps (much to Mr. Schumer's satisfaction) slurped it up, dutifully writing stories suggesting Mr. Gonzales was some White House heavy, whose job it was to rough up hospital invalids and forcibly institute legally suspect programs. Alberto the Knife.

Strassel notes in the piece that Republicans have considered Gonzales' plight a hot potato -- with the exception of Senator Arlen Spector, the only GOP Senator to attend the Comey hearings. Schumer pretty much ran the show, but Spector got Comey to fess-up to some unsavory behavior, particularly that he had acted on his own initiative (and not president Bush's) in deciding to flip positions (toward the Democrats') on domestic wiretapping. (Comey's appointment as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York was approved by none other than Charles Schumer.)

Strassel notes that Republicans better break out of their stupor before its too late:

Jumping into this mess won't be fun.

But if Republicans don't engage soon, Mr. Schumer will be free to expand this probe until it engulfs the presidency and the wider party--in the process stripping both of their ability to defend and continue key wartime programs. The GOP lost the recent congressional elections in part because Democrats painted them as incapable and ethically suspect. Mr. Schumer led that effort in the Senate, and knows it can work. Are they going to let him do it again?
I haven't really closely followed the whole affair over the U.S. Attorneys' firings. My opinion is that the president, as chief executive, has the authority to hire and fire political appointees (like the 8 terminated U.S. Attorneys at the center of this affair) at his pleasure. Of course, the administration's weak in public opinion, the Democrats are using their majority powers of oversight in Congress to harass the GOP, and frankly, Alberto Gonzales doesn't appear to be as competent an Attorney General as he could be. Still, Bush should have gotten more leeway, low in the polls or not. Democrats aren't talking so much about Janet Reno, President Clinton's Attorney General, who fired 93 U.S. Attorneys in 1993, early in the Clinton's first term. Democrats can't have it both ways -- Bush can't terminate Justice Department political appointees although it was okay to do so when Big Bill was in the Oval Office -- but perhaps Charles Schumer doesn't get it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Role for Bill Clinton: Will He Take a Backseat in a Hillary Administration?

This week's cover story at Newsweek is a fascinating analysis of the role Bill Clinton might play in a potential Hillary Clinton presidential administration. I'm going to leave readers with just two introductory quotes, but also a little spoiler: The Clinton's are very worried about the challenge to Hillary's prospects from Barrack Obama's White House bid. Here's the first quote, from the introduction:

"Man, I like that stuff," Bill Clinton said. "I shouldn't eat it, but I like it." It was Sunday, March 4. On a private plane headed south from New York, the former leader of the free world was staring hard at a fully stocked bowl of food. A recovering snack-addict since his quadruple-bypass surgery in 2004, Clinton was thinking about falling off the wagon with a few bags of Fritos and some granola bars. No one on the plane was going to stop him—certainly not Malcolm Smith. The Democratic minority leader of New York's state Senate, Smith was just happy to be along for the ride. "He sat right in front of me," Smith later gushed to a NEWSWEEK reporter. "We shared the food."

Clinton and Smith were headed to Selma, Ala., to commemorate "Bloody Sunday"—the day in 1965 when 600 civil-rights marchers were attacked by white state and local lawmen at the foot of the city's Edmund Pettus Bridge. For Clinton, the occasion was at once historic and personal. That afternoon, the man Toni Morrison called America's "first black president" would make his own march through the city and be inducted into the Voting Rights Hall of Fame. But the day's great test was not for the former president; it was for his wife. In town for the commemoration, Hillary Clinton was set to compete for attention with Barack Obama, her nearest rival in the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The media wondered how Hillary would fare, not just against Obama, whose strong baritone and preacher's cadences had earned him comparisons to Martin Luther King Jr., but against her own husband, who had inadvertently overshadowed her at the funeral for King's widow early last year. Perhaps not by accident, as Hillary spoke in Selma, Bill's plane was still hurtling through the air.
Bill Clinton was known for his great appetite, and clearly not only for food. I also liked the passage's preview of the article's thesis: How can Hillary manage an administration with a "first gentleman" who's not only a former president, but her greatest political mentor as well?

Here's the second quote, which gets to the crux of the issues surrounding Bill Clinton himself -- do or will Americans see him as a great president, and will he be an asset in a Clinton White House restoration under Hillary?

For Hillary's campaign, "The Bill Factor" is a complex one. To some he's a shrewd politician, a clear thinker, a brilliant explicator who was president during an era of relative peace and indisputable prosperity. To others he's "Slick Willie," an undisciplined man who let his private appetites, and his addiction to risk, blur his focus, distracting the country for much of his second term. Hillary Clinton is running for president on her own. Her name will be on the ballot; if elected, she'd be making the final calls. But how engaged would the former president be in Hillary's White House—and would his vices once again overshadow his virtues? NEWSWEEK's reporting on the role the former president is playing in his wife's campaign thus far reveals that the Clintons are fully aware of the perils and promise the 42nd president brings to her bid, and depicts a campaign carefully working to manage an asset no other presidential candidate has ever had: a spouse who has run, and won, twice.
That's interesting. Those who've read some of my earlier posts will know that I voted for Bill Clinton as a Democrat in my earlier, pre-9/11 days (see this post, for example). I liked Bill Clinton a lot. I particularly liked his incredible political skills (conservatives, be honest here, he bested the Republicans on the government shut-down back in 1995), and his communications skills have been virtually unrivaled by any president, with the exception of Ronald Reagan.

Yet, I felt betrayed by Clinton's immoral behavior in the Lewinsky sex scandal, although I did not support impeachment (I didn't consider Clinton's misdeeds coming close to the constitutional requirements of "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors" [Article II, Section 4]). The impeachment was purely political, though I guess all three of our historical impeachment episodes have been. Still, Bill Clinton's reputation with me went down the drain, and my views of him have changed only slightly since then. (He portrays himself too much as the victim, my key recollection of that being his interview with Peter Jennings on ABC around the time of the opening of the Clinton presidential library.)

I've only read one biographical book on Bill Clinton and his White House years: Stanley Renshon's, High Hopes: The Clinton Presidency and the Politics of Ambition. Renshon's a political psychologist and a great biographer. It's been awhile since I read the book, but as the title indicates, Clinton's problems throughout his political career have stemmed from an incredibly powerful attraction to political power. Clinton's Machiavellian in some respects, so integrity takes a back seat to realizing political goals. As noble or magnanimous as his political ideology might appear, his political behavior is more akin to Nixonian realism than Wilsonian idealism.

Read the whole Newsweek piece. I'd be interested in seeing another nice comment thread develop, so keep at it my loyal readers!

Suicides at University of California Causing Alarm

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times ran an article that was sad in parts, but also important in its information on and implications for campus emergency planning and mental health programs. The Times piece documents the recent increase, systemwide, in the number of student suicides at the University of California. The article opens with the tragic vignette on the suicide of Jennifer Tse, at UC Davis, who died after she consumed a horrifically poisionous cocktail of pharmaceuticals, detergents, and bug killers:

As 20-year-old Jennifer Tse was dying in January, she typed a message on her laptop to the coroner's investigators she expected would examine her body. The lonely UC Davis sophomore, depressed and struggling with her studies, had swallowed cold pills, antidepressants, dishwashing liquid and insect poison.

"It's kind of rather sad, it's no way out," she wrote as she described her blurred vision, shaking muscles and a sense that her head was detached from her body. "Hopefully my IQ will stay at the same level. If I end up dead, then oh well."

For five days, no one seemed to notice her absence until her roommate realized something was amiss, used a screwdriver to open the locked door to Tse's room and found her body on the floor.

Tse's death is another grim statistic in what university administrators say is an escalating mental health crisis on campuses across the nation.

She was one of at least nine students who committed suicide at UC Davis during the last three academic years. Her death came four months after a high-level UC committee concluded that the university's overtaxed mental health services fell "significantly short" and that the 10-campus system must urgently expand its counseling programs."

We have had an increasing number of students with serious mental health problems while services are lacking," said UC Santa Barbara Vice Chancellor Michael Young, co-chairman of the Student Mental Health Committee. "We just don't have the appropriate level of support to have healthy campuses."

The increase in mental health problems at UC is part of a national trend arising from the growing stress of university life and the growing number of students who arrive at college already under treatment for mental illness, university psychologists and officials say.
The article reports that advances in psychological drug treatment practices have improved the academic chances of students who might not have been able to attend university in earlier years. However, the numbers of students seeking counseling have risen dramatically over the past few years, and many students quit taking their medications and are thus more prone to difficulties at school:

Across the country, about 1,300 college students a year commit suicide, experts say. Though university students are less likely than other age and occupational groups to take their own lives, suicide remains their second-leading cause of death....

For campus counselors who deal daily with depressed and disturbed students, the April 16 massacre and suicide at Virginia Tech by deranged student Seng-hui Cho was the realization of their worst nightmare. But on a daily basis, campus counselors are stretched thin trying to help students who are recovering from traumatic breakups, suffering from eating disorders or who intentionally cut themselves. At the same time, counselors must cope with students who disrupt classes, create disturbances in residence halls or stalk women....

At UC Berkeley, 45% of students surveyed in 2004 said they had experienced an emotional problem in the previous 12 months that significantly affected their wellbeing or academic performance. Nearly 10% said they had seriously contemplated suicide.At UC Santa Barbara a decade ago, an average of 21 students a quarter came to the counseling center to report they were experiencing an emotional crisis. Now, more than 200 students a quarter come for help, saying they are in a crisis.
The article mentions the case of David Attias, a UC Santa Barbara student with a history of psychological problems, who mowed-down a group of students partying in the streets of Isla Vista in 2001:

One of UC's worst tragedies occurred at Santa Barbara in 2001 when student David Attias drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians in the student community of Isla Vista, killing four people. He claimed he was the "angel of death."

Attias had been on medication since the age of 11 for bipolar disorder and other conditions. After his arrest, he said he had stopped taking his drugs because he wanted to be like other students.

In hopes of preventing similar incidents, UCSB now collects information on students who may be troubled and intervenes if they begin acting out. Like other schools, Santa Barbara has a crisis response team that includes police officers, counselors and administrators.

Other campuses are also focusing on prevention. UC Berkeley, through a federal grant, has trained nearly 600 faculty, staff members and students to spot signs of depression and posted green stickers across the campus to show students where they can get help.
This last mention about UC Berkeley's efforts to increase training and awareness among faculty is precisely the types of reforms I've been advocating on my campus in the e-mail memorandum I sent out, as well as the town hall forum my department sponsored in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre. I will continue to post on these issues, as well as advocate for increased preparedness among faculty and staff on campus, the personnel who really are the initial-responders when emergencies occur.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Wretched of the Earth? Hope and Progress in the Battle Against Global Poverty

Nicholas Kristof has published an awesome article on the crisis of global poverty in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.

Did you know that 30 thousand children around the world will die today from starvation? This trajedy results largley from the fact that the majority of the world's poor survive on less that $2 a day, a common statistic cited in developmental studies. But more particularly, Kristof analyzes the (sometimes disastrous) coping strategies of the poor -- for example, trade-offs they make between, say, buying more than one anti-malarial mosquito net for their outside sleeping quarters in the jungles of Cambodia (the nets cost about $5 a piece), or sufficing with just one and then deciding which one of their children should be protected from mosquitos when bedding down for the night.

Kristof notes that poverty is simply a fact of life around the world, even in the U.S. Yet poverty's hidden, for the most part, from the affluent. Says Kristof:
Yet we manage, pretty successfully, to ignore it and insulate ourselves even from poverty in our own country. When it pops out from behind the screen after an episode like the Watts riots of 1965 or the New Orleans hurricane of 2005, then we express horror and indignation and vow change, and finally shrug and move on. Meanwhile, the world's five hundred wealthiest people have the same income as the world's poorest 416 million.
But he adds, optimistically:

These days, however, something interesting is stirring in the world of poverty. People like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett have made it almost as prestigious for philanthropists to underwrite vaccinations as to underwrite the ballet. Bono and Angelina Jolie have made Africa almost sexy. And several Democratic presidential candidates have real expertise and interest in the issue, particularly domestically: Barack Obama worked as a grassroots antipoverty organizer in Chicago; Hillary Rodham Clinton has long labored on child poverty; and John Edwards has spent the last few years assiduously studying poverty and speaking out about it. On the Republican side, Sam Brownback is also very serious about poverty and related issues, including prison conditions and recidivism.
That's good news, but developmental economists will tell you that it's going take more than a few celebrity anti-poverty enthusiasts to end the plight of the world's poor (despite the laudatory work of Bono, the Gates', and others (see here and here). In fact, Kristof's piece is excellent in his discussion of what we've learned about what works -- at home and abroad -- in devising strategies to allieviate poverty. (The most important work being done to help the poor in developing countries, he notes, is performed by grassroots antipoverty workers.)

I need to stress again how good this article is. Kristof is extremely balanced in his interpretation, and the books he's reviewing actually argue that globalization is improving the lot of many of the world's poor (thus there's not one hint of anti-Americanism here). I don't read Kristof in the New York Times that often (where he has a regular column, rudely walled-off by the "Times Select" subscription barrier), but he's extremely well traveled, thoughtful, and knows what he's talking about. I particularly liked his discussion on the role of women and his stress on educating children in combating poverty. Note this quote on the lousy choices made by many of the world's poor:

The pattern of misallocation of resources is confirmed by what I've seen in poor countries. It's routine to visit a family with a severely malnourished child (with consequences for the child's cognition if it survives), and find out that the family has some meager savings—but Dad is off drinking them up at a nearby bar. And this is dispiriting for a man to admit, but it's typically that way: abundant research shows that in poor families, women invest money in food, children, and small businesses—and men squander funds on cigarettes, alcohol, video halls, and prostitution.

We should be clear: one smart way to fight poverty is to empower women (by educating girls, by giving daughters legal rights to inheritance, by promoting banking institutions that give women control over the accounts). Once mothers control family spending rather than fathers, family resources are invested more productively, and some families can rise out of poverty very quickly. This makes the fight for gender equality in the developing world not only a moral imperative but also an economic one. Aid groups recognize this and are adjusting their strategies. For example, Helene Gayle, the new head of CARE, is making empowerment of women—including microfinance—a major strategy because of its implications for fighting poverty.
Kristof -- very importantly, I think -- stresses the role of culture as one of the main ingredients in attacking the cycle of poverty:

There is, I think, a liberal squeamishness about confronting the reality that one important element that sustains poverty is culture: a self-destructive pathology that arises from poverty and then entraps the poor in it for generation after generation. The culture varies with the society, and it is different for Dalits (or Untouchables) in India and for villagers in Congo and for the homeless in the US. Often, though, this culture involves elements of hopelessness, substance abuse, underinvestment in education, self-fulfilling expectations of failure, and squandered resources.
That's an honest assessment, but he goes on that culture itself has many facets, and try as they might, many poor aren't successful. Here's Kristof discussing patterns of the poor in the U.S. after working in New Orleans on anti-poverty initiatives following Hurricane Katrina:

What we've seen over and over is that even if there is a free clinic, the poor family may depend on a single mother who doesn't have a car or driver's license and so can't get there. Or she can't afford the gas. Or her car doesn't have insurance. Or she doesn't understand how serious the symptoms are. Or she is working at a low-level job where she can't just ask for time off to take a child to the clinic. Or she doesn't speak English. Or she's illegal and is worried that INS agents may look at the clinic's records. Or she's got three other small children and can't leave two at home while she takes her sick child on a series of bus rides to the clinic. Or...the possibilities are endless. The point is that making medical care accessible to the poor requires much more than making it free.
I can anticipate hard-core cultural conservatives disagreeing here, but read the whole thing for yourself -- again, this is a great, thoughtful review, on a topic -- as a cultural conservative myself -- I've contemplated a lot (even delving into some of the hard-core academic studies from time to time).

I post on poverty issues from time to time as well, especially on the poor in America. For example, see my entries: "
Homeless Families Struggle Amid Holiday Affluence," "Poor Blacks Can Succeed With Encouragment," and "West Fresno Neighborhood Embodies Best of Black America."