The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank offers a portrait of the debate on stem-cell research that took place in the Senate over the last two days. He notes the extent to which Senators, especially those working to remove the boundaries governing federal funding of embryo research, focused on sad, often quite touching stories of illness and suffering in their own lives and those of their families and friends.
This makes sense, of course, since the debate was about medical research. But on the other hand, it does raise the question of exactly what case those stories were intended to make. The stem-cell debate is not about whether our country should support medical research—there is an absolute consensus on that point. The federal government spends about $30 billion on such research through the National Institutes of Health each year. The debate is not even about whether to support stem-cell research. The federal government has spent about $3 billion on various forms of stem-cell research since 2001, including more than $130 million on embryonic stem-cell research.
What should we do about the rise of China? To answer this question, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) convened an “independent task force,” a group of thirty experts, including Commentary contributors Aaron Friedberg and Arthur Waldron. The group has just issued its findings under the title: U.S.-China Relations: An Affirmative Agenda, A Responsible Course.
Like all such documents, the report has its share of compelling and tedious moments. The most revealing section of this one is its nine dissents, a record-breaker for the consensus-seeking CFR. (For the record, Friedberg and Waldron are among the dissenters.) In his demurral, Winston Lord, U.S. ambassador to the PRC under Ronald Reagan, complains that the report “seriously understates the harshness of the Chinese political system and the backsliding in recent years on political reform and human rights.”
Coming at the same issue from another direction is Maurice Greenberg, the insurance tycoon and former chairman of AIG, who in his own dissent takes issue with what he calls the report’s “persistent urging of democracy in China.”
I’ve been traveling around Iraq for more than a week, spending time with U.S. forces. One constant is complaints about the news media. “Why doesn’t the press show the good we’re doing?,” soldiers ask. They wonder why the coverage seems so slanted.
Part of the answer is that the soldiers’ tactical successes may not be adding up to strategic success. Another part of the answer is undoubtedly the bias of the press—not only against the war but also in favor of negative news. But another important factor is the ham-handed reticence with which the military makes its own case.
The conventional military mindset sees the media as a potential enemy to be shunned at all costs. Officers who get quoted too much are derided behind their backs as “glory-seekers” or “self-promoters.” The focus is always supposed to be on the team, not the individual, and there is a general assumption that good deeds will speak for themselves. General George Casey, the former U.S. commander in Iraq (now about to become Army chief of staff), exemplified this point of view. He seldom spoke to the media and tightly limited who could speak on behalf of his command.