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Posts For: July 3, 2007

What China Doesn’t Want Us to Know

Today the Financial Times reports that, at Beijing’s insistence, the World Bank deleted almost a third of its new study, “Cost of Pollution in China.” Senior cadres were concerned that the World Bank’s most startling conclusion—that bad air and bad water cause about 750,000 premature deaths in China each year—“could cause misunderstanding.” “We did not want to make this report too thick,” said the considerate Guo Xiaomin, who, as a former official from the horribly misnamed State Environmental Protection Agency, coordinated Chinese research for the project.

A pared-down version of the study, which is still in draft, is available without the sensitive death estimate. The World Bank told Agence France Presse that the final report is “still under review.”

It is hardly a surprise when Chinese autocrats insist upon the removal of information that “could cause social unrest,” to borrow the words of an adviser who worked on the study. But the World Bank has no business acceding to such demands. China’s environmental degradation not only kills Chinese; it is beginning to affect our own health as well. The country is air-mailing pollutants half-way around the world, and is now the world’s largest emitter of CO2, the main greenhouse gas.

With the help of the World Bank, China’s Communists have now managed to export not only pollution but their governing principles of censorship, secrecy, and unaccountability.

Today the Financial Times reports that, at Beijing’s insistence, the World Bank deleted almost a third of its new study, “Cost of Pollution in China.” Senior cadres were concerned that the World Bank’s most startling conclusion—that bad air and bad water cause about 750,000 premature deaths in China each year—“could cause misunderstanding.” “We did not want to make this report too thick,” said the considerate Guo Xiaomin, who, as a former official from the horribly misnamed State Environmental Protection Agency, coordinated Chinese research for the project.

A pared-down version of the study, which is still in draft, is available without the sensitive death estimate. The World Bank told Agence France Presse that the final report is “still under review.”

It is hardly a surprise when Chinese autocrats insist upon the removal of information that “could cause social unrest,” to borrow the words of an adviser who worked on the study. But the World Bank has no business acceding to such demands. China’s environmental degradation not only kills Chinese; it is beginning to affect our own health as well. The country is air-mailing pollutants half-way around the world, and is now the world’s largest emitter of CO2, the main greenhouse gas.

With the help of the World Bank, China’s Communists have now managed to export not only pollution but their governing principles of censorship, secrecy, and unaccountability.

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Waiting for the Palestinians

Is Hamas showing some statesmanship? According to recent reports, its security forces have arrested a member of the terrorist organization thought to be holding captive the BBC reporter Alan Johnston. If Hamas manages to impose order on the lawlessness that has engulfed Gaza for years, the international community will have little option but to acknowledge its rule. Acknowledging this fact would not necessarily be synonymous with recognizing Hamas (or opening diplomatic relations with it). But it bears noting that while Hamas is trying to restore order in Gaza—its own brand of brutal Islamist order, of course—the Palestinian government the West has chosen to recognize and support looks more and more inept. Fatah is dependent for its survival on Israel’s continued presence (to say nothing of future Israeli military mop-up operations in Gaza to vanquish the party’s bitter rivals).

The international community, naturally, could not have done otherwise than throw its weight behind Fatah: given what it stands for, it had to support Abbas and reject Hamas. It has no alternative now but to focus on the West Bank and help Abbas extricate himself and his followers from the current morass. Still, it is remarkable that only six weeks ago Abbas (with the support of the international community) was decrying Israel’s round-up of Hamas leaders in the West Bank. Now, nobody seems to mind those arrests. Were it not for Hamas’s significant weakening in the West Bank—to say nothing of Israel’s continued military presence there—it might have overrun Ramallah too. One should be under no illusion about the ability of Fatah to assert its authority.

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Is Hamas showing some statesmanship? According to recent reports, its security forces have arrested a member of the terrorist organization thought to be holding captive the BBC reporter Alan Johnston. If Hamas manages to impose order on the lawlessness that has engulfed Gaza for years, the international community will have little option but to acknowledge its rule. Acknowledging this fact would not necessarily be synonymous with recognizing Hamas (or opening diplomatic relations with it). But it bears noting that while Hamas is trying to restore order in Gaza—its own brand of brutal Islamist order, of course—the Palestinian government the West has chosen to recognize and support looks more and more inept. Fatah is dependent for its survival on Israel’s continued presence (to say nothing of future Israeli military mop-up operations in Gaza to vanquish the party’s bitter rivals).

The international community, naturally, could not have done otherwise than throw its weight behind Fatah: given what it stands for, it had to support Abbas and reject Hamas. It has no alternative now but to focus on the West Bank and help Abbas extricate himself and his followers from the current morass. Still, it is remarkable that only six weeks ago Abbas (with the support of the international community) was decrying Israel’s round-up of Hamas leaders in the West Bank. Now, nobody seems to mind those arrests. Were it not for Hamas’s significant weakening in the West Bank—to say nothing of Israel’s continued military presence there—it might have overrun Ramallah too. One should be under no illusion about the ability of Fatah to assert its authority.

Four years too late, Abbas has begun to implement the clauses of the road map that the Palestinian Authority had so far ignored, attempting to impose one law, one army, and one authority over its own territory. (Abbas’s shorthand for this objective—“one gun”— says a great deal about political means and ends among the Palestinians.) It is tragic that Abbas has begun this work only now. But the point, surely, is this: as soon as Hamas emerged victorious in its Gaza takeover, it proceeded to establish its authority, whereas the PA under Fatah studiously avoided doing so, even when it still had the capacity to govern the territories, quell the intifada, and disarm Hamas. This situation raises an impossible dilemma for the international community: the Palestinian government it would like to see in charge is ineffectual; and the Palestinian government with a real chance to impose law and order on the territories is completely unpalatable.

What will come of this increasingly disastrous situation? Abbas and his new prime minister, Salam Fayyad, will move to re-establish their credentials and authority with calls for a return to the Mecca accords and attempts at reconciliation. Given the language they have been using against one another, and the spilled blood of recent weeks, it is hard to believe that Fatah and Hamas could restore any sort of relations. Fatah will end up looking still more ineffectual. Hamas, ever dependent on Iranian help and therefore at the mercy of Tehran’s whims, can survive only if it continues to do Iran’s bidding (i.e., to prosecute its campaign against Israel) in exchange for lavish financial and military support.

And what should the international community do? Having supported a corrupt and ineffectual government for many years, it should now hold Hamas to the clear performance benchmarks the road map sets for the Palestinian Authority. (Direct military aid to Fatah would not be wise: weapons recently delivered to Abbas’s government somehow ended up in Hamas’s hands.) However unlikely it is that Hamas will meet these benchmarks, waiting and hoping are, sad to say, the only real options left.

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Gates, Way Off Message

In the midst of the usual catastrophes, there is, finally, a bit of good news from Iraq. As a Los Angeles Times headline on Monday noted: “Iraqi civilian toll hits low for year.”

All statistics from such a chaotic place should be treated with suspicion, but if the figures provided by the Iraqi government and cited in this article are to be believed, the number of Iraqi civilians killed in June was 1,227—still way too many, but a substantial decrease from the May figure of 1,949 and considerably lower even than the February mark of 1,646. Although it’s far too early to draw any definitive conclusions, this may provide some tentative indications that the surge is in fact succeeding, notwithstanding the predictable and lamentable increase in American military casualties in recent months.

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In the midst of the usual catastrophes, there is, finally, a bit of good news from Iraq. As a Los Angeles Times headline on Monday noted: “Iraqi civilian toll hits low for year.”

All statistics from such a chaotic place should be treated with suspicion, but if the figures provided by the Iraqi government and cited in this article are to be believed, the number of Iraqi civilians killed in June was 1,227—still way too many, but a substantial decrease from the May figure of 1,949 and considerably lower even than the February mark of 1,646. Although it’s far too early to draw any definitive conclusions, this may provide some tentative indications that the surge is in fact succeeding, notwithstanding the predictable and lamentable increase in American military casualties in recent months.

The administration and its senior policy-makers ought to be pointing to these indicators and arguing for giving more time and support to General David Petraeus to try to improve the security situation. That is, in fact, just what President Bush did in an excellent speech recently at the Naval War College. Too bad his own Secretary of Defense is undercutting the President’s message, as reported in a front-page article in today’s Wall Street Journal. The headline says it all: “In Strategy Shift, Gates Envisions Iraq Troop Cuts. Pullback Is Deemed Key To Forging a Consensus On Long-Haul Plans.”

I recently argued in a Los Angeles Times op-ed why it doesn’t make sense for Senator Richard Lugar and other Republicans to call for a premature end to the surge. But that’s a tough case to make when the Defense Secretary himself is being quoted on the front page of a major national newspaper entertaining that very strategy. This kind of leak from within the administration is deeply counterproductive. It encourages doubt about American resolve, both at home and abroad. And it is the latest indication of why even those of us who support the President’s foreign policy objectives think he has been singularly inept in their pursuit.

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I Beg Your Pardon

Here is Hillary Clinton commenting on George W. Bush’s modest display of mercy to Scooter Libby, sparing him from prison: “this commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.”

“Cronyism and ideology”? I agree with Hillary that cronyism is a terrible thing, but I think it is a stretch to say that that’s what the Scooter Libby affair was all about. If it was cronyism, Bush has not been very kind to his crony, keeping Libby’s fine, his probation, and his conviction intact.

In any case, in thinking about Hillary’s statement, it is useful to bear in mind some of the pardons granted by her husband Bill.

Among my favorites are his pardon of:

• Susan McDougal, Bill and Hillary’s close friend from the Whitewater days, convicted of mail fraud, aiding and abetting in misapplication of Small Business Investment Corporation funds, aiding and abetting in making false entries, aiding and abetting in making false statements.

• Henry Cisneros, Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997 when he left office after copping a plea to making false states to federal officials.

• Linda Jones, aka Linda Medlar, Cisnero’s girlfriend, convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, to make a false statement to a bank, to launder monetary instruments, and to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity; aiding and abetting bank fraud; aiding and abetting false statements to a bank; aiding and abetting laundering monetary instruments; aiding and abetting engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity; obstruction of justice; falsifying, concealing and covering up a material fact by trick, scheme, or device; making a false statement.

Apart from cronies, one should note some of those pardoned for mishandling secrets:

• John Deutch, Clinton’s Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1994 to 1996, who kept classified documents on his personal computer, fell under a Justice Department investigation, and was pardoned before charges were brought.

• Samuel Loring Morison, a defense department employee who leaked classified documents to British magazine in an effort to get a job with it.

The complete Department of Justice list is here, and it is impressive, indeed, awe-inspiring. If they could only enter the Time Tunnel (click on the appropriate link for episodes one, two, and three), go back into the past and erase some of the more dubious names on it, Bill and Hillary Clinton would be looking much prettier today.

Here is Hillary Clinton commenting on George W. Bush’s modest display of mercy to Scooter Libby, sparing him from prison: “this commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.”

“Cronyism and ideology”? I agree with Hillary that cronyism is a terrible thing, but I think it is a stretch to say that that’s what the Scooter Libby affair was all about. If it was cronyism, Bush has not been very kind to his crony, keeping Libby’s fine, his probation, and his conviction intact.

In any case, in thinking about Hillary’s statement, it is useful to bear in mind some of the pardons granted by her husband Bill.

Among my favorites are his pardon of:

• Susan McDougal, Bill and Hillary’s close friend from the Whitewater days, convicted of mail fraud, aiding and abetting in misapplication of Small Business Investment Corporation funds, aiding and abetting in making false entries, aiding and abetting in making false statements.

• Henry Cisneros, Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997 when he left office after copping a plea to making false states to federal officials.

• Linda Jones, aka Linda Medlar, Cisnero’s girlfriend, convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, to make a false statement to a bank, to launder monetary instruments, and to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity; aiding and abetting bank fraud; aiding and abetting false statements to a bank; aiding and abetting laundering monetary instruments; aiding and abetting engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specific unlawful activity; obstruction of justice; falsifying, concealing and covering up a material fact by trick, scheme, or device; making a false statement.

Apart from cronies, one should note some of those pardoned for mishandling secrets:

• John Deutch, Clinton’s Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1994 to 1996, who kept classified documents on his personal computer, fell under a Justice Department investigation, and was pardoned before charges were brought.

• Samuel Loring Morison, a defense department employee who leaked classified documents to British magazine in an effort to get a job with it.

The complete Department of Justice list is here, and it is impressive, indeed, awe-inspiring. If they could only enter the Time Tunnel (click on the appropriate link for episodes one, two, and three), go back into the past and erase some of the more dubious names on it, Bill and Hillary Clinton would be looking much prettier today.

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Going Backward in Baqubah

One of the most common arguments employed by those who argue for a rapid drawdown of U.S. force in Iraq is that we don’t need to have a lot of troops trying to police a “civil war” between Shiites and Sunnis. A far smaller number of soldiers, primarily from the U.S. Special Operations Command, supposedly could achieve our core mission of disrupting al-Qaeda operations.

Never mind that we haven’t enjoyed much success in using commando forces to go after terrorists in unfriendly terrain. How often, after all, do we strike against terrorists in Syria and Iran? Or even in Pakistan? The reality is that without a permissive political climate and plenty of on-the-ground support our special operators, skilled as they are, have a very limited ability to prevent terrorist groups from making major gains.

Recent events in Iraq reinforce the point. As Rowan Scarborough notes in the Washington Examiner, the city of Baqubah served as a template for the previous U.S. strategy (which looks a lot like the future strategy advocated by most Democrats and Republicans, such as Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel) of rapidly turning over “battle space” to the Iraqi Security Forces and drawing down our own forces.

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One of the most common arguments employed by those who argue for a rapid drawdown of U.S. force in Iraq is that we don’t need to have a lot of troops trying to police a “civil war” between Shiites and Sunnis. A far smaller number of soldiers, primarily from the U.S. Special Operations Command, supposedly could achieve our core mission of disrupting al-Qaeda operations.

Never mind that we haven’t enjoyed much success in using commando forces to go after terrorists in unfriendly terrain. How often, after all, do we strike against terrorists in Syria and Iran? Or even in Pakistan? The reality is that without a permissive political climate and plenty of on-the-ground support our special operators, skilled as they are, have a very limited ability to prevent terrorist groups from making major gains.

Recent events in Iraq reinforce the point. As Rowan Scarborough notes in the Washington Examiner, the city of Baqubah served as a template for the previous U.S. strategy (which looks a lot like the future strategy advocated by most Democrats and Republicans, such as Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel) of rapidly turning over “battle space” to the Iraqi Security Forces and drawing down our own forces.

By last year, the entire province of Diyala, of which Baqubah is the capital—an area with over a million people—was being held by just one U.S. brigade, no more than 5,000 American soldiers in all. Notwithstanding the presence of these combat forces—and the skilled commandos of the Joint Special Operations Command who could always swoop into the area, as they did when they killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a year ago—Diyala became a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. Alexandra Zavis summarizes what American troops have found in recent weeks as they have moved en masse back into Baqubah as part of the “surge of operations”:

For more than a year, hundreds of masked gunmen loyal to al Qaeda cruised this capital of their self-declared state, hauling Shiite Muslims from their homes and leaving bodies in the dusty, trash-strewn streets.

They set up a religious court and prisons, aid stations, and food stores. And they imposed their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam on a population that was mostly too poor to flee and too terrified to resist. . . .

Evidence of the group’s reign included an interrogation center with knives and saws, its walls peppered with bullet holes and smeared with blood. Nearby, a house had been converted into a prison, with six numbered cells with metal doors and bars across the windows.

Residents said they were terrified of being stuffed into the trunk of a car and carted off to one of these places for such minor infractions as smoking in public. . . .

Residents said the militants gradually began taking over last year, parading through the streets in trucks, brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles and using bullhorns to inform residents that they were now part of the Islamic State of Iraq.

They banned smoking, closed down barbershops and coffeehouses, and required women to cover themselves in black robes with only a slit for their eyes. Iraqis working for the Baghdad government or for U.S. forces were hunted down and killed, residents said. Even a trip to Baghdad was grounds for suspicion.

If al Qaeda could set up a miniature Talibanistan almost under the noses of (undermanned) American bases, just imagine what they would be able to do in Iraq if most American forces withdrew altogether. If our commandos couldn’t stop the radicalization of Baqubah when they were located only a few miles away at Balad, how much luck would they have if they relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles away to someplace like Kuwait or Iraqi Kurdistan, as suggested by Jack Murtha and other advocates of “redeployment”?

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