It’s time to declare victory and go home. That was the formula that Senator George Aiken famously suggested for Vietnam in 1966. Today, it bears relevance to Iraq. No, not to the U. S. military presence in that country, but to the Democrats in Congress.
Since November, the Pelosi-Reid Democrats have demonstrated shocking disdain for the well-being of our country. Their only concern has been to defeat or embarrass George W. Bush. Once, one of the noblest American traditions held that politics stops at the water’s edge. But, for the Pelosi-Reid Democrats, it seems that the inverse is true: namely, that national interests stop when the opportunity arises for partisan point-scoring.
In the last few weeks, however, a number of Democratic voices have been raised to observe that General Petraeus’s surge strategy seems to be working in Iraq. “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution in a widely quoted op-ed. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois reported from Baghdad that our forces are “making some measurable progress.” And Anthony Cordesman, a strong critic of the war, said after a recent visit to the country, “real military progress is taking place.”
In view of these hopeful assessments, it would be criminally irresponsible to deny Petraeus the time and resources he needs to see if he can pull America’s chestnuts from the fire. It would also, in the end, be bad politics. Congressional Democrats should drop their efforts to force surrender upon us. Instead, they should try to take credit for the fact that things are improving. They can argue plausibly that by holding Bush’s feet to the fire, they forced him to adjust strategy, bringing on a new field commander and authorizing the surge. The Democrats should, in short, declare victory and go home.
As summer wears on, and movie houses offer ghastly fare like Underdog and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, film lovers may choose to stay home and watch a classic film on DVD. One such classic, now happily available from the Criterion Collection (which has reissued Night and Fog, Alain Resnais’s 1955 meditation about the Holocaust), is a newly restored version of French writer/director Claude Berri’s The Two of Us. The 1967 film fictionalizes Berri’s own real-life experiences, those of a Jewish boy in wartime Paris who is sent to the countryside to live with an old Catholic couple until France is liberated from Nazi rule. Born Claude Langmann, Berri narrates the film’s beginning, as he announces: “I was eight years old and already a Jew.”
Young Claude (portrayed by Alain Cohen) pretends to be Catholic in order not to alarm the rural couple, and amuses himself by teasing his anti-Semitic old host (Michel Simon). This playfulness infuses the film with a childish joy, despite the tragic context. In a bonus interview featured in the DVD release, a fiftyish Alain Cohen today admits that Berri’s film “does not show the horror” of the Holocaust. Instead, The Two of Us (its original French title, Le Vieil homme et l’enfant—The Old Man and the Boy—has an abstract, Hemingwayesque sound) is a “parable about prejudice.” The old man who hates Jews without ever having met one is like someone, says Cohen, “who says he hates tomatoes without ever having tasted one.”
Last week, the New York Times published a curious op-ed entitled “Why Africa Fears Western Medicine,” by Harriet A. Washington. The piece was published days after the Libyan government’s release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, who had been falsely accused of injecting hundreds of children with H.I.V., and then sentenced to death (the release was arranged, with much fanfare, via a $426 million ransom paid by European governments). Washington writes that “to dismiss the Libyan accusations of medical malfeasance out of hand means losing an opportunity to understand why a dangerous suspicion of medicine is so widespread in Africa.”
Washington has little to say about the wisdom of Africans’ rejection of advanced Western medicine in favor of “traditional” African remedies. Instead of an explanation, she cites a list of “high-profile Western medical miscreants who have intentionally administered deadly agents under the guise of providing health care or conducting research.” And it’s true that the quacks she lists—like Wouter Basson, the former head of the apartheid South African regime’s chemical weapons program (though he is a white South African, not “Western”)—have sowed distrust among Africans about the intentions of Western doctors.
But what of the Western doctors welcomed to South Africa by President Thabo Mbeki? Washington neglects to mention, for instance, Peter Duesberg, one of the leaders of the H.I.V. denialist movement, which seeks to discredit the contention that H.I.V. causes AIDS. Nor does Washington note Matthias Rath, a German doctor who peddles vitamins and promises of a cure for AIDS to poor blacks in shantytowns. And of course there is the South African Minister of Health, widely derided as “Dr. Beetroot,” for suggesting that AIDS sufferers eat Beetroot and African potatoes to treat AIDS. Earlier this week, President Mbeki fired his deputy health minister, one of the few people in his government deserving of praise for anti-AIDS prevention work. Perhaps Harriet A. Washington should start asking African leaders to look at their own failings on the AIDS front before blaming the West for the continent’s problems.
If you want an illustration of the old adage that “good news is no news,” simply try to find stories about the pilgrimage by tens of thousands of Shiites to the Kadhimiya shrine in northwest Baghdad on Thursday. There were a few accounts—see, for instance, this New York Times article and this from the Los Angeles Times—but they were buried deep inside the newspapers.
What happened on Thursday was pretty remarkable: nothing. At least nothing terribly violent. Last year at least twenty pilgrims were killed by sniper and mortar attacks. In 2005, 1,000 pilgrims died on a bridge after rumors of a suicide bomber caused mass hysteria. This year, the death toll was two—and they died not as a result of an insurgent attack, but in a crush to get onto a train. A sniper did open fire at the procession from a Sunni neighborhood, but he was gunned down by Iraqi security forces without any of the pilgrims being killed.
The success of the march cannot be ascribed entirely to American and Iraqi security forces lining the parade route. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi militia also played a role in protecting the Shiite pilgrims. And it didn’t hurt that Sunnis effectively have been pushed out (or cleansed) from Kadhimiya, thereby creating a more secure environment for the Shiites. Nevertheless, the peaceful pilgrimage was a heartening sign of how, at long last, a modicum of security is coming to Baghdad.
What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.
Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming
20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.
This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.
Georgia is on my mind. Although the facts are in dispute—they always are when Moscow is involved—it seems clear that a Russian plane entered Georgian airspace on Monday night and fired a missile at a radar station. The Kremlin, absurdly, is suggesting Tbilisi attacked itself. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirms there was an intrusion, and there is no evidence supporting Moscow’s version of events. If this sounds familiar, don’t be surprised: Russian helicopters flew over and fired on another part of Georgia in March of this year.
The State Department calls the more recent incident an “attack against Georgia” and says there was a “violation of Georgia’s airspace.” Then it suggests that Georgia and Russia work it out peacefully.
How’s that for an inspiring response from the final guarantor of the world’s democracies? I will skip the if-we-don’t-stop-them-in-Georgia-we-will-only-have-to-fight-them-on-the-Potomac argument and move on to the broader point. Our belief that we need the assistance of other great powers to solve the problems of the world inhibits us from confronting an aggressive Moscow. Yes, in a strict sense, we do need others’ cooperation; unfortunately, we’re not getting it. The last few years show that Russia, China, and their friends do not want to become “responsible stakeholders”—if I may use the State Department’s optimistic term—in the world as it is.
Call it what you wish—World War III, World War IV, or the Long War—but the existing international system is disintegrating. We have to confront the reality that we are already involved in destabilizing competition with other great powers. Not supporting Georgia and other democracies under attack will only hand victory to the aggressors.