Commentary Magazine


Topic: injury

A Novel Idea: Pay-as-You-Go Government

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

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Obama in Hot Water

The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit has more bad news for Obama:

Barack Obama’s hit a record low in PPP’s monthly national polling on his approval numbers. 45% of voters approve of the job he’s doing while 52% disapprove. This is the first time he’s topped the 50% disapproval mark in our surveys. …

The two most troublesome things for Obama in his numbers at this point are his standing among white voters and independents. Whites now disapprove of Obama by nearly a 2:1 margin, with 62% giving him bad marks and only 35% saying he’s doing a good job. With independents his approval is just 40% and 56% disapprove of his performance.

Nearly four months after its passage PPP continues not to find any evidence voters are warming up to the health care bill. 40% of voters favor it while 53% are opposed, numbers actually representing a regression since a poll right before the final vote found 45% support and 49% opposition. That shift may be more reflective of the President’s declining popularity than anything having to do with the bill itself, but nevertheless it seems clear Democrats continue to lose the public opinion battle on the issue.

So much for the notion that Obama’s personal popularity could be harnessed to sell his agenda. And to add insult to injury, the polls tell us that an endorsement by Bill Clinton is more influential with voters than a nod from Obama. But the disappointment runs both ways there. I’m sure Hillary must be asking herself: How did I lose to this guy?

The Democratic Public Policy Polling outfit has more bad news for Obama:

Barack Obama’s hit a record low in PPP’s monthly national polling on his approval numbers. 45% of voters approve of the job he’s doing while 52% disapprove. This is the first time he’s topped the 50% disapproval mark in our surveys. …

The two most troublesome things for Obama in his numbers at this point are his standing among white voters and independents. Whites now disapprove of Obama by nearly a 2:1 margin, with 62% giving him bad marks and only 35% saying he’s doing a good job. With independents his approval is just 40% and 56% disapprove of his performance.

Nearly four months after its passage PPP continues not to find any evidence voters are warming up to the health care bill. 40% of voters favor it while 53% are opposed, numbers actually representing a regression since a poll right before the final vote found 45% support and 49% opposition. That shift may be more reflective of the President’s declining popularity than anything having to do with the bill itself, but nevertheless it seems clear Democrats continue to lose the public opinion battle on the issue.

So much for the notion that Obama’s personal popularity could be harnessed to sell his agenda. And to add insult to injury, the polls tell us that an endorsement by Bill Clinton is more influential with voters than a nod from Obama. But the disappointment runs both ways there. I’m sure Hillary must be asking herself: How did I lose to this guy?

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Realities of War

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

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Just Say No

Anyone seeking to combat growing anti-Israel intimidation worldwide ought to pay attention to an obscure soccer match last week.

Such intimidation has become common at sporting events, just as it has at college campuses, public lectures and many other venues. In Malmo, Sweden, this past March, for instance, organizers barred spectators entirely from Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match against Sweden, owing to fear of pro-Palestinian protesters who, the town’s mayor said, had recently pelted a pro-Israel demonstration with bottles, eggs, and fireworks. Two months earlier, an Israeli basketball team fled the court in panic during a EuroCup match in Ankara, Turkey, after thousands of Turkish fans waving Palestinian flags shouted “death to the Jews,” threw shoes and water battles, and ultimately stormed the court. (Adding insult to injury, EuroCup’s governing body then slapped Israel with a technical loss because the frightened players refused to take the court again.)

So when Hapoel Tel Aviv played Celtic in Glasgow last week, the Scottish Trade Unions Congress — one of many European unions that have voted to boycott Israel — saw a golden opportunity: it urged Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during the match in “solidarity with suffering Palestinians.” But in the end, the protest fizzled: only “a handful” of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the stands, Reuters reported.

This defeat required no major investment of time, money, or energy. All it took was one simple news statement by Celtic’s management — asserting that its stadium was “no place for a political demonstration” and urging fans to ignore STUC’s call.

This tactic worked not because Glasgow is a hotbed of pro-Israel sentiment; it’s anything but. Rather, it worked because Celtic fans, like the vast majority of the human race, don’t consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a high priority. And on issues people don’t care much about, they usually follow the path of least resistance.

If a prominent organization like STUC urges a pro-Palestinian protest, and nobody opposes it, the path of least resistance for anyone mildly pro-Palestinian — i.e., most Scots — would be to take a flag (assuming organizers are smart enough to hand them out) and even wave it: acquiescence is always easier than opposition. But the minute someone with any kind of standing, like Celtic’s management, opposes it, doing nothing becomes the preferred option — because then, taking a flag means actively taking sides. And taking sides is much harder than doing nothing.

Given how easy it turns out to be to thwart such anti-Israel intimidation, it is disturbing that so many people in authority — from mayors to college deans to heads of sporting organizations — nevertheless prefer to collaborate with the thugs by remaining silent. Yet at the same time, this demonstration ought to hearten pro-Israel activists. For if Celtic’s success once again proves that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, it also shows that sometimes, all it takes to defeat evil is for a few good men to just say no.

Anyone seeking to combat growing anti-Israel intimidation worldwide ought to pay attention to an obscure soccer match last week.

Such intimidation has become common at sporting events, just as it has at college campuses, public lectures and many other venues. In Malmo, Sweden, this past March, for instance, organizers barred spectators entirely from Israel’s Davis Cup tennis match against Sweden, owing to fear of pro-Palestinian protesters who, the town’s mayor said, had recently pelted a pro-Israel demonstration with bottles, eggs, and fireworks. Two months earlier, an Israeli basketball team fled the court in panic during a EuroCup match in Ankara, Turkey, after thousands of Turkish fans waving Palestinian flags shouted “death to the Jews,” threw shoes and water battles, and ultimately stormed the court. (Adding insult to injury, EuroCup’s governing body then slapped Israel with a technical loss because the frightened players refused to take the court again.)

So when Hapoel Tel Aviv played Celtic in Glasgow last week, the Scottish Trade Unions Congress — one of many European unions that have voted to boycott Israel — saw a golden opportunity: it urged Celtic fans to wave Palestinian flags during the match in “solidarity with suffering Palestinians.” But in the end, the protest fizzled: only “a handful” of pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the stands, Reuters reported.

This defeat required no major investment of time, money, or energy. All it took was one simple news statement by Celtic’s management — asserting that its stadium was “no place for a political demonstration” and urging fans to ignore STUC’s call.

This tactic worked not because Glasgow is a hotbed of pro-Israel sentiment; it’s anything but. Rather, it worked because Celtic fans, like the vast majority of the human race, don’t consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a high priority. And on issues people don’t care much about, they usually follow the path of least resistance.

If a prominent organization like STUC urges a pro-Palestinian protest, and nobody opposes it, the path of least resistance for anyone mildly pro-Palestinian — i.e., most Scots — would be to take a flag (assuming organizers are smart enough to hand them out) and even wave it: acquiescence is always easier than opposition. But the minute someone with any kind of standing, like Celtic’s management, opposes it, doing nothing becomes the preferred option — because then, taking a flag means actively taking sides. And taking sides is much harder than doing nothing.

Given how easy it turns out to be to thwart such anti-Israel intimidation, it is disturbing that so many people in authority — from mayors to college deans to heads of sporting organizations — nevertheless prefer to collaborate with the thugs by remaining silent. Yet at the same time, this demonstration ought to hearten pro-Israel activists. For if Celtic’s success once again proves that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, it also shows that sometimes, all it takes to defeat evil is for a few good men to just say no.

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Is Jimmy Carter in Violation of the Logan Act?

The Logan Act was enacted in 1799. It states in full:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

The origins of this law lie in the activities of Dr. George Logan, a Quaker pacifist doctor who tried to lessen tensions between the French Revolutionary government in Paris and the Federalists then leading the nascent American Republic, who tilted towards Britain. Logan traveled to France with an approving letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, and was accepted by the French government as a legitimate representative of the United States. Then-President John Adams condemned Logan for his rogue diplomacy, and decried the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” One can only wonder what Adams would think of Jimmy Carter, who has brazenly announced his intention to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus later this week.

Perhaps it is in light of the Logan Act that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino emphasized, “The president believes that if president Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States.” It is all well and good for the White House to distance itself from the behavior of Jimmy Carter, but there is a limit to how far any American government can go in condemning the actions of a former president. The station of ex-president carries a diplomatic heft, and no one has used it with more inelegance and opportunism than Jimmy Carter, whose sabotage of American foreign policy has not been limited to Republican presidents (see Bill Clinton and North Korea). By calling on the United States to include Hamas in peace talks, and by meeting with the leader of said terrorist group in the capital of a country with which the United States does not even maintain diplomatic relations, Carter undermines a crucial plank in America’s Middle East policy.

Last year, Robert F. Turner argued that Nancy Pelosi had violated the Logan Act when she traveled to Syria against the wishes of the State Department and met with President Basher Assad. He wrote at the time:

Ms. Pelosi’s trip was not authorized, and Syria is one of the world’s leading sponsors of international terrorism. It has almost certainly been involved in numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of American military personnel from Beirut to Baghdad.

The U.S. is in the midst of two wars authorized by Congress. For Ms. Pelosi to flout the Constitution in these circumstances is not only shortsighted; it may well be a felony, as the Logan Act has been part of our criminal law for more than two centuries. Perhaps it is time to enforce the law.

The circumstances surrounding Carter’s visit are no less egregious, in fact, Carter’s freelance diplomacy is arguably worse. Hamas, unlike Syria, is not a country — an entity with territorial integrity, recognized by the international community as the legitimate authority of a nation-state — but a terrorist group. I’m no lawyer, but it appears that a strong case can be made that Jimmy Carter has been in constant violation of a federal statute ever since he left the White House.

The Logan Act was enacted in 1799. It states in full:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

The origins of this law lie in the activities of Dr. George Logan, a Quaker pacifist doctor who tried to lessen tensions between the French Revolutionary government in Paris and the Federalists then leading the nascent American Republic, who tilted towards Britain. Logan traveled to France with an approving letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, and was accepted by the French government as a legitimate representative of the United States. Then-President John Adams condemned Logan for his rogue diplomacy, and decried the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” One can only wonder what Adams would think of Jimmy Carter, who has brazenly announced his intention to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus later this week.

Perhaps it is in light of the Logan Act that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino emphasized, “The president believes that if president Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States.” It is all well and good for the White House to distance itself from the behavior of Jimmy Carter, but there is a limit to how far any American government can go in condemning the actions of a former president. The station of ex-president carries a diplomatic heft, and no one has used it with more inelegance and opportunism than Jimmy Carter, whose sabotage of American foreign policy has not been limited to Republican presidents (see Bill Clinton and North Korea). By calling on the United States to include Hamas in peace talks, and by meeting with the leader of said terrorist group in the capital of a country with which the United States does not even maintain diplomatic relations, Carter undermines a crucial plank in America’s Middle East policy.

Last year, Robert F. Turner argued that Nancy Pelosi had violated the Logan Act when she traveled to Syria against the wishes of the State Department and met with President Basher Assad. He wrote at the time:

Ms. Pelosi’s trip was not authorized, and Syria is one of the world’s leading sponsors of international terrorism. It has almost certainly been involved in numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of American military personnel from Beirut to Baghdad.

The U.S. is in the midst of two wars authorized by Congress. For Ms. Pelosi to flout the Constitution in these circumstances is not only shortsighted; it may well be a felony, as the Logan Act has been part of our criminal law for more than two centuries. Perhaps it is time to enforce the law.

The circumstances surrounding Carter’s visit are no less egregious, in fact, Carter’s freelance diplomacy is arguably worse. Hamas, unlike Syria, is not a country — an entity with territorial integrity, recognized by the international community as the legitimate authority of a nation-state — but a terrorist group. I’m no lawyer, but it appears that a strong case can be made that Jimmy Carter has been in constant violation of a federal statute ever since he left the White House.

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McCain’s Chance

Abe, the “McCain’s turn” thesis makes a lot of sense — except for the Lazarus bit. There is no precedent in primary history for a candidate who ran out of money, sank 15 points in the polls, and dismissed the top echelon of his staff turning it around as McCain has. He was left for dead in July, when he ran out of money and fired his closest electoral aide, John Weaver. Weaver was, by most accounts, a bad influence on McCain in the sense that he heightened his candidate’s sense of injury and entitlement and blamed the Republican party and the conservative movement for McCain’s own mistakes on the stump. One has to think that the departure of Weaver has proved a profound benefit to McCain, who doesn’t seem to have someone whispering in his ear recommending he insult and offend Republican voters as a means of securing independent support.

But McCain didn’t need Weaver to make mistakes, as his peculiar way of running to win the Michigan primary demonstrated. He has a defiant, even perverse streak, which is perfect for a gadfly but not the best quality for someone who needs to work to unite a coalition behind him. The next two weeks are the most important of his political life. It is his responsibility now to find a way to unite a divided party behind him — to say the things he needs to say to quiet the conservative-media riot against him. The danger for McCain is that he will be tempted to believe it’s the responsibility of those who don’t like him to shut up and support him anyway.

Abe, the “McCain’s turn” thesis makes a lot of sense — except for the Lazarus bit. There is no precedent in primary history for a candidate who ran out of money, sank 15 points in the polls, and dismissed the top echelon of his staff turning it around as McCain has. He was left for dead in July, when he ran out of money and fired his closest electoral aide, John Weaver. Weaver was, by most accounts, a bad influence on McCain in the sense that he heightened his candidate’s sense of injury and entitlement and blamed the Republican party and the conservative movement for McCain’s own mistakes on the stump. One has to think that the departure of Weaver has proved a profound benefit to McCain, who doesn’t seem to have someone whispering in his ear recommending he insult and offend Republican voters as a means of securing independent support.

But McCain didn’t need Weaver to make mistakes, as his peculiar way of running to win the Michigan primary demonstrated. He has a defiant, even perverse streak, which is perfect for a gadfly but not the best quality for someone who needs to work to unite a coalition behind him. The next two weeks are the most important of his political life. It is his responsibility now to find a way to unite a divided party behind him — to say the things he needs to say to quiet the conservative-media riot against him. The danger for McCain is that he will be tempted to believe it’s the responsibility of those who don’t like him to shut up and support him anyway.

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Crime without Punishment

On Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced that China had agreed to drop twelve sets of industrial subsidies that encourage exports and discourage imports. The subsidies cover about 60 percent of Chinese manufactured exports. “This outcome shows that President Bush’s policy of serious dialogue and resolute enforcement is delivering real results,” Schwab said in a statement. “This outcome represents a victory for U.S. manufacturers and their workers.”

Is this agreement with China really a “victory” for “dialogue”? It was a victory all right, a victory for Beijing. These subsidies are clearly a violation of WTO rules. They should have been eliminated on December 11, 2001, the day China joined the global trading body. The U.S. did not file a WTO complaint about them until February of this year. What were we doing for more than a half decade? Worse, the Schwab agreement does not compensate American companies and workers for the injury suffered since 2001 because of the patently illegal incentives. This agreement permits China to escape punishment for more than five years of crime.

The concession is also smart politics for Beijing. The Chinese were going to lose on these subsidies at the WTO, and they undoubtedly figured they might get some good publicity, especially ahead of the third round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue, which is scheduled to begin in Beijing on the 12th of this month. The SED, initiated last year, has been a dismal failure for friendly dialogue. It has resulted in the loss of crucial time and a diversion of our energy. Yet we keep trying: Paulson will be taking with him to the Chinese capital an “entourage of high-level talkers” including Schwab, three cabinet secretaries, the head of the EPA, and a score of other officials.

Americans believe that, if we are friendly to Chinese leaders, they will be friendly back. Decades of dealings with them, however, have shown that they are ruthlessly pragmatic. They are not impressed by gestures of friendliness. They respect strength. If we want fair trade with the Chinese, we will have to file WTO cases and treat them like they treat us. They need America more than America needs them.

Let’s stop talking. After all, there’s nothing more to discuss. China needs to comply with its WTO promises now. End of discussion.

On Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced that China had agreed to drop twelve sets of industrial subsidies that encourage exports and discourage imports. The subsidies cover about 60 percent of Chinese manufactured exports. “This outcome shows that President Bush’s policy of serious dialogue and resolute enforcement is delivering real results,” Schwab said in a statement. “This outcome represents a victory for U.S. manufacturers and their workers.”

Is this agreement with China really a “victory” for “dialogue”? It was a victory all right, a victory for Beijing. These subsidies are clearly a violation of WTO rules. They should have been eliminated on December 11, 2001, the day China joined the global trading body. The U.S. did not file a WTO complaint about them until February of this year. What were we doing for more than a half decade? Worse, the Schwab agreement does not compensate American companies and workers for the injury suffered since 2001 because of the patently illegal incentives. This agreement permits China to escape punishment for more than five years of crime.

The concession is also smart politics for Beijing. The Chinese were going to lose on these subsidies at the WTO, and they undoubtedly figured they might get some good publicity, especially ahead of the third round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue, which is scheduled to begin in Beijing on the 12th of this month. The SED, initiated last year, has been a dismal failure for friendly dialogue. It has resulted in the loss of crucial time and a diversion of our energy. Yet we keep trying: Paulson will be taking with him to the Chinese capital an “entourage of high-level talkers” including Schwab, three cabinet secretaries, the head of the EPA, and a score of other officials.

Americans believe that, if we are friendly to Chinese leaders, they will be friendly back. Decades of dealings with them, however, have shown that they are ruthlessly pragmatic. They are not impressed by gestures of friendliness. They respect strength. If we want fair trade with the Chinese, we will have to file WTO cases and treat them like they treat us. They need America more than America needs them.

Let’s stop talking. After all, there’s nothing more to discuss. China needs to comply with its WTO promises now. End of discussion.

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Re: Waterboarding, Elsewhere

Max, the discussion of waterboarding and torture has taken a fascinating turn in the past few years, because it involves a redefinition of “torture.” As universally understood, torture is the infliction of physical injury through the application of physical force. It is the negation, the reverse image, of medical care. The monstrous intent of torture is, literally, to cause physical injury. That injury need not be permanently scarring or even temporarily bruising to be torture, as in the disgusting use of electric current, but it must be an actual injury in any case.

Punishment techniques like waterboarding were invented precisely not to be acts of torture as commonly understood, but rather to simulate acts of torture. In the case of waterboarding, the intent is not to drown or nearly to drown (a classic torture method) but to invoke the primal fear of drowning. In both cases, of course, the purpose is to cause the sufferer to become so fearful that he will do whatever it takes not to endure the experience again. But when someone’s head is held under water, he may actually be drowned. When someone is waterboarded, he will not.

Waterboarding is clearly psychologically brutal, in that it induces raw panic. But it is not physically brutal. It is actually an avoidance of physical brutality. Now, we enlightened folk are, of course, keenly aware of the fragility of the psyche and the seriousness of mental trauma, so much so that the word “traumatized” is now used exclusively as a description of a spiritual state and not a physical one.

It is perhaps to be expected that the enlightened would choose to equate actual injuries that leave actual scars with psychic game-playing that leaves people shaken and terrified. But by claiming there is no difference between savage physical acts that cause savage physical harm and an unquestionably gruesome fake-out like waterboarding, the enlightened are guilty of profound rhetorical injury themselves.

Max, the discussion of waterboarding and torture has taken a fascinating turn in the past few years, because it involves a redefinition of “torture.” As universally understood, torture is the infliction of physical injury through the application of physical force. It is the negation, the reverse image, of medical care. The monstrous intent of torture is, literally, to cause physical injury. That injury need not be permanently scarring or even temporarily bruising to be torture, as in the disgusting use of electric current, but it must be an actual injury in any case.

Punishment techniques like waterboarding were invented precisely not to be acts of torture as commonly understood, but rather to simulate acts of torture. In the case of waterboarding, the intent is not to drown or nearly to drown (a classic torture method) but to invoke the primal fear of drowning. In both cases, of course, the purpose is to cause the sufferer to become so fearful that he will do whatever it takes not to endure the experience again. But when someone’s head is held under water, he may actually be drowned. When someone is waterboarded, he will not.

Waterboarding is clearly psychologically brutal, in that it induces raw panic. But it is not physically brutal. It is actually an avoidance of physical brutality. Now, we enlightened folk are, of course, keenly aware of the fragility of the psyche and the seriousness of mental trauma, so much so that the word “traumatized” is now used exclusively as a description of a spiritual state and not a physical one.

It is perhaps to be expected that the enlightened would choose to equate actual injuries that leave actual scars with psychic game-playing that leaves people shaken and terrified. But by claiming there is no difference between savage physical acts that cause savage physical harm and an unquestionably gruesome fake-out like waterboarding, the enlightened are guilty of profound rhetorical injury themselves.

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False Hopes

In Zimbabwe, presidential and parliamentary elections have been scheduled for March of 2008. The decision to hold these elections—brokered after a series of negotiations held under the auspices of South African president Thabo Mbeki—has been hailed by none other than the regime of Robert Mugabe itself. What, then, is to make us believe that the outcome of next March’s balloting will prove any different than the results of past elections in 2000, 2002, and 2005, all of which were rigged? Indeed, there have been several disturbing developments over the past several weeks which indicate that neither Mugabe nor (more worryingly) Mbeki are serious about free and fair elections.

According to opposition leaders, since the end of the South African-brokered negotiations, the Zimbabwean government has turned down 103 applications for political rallies (the fact that political parties must register with the government before holding a rally is itself indicative of the nature of the Mugabe regime) and it is still meting out violence against democracy activists. Yesterday, the government reiterated its support for stringent media laws which make it practically impossible for foreigners to own television or radio stations (effectively banning the foreign television and radio media from operating freely in the country). This will make it easier for the regime to cover its inevitable election abuses come next year.

And to add insult to injury, after having declared victory over British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a diplomatic row over his attendance at an upcoming European Union-African Union summit in Lisbon, Mugabe’s mouthpieces are now demanding that the E.U. tell Brown to “shut up” about Mugabe’s gross abuses of human rights because “Gordon Brown is not even qualified to talk to us on human rights and as you can see he failed his own country’s internal democracy in Britain.” This is in reference to Brown’s decision not to call an immediate election to ratify his mandate as an unelected prime minister who assumed power following the resignation of his predecessor. An absurd allegation, of course, but one that apparently seems to convince Mugabe’s fellow African leaders.

Amidst all of these recent developments, how can anyone honestly believe that next year’s elections will be free and fair?

In Zimbabwe, presidential and parliamentary elections have been scheduled for March of 2008. The decision to hold these elections—brokered after a series of negotiations held under the auspices of South African president Thabo Mbeki—has been hailed by none other than the regime of Robert Mugabe itself. What, then, is to make us believe that the outcome of next March’s balloting will prove any different than the results of past elections in 2000, 2002, and 2005, all of which were rigged? Indeed, there have been several disturbing developments over the past several weeks which indicate that neither Mugabe nor (more worryingly) Mbeki are serious about free and fair elections.

According to opposition leaders, since the end of the South African-brokered negotiations, the Zimbabwean government has turned down 103 applications for political rallies (the fact that political parties must register with the government before holding a rally is itself indicative of the nature of the Mugabe regime) and it is still meting out violence against democracy activists. Yesterday, the government reiterated its support for stringent media laws which make it practically impossible for foreigners to own television or radio stations (effectively banning the foreign television and radio media from operating freely in the country). This will make it easier for the regime to cover its inevitable election abuses come next year.

And to add insult to injury, after having declared victory over British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a diplomatic row over his attendance at an upcoming European Union-African Union summit in Lisbon, Mugabe’s mouthpieces are now demanding that the E.U. tell Brown to “shut up” about Mugabe’s gross abuses of human rights because “Gordon Brown is not even qualified to talk to us on human rights and as you can see he failed his own country’s internal democracy in Britain.” This is in reference to Brown’s decision not to call an immediate election to ratify his mandate as an unelected prime minister who assumed power following the resignation of his predecessor. An absurd allegation, of course, but one that apparently seems to convince Mugabe’s fellow African leaders.

Amidst all of these recent developments, how can anyone honestly believe that next year’s elections will be free and fair?

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Preventative Care . . . or Else

One of the most illuminating moments of the 2008 presidential race came this past Sunday. Speaking to an audience in Iowa, John Edwards said that under his proposed universal health care plan, Americans would be required to go to the doctor regularly for preventative exams:

It requires that everybody get preventive care. If you are going to be in the system, you can’t choose not to go to the doctor for twenty years. You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK.

This raises some obvious practical questions: What’s the penalty for choosing not to go to the doctor? Will the government keep records of people’s doctor visits? Are you also required to comply with doctor’s advice about diet and exercise? But it also offers some political and philosophical insight into the long, bitter argument over health care.

Politically, it highlights the extent to which the Democrats have begun to make themselves vulnerable on health care by overreaching. In part because Republicans have been absent from the debate, Democrats have convinced themselves in recent years that the public wants a universal, single-payer system. Their internal debate has been about whether the government should merely fund or actually own and run that system.

This is basically nuts. Examined carefully, public concerns about health care do not amount to a rejection of America’s private health insurance system. Rather, these concerns express anxiety about access to that system, and about portability and stability of coverage. Republicans slowly are coming to champion modest reforms that address these anxieties. In time, Democrats will find that they have vastly overshot the mark with their arguments for replacing the current system with a massive bureaucracy. Calls for mandatory doctor visits won’t help them refute criticisms on that score.

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One of the most illuminating moments of the 2008 presidential race came this past Sunday. Speaking to an audience in Iowa, John Edwards said that under his proposed universal health care plan, Americans would be required to go to the doctor regularly for preventative exams:

It requires that everybody get preventive care. If you are going to be in the system, you can’t choose not to go to the doctor for twenty years. You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK.

This raises some obvious practical questions: What’s the penalty for choosing not to go to the doctor? Will the government keep records of people’s doctor visits? Are you also required to comply with doctor’s advice about diet and exercise? But it also offers some political and philosophical insight into the long, bitter argument over health care.

Politically, it highlights the extent to which the Democrats have begun to make themselves vulnerable on health care by overreaching. In part because Republicans have been absent from the debate, Democrats have convinced themselves in recent years that the public wants a universal, single-payer system. Their internal debate has been about whether the government should merely fund or actually own and run that system.

This is basically nuts. Examined carefully, public concerns about health care do not amount to a rejection of America’s private health insurance system. Rather, these concerns express anxiety about access to that system, and about portability and stability of coverage. Republicans slowly are coming to champion modest reforms that address these anxieties. In time, Democrats will find that they have vastly overshot the mark with their arguments for replacing the current system with a massive bureaucracy. Calls for mandatory doctor visits won’t help them refute criticisms on that score.

But Edwards’s idea has farther-reaching, philosophical implications. The case for universal health care has long been made on the grounds that access to care should be a right enjoyed by all—we all get sick and suffer injury; no one is more entitled to help in that struggle than anyone else. This thought proceeds from an essential premise of the modern worldview: nature is out to get us, and our vulnerability defines our common humanity.

Edwards’s move points out an important weakness in that view. By turning health from a right into a duty, from protection into obligation, it elevates health to a civic virtue of the highest order—higher even than freedom. (Or, as René Descartes put it 370 years ago, health is “without doubt the primary good and the foundation of all other goods of this life.”)

This elevation of health may not bear directly on the presidential race, but it is at the heart of many modern predicaments, and helps us understand a lot about the close but often stormy relationship between liberal democracy and modern science. (Some further thoughts on that here.) John Edwards didn’t mean, I’m sure, to imply all of that. It just sits beneath his proposal, and shows how deeply the daily grind of campaign politics and the abstract realm of political philosophy are connected.

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Talking with the Taliban

Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.

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Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.

The South Korean government has, in reality, not given up anything. It had already banned its citizens from traveling to Afghanistan. The Taliban also conceded little. It would have risked even more international condemnation if it had executed the remaining nineteen hostages, who over time would have become a liability in the hands of their captors. Their release, therefore, avoided a dilemma for the Taliban.

The whole incident, of course, further weakened the Karzai government. Yet it also demonstrated once again the inability of today’s democracies to defeat Islamic militants. Despite what they say, elected leaders these days will negotiate with thugs, fanatics, and terrorists.

In a peaceful world, presidents’ making deals with criminals, although deplorable, may not result in lasting injury to the international system. Yet President Bush tells us we are involved in a global death match with terrorists. If we are, in fact, fighting for civilization—which I believe we are—then Bush’s facilitation of the negotiations with the Taliban makes all of us appear feckless.

Either we are involved in an existential struggle or we are not. President Bush should let us know, and act accordingly.

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Ricciardone’s Copt-Out

Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange:

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Since the unexpectedly strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in late 2005—and other rough seas that President Bush’s policies encountered in Iraq and Palestine—the administration has pulled in its horns on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Tactical retreats are not tantamount to an abandonment of policy, but apparently no one has told this to the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Frances Ricciardone. In recent public comments Ricciardone has gone out of his way to excuse and cover up some of the most serious violations of democracy and human rights in Egypt.

In a television interview (the transcript of which is posted on the embassy’s website), the ambassador was asked about the circumstances of the Coptic Christians who constitute an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Here is the relevant exchange:

Interviewer: Do [Copts] have a problem? Are they a minority who suffers discrimination?

Ambassador: Even in the U.S., minorities may feel that they are discriminated against. This happens in every country of the world. What is important is that there should be legal protection for all minorities. This is found in Egypt. You even have what is more powerful than law, and by that I mean strong traditions, and the Egyptian spirit of tolerance and brotherhood.

Interviewer: Then you see no problem or discrimination against Copts in Egypt? And when you write reports as an American ambassador to the American administration, upon which the Congress or others make decisions, you don’t write that there is discrimination or bias against the Copts in Egypt?

Ambassador: Naturally, here in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech, so it is possible for anyone to complain about any personal or social problem. If there is a problem, there are legal ways to deal with it, whether here or in the U.S.

Interviewer: But you don’t see that there is a Coptic problem or discrimination in Egypt?

Ambassador: Of course, I have not seen that personally, as I am not a Coptic Egyptian citizen.

Interviewer: If the American administration asked you one day, “We are writing a religious-freedom report in Egypt, and we need to know the position of the Copts in Egypt. Are they discriminated against or not?” How would you answer them? What would your report be here from the embassy in Egypt?

Ambassador: I will say that it is normal to have social issues, as with any place in the world. But I do not think that there is organized discrimination by the Egyptian state. There might be individual discrimination, or people who lack good manners, and as a result, complaints are voiced. This happens everywhere, even in the U.S. Egypt is no exception. This is something we must all stand against.

Here are a few items about the status of Copts that have no analogue in the U.S., items that Ricciardone seems to have overlooked:

• The Egyptian constitution specifies that Islamic law is “the main source” of Egyptian law.

• Copts do not have the right to build churches. They must get approval from the president of the country or from a regional governor. Such approval is not routinely granted. In one town, Asyut, the Christians have been waiting since 1935. There are also constraints on the height and location of churches vis à vis nearby mosques. The requirement for high government approval applies not only to building new churches but also to renovating or even repairing existing ones. Needless to say, there are no comparable constraints on mosque building or repair.

• Compulsory military service in Egypt is for three years—unless you can recite the Qur’an by heart, in which case it is reduced to one year.

• Al Azhar University is funded by the state, including the taxes of Christians. Although it is best known as a center of Sunni scholarship, you can also study medicine or history or other subjects there—but only if you are a Muslim. Non-Muslims are not admitted.

• Muslim clergy—like other employees in Egypt—receive social insurance from the state; Christian clergy do not.

Bad “manners,” indeed. Ricciardone’s whitewash of all this is bad enough, but his comment that “here in Egypt, as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech” adds insult to injury, coming just when the Egyptian government has begun imprisoning bloggers. One of them, Abdel Kareem Suleiman, was given three years* for insulting Islam. What is the penalty for insulting Christianity?

*Suleiman’s sentence length was originally misstated.

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Force Protection vs. Force Effectiveness

The recent truck bombing of the U.S. combat outpost in the village of Sadah in Diyala province—a bombing that killed nine soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and injured twenty others—reveals one of the trade-offs of the new strategy that General David Petraeus is adopting. By pushing more troops off their giant Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s), Petraeus is, at least in the short term, increasing their vulnerability. The smaller the outpost, the harder it is to defend.

Giant FOB’s like the Camp Victory/Camp Liberty complex near Baghdad Airport are almost invulnerable to ground attack. They are heavily barricaded and guarded; any VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) going off at an entrance would do scant damage because the bulk of American personnel are miles away. The only real danger is occasional mortar or rocket fire—what the military calls “IDF,” indirect fire—which occasionally hurts someone but more often lands harmlessly. (There were several such attacks while I was at Camp Victory recently.)

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The recent truck bombing of the U.S. combat outpost in the village of Sadah in Diyala province—a bombing that killed nine soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and injured twenty others—reveals one of the trade-offs of the new strategy that General David Petraeus is adopting. By pushing more troops off their giant Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s), Petraeus is, at least in the short term, increasing their vulnerability. The smaller the outpost, the harder it is to defend.

Giant FOB’s like the Camp Victory/Camp Liberty complex near Baghdad Airport are almost invulnerable to ground attack. They are heavily barricaded and guarded; any VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) going off at an entrance would do scant damage because the bulk of American personnel are miles away. The only real danger is occasional mortar or rocket fire—what the military calls “IDF,” indirect fire—which occasionally hurts someone but more often lands harmlessly. (There were several such attacks while I was at Camp Victory recently.)

By contrast, the Sadah outpost was set up in a school, with the perimeter relatively close to the building that housed American troops. According to Sudarsan Raghavan and Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post, one suicide bomber was able to ram his truck into a checkpoint, blasting a hole. Another truck filled with explosives passed through this hole, reaching a concrete wall only 90 feet from the building housing our troops. This building itself was not penetrated by either truck, but the blast waves were close enough to do serious structural damage, causing death and injury to those nearby and inside. Some soldiers were even buried in the rubble.

This is a tragedy. And, unfortunately, we can expect more of the same. Insurgents will continue testing our new Combat Outposts (COP’s) and Joint Security Stations (JSS’s) with car bombs, mortars, and perhaps even infantry assaults until they are convinced that these attacks will not deter us from expanding our presence. (Or until we decide to pull back.)

But the strategy of concentrating U.S. troops in giant bases, though superficially alluring, carries its own heavy risks. The biggest risk of all is that the troops won’t be able to accomplish the job they were sent to do. You can’t wage counterinsurgency from a long distance. You have to live among the people you’re defending. When U.S. soldiers commute to work in Humvees, not only do they find themselves unable to control their AOR’s (Areas of Responsibility), they also find themselves vulnerable to roadside bombs. By getting to know their neighborhoods—which, in most cases, requires foot patrols—troops can gather the intelligence necessary to round up insurgents and establish security for the population.

Over time this strategy will decrease risks not only for Iraqis but also for American troops. But the short-term costs will be real, as the Sadah bombing showed.

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The Closing of the European Mind

The Times of London reports today on yet another episode in the closing of the European mind—in this instance, a shocking case of academic censorship.

Matthias Küntzel, a German political scientist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was invited by the German department at Leeds University for three days of lectures and seminars this week. His lecture on “Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Anti-Semitism in the Middle East” was expected to draw a large audience. Then the university’s student Islamic society complained about the lecture’s “provocative” title. Last Tuesday, at the behest of university authorities, the words “Hitler” and “Islamic” were excised and the title was amended to read: “The Nazi Legacy: The Export of Anti-Semitism to the Middle East.” But when Küntzel arrived at Leeds this Wednesday, he was informed that his lecture and the rest of his program had been cancelled “on security grounds.” Küntzel was understandably indignant: “I value the integrity of academic debate, and I feel that it really is in danger here.”

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The Times of London reports today on yet another episode in the closing of the European mind—in this instance, a shocking case of academic censorship.

Matthias Küntzel, a German political scientist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was invited by the German department at Leeds University for three days of lectures and seminars this week. His lecture on “Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Anti-Semitism in the Middle East” was expected to draw a large audience. Then the university’s student Islamic society complained about the lecture’s “provocative” title. Last Tuesday, at the behest of university authorities, the words “Hitler” and “Islamic” were excised and the title was amended to read: “The Nazi Legacy: The Export of Anti-Semitism to the Middle East.” But when Küntzel arrived at Leeds this Wednesday, he was informed that his lecture and the rest of his program had been cancelled “on security grounds.” Küntzel was understandably indignant: “I value the integrity of academic debate, and I feel that it really is in danger here.”

What had happened? Stuart Taberner, the head of the German department, says he was summoned to a last-minute meeting with staff from the office of Michael Arthur, the university’s vice-chancellor, and the head of security, after which he was obliged to cancel Küntzel’s lectures and seminars. The university claimed that proper arrangements for stewarding the lecture on anti-Semitism had not been made, and that it had been cancelled for purely bureaucratic reasons. “The decision to cancel the meeting has nothing to do with academic freedom, freedom of speech, anti-Semitism, or Islamophobia,” a Leeds spokeswoman said. (She added insult to injury by accusing “those claiming that is the case”—including Küntzel—of “making mischief.”) The spokeswoman did not explain why the university had not offered to provide additional security during the visit, nor whether the police had been involved.

Was there a threat to security? The president of the Islamic society, Ahmed Sawalem, denied responsibility for the affair: “We just sent a complaint, we did not ask for the talk to be cancelled.” Küntzel was shown two e-mails, one of which—apparently written by an Arab Muslim student—is quoted in the Times. The writer claims that the lecture is an “open racist attack” but makes no explicit threats.

The Küntzel case shows that Muslims do not even need to resort to the threat of violence in order to close down academic debate on subjects they dislike. Anthony Glees of Brunel University has been warning for years of the danger posed by Islamists on campus—a danger to which university authorities are notoriously weak in responding. Before his death last year, I spoke to Zaki Badawi, the leading Muslim opponent of Islamism in Britain, about this problem, which he saw as one of appeasement. This case, however, goes beyond appeasement. Leeds has set a new precedent: the pre-emptive cringe. Islamists everywhere will take heart from the spectacle of a reputable university setting a lower value on academic freedom than on the possibility that Muslim students might take offense.

It will be fascinating to see whether any other British university tries to efface this shameful episode by inviting Küntzel to give the lecture cancelled by Leeds. Perhaps Oxford will follow the example of Yale and many others by offering Küntzel a platform to explain how the Nazis supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. After all, Oxford is proud to provide just such a platform for that scion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Tariq Ramadan.

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Putin the Comedian

Move over, Borat. The hottest new voice in comedy is Vladimir Putin, otherwise known as the man who saved Russia from freedom and democracy. Putin convulsed his audience at the Munich Conference on Security with this sparkling one-liner: “Nobody feels secure any more, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law.”

International law has been likened to many things—gauze, cotton, clouds, tissue paper, vapor—but a “stone wall?” Where did Putin come up with this utterly original metaphor? Perhaps from the idealistic years of his youth, when he proved his devotion to making people secure by going to work for the Committee for State Security (KGB). In his proudest assignment, Putin found safety behind an actual stone wall in Berlin and helped millions of East Germans to enjoy that safety with him, even those flighty individuals who, if left to their own devices, might have preferred to be someplace less secure.

Putin is understandably peeved that the expansion of NATO has already diminished Russia’s security by depriving it of its historic freedom to invade its neighbors. Now, adding insult to injury, Washington is considering placing anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This would mean that Russia could not even fire rockets at these countries just to send them a message about, say, the advantages of buying more Russian gas at higher prices.

Putin has been forced to parry further assaults on Russia’s security, waged by American NGO’s that have set up operations inside Russia to promote democracy and human rights. “Russia is constantly being taught democracy,” he protested.

Is this how we repay Putin for all that he has done to enhance our security? He has furnished Iran with nuclear technology in order, so he explained, to make sure that Iran does not “feel cornered.” He has gone to great lengths to protect us from the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko. Above all, is this the reward that Putin deserves for having worked so hard to keep the world safe from Chechnya?

Move over, Borat. The hottest new voice in comedy is Vladimir Putin, otherwise known as the man who saved Russia from freedom and democracy. Putin convulsed his audience at the Munich Conference on Security with this sparkling one-liner: “Nobody feels secure any more, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law.”

International law has been likened to many things—gauze, cotton, clouds, tissue paper, vapor—but a “stone wall?” Where did Putin come up with this utterly original metaphor? Perhaps from the idealistic years of his youth, when he proved his devotion to making people secure by going to work for the Committee for State Security (KGB). In his proudest assignment, Putin found safety behind an actual stone wall in Berlin and helped millions of East Germans to enjoy that safety with him, even those flighty individuals who, if left to their own devices, might have preferred to be someplace less secure.

Putin is understandably peeved that the expansion of NATO has already diminished Russia’s security by depriving it of its historic freedom to invade its neighbors. Now, adding insult to injury, Washington is considering placing anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This would mean that Russia could not even fire rockets at these countries just to send them a message about, say, the advantages of buying more Russian gas at higher prices.

Putin has been forced to parry further assaults on Russia’s security, waged by American NGO’s that have set up operations inside Russia to promote democracy and human rights. “Russia is constantly being taught democracy,” he protested.

Is this how we repay Putin for all that he has done to enhance our security? He has furnished Iran with nuclear technology in order, so he explained, to make sure that Iran does not “feel cornered.” He has gone to great lengths to protect us from the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko. Above all, is this the reward that Putin deserves for having worked so hard to keep the world safe from Chechnya?

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