Politics & Policy

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Window on The Week.” acts as our weekly quick-and-punchy “between-the-issues” survey of the hot topics of the day. “Window on The Week” gives you a sense of what “The Week,” looks like–a popular feature which appears fortnightly in National Review.

#-#The debate over the United Arab Emirates ports deal hasn’t been terribly edifying. Most members of Congress haven’t let their ignorance of what the deal is or how ports operate keep them from making categorical pronouncements about it. We have yet to hear a convincing explanation of why having the UAE-owned firm Dubai Ports World manage some terminals at six U.S. ports would threaten our national security. A firm like DP World basically operates the cranes. It is a small part of a big operation, with various U.S. government agencies providing the security. But it is understandable–and not a sign of some sort of bias, as President Bush has suggested–that people are nervous about having an Arab country involved in our ports in any way. If the interagency review was more extensive than is often the case with these sort of deals, it was still fairly cursory–only one meeting in 30 days–and calls for further review strike us as reasonable. We are therefore encouraged that the White House has signalled it might accept a delay, and that DP World has indicated it would go along with one. This is what chairman of the House homeland-security committee Pete King–a responsible voice of skepticism about the deal–has been urging. If the deal is sound, as we expect, there is no reason to rush, and perhaps a couple of weeks from now Congress will have grown tired of its own demagoguery on the issue.

#-#Justice Samuel Alito took his seat on the Supreme Court this week–a week in which the Court also announced it would hear a case on partial-birth abortion in its next term. This upsets the abortion-on-demand crowd, one of whose shrillest voices belongs to Don Collins. Collins is a board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that favors population control in addition to restrictions on immigration. Writing in the Pittsburgh Tribune, Collins noted that, with the confirmation of Alito, five of the nine justices are Catholic. For most people, this is a piece of trivia. For Collins, it’s proof of papist conspiracy: A 1975 pro-life pastoral letter, he wrote, “is a superbly detailed blueprint of the bishops’ strategy for infiltrating and manipulating the American democratic process at national, state, and local levels.” Collins should get a prize for anti-religious hysteria: Not only does he peddle anti-Catholic clichés (“infiltrating and manipulating”), but he also thinks the Catholics’ “unwitting evangelical brethren” have been duped into becoming the pope’s legions. We think those who favor legal abortion are wrong, but they definitely deserve better spokesmen than Collins.

#-#South Dakota has enacted a law to ban abortion, and the state’s Republican governor, Mike Rounds, is expected to sign it. Federal courts will almost certainly strike down the law before it takes effect, and South Dakota will have to pay the fees of the abortion clinics’ attorneys. Subsidizing the ACLU and Planned Parenthood may not be the legislators’ intent, but it is the effect of their actions. There may be some value in putting the state’s opposition to abortion on record. But the legislators could have accomplished that by passing a resolution committing themselves to the goal of protecting unborn human life from unjust killing as soon as it becomes possible–and committing themselves to participating in a practical strategy, combining legislation and litigation, to make it possible. The current bill, though idealistic, is a distraction from that task.

#-#Kofi Annan has called for the closure of the terrorist-detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in response to a report by a group of U.N. “human-rights investigators.” The group, which answers to the U.N. Human Rights Commission–a body that includes such humanitarian luminaries as Sudan, Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, and Zimbabwe–proclaimed that prisoners at Guantanamo are being treated inhumanely and even tortured. After completing their thorough, dispassionate, truth-seeking investigation of American atrocities, the rapporteurs called for the responsible U.S. officials to be prosecuted “up to the highest level of military and political command.” Of course, none of the investigators felt the need actually to visit Guantanamo and observe the scene firsthand. They instead interviewed some former detainees (eyewitnesses!), along with detainees’ families and defense attorneys. Never mind that Qaeda training manuals instruct operatives to fabricate torture stories whenever they are captured. Never mind, either, that American officials deny the torture allegations. The Archimedean axiom of any good U.N. investigator is that anybody is more trustworthy than an American official. It’s a principle with which the U.N. indeed hopes to move the whole world.

#-#”People are counting the minutes for this regime to be over and gone,” a prominent Iranian dissident recently told National Review Online. They may be counting for a long time–but, thanks to the Bush administration, perhaps not as long as they originally thought. Condoleezza Rice has proposed $75 million in funding for Iranian dissident groups and labor unions, television and radio broadcasts into Iran, and fellowships for Iranians to study in the U.S. That number is more than seven times what the administration had already allotted for those purposes in its 2006 budget, and is clearly an effort to undermine the mullahcracy in Tehran. It would take a haruspex to say whether these funds will bring regime change, but given that Iran’s rulers are aggressively Islamist, resistant to diplomatic niceties, and hell-bent on building nuclear weapons–and given that the Iranian people, whom the mullahs have alienated, are markedly pro-democratic and friendly to the West–it seems a wise course.

#-#”Dubious” doesn’t quite cover the uniquely sinful nature of David Irving’s distinction. He is the world’s smartest and most knowledgeable Holocaust denier. But while we may debate what treats lie in store for him in the nether regions of the afterlife, in this life there’s little to recommend Austria’s decision to put him behind bars for three years, in punishment for something he said 16 years ago to Nazi nostalgists. At the time, Irving claimed there were no gas chambers at the concentration camps where Jews were slaughtered on an industrial scale. He now claims he was “mistaken,” though he failed to admit as much in his unsuccessful 1999 libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt, who accused him of Holocaust denial (and who is herself an opponent of Irving’s conviction, and of such prosecutions generally). Austria’s desire to have zero tolerance for Holocaust deniers is understandable in light of its history. But a commitment to free speech means, among other things, a willingness to tolerate the expression of views that are factually wrong (even as we correct them) or morally repugnant (even as we condemn them). That is not to say that no limits can legitimately be placed on expression: No society can tolerate speech that incites violence or eventuates the destruction of the political institutions on which freedom depends. But it is not in open societies like Austria that Holocaust denial could gain mainstream currency, but rather in totalitarian states whose governments stoke anti-Semitic sentiments for their political advantage. If Austria wanted to have a zero-tolerance policy that mattered beyond the symbolic, it could revisit its trade agreements with the current rulers of Iran–who are apparently Irving’s biggest fans.

#-#Alan Dershowitz is no right-winger. So when even he describes the resignation of Harvard president Larry Summers as “an academic coup d’etat by . . . the die-hard Left of the faculty,” things must be bad. It’s true that Summers got bruised in turf wars with professors and deans, but he probably could have survived those scuffles absent his politics. What are those politics? He opposed calls for Harvard to divest its holdings in companies that do business with Israel; he defended ROTC; and he nudged Cornel West to try his hand at scholarship in addition to rap music. Sounds pretty radical to us. Most controversial was his asking whether innate differences in the cognitive abilities of men and women might account for the low representation of women in math and science. That proposition should be tested with dispassionate scholarship. Instead, the faculty screamed Summers down and gave him a no-confidence vote. To his shame, he apologized rather than defend academic freedom, but on the whole he was a force for good in the ivory tower. We wish him well–and await academe’s next attempt to castrate those who question received notions of veritas.

#-#Long Island University announced the 2005 winners of the George Polk awards for journalism, and the criterion appeared to be whether a journalist’s work had compromised national security. Winners included Dana Priest of the Washington Post–whose reporting exposed the existence of covert CIA interrogation centers in Europe–and Brian Ross of ABC News, whose reporting revealed even more details about those facilities. Given that such journalism is routinely rewarded, CBS News correspondent David Martin deserves all the more praise for declining to air a story on improvised explosive devices after the U.S. military told him it contained information that could help Iraqi insurgents make their attacks more deadly. “When I killed the story . . . it was 5:30–an hour to air–and I left the Evening News broadcast without a lead story which they had been counting on all day,” he wrote on CBS News Public Eye. “Not a good career move.” Sadly, that observation is right.

#-#No “licensed medical professionals” have volunteered to assist California’s San Quentin Prison in delivering a lethal injection to convicted rapist and murderer Michael Morales. The reason for their delicacy is that depressing the syringe would end, in the words of San Quentin’s spokesman, “the life of a human being.” You can see why doctors would bridle at such an act. “Physicians are healers. We’re not executioners,” Michael Sexton, president of the California Medical Association, told National Public Radio. “To participate in capital punishment, if you’re a physician, is a violation of the most fundamental ethical principles we hold.” What principles? The Hippocratic Oath says that doctors explicitly abjure “deleterious and mischievous” actions including giving “a woman a pessary to produce abortion.” The Geneva Conventions require doctors to “maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception.” Would that all California doctors held to these principles in all circumstances. Alas, in 2000 alone, 236,060 unborn Californians received fatal treatment from licensed physicians.

#-#Do Qaeda terrorists, like the rest of us, have to take time out from their assigned tasks to go and argue with the human-resources department about vacation and benefits? Apparently they do. Two recent studies by U.S. defense analysts have highlighted “the banality of al Qaeda’s day to day operations.” We learn, for example, that the worker bees of jihadist terrorism get 15 days of sick leave a year–very welcome, one imagines, if a jihadist’s bomb-making activities go awry. Eager to confirm these reports, we tried to call our own contacts in al Qaeda, but unfortunately they were all away at a sexual-harassment-awareness seminar.

#-#Young Johnny Weir, 21-year-old winner of three U.S. men’s figure-skating championships, did not do as well as he had hoped at the Winter Olympics, placing only fifth. Our patriotic chagrin at this poor showing is considerably mitigated by the recollection of a recent NBC profile of Weir in which he was shown lounging on a sofa wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the letters “CCCP”–the Cyrillic-alphabet version of “USSR.” Challenged on this point of wardrobe sense, Weir replied that wearing a CCCP jacket is “the same as someone wearing a Madonna T-shirt.” Is it, though? We have searched in vain for index references to Madonna in The Black Book of Communism, and beg leave to doubt whether the pop diva can be held responsible for several tens of millions of untimely deaths, as the USSR certainly was. Excuses can be made: Weir was only five when the Evil Empire fell, and was educated in U.S. schools, where teaching about the true nature of Soviet Communism yields priority to lessons in Diversity Issues and the noble deeds of Sacagawea and Harriet Tubman. Still, this is one U.S. medal loss that conservatives will, we feel sure, bear with stoicism.


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