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”–a popular feature that appears fortnightly in National Review–looks like.

#-# In a long overdue development, the intelligence community reversed its course of endlessly delaying release of the millions of documents, audio- and videotapes, computer discs, hard drives, and the like seized in Iraq. Within this trove lies the eventual legacy of the war, and dissemination to interested scholars and analysts will speed the verdict of history. In today’s atmosphere–charged with politicized recriminations and good-faith disputes over successes, mistakes, and the future course of policy–it is easy to forget that the invasion of Iraq was a logical extension of the war on terror. Promotion of democracy is important, but Iraq, first and foremost, was about American national security, and specifically about the unacceptability, in the post-9/11 era, of abiding a murderous dictator’s making common cause with our jihadist enemies: harboring them, training them, financing them, and potentially even arming them. Even the trickle so far made available from the intelligence haul appears to corroborate Saddam’s historic ties to terrorism. Administration opponents and self-interested intelligence experts who’ve persisted in trying to debunk the notion of collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda all have a stake in thwarting a thorough examination of history. For the rest of us, it is imperative that this examination proceed, with dispatch.

#-# What to make of the arrest of top White House adviser Claude Allen on shoplifting charges? On a personal level, there’s not much to say. Who knows why a man so successful–and with such a lucrative future ahead of him after his White House service–would do something so crazy as to steal merchandise from a Target store? If the charges against him are true, he truly seems to need help. But what does the Allen affair say about the White House? Well, it seems clear that when Allen first told chief of staff Andrew Card and counsel Harriet Miers in early January that he had had some sort of problem with security and police at a Target store, and then, just days later, told them he was thinking about quitting to spend more time with his family–at that point some serious red flags should have gone up in the West Wing. Yet the White House says Card and Miers gave Allen “the benefit of the doubt” because of his sterling record (and the fact that he had been through extensive background checks in the past). In retrospect, though, the Allen case seems to confirm that, where the president’s reputation is concerned, careful vigilance is better than the benefit of the doubt. Allen’s alleged actions, as terrible as they are for his own reputation, also hurt the White House. Top officials there should have taken action sooner to find out what was going on and deal with it.

#-# In response to Sen. Russell Feingold’s attempt to censure President Bush over federal wiretapping, one of Rhode Island’s Republicans announced this week that it would be “a very bad idea to censure the president over a policy dispute.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t the state’s incumbent GOP senator who said so–these words belong to Cranston mayor Steven Laffey, who is challenging Lincoln Chafee in the September primary. Chafee, for his part, told the Providence Journal that he welcomes the public debate that Feingold has sparked, though he opposes his Wisconsin colleague’s “drastic” proposal and believes “everything should occur in steps.” This comes on the heels of Chafee’s decision to oppose the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito (and before that, his refusal even to vote for President Bush’s reelection in 2004). As time passes, it becomes increasingly unclear what benefit Republicans–to say nothing of conservatives–derive from Chafee’s continued presence in the Senate.

#-# We hesitate to read too much into last weekend’s presidential straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis–but since everyone else is, this is how we see it: Bill Frist won with 36 percent, but in his home state that showing was merely adequate. Mitt Romney got good buzz from his 14-percent second-place finish, but his supporters paid for Romney voters to come to the event (and weren’t particularly straight about it with reporters). John McCain urged his supporters to vote for President Bush as a sign of solidarity. As a long-term strategy, it absolutely makes sense for McCain to hug Bush as tightly as possible. As a tactic in Memphis, however, this feint might have been as much about trying to mask front-running McCain’s still less-than-commanding position among GOP activists. Sen. George Allen, who has to win reelection in Virginia this year, didn’t attempt to organize at the event and finished with a so-so 10 percent. It’s all very interesting–but, needless to say, it’s also very, very early.

#-# The best way to cut Washington down to size would be to encourage the presidential ambitions of more Republican members of Congress. At last weekend’s GOP gathering in Memphis, the Los Angeles Times reported that the 2008 hopefuls “mostly echoed one another” as they “called for lower taxes, more fiscal discipline, a smaller and less intrusive federal government . . .” Away from the campaign trail and the hopeful expectations of their party’s faithful, Senate Republicans are adding new spending to their bloated budget bill, while House Republican leaders rebuff conservative attempts to offset “emergency” spending on Katrina relief with some spending reductions. And this week, USA Today reported that enrollment increased in 25 major government programs by an average of 17 percent over the past five years, while the population grew by just 5 percent: “It was the largest five year expansion of the federal safety net since . . . the 1960s.” The Senate promptly increased grants to low-income communities by $1.3 billion.

#-# Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was handed a bombshell–and opportunity–right before that Tennessee straw poll: Catholic Charities in Boston announced that they would end their adoption work rather than continue it under a state law requiring them to place children with same-sex couples. With all their usual tolerance, activists and media lashed out at the religious service provider and the governor, who, on Wednesday, filed “An Act Protecting Religious Freedom” narrowly written to save Catholic Charities and other religious groups from being forced to make the all-or-nothing choice Catholic Charities faces. The bill is unlikely to go anywhere in the liberal hothouse of a statehouse there, but it’s an opening shot from one side of similar battles to come–over same-sex marriage, partner benefits, abortion services, and other conscience issues. Old freedoms should not give away to new moralisms.

#-# Slobodan Milosevic was one of the many monsters spawned by Communism. Growing up in President Tito’s Yugoslavia, he learned to follow the Party’s one great rule: that the ends always justify the means. And the ends were the simple ones of acquiring an unbreakable hold on power and wealth. Perhaps anyone chasing such ends so ruthlessly is disturbed by definition, but Milosevic was a very sad case. Both his parents committed suicide. Almost certainly he arranged the murder of Ivan Stambolic, his patron in the Party and eventual president of Yugoslavia. Tito’s Yugoslavia fell apart after 1991, in a close repeat of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Big Brother it had once copied but then quarrelled with. Without missing a beat, Milosevic transferred the purposes and practices of Communism to Serb nationalism, whipping his fellow Serbs up to fight civil wars against the Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, and Kosovar Albanians. The misery of ethnic cleansing and genocide engulfed all these inhabitants of former Yugoslavia until NATO interventions put an end to it. Serbs themselves eventually came to see that their supposed champion had brought them nothing but death and destruction, and they handed him over to a special court set up under U.N. auspices to try him in The Hague. His trial had lasted for almost five inconclusive years. Probably he took the wrong medication, but he may have chosen to follow the example of both his parents, in the ambiguous final act of a dark career.

#-# Considering the general arc of higher education these few decades just past, it’s really not all that surprising that Yale University admitted a former high-ranking member of the Taliban. (Now that is true commitment to diversity.) What is slightly more eyebrow-raising is that the former Taliban spokesman, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, is legally here on a student visa–despite increased immigration restrictions directed at anyone affiliated with terrorist regimes, presently or in the past. Well, if the nonpareil John Cornyn has anything to do about it, we may soon know what on earth our immigration officials were thinking (and we may also witness poor Mr. Hashemi’s education interrupted by deportation proceedings). It will be interesting to see how homeland security responds to Senator Cornyn’s forceful letter to Michael Chertoff. We have a feeling our security chief won’t be quite as conspicuous in his silence as the apparatchiks at Yale have been; Mr. Hashemi should strongly consider submitting a transfer application. Might we suggest the Sorbonne? We hear the students there could use a good spokesman.

#-# With the debut of HBO’s new polygamy television drama, Big Love, it’s getting tougher to laugh off the “slippery slope” argument–the claim that gay marriage will lead to polygamy, polyamory, and ultimately to the replacement of marriage itself by an infinitely flexible partnership system. Big Love makes a point of comparing polygamy with the drive for gay marriage, arguing that as long as people love each other, family structure doesn’t matter. The mainstream media have long dismissed the slippery-slope argument as a product of the fevered conservative imagination. Yet now even Newsweek is grudgingly crediting the slippery-slopers, reporting that a “new wave of polygamy activists” is “emerging in the wake of the gay-marriage movement.” “If Heather can have two mommies,” these activists say, “she should be able to have two mommies and a daddy.” Newsweek is wondering out loud whether the already burgeoning polygamy movement will get an added boost from Big Love. Meanwhile, libertarian New York Times columnist John Tierney has endorsed polygamy, welcoming it along with gay marriage in the same breath. And America’s “polyamorists,” who purvey a “non-patriarchal” version of multi-partner unions, are holding their collective breath, waiting to see if Big Love signals greater acceptance for them as well. Looks like we’ll be slip-slidin’ away for some time to come.


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