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.
#-# For weeks, President Bush’s congressional allies have grumbled that the White House is too insular, arrogant, and worn out to remedy what ails the GOP. This week, the president made clear that he disagrees with his critics. If he had meant to replace departing chief of staff Andy Card with someone who would bring a fresh perspective, he wouldn’t have tapped director of the Office of Management and Budget Josh Bolten, who joined Team Bush in 1999. The president surely could have done worse: An experienced manager and policy expert, Bolten can be counted on to provide continuity and a smooth transition. And we wouldn’t want Bush to make changes just for changes’ sake. But some new faces would, at minimum, display a regard for his supporters’ concerns–and, just maybe, bring some welcome new ideas.
#-# The Senate has voted 90 to 8 to approve a lobbying-reform bill. We’re pleased to report that it’s still illegal to defraud your clients of millions of dollars, as Jack Abramoff has admitted to doing. Of course, it has always been illegal to do that, so lobbying reform won’t change that issue much. In fact, lobbying reform, as passed by the Senate, won’t do much of anything. It will make the whole process a bit more transparent, which is a good thing. But it won’t attack the pernicious system of earmarks. Making it impossible for lawmakers to slip such spending measures into bills without anyone’s reading them would be a real, if modest, reform. But even that was further than the Senate was willing to go.
#-# Congressman Jim McDermott, a left-wing Democrat from Washington state, has lost yet another round in his legal battle with House majority leader John Boehner over whether McDermott broke the law almost a decade ago. In 1996, a pair of Democratic activists illegally taped a phone call between Boehner, former speaker Newt Gingrich, and other congressional Republicans. McDermott obtained a copy of the recording and passed it on to reporters for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times. On March 28, a federal appeals court likened McDermott’s behavior to accepting and passing on property that he knew was stolen. Unless the congressman takes his case to the Supreme Court–and he probably will try–he’ll have to fork over more than $700,000 in damages and legal fees to Boehner. The most amazing aspect of this controversy may be the relative silence of McDermott’s fellow Democrats: Many carry on incessantly about the Bush administration’s wiretapping efforts, which are aimed at preventing terrorists from killing Americans, but they clam up when eavesdropping advances their own partisan interests. Censure, anyone?
#-# The United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution demanding that Iran suspend uranium enrichment within 30 days or else . . . or else . . . what? Russia and China succeeded in blocking any language that even hinted at consequences for noncompliance. “Suspension . . . would contribute to a diplomatic, negotiated solution that guarantees Iran’s nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purpose,” the resolution whines. The reality is that the mullahs will not shelve their nuke plans voluntarily, even if we say “pretty please.” It is time to confront that reality with a bit of backbone–and with or without Moscow and Beijing’s okay.
#-# A Pentagon report provides the startling information that, at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Russians were passing intelligence to Saddam Hussein. Captured documents apparently show that the Russian ambassador in Baghdad leaked U.S battle plans, and that there was also a source inside U.S. Central Command headquarters at Doha, in Qatar. The matter is academic now, but Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice both apply the word “serious” to it, and ask for clarification from the Russians. Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, raises the possibility that this is disinformation–complete with forged paperwork–put out by unknown persons to cause mischief. How, one wonders, would a Russian ambassador obtain U.S. battle plans? The Russian minister of defense dismisses the report as rubbish. We are wandering in a wilderness of mirrors, as the great CIA spymaster James Jesus Angleton liked to describe the world of intelligence, where reflections look real but don’t distinguish between truth and falsehood. It seems today’s Russians honed their skills when they were Reds under beds.
#-# The creation of the new U.N. Human Rights Council has been a story of high ideals laid low. This body, nominally devoted to defending the oppressed, will not even bar states under U.N. sanctions for human-rights abuses from membership. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has sent President Bush a letter encouraging his administration not to back the new council. “The United States’ vote in opposition to this new Council was principled and correct,” Frist writes. “However, I am very concerned that your Administration may now provide financial support to this discredited Council, and may even seek a seat on this body. . . . Instead, I would urge you to consider organizing a council of democracies outside the United Nations system that could meet regularly to monitor, examine, and expose human rights abuses around the globe.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
#-# This week opened another chapter in the strange, tangled, and often murky career of Charles Taylor, president of Liberia from 1997 to his indictment for war crimes by a U.N. tribunal in 2003. Taylor has been living since then in a seaside villa in Nigeria, under the protection of that nation’s government. When, on March 25, the Nigerians announced that this protection would be withdrawn, Taylor tried to flee the country, but was arrested and shipped to a jail in Sierra Leone, where he is wanted for inciting and supplying the rebels in that nation’s long and horrible civil war, in return for diamonds. Flamboyant, glib, cruel, and corrupt, Taylor personifies the “big man” phenomenon that has plagued African politics for decades, keeping much of the continent in poverty and misery. Let us hope the Sierra Leoneans can keep him confined. In 1985, Taylor escaped from a jail in Plymouth, Mass., where he was being held on a warrant of extradition for embezzling Liberian government funds. His lawyer at that time was former U.S. attorney general and current Saddam lawyer Ramsey Clark.
#-# Neila Charchour Hachicha, a democracy activist in Tunisia, is testing the White House’s willingness to promote democracy and the rule of law. Last year, she gave an interview to The Middle East Quarterly about impediments to reform in Tunisia. She later spoke at the American Enterprise Institute about the need for democracy. In the last few weeks, Neila’s car has been confiscated, her Internet connection severed, and her daughter threatened. Police have been stationed outside her house and have written down the license-plate number of anyone who has visited her. And in recent days, her husband has been sentenced to ten months in prison on accusations that appear to have no legal basis, and that her phone lines have been severed. Yet the U.S. embassy in Tunisia remains silent.
#-# When it comes to global warming, the mainstream media have never met a hysterical prediction of doom they didn’t like. This week, Time magazine took the fear-mongering to a new low with a global-warming cover package complete with the banner “Be worried. Be very worried.” It included a photograph from Greenpeace that, according to that organization, shows a glacier melting because of global warming. Time neglected to inform its readers that glaciers nearby were doing just fine, and that one had expanded. Furthermore, it failed to mention that scientists don’t know exactly what is causing glaciers to shift. According to one scientific report, “It cannot yet be assessed if the ice retreat . . . indicates just regional changes of the atmospheric circulation patterns or can be assigned to global climatic change.” This kind of one-sided reporting is typical not only of Time’s cover package, but also of all the Chicken Little reporters who follow suit.
#-# Two men who helped Ronald Reagan win the Cold War died this week. Caspar “Cap” Weinberger served as Reagan’s secretary of defense. He increased the Pentagon budget by some 70 percent, spurred a technological revolution in military equipment and weaponry, and championed the Strategic Defense Initiative–steps that placed the Soviet Union under intense and, ultimately, fatal pressure. Franklyn “Lyn” Nofziger–or “Lynwood,” as Reagan called him–served as the president’s press secretary. During both gubernatorial campaigns, the presidential campaigns of 1976 and 1980, and Reagan’s first months as chief executive, Nofziger helped Reagan present himself to voters–and helped the press grasp that Reagan was no mere former actor. Weinberger and Nofziger could hardly have differed more. Weinberger grew up in San Francisco, then the most cosmopolitan city in the West, and attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Nofziger grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., at the time a cow town, and attended San Jose State College. Weinberger was courtly, Nofziger profane. Always immaculate, Weinberger had his suits cut in London. Always unkempt, Nofziger reveled in his collection of Mickey Mouse ties. Both were tough, loyal, and utterly indispensable. They died within hours of each other. Cap Weinberger was 88, Lyn Nofziger 81. R.I.P.