Politics & Policy

Window on the Week – 6/23/06

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Window on The Week” acts as our weekly, quick-and-punchy, “between-the-issues” survey of some 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.

#-# We might not know the best way to win in Iraq, but we do know the one guaranteed way to lose: pulling out U.S. troops prematurely. And that happens to be the policy favored in some form or other by most Democrats. They disagree among each other about how forthright to be about it. It is sign of the party’s incoherence that every time a high-profile Democrat like John Murtha or John Kerry proposes a pullout plan and Republicans insist on putting it to a vote, Democrats cry foul. Democratic senators were irritated even at Kerry himself this week when he made them vote on a watered-down version of his withdrawal plan (he had originally proposed six months, but after careful strategic study — insert guffaw here — settled for a year). The Kerry plan got 13 votes Thursday. The Democrats’ preferred resolution, which also went down to defeat, called for the beginning — just the beginning — of a withdrawal by the end of the year. This was a symbolic measure that would have been utterly meaningless if it weren’t for the fact that what it symbolized was a lack of resolve. Can there be a more damning comment on the Democrats than that they have taken an unpopular war and managed, through the weird combination of their naked calculation and their heartfelt impulse to give up in Iraq, to make it a political asset for Republicans?

#-# On Thursday evening, the House took a small step toward sensible budget reform when it approved a line-item veto by a vote of 247 to 172. This is a less ambitious line-item veto than the one ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998: Instead of simply allowing the president to delete certain spending provisions, it would require him to ask Congress for their removal and guarantee an up-or-down vote within 14 legislative days. Used wisely, it would permit judicious budget trimming. The Senate should follow the House in passing it, and then both chambers should take up further budget-reform measures. There may not be enough votes to pass a comprehensive reform package, but Congress should at least move ahead with other improvements, such as caps on discretionary spending and entitlement growth, and the creation of a commission to recommend the elimination of unnecessary federal programs. A series of minor victories may eventually make a major difference.

#-# Just a week ago, the House of Representatives appeared ready to reauthorize the most controversial elements of the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years. The Judiciary Committee approved renewal by a vote of 33 to 1, and House leaders were eager to have the full chamber add its rubber stamp. But then Rep. Lyn Westmoreland of Georgia convinced fellow Republicans to ask a useful question: Why are provisions that were adopted on an “emergency” basis in the 1960s still necessary in the 21st century? The answer is that they aren’t, and there’s no reason they should apply to a handful of jurisdictions in the Deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia) and elsewhere (Alaska and Arizona) but not to the country as a whole. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, raised further concerns about requiring local governments to print election ballots in foreign languages: Aren’t most immigrants supposed to pass English tests when they naturalize? Wishing to avoid a controversy, and knowing that these provisions don’t actually expire for more than a year, House leaders pulled renewal off the fast track. They would now be wise to permit a sober reconsideration of legislation that encourages racial gerrymandering and linguistic balkanization.

#-# When two missing U.S. soldiers were found brutally murdered, the Associated Press called their deaths a “setback to U.S. efforts to seize the momentum against al-Qaida.” The media in general fixated on the antiwar views of a relative of one of the soldiers. But one news organization decided to look at the soldiers’ unit and see what progress it is making in securing Iraq. Malini Bawa of Fox News reported that, “by all accounts, the soldiers . . . have made this area safer.” That area is Mahmudiyah, where, according to Bawa, “the soldiers now find an average of two IEDs a day–down roughly 50 percent from eight months ago.” And Maj. James Salome told Bawa, “We have definitely turned the corner in south Baghdad. And the Iraqi army has control now, the Iraqi police have influence. The insurgents are not going to be able to get it back.” It’s unfortunate that, in reporting the soldiers’ deaths, more news organizations didn’t take the time to explain what they died fighting for.

#-# The longer Iran is allowed to dodge penalties for its nuclear activities, the closer it comes to building an atomic bomb. Having spent two years leading European diplomats in circles, the mullahs probably hope they can keep to their usual tricks until President Bush–the one world leader who seems serious about confronting them–leaves office. Bush was wise, then, to rebuff Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that Tehran would wait until mid-August to reply to the latest package of incentives it has been offered in exchange for giving up activities that could result in its owning nuclear weapons. For now, the other Security Council powers seem to agree with Bush, and have sent signals that, unless a response comes within the next few weeks, procedures for punitive action against Iran will begin. History suggests that the council lacks the mettle to act on this threat, but let us hope that history proves wrong.

#-# The Iranian regime’s conception of human rights is nicely summed up in its choice to head a delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Iran is not a member of the council, but has sent a group of diplomats to attend the opening session. Its leader: Saeed Mortazavi, known for his distinguished career as a prosecutor and judge in the Islamic Republic. He has closed more than 100 newspapers, jailed leaders of pro-democracy groups and acquitted the regime officials who tortured them, and spearheaded the mullahs’ persecution of dissident journalist Akbar Ganji. The Canadian government also believes he played a prominent role in the rape and murder of a Canadian photographer inside an Iranian prison. Given the U.N.’s history of coddling human-rights abusers, Mr. Mortazavi should be the toast of Geneva.

#-# The government of Hosni Mubarak ordered the release of pro-democracy blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah. He was jailed last month in a crackdown on bloggers and protesters opposed to Mubarak. These arrests signaled that, even though Mubarak introduced some elements of competition into last year’s elections, Egypt’s government remains hostile to liberty. Abel Fattah’s wife Manal, who blogs with him, told the Independent, “There’s no going back now. We’ll definitely be continuing our activities.” That’s good news for the reform movement, and for the dozens of activists who are still behind bars.

#-# When Lord Baltimore and the Calvert family began settling Maryland in the 17th century, they implemented a policy of religious freedom for Christians. Their colony became a haven for Catholics in America. In today’s Maryland, however, Catholics apparently need to watch what they say. On a public-affairs show broadcast earlier this month, Robert Smith, identified on the program as a “Republican activist,” participated in a discussion of same-sex marriage. “Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant,” he said. “I’m a Roman Catholic.” For stating this belief, which is an accurate reflection of the Church’s view on homosexuality, Gov. Robert Ehrlich fired Smith from his position as a political appointee to the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “Robert Smith’s comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable,” explained the governor, who is also a Republican. His actions are disappointing, in part because on other matters he has not bowed to political correctness. But it appears that Ehrlich’s “inclusiveness” does not include a place in the public square for Catholics who openly discuss certain tenets of their faith.

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