Politics & Policy

Window on The Week – 9/8/2006

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.

 

‐Does Richard Lugar actually want John Bolton to be America’s ambassador to the U.N.? We assume so — which is why we’re baffled that he’s doing such a bad job of getting Bolton confirmed. As head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he could have held a vote on Bolton’s nomination in August without allowing new hearings (which, in practice, became nothing but a chance for Democrats to trot out their tired complaints about President Bush’s foreign policy). Among other things, this would have forced Lincoln Chafee to put himself on the record before Tuesday’s Rhode Island Senate primary, in which he faces a tough challenge. Instead the committee dallied. A vote on Bolton was to have happened Thursday, but at the last minute Chafee refused to confirm that he would support the nomination, and it’s now unclear when the vote will come. Chafee backed Bolton last year, and his obstinacy now — after Bolton has spent a remarkably successful year at the U.N., and at a time when the chaos of the Middle East makes diplomatic continuity vital — is especially shameful. But Lugar didn’t need to let things happen this way, and he will deserve his share of blame if Bolton is not confirmed.

‐The Census bureau reported that, in 2005, 5.4 percent of Americans lived in extreme poverty, making less than 50 percent of a poverty-line income. In 2004, the percentage of Americans living in extreme poverty was the exact same 5.4 percent. The New York Times reports this news as a “sharp increase in those living in extreme poverty.” Translated from Times-speak, the point is that the proportion of poor people living in extreme poverty has gone up. In this case, that isn’t because deep poverty has increased; it’s because shallow poverty has decreased. Which, to clarify the Times’s report a bit more, is good news.

‐When it comes to the environment, California relishes its King Canute role. It embraced the “negawatts” energy strategy — and ended up with rolling blackouts. It mandated that at least 2 percent of the auto fleet be electric cars by the year 2001, a goal ultimately abandoned when reality intruded. Now California proposes to save us from global warming through curbs on its greenhouse-gas emissions, and a pending ballot initiative would ban buying electricity produced from coal in other states. (California has no coal-fired plants of its own, naturally.) The hosannas from environmentalists overlook the embarrassment that the California target — returning to 1990 emission levels by the year 2020 — is much less ambitious than the beloved Kyoto Protocol, and that the legislation includes a “safety valve” that will allow regulators to extend the targets if the state’s economy is suffering. We bet on a target extension. 

‐Last week, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that would send peacekeepers into Sudan to forestall further atrocities in the country’s Darfur region. This week, however, the Sudanese government defiantly announced that it would not allow U.N. troops into the country, and hinted that it might even expel the African Union peacekeepers already there. This news comes as the Sudanese government prepares to renew its military offensive against rebel groups in northern Darfur. If it is not compelled to change its mind, the violence will likely re-escalate to the scale of the horrific genocide that ravaged the country as recently as 2004. It is the responsibility of the civilized world to prevent this from happening. And yet China and Russia — both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that import large quantities of oil from Sudan — have refused to levy sanctions or in any way pressure the Sudanese to accept a new peacekeeping force. Their position may mean a relapse to wholesale butchery — and they don’t even seem to care. 

‐When rulers incite the masses to purge undesirables from the institutions of state and society, evil is almost always the result. Exhibit A is the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, kept a generation of Chinese uneducated and impoverished, and shattered China’s intellectual and cultural heritage. Not every tyrant can be so thorough. But when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called this week for students to seek the ouster of moderate professors, he acted in the spirit — if not with the scope — of Mao. He has already forced dozens of professors into retirement, arrested others, and appointed a hard-line cleric to head Tehran University. Much of Iran’s population is both highly educated and moderate, and we suspect Ahmadinejad’s fulminations will not go very far. But they show, once again, that the first and last victims of the Iranian regime are the Iranian people.

‐Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami began his tour of the United States, on a visa issued by the State Department, addressing Muslim groups in Chicago. He is due to speak at Washington National Cathedral, and Jimmy Carter naturally wants to talk with him. Back in Tehran, Khatami heads the International Institute for Dialogue among Civilizations and Cultures. Khatami, generally portrayed as a moderate, was a frontman for dictatorship and terror during his years in office. Why he should represent Islamic civilization is a question best addressed to his sponsors. His visit may further radicalize American Muslims, finding fanaticism and violence their route to visibility; it feeds the megalomania of Jimmy Carter, our worst ex-president; it is one more stage in the slide of mainline Protestantism into a clerical fifth column. If the administration wants to send signals to Iran, it should speak to Khatami itself. Better, keep him home.

‐Watching Britain’s Labour party this week was like watching sharks circle their bleeding prey — in this case, Tony Blair. His popularity has plunged amid perceptions that he is subservient to George Bush, and Labour has long seen him as a net liability. The Conservative party’s fortunes have grown brighter under its new leader, David Cameron, and that — combined with the impatience of Gordon Brown, the Labour chancellor of the exchequer, to succeed Blair — was enough to spark a rebellion. A group of junior government ministers and aides resigned this week to protest Blair’s reluctance to step aside, prompting him to make a bitter announcement that he will resign the premiership within a year. Unlike Margaret Thatcher, he leaves behind no legacy of achievements in domestic policy. But he will be remembered for having confronted Saddam Hussein when most of world preferred to ignore his threat. Though no conservative, Blair knows the difference between right and wrong; he understands the danger of militant Islam; and, unlike so many members of his party, he is genuinely fond of the United States. We will be sorry to see him go.

‐TV naturalist Steve Irwin, familiar to viewers of the Discovery Channel as the “crocodile hunter” in a program thus named, was killed by a stingray while filming off the Great Barrier Reef of his native Australia. Irwin was passionately enthusiastic about animals, especially dangerous ones, or those like his favorite, the hairy-nosed wombat, in danger of extinction. He had a great gift for communicating his enthusiasm to others. He was not, however, stupidly sentimental about animals, like nutty bear-lover Timothy Treadwell, who in 2003 was eaten by one of his ursine pals. Nor was Irwin the sort of leftist-environmentalist nag that infests this zone of human activity. To the contrary, he was a political conservative, and a strong supporter of Australia’s robustly sensible premier John Howard, whom he once described, to some derision from the Australian media, as “the greatest leader in the entire world.” There is no moral to be drawn from this sad event. All that can be said is that Irwin’s luck finally ran out; and that a man who knew the cold realities of the natural world as intimately as Irwin did, surely must have suspected that one day it might.

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