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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Friday, August 02, 2002  
RETALIATION? Why are we not retaliating directly against Hamas -- or its supporters -- for the deaths of five American students? The "spiritual leader" of Hamas lives in a known location in the Gaza Strip. An American strike against him -- or against other Hamas targets -- would send an unmistakable signal to the Palestinians that their battle is not against Israel alone.

I just finished reading The Sword and the Olive, a self-described "critical history" of the Israeli Defense Force. In the book, the author (Martin Van Creveld) repeatedly makes the point that Israeli military victories have never resulted in actual peace in Israel. While this point is undoubtedly true, he never asks or answers the truly significant question: why has military victory not brought peace.

The answer, I submit, can be found at the end of each of Israel's wars. Each time Israel seized the decisive military initiative -- in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982 (in Lebanon) -- the international community intervened to impose a cease-fire and permit the Arab armies to salvage at least a part of their strength. What would the Middle East be like if, for example, Israeli troops did not stop their Yom Kippur counter-offensive 20 miles short of Damascus? Or if Israel were permitted to complete the annihilation of encircled Egyptian armored divisions in 1967 and 1973? What if the international community had not stopped Israel's siege of the PLO (and Yasser Arafat) in Beirut in 1982?

While I do not pretend to say that an Israeli occupation of Damascus -- or the complete destruction of the PLO in Beirut -- would have resulted in a true, permanent peace, I think that it is unquestionably true that Arab governments have enjoyed an ultimately risk-free aggressive posture for more than 50 years. While Israel could (and did) destroy elements of Arab armies on a regular basis, Arab leaders could retreat and re-arm secure in the knowledge that their own capitals -- their own heartlands -- were safe and secure.

Let's use American (and Israeli) military power to destroy -- once and for all -- that sense of ultimate national and territorial security. Let's see how Iran and Syria (Hamas's largest national sponsors) respond if they believe that continued support for terror and continued aggression towards Israel will lead, ultimately, to the destruction of their armies, occupation of their cities and imprisonment (or death) of their leaders. I find it difficult to believe that Israel and America's security situation would not improve if any of the major Middle Eastern powers (including Saudi Arabia) truly believed their continued existence was conditional on peace with Israel and America.

7:59 AM

Wednesday, July 31, 2002  
MORE PROGRESS ON SCHOOL CHOICE. Pete Du Pont highlights a recent Ninth Circuit decision that deals a severe blow to school choice opponents. Since the Supreme Court has now definitively held that voucher programs -- even programs that indirectly funnel state funds to religious schools -- do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, school choice opponents placed a great deal of hope in various state constitutional provisions that explicitly prohibit the use of state funds to support private, religious schools. These statutes (known as "Blaine amendments") were primarily anti-Catholic measures, designed for the purpose of shutting off state aid to Catholic Schools.

On July 18, the Ninth Circuit struck down Washington state's version of the Blaine Amendment and held that "the government may limit the scope of a program it will fund, but once it opens a neutral 'forum' . . . the benefits may not be denied on account of religion." This decision -- ironically, from the same court that decided the infamous pledge case -- removes one of the last remaining legal barriers to true school choice. Du Pont clearly outlines the next stage of the battle:

"With the decisions in Zellman [in the Supreme Court] and Davey [in the Ninth Circuit], the courts have done their job in clearing the field of legal stumps and underbrush. Now it is up to state legislatures to plant the seeds of better education by enacting school choice programs that will allow low-income families access to what [Washington's] Gov. Locke correctly pointed out was essential to a "level playing field" for all Americans. Then it will be up to choice schools to create the quality education that will give everyone the opportunity to achieve and excel."

8:02 AM

FRUSTRATION. Apparently, some lawmakers are saying that the White House has assured them that there will be no attack on Iraq before the fall elections. If this report can be believed, then I'm deeply troubled. As the Washington Post reports today, while there is considerable uncertainty over the precise extent of Iraq's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, there is near-universal agreement that Saddam is working mightily to expand his chemical and biological arsenal and to create nuclear weapons. In fact, the Post reports that prior to the launch of the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam was "weeks" away from building a working atom bomb. According to the Post, the only thing preventing Saddam from very quickly producing a nuclear weapon is a lack of access to nuclear material.

Given these facts, it strikes me as irresponsible to assure anyone that we won't attack for six more months. It also strikes me as irresponsible for congressional leaders to leak these assurances to the media. Why broadcast war plans (or the lack thereof) to our enemies? Given the recent flurry of Iraq speculation -- all from highly-placed (anonymous) sources -- I'm beginning to worry that the administration's vaunted discipline is breaking down.

Of course, it is possible that this speculation is nothing more than misinformation designed to confuse our enemies as much as it confuses us. However, if it is, I have to believe that it is serving more to demoralize our own citizenry than it is to keep Saddam (who's been expecting -- and preparing for -- an attack for years) off balance.

MORE ON THE LEAKS. Jack Shafer at Slate attempts to answer why "our Iraq battle plans keep showing up in the New York Times." According to Shafer, the Times is misleading its readers about American plans:

"By placing the stories on Page One, the paper commits the unpardonable sin of commanding reader attention that's not really warranted. By the Times' own admission in paragraph 15 of yesterday's story, neither of the invasion scenarios so lovingly hyped is likely to unfold. "It's easy to rule out both ends of the spectrum," one senior Defense Department official told the Times. "We are looking at the three or four options in between."

While Shafer makes a semi-convincing argument that the Times' stories aren't damaging U.S. interests, he doesn't actually answer the question posed at the beginning of the article. Why is the Times broadcasting what it believes to be America's battle plans?

Andrew Sullivan has a theory: "the doves in the Pentagon are allying with the doves at the major papers to wage a public campaign against the necessity of war against Iraq." I tend to agree. Sullivan notes that the Times alone (in addition to various war plans articles) has, in recent days published a "Powell puff-piece, [a] Powell editorial, the cover-piece on why the Kurds fear a war, and [yesterday] a piece about how a war will hurt the economy." In other words, the Times is choosing not only to highlight the risks of war but also to lionize those who (it perceives) are opposed to military action.

The editors of the New York Times should read the Washington Post (see above). What will hurt the economy more, a successful strike against Saddam or a nuclear war in the Middle East?

7:19 AM

Monday, July 29, 2002  
ASKED AND ANSWERED. Curve readers may recall that -- a little over a week ago -- I challenged an evolutionary biologist to educate me regarding the evidence for "punctuated equilibria" or rapid macroevolutionary change. In partial response to this challenge, I've received this link from a friend who teaches biology at Boston University.

Warning: the linked article is dense and difficult for the non-biologist (like me) to fully grasp. Unfortunately, I've only had time to skim the article and can't really offer any comment until I've had an opportunity to truly study and understand its contents. As soon as I do, I'll offer my comments.

Until then, I'd welcome responses (and/or rebuttals) from the legion of loyal Curve readers.

2:03 PM

THE POST STRIKES AGAIN. Already the best newspaper for war news and in-depth accounts of all other events related to September 11, the Washington Post comes through with an emotional and inspiring account of the Pennsylvania mine rescue.

You cannot read this article without being moved by the miners' faith and courage.

1:44 PM

A REVEALING COLUMN. Tech Central Station ("TCS") takes a second look at the casualty figures in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While Palestinian casualties outnumber Isreali casualties by an almost three-to-one ratio, TCS reveals that "about 579 non-combatant Palestinians (just over 38 percent of all Palestinian casualties) were killed by Israelis and 433 non-combatant Israelis (about 80 percent of all Israeli casualties) were killed by Palestinians." (emphasis added). In other words, 62 percent of all Palestinian casualties were actual combatants against Israeli forces. Given the fact that Israel has been conducting repeated and prolonged offensive military operations in heavily populated urban civilian areas, this casualty ratio is nothing short of remarkable.

While the Israelis are hardly perfect, there is simply no intellectually or spiritually defensible argument for moral equivalence in this conflict. One side intentionally kills combatants and accidentally kills women and children. The other intentionally kills women and children (and other civilians) and only incidentally targets the military. One side is fighting a careful defensive struggle. The other is fighting a war of extermination.

The numbers do not lie.

1:16 PM

AM I THE ONLY ONE DISTURBED by this report from the New York Times? According to the Times, "Senior administration and Pentagon officials say they are exploring a new if risky approach [to invading Iraq]: take Baghdad and one or two key command centers and weapons depots first, in hopes of cutting off the country's leadership and causing a quick collapse of the government." This approach (called "inside-out") would apparently require thousands fewer troops and could dramatically shorten any war with Iraq.

While I'm encouraged that Bush administration officials are thinking creatively, doesn't the publication of this article harm the war effort? Imagine a headline in the months before D-Day: "Allied officials consider Normandy as likely landing spot for invasion." Wouldn't Saddam rationally strengthen his Baghdad defenses in response to this article -- thereby making the "inside-out" strategy much more risky and costly?

I sincerely hope the Times is being used to spread disinformation. If not, the leaks that led to the article are nearly treasonous and its publication was irresponsible, at best. While Iraq is militarily weak, it is not so weak that we can broadcast our invasion plans and hope to escape significant casualties. Perhaps it's time to remind the Times of that old adage: loose lips sink ships.

But of course, the Times may not care about our ships . . . or our men.

1:06 PM

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