The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group suffered the same failings as most bipartisan commissions—a tendency toward caution, a split-the-difference mentality. But its conclusions are nonetheless important: acknowledgement that the situation is “grave and deteriorating”; recognition that Iran and Syria have an interest in a stable Iraq and should be engaged; understanding of the centrality of Israel-Palestine to any Mideast diplomacy. That consensus is significant: a major part of the American establishment now admits that there will be no victory in Iraq.
As TAC goes to press, the report has just been released, but Washington’s war hawks are already emitting a bracing shriek. National Review preemptively called it “one for the wastebaskets” and argued, “The U.S. needs to fight more in Iraq, not give up.”
This reluctance to stare failure in the face is psychologically understandable. Losers at the gaming table seldom know when to cut their losses. Policymakers realized Vietnam was lost as early as 1966, but that didn’t stop them recycling a million more American boys through the jungles, at epic human cost. That tendency is still very much alive.
President Bush promises to “take every proposal seriously,” but he also told Fox News, “I am the commander in chief. I make decisions based upon what I think is best to achieve our objectives.” Moreover, having apparently learned that “realism” is a buzz word around Washington, he has begun randomly inserting it into his sentences, a tic that might be comical if it didn’t signal the persistence of his “stay the course” petulance.
Still the tide of mainstream opinion has turned. Sen. Chuck Hagel, originally a war supporter, wrote a tough Washington Post op-ed pointing out that Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost by American arms. The vacuum created by the invasion will be filled—not by us, but the region’s own powers. What America has already spent in blood and treasure amounts to a devastating loss. But the U.S. can still extricate itself, if not with honor at least with the cold realism that is the hallmark of all great powers, and remain free to pursue its foreign policy in a more responsible way.
Engineer no more
One sign that Justices Roberts and Alito have brought some moderation to the Supreme Court came in arguments over the long debated question of “racial balance” in the schools. More than a half-century has passed since the Court ruled in Brown v. Board that skin color could not be a factor in school assignment. In the eyes of some, this was supposed to lead to equality in educational achievement between the races.
While that gap, extremely wide in the days of segregation, has narrowed considerably, it has certainly not vanished, and a cottage industry has developed to lament and ponder that fact. Meanwhile, racial balance in the schools has proved elusive—in great part because most people don’t live in racially balanced neighborhoods and prefer to send their kids to nearby schools.
Forced busing was for a long time the remedy for this—though few besides social-engineering judges were enthusiastic. The theory that white kids’ presence was required to raise the black level—Thomas Sowell memorably dubbed it “the white child’s burden”—was rightfully considered insulting by many blacks.
Now parents in Louisville and Seattle have brought suit against their districts’ elaborate integration schemes that seek to distribute children to achieve that elusive racial balance.
Noteworthy in the Court’s questioning was that the justices didn’t pose as education experts seeking to produce equal results between all ethnic groups, but rather behaved as constitutionalists. Justices Alito and Kennedy wanted to know, quite properly, whether assigning students to school by race violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
This is the correct approach. America is an ethnically complicated place, far more so than it was in 1954. Its best protection against becoming a cauldron of squabbling ethnicities, a New World variant of the Austro-Hungarian empire, is to treat people as individuals, not as members of favored or disfavored groups to be moved around a social chessboard.
It’s a conservative maxim that things tend to get worse, and in many realms—morals, civility, foreign policy—the rule is holding. One exception revealed itself in the wake of the shooting by New York City police officers late last month.
The facts have been widely reported: undercover cops fired a fusillade of bullets into three black men who, contrary to what police believed, were unarmed. One was killed—on his wedding day. Whatever the investigation reveals about why the cops believed themselves in mortal danger and whether their actions violated standard procedures, aspects of the aftermath stand out.
Striking was what didn’t happen. The city didn’t erupt into riots or experience a spike of revenge assaults. Almost everyone in the public eye understood that the shooting was a tragic mistake. In a city with 350,000 arrests a year, a few will go badly. Sometimes cops get killed, and sometimes people who did not deserve to get shot die.
But if accidents are inevitable, the fact that the city didn’t convulse with racial tension was not. It is a blessing, and one of the most striking instances of social progress in the past generation. In 1990, there were 212,000 violent crimes in the city, including 2,605 murders. In 2005, those numbers fell to 86,000 and 874. A drop of this magnitude not only generates a better climate but also marginalizes the hucksters who make their livings exploiting racial tension. More broadly, it signifies that tangible social progress is possible—it happened in America’s greatest city, one that only 15 years ago was overlooking the abyss.
Happy winter solstice
Chicago takes Christmas pageants seriously. Re-enacting the famous scene in which Mary and Joseph were turned away by the Bethlehem Holiday Inn, city officials have sent the Holy Family packing once again. Organizers of a downtown Christmas festival were told that ads for “The Nativity Story,” a new film chronicling the Christ child’s birth might offend non-Christians. (What these thin-skinned pagans are doing at a Christmas festival is their own business, though they should be forewarned that it’s called Christkindlmarkt.)
The city promised to clutter Daley Plaza with a variety of religious displays so that everyone could feel comfortably disoriented. “Covens of Wicca also might invade the plaza wanting to practice their magical powers by stirring boiling pots of eels and frogs,” quipped a Chicago Times op-ed. “Or we might have to step around unsightly piles of dead chickens left scattered about by careless adherents of the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye.” Just as long as Christians keep their distance.
The mayor’s office told complainants that their intent was to “keep blatant commercial messages” away, not to shield Chicagoans from dangerous crèches—but odds are that local mall Santas won’t be rounded up and sent the way of Christmas’ eponym.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
New York health inspectors have confiscated 65 percent more meat this year than in 2005—and it’s not suspect hamburger. They’re raking in such delicacies as armadillo, iguana, even gorilla. By September, the state’s Division of Food Safety and Inspection had shuttered 72 shops for selling illegal meat.
Liberals love pointing to ethnic restaurants as evidence of multiculturalism’s bounty, but few line up for bullfrog and chimpanzee, and most probably have strong feelings about salmonella and botulinum.
Much as the variety appeals to our sense of the exotic—if less to our palates—Third-World immigrants bring their health and hygiene habits along with their cuisines, and consumers could learn the hard way. Inspectors designated the mystery meat discovered in one West African grocery store “smoked rodent,” but they didn’t learn that from the owner. He doesn’t speak English.