- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

Reality bites

Can the Bush administration correct itself when it makes errors? It looks like it can. You didn’t need expert intelligence to realize that the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq was going awry. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have been right in saying we needed fewer troops than most experts advised to liberate a country; but he turned out to be badly wrong in believing we needed only a skeletal force for nation-building. I’m not sure I buy the full sweep of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s spin in The Washington Post yesterday. But it’s a relief to see thattheWhite House isn’t closed off to internal criticism, can adjust tonewcircumstances, and realizes what’s at stake in Iraq. To put it mildly, the entire credibility of this administration and the fate of the war on terror is at stake in Iraq. Much good has been done, of course — especially in the north, where enterprising soldiers, adept at nation-building, have been doing a fantastic job. But we always knew that Iraq would become what Paul Wolfowitz has called the Superbowl of terrorism; and we also knew that most U.S. troops would be better off tackling terrorists than doing conventional peace-keeping and order-restoring in Iraq — up against a plethora of discontents, unemployed Ba’athists and unemployed troublemakers. One key part of leadership is the ability to change course and to invite former rivals into a joint undertaking.

By going to the United Nations, the Bushies are again doing the right thing. If the French and Germans balk, let them take the blame for undermining the reconstruction of Iraq. The point here, after all, is not to get French or German troops in Iraq, but to get Indians and Turks on the ground. It won’t be easy, and we should be careful not to cede too much authority to the United Nations in Iraq, but we have few alternatives.

Kudos for the White House for being pragmatic. Pragmatism needn’t be the enemy of determination. It can be its critical ally.

Straw in the wind

Oddly enough, a completely parallel story appeared in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, this time with British foreign secretary Jack Straw taking the limelight, with another carefully orchestrated leak.

It was in the form of prep-notes for a meeting with the prime minister, Tony Blair. According to the Telegraph, Mr. Straw argued that “lack of political progress in solving the linked problems of security, infrastructure and the political process are undermining the consent of the Iraqi people to the coalition presence and providing fertile ground for extremists and terrorists.” He wants more troops and more resources. The Telegraph hints the British initiative is also designed to buttress the White House’s resolve in providing more troops. Let’s hope it works.

By other means

This week, California’s legislature passed a sweeping civil unions bill that would grant same-sex couples almost all the benefits previously reserved for heterosexual couples. Gov. Gray Davis says he’ll sign the bill. That makes California and Vermont two states with de facto marriage rights for gays.

According to the Associated Press, the bill “would give domestic partners the ability to ask for child support and alimony, the right to health coverage under a partner’s plan and the ability to make funeral arrangements for a partner. Other provisions would give domestic partners access to family student housing, bereavement and family care leave and exemptions from estate and gift taxes, and in the event of a partner’s death, the authority to consent to an autopsy, donate organs and to make funeral arrangements. The bill … would place greater legal responsibilities on domestic partners as well. They would be responsible for their partner’s debts, would have their income factored into their partner’s eligibility for public assistance benefits, and would be required to disclose their relationships to avoid nepotism and conflicts of interest.”

Rights and responsibilities: the best combination for a civil institution. The interesting question that this development raises, of course, is: Is this marriage? Substantively it is. Semantically, it isn’t. But what matters more? More importantly, the bill shows that legislatures, unprompted by courts, can enact marriage-equivalent legislation — undermining one of the social right’s arguments that marriage is only being foisted on people by “judicial fiat.”

That, of course, is why the Federal Marriage Amendment was given a Senate hearing yesterday. It’s an attempt to deny a legislature like California’s from providing any benefits to same-sex couples — even as a function of democratic legislative will. States’ rights? If the Federal Marriage Amendment succeeds, such a principle would be gutted. And California would be among the first states to suffer.

Fatuousness of Dowd

The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd got off to a great start this week. Here’s arguably the most fatuous sentence yet penned by the air-brained columnist: “If all those yuppies can climb Mount Everest, at 29,000 feet, can’t we pay some locals to nab Osama at 14,000 feet?”

Yep, she wrote that. Yep, they published it. It’s her critique of the armed forces’ failure so far to capture Osama bin Laden. Does she think it’s funny? Does she think it’s insightful? Does she think it’s helpful? Here’s hoping none of that applies. Wouldn’t you love to see her in a room with special forces troops, risking their lives right now to protect us? Woulzdn’t you love to see her tell them that an outdoorsy yuppie could do their job better?

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