- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

Connect the war dots

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said: “We know that al Qaeda has re-established itself … on the western border of Pakistan where they are training new recruits. … They have established linkages now in North Africa. Al Qaeda has actually expanded … its organization and capabilities” (“War debate cited as aiding al Qaeda,” Page 1, Thursday). He also wants us to believe that the entire Iraq war effort will be disrupted unless Congress quickly passes an emergency funding bill acceptable to President Bush while reminding us that al Qaeda is reacting to the goings-on in Washington by stepping up attacks.

Is it wrong to debate the Iraq war strategy? Accepting all of Mr. Gates’ assertions as fact, Iraq can no longer be considered the central front in the war on terror — al Qaeda has safe havens in Pakistan and elsewhere. In light of that situation, whether or not a stronghold is established and could be maintained in Anbar province or anywhere else in Iraq would not seem to matter much.

Mr. Gates also tells us that despite the heroic efforts of our troops, the Iraq war is not decreasing al Qaeda’s reach or prowess. In light of that outcome, the Iraq war looks like a quagmire in which we are mired, a fact that our “thinking enemy” apparently is exploiting to its advantage.

Finally, if I believe Mr. Gates, al Qaeda is watching the war debate and responding by stepping up attacks. However, Mr. Gates tells us that our troops could withdraw safely once violence is reduced. Unless we believe that al Qaeda specifically ignores our defense secretary, ratcheting up the violence must mean that al Qaeda would like us to remain in Iraq indefinitely.

Five years into this war with no end in sight, it is high time for someone in power to connect the dots. Silence serves no one.

TYLER KOKJOHN

Glendale, Ariz.

Algeria and the Maghreb

The editorial on Western Sahara (“Improving prospects in Western Sahara,” Saturday) was both inaccurate and tendentious. Algeria’s position on the Western Sahara question is clear and well-known: The issue is a matter of decolonization opposing the people of Western Sahara to the kingdom of Morocco that has yet to be resolved in full compliance with the U.N. Charter.

That is why Algeria considers that respect of international legality is unavoidable in the search for a lasting solution to the issue of Western Sahara. On April 30, Algeria welcomed with satisfaction the vote of Resolution 1754 by the U.N. Security Council and reaffirmed its support for direct negotiations, under the auspices of the United Nations, between the kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front, with a view to reaching the political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

Let me also underline that construction of the Maghreb is a strategic choice made by Algeria. Algeria, which is open to all the concerns of our time, plays a positive and constructive role in the Maghreb. The sacrifices it made and continues to make in the fight against transnational terrorism are also for the benefit of the neighboring countries and the international community. Algeria strives for a peaceful and prosperous Maghreb that will not be built on the logic of the occupation of a territory in violation of international legality, but rather on the political will and the genuine engagement of all the North African countries to achieve their common goals in a cooperative enterprise aiming at ensuring lasting peace and long-term stability in the region.

AMEUR BETKA

Counselor, press officer

Embassy of Algeria

Washington

China’s military spending

In his Thursday column, “China alarms ringing” (Commentary), John J. Tkacik claims that China’s defense spending in purchasing power parity terms amounts to $430 billion, roughly the same as the U.S. defense budget. But Mr. Tkacik is using an incredibly misleading macroeconomic tool that gives a completely erroneous picture of Chinese military spending.

Purchasing power parity (PPP) is useful as a heuristic for comparingtheoverall economies of nations, because it accounts for the fact that one dollar — in U.S. currency — buys a different amount of fixed goods in one country from another. Think of attempting to buy, say, one dollar’s worth of rice in the United States and China. One could get more rice for a dollar in China, and PPP is a useful way of observing that fact.

However, as the respected International Institute for Strategic Studies warns, PPP “use for the purpose of [defense] calculations should be treated with caution.” Mr. Tkacik does not heed this warning.

He starts by taking an estimate of Chinese defense spending that is almost certainly too high to begin with and then blankets the total figure with the PPP conversion rate, yielding a figure of $430 billion. This ignores the fact that much Chinese spending is dedicated to foreign military hardware — such as Russian airplanes — to which PPP should not be applied. Accordingly, IISS has begun, this year, applying PPP only to the personnel costs of the Chinese military, since the comparison of “one dollar’s worth of soldier” applies relatively better.

Another problem with the argument that China’s military budget is as large as America’s is the question, “Where’s all the stuff?” If China is spending as much on its military as is the United States, where are the aircraft carriers? (America has 12, China 0.) Where are the many fleets of long-range bombers? What about our thousands of nuclear weapons compared to China’s few hundred? If Mr. Tkacik’s estimate holds, the Chinese are being reassuringly wasteful with their money.

Mr. Tkacik’s attempt to inject a figure of $430 billion into the debate over Chinese defense spending does a profound disservice to a rational discussion of U.S. China policy.

JUSTIN LOGAN

Foreign policy analyst

Cato Institute

Washington

An oxymoron

As a former pilot union representative, I would like to respond to professor emeritus David Brody’s letter, “Employee ‘choice’ in perspective” (Thursday). He believes that labor unions should be afforded the same treatment as “any other voluntary association in the exercise of the full freedom of association that is the glory of this country.”

Since he believes there are more issues to discuss than just denying a worker to vote for union representation as he or she would for a representative of a union office, maybe the professor can explain how unions taking monies involuntarily from individuals who decide not to associate via agency fees is the “exercise of the full freedom of association.” Don’t see much “glory” in that.

I wonder how many other “voluntary associations” are afforded the same ability.

CAPT. CARMEN D.

VILLANI JR.

Chantilly

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