- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stability in Iraq

Contrary to the implication in Claude Salhani’s Monday Commentary column, “Is it a civil war yet?” the aftermath of the attack on the Askariya shrine is a signal that we are nowhere near a civil war in Iraq.

Perhaps the better question would have been, “When is a civil war over?” Did our own Civil War end at Appomattox, or did it end at the conclusion of Reconstruction or when Southern Democratic opposition to the voting rights and civil rights acts was overcome?

Not all civil wars end in democracy, but when fully democratic governments emerge from strife, it generally is a sign that majorities of all concerned parties have resolved that conflict is no longer productive and it is time to move on.

The destruction of the Askariya shrine would be a perfect opportunity for Shi’ite leaders to foment unrest, but instead they were voices of pragmatic reason. These Shi’ite leaders include not just the generally reserved Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, but also firebrands such as Muqtada al-Sadr, who called on thousands of supporters to defy the curfew to attend Friday prayers but at those prayers instructed his followers not to engage in reprisals as the attacks were perpetrated by al Qaeda. (This latter was reported by the BBC, no shill for President Bush, but unfortunately was not carried by the American press.)

This may be a show of power on the part of the Shi’ite clergy and politicians making a play for their own roles in the emerging government, but it is a move in the right direction.

From a Sunni standpoint, just the fact that they have announced their willingness to return to talks on forming a coalition government is also a sign of a maturing democracy.

Further, the growing evidence that Sunni militias and the Sunni population are increasingly turning against al Qaeda in Iraq is a sign that they are ready to move on and seek their rightful place in the new Iraq through the ballot box.

This may be because the Shi’ite majority is at least as well-armed as the ex-Baathist holdouts, but again, it is a sign they are ready to move on.

The reaction to this provocative action has been instructive. If al Qaeda terrorists destroyed the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Monument, would Democrats unite with Republicans in condemning the terrorists, or would they be too busy accusing the Bush administration of lax security, calling on Cabinet secretaries and the president himself to resign? We may have an older democracy, but the Iraqis may be showing more signs of maturity.


Ashburn, Va.

In Haiti, between a rock and a hard place

In his Op-Ed column about Haiti (“A false picture of Aristide,” Feb.13), Lorne Craner discredits a New York Times article by Walt Bogdanich that he says charges officials of the Bush administration with conniving with the International Republican Institute to undermine democracy in Haiti as well as consorting with rebels who overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He vehemently defends the IRI while vilifying Mr. Aristide. Mr. Craner paints a pretty picture of the United States and the IRI as benevolent entities whose main objective is democracy and political stability for all the nations of the world. Unfortunately, this is not the reality. The truth is that the United States has always meddled in Haitian politics — overtly and covertly — for its own interests and to the detriment of the Haitian people.

Mr. Craner even discredits complaints of the U.S. ambassador, Dean Curran, who said that “the United States spoke with two sometimes contradictory voices [which] made efforts to foster political peace ‘immeasurably more difficult.’” What would motivate Mr. Curran to question U.S. actions in Haiti? Perhaps truth and real commitment to the democratic process.

Furthermore, Mr. Craner states, “For the reasons [two earlier New York Times] editorials detailed, IRI did, as charged, work solely with Haiti’s democrats from 2001-2004.” So, rather than work with the democratically elected president, the IRI worked “solely” with other groups beginning in 2001. No doubt, the IRI justified this because of the disputed election results in December 2000. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there a problem with election results in the United States in 2000? To many, the outcome is still suspect, but the current administration’s authority has not been undermined. On its Web site, the IRI describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advances freedom and democracy worldwide by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, good governance and the rule of law. Was the IRI advancing freedom and democracy by not working with the democratically elected president?

My final point has to do with Mr. Craner’s concluding statement that Mr. Aristide has to bear the major burden for what has happened. I beg to differ. Mr. Aristide has never had a chance since his first election in 1990. He has been stuck between a rock and a hard place — the United States and the wealthy Haitian elite, who undermine any attempts to truly democratize this impoverished nation and help more than 80 percent of its population “live in poverty with dignity,” to use the phrase coined by Mr. Aristide.



Catholic bishops on immigration reform

Monday’s editorial “Churchmen and coyotes” misrepresents the position of the Catholic Church on immigration reform generally and the Housed-passed version (H.R.4437) specifically. Your readers deserve the facts.

The Catholic bishops opposed the House bill in December for numerous reasons, including that the legislation would for the first time in our nation’s history criminalize those here without authorization and those who would “assist” them.

Perhaps most important, though, the bishops opposed this bill because it would not remedy the many problems inherent in our current immigration system.

Only a comprehensive approach that also would reform the legal immigration system by establishing a safe, legal and orderly immigration process and addressing the large and growing number of undocumented aliens in this country has any hope of fixing the problem, including addressing the array of smuggling abuses mentioned in the editorial.

Those who suggest that our immigration woes would be resolved through further militarization of our borders and by making felons out of immigrants and those who assist them fail to recognize that desperate people, without any viable recourse, will face even death to come here.

Higher and longer fences will not deter. We must have a legal immigration system that allows families to be together and people to fill jobs that are dependent upon foreign labor.

The suggestion that somehow church leaders who opposed the House bill condone smuggling is a falsehood. Church organizations are among the most concerned about smuggling, in part because of the abusive nature of this crime and the horrors inflicted on immigrants by smugglers, with which we are only too sadly familiar.

In fact, the bishops have been speaking about and trying to do something about the smuggling problems identified in the editorial since long before H.R.4437 was introduced. Had you read the bishops’ pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” for example, you would have seen that the bishops think concerted efforts should be directed at combating smuggling.

To quote from that document, “We also urge more concerted efforts to root out smuggling enterprises at their source using a wide range of intelligence and investigative tactics.”

Finally, to correct the record further, the editorial says that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a leader among “open-border advocates.” It also says we have attempted to depict H.R. 4437 as a “mean-spirited effort by Republicans.”

The bishops do not advocate “open borders,” but rather acknowledge the responsibility of nations to control their borders. This, too, is well articulated in a number of Catholic documents. Also, the Catholic bishops are unequivocally nonpartisan. They do not support or oppose legislation on the basis of where it originated, but strictly on the basis of its merits, or lack thereof.

People of faith are concerned about the current state of our nation’s immigration system and the harm it is causing not only to immigrants, but to the broader society. We want to contribute to fixing the problem. An honest debate with accurate media coverage would be a good first step.


Executive director

Migration and Refugee Services

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops


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