Tuesday, August 05, 2003

A Critique Of Administration Excesses

: Last month I linked to a defense of the administration's homeland security policies in response to criticism from civil libertarians. Now, lots of links to examples of administration overreaching in the name of homeland or national security.

Virginia Postrel provides lots of links. Chief among them is Jacob Sullum's dissection of the executive branch's power grab with regard to the designation of "enemy combatants. The "good parts" version:
The requirement that the executive branch detain people only as authorized by Congress is grounded in the Constitution as well as in statute. The separation of powers means the president is supposed to enforce the law, not write it.

The Constitution specifically gives Congress, not the president, the authority to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which allows citizens to challenge their detention. Even Congress may suspend that privilege only when public safety requires it because of rebellion or invasion....

It might seem that the president's power grab, while alarming in principle, has not had much impact in practice, since so far only two citizens (that we know of) have been detained as enemy combatants. Yet the possibility of receiving that designation may already have made it impossible for anyone accused of terrorism to get a fair trial.

The government says the "Lackawanna Six," a group of young men arrested in upstate New York last fall, constituted an Al Qaeda "sleeper cell." But the details reported in the press suggest they were half-hearted wannabes rather than committed jihadists. Although they went through training in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001, they never hurt anyone and apparently did not plan to do so.

That does not make them innocent, but it suggests they did not deserve the sentences they received, which ranged from six-and-a-half to nine years. They decided that pleading guilty was preferable to risking indefinite confinement as enemy combatants. As one attorney told The Washington Post, "The defendants believed that if they didn't plead guilty, they'd end up in a black hole forever."

That sort of threat, which has no legal or constitutional basis, makes a mockery of justice.
Check out this Postrel post as well.

Then, there's the administration's penchant for excessive secrecy on all national security matters. This was on display last week with the President Bush's refusal to declassify portions of a Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks. Glenn Reynolds, however, points to an even more obvious example of this kind of behavior, as reported in the New York Times:
he Treasury Department said yesterday that it would decline to provide the Senate with a list of Saudi individuals and organizations the federal government has investigated for possibly financing Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The action was the second in two weeks to set the White House and Congress at odds about the Saudis and federal intelligence-gathering related to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Moreover, the move contradicted an assertion made on Thursday by a senior Treasury official, Richard Newcomb, who told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in a hearing on Saudi sponsorship of terrorism that the list was not classified and that his agency would turn it over to the Senate within 24 hours.

Yesterday evening, with senators still awaiting the list, the Treasury Department advised the committee that it would soon send a letter declaring the information classified and thus unavailable to the public.

"The information requested relates to ongoing U.S. government efforts to disrupt terrorist financing," Taylor Griffin, a department spokesman, said yesterday. "Public disclosure at this time would frustrate those efforts."
To be fair, the administration line on this is that Newcomb -- head of the Office of Foreign Assets Control -- was wrong about what was classified and what was not.

To be equally fair, Newcomb is a smart, plain-spoken career guy at Treasury -- not someone who would ordinarily misspeak. One wonders if the administration spin on this is related to other political developments at Treasury.
Monday, August 04, 2003

How Left Is The Academy

In reaction to this post and this post on the rarity of conservative academics, I've received a few e-mails rebutting the point. Here's a good example:

Apparently, public policy schools, law schools, economics departments, medical schools, and political science departments are no longer in academia. My recollection is that there are respectable numbers of Republicans in these precincts.

There are other departments, too, where Republicans (or those to their right!) still find their place in academia. Try the classics, or departments of European literature -- you'll almost certainly find folks who think in teems of blood and soil there. One such man I knew at Yale tended to play opera and mutter under his breath about the failure of the modern world to appreciate the achievements of Franco's Spain.

All of which is to say: enough self-pity, please! The Republican party currently controls the White House, both houses of Congress, seven of nine Supreme Court appointments, and a majority of the governors' offices.... Seems like an odd time for him [Brooks] to complain about being marginalized.

Two small points and one larger point in response.

Small point #1: Trust me when I say that there are not a lot of Republicans in political science departments.

Small point #2: With the exception of economics departments, I'd wager that this observation probably holds true for most departments within an arts and sciences faculty.

Large point: The e-mail is still correct. Point taken.

The Trouble With Animus

Josh Marshall bats .500 in this post on Democratic animus towards the Bush administration. The key section:

There are more and more articles being written about the intense animus toward president Bush among Democratic partisans....

Here's what's weird about this, though: no one seems to mention how deeply this parallels the situation which prevailed through most of the 1990s between core Republicans and President Clinton. It wasn't simply that hardcore partisans then and now despised the president. But there was perhaps a third of the electorate that believed deeply in the president's illegitimacy (then Clinton, now Bush) and were driven further into that belief by the fact that they could not manage to get the rest of the electorate (say 60% or so) to see the man in the way they did. The difficulty of unmasking him became a sign of his political sins.

This was certainly the case with Bill Clinton. And there are at least hints of that now with Bush. If anything the depth of the enmity against Clinton was far more in-grown and aggrieved. But the parallel is so strong, the dynamics so similar, that the fact that it's gone so little mentioned really points to a blindspot among the folks who think up these ideas in the Washington press corps and commentariat.

Marshall is absolutely correct on the animus parallels. However, he whiffs in failing to mention the logical conclusion of this parallel -- that if the Democrats keep this up, they'll be out of power for the next five years.

Clinton-hating did not serve the Republicans well. Yes, the GOP took both houses of Congress in 1994, but that more to do with the combination of low voter turnout, the Contract with America, and the Clinton administration's early missteps than efforts to make Clinton look illegitimate. In 1996 and 1998, the Republican encouragement of the anti-Clinton hysteria achieved less than zero in terms of electoral results.

Say what you will about Bush's policies -- most of the public has a favorable view of him. A campaign dominated by over-the-top attacks on an incumbent president will likely alienate far more voters than it will attract.

Marshall is correct to point out that the Dems are not the first party to get bent out of shape about the sitting president. He should also have pointed out that Republican critics are neverthelesds correct in saying that this is not a good thing for the Dems' electoral chances.

UPDATE: A lot more on this throughout the blogosphere. Megan McArdle, James Joyner and Pejman Yousefzadeh agree with me. Kevin Drum laughs in my face.

Reforming Iraqi Higher Education

For those who believe in media conspiracies, it's interesting to note that over the weekend both the Washington Post (link via InstaPundit) and the New York Times had long articles on efforts to reform Iraq's universities.

Both stories go over the myriad difficulties in this process -- primarily physical insecurity and infrastructure damage.

The Post story does a nice job of suggesting that the phrase "multicultural Iraq" will not necessarily be an oxymoron. The key quote:

On campus, though, the new atmosphere of debate and tolerance is already transforming Baghdad University into an oasis. Last week, students from various ethnic and religious groups -- once pitted against each other by Hussein -- chatted easily between exams. Some engaged in vigorous political arguments that would have been unthinkable only a few months ago.

During one exam break, a group of political science students volunteered opinions that ranged from passionately pro-Hussein and anti-American to the extreme opposite. Shiite students shared once-banned CDs of religious sermons. Kurdish students, whose minority group was severely repressed by Hussein, said they felt safe and comfortable on campus for the first time.

"There is a huge difference now, like between the earth and the sky," said Yaser Abdul Majid, 20, a chemistry student, as his classmates issued a chorus of complaints about the U.S. occupation, the crime problem and the dire lack of water and power in the capital. "The difference is that now, none of us will be killed for expressing our opinion."

Meanwhile, the Times story has more detail on curricular reform, suggesting that U.S. authorities are making the right decision by delegating a healthy share of responsibility to the Iraqis:

The next stage of reconstruction will be perhaps the trickier of tasks: depoliticizing the curriculum and reintroducing Iraqi students, scholars and scientists to the broader intellectual community through fellowships, exchanges and conferences. Professors were not able to leave Iraq without signed permission from the minister of higher education. So few did. And they have viewed education as a one-way street in which information is passed onto students, rather than encouraging critical, independent thought and analysis.

The presidents of all the universities, including from Kurdistan in the north, have been meeting weekly. A committee of representatives from each institution has been set up to prepare a plan on addressing the curriculum. Dr. Erdmann hopes to recruit consultants from American organizations like the National Academy of Sciences, though curriculum decisions will be up to the Iraqis. Experts say that's smart policy.

''Everyone agrees on de-Baathification of the curriculum, but if the U.S. intervenes in how Iraqis view America and globalization and Iran, you're going to see a lot of rebelling,'' says Samer Shehata, an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, who recently returned from Iraq. ''The whole Arab world is afraid the Americans are focusing on education and want to rewrite curriculums in all the Arab states. It's a threat to their culture and their identity, and they see it as heavy-handed and imperialistic. If we just leave the Iraqis to do it themselves, you'll see that anti-American sentiment won't be primary.''

Frankly, the progress described in both articles is extraordinary. As someone who spent a year in Civic Education Project working to rebuild Ukraine's university system after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it sounds like the Iraqis have a much firmer commitment to reform.

Full disclosure: I know Andrew Erdmann, the American administrator featured in both stories, from when we were fellows together at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. I take no responsiblility for Erdmann's decision to grow a moustache.

Twenty Questions

I answer them over at Crescat Sententia. Topics range from blogging to North Korea to Buffy to my mother. Go check it out.