Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Moderating Editorial Page Positions On The War

On the Los Angeles Times editorial page this morning, there is a welcome addendum to the newspaper's usual stand against pursuing the Iraq war effort.

Noting that President Bush is expected to approve the recommendations of Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, for only a small scale down of U.S. forces in the next few months, back to the pre-surge level of 130,000, the newspaper writes:

"Despite Democratic protests, it's unlikely that this toothless Congress will stop him (Bush) from continuing the de facto occupation of Iraq for the remainder of his term. We fear this is a grave mistake that will compound the colossal lerror of invading Iraq in the first place -- although we fervently hope that Petraeus, (U.S. Ambassador Ryan) Crocker and the courageous people they lead will somehow manage to prove us wrong."

I'm glad to see that qualifier, because it strikes me as very important that the American press adopt a less strident tone than is appearing in the New York Times these days against the war. It's good to know, the L.A. Times editorial writer still wishes the U.S. well, even if she doesn't agree with the policy.

But just yesterday, the Times made an excessive statement in an editorial on the sixth anniversary of 9-11, when it declared that some of the surveillance and other anti-terrorist tactics adopted by the Bush Administration have resulted "in the loss of faith in America itself, in the values and institutions that have historically defined this nation."

The editorial went on to conclude, in my view outrageously, that, "No matter how much he insists otherwise, President Bush lacks that fundamental belief in American freedom. As a result, his war has not only subverted U.S. military interests but has undermined the liberties that make this a nation worthy of emulation. That is the tragic and true cost of these past six years."

I believe this is a gross overstatement of the civil liberties consequences growing out of the policies followed after 9-11. Yes, the Administration has adopted controversial tactics, but they have almost always been directed at known enemies of the U.S., the tettorists who attacked New York and Washington on 9-11, and undoubtedly would do so again if we were to drop all our defenses.

The sweeping statement that President Bush "lacks that fundamental belief in American freedom" has about as much validity as the Civil War critics who called President Lincoln "a baboon." The President is sincerely trying to protect our freedoms, even if sometimes he has carried matters to excess.

Just last week, due to an American tip derived from extensive covert surveillance of terrorist communications, the German government was able to head off what would have been a devastating attack against both American and German airfields in Germany by terrorists trained in Pakistan. Just last year, the British government, which has its own stringent surveillance techniques, was able to foil a plot that could have bombed ten trans-Atlantic airliners out of the sky between England and the United States, killing thousands of people.

It was surveillance that prevented such attacks, and it is surveillance that could one day foil a nuclear or biological attack against us or our European allies.

We do not live back in the pristine days of the Declaration of Independence. We have to take steps to protect ourselves, even while protecting essential civil liberties on the domestic front. So for the Times to simplify these issues by its flat declaration that Mr. Bush "lacks that fundamental belief in American freedom" is out of place.

Now, if the Times wanted to question something the Bush Administration may have been involved in that would be grossly improper, that could be the imprisonment of former Alabama Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges that might have been a figment of Karl Rove's imagination. That was the subject of a front-page New York Times investigative report yesterday that did raise very serious questions.

We need debate in this country, both by political candidates and newspaper editorial pages. It is certainly proper that Sen. Hillary Clinton send a letter to the President, as she is reported to have done today, questioning his Iraq deployment policies, and it is certainly proper that Sen. Barack Obama give a speech calling for an immediate beginning of troop withdrawals. There is no doubt these presidential candidates are patriotic Americans, who follow their own beliefs as to the best way to defend American freedoms.

What is improper is a suggestion by the L.A. Times that the President doesn't believe in those freedoms, or a suggestion, in an advertisement run in the New York Times this week, by the radical Move On organization that Gen. Petraeus is "betraying" us by pursuing the war over which he has been given responsibility, and that his name should be "Betrayus," not Petraeus.

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So, Bill Boyarsky, former City Editor of the L.A. Times, got only one vote, his own, for President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission after serving as its vice president. Bill seems more amused by the defeat than anything else, and why not? It proves Bill is just too honest for the ethics commission. He really believes in ethics, while the other commissioners give it only lip service.

We see that in the paltry $5,200 fine the commission levied against Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for violations. As Boyarsky remarks, even Villaraigosa's lawyer seemed pleased by that fine, and why not? The commission as a whole beat a hasty retreat from any idea of really disciplining the undisciplined mayor.

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