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More Light Than Heat

The public forum on the Iraq war sponsored by The New Yorker magazine on Oct. 5 at Manhattan’s Town Hall theater was first-rate. Credit goes to moderator George Packer (author of Assassin’s Gate) and to the participants: Jon Lee Anderson (Fall of Baghdad); Phebe Marr, a member of the Iraq Study Group (The Modern History of Iraq); Ali Allawi, a former Iraq minister of defense (The Occupation of Iraq); and David Kilcullen, senior counterinsurgency advisor to Gen. David Petraeus. The conversation stands out because the group looked ahead instead of rehashing the U.S. intervention in Iraq, and the interaction was respectful. The panelists respected the complexity and gravity of the war; no one tried to sell an easy answer. Rather, Phebe Marr’s cautionary notes ran like a mantra throughout the evening: “It’s hard to speak with certitude”; “Divisions among Kurd, Sunni and Shia are not clear-cut”; “The “middle class has fled” and “many will not return”; the United States has “no real plan” and has done “not enough hard thinking.” When Packer finally asked for her advice, Marr, unaccustomed to prescribing, said without equivocation: a “gradual withdrawal,” since “ultimately we have to get out.”

When asked if Iraqis need a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, Ali Allawi said yes: “I don’t think departure will bring apocalypse; groups will coalesce.” He found Senator Biden’s plan (for three areas under one federal government) reasonable, since “Iraq is already a confederation.”

A single spark flared toward the end, when Kilcullen intercepted a question—Can Iraq have sovereignty?—posed directly to Allawi. In Kilcullen’s view Iraq is sovereign now by law. “In reality it is not,” countered Allawi, who told of the U.S. overriding Prime Minister Maliki on policy, finances and agenda-setting. “Any advice?” Packer asked by way of closing, to which Kilcullen responded, “Listen to the Iraqis.”

Prime Minister Brown

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown saw his poll numbers drop last month when he announced that he would not call an election on Nov. 1. The British press pilloried him for cowardice in the face of a formidable opponent, the young and charismatic Conservative leader David Cameron. Yet these events should not overshadow Brown’s otherwise sensible governance thus far.

Brown has already proved himself to be a welcome alternative to his Labor predecessor, Tony Blair. It was difficult not to like Blair, a man with an easy smile and almost effortless eloquence. Yet Brown may be better suited to lead Britain at this point in its history. On key issues, he has taken a wiser approach than his predecessor, declining to parrot President Bush’s phrase the “war on terror,” for example, while describing the fight against Islamic extremists as a police action rather than a global crusade. He has also granted more power to his cabinet, moving away from Blair’s more presidential and un-British style of governing, and recruited two Conservative M.P.’s as advisors.

Brown is a staunch defender of Britain’s National Health Service and is committed to fighting poverty at home and abroad. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Brown seems guided by a moral vision that sees it as the government’s duty to help the less fortunate. Whether he is a better leader than his Conservative opponent is for the British people to decide, but one hopes that when an election is held, he will be judged on his full record.

Stifling Freedom of Speech

In 2004 the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department barred the moderate Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan from entering the country. He was to have assumed a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Now the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have barred a South African scholar, Adam Habib, under similar circumstances. Both are Muslim, and according to the American Civil Liberties Union, both cases suggest their political opinions are the cause of their exclusion. Mr. Habib has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq war. The A.C.L.U. has filed a lawsuit on his behalf similar to the one filed for Mr. Ramadan, who remains excluded.

Mr. Habib is on the faculty of the University of Johannesburg. Last year he was to attend meetings with the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Upon landing in New York, however, he was questioned about his political views and deported back to South Africa. Without explanation, the U.S. government revoked his visa. Last May he applied for a new visa to attend speaking engagements here, including one at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association this past August, but his application was denied.

The A.C.L.U. notes that the exclusions are part of a larger pattern: “Over the past few years, numerous foreign scholars, human rights activists and writers—all vocal critics of U.S. policy—have been barred from the U.S. without explanation or on unspecified national security grounds.” What has happened to freedom of speech?

Alan Schoen
9 years 7 months ago
The answer to what has happened to Freedom of Speech is one word, "BUSH"
Richard Kemmer
9 years 7 months ago
The right to Freedom of Speech is a right of all AMERICANS. It is not a right automatically granted to aliens who wish to come to the United States. The entire premise is absurd, as if the USA is a place where any and everything must be allowed to be said by everyone, whatever his citizenship status. It does not take a constitutional scholar to understand this.
John Braun
9 years 7 months ago
Well said, Richard. As to the editors' positive comment vis-a-vis Prime Minister Brown's belief that it is government's "duty" to help the less fortunate: several governments have been taking that road--dutiful Presbyterians and others--since the late 1940s, and have managed to create for their future electability a permanent underclass whose votes they can take to the bank. With regard to Iraq: yes, the problem was we didn't have a plan. We have one now, it's not working well, but hopefully we will be able to withdraw and avoid the bloodbaths we saw in Southeast Asia.

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