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What We Owe Iraq

With the Petraeus/Crocker report presented to Congress and the White House selling yet another set of measures for success in Iraq, the American people have a responsibility to weigh what they owe the Iraqi people. Whether we have the capacity to rescue Iraq, militarily or otherwise, from a downward spiral of civil war, we have some basic duties to the Iraqi people and to others in the region that we must not evade. It was the United States, after all, that launched the preventive war of choice that stirred up a whirlwind of violence in that country.


These are duties to refugees and displaced people above all, especially those who aided the U.S. effort, but to others as well, including Iraqi Christians, who have had to flee the violence in their homeland. In the years ahead, we must support and resettle them in cooperation with countries of first asylum like Syria and Jordan and organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Second, our nation must face up to the regional implications of a U.S. draw-down or withdrawal. It must build and support a structure for regional security with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, key actors the administration prefers to ignore or vilify. That will mean a broad settlement with Iran that goes far beyond ending its nuclear weapons program.

A regional security pact will also demand working with other nations, like Russia and the countries of the European Union, in a cooperative spirit quite unlike the arrogant unilateralism that has marked U.S. foreign policy these past six years.

Finally, while our own efforts at nation-building in Iraq have failed, our duty in that regard has not been exhausted by the billions of dollars we wasted in the attempt. We must assist, and not impede, ties between the Iraqi government and international organizations and programs that, when the time is right, can help the Iraqi people rebuild their national infrastructure and economy.

Loan Crisis

For three decades the world of high finance has been spinning away from the real-world economy in which most men and women live and work. The latest financial crisis is once again a case where the working poor and lower middle class will soon be paying for the sins of high rollers. New financial instruments, like hedge funds and derivatives, have made possible the expansion of the world economy, the digital and biotech revolutions, and the spectacular growth of populous, once-poor countries like China and India. At the same time, they have accelerated the growth of inequality, diminished the middle class, intensified the focus of business on quarterly returns alone and created conditions for spectacular, too-big-to-fail financial crises. Now the crisis over sub-prime (risky) lending in the home loan market threatens a new meltdown that will dwarf the 1994 Mexican peso crisis, the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000. President Bush has proposed modest support for homeowners threatened with foreclosure. More robust assistance to homeowners will inevitably be needed, but any remedy must address the underlying cause of the problem: lack of regulation. Financial services must be more tightly regulated and supervised. Tax benefits to hedge fund managers, who are billed at lower rates than their gardeners, must be rescinded; and limits must be set for a government bailout of the mortgage industry, to put an end to the too-big-to-fail syndrome for money managers who make colossal mistakes.

Play Ball!

Barry Bonds has hit more home runs in American baseball than any other person alive. There was a brouhaha of no small importance when he did it on July 27, 2007; but in the weeks since, few have paid attention. Hammerin’ Hank Aaron captured America’s hearts in 1974 (a few exceptions notwithstanding) in his heroic chase of Babe Ruth’s record, but we lost interest quickly in Barry Bonds, the endless stories of his steroid use and his many blasts beyond the fence. Why?

In many ways, medicine rules our lives as Americans: there’s something for everyone in the medical miracles that the pharmaceutical industry has engineered (to its great profit) over the last two decades. Nevertheless, we exclude Bonds and his astounding accomplishments from our appreciation of this sea change in American life, because another trend is working against the dyspeptic, pharmacologically enhanced slugger. Despite the advances medicine offers us, we still disdain a cheater.

Baseball occupies a unique place in our national psyche, a privileged place recognized by Congress (in its continued willingness to abide by baseball’s unique exemption from antitrust laws) and by fans, who see the sport both as a harkening back to a bucolic past and relatively free of the speed-em-up disease that has corrupted American culture. Autumn introduces a welcome advent of new heroes who seek glory on green fields with wooden bats, and in the end we have no patience for the intrusion of a perverse science into our national pastime. Every October we are reminded of our youth by these players, and we prefer them innocent. Play ball!

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