Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why a paltry anti-war movement might be a good thing

Various polls show public sentiment on US policy in Iraq waning. Gallup, for example, says that 6 out of every 10 Americans favor a partial or full withdrawal of troops. Harold Meyerson explains why, unlike the Vietnam war era -- when there were similar numbers in public polls -- this time public opinion might count:
These figures already match the polling in the middle and late years of the war in Vietnam -- even though that war was fought with vastly higher casualties and a conscript army. In a series of polls taken in November and December of 1969, the Gallup Organization found that 49 percent of Americans favored a withdrawal of U.S. forces and 78 percent believed that the Nixon administration's rate of withdrawal was "too slow." But there was one other crucial finding: 77 percent disapproved of the antiwar demonstrations, which were then at their height.

That disapproval was key to Nixon's political strategy. He didn't so much defend the war as attack its critics, making common cause with what he termed the "silent majority" against a mainstream movement with a large, raucous and sometimes senseless fringe. When Nixon won reelection in a landslide, it was clear that the strategy had worked -- and it has been fundamental Republican strategy ever since. Though the public sides with the Democrats on more key issues than it does with Republicans, it's Republicans who have won more elections, in good measure because the GOP has raised its ad hominem attacks on Democrats' character and patriotism to a science.

Which is why, however perverse this may sound, the absence of an antiwar movement is proving to be a huge political problem for the Bush administration, and why the Republicans are reduced to trying to turn Dick Durbin, who criticized our policies at Guantanamo Bay, into some enemy of the people. The administration has no one to demonize. With nobody blocking the troop trains, military recruitment is collapsing of its own accord. With nobody in the streets, the occupation is being judged on its own merits.

Unable to distract people from his own performance, Bush is tanking in the polls. And with congressional Democrats at least partly muting their opposition to an open-ended occupation, it's Bush's fellow Republicans -- most prominently, North Carolina's Walter Jones -- who are now calling our policy into question.

The lesson here for liberals and Democrats is not that they should shun oppositional politics -- after all, they confronted Bush head-on over Social Security and prevailed. My hunch is that candidates in the 2006 elections -- not to mention, 2008 -- who call for putting a date on U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will be rewarded at the ballot box. But it will probably help such candidates, and certainly confound the Bushites, if antiwar activists forget about the streets and focus on the polls.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Cows for Cuba

I guess I need to brush up on my U.S.-Cuba policy, as an article that appeared the last Friday in the Portland Press Herald surprised me with the breadth of trade being "freely" planned with Cuba.
Cuban delegation in search of heifers at Maine farms
By CLARKE CANFIELD, Associated Press

Maine cattle farmers will be showing off their herds when a contingent of Cuban officials visits a dozen farms in the coming four days in search of heifers to bring back to the Caribbean nation.

The delegation is scheduled to visit farms in southern, central and coastal Maine in a trip that begins today and continues through Monday.

The trade mission will provide Cuba with much-needed cows, while giving Maine farmers new markets for their cattle. The Cuban officials are also scheduled to meet with Maine potato and apple growers to discuss deals to buy those products later this year.

"There's a big demand for heifers in Cuba, and a lot of farmers are willing to get involved because down the road it could lead to future sales," said Maine Agriculture Commissioner Robert Spear.

The Cuban delegation includes government officials who specialize in imports, agriculture and veterinary medicine. They have already toured dairy farms in Pennsylvania and Vermont in hopes of buying several hundred heifers, young cows that have not yet borne a calf.

Officials said the cows have been selling for around $1,900 each.

For farmers such as Steve Keene at the family owned Conant Farm in Canton, a Cuban market for cattle helps diversify the farm and protect it in times of depressed milk prices. Keene said the Cubans are buying cows that are three to five months pregnant that will be shipped to Cuba, where they will later give birth.

"This will help us down the road because supply and demand will keep the prices at a good level for us," Keene said.

The trade agreement for Maine cattle is part of a bigger plan to sell other products to Cuba as well. On Sunday, the Cuban officials are scheduled to meet with apple and potato growers, said Doyle Marchant, owner of Cedar Spring Agricultural Co. in North Yarmouth, who organized trips of Maine delegations to visit Cuba in December and again in April.

"They need dairy products. The Cuban people, being in excess of 11.6 million people, are a protein-deficient society," Marchant said. "They don't have enough of anything as it relates to food, as it relates to pharmaceuticals and so forth." Food, agricultural products and medical supplies are the only items exempt from the 43-year-old U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.

Marchant said Cuban officials have signed contracts to buy apples and dairy products, and letters of intent for potatoes and lumber. Expanded trade will benefit both Maine and Cuba, he said.

"I'd rather see potatoes going to Cuba than see for-sale signs going up in front of potato farms," he said.
It's worth noting that Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Mexicans and other Latin Americans work in the lumber and apple industries (many illegally).

Saturday, June 18, 2005

AI and the "gulag" episode

I had commented on the AI "gulag" reference elsewhere, and this is quite an old story by this time, but I have to say that I agree 100 percent with the piece by a former Soviet "prisoner of conscience" in today's Washington Post:
The most effective way to criticize U.S. behavior is to frankly acknowledge that this country should be held to a higher standard based on its own Constitution, laws and traditions. We cannot fulfill our responsibilities as the world's only superpower without being perceived as a moral authority. Despite the risks posed by terrorism, the United States cannot indefinitely detain people considered dangerous without appropriate safeguards for their conditions of detention and periodic review of their status.

Words are important. When Amnesty spokesmen use the word "gulag" to describe U.S. human rights violations, they allow the Bush administration to dismiss justified criticism and undermine Amnesty's credibility. Amnesty International is too valuable to let it be hijacked by politically biased leaders.