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The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
The Supreme Court recently voted 5-4 that school vouchers are constitutional. This is a terrible ruling for the future of public education. With the exodus from public schools having been officially sanctioned, private schools, and especially religious ones, will lead general education towards a decided religious tone. This is a ruling that can be a dangerous break from the separation of church and state tradition that has made the U.S. the strong, all-inclusive country that it is. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the dissenting position, "Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundation of our democracy."
This ruling for the Cleveland Voucher program will overwhelmingly make state money the chief reason why inner-city children jet to private, religious schools. It will weaken public schools even more than their current crippled state of affairs. It will provide encouragement for the best and brightest students to ditch their public schools for the religious teachings of primarily Catholic schools. It will make the separation of church and state a vague concept instead of a successful reality.
This decision will ultimately provide government money to go directly to a particular religious faith. This is a decision wrought with religious favoritism. If the majority of private religious schools were Hindu or Moslem, this case would not have even made it to the Supreme Court. It is clear that a Christian Court has ruled, narrowly mind you, that Christian education may have an exemption from that all-important separation between "alter and throne."
The advantages of this decision pale in comparision to the dangers that it provides precedence for. While freedom to choose which school will provide the best opportunities for one's child is a noble thing to legitimatize, the threat that a hole in the separation wall will create is one that eats away at the basic concepts of American religious freedom. In a time when religious freedom is a concept that makes America a target by Islamists across the globe, one would think that the Court would want to enhance the qualities that makes American freedom a paradigm for liberty, justice and all the qualities that our enemies find so repulsive. A decision for vouchers is one that enhances our biases for Christianity. We should instead be proving to the world that secular government is the success that it is because that wall between church and state is as strong as it always has been.
President Bush's new plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that I both liked and disliked at the same time. While I have come to terms with the idea that Yasser Arafat is contributing nothing towards any kind of peace process and instead is secretly promoting a continued terror, I question Bush's concept of the burden for peace. He laid out a plan, but made it impossible to be complied with. A vast majority of the burden for change was placed on the Palestinians. While this is likely the correct assumption to make, Israel must change in equivalent ways. Most of the goals that Bush demanded are indeed things that need to be changed, but without Israel's help, the Palestinians are without the power to change.
A friend of mine recently told me how fed up he was that everyone has fallen for Arafat's portrail as the victim and how Arafat has claimed to be handcuffed by Israel and the international community from changing the Palestinian Authority. While I don't think I have "fallen for it," I do believe that the conflict is a two-sided one. Therefore, when Bush lays out a plan that puts 95% of the burden for change on the Palestinians, I have to question it's possible effectiveness.
I agree with Bush that Arafat has outlived his usefulness. It seems clear that his only hold on power among Palestinians is to be in a perpetual state of violence intermixed with failed peace attempts. Arafat's goal of a Palestinian state would end him. He would lose all of his power, and thus he has succumbed to orchestrating the violence himself. Arafat needs to go.
However, in this mideast plan, Bush demands that Arafat must not lead again. This is wrong. This goes against everything that the U.S. stands for. When the Palestinians have free and fair elections, and if they elect Arafat in those free and fair elections, the U.S. should not be one to prevent democracy from taking its course. Democracy cannot work if it says "these people should vote, but if it's for this guy, it's not valid." That's not how democracy works. Having touted democracy as a principle of peace for the mideast, such a qualified application of it does not do justice to the U.S. image of fairness and understanding. Arafat has become a legitimate nuisance in the peace process, but if the Palestinian people feel he should be their leader, the U.S. should not unequivocally dismiss that choice. He should go, but we cannot make him go.
As I said above, the plan is a good one, but it lacks the muscle to make it effective. Only with an understanding of the Palestinian needs will any tangible change be seen. With curfews, roadblocks, Israeli insurgencies into the West Bank, and a sufficating grip on the Palestinian economy, there is no wonder why change has been hard to come by. It takes two to make peace. It can only be effective if everyone plays by the same rules. Without the freedom to reform, a stagnant Palestinian people will only become more embittered, and an embittered people will only push peace further from sight.
While the world has been focused on President Bush's recently announced policy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a massive 6.3 earthquake hit Iran last week which killed 229 people. In the ensuing destruction, the U.S. has offered its aid to clean up, rebuild and restart Iranian life that has been brought to a standstill. Fortunately, Iran has accepted this U.S. aid and has welcomed anything the international community has to offer. This is a major step for relations between the U.S. and Iran.
I think it is absolutely wonderful that both of these nations can look past their differences and do the right thing. Humanitarian aid should be beyond politics. However, I question how a nation that was so irreversibly branded part of an "axis of evil" could be dealt with in such human terms. I am not questioning the delivery of aid, for I think that it is the only righteous option. What I do question is the original use of the term "axis of evil." Clearly we have not dealt with any of the three nations in this "axis" as true enemies. The administration's policy seems to be all talk and bluff and no action. I certainly don't advocate action either, for there is no need (Iran is moving towards reform, Iraq won't do anything to provoke us, and North Korea has enough problems feeding it's own people to worry about attacking anyone). Like I have advocated in recent posts, and this example with Iran's earthquake proves, treating these nations in such definitive terms is not effective. Black and white policy is not working as a bluff and it is clearly not what our actions are showing to be true. Shades of grey are the way to go. Enemies of the 21st century are not cut and dry as they were in wars of the 20th century. With terrorism and state-sponsored advocacy of hate, our enemy is reclusive and cunning. Our policy should start to match it.
I can't believe it myself, but I actually agree with Pat Buchanan. In his guest column in USA Today, Buchanan argues against the uncertain, erratic and paradoxical decisions that have been made by the Bush administration concerning Iraq, Israel and terror in general. He questions why a shift away from deterrence and towards pre-emption is a move that Bush sees as correct. Buchanan argues that being an aggressor in foreign affairs is a very dangerous proposition. He sees this new policy as, "a formula for endless wars, almost certain to produce the very horror the president seeks to avert: the detonation of an atomic or biological weapon on U.S. soil."
Buchanan also argues against such a definitive approach to labeling those who are good and those who are evil. He draws on history to point out that good and evil often overlap (Stalin during WWII). As I have argued before, what is needed in these times is not a hit list of enemies, but an understanding of our enemies and an ability to deal with them not in black and white terms, but in responsible shades of grey. Using terms like "axis of evil" does nothing to make the situation any more resolved. As the famous saying goes, hold your friends close, but hold your enemies closer. This should be the mantra of our foreign policy for the future, not an aggressive, and dangerous policy of "pre-emption."
Here's another editorial, this time from The Nation, which questions the new "pre-emptive" Bush doctrine. Much of it goes along with what I have said below and what the link below argues, but this article offers a different look at the ridiculousness of an attack on Iraq.