Saturday, April 14, 2007

McCain Sees ‘No Plan B’ for Iraq War

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, reviewing notes Saturday
while he was being introduced at a meeting in Dubuque, Iowa.
Published: April 15, 2007

WASHINGTON, April 13 — Senator John McCain said that the buildup of American forces in Iraq represented the only viable option to avoid failure in Iraq and that he had yet to identify an effective fallback if the current strategy failed.

“I have no Plan B,” Mr. McCain said in an interview. “If I saw that doomsday scenario evolving, then I would try to come up with one. But I cannot give you a good alternative because if I had a good alternative, maybe we could consider it now.”

In a discussion of how he would handle Iraq if elected president, Mr. McCain said that the success of the Bush administration’s strategy, which seeks to protect Baghdad residents so Iraqi political leaders have an opportunity to pursue a program of political reconciliation, was essentially a precondition for a more limited American role that could follow.

“I am not guaranteeing that this succeeds,” said Mr. McCain, who has long argued that additional troops are needed. “I am just saying that I think it can. I believe it has a good shot.”

Mr. McCain methodically dismissed as unrealistic every other plan that had been proposed by Democrats as a substitute for President Bush’s strategy, including those from Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Barack Obama of Illinois.

He said that if the Bush administration’s plan had not produced visible signs of progress by the time a McCain presidency began, he might be forced — if only by the will of public opinion — to end American involvement in Iraq.

“I do believe that history shows us Americans will not continue to support an overseas engagement involving the loss of American lives for an unlimited period of time unless they see some success,” he added. “And then, when they run out of patience, they will demand that we get out.”

Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican and decorated former Naval aviator who spent five and half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, maintains that the American buildup is necessary to carry out an effective counterinsurgency campaign. He spoke at a time when many Republicans say his support for the war in Iraq has become a drag on his candidacy.

Mr. McCain recently came under fire from Democrats and other critics for what they called an overly optimistic assessment of security conditions in a Baghdad market, which he toured under the protection of more than 100 soldiers. Mr. McCain later said that he would have been prepared to tour the market with much less protection.

In the interview, Mr. McCain said that if he became the commander in chief, he might keep Robert M. Gates as defense secretary. For the post of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he suggested that he would consider Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander in Iraq, and Adm. William J. Fallon, the newly appointed head of the Central Command. They are carrying out the new strategy in Baghdad. Mr. McCain has been critical of their predecessors, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the former American commander in Iraq, and the former secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mr. McCain also said he would seek to attract corporate leaders to improve the management of the Pentagon, citing figures like Frederick W. Smith, the chief executive of FedEx Corporation, and John T. Chambers, the chief executive of Cisco Systems.

“I would go to these people and say: ‘Look, you’ve made a billion dollars. Come on now, and do what David Packard did years ago. Serve your country,’ ” Mr. McCain said, referring to the co-founder of the Hewlett Packard Company who served as deputy defense secretary in the first Nixon administration.

Mr. McCain also described retired Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander and Marine commandant, as one of his closest friends, adding he expected he would “play a key role.”

Mr. McCain discussed Iraq during an hourlong session on Thursday at his Senate office, sipping cappuccino and talking in measured if intense tones in the presence of two aides. He ended the interview to go to the White House for a meeting with Mr. Bush.

“One of the things that I’m going to tell him, and I don’t often talk about my conversations with the president, is that the American people need to be told more often what’s happening,” he said. “Where we’re succeeding; where we’re failing; where we’ve made progress; where we haven’t, here’s the state of readiness, here’s why we continue to see suicide bombers.”

“There’s got to be more communication with the American people,” he added. “Franklin Delano Roosevelt did it.”

Mr. McCain said that the increase in American forces had led to gains in security. Despite claims of progress in Iraq, however, Mr. McCain acknowledged that the American strategy would falter unless the Iraqis moved quickly to establish a more inclusive government. He expressed disappointment that the effort to enact a new law that would allow more former Baathists to serve in government jobs was stalled and said it was vital to arrange provincial elections so that Sunnis could join the political process.

“So how do you motivate the Maliki government? Well, one of the ways is go sit down and have dinner with him like Lindsey Graham and I did last week,” he said, alluding to his Republican colleague from South Carolina. He said that he and Mr. Graham had warned Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that the patience of the American public was running out. Many members of the Bush administration and other lawmakers have met with Mr. Maliki to make the same point.

“We’re telling you, there’s been votes in both houses of Congress which portend, unless the American people see measurable success, that we’re going to be out of here,” Mr. McCain said, recalling the message he had delivered to the Iraqi leader. “No matter whether I happen to agree with it or not.”

“He gets it. He gets it,” Mr. McCain said of Mr. Maliki. “The question is whether they do it or not.”

According to the military’s deployment schedule, only three of the five additional combat brigades that are to be deployed in and around Baghdad under Mr. Bush’s plan have arrived. Mr. McCain said the prospects for the new strategy would be known “within months.”

Even more unclear is what Iraq might look like by the time a new president takes office in the United States. The most optimistic course of events he envisioned involved a steady reduction in violence and a gradual turnover of security responsibilities to the Iraqis during the remainder of the Bush administration. Under those circumstances, Mr. McCain said, the United States military would gradually withdraw to its bases in Iraq, though he did not provide a timetable for how long that might take.

American air and ground forces could continue to operate from those bases when needed but then eventually leave, he said. He said that he had recently met with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, and had been told that Pakistan and other Muslim nations would be prepared to help Iraq if the country was secure.

On the other hand, the failure of the troop buildup plan and an escalation of violence, Mr. McCain said, would present the United States with a range of flawed fallback options.

One plan proposed by some Democratic lawmakers is to withdraw American troops to Kuwait, from where they might carry out strikes against terrorists in Iraq belonging to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Mr. McCain said that this approach reflected a naïve understanding of the difficulties in obtaining intelligence and conducting operations in Iraq. “The fact of modern warfare is that you can’t parachute into places,” he said. “You can’t go in without a solid base of support if you’re going to be engaged in heavy fighting.”

Another plan, advocated by Mrs. Clinton, would maintain a reduced force at bases in Iraq to stabilize Kurdistan, deter neighboring nations from intervening and to fight terrorist groups there. “That assumes somehow that the place has not descended into chaos,” said Mr. McCain, who warned that reducing the force without first stabilizing Iraq would put the American forces in the position of being “rocketed in their bases.”

Putting additional emphasis on training the Iraqi Army, Mr. McCain also said, would not be effective unless security in Iraq was improved. “I’d be very reluctant to send young men into a country where there is chaos and tell them they’re going to be trainers.”

Partitioning Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish enclaves, as some experts have proposed, was “totally unrealistic,” Mr. McCain argued, because the Iraqis are opposed to measures that would lead to the further dislocation of the population and even divide families.

He also suggested that setting deadlines for withdrawing troops — as many lawmakers were seeking to legislate — would backfire, hamstringing commanders and giving opponents a way to wait out the Americans.

Mr. McCain acknowledged that his message — that a long, hard and uncertain road still lies ahead in Iraq — was not a popular one, and could mark the end of his political ambitions. However, it could be as politically treacherous for Mr. McCain to back away from his support of the war as it is for him to stay with it.

During a recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Mr. McCain noted that he had recently met Petty Officer First Class Mark Robbins, a member of the Navy Seals who was shot in the eye in an ambush outside Baghdad, in a military hospital in Germany and that he planned personally to award him the Purple Heart.

“Oh, God, I’ve seen a lot of things in my life,” Mr. McCain recalled in the interview. “I’ve seen a lot of things. That kid sitting up there. His head. Blood all over the back of him.”

“Grabs my hand and says, ‘I’m honored you’re here. Thanks for your support. We can win this fight.’ You know, I’m supposed to worry about my political future?”

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Battle Over the Banlieues

Unwelcome Mat One of the many housing projects, or cités, that fill the suburbs
throughout France, alienate their working-class residents and fuel the debate over
French egalité. This one, the Pablo Picasso, is in Nanterre, west of Paris.

Published: April 15, 2007

“If I could get my hands on Sarkozy, I’d kill him.” I had asked Mamadou, a wiry young man wearing gray camouflage pants and a tank top, what he thought of France’s former minister of the interior, who is also the right’s standard-bearer in this spring’s presidential elections. “I’d kill him,” he continued and then paused as if savoring the thought. “Then I’d go to prison. And when I got out, I’d be a hero.”

Enemies of the State? French Muslim hip-hoppers at the Chene d’Or cité in Cergy, north of Paris. One presidential candidate has pledged to establish a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity.

We were in Les Bosquets, one of the impoverished housing projects that are scattered across the banlieues, the heavily immigrant working-class suburbs that surround Paris. I asked Mamadou’s friend Ahmad if he felt the same way. He said he would not go that far. “I wouldn’t kill him, no,” he said. “But I hate him. We all hate him.”

A lot of this was bravado, of course, friends showing off for friends in the disaffected, hyperaggressive macho style that now predominates among France’s disenfranchised suburban young. As a group, their unemployment rate stands at around 40 percent. Seen from the Paris familiar to most foreigners or, for that matter, to most native Parisians, Les Bosquets seems like another country. And yet it takes only about an hour to get there from the Place de la Concorde. Paris is ringed by hard-up towns like Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil, each with its own version — some far better, very few much worse — of Les Bosquets. These cités, as the housing projects are known, suffer from much more than being simply ugly or neglected. Nor is their poverty what sets them apart; there is poverty in Paris itself, after all, and in the French countryside as well. Still less is it their immigrant character: the great French cities, like all major European cities these days, are filled with new immigrants, the majority of them Muslims. (A third of the Muslims in Europe now live in France.) And yet there is something particularly soulless and depressing about these suburbs. An increasing number of those who live in the cités have the sense that they are unwelcome in a France whose treatment of them, whether hostile or indifferent, utterly contradicts the claim the country makes for itself: that in France everyone is treated equally and that the Republic neither makes nor will accept any distinction between citizens on the basis of race, class or ethnic background.

The elections have pitted Nicolas Sarkozy against two main challengers, the Socialist Party’s Ségolène Royal and an upstart center-right candidate from the small Union for a Democratic France, or U.D.F., François Bayrou. Much of Sarkozy’s political identity in the campaign comes from the mutually antagonistic relationship he has with young men like Mamadou and Ahmad. As interior minister, Sarkozy was responsible for confronting the unrest in the cités that in 2005 boiled over into full-scale riots, and in doing so he came to embody the hostility that many of the Français de souche — that is, French people whose ancestors have lived in France for centuries — now feel toward the Français issus de l’immigration, that is, French people whose parents or grandparents immigrated from the Maghreb or sub-Saharan Africa or the islands of the Indian Ocean. In Sarkozy’s campaign speeches, he denies any affiliation with the country’s anti-immigrant parties. But as the presidential campaign nears its conclusion (the first round of voting takes place next weekend), Sarkozy has seemed only to accentuate his hard-line stances on illegal immigration, on assimilation and on “security,” which in France today refers mostly to the violence of the suburban young.

For many observers, both inside and outside the country, the future of France is at stake in this election. Sarkozy’s supporters, who include a number of prominent intellectuals (unlike in almost every other rich country, their role continues to be significant in France), say he represents a clean break with the politics of the past half-century in France. For the novelist Marc Weitzmann, an enthusiastic “Sarkozyiste,” French postwar politics was dominated first by an unholy alliance between Charles de Gaulle and the French Communist Party and then by the Socialist François Mitterrand and the Gaullist Jacques Chirac, who in a sense perpetuated this sclerotic political arrangement. For Weitzmann, Sarkozy provides an alternative to a system that has failed to produce social peace, failed to adapt to France’s reduced role in the world and above all failed to reform its economy on either the Tony Blair model or the German Social Democratic model.

A decade ago, it would have been inconceivable to have found a Parisian intellectual like the writer Pascal Bruckner supporting a right-wing candidate like Sarkozy. But as Bruckner put it to me recently, Sarkozy “wants to give a kick in the rear to our old, decrepit country, to put an end to the French feeling of self-hatred, to reinforce our self-esteem and the value of work. He wants to extricate us from our decadence and put an end to the so-called ‘French exception,’ which is nothing more than the narcissism of failure.”

Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, largely agrees. Like Bruckner, he is persuaded of the novelty of Sarkozy in French politics. “He’s a new type of character for the Fifth Republic,” Gordon told me. Unlike most French politicians, Sarkozy did not graduate from one of France’s so-called great schools; he attended the University of Paris. Notably, he is not himself a member of the Français de souche; his father, a public-relations executive, immigrated from Hungary in 1946. What’s more, Gordon says, Sarkozy “is radically different in orientation from those within the Gaullist movement who have come before him, including Jacques Chirac.” In economic policy, Sarkozy is neoliberal rather than statist, and in foreign affairs, he is Atlanticist rather than Europeanist and pro-Israel rather than pro-Palestinian.

His real break from the past, though, can be seen in the way he has made the interconnected issues of immigration, assimilation and national identity the centerpieces of his campaign. Traditionally, immigration has been a concern of only the French hard right, notably Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front. That changed after the unexpected result of the 2002 elections. The French electoral system involves two rounds of voting; the second round is a runoff between the two candidates who get the most votes in the first round. In the past, many French voters have expressed their support for minority parties in the first round in the belief that in the second the contest will revert to a familiar choice between France’s two major parties: the Socialist Party and the Union for a Popular Movement, or U.M.P., the center-right inheritor of Gaullism. In the 2002 elections, however, that strategy helped Le Pen earn more votes than the Socialists in the first round, which gave him a place in the runoff against Chirac. The French left was forced to rally behind Chirac, but Le Pen still managed to get 17 percent of the vote, largely by playing the anti-immigrant card. It was an astonishing result and one that still traumatizes many French voters, who prefer to think of Le Pen’s politics as far outside the mainstream and of limited appeal.

Roland Cayrol, the dean of French pollsters, told me that most French people, like voters everywhere, care more about bread-and-butter issues than questions of immigration and national identity. He added, however, that “those who are concerned with immigration, who form the base of support for Le Pen, are single-issue voters, and in a close election, their votes can determine the outcome.”

The consensus among French political observers is that Sarkozy knows this and has tailored his campaign accordingly. His strategy in the first round appears to be to tack far enough to the right to attract a substantial number of Le Pen’s supporters, while taking care not to alienate too many centrist voters. Maintaining this delicate balance requires prodigious oratorical gifts, and Sarkozy is a brilliant speaker, perhaps the best in France for a generation. And his job as interior minister has helped with this positioning as well; until last month, when he resigned in order to campaign full time, he used his post to signal his toughness and his tenacity. He carried out a policy of cracking down on illegal immigrants, up to and including sending police into schools to arrest, with a view toward deportation, young people enrolled in them. He has boasted that his policies prevented France from being subjected to the kinds of immigrant floods that Spain experienced after the Socialist government there legalized many illegal residents. In what has been received in France as a clear signal to Le Pen’s constituency, Sarkozy has insisted that “there was an obvious link between 30 or 40 years of a policy of uncontrolled immigration and the social explosion in French cities.” And as if to cap all this, in a recent speech he unveiled a plan for a new ministry to be called the Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. To many French people, the concept was a horrifying echo of the racism of the fascist Vichy regime during the Second World War. But, as he usually does, Sarkozy stood firm.

It is impossible to understand the French elections of 2007 without first taking the measure of what happened in November 2005, when riots convulsed the French suburbs and shocked the French public. They began in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, after two teenagers from one of the town’s toughest cités were chased by the police into an electric-power substation and electrocuted, but before long they had spread across much of the country. For many voters, the trauma produced by the conflict — which the conservative writer and TV personality Alain Minc calls “the revolt of 2005” — has never been far from the surface, and last month, when a small riot broke out in the Gare du Nord, the principal terminus of the RER suburban rail network that links Paris with its northern suburbs, the issue once more assumed center stage.

An internal report commissioned by the French prime minister’s office called the 2005 riots “unprecedented in their length, their geographic spread, their economic cost and their political impact, both nationally and internationally.” The only proper comparison, the authors argued, was the rioting in Los Angeles in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict. But, they added, those riots did not spread outside greater Los Angeles and only lasted six days, whereas the French riots lasted almost three weeks.

Politically, the riots were a polarizing event. Many residents of the cités, even those who condemned the violence, insisted that given the conditions that existed there and the brutality and racism of the police, an explosion was inevitable. And even the political establishment in France, up to and including Sarkozy, concedes that racism in employment is endemic in the country. There are data that seem to demonstrate that if your name is Mohammed or Fatima, you have less than 50 percent of the chance of being hired than you do if your name is Jean or Marie. The French Republic may proclaim its commitment to equal opportunity, but few French people believe it to be genuine. Abderrahmane Dahmane, who is in charge of the Sarkozy campaign’s relations with France’s immigrant communities, told me that when a policeman stops an immigrant youth, the youth might say something like “I’m as French as you,” and the policeman might agree, but they would both know it wasn’t true. The radical young people I met, whether would-be rappers like Mamadou and Ahmad in Les Bosquets or young Islamists affiliated with the Tawhid Center in Lyon, made much the same point, although in far more bitter language and without Dahmane’s belief that this reality could be changed — and that Sarkozy was the man to do it.

For the vast majority of the French electorate, watching the rioting on television or reading about it in the newspapers was both an alien and an alienating experience. It was alien because, for them, these suburbs were already a foreign land into which they almost never went (just as the residents of the cités rarely took the suburban rail links into the great cities like Paris, Lyon or Strasbourg). And it was alienating because the violence seemed both so savage and so self-destructive. Polling data showed that it was the older cohorts of French voters who were most affected, emotionally, by the riots. As the pollster Roland Cayrol put it to me, “these older voters are of the age where one is often governed by one’s fears.”

Their fears are anything but groundless. Violent crime and burglary are rising, though as yet guns are almost never used — nor were they, significantly, during the 2005 riots — and so the homicide rates are far, far lower than in American cities. There was, for example, only one death during the riots, compared with dozens in Los Angeles in 1992. But guns or no guns, there is a palpable air of menace when you take a ride after dark on certain parts of the superb Paris métro system or the anything-but-superb suburban RER network. To a New Yorker, it is reminiscent of the accumulated petty disorders of pre-Giuliani New York, with its squeegee men, hustlers, beggars and turnstile jumpers. And it seems hard to believe that anyone who has spent much time in the RER section of the Gare du Nord could have been surprised that things there turned violent so quickly last month. Whenever I passed through, it always seemed to me that both the suburban youths and the young policemen on duty were spoiling for a fight.

the outgoing president, share a political party, but they have had a bitter political rivalry for years. When Chirac first named Sarkozy to the interior post in 2002, many observers speculated that it was done in the hope that Sarkozy would fail there, or at least be marginalized. But the riots in 2005 instead had the effect of putting Sarkozy at the center of the national political dialogue. A few days after they began, as it was becoming clear that the situation was not likely to abate quickly, Sarkozy traveled to Argenteuil, a suburb very much like Clichy-sous-Bois. In France, the minister of the interior directly controls the national police force, so suppressing the rioting was Sarkozy’s job. Everyone, including Sarkozy himself, knew that his political career was on the line.

Rare is the French politician who does not exude self-confidence — it is the national political style — but even by French standards Sarkozy has always seemed utterly confident both in his abilities and in his way with words. Thus, there was nothing surprising about Sarkozy’s rushing to the scene of the rioting, surrounded by police, reporters and local residents. But what he said when he got there was the antithesis of what a government minister was expected to say. After making the predictable statement that he was determined to suppress the rioting by all means at his disposal and to crack down hard on those responsible, Sarkozy said the words that have defined him ever since in the minds of the young people of the suburbs and many others as well. His voice rising in anger, he declared that the rioters were nothing more than “racaille.”

In French, the word “racaille” means “scum.” It is hard to think of a word more likely to cause offense, not only among the youths themselves but among their parents and older relatives as well. Unlike the epithet that so many American black youths continue to use toward one another — so often to the despair of their elders — the young people of the cités rarely employ “racaille” to describe themselves or as a form of address. (When they do, it is in Verlan, the inverted slang of the suburbs in which words are said backward thus “racaille” becomes the ironic “caillera.”) They believe that the term expresses the way most French people view them. From the perspective of the suburbs, Sarkozy’s “racaille” was the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater.

For Pascal Bruckner, it was simply vintage Sarkozy. “That is his great fault,” he told me. “There is this supercop side of him, this tendency toward conflict that prevents him from keeping his calm. He has so much energy in him that it is as if he is always about to explode. You know, his legs actually move when he speaks.” For Bruckner, the racaille incident was one in which Sarkozy’s emotions overcame his reason: “The problem is that he deeply despises his adversaries. That use of the word ‘scum,’ it dishonored his function.”

Dahmane, Sarkozy’s campaign liaison to immigrants, told me that he often feared Sarkozy’s weakness as a politician was that he was not politic enough. Sarkozy was not ashamed of this fact, Dahmane said: “He once told me that he said in a loud voice what most people only whisper under their breath.”

Bruckner and Dahmane were identifying precisely what troubles so many French people about the prospect of Sarkozy’s becoming president. As Dominique Sopo, a Socialist Party member and Royal supporter who runs a civil rights advocacy group, explained to me: “No one sensible would claim that there weren’t some rioters who could indeed justifiably be called racaille. But a responsible person neither indicts a whole community nor adds fuel to the fire in this way. Certainly not a minister. And certainly not someone who thinks himself ready to become president.”

(Sarkozy’s use of such extreme language was hardly unprecedented. In June 2005, in the suburb of La Courneuve, he said he would clean up the cités as if with a “Kärcher,” a high-pressure industrial cleaning machine. After Sarkozy’s remarks, the Kärcher corporation felt obliged to take out ads in major French newspapers saying that it in no way approved the sentiments behind the use of its name.)

As the unrest continued in the fall of 2005, the Molotov- and paving-stone-wielding rioters could be heard on television yelling about being treated as racaille. To this day, the wound of that remark festers. The rioting youths at the Gare du Nord last month chanted anti-Sarkozy slogans as they hurled bottles at the police. And it’s not just the rioters: I can’t remember a single political conversation in any of the cités I have visited in the last year, on any subject — jobs, discrimination, France herself — that wasn’t prefaced by at least a few almost ritualistic denunciations of Sarkozy.

Sarkozy and his political advisers certainly know that he crossed a Rubicon with his remarks. Not once during the campaign has Sarkozy visited the cités. Eugène-Henri Moré, the Communist deputy mayor of La Courneuve, told me that the one time people in his suburb thought Sarkozy was going to come, there was an uproar and much threatening talk about what the response would be. Asked at a news conference when Sarkozy would visit a cité, one of his principal spokeswomen, Rachida Dati, a well-known magistrate who is herself the daughter of North African immigrants, dodged the question, speaking instead of her own frequent visits to such places and of Sarkozy’s plans for economic and social revitalization. As François Bayrou, the U.D.F. candidate, said sarcastically, Sarkozy must be the only interior minister in Europe for whom a portion of his own country is completely off limits.

Bayrou has made frequent visits to the suburbs, where young voters are increasingly drawn to him. Sarkozy seems unconcerned; given the public mood, he may have calculated that being despised in the suburbs will help him with the electorate as a whole more than it will hurt him. Such is the depth of mainstream French disquiet, in fact, that many figures in French politics who have traditionally viewed themselves as defenders of immigrants’ rights and of the residents of the suburbs are bowing to the prevailing winds and taking a tougher stance toward the immigrant youth. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, once one of the most radical of the student leaders of May ’68 in France and now an influential voice in European Socialist politics, recently declared in Le Monde that if he and his fellow Socialist Party members “do not speak clearly on the suburbs and on immigration, we leave an avenue open to Le Pen.”

Ségolène Royal has had difficulty articulating a coherent response to the electorate’s shift. She horrified many of her more left-leaning supporters during the campaign by calling for the military to be involved in training programs for delinquent youths and for “putting school and family back at the center of society” — a coded way of promising that if elected she would get tough with the immigrant youth of the suburbs. Royal has presented herself as the anti-Sarkozy, but in an effort not to cede the ground of patriotism to him, she recently said that she thought every French household should have a tricolor flag. The events of the Gare du Nord forced her onto the defensive once more.

Lhaj Breze, the head of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (a group that is often accused of being Islamist by the French right but whose grass-roots support even its enemies do not deny), says he understands the attraction that many young French Muslims feel for Bayrou. “He is a path to hope for them,” Breze told me when we met in the group’s modest offices in an industrial area of the Parisian suburb of La Courneuve.

“And Sarkozy?” I asked him.

Breze smiled wanly: “I’m afraid you won’t find a single young French Muslim who will vote for him. No one is yet willing to forgive him. As far as they are concerned, what he said at the time of the riots — as well as his closeness to America’s policy in the Middle East, which is very important to the Muslim community in France — makes him unacceptable to them.”

Interestingly, Breze did not share this antipathy at all. “In many ways,” he told me, “Sarkozy has been especially sensitive to the concerns of French Muslims. He did not initiate the project to create a representative Muslim institution in France that was long overdue. The Socialists did that. But the C.F.C.M.” — the Council of the French Muslim Community — “could not have come into being without Sarkozy having pushed for it when he became minister of the interior. I’ve spoken with him many times, and I always found him very forthright and very committed.”

I asked Breze why, if this was the case, Sarkozy had taken such a hard line on French national identity, on the need for immigrants to adopt that identity, up to and including the proposed new ministry. Smiling more broadly this time, Breze said, “Well, you might say that there is Sarkozy I and Sarkozy II, and that after the election we’ll have Sarkozy I back again.” Breze even allowed that he might vote for Sarkozy himself.

Breze’s contention is that Sarkozy’s current hard line is only for electoral purposes, that he is in fact sympathetic to the aspirations of immigrant and native-born nonwhite communities. This thesis is controversial in France (and anathema to both the youth of the suburbs and those supporting either Bayrou or Royal), but it is by no means groundless. Some of Sarkozy’s supporters point to his support for affirmative action in the workplace and in the educational system, which, they say, is the only way to change the dismal life chances young people now confront. And pious Muslims like Breze see in Sarkozy someone who is more sympathetic to religious concerns than the Socialists, for whom atheism remains a touchstone.

the weakness of France’s traditional political arrangements, and they have fragmented long-settled party loyalties. The pollster Roland Cayrol told me that Royal’s poll numbers went up whenever she diverged from party orthodoxy and went down whenever she reverted to it, and in fact she has been covertly opposed by rivals from within her own Socialist Party. Bayrou has presented himself to the electorate as the politician who is “beyond parties.” In his speeches, he has called for people across the political divide to unite to work for what is best for France, not what is best for the Socialist Party or Sarkozy’s U.M.P. or even his own U.D.F. (A cynic might observe that this last point is easy enough for him to make since the U.D.F. normally gets about 6 percent of the vote.)

In the campaign’s remaining days, the voters who oppose Sarkozy will mostly be trying to work out whether Royal or Bayrou has the better chance of defeating him in the runoff. Bayrou’s hope is that Royal will turn off many of her natural constituents and that they will choose him instead. Socialists reply that voters will in the end abandon Bayrou as a kind of impractical fantasy and return to the fold. They point to the fact that the polls consistently show that Royal’s support is hard while Bayrou’s is soft. What is undeniable, and what even some members of the Bayrou and Royal campaign staffs will agree to off the record, is that the 2007 French presidential election is really a referendum on Nicolas Sarkozy.

When I accompanied Bayrou into the RER station in central Paris for one of his recent campaign swings through the suburbs, a number of people in the crowd, which included many girls with head scarves and young men in hooded sweatshirts and hip-hop regalia, shouted, “Save us from Sarkozy,” as if Bayrou were a physician and the U.M.P. candidate a dread disease. A lot of Sarkozy’s opponents, and not only in the suburbs, think that he is precisely the “new type of character” who will heighten the French crisis, not resolve it: a man who will sow division in a country already bitterly divided and aggravate social, religious and racial tensions in a country already racked by them.

Sarkozy’s supporters obviously reject these apocalyptic predictions of what their candidate will do should he become president. But they agree with supporters of Royal and Bayrou that Sarkozy has challenged the traditional right-left fault lines that have, to one degree or another, dominated French politics since the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Although Sarkozy is the most conservative candidate and a member of the incumbent party, supporters like Marc Weitzmann tend to view him as representing change and hope — and Royal and Bayrou as representing the status quo. For Sarkozy’s opponents, he represents change too: precisely the wrong kind of change.

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Patient Privilege

The Ethicist
Published: April 15, 2007

When I went for an examination, my surgeon asked if two residents could be present. I felt uncomfortable being undressed in front of extra people, and so I declined. My surgeon scolded me, saying I was preventing the next generation of doctors from being trained. Why is it my responsibility to provide training for medical students? — name withheld, Beit Shemesh, Israel

Your surgeon’s request was reasonable; her brow-beating you was not. She’s right that a new physician’s education must include work with actual patients, under the supervision of a wily veteran like herself. Because you, like all of us, rely on the skills of physicians trained in this way, you have a general obligation to reciprocate, to assist the next generation of patients as the past generation of patients has assisted you.

Happily for you, this training needs the participation of many patients but not all. Some are profoundly uncomfortable when being examined, particularly by strangers, particularly when those extra docs are not medically necessary. Feeling as you do, you may decline your surgeon’s request, a decision she must accept graciously: no scolding, no eye-rolling. Her primary obligation is the well-being of her current patient, not the training of her future colleagues.

But if you demur, you should find another way to do your fair share for the health-care community of which you are a member and from which you benefit. Give blood, sign your organ-donor card, arrange to donate your body to science, give money to your hospital. There are many ways to contribute; I’m sure that your physician herself can suggest some.

I am a volunteer firefighter. I responded to an accident involving someone I knew to be infected with hepatitis C, a contagious disease. As we cut the roof off her car to remove this injured and bleeding woman, two police officers approached to administer first aid. They were not wearing protective gloves, so I offered each a pair; they declined. Should I have revealed her medical condition? Should I inform those officers now so they can be tested and perhaps treated? — Ryan Thomas, Oakland County, Mich.

Your concern for the privacy of your injured acquaintance is admirable, but yes, you should have alerted those police officers to their serious, imminent danger. Their peril superseded her claims to confidentiality.

These officers were — what’s the word? knuckleheads! — not to have donned their gloves already. Surely they were trained to. Had they observed this protocol for administering first aid, they would have shielded themselves from the blood-borne diseases any victim might carry and dodged a clash between their safety and a victim’s privacy.

You should have warned them (avoiding the word “knucklehead”) by offering the minimum information necessary, i.e., by declaring that you knew her to have an infectious disease. If those doofuses still eschewed protective gear, you could then have said that she’s a vampire. O.K., not a vampire, but you could have progressed gradually but swiftly from the general to the particular, mentioning her specific condition only as a last resort.

Having failed to do that, you must now urge them to get tested, which means revealing what they must be tested for.

UPDATE: Thomas spoke to the victim, who volunteered to notify the rescue workers herself.

Send your queries to or The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036, and include a daytime phone number.

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The Stranger


Published: April 15, 2007

Q: Your new novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” ascended to No. 1 on the Barnes & Noble best-seller list virtually the moment it was published in this country. What do you make of that?

Now perhaps I can quit my job. Three days a week, I do some consulting for a little branding firm in London.

Is it fair to describe your second novel as a Muslim’s critique of American values?

That’s oversimplifying. The novel is a love song to America as much as it is a critique.

I didn’t find it so loving. It takes place on a single evening at a cafe in Lahore, as a charming, well-educated Pakistani in his 20s recounts his life story to an unnamed American stranger, who seems suspicious of him.

The American is acting as if the Pakistani man is a Muslim fundamentalist because of how he looks — he has a beard.

And the Pakistani man also brings certain fears and preconceptions to their conversation. In an act of reverse ethnic profiling, he suspects the American is an undercover agent who might arrest him.

Yes. But he could be just as freaked out as the rest of us are in this world when we see an American with that kind of build and imagine he is a C.I.A. agent. The novel is not supposed to have a correct answer. It’s a mirror. It really is just a conversation, and different people will read it in different ways.

Like your novel, this interview is a conversation between an American listener and a Pakistani man with a beard. Are we also doomed to misunderstanding? Do you think I’m a C.I.A. agent?

If you had short hair and a bulge in your jacket, I might assume you were.

Do you think I am mistaking you for a fundamentalist?

I don’t know. But you are doing me the honor of trying to understand me.

I don’t know if I trust you.

Put that into the piece!

It was unsettling to learn that your protagonist felt a rush of genuine pleasure when the World Trade towers were attacked.

Some part of him has a desire to see America harmed. In much of the world, there is resentment toward America, and the notion that the superpower could be humiliated or humbled or damaged in this way is something that gives satisfaction.

Is that how you felt when the towers were attacked?

No. I was devastated. A wall had suddenly come up between my American and Muslim worlds. The novel is my attempt to reconnect those divided worlds.

Much like the narrator of your book, you grew up in Pakistan and were educated at Princeton.

I was one of two or three Pakistanis in the class of ’93, and I didn’t feel homesick for a second. I took two writing workshops with Joyce Carol Oates, and I wrote the first draft of my first novel in a long-fiction workshop with Toni Morrison, both of whom encouraged me.

Nonetheless, you went off to law school. What were you thinking?

I went to Harvard Law School and decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer. It bored the pants off of me.

Your novel suggests you have read a lot of Camus, particularly “The Fall,” whose protagonist, not unlike yours, pours out his story to a stranger in one long philosophical rant.

Yes, Camus taught me how to have a conversation that implicates the reader.

In your novel, the Pakistani man is the sole speaker. Why did you choose to silence the American?

For me, in the world of media, particularly the American media, it’s almost always the other way around.

But no one is silencing you. To the contrary, you’re scheduled to visit Miami and Cambridge and Washington this week to promote a novel of which there are already more than 100,000 copies out there.

But there are not many of us from the Muslim world who are getting heard over here. And the ones who are mostly seem to be speaking in grainy videos from caves.

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Who’s Watching the F.B.I.?

Published: April 15, 2007

In “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy,” Woody Allen shows up at Mia Farrow’s window on a flying bicycle and urges her to hop on. “Andrew, we’ll get killed,” she protests. “Trust me,” he replies, “it’s me, Andrew.” She looks skeptical, and he tries again. “Trust me anyhow.”

In the latest and most serious post-9/11 civil-liberties abuse to emerge from Washington, the Bush administration’s “Trust me anyhow” defense has finally collapsed. The scandal involves “national-security letters,” which the F.B.I. has secretly used to scrutinize the financial data, travel records and telephone logs of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents. In March, a report by the inspector general of the Justice Department described “widespread and serious misuse” of national-security letters after the U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001 significantly expanded the F.B.I.’s authority to issue them: between 2003 and 2005, he concluded, the F.B.I. issued more than 140,000 national-security letters, many involving people with no obvious connections to terrorism. The Bush administration was fortunate that, shortly after the F.B.I. scandal broke, the tempest over the Justice Department’s firing of prosecutors bumped it off the front page.

National-security letters are especially susceptible to abuse because they’re not subject to independent review by a judge or magistrate and because the recipients are forbidden to discuss them. In an op-ed article published anonymously last month in The Washington Post, the president of a small Internet-access business described the “stressful and surreal” experience of receiving a national-security letter. Under threat of criminal prosecution, he wrote, he was forbidden to discuss any aspect of the case with his colleagues, his family, his girlfriend or the client whose data he had been ordered to reveal.

National-security letters were authorized in 1978 as a narrow exception to federal privacy laws, and their reach was expanded in 1986 to give the F.B.I. easier access to the records of suspected spies. The F.B.I. could issue the letters only if senior officials in Washington had a factual basis for believing that the records pertained to a suspected spy or terrorist. But the Patriot Act diluted these requirements, allowing F.B.I. field agents to issue the orders on their own say-so merely by asserting that they were “relevant” to a terrorism investigation.

Critics warned that these changes would let the F.B.I. collect the personal data of Americans with no clear ties to suspected terrorists, but few predicted the magnitude of the F.B.I.’s incompetence. The inspector general’s report found that the F.B.I. wasn’t even following its own internal guidelines and in some cases had violated federal law. The bureau wasn’t keeping signed copies of all its national-security letters and, as a result, couldn’t properly track the data it got. In the spirit of the Keystone Kops, it didn’t realize when it received data on the wrong person. When an F.B.I. official complained to his superiors, he was ignored.

It is too simple to attribute the F.B.I.’s abuses to plain carelessness. They also reflect the bureau’s struggles to reinvent itself as an agency devoted not merely to prosecuting past crimes but also to preventing future ones. The prevention strategy is based on the idea that the best way to avoid future 9/11’s is to collect information on lots of people who aren’t obviously terrorists and prosecute them for minor crimes before they have an opportunity to blow up buildings. This necessarily encourages dragnet searches of millions of people who turn out to be innocent. But even if F.B.I. agents clear the subject of a national-security letter, they store the information gleaned from it in digital databases that include more than a half-billion records, are not purged for at least 20 years and can be shared with state law-enforcement agencies or with private businesses for data mining.

Because of the amorphous nature of the terrorist threat, the F.B.I. may be right that it needs the power to investigate people who it isn’t sure in advance are terrorist suspects. Predicting who might be a terrorist in the future is much harder than prosecuting known spies who committed crimes in the past. But dragnets have their price.

Fortunately, some in the new Congress have indicated that they intend to revisit the Patriot Act. The broad outlines of the necessary reforms have long been obvious. Congress needs to restore independent review by judges in cases where the Patriot Act eliminated it, ensuring neutral oversight of secret searches. Those searches should be focused on the associates of suspected terrorists, rather than sweeping up any citizen who has information that might possibly be relevant. And Congress should restore a degree of transparency by lifting the gag orders in secret searches after a reasonable period of time.

At a hearing before the House Select Intelligence Committee last month, Justice Department and F.B.I. witnesses, sticking doggedly to their script, said that putting courts in the middle of the process would slow it down. This time, however, the “Trust me anyhow” defense had few takers. “I think self-policing has failed horribly,” said Representative John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat. If Congress continues to focus on the F.B.I. abuses, many Americans may come around to the same view. Unlike the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of suspected terrorists abroad, which supposedly involved them, the F.B.I.’s domestic surveillance clearly involves us.

Jeffrey Rosen, a frequent contributor, is the author most recently of “The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America.”

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Everybody Hates Don Imus

Published: April 15, 2007

FAMILIAR as I am with the warp speed of media, I was still taken aback by the velocity of Don Imus’s fall after he uttered an indefensible racist and sexist slur about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Even in that short span, there’s been an astounding display of hypocrisy, sanctimony and self-congratulation from nearly every side of the debate, starting with Al Sharpton, who has yet to apologize for his leading role in the Tawana Brawley case, the 1980s racial melee prompted by unproven charges much like those that soiled the Duke lacrosse players.

It’s possible that the only people in this whole sorry story who are not hypocrites are the Rutgers teammates and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer. And perhaps even Don Imus himself, who, while talking way too much about black people he has known and ill children he has helped, took full responsibility for his own catastrophic remarks and didn’t try to blame the ensuing media lynching on the press, bloggers or YouTube. Unlike Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Isaiah Washington, to take just three entertainers who have recently delivered loud religious, racial or sexual slurs, Imus didn’t hire a P.R. crisis manager and ostentatiously enter rehab or undergo psychiatric counseling. “I dished it out for a long time,” he said on his show last week, “and now it’s my time to take it.”

Among the hypocrites surrounding Imus, I’ll include myself. I’ve been a guest on his show many times since he first invited me in the early 1990s, when I was a theater critic. I’ve almost always considered him among the smarter and more authentic conversationalists I’ve encountered as an interviewee. As a book author, I could always use the publicity.

Of course I was aware of many of his obnoxious comments about minority groups, including my own, Jews. Sometimes he aimed invective at me personally. I wasn’t seriously bothered by much of it, even when it was unfunny or made me wince, because I saw him as equally offensive to everyone. The show’s crudest interludes struck me as burlesque.

I do not know Imus off the air and have no idea whether he is a good person, any more than I know whether Jerry Lewis, another entertainer who raises millions for sick children, is a good person. But as a listener and sometime guest, I didn’t judge Imus to be a bigot. Perhaps I felt this way in part because Imus vehemently inveighed against racism in real life, most recently in decrying the political ads in last year’s Senate campaign linking a black Tennessee congressman, Harold Ford, to white women. Perhaps I gave Imus a pass because the insults were almost always aimed at people in the public eye, whether politicians, celebrities or journalists — targets with the forums to defend themselves.

And perhaps I was kidding myself. What Imus said about the Rutgers team landed differently, not least because his slur was aimed at young women who had no standing in the world of celebrity, and who had done nothing in public except behave as exemplary student athletes. The spectacle of a media star verbally assaulting them, and with a creepy, dismissive laugh, as if the whole thing were merely a disposable joke, was ugly. You couldn’t watch it without feeling that some kind of crime had been committed. That was true even before the world met his victims. So while I still don’t know whether Imus is a bigot, there was an inhuman contempt in the moment that sounded like hate to me. You can see it and hear it in the video clip in a way that isn’t conveyed by his words alone.

Does that mean he should be silenced? The Rutgers team pointedly never asked for that, and I don’t think the punishment fits the crime. First, as a longtime Imus listener rather than someone who tuned in for the first time last week, I heard not only hate in his wisecrack but also honesty in his repeated vows to learn from it. Second, as a free-speech near-absolutist, I don’t believe that even Mel Gibson, to me an unambiguous anti-Semite, should be deprived of his right to say whatever the hell he wants to say. The answer to his free speech is more free speech — mine and yours. Let Bill O’Reilly talk about “wetbacks” or Rush Limbaugh accuse Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson’s symptoms, and let the rest of us answer back.

Liberals are kidding themselves if they think the Imus firing won’t have a potentially chilling effect on comics who push the line. Let’s not forget that Bill Maher, an Imus defender last week, was dropped by FedEx, Sears, ABC affiliates and eventually ABC itself after he broke the P.C. code of 9/11. Conservatives are kidding themselves if they think the Imus execution won’t impede Ann Coulter’s nasty invective on the public airwaves. As Al Franken pointed out to Larry King on Wednesday night, CNN harbors Glenn Beck, who has insinuated that the first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is a terrorist (and who has also declared that “faggot” is nothing more than “a naughty name”). Will Time Warner and its advertisers be called to account? Already in the Imus aftermath, the born-again blogger Tom DeLay has called for the firing of Rosie O’Donnell because of her “hateful” views on Chinese-Americans, conservative Christians and President Bush.

That said, corporations, whether television or radio networks or movie studios or commercial sponsors, are free to edit or cancel any content. No one has an inalienable right to be broadcast or published or given a movie or music contract. Whether MSNBC and CBS acted out of genuine principle or economic necessity is a debate already raging. Just as Imus’s show defied easy political definition — he has both kissed up to Dick Cheney as a guest and called him a war criminal — so does the chatter about what happened over the past week. MSNBC, forever unsure of its identity, seems to have found a new calling by turning that debate into a running series, and I say, go for it.

The biggest cliché of the debate so far is the constant reiteration that this will be a moment for a national “conversation” about race and sex and culture. Do people really want to have this conversation, or just talk about having it? If they really want to, it means we have to ask ourselves why this debacle has given permission to talking heads on television to repeat Imus’s offensive words so insistently that cable news could hardly take time out to note the shocking bombing in the Baghdad Green Zone. Some even upped the ante: Donna Brazile managed to drag “jigaboo” into Wolf Blitzer’s sedate “Situation Room” on CNN.

If we really want to have this conversation, it also means we have to have a nonposturing talk about hip-hop lyrics, “Borat,” “South Park” and maybe Larry David, too. As James Poniewozik pointed out in his smart cover article for Time last week, an important question emerged from an Imus on-air soliloquy as he tried to defend himself: “This phrase that I use, it originated in the black community. That didn’t give me a right to use it, but that’s where it originated. Who calls who that and why? We need to know that. I need to know that.”

My 22-year-old son, a humor writer who finds Imus an anachronistic and unfunny throwback to the racial-insult humor of the Frank Sinatra-Sammy Davis Jr. Rat Pack ilk, raises a complementary issue. He argues that when Sacha Baron Cohen makes fun of Jews and gays, he can do so because he’s not doing it as himself but as a fictional character. But try telling that to the Anti-Defamation League, which criticized Mr. Baron Cohen, an observant Jew, for making sport of a real country (Kazakhstan) and worried that the “Borat” audience “may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

So if we really want to have this national “conversation” about race and culture and all the rest of it that everyone keeps telling us that this incident has prompted, let’s get it on, no holds barred. And the fewer moralizing pundits and politicians, the better. Hillary Clinton, an Imus denouncer who has also called for federal regulation of violent television and video games, counts among her Hollywood fat cats Haim Saban, who made his fortune from “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”

Listening to Les Moonves of CBS speak with such apparent sincerity of how his network was helping to change the culture by firing Imus, I couldn’t help but remember that one of CBS’s own cultural gifts to America has been “Big Brother,” the reality game show that cloisters a dozen or so strangers in a house for weeks to see how they get along. Maybe Mr. Moonves could put his prime-time schedule where his mouth is and stop milking that format merely for the fun of humiliation, voyeurism and sexual high jinks. If locking Imus and his team in a house with Coach Stringer and her team 24/7 isn’t must-see TV that moves this conversation forward, then I don’t know what is.

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Resolve to Be Ambivalent

Published: April 15, 2007

One of the essential flaws in President Bush’s Iraq policy is that America comes across as wanting to be in Iraq more than the Iraqis want us there.

So in that context, the Congressional efforts to restrict funding for U.S. troops there don’t undermine the war effort. Rather, they support it, by usefully signaling that American patience is wearing thin. The more we send that signal, the better off we and Iraq may be.

Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney signal an unwavering commitment to supply American blood indefinitely to Iraq, and they are overseeing the development of military bases that frighten Iraqis because they look so permanent. The results are perceptions of nefarious American designs on Iraq, consequent Arab suspicions, empowerment of nationalist anti-Americans like Moktada al-Sadr, and an Iraqi government that feels insufficient pressure to make concessions to achieve a political solution. In short, the firmness of our resolve to stay is a military and diplomatic disaster that leads to more Americans coming home in body bags.

The latest poll of Iraqis, by ABC News, USA Today and others, shows that 80 percent of Shiites and 97 percent of Sunni Arabs oppose the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, and over all, 51 percent support attacks on U.S. troops. But only 35 percent want the U.S. forces to leave immediately.

That may seem a contradiction: why blow up Americans now if you still want them to stay a bit longer? But it makes sense to Iraqis, who believe that Mr. Bush is so determined to keep troops in Iraq that killing them today is the only way to dislodge them in a year’s time.

Likewise, Saudi Arabia’s king, Abdullah, felt free to denounce the “illegal foreign occupation” of Iraq, even though he has made clear he wants it to continue for the time being, to protect the Sunni minority.

If it looked as if Congress (or a new president) might actually bring the troops home, the tone might change, and we might start hearing pleas for us to stay a little longer.

Look, neither I nor anyone else has a good solution to the mess in Iraq, and there is a real risk of a genocidal bloodbath after our departure. I’m not sure that the policy I’ve been advocating (a timetable for withdrawal within one year, accompanied by a clear renunciation of permanent bases in Iraq) would work. But I am sure that no American policy will ever succeed as long as we want to be in Iraq more than the Iraqis want us there.

There’s a parallel with South Korea, where the U.S. troop presence outraged Korean nationalists for decades. We showed great public resolve and determination to stay in Korea, and there was constant resentment at our troops’ behavior and at the land taken up by our bases. It was an article of faith among many Koreans that we were there not to protect them but for our own dark purposes.

Then a few years ago, Donald Rumsfeld ordered U.S. troops pulled back from the border with North Korea, and there was talk of slashing the U.S. troop presence. Suddenly, the U.S. force in Korea didn’t seem so inevitable or permanent. Instead of grousing about the U.S. troops, some Koreans began to worry about the risk that they might be withdrawn. By showing ambivalence of our own, we actually created more support for our troops.

You saw something similar in former Soviet bloc countries like Mongolia, where ordinary people used to roundly denounce the way they were exploited by the Soviets. Then with the collapse of old military and economic arrangements in 1990, the former satellites shifted to worrying how they would get by without the Soviets.

That’s the kind of change of tone we need in Iraq, and it would have a second salutary effect.

The best hope for peace in Iraq is a political settlement, in which Shiite leaders make political concessions to bring Sunnis out of the insurgency and into decision making. That’s the only real way out of this civil war. But as long as Shiite leaders see that Mr. Bush is determined to keep troops in Iraq to protect their rule, they don’t make the necessary compromises.

So instead of signaling that we will stay in Iraq to the last gasp, President Bush should be showing ambivalence of his own, signs that our commitment is not open-ended. He seems incapable of that.

Now Congress is rising to the occasion — and the resulting battle over troop funding sends the right signal to Iraq and the world, that we might actually pull out. In this case, a mixed message is the right message.

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The Age of Darwin

Published: April 15, 2007


Standing on a hill in East Jerusalem, amid the clash of religious and political orthodoxies, stands a musty old museum devoted to human progress. When you walk into the Rockefeller Museum with its old-fashioned display cases crowded with ancient pottery shards and oil lamps, you can begin by looking at the stone tools of early man. Then you proceed room by room through the invention of agriculture and cities, winding up finally with the statues and reliquaries of the medieval era.

What you’re really looking at is a philosophy of history. The museum was set up in 1938, when scholars still spoke confidently of mankind’s upward march from primitive culture to higher civilization. History is portrayed here as a great, unified story, with crucial pivot moments when humanity leapt forward — when people first buried their dead, when they moved from animistic faiths to polytheism, when they learned to cultivate reason and philosophy.

These days, historians hate those kinds of unifying grand narratives, and the idea that history is a march of progress upward to the present. Yet I have to confess, I loved the Rockefeller Museum. Though it’s dense and dry, it rekindled the University of Chicago flame that lingers in every graduate’s soul and got me thinking all sorts of Big Thoughts. I also had the sensation — which I used to get during those sweeping old Western Civ courses — of seeing my own time from the outside, from the vantage point of some ancient spot.

And it occurred to me that while we postmoderns say we detest all-explaining narratives, in fact a newish grand narrative has crept upon us willy-nilly and is now all around. Once the Bible shaped all conversation, then Marx, then Freud, but today Darwin is everywhere.

Scarcely a month goes by when Time or Newsweek doesn’t have a cover article on how our genes shape everything from our exercise habits to our moods. Science sections are filled with articles on how brain structure influences things like lust and learning. Neuroscientists debate the existence of God on the best-seller lists, while evolutionary theory reshapes psychology, dieting and literary criticism. Confident and exhilarated, evolutionary theorists believe they have a universal framework to explain human behavior.

Creationists reject the whole business, but they’re like the Greeks who still worshiped Athena while Plato and Aristotle practiced philosophy. The people who set the cultural tone today have coalesced around a shared understanding of humanity and its history that would have astonished people in earlier epochs.

According to this view, human beings, like all other creatures, are machines for passing along genetic code. We are driven primarily by a desire to perpetuate ourselves and our species.

The logic of evolution explains why people vie for status, form groups, fall in love and cherish their young. It holds that most everything that exists does so for a purpose. If some trait, like emotion, can cause big problems, then it must also provide bigger benefits, because nature will not expend energy on things that don’t enhance the chance of survival.

Human beings, in our current understanding, are jerry-built creatures, in which new, sophisticated faculties are piled on top of primitive earlier ones. Our genes were formed during the vast stretches when people were hunters and gatherers, and we are now only semi-adapted to the age of nuclear weapons and fast food. Furthermore, reason is not separate from emotion and the soul cannot be detached from the electrical and chemical pulses of the body. There isn’t even a single seat of authority in the brain. The mind emerges (somehow) from a complex light show of neural firings without a center or executive. We are tools of mental processes we are not even aware of.

The cosmologies of the societies represented in the Rockefeller Museum looked up toward the transcendent. Their descendants still fight over sacred spots like the Holy of Holies a short walk away. But the evolutionary society is built low to the ground. God may exist and may have set the process in motion, but he’s not active. Evolution doesn’t really lead to anything outside itself. Individuals are predisposed not by innate sinfulness or virtue, but by the epigenetic rules encoded in their cells.

Looking at contemporary America from here in Jerusalem and from the ancient past, it’s clear we’re not a postmodern society anymore. We have a grand narrative that explains behavior and gives shape to history. We have a central cosmology to embrace, argue with or unconsciously submit to.

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Wellesley Class Sees ‘One of Us’ Bearing Standard

Published: April 14, 2007

For her Wellesley classmates, Hillary Clinton’s quest to become the first female president is a generational mirror. Some like what they see; others are less certain.

They were there for her fiery commencement speech, delivered at the height of the Vietnam War, when she described her class’s search for a “more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living” and said that every protest was “unabashedly an attempt to forge an identity in this particular age.” The speech landed Hillary Rodham in the spotlight as a celebrated archetype of a new generation of women.

“We were very proud of her: she was a feminist; she was outspoken,” said Jane Moss, a classmate who now teaches French at Colby College. “Hillary was speaking for all of us, for a generation that felt we weren’t being heard.”

From their days at Wellesley, where they attended Wednesday teas and fought to end parietal hours and curfews, to their pioneering careers in law, academia and science, the 400 members of that Class of 1969 have been marked by the profound shift in women’s roles that accompanied their coming of age.

Throughout their journey, Hillary Rodham Clinton has been both a standard-bearer and a touchstone to measure themselves against.

They have winced at her struggles over how to be a modern first lady and her marital humiliations, rejoiced with her election to the Senate, puzzled over how her guarded and cool political persona is so different from the warm, funny and outspoken woman they know.They still see her as the thoughtful friend who called every week after a husband died, or wrote a charming note about the birth of a grandson.

And some are raising money or volunteering in Mrs. Clinton’s effort to become the first woman elected to the White House.

“Just knowing that one of us is trying to be the first woman president is a kick in the butt,” said Jayne Abrams, executive director of a Pennsylvania nonprofit group, “enough to keep you going at an age when some of us might be thinking of slowing down.”

Mrs. Clinton’s struggles as the first woman in her Arkansas law firm, and then first lady of Arkansas resonate with her classmates, too, in their own battles as “first woman” in workplaces dominated by men, trying to navigate what now seem like quaint battles over whether a woman can take a business trip with a man, or whether a pregnant professor should get tenure.

“When Hillary had the class reunion at the White House, there were 325 of us there,” said Catherine S. Gidlow, a lawyer in St. Louis. “I turned to someone and said, ‘I think there are 324 of us here who feel like failures,’ and she said, ‘No, I think there are 325 of us who feel like failures.’ ”

But if Mrs. Clinton is elected the first female president, it will represent an enormous success, the payoff for decades of campaigning, compromising and personal challenges.

“When she came to Maine campaigning for Bill the first time, she was very stylish, very blond, very thin,” said Nancy Wanderer, director of the legal research and writing center at the University of Maine law school. “It was like she was in a Halloween costume and I thought, ‘Who is that?’ She looks more natural now. I think she’s had to tamp herself down a lot, but now that Bill’s out of the White House, it’s her chance, and I think she’s just warming up.”

The ’60s still loom large in American politics, providing the underlying text, for example, in the last presidential campaign’s debate over President Bush and Senator John Kerry’s different records in the Vietnam War. Mrs. Clinton’s Wellesley senior thesis on Saul Alinsky, the radical Chicago community organizer, kept under wraps during the Clinton presidency, has been an endless source of fascination to her conservative critics.

On the cusp of seismic social change, and because of Mrs. Clinton, the class of 1969 has been much scrutinized. A book on the class, “Rebels in White Gloves: Coming of Age With Hillary’s Class — Wellesley ’69” (Times Books, 1999), found that most came from Republican families, with homemaker mothers, but that most had at some point outearned their husbands — all like Mrs. Clinton.

“We always felt a little special, because we were the ones who were there when all the rules changed,” said Susan Doull, who has lived in Europe for the last 20 years, running hotels. “We were the last class before Wellesley was diluted by men’s colleges like Yale going coed, and Wellesley was where we began to focus on the idea that we would have careers.”

It has not been easy to mesh the sense of unlimited possibility they got at Wellesley with the practical realities of being the first generation of professional women to enter the workplace en masse.

“I went to work for Citibank for two years after college,” Ms. Doull said, “and I was supposed to take a business trip with the officer I reported to, but his wife wouldn’t let him go with me, or he was afraid to tell her. I don’t think our daughters really grasp how different things were.”

Many of the women in the class have similar stories. Lawyers tell of using the back door or the freight elevator to attend meetings at men-only clubs. Academics described difficult fights for tenure.

“The French department had never had a woman in a tenure-track position when I got to Colby,” Professor Moss said, “and when I got pregnant before tenure, they literally didn’t know what to do. When I came up for tenure, my male colleagues voted against me and I got tenure, but you can imagine my feelings at department meetings for the next few years.”

Some of Mrs. Clinton’s classmates say they take personally criticism that she is “shrill” or “strident.”

“I hear these anti-Hillary attacks by men, especially right-wing men, and I feel like it’s just as much an attack on me,” said Cheryl Lynn Brierton, an in-house lawyer for the California courts. “It’s an effect of intelligence that you come across as intense, that you have strong views. I’ve always felt that the way she is singled out and attacked is very indicative of how society reacts to smart women.”

When she herself started working, Ms. Brierton said, she had to tone herself down and find a voice that would not be off-putting. So when she hears criticism of Mrs. Clinton, she said, “I’m constantly thinking, There but for the grace of God go I.”

Ms. Abrams, executive director of ParentWorks, a nonprofit parent-education and child-abuse prevention group based in Harrisburg, Pa., also identifies with Mrs. Clinton. “In my community, I think I’m perceived as Hillary-esque,” she said. “I talk too much, I advocate and my husband says he can’t take me anywhere because I’m always trying to raise money.”

Although she is a Republican, Ms. Abrams said she might well vote for Mrs. Clinton.

“She’s a brilliant charismatic woman,” Ms. Abrams said. “When we were in college, arguing about Vietnam, she knew what she was talking about, unlike the rest of us. She’s still brilliant, she’s still charismatic, but she’s also polarizing.”

Many of the Wellesley women have watched with sadness as the Hillary they knew changed from a passionate and outspoken figure to a more guarded and careful one as she put her husband’s political career first, campaigning at his side and then finding herself in uncharted territory as a new kind of first lady.

“What was striking even at Wellesley was Hillary’s boldness, her boundarylessness; she was way off the charts in being engaged in her community and in the world, taking personally what was happening and wanting to do something about it,” said Jan Piercy, a friend of Mrs. Clinton who was appointed United States executive director at the World Bank by President Clinton.

But, Ms. Piercy said, the boldness has been tempered. “If you spend all your adult life in the public eye,” she said, “you necessarily have to create a kind of protection, a caution, that will lead to the perception that you’re joyless or calculating or not spontaneous or Machiavellian.”

Eleanor Dean Acheson, the general counsel who was in the Clinton administration’s Justice Department, said Mrs. Clinton was only now emerging from her husband’s shadow.

“What people now perceive as Hillary’s distance, the criticism that she’s cold and calculating, and does nothing without a focus group, finds its root in that she has had to be, for 25 years, in the spotlight, and in the shadow of Bill,” Ms. Acheson said. “I think she’s going to get more relaxed as this campaign goes, and show more of the personal qualities her friends have always seen.”

Some of the classmates believe Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign seared his wife, especially the attacks on her statements about not being “some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette” or not having “stayed home and baked cookies.”

“When she saw that something as seemingly innocuous as that cookie statement set off such a firestorm, it took me by surprise and it must have taken her by surprise, too,” said Cheryl L. Walker, a literature professor at Scripps College. “I think her strong commitments are the same, but she is definitely savvier, more cautious, and probably more cynical, than she was then. And actually, when she published her recipe, I made it, and it became the standard in my house, the ones my children liked best.”

Catherine Neal Parke, an English professor at the University of Missouri, said she saw her classmate’s life as a political and domestic allegory.

“She goes to a women’s college, gives that gangbuster graduation speech, then goes to Arkansas, continues her career in the stellar way, makes more money than her husband, has only one child,” Ms. Parke said. “Then she becomes the first lady, makes the cookies remark, tries health-care reform, but when it doesn’t work, she has to become the housewife of the White House, because that’s the required persona. Now that her husband’s out, though, she can go back to pursuing her own career.”

Of the marriage, Mr. Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and his impeachment, many classmates are reluctant to offer judgments. “I feel no need to draw any kind of conclusion,” Ms. Gidlow said. “It must have taken great perseverance to go on.”

Pamela C. Colony, a scientist who teaches at SUNY Cobleskill in upstate New York, said: “My husband thinks staying with Bill was a big mistake, but I have kind of mixed feelings. Part of me respects her for sticking with him, and part of me wonders why did she stick with him, was it for love-based reasons or political ones?”

Professor Colony and others sound rueful, too, about what they see as Mrs. Clinton’s political compromises. “She reaffirms for me the fact that as soon as you get into politics you have to compromise on your goals, if not your ideals,” the professor said. “It’s incredibly upsetting, but I think it’s a fact of life.”

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More Con Than Neo

Published: April 14, 2007


Usually, spring in Washington finds us caught up in the cherry blossoms and the ursine courtship rituals of the pandas.

But this chilly April, we are forced to contemplate the batrachian grapplings of Paul Wolfowitz, the man who cherry-picked intelligence to sell us a war with Iraq.

You will not be surprised to learn, gentle readers, that Wolfie in love is no less deceptive and bumbling than Wolfie at war.

Proving he is more con than neo, he confessed that he had not been candid with his staff at the World Bank. While he was acting holier than thou, demanding incorruptibility from poor countries desperate for loans, he was enriching his girlfriend with tax-free ducats.

He has yet to admit any real mistakes with the hellish war that claimed five more American soldiers as stunned Baghdad residents dealt with the aftermath of bombings of the Iraqi Parliament, where body parts flew, and of a bridge over the Tigris, where cars sank.

But he admitted on Thursday that he’d made a mistake when he got his sweetheart, Shaha Ali Riza, an Arab feminist who shares his passion for democratizing the Middle East, a raise to $193,590 — more than the taxpaying (and taxing) Condi Rice makes. No doubt it seemed like small change compared with the money pit of remaking Iraq — a task he once prophesied would be paid for with Iraqi oil money. Maybe he should have remunerated his girlfriend with Iraqi oil revenues, instead of ripping off the bank to advance his romantic agenda.

No one is satisfied with his apology. Not the World Bank employees who booed Wolfie and yelled, “Resign! Resign!” in the bank lobby.

Not Alison Cave, the chairwoman of the bank’s staff association, who said that Mr. Wolfowitz must “act honorably and resign.”

Not his girlfriend, who says she’s the suffering victim, forced by Wolfie’s arrival to be sent to the State Department (where, in a festival of nepotism, she reported to Liz Cheney).

And not his critics, who say Wolfie has been cherry-picking again, this time with his anticorruption crusade. They say he has used it to turn the bank into a tool for his unrealistic democracy campaign, which foundered in Baghdad, and for punishing countries that defy the United States.

Wolfie also alienated the bank by bringing two highhanded aides with him from Bushworld, aides who had helped him with Iraq. One was the abrasive Robin Cleveland, called Wolfie’s Rottweiler. The other was Kevin Kellems, known as Keeper of the Comb after his star turn in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” where he handed his boss a comb so Wolfie could slick it with spittle for TV. (Maybe his girlfriend didn’t get enough of a raise.) Like W., Wolfie is dangerous precisely because he’s so persuaded of his own virtue.

Just as Ms. Riza stood behind her man on the Iraq fiasco, so Meghan O’Sullivan stood behind W.

Ms. O’Sullivan, a bright and lovely 37-year-old redhead who is the deputy national security adviser, is part of the cordon of adoring and protective women around the president, including Condi, Harriet Miers, Karen Hughes and Fran Townsend.

Even though her main experience was helping Paul Bremer set up the botched Iraq occupation and getting a reputation back in Washington “for not knowing how much she didn’t know,” as George Packer put it in “The Assassins’ Gate,” Ms. O’Sullivan was promoted nearly two years ago to be the highest-ranking White House official working exclusively on Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was clear that she was out of her depth, lacking the heft to deal with the Pentagon and State Department, or the seniority to level with W. “Meghan-izing the problem” became a catchphrase in Baghdad for papering over chaos with five-point presentations.

But W. was comfortable with Meghan, and Meghan-izing, so he reckoned that a young woman who did not report directly to him or even have the power to issue orders to agencies could be in charge of an epic bungle, just as he thought Harriet Miers could be on the Supreme Court.

This vacuum in leadership spawned the White House plan to create a powerful war czar to oversee Iraq and Afghanistan, who could replace Ms. O’Sullivan when she leaves. The push to finally get the A-team on the case is laughably, tragically late.

The Washington Post reported that at least five retired four-star generals have refused to be considered; the paper quoted retired Marine Gen. Jack Sheehan as saying, “The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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