The environmental community, already battered by two years of struggle with the Bush administration, is expecting the perfect storm when the 108th Congress convenes in January.
For starters, the chairmanship of two key Senate committees will pass from two reliable conservationists to men with deplorable records on energy and the environment, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Pete Domenici of New Mexico. Second, the election results are likely to encourage the administration's quiet but lethal efforts to undermine environmental law through administrative rulemaking and judicial negotiation. Finally, and most depressingly, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which this group comes up with any new and imaginative initiatives to deal with problems that badly need attention, especially global warming. Most people who care about such things will be so busy preventing further rollbacks that the idea of moving forward will seem hopelessly farfetched. ...
If there is any real chance of avoiding legislative disaster it rests with a handful of responsible Republican senators. These include Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois and -- on a few issues -- John McCain of Arizona and Gordon Smith of Oregon. Working together and in tandem with the Democrats, they can reject President Bush's zealots and, with any luck, begin to steer their party back to its Rooseveltian traditions of strong environmental stewardship.
There is an honorable precedent for such a coalition. In 1995, a band of moderates in the House organized in large part by Sherwood Boehlert of New York beat back the worst of the Gingrich environmental agenda. Relying on such a small band of legislators to buck their own president is a precarious hedge against further environmental damage. But it is the best hope the country has right now.
The dramatic pictures are all too familiar: ugly oil slicks blackening the shoreline, graceful seabirds brought low by coats of foul black goo. Last week they came from the coast of Spain, where the stricken tanker Prestige spilled at least 2 million gallons of fuel oil before sinking to the bottom with the remainder of its 20 million-gallon load. It wasn't supposed to be this way. In the wake of the massive Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 and a major spill off the coast of France a decade later, international standards were tightened. Single-hulled tankers like the Prestige are being phased out: By 2015 all oil tankers must have double hulls for extra safety. Older tankers are supposed to meet a more rigorous inspection schedule, and the Prestige is reported to have met its inspection requirements. It will take more investigation to determine precisely what caused the ship to break apart, but in the meantime the disaster tells governments they haven't done enough yet to safeguard oil shipment.
Coastal nations must intensify their efforts to be sure tankers, particularly the oldest ones, are getting adequate scrutiny. European officials suggested last week that some aging vessels are dodging ports known to be rigorous about inspections: If that is happening, countries must work together to stop this evasion. The International Maritime Organization should heed environmental groups' call for wider designation of "no-go" zones, to steer tanker traffic away from particularly significant or biologically rich areas. It might help to require that the heaviest and most environmentally toxic oil, like the Prestige's cargo, be carried only in double-hull tankers. Stronger international efforts also are needed to rein in "flag of convenience" countries that register ships but don't live up to their responsibilities for enforcing standards.
None of these can guarantee against all mishaps: As long as world economies are dependent on oil, oil will be shipped, with a potential environmental price to be paid. Even without big spills, millions of gallons of polluting oil pour into the seas each year from runoff and other sources. But a spill like that from the Prestige exacts a dramatic and lasting toll and demands stronger efforts to avert the next calamity.
Venezuela is on the verge of splitting in half, as street violence and political disorder become a daily event. It also is one of the top suppliers of oil to the United States. This looming chaos -- particularly against the backdrop of a potential war with Iraq and disruption of oil flow from the Middle East -- will affect American consumers swiftly and directly.
Defusing the Venezuela crisis ought to be an urgent matter for the Bush administration, which is admittedly already preoccupied with the war on terrorism and the face-off with Iraq. The administration needs to use whatever diplomatic players or tools it has available -- one of them the Organization of American States -- to negotiate a truce between the two factions in the Venezuelan feud.
Admittedly, neither the complexity of the crisis, nor the clumsy performance of the United States during the near-coup in Venezuela in April, are likely to make American mediation very easy.
The 1998 election of President Hugo Chavez, a paratrooper who had attempted a coup a few years before, was more like an explosion. ...
Chavez, a charismatic populist, crushed the opposition and set out not so much to rule as to turn the social order on its head. The constitution got rewritten amid popular acclaim and promises to bring the dispossessed into the mainstream. As a gratuitous aside, Chavez also declared his solidarity with Cuba and several U.S. nemeses in the Middle East. ...
The United States would like nothing more than to see Chavez get his comeuppance, but there is this little matter of a constitution that was adopted by popular vote. It would not serve stability in Venezuela to see the constitution discarded because it has become inconvenient. The best course would be a referendum next year -- most likely to cut short Chavez' presidency -- not the quickie putsch his opponents demand. What is clear is that the Venezuela crisis is not a distant rumble the Bush administration can afford to ignore.
Before Iraq took center stage again, there was Afghanistan, and in Afghanistan there were two jobs to do: Put the Taliban and al Qaida out of commission, and rebuild a nation torn apart by a quarter century of war. Considerable success was achieved on the first, despite the failure to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. On the second, however, progress has been much more tenuous, for a number of reasons.
Reason one: too many cooks. Hundreds of U.N. and non-governmental aid organizations are at work in Afghanistan. They get 90 percent of the aid money flowing into the country, and their operations are not well coordinated.
Many of those agencies imported large non-Afghan staffs that live high on the hog and have driven rents in Kabul through the roof. Too many aid dollars go to feed, house and transport them. Too little goes to aid the poor of Kabul and in the countryside. ...
Some of the confusion and running in circles is a natural consequence of Afghanistan's disintegration during the Taliban years, followed by the very rapid development of a power and policy vacuum when the Taliban crumbled. It doesn't help that the world's focus has now shifted to Iraq.
But everyone should remember what happened when the world turned its back on Afghanistan after the humiliating withdrawal of Soviet forces: Out of the spotlight, it turned into a dangerous cesspit that spawned al Qaida and the creeps that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The world shouldn't make that mistake again. A year ago it promised not to. Today, that promise looks a little shaky.
Rocky Mountain News
The word "unilateralism" has been used against the Bush administration like a weapon as it has pursued its intention of disarming Iraq.
The word has been used to suggest arrogant disregard of all other nations, to suggest a view of the world shared by no one who was enlightened, and to make the United States seem an uncontrolled warmonger among more temperate states.
The word was never used accurately. From the outset, the United States had an unequivocal ally in Great Britain, and there were Spain and Italy voicing support. The charge overlooked the obvious fact that unity seldom comes prior to leadership, and that the leader may look lonely when the leading begins.
And if that unity was never achieved? Well, it would be absurd to think a great power must always have a consensus of past allies before acting in its own defense.
But look where we are today. Congress backed the administration. Then the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution saying Iraq must disarm and take other steps or face dire consequences. Now, the leaders of the 19 NATO nations have issued a statement backing the U.N. resolution and saying it would take "effective action . . . to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq." Some of these nations will help the fight if fighting becomes necessary.
Germany, for one, is still very much opposed to military action, even if it did sign the statement. Germany continues to behave as if the pacifism in which it now wraps itself will somehow transform the likes of Saddam Hussein into a purring pussycat. But in this stance, Germany is more nearly the unilateralist.
The multilateralist champion at the NATO meeting is, ironically, the United States itself.
(Compiled by United Press International.)
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