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Think tanks wrap-up

March 28, 2003 at 5:31 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of two wrap-ups for March 28.


The Brookings Institution

WASHINGTON -- Battling for Basra

By Kenneth M. Pollack, Director of Research, Saban Center for Middle East Policy

All eyes seem to be focused on the impending battle for Baghdad to the neglect of the ongoing battle for Basra.

The city of Basra is Iraq's second largest and the "capital" of the Shiite south. Reporting from numerous sources does now seem to confirm that the population of Basra is desperate to be rid of Saddam's loyalists. Earlier this week there were reports that Iraqi civilians had attempted to rise up against the Fedayeen Saddam, Baath party militia, members of the SSO, and other security service personnel who are holding the city for Saddam.

After indiscriminate and brutal reprisals by these forces, the uprisings seem to have quieted. But since then, Iraqis have been fleeing Basra and the exodus has become so heavy that Saddam's loyalists are now reportedly firing on the civilians to prevent them from leaving the city.

If American and British forces are not able to prevent the large scale slaughter of the population there, the repercussions could be very damaging both to the conduct of the war itself and the reconstruction that must follow.

For the Shia of southern Iraq, the memories of 1991 burn brightly in their memories. At that time, another President Bush called on them to rise up against the Saddam Hussein's regime at a moment when Coalition forces were just miles away from Basra. Many of them heeded that call only to be butchered by Saddam's forces while American and British troops stood idly by.

It is the memory of this betrayal that is almost certainly the principal reason the Shia have remained quiescent so far. Until they are certain that Washington means to get rid of Saddam's regime they probably will remain loath to take matters into their own hands --and given their experience from 1991, they will take much convincing.

The U.S. military is counting on the people of southern Iraq to support the Allied offensive. The best way to throttle the attacks of the Iraqi irregulars is to convince the people to turn against them and support the U.S. and British troops. As Mao famously observed, guerrillas are the fish who swim in the sea of the people. If the sea turns against the fish, they are easily netted. But if the people of Basra are slaughtered by Saddam's loyalists before U.S. and British forces can come to their rescue, the rumors will reverberate across Iraq, and few cities will make any effort to actively assist the Allies while the Fedayeen and SSO are present.

What's more, such battlefield events could have a real impact on postwar developments. The Shia of southern Iraq also suspect that the United States (and its Saudi and Kuwaiti allies) do not want the Shiite majority of Iraq to control their country, and instead would like to install a new Sunni-dominated government that will keep the Shia down. Never mind that few Americans believe this. Among Iraq's Shia -- particularly the lower classes and many of the tribes -- it is a widespread fear.

If Saddam's loyalists crush an uprising in Basra while American and British troops stand by just miles away, the conspiracy theory that may emerge is that Washington and London wanted to let Saddam's loyalists crush the Shia to make them more easily ruled by a new Sunni regime. This would be the worst possible way to start the long and difficult process of rebuilding Iraq at war's end.

To date, U.S. and British forces have been extremely conservative in pushing into Iraqi urban areas for fear of taking casualties themselves or inflicting them on the Iraqi populace. In Basra, a bit more boldness may be in order. There are real incentives to push harder into Basra -- not recklessly, but with a greater willingness to take risks to try to help the people there in a more active and tangible fashion.

If the people of Basra are willing to take the risk of opposing Saddam's loyalists as we have called on them to do, it is our responsibility to take risks to help them now that they are doing so.

(Kenneth M. Pollack is the director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution.)


The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- Senator Moynihan's last legacy

By Michael Tanner

Former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died Wednesday, will be remembered as an innovative thinker who was never afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom or the orthodoxy of his own party.

As his successor, Sen. Hillary Clinton said in eulogizing him on the Senate floor, "He wanted us to keep looking beyond the short term, looking beyond the horizon, thinking about the next generation, understanding the big problems that confront us."

This was true on many issues, from national security to welfare reform. But perhaps on no issue was Moynihan's vision as clearly demonstrated as in his support for reforming Social Security.

Only days before his death, the trustees of the Social Security system unveiled their annual report, showing that Social Security begins running a deficit in just 15 years, and faces cash shortfalls of more than $26 trillion. This would have come as no surprise to Moynihan. He had been on the Greenspan Commission that was responsible for the last major reform of the nation's retirement system.

More recently, he was often a lone voice warning that our current Social Security program is unsustainable. Moynihan understood that, without reform, the program is unable to pay promised benefits. And he knew that no amount of political wishful thinking could make this problem go away.

After leaving office, Moynihan agreed to serve as co-chairman of President George W. Bush's bipartisan Commission to Strengthen Social Security. This was also typical of Moynihan, who preferred to address problems rather than score partisan political points. It was also typical that Moynihan saw the commission's work as an opportunity not just to focus on the dry numbers of Social Security solvency, but as a chance to help those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Moynihan saw Social Security reform as an opportunity to give ordinary working Americans an opportunity to save and invest the same way that higher-income people can --"A measure of wealth," as he called it. He understood that wealth in America no longer comes exclusively -- or even primarily -- from wages, but from investment.

Roughly 52 percent of Americans now invest privately. But nearly half of Americans, mostly low- and middle-income workers, still are not able to participate in this route to financial wealth. This is not surprising. After paying for food, rent, medical care, and other expenses of daily living, many Americans simply don't have much money left over to save and invest.

That is why Moynihan supported proposals to allow younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes through individual accounts. To Moynihan, this was not just reform of Social Security, but its logical completion. As he wrote in the New York Times two years ago: "In 1944 the British came up with the slogan of 'cradle to grave' protection. We propose something beyond: an estate! For doormen, as well as those living in the duplexes above."

Or, as the commission he chaired wrote: "For the first time, the program can become an active rather than a passive instrument of personal financial security. Rather than ending with the life of the beneficiary, it can be a means of wealth accumulation and long-range investment, giving families resources they never had before, and widening the circle of Americans fortunate enough to pass on the accumulated results of their investment and hard work."

This was particularly true, Moynihan thought, for African-Americans, whose shorter life expectancies allow them fewer years of retirement. One-third of African-American men, Moynihan pointed out, do not even survive until age 65. Personal accounts would help build wealth for the African-American community, where it is needed most.

Over the coming days and weeks there will be many tributes to Sen. Moynihan, all richly deserved. But perhaps the greatest tribute would be for all those he left behind in Congress to embrace his legacy of bipartisanship and concern for future generations. Let's reform Social Security now.

(Michael Tanner is director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute.)


WASHINGTON -- The financial limits on political competition

By Patrick Basham

Who'd be a congressional challenger these days? Only the most naïve candidate or fervent partisan could interpret the 2002 midterm results as anything other than a giant "Help NOT Wanted" sign stationed atop the Capitol Hill steps.

The incumbent reelection rate last November was 98.5 percent. Only four incumbents lost their seats to non-incumbent competitors. Not only do incumbents win more often than they used to do, but they win by increasingly wide margins. In the 2002 election, the average winning margin of a successful House candidate was an imposing 30 percent.

The latest round of campaign finance regulation will only make the problem worse. Instead of deregulating the system to allow unrestricted donations to come to the aid of under-financed challengers, the provisions of The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 prescribe a new limit on hard money donations that is worth 40 percent less, in real terms, than the limit enacted back in 1974.

And, boy, do challengers need more money. A review of the 2002 candidates' campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission reveals a glaring, and growing, disparity between incumbents and challengers, irrespective of partisanship.

In 1994, the average Democratic challenger was out-raised by a ratio of eight to one by the average Republican incumbent. By 2002, the disparity-Democratic challenger to GOP incumbent -- stood at 13 to one.

Eight years ago, the average Republican challenger found himself out-raised by a 10 to one ratio by the average Democratic incumbent. That ratio is now 18 to one. Furthermore, of the 50 richest House campaigns in 2002, only two belonged to challengers.

Considerable blame lies with contribution limits. Contribution limits ensure an uneven campaign-playing field. They greatly reduce the likelihood that a challenger will successfully oust an incumbent because it's difficult for a challenger to win he or she spends at least as much as -- and probably more than -- the incumbent during the campaign. Only by accepting and spending large sums can a challenger develop the levels of name recognition, issue identification, and voter mobilization to catch up with the years of subsidized campaigning and pork barrel spending that characterize an incumbent's terms in office.

Incumbency is now so entrenched that many voters lack any real say in who represents them. Incumbents share a semi-perpetual easement on their seats that more nearly resembles hereditary entitlement than the competitive politics we associate with a democracy.

The next election is only 20 months away. Alas, due to the over-regulation of politics, the next competitive election isn't even visible on the horizon.

(Patrick Basham is a senior fellow in the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute.)


The Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON -- U.N.: accessory after the fact?

-- Denis Halliday, former head of the United Nations oil-for-food program.

"The people of Iraq are being crushed brutally every day as we watch our TV. The United Nations and international law are being set aside by the U.N. Security Council member states. The Secretary General provides a weak voice reminding us all of Charter provisions, but too late and too little ..."

-- Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of the book

"Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis."

"International law, specifically the Geneva Conventions, requires the belligerent occupying power to take responsibility (meaning pay) for the humanitarian needs of the civilian population under occupation. Thus, the United States and Great Britain are responsible for all costs of emergency care, including food, medicine, and initial rehabilitation efforts, at least during the period while hostilities continue. Oil-for-food funds should not be released and used to pay for emergency supplies -- those funds belong to Iraq. They should remain frozen until a functioning independent government is in power in Baghdad and then turned back over to Iraq."

-- Roger Normand, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights.

"This is a defining moment for the United Nations. Kofi Annan should immediately condemn the illegal invasion of Iraq. The United Nations should insist on retaining control over the oil-for-food funds for the benefit of the Iraqi people. The U.N. should not allow the United States and the United Kingdom to seize billions of Iraqi oil wealth to pay companies like Halliburton to rebuild what the United States and the United Kingdom have destroyed at U.S. taxpayer expense."

-- Jules Lobel is professor of international law at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the board of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

"We have been asking for a 'Uniting for Peace' Resolution (337), which allows the U.N. General Assembly to step in and prevent aggressive wars and acts when the Security Council is unable to do so. Seemingly very concerned about the possibility of this resolution being brought to the U.N. floor and passing, the United States government has sent a high-pressure letter to all nations of the world demanding that they avoid 'calls for an emergency session of the General Assembly, (which) will not change the path that we are on ...'"

-- Bert Sacks, who was fined $10,000 last year by the U.S. government after he took medicines to Iraq.

"Yesterday, standing next to President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that 'Over the past five years, 400,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died of malnutrition and disease ... because of the nature of the regime under which they are living. Now, that is why we're acting.' Well, that's certainly why I was acting. I took medicine to children in Iraq and I was fined $10,000 for admitting this. The regime that caused the preventable death of these children is the regime of sanctions pushed by the United States and Great Britain "

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