February 23, 2001
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President Bush yesterday all but cut the legs out from under the free, democratic resistance to Saddam Hussein, and the New York Times today misses the story.
It's not that the Times didn't have a reporter at the press conference yesterday where Mr. Bush made his remarks -- the paper clearly did. And it's not that the Times failed to run a front-page news article about Bush's comments on Iraq -- the paper clearly did. And it's not as though the paper didn't reproduce the president's remarks -- the paper clearly did. What's missing is any useful context and any recognition by the Times that Mr. Bush's comments were a disappointment to backers of the cause of freedom in Iraq and perhaps even a violation of American law.
Here's what the front-page Times news article, in its second-to-last paragraph, quotes the president as saying: "The secretary of state is going to go listen to our allies and as to how best to effect a policy, the primary goal of which will be to say to Saddam Hussein, 'We won't tolerate you developing weapons of mass destruction and we expect you to leave your neighbors alone.'"
It's clear from the full transcript of Mr. Bush's remarks that that is exactly what he meant when he described the policy: he repeated the formulation almost identically a second time in his remarks.
Here, by contrast, is what the Iraq Liberation Act -- which was sponsored by Senators Lott and Lieberman and which was signed by President Clinton on October 31, 1998 and which is now ensconced in Title 22, Section 2151 of the U.S. Code -- has to say about the matter: "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
Now, granted, as a matter of law, the word "should" allows some wiggle room, and, under the Constitution, it is primarily the president and not the Congress who has responsibility for foreign policy.
But there is a significant underlying policy debate here. The policy described by Mr. Bush is a weaker version of the original "containment" policy outlined by Clinton aide Martin Indyk. (Weaker, because it drops even the pretense of insisting on U.N. weapons inspections.) The policy outlined in the Iraq Liberation Act is a "rollback" policy akin to that developed during the Cold War by the AFL-CIO in Poland and the Reagan administration in Nicaragua, a policy of regime-change through aid to the democratic opposition.
It had been an open question which side of this debate Mr. Bush would come down on. And the president could still change his mind as he realizes the futility of the containment approach and the appeal of the rollback approach. But with his remarks yesterday, the president put himself firmly in the containment camp. The New York Times doesn't have to agree with Smartertimes.com about the wisdom of rollback, but it sure would be nice if the paper noticed this debate was going on and explained to its readers which side appears to be winning.
Corporate Tax Breaks: A news article in the business section of today's New York Times reports on the status of a "Bid for Corporate Tax Breaks" to go along with President Bush's tax-cut plan. One might think the Times would have a good understanding of the corporate tax-break issue, seeing as how it is asking the city and state for a special tax break for its new headquarters tower near Times Square. But here are some of the "business tax cuts" enumerated by the Times in its news article today: "to make health-insurance premiums fully deductible for self-employed people" and "to expand the individual retirement account." These tax cuts might help the health insurance industry and the financial services industry, but they'd also help individuals; they are not so much "corporate tax breaks" or "business tax cuts" but individual tax cuts. Smartertimes.com would argue that all business taxes are ultimately taxes on the individual anyway, because the businesses simply pass along the costs of the taxes to their employees, customers and shareholders. Smartertimes.com would also argue that simplifying the tax code and lowering the rates across the board is better policy than creating special carved-out tax breaks for government-approved behavior, whether it is saving for retirement or buying health insurance. But the Times doesn't have to agree with Smartertimes.com about all that, and you don't, either, to realize what a big stretch it is to call IRA expansion and making health insurance fully tax-deductible for the self-employed "business tax breaks." Doing that just looks like a way to make the tax cuts seem less appealing to Times readers.
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