Count me as one who is highly skeptical about the chances for success of the “road map” to peace in the Holy Land as currently conceived. In fact, I have always been troubled by any characterization resembling a “peace process” for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which, almost by definition, is an invention of the internationalists in the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and certain corners of our Department of State who oppose the Bush Doctrine for the war on terrorism, recoil from the use of terms like “axis of evil” and, in fact, usually do not see a positive role for the use of American power in the world.
What is it that differentiates Palestinian terrorism from the other sources of terrorism with which we have been in a state of war for the past ten years? When has a cease-fire without surrender ever worked in truly restoring or establishing peace? In Europe after World War I? In Korea? There is no “peace process” in the Middle East, nor can there be one, in my opinion, until Yasser Arafat is totally removed from Palestinian leadership, Israel’s right to exist is unconditionally acknowledged, and the Palestinians unilaterally and unconditionally disavow terrorism as a political weapon. In short, there is no peace and no security without victory, and for President Bush to invest his enormous prestige in a process that has no credibility on the ground is a risk that should not be taken.
Once again, I am intrigued by E. J. Dionne, who believes that the passage of President Bush’s tax cut bill is a watershed in American politics because of the raw partisanship (he calls it “hyperpartisanship”) it demonstrates. I have news for him—elections have consequences—and I am reminded of John F. Kennedy’s remark shortly after his razor thin victory in 1960: “the margin of victory was narrow, but the responsibility is clear”.
Somehow, the Democrats have the idea that the Bush Presidency is something of a passing fancy, that he is accidental, that Republican Congressional majorities are temporary and soon to be reversed, and that their job is to obstruct the consummation of policy until “order” is restored. This attitude is manifest across a broad range of public policy deliberations and extends most prominently into the judicial confirmation process, where Bush appointees Estrada and Owen are considered “out of the mainstream”, which in their mind justifies hijacking the Constitution. Analogous to this Washington phenomenon is the recent quorum-breaking stunt by the Texas House Democrats to avoid their responsibility to deliberate and vote on a state Congressional redistricting plan.
The Founders had in mind that majorities were to govern, and they new full well that this would be a highly partisan process, which is why they went to such great pains to install the structural balances that make our system the wonder of the world. But it will continue to work as a republic based on representative democracy only if we have confidence that any abuses and imbalances will be self-correcting through the democratic process, periodically confirmed by elections—not by perverting the Constitution, not by deferring all controversial issues to the courts, and not by walking out and shutting down the political process. If we lose this self-confidence, we are in big trouble.
Of all the interlocking components of the massive project before us in Iraq, I believe that an early indicator of long-term success will be the way we handle the country’s oil properties. This wealth has been characterized as a “curse” and, in fact, it has been exactly that for all the oil-rich Arab states in the sense that it has allowed them to live in a fantasy world devoid of the disciplines of competitive commerce which would have better developed the skills, creativity, and enterprise of their people. As Margaret Thatcher has noted, “a country’s wealth need not depend on natural resources, it may even ultimately benefit from their absence”.
A pattern for the future can be established in Iraq that can send the right message about our intentions there as well as firmly establish the principles of a sound market economy, and it must be based on two components—privatization and empowerment. Privatization is very important so as to avoid all the well-known problems associated with government ownership—the patronage, the bureaucracy, the corruption, the inefficiency—and to optimize the productivity of the wealth. Full privatization has already been criticized as a radical approach and too revolutionary. This is nonsense; there is no such thing as private property rights that are too radical, as long as the privatization process is sound. And this brings me to the second component, empowerment. The process by which the country’s oil wealth is privatized should be one which is transparent and credible to the Iraqi people and which, along with the rule of law, will provide them with the empowerment to begin to build their own capital base and, ultimately, a strong middle class.
Various proposals on how to deal with Iraqi oil wealth have been floated, including the “Alaska model” and others, and the one I like best has been outlined by Susan Lee of the Wall Street Journal. She proposes an open auction with as many bidders as possible for the reserves and operating properties, which would be divided into the smallest manageable tracts, so as to provide the maximum competition and an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to bid. All proceeds would go directly to the Iraqi people who would be issued marketable certificates representing ownership of the properties. This has the beauty of circumventing the government, and meets my empowerment test better than anything I have seen. Whatever process is used, we should avoid any compromise with foreign or our own corporate interests on transparency and the strict adherence to private property rights directly vested in the Iraqi people.
In April, there was quite a lot of attention given to the 20th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk”, the 1983 report of a blue-ribbon task force on the state of education in the U. S. Almost anyone vaguely familiar with the report remembers the oft-quoted finding that “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people…..If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves”.
Over the past few weeks, many have asked what has been done in response to this challenge, and what has been the result. Of all the commentary, the best I have seen came from the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, which published a follow-up report entitled Our Schools and Our Future—Are We Still At Risk? In it, the message is more shocking than the original report: after twenty years of reforms requiring vastly increased expenditures and effort, the performance of the U. S. public education system remains virtually unchanged. Why is this so? The authors primarily identify three powerful forces, underestimated by the commission in 1983, that have converged to thwart true reform: (1) the organized interests of the K-12 system, including teachers’ unions, school administrators, colleges of education, state bureaucracies, and school boards; (2) the tenacity of the “thought world” of the nation’s colleges of education, which see themselves as owners of the nation’s schools and the minds of educators; and (3) the large number of Americans, particularly in middle-class suburbs, who believe that their schools are basically sound. To overcome this resistance, the eleven members of the Task Force unanimously concluded that “…fundamental changes are needed in the incentive structures and power relationships of schooling itself. Those changes are anchored in three core principles—accountability, choice, and transparency”.
Put simply, we have an institutional problem that cries out for massive restructuring, but we are hamstrung by vested interests and powerful constituencies that can effectively veto structural change. There is hope, however, and I see it in the growing anger and protests among parents over so-called “high stakes” testing. Already in Florida and Massachusetts and possibly other states (probably soon to include Texas as the new TAKS test becomes fully effective), there are serious challenges to a system that fails to prepare large numbers of children academically, then denies them high school graduation and access to higher education. Some feel that the testing itself is the problem, but I am encouraged that most will avoid that cop-out and that this may be the beginning of a powerful revolt at the grass roots that will demand systemic reform. If so, it is not a minute too soon, and it deserves the support of our business and opinion leadership so that we don’t condemn another generation to educational mediocrity.