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Environmentalists and the Supreme Court

Benjamin Wittes, looking at the possible effects on environmental conservation of President Bush's upcoming Supreme Court nominations ("The Hapless Toad," May Atlantic), drives into a vast sand trap. Given that the fundraising brochures of every major environmental group assure the public that the only possible way to "preserve," "conserve," or "save" almost every element of our natural surroundings is government ownership, one might reasonably expect a wealth of research comparing the outcomes of public and private ownership on various species and habitats. I have found nothing with any scholarly heft. In stating that the Court, in deferring to private property rights, will be trashing the environment, Wittes is merely repeating one of the urban legends of the statist left, without a shred of evidence. It is time for America's intelligentsia to drop their automatic hostility to private property and work with rural landowners and others to learn how environmental protection and property rights reinforce each other.

Bruce P. Shields
Wolcott, Vt.

Benjamin Wittes states that the interstate-commerce clause is the backbone of civil-rights legislation. It was the backbone of this legislation only because Congress made the clause the raison d'être for civil rights. This was done not because integrating restaurants necessarily affected interstate commerce but because the Senate Judiciary Committee, the place where civil-rights legislation should have started, was run by the segregationist Senator John Stennis, of Mississippi. President Johnson knew that if civil-rights legislation went into this committee, it would never come out. Perhaps environmentalists should be creative in using sections of the Constitution other than the interstate-commerce clause to advance their cause.

Lawrence R. Dworkin
Wallingford, Pa.

Getting Out Right

James Fallows is correct that the military must change its tactics if we are to win hearts and minds in Iraq ("Getting Out Right," April Atlantic). Nevertheless, that objective is inherently political, and judging from my own experience in both Vietnam and Iraq, relying primarily on new military thinking is unlikely to do the trick. The military carries weapons in places like Iraq for a reason: its primary mission is to apply lethal force. If left to its own devices, the military will always sacrifice the prolonged, vague, and distant achievement of political objectives to the immediate and more limited objectives of the battlefield. Therefore, the primary role of well-qualified civilians must be substantially enhanced, which in turn means that their protection must not be outsourced to private security firms.

Civilian professionals need sufficient authority to ensure that military and political operations are integrated in mutually supportive ways. That will require a counterinsurgency doctrine broader than any yet written or recommended by the military. They also need to be engaged directly on the ground in active insurgency environments. In Vietnam civilian USAID officers were stationed in exposed field positions, relied on the military for territorial security, and assumed the risks associated with the attempt to win hearts and minds (however unsuccessful those efforts ultimately were). That contrasts with the fundamentally counterproductive current practice of assigning responsibility for the security of civilian officers and contractors to private firms.

To avoid casualties, civilians in the most contested areas of Iraq are seldom permitted to leave their heavily defended compounds; Iraqis are often humiliated at barriers or security checkpoints; and death, injury, or property damage occurs as convoys traveling at high speeds and close intervals do not stop or slow down for traffic or pedestrians. By restricting movement or insisting on large armed escorts, security personnel unwittingly determine the overall scope and pace of the strategic effort to win hearts and minds. This must stop if there is to be even the slightest hope of political success. Unfortunately, that is also likely to increase the number of civilian casualties among American and allied personnel. Would the slim probability that changing our approach would succeed at this late date be worth that cost?

Jerry Silverman
Armstrong Atlantic State University
Savannah, Ga.

It's difficult to imagine that General Charles Krulak's concept of a "Strategic Corporal," which James Fallows mentions in his article, can be implemented by putting cunning privates and corporals on both sides against one another. Our side—without the language, without the cultural knowledge, facing an urban insurgency that has the support of a segment of the population—will find it difficult to move about. General Krulak's concept suggests that insurgencies can be defeated by the cunning of a few young guerrillas. But the opposition, which has different rules of engagement, does not stand still, and is no less cunning.

Winning hearts and minds is essential when facing insurgency, and it cannot be done quickly. The Department of Defense has suggested that on average it takes nine years to defeat an insurgency. Nation building, of course, takes much longer.

Mario Salzmann
Chula Vista, Calif.

Chief Justice Rehnquist

Jeffrey Rosen ("Rehnquist the Great?," April Atlantic) praises William Rehnquist for his administrative skills and pragmatic efficiency in maintaining a smoothly running Supreme Court. But do punctuality and management skills make a great chief justice?

By glossing over the most disturbing elements of Rehnquist's career, Rosen paints too moderate a picture of the justice. Rehnquist's devotion to tradition and to majority rule may explain many of his positions, especially those pertaining to segregation in the South. But such positions are alarming. Rehnquist's avid defense of mass arrests of Vietnam protesters, and remarks such as "It's about time the Court faced the fact that white people in the South don't like the colored people," suggest a man much more concerned with institutions and traditions than with basic human rights. Bush v. Gore, which had perhaps the most far-reaching consequences of all decisions handed down by the Rehnquist Court, remains inexplicable.

I agree that Justice Rehnquist unifies and moderates the Court better than Scalia or Thomas probably would, but history may not judge him too kindly.

Stuart Pierce
Davis, Calif.

Jeffrey Rosen replies:
I agree that Bush v. Gore is hard to reconcile with Chief Justice Rehnquist's stated preference for deciding political questions in legislatures rather than the courts, and I said so. But as I also noted, the grandiose idea that only the Court can save the country in times of crisis is consistent, for better or worse, with Rehnquist's pragmatism.

Gas Pains

Robert Bryce's article on the U.S. military's gas consumption in Iraq ("Gas Pains," May Atlantic) is factually inaccurate, tactically misguided, and a classic case of a red herring. Bryce mistakenly asserts that fuel is the American center of gravity in Iraq. He overlooks a crucial point: Kuwait has been giving the United States nearly all the gas it has required ever since the invasion of Iraq, in 2003 (it began charging the United States only this past March). Although the American military could certainly stand to be more fuel-efficient, fuel is hardly an Achilles' heel.

Bryce's timing couldn't be worse. After the unexpected success of the January elections, insurgent attacks on U.S. convoys and supply depots dropped dramatically, a development that took significant pressure off U.S. supply lines. More important, his essay betrays the same type of tactical-conceptual error that has plagued U.S. military thinking ever since World War II: the idea that if the right resources and personnel are put in the right place at the right time, then victory is assured. Bryce's ham-handed comparison of the modern U.S. military to General Patton's Third Army displays his gross lack of military understanding. In truth, America's troubles in Iraq center on a misguided counterinsurgency strategy, not a bad energy policy.

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