Letters to the editor

Aggressive use of non-need-based aid meant to influence students’ enrollment decisions will drive up college costs in the long run and further threaten access if we do not work collectively to stop it. If Quirk’s article helps to raise this awareness, it will have served its purpose—in spite of its inflammatory and unbalanced perspective.

Robert J. Massa
Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations
Dickinson College
Carlisle, Pa.

Matthew Quirk replies:

Over six months and many hours of conversation with the leaders of the enrollment-management profession I was told time and again that the industry, as a whole, is only beginning to face up to its role in keeping poor students out of higher education, and, one hopes, make amends. Mr. Massa and Dickinson College are a case in point. He says that much has changed since his days at Johns Hopkins, when he was devising plans to cut aid for prospective students who, by visiting campus, showed they were eager to attend. During his tenure at Dickinson, however, the number of low-income students has fallen year after year.

His increased enrollment of minorities is laudable, but his cuts in non-need-based aid are not as charitable as he suggests. Like many schools in the mid- to late 1990s, Dickinson had been offering huge discounts (averaging over 50 percent of tuition) just to fill seats. Under Mr. Massa, the school found that it could cut costs and rise in the rankings by reducing non-need-based financial aid and shifting it to the top 10 percent of its class. Dickinson switched from paying too much for average students to buying the very best, but, as so often happens, poor students appear to have been left out of the equation.

Preempting Iran

I was shocked by Terrence Henry’s  article (“The Covert Option,” December Atlantic) and his cool suggestion that the United States should engage in a policy of targeted assassinations to slow down Iran’s nuclear program—or at the very least encourage Israel to do so. While I’m no fan of the Islamic Republic, I was under the naive impression that assassination as a tool of foreign policy is not only a violation of international law but has also been explicitly forbidden by previous U.S. presidents. Moreover, Israel’s policy of assassinations, euphemistically referred to as “targeted killings,” is illegal under international law and has received widespread international condemnation.

It may be the case that all moral and legal restraints have been swept away by the Bush administration and that the prohibition of assassinations has joined the Geneva Conventions and the ban on torture as “quaint notions.” However, for a respected publication like The Atlantic to seemingly endorse the practice is unconscionable.

Karim Pakravan
Northbrook, Ill.

Terrence Henry replies:

Nowhere in my article did I “coolly suggest” or “seemingly endorse” the use of targeted assassinations by the United States to slow down Iran’s program, much less encourage Israel to do so. Rather, I pointed out the documented history of such programs in the past, and speculated as to whether or not they might occur today, while noting that an assassination campaign like the one carried out by Israel in the 1960s against Egypt and later against Iraq involves serious moral and political considerations. Karim Pakravan’s assertion that such an assassination campaign would be “explicitly forbidden” by the actions of previous U.S. presidents is not entirely accurate. While Executive Order 12333 (signed by President Reagan in 1981) and its predecessor, Executive Order 11905 (signed by President Ford in 1976 after several embarrassing assassination attempts against Fidel Castro came to light) prohibit political assassinations by U.S. personnel, each president has the right to modify or nullify them, which at times they have. President Reagan authorized a missile strike against Muammar Qaddafi in 1986, the first President Bush ordered strikes against Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, and President Clinton directed them against Osama bin Laden in 1998. Such decisions are a matter of presidential policy, not law, and just as the current administration has seen fit to disregard these executive orders when going after terrorist groups, it could very well decide to do the same with Iran.

Declare War

Leslie H. Gelb and Anne-Marie Slaughter (“Declare War,” November Atlantic) argue for “a new law … requiring a congressional declaration of war in advance of any commitment of troops that promises sustained combat.” Their most compelling argument is the painful litany of leadership failures at the highest levels of the executive branch.

These failures occur because of poorly defined or altogether forgotten missions, which in turn result from the repeated error of confusing freedom with democracy, resulting in dull-witted efforts at nation-building. What is not clear is how involving Congress could possibly result in any improvement.

Would not Congress argue endlessly about the meaning of the phrase “that promises sustained combat”? With the advent of nuclear weapons, the nature of war has changed. A-teams and HALO drops will not lend themselves to congressional interference and debate, which partisan politicians are sure to attempt. Nor would the ultimate horror of a rogue state preparing to use its nuclear weapons.

The opportunities for the rigorous fact-finding and thoughtful debate the authors propose will be both brief and rare, and the risks the authors acknowledge too great to contemplate. Will a nuclear-armed rogue state, with known plans for a preemptive strike, courteously wait until our debate is finished before pushing the launch button? Will we ignore ongoing genocide while we argue over the meaning of the word “sustained”? The devil is in the details.

No law, even one so thoroughly based in the Constitution, can ever take the place of great leadership in times of strife, or turn self-serving politicians into statesmen and stateswomen. Perhaps the matter is hopeless—at least until we begin to think about term limits.

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