Correspondence

by | February 24, 2002

UNITED FRONT

TO THE EDITORS:

In his January 28 article, "After the Fall" THE NEW REPUBLIC'S Lawrence F. Kaplan impugns virtually every Washington official save the president for not agreeing that we must quickly remove Saddam Hussein. Leave aside the obvious point that most Americans agree we must not get distracted from the unfinished business of bringing to justice Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar and destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Kaplan also elects to ignore the unmistakable fact that there already exists broad and deep consensus that Saddam must go. The only question is how and when to accomplish that goal effectively. When Kaplan quotes me as saying that action against Saddam would be a mistake, surely he knows better, as the text of my remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations is available to all. What he willfully leaves out was my expressed view, in the very same sentence, that it would be a mistake only "in the near term" because we first must lay the groundwork for any military action against Iraq.

I have argued forcefully for employing "smart sanctions" to tighten the vise on Saddam, with the added benefit that such a policy will help us take advantage of post-9/11 opportunities to construct as broad a coalition as possible to topple his regime. With the support of the international community, including the states in the region most threatened by Saddam's brazen behavior, we can generate the consensus either for multilateral action or our own military assault. While there are those who believe we can oust Saddam on the cheap by relying largely on disparate opposition forces with minimal U.S. involvement, I believe there remain too many variables out of our control in this scenario. On the other hand, according to the plans advocated by many current and former senior military officers, including retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, former commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command, the model for action against Saddam that holds the greatest promise of success is one that allows us to move on our time, at our calling, and plays to our strengths.

The combination of steadily building both diplomatic and military strength is not unlike the approach President Bush undertook before moving against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Does Kaplan think the president and those of us who have supported his effort were wrong? This is not a debate between Democrats and Republicans. It's a debate within the current administration and among those of us who know that Saddam and U.S interests are incompatible. But until the fateful decision on Iraq is made to send American troops into harm's way, we will not be deterred by those who resort to personal, partisan, and ideological attacks.

SENATOR JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

Chairman Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Washington, D.C.

 

REAL GENIUS

TO THE EDITORS:

Too bad your January 21 issue editorial, "Home Economics," calling for Paul O'Neill's removal from office, ran only days before his declaration that the rampant fraud at Enron represents nothing more than the "genius of capitalism"--a remark that ranks right up there with Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake."

JEFFREY HAMBURGER

Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

SCIENCE CLASS

TO THE EDITORS:

In a vacuum, Siddhartha Mukherjee's arguments about scientific freedom might possibly seem sensible, but they disintegrate in the real world ("Fighting Chance" January 21). The issue has never been whether scientists should or should not pursue specific lines of research according to their own interests (they should, and they do). Rather, the concern is how to prioritize publicly funded research both between fields of science and alongside other societal demands to yield the maximum societal benefits. Undirected research may well be important intellectually, and could eventually yield social benefit, but the idea that useful knowledge inevitably and most efficiently derives from research motivated only by curiosity is nonsense. Mukherjee's assertion that "programmatic" research (such as the HIV/AIDS program) "leaves little room for ... serendipity" is simply false. Such research programs have led to such completely serendipitous discoveries as Teflon and a number of drugs. And his suggestion that such research is generally neither good science nor a good investment is inane: The electronic, material, computer, communication, and aviation technology revolutions of the past 50 years were made possible by world-class programmatic research funded primarily by the Department of Defense and the private sector. The fact that huge financial resources have been devoted to searching for treatments for AIDS--and that this search has had considerable success--does not imply, as Mukherjee suggests, that less money, spent on research motivated only by scientists' curiosity, would have led to equally effective outcomes. Rather, it means that some urgent problems are expensive to solve.

Finally, Mukherjee's lack of familiarity with his subject is revealed in his mention of Donald Stokes, who did not spend "his academic career studying Bush's compact" but focused mostly on electoral politics. In fact, Stokes's one short (and masterly) book about the "Bush compact" entitled Pasteur's Quadrant, consists of a demolition of precisely the argument that Mukherjee tries to make in his article. That Mukherjee cites Stokes to support a contrary position can only demonstrate that he either never read Stokes or that he completely misunderstood him.

MICHELE S. GARFINKEL

DANIEL SAREWITZ

Center for Science, Policy, & Outcomes, A project of Columbia University in the City of New York, Washington, D.C.

 

SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE REPLIES:

Garfinkel and Sarewitz accurately point out that Donald Stokes created his own formulation about the relationship between science and society. In my article, however, I only cite Stokes's description of the arguments of Vannevar Bush. Stokes deftly characterized Bush's formulation as a "compact" between science and society, and it's this characterization that is described in the piece.

 

TO THE EDITORS:

Mukherjee has it largely right, but he omits a crucial consideration: Basic (or "curiosity-driven") research more than pays for itself over a period of typically 30 years. The most famous example is nylon, the profits from which more than repaid the cost of the initial research, development, and commercialization. The development of the transistor as a result of basic research on electron transport in semiconductors is a more recent case in point. In other words, investment in basic research is not only safe and sound, but it is very rewarding. The trouble is, it takes time to reap the rewards.

CHARLES KELBER

Rockville, Maryland

 

COLOR GUARD 

TO THE EDITORS:

Peter Beinart's two TRB columns from South Africa were right on the mark ("Left Out," January 14; "Social Disease" January 21). That said, Beinart writes that in "1959, racialists formed the Pan-African Congress, which suggested that Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) was being controlled by whites and Communists" A better example, though, would have been Mandela's own such suspicions about whites, which came much earlier. In 1945 Mandela himself put forth a motion to expel Communists from the ANC. Mandela's later support for the South African Communist Party (SACP) wasn't ideological but based on the mutual enemy of apartheid and, still later, on what he felt was a moral debt he owed as a result of the SACP'S (and the USSR'S) support. Few South African blacks ever took communism seriously, and it was clear to observers that when apartheid ended, the center of that alliance couldn't hold.

TODD PITOCK

Villanova, Pennsylvania

 

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/politics/92036/correspondence