February 23, 2006
Short Takes on Chertoff, Putin, Google and Iraq

By Ed Koch

If Michael Chertoff had been a member of the Japanese cabinet before World War II, and had performed his job as poorly as he did during Hurricane Katrina, someone would have handed him a short sword with which to commit hari-kari.

Yet, last weekend -- despite his failure as the head of the Office of Homeland Security -- Chertoff appeared on major television networks to defend and explain what had went wrong in New Orleans. But he utterly failed to persuade me that he is unfairly being lynched by the media for malfeasance or nonfeasance. When asked if he had offered his resignation, he declined to reply directly, relying instead on the statement, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”

Chertoff's record shows that he can be a first-rate public servant. But by relying on others, in particular Michael Brown, director of FEMA, an outrageously incompetent political appointee of President Bush, he failed in his own responsibility to rush federal aid to New Orleans. Such aid was key, since Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco clearly failed in their duties because of their gross incompetence.

I do not believe Chertoff can ever recover from this fiasco. He should resign and again be nominated for a federal court judgeship. He was an excellent judge before he left the bench to take his present job at the request of the President.

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President Putin's Russia used to have my sympathy when it was a victim of Chechen terrorism, but no longer. Putin has now announced that he has invited to Moscow Hamas, the terrorist organization that won the recent election in the West Bank and Gaza and that supports the total destruction of the State of Israel. The peace quartet made up of the U.S., European Union, Russia and the UN should now be dissolved. Russia is once again an outlaw state.

If Russia is willing to recognize Hamas, a terrorist organization as a legitimate government, why should anyone support Russia against the Chechens, who are seeking to establish a country with a status similar to Georgia in the same Caucus region. Those supporting terrorism anywhere should not expect support from others when it pops up at home.

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Why are Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Cisco Systems being so abused by members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the national media? They are accused, reports The New York Times, of “what a subcommittee chairman called a ‘sickening collaboration’ with the Chinese government that was ‘decapitating the voice of the dissidents’ there.” The Times quoted Congressman Tom Lantos of California, who said, “I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.”

These search engines are conforming to the demands by the Chinese government, e.g., shutting down dissenters’ websites. A comparable government action in this country might be a telephone company or public library providing records to the U.S. government pursuing an alleged terrorist under the Patriot Act. The law requires the telephone company or search engines to comply with the subpoena served. If the U.S. does not want these and other companies to do business in China, the U.S. government has the power to pass such a law as it has done respecting Cuba. Otherwise it is outrageous to pillory these legitimate businesses for engaging in business in China and following the laws of that country. It is far more reprehensible in my judgment that the President and Congress have placed us in a position by treaty in which China pays automobile workers $1.50 an hour with no medical benefits, no environmental protections, and is planning on selling to the world Cadillacs and other cars in competition with the U.S., free of tariffs, while American companies pay workers $26 per hour and provide medical benefits costing more than the steel in every car frame. Let’s get our priorities straight.

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More reasons surface every day on why we should get out of Iraq now, unless our NATO and regional allies forthwith agree to share the casualties and other costs of the war. According to a poll cited by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times, “70 percent [of Iraqis] called for a full U.S. withdrawal within two years.” Iraq now has an army exceeding 200,000 soldiers as well as police.

The new Iraqi permanent government has elected Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its prime minister with the assistance of Moktada al-Sadr who is violently opposed to the U.S. and engages in killing Sunnis with his vigilante army, a militia known as the Mahdi. He wants the U.S. out of Iraq now and seeks an Iraq governed by Sharia -- religious law with stoning and the chopping off of hands.

Al-Sadr supported al-Jaafari because the latter’s views are much closer to his than those of any other candidate. Why should these fanatics decide when we will leave and under what terms? We should make that decision and do it now.

According to The New York Times, over the weekend, our Ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that “The United States is investing billions of dollars in Iraq’s police and army…We are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian.” But they clearly are.

The civil war among Sunnis and Shiites is ongoing. The lunatics are running the asylum. Our young men and women should no longer be put at risk, unless our allies, NATO and regional, agree to bear the casualties and costs with us. With few exceptions, they have refused to do so. Let’s get out now.

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The threats to world peace are numerous. However, in the opinion of many experts, the single greatest threat the world currently faces is Islamic militancy, particularly the version espoused by Iran. Our military presence in Iraq is compromising our ability to respond to Iran’s threats. Some have suggested, and I agree, that the strength shown by Jack Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis should be the template used by the Bush administration. Iran should be advised by every private and public mode available that the U.S. will not tolerate Iran securing the nuclear bomb. While the administration has made statements, none are as unambiguous as that of Senator John McCain, who has stated on a number of occasions, “There is only one thing worse than military action, that is a nuclear-armed Iran." I agree.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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