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Letters: Oct. 25, 2004

12 minute read

The Tragedy of Sudan

“The moral irrelevance and depravity of the U.N. and its member states can be summed up in one word: Darfur.”


I have been haunted and sickened by the photos and news coming out of Sudan [Oct. 4]. Most of the world seems to completely ignore the genocide in the region of Darfur carried out by the government-backed Janjaweed Arab militia against non-Arab Muslims. World leaders appear to be waiting for the murder to magically come to an end. With all their wealth and power, why aren’t they jumping in to save the people in Darfur? Are Sudanese oil interests and political alliances so important that 50,000 people must be allowed to die? It feels as though we are losing our sense of humanity. My hope for the future of our world is diminished each time we blatantly ignore the needs of our fellow human beings.


A decade after the genocidal murders of the Tutsi by the Hutu, Rwandans are still confronting the memory of their worst crisis. Today the Janjaweed are similarly butchering black people in Darfur by the thousands, yet the U.N. won’t call it genocide. Maybe the tragedy will fit that definition when thousands of human skulls are stacked up in memorials as in Rwanda. What is more genocidal than the story you reported: a 1-year-old baby boy being tossed up in the air and shot? Please, U.N. members, help now.


The tragic violence in Darfur was predictable. If it isn’t famine, genocide or plague in Sudan, then it is some other catastrophe in Rwanda, Somalia or Nigeria. I find it incredible that these nations cannot or will not build a self-sufficient society. Why are so many African nations mired in the 15th century?

EDWARD C. MURPHY East Peoria, Ill.

In Darfur, male children are being murdered because the Janjaweed believe they could be future enemies. How dare my country ignore this grim situation! Why is genocide allowed in this day and age? Is it because it is happening on a continent that is mostly black? How can we turn a blind eye to this African Holocaust? You reported that Secretary of State Colin Powell, in congressional testimony, stated his conclusion “that genocide has been committed in Darfur, and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility, and that genocide may still be occurring.” But in this election year, neither presidential candidate advocates immediately sending any of our troops to Africa.


The Sudan atrocities are a tragedy that you, sadly, and I will tolerate while we concentrate on sports, television, movies and the rest of our selfish interests. The media cover only as much as we want to watch. The death of 50,000 people is no more important to us during this election season than are the ties the candidates wear during the debates.


Your cover headline should have been “The Indifference to Sudan.” That more closely depicts the world’s reaction to this tragedy. Powell described the situation as genocide, but he then stated that no new action was necessary. Once again, the U.S.’s position is to ignore those who are poor, nonwhite or non-Christian or are in any way different. Western nations do this all the time. We need to rethink who we are and what we do. We need to reconsider our common humanity.


The Nader Effect

Reading about Ralph Nader, his effect on the 2000 election and his possible effect on the 2004 election infuriated me [Oct. 4]. Who does this man think he is? Nader is a self-important egomaniac who is under the illusion that he and his naive, deluded supporters actually matter. This stubborn idiot is willing to take votes away from the Democratic presidential candidate (with the gleeful support of the Republicans) and put the far right in control for four more years. He has zero chance of winning anything except the opportunity to have a devastatingly negative impact. Why should he be allowed that sort of influence? Go away, Nader, and stay away!


Nader has sadly morphed from a selfless consumer advocate to a self-absorbed egoist and Republican pawn. His insatiable need to extend his 15 minutes of fame illustrates what a poor leader he would be. For those who question whether a vote for Nader is a vote for President Bush, they need look no farther than the Oval Office.


Somebody ought to tell Nader that a Bush victory in November could doom much, if not most, of what Nader has achieved. At least two Supreme Court Justices are expected to retire before 2008. If Bush is re-elected President, he would almost certainly nominate hard-line conservatives. A solidly conservative court might eviscerate or kill laws that have made Americans safer, healthier, better housed and more financially secure.

GINNY PAULSON Colesville, Md.

The Fight for Iraq

You asked whether the Iraq war can be won [Oct. 4]. There can never be a final victory there as long as President Bush fails to face the realities on the ground. He continues to say “freedom is on the march,” even though the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, representing the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, presented the possibility that there might be civil war there. A number of military professionals say more troops will be needed to secure Iraq’s elections next January. Members of the President’s party have also spoken out about the dangerous conditions in Iraq. The sooner the President acknowledges the stark realities there, the sooner he can answer the question of whether we are taking the right approach to winning the peace.

ROBERT TORMEY MAJOR, U.S.A.F. (RET.) Escondido, Calif.

Pessimism and defeatism never won a war; in the long run, strength, steadfastness and patience will.

MARY BRANNON Oklahoma City, Okla.

One of the goals you said we need to meet to win the war in Iraq is to train Iraqi military forces to take over the job of maintaining order. But during the Vietnam War, we spent years training South Vietnamese troops to take over the fighting. The North Vietnamese, however, easily prevailed as the war reached a climax. The Administration suggests that the Iraqi army, when trained, will be able to subdue the wave of terrorism sweeping Iraq. This is utter nonsense and just more political spin.

LARRY MERCER Yakima, Wash.

The insurgents in Iraq can identify U.S. troops, but American soldiers cannot identify the terrorists. They can blend in with the population, smile, shake our hands, thank us and take our money one day, then attack us the next. This could go on indefinitely as casualties increase with no end in sight. We cannot win this war. The election of a puppet government in Iraq will not end it. If we return Bush to office, we are telling the President and the world that we support the war. Bush will take this as a mandate to continue his war. We are betraying our responsibility to the world, our nation and our troops by allowing this situation to continue. It must end–now.

BILL WELCH Blue Springs, Mo.

The conclusion of your story assessing whether the U.S. can win the war in Iraq noted that in the short term, the country might end up like Afghanistan, plagued by insurgents and with a weak government dependent on U.S. protection. That assessment was accurate. Since it is almost impossible to cobble together a representative government in a country that includes so many different groups with varying objectives, the U.S. should focus on establishing local governing councils in each city. In this way we could cut down on strife in several of these urban centers, promote commercial and industrial growth and minimize the appearance of our presence as an occupying force.

MARC GILMORE Watertown, Mass.

If Iraq holds free elections in January, whom will Iraqis vote for? Will it be a warlord who pledges to kill every infidel American on Iraqi soil? Does the Administration expect us to believe that the Iraqi people are going to risk their lives to vote for moderates interested in normalized relations with the West? If Bush is re-elected in November, at least those voting against him will be able to take solace in knowing that he has run out of people to blame for this debacle.


Free, democratic elections in Iraq would presumably mean more than one candidate for each position. What is to prevent the insurgents, who hate us, from putting on the ballot candidates who are sympathetic to the insurgents’ position and having these sympathizers elected to the new Iraqi parliament? And if that should occur, will we then need to overthrow the parliament?

JANET HERBST Millersport, Ohio

I left Hungary in 1956 as a 20-year-old refugee. I was escaping a totalitarian regime and the oppressive demagoguery of its political leaders. I could no longer stand to listen to the meaningless platitudes about the great success of the latest Five-Year Plan. I settled in the U.S. to get away from that but I have now been living in Europe for the past several months. The U.S.’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq was troubling to me. When I see President Bush on TV declaring that Iraq and the world are safer and saying the U.S. economy is recovering, I get an eerie sense of déjà vu. For the first time since I left Hungary, I have a feeling of helpless frustration when listening to the leader of my country. I thought only dictators could afford to shamelessly lie to their people. I thought I had left all that behind 50 years ago.

PETER STANGL Calvisson, France

What Surveys Show

In “The Trouble With Polls and Focus Groups” [Oct. 4], columnist Joe Klein wonders whether focus groups have outlived their usefulness. They have, if candidates look to polls and focus groups to inform themselves about the right thing to do. But Klein shouldn’t conclude that getting the public’s opinion is no longer useful. When a candidate wants to persuade voters, a focused group discussion (the original name for the technique) can be quite potent. Asking a candidate to run a campaign without a focus group is like asking a physician to practice without a stethoscope.

GARY BLACKTON Portland, Ore.

Klein suggested that “polls should be trusted only to verify broad shifts … rather than specific point spreads.” Even this may be optimistic, since the flaws in polls may not be random. I would guess that poll respondents belong to the category of people who are susceptible to telemarketers. If you rely on a cell phone or have caller ID then, respectively, you don’t have a phone number pollsters can call or you won’t pick up the phone. That puts poll results into question.

STEPHEN NASH Arlington, Va.

Border Crossings

Your report on illegal immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico [Sept. 20] claimed that illegal immigration rose to 3 million in 2004. I believe this overstates the problem by 2 million. Prior-year official estimates show a gross number of 706,000 illegal immigrants annually with a net number (subtracting those who leave) closer to 350,000. When an individual crosses illegally four times and is apprehended four times, the border patrol records this as four apprehensions. Multiplying the number of apprehensions (1 million) by three (those said to evade successfully), as your reporters did, results in an inflated number for illegal immigration. The article also asserted that 190,000 non-Mexican illegal immigrants–including those who came from terrorist hot spots–settled here this year. Border-patrol data indicate that there were fewer than 70 apprehensions of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia by July of this fiscal year. The U.S. has reduced illegal immigration in the past (back in the 1950s) and can do so again by making available sufficient legal visas so that individuals can enter legally to work, rather than cross the border illegally and occupy border-patrol agents with apprehending potential workers. Freeing up law-enforcement assets to focus on more genuine security threats will enhance both homeland security and the rule of law.


Journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele reply: Although the figure of 3 million illegal aliens is an estimate, it is based on government formulas and interviews with border-patrol agents and other law-enforcement authorities. Anderson’s reference to 350,000 illegals comes from Census Bureau data, which are widely acknowledged to be seriously flawed. As for the 70 apprehensions from the seven countries mentioned by Anderson, published accounts put the figure at higher than 150. No one knows how many successfully made it into the U.S. Also, to discount Mexicans, Guatemalans and other Latin Americans who cross the border illegally is to ignore sleeper terrorist cells in Latin America.

Dreaming of Dean

Guest columnist Peter Beinart’s essay in praise of Howard Dean was nice [Oct. 4], but about nine months too late. The magazine Beinart edits, The New Republic, had a daily Dean-crucifixion blog, Diary of a Dean-o-Phobe. His magazine endorsed Joe Lieberman, who would have provided even less a distinction from Bush than Kerry has. Democratic voters were looking for guidance in an election in which beating Bush was the No. 1 priority, and Beinart, through his magazine, may have led them astray.

VITO FIORE Pittsburgh, Pa.

For the Democratic Party to lose Howard Dean as its candidate for President means it has abandoned high principles in exchange for what party members believe to be the electability of John Kerry. Dean made us proud again of our democracy and our country. This was our chance to tell the world, “We are still with you. We are still a nation of hope for all people. Watch us as we defeat corruption at the ballot box.” I will vote for Kerry, but that’s not where my heart is. My heart is where my dream is, and it’s still wrapped around Dean–the kind of real leader this country desperately needs.

LEE RHOADS El Sobrante, Calif.


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