New England editorial roundup
The Rutland (Vt.) Herald, May 30, 2014
The conduct of foreign policy is always vulnerable to the temptations of saber rattling and nationalist bluster. Restraint, moderation, wisdom are often less salable in the marketplace of sound bites.
In his speech at West Point on May 28, President Barack Obama made the case for restraint and moderation, frustrated that saber rattling continues to resound from the wings, creating a din that undermines the effort to pursue a reasoned and pragmatic course.
At the same time, awareness of the world’s tragic ongoing history often creates imperatives for action that prevent the United States, the world’s one “indispensable nation,” from retreating behind a moat of isolationism.
The most acute crises at the moment are in Syria and Ukraine, but there are numerous other problem areas, including Myanmar, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. In each instance, when events spin out of control, voices from the right in the United States rise up to chide Obama, saying his weakness has made things worse. It’s a cheap and easy accusation to make, and Obama is justified in responding with the question: What would you do instead?
After 13 years of war in Afghanistan, few are insisting that the United States intervene militarily in Syria, much less Ukraine, where Russian meddling has fomented a growing insurgency among pro-Russian separatists. In fact, hasty, ill-conceived interventions have been one of the great failings of the post-World War II era.
“Since World War II,” Obama said at West Point, “some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.”
The list of those mistakes, both overt and covert, is a long one: coups in Iran and Guatemala; the war in Vietnam; covert support for a coup in Chile; the invasion of Panama; covert support for Saddam Hussein in Iraq; the invasion of Iraq.
Obama has not handled all of the knotty problems encountered during his tenure with skill. He has hewed to a line of restraint in Syria because he did not want American armaments to end up in the hands of dangerous jihadis as they had in the 1980s in Afghanistan. Thus, the civil war in Syria has become a horrific bloodbath.
It is argued now that if the U.S. had armed moderate groups early in the conflict, the outcome might have been different. Early on, some of those moderate groups did not even want U.S. help. And there’s no guarantee that any power short of a U.S. invasion force was capable of dislodging Bashar Assad.
Obama got tangled in his own rhetoric when he warned Assad not to cross a red line with chemical weapons, and he untangled himself only with the help of Vladimir Putin when Assad agreed to surrender his chemical weapons.
Other actions that have drawn criticism were actually carefully calibrated and restrained responses to difficult problems, as in Libya, where Obama enlisted U.S. support for an international effort to topple Moammar Gadhafi. Libya still has not sorted itself out, but the United States has not signed up for the job of doing the sorting.
The principal remaining threats are the various local terrorist groups that exist in those lawless regions where nations are failing or weak. They do not appear to be targeting the United States with the determination that al-Qaida did under Osama bin Laden. They require a coordinated international response, and Obama said it was the role of the United States to help lead that response.
It’s easy for demagogues of the right to stoke nationalist sentiment, blustering about the need to be strong, and then steering nations off into misguided military adventures. Resisting those appeals to emotion has been one of Obama’s principal aims and will be one of the strongest elements of his legacy.
At the same time, strength in defending the national interests of the United States is also essential, and Obama has sought to create an effective combination of pressure, force, diplomacy and persuasion to achieve our aims. Over time, that too will be seen as a positive legacy.
The Patriot Ledger of Quincy (Mass.), May 28, 2014
Speaker of the Massachusetts House Robert DeLeo introduced gun legislation in response to the Newtown shooting. He hopes to have it passed by the end of session July 31. As the most powerful person in the Legislature, DeLeo will likely get his way.
If passed, Massachusetts, which already has the strictest gun laws in the nation, will have new limits on gun licensing and the private sale of firearms. The bill would also expand background checks on gun buyers and strengthen the reporting requirements for those with mental illness.
While we commend DeLeo for doing something where Congress did nothing following the Newtown shooting, we can’t help but wonder if this bill, like the gun laws passed in the 1990s, will do anything to curb the excess of gun violence in our state and nation.
FBI statistics prove overall gun crimes have been on the rise since that comprehensive gun control legislation was passed in 1998. From 2006-2011, the most recent years for which data is available, two-thirds of the murders committed in Massachusetts were done so with guns.
Much of what DeLeo’s bill would do is bring the state in compliance with federal law. For instance, it’s already illegal under federal law for convicted felons and those formally declared mentally ill to possess a gun. Though no one would argue that the mentally ill should have access to guns, according to a study published last October in the American Journal of Medicine, “Gun Ownership and Firearm-related Deaths,” there’s ”... no significant correlation ... between mental illness and crime rate.” Suicides are another matter. The Centers for Disease Control found that in 2010, there were 31,672 gun-related deaths, 19,392 of which were suicides and 11,078 were homicides.
Given all the data, we wonder if so much emphasis on crime and guns should be on the mentally ill and responsible law abiding citizens instead of on trace data to track firearms and discover how they get into the wrong hands in the first place — and how to stop it.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in 2012 law enforcement recovered 1,600 guns that came into Massachusetts from various states, with Maine and New Hampshire leading the pack at 72 and 129 respectively.
That data would suggest that simply by creating more state laws, Massachusetts wouldn’t be terribly effective at addressing gun crime. And hard data is essential here as a way to cut through the politics that have destroyed any meaningful chance at gun safety reform. Remember, while legal gun ownership has plummeted since the late ’90s, gun crime is way up. Until we know how and why, we can’t know how to legislate against it.
Perhaps a better way for DeLeo and the Legislature to create much-needed gun control reform is to work with neighboring states on regional legislation. Congress has already proven it won’t act and the data has proven that states acting alone can’t address gun crimes, so perhaps by working together, regions can enact effective legislation.
Certainly each state has its own sensibilities when it comes to the Second Amendment, but surely each can agree to start by talking. The next easy step would be to share data. Starting with facts and objective figures, and moving toward shared registration and/or sales criteria, we could steer the conversation away from the political grandstanding and begin to find a way toward effectively controlling gun crime without infringing on gun owners’ rights.
We don’t have all the answers, but what we do know for certain is the status quo is killing us.