According to an article in the current issue of Time, “Civil wars, as a general rule, don’t announce themselves when they arrive.”
That job — declaring a civil war — would seem, conventional wisdom suggests, to belong to a newsweekly. But this week, somewhat surprisingly, only Time put Iraq’s accelerating meltdown on its cover, while Newsweek offered a package on faraway India, and U.S. News & World Report focused on the issue of women’s health.
“The outbreak of communal conflict has raised the nightmarish prospect of an even wider and more destabilizing war that would tempt the country’s neighbors to intervene on behalf of the partisans,” reports Time. “And the violence threatens to spoil the overriding U.S. objective in Iraq: brokering the formation of a broadly representative government, which the Bush Administration has hoped would defuse the Sunni-led insurgency and facilitate a substantial withdrawal of U.S. troops. To protest the other side’s excesses, Sunni and Shi’ite leaders have both walked away from U.S.-led negotiations on the new government.”
Elsewhere, in a cover story for the New Republic, Lawrence F. Kaplan argues that while Sunni and Shi’ite leaders are walking away from the situation, American leaders should stay put.
“Not everything the U.S. enterprise touches here turns to gold,” Kaplan writes (subscription required). “But everything it lets go of does seem to turn into dirt. With U.S. reconstruction aid running out, Iraq’s infrastructure, never fully restored to begin with, decays by the hour. … The insurgency continues to rage. Iraq’s security forces still cannot operate on their own. And, as what was once a largely one-sided Sunni campaign of terrorism rapidly approaches something like parity (with the Shia taking up arms in their own defense), the likelihood of a civil war has surged. So, too, contrary to the delusions of war supporters and critics alike, has the importance of the Americans.”
“As the war takes a sectarian turn,” adds Kaplan, “the United States begins to look, even to many Iraqis, like an honest broker, more peacekeeper than belligerent.”
While Time and the New Republic chose to hone in on the political mess in the arid lands of Iraq, the New Yorker was busy this week revisiting the political mess in the arid lands of Texas.
“On March 1st, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Texas congressional map, and the outcome is by no means clear,” writes Jeffrey Toobin. “In the first major case to be heard by the two new justices, John G. Roberts, Jr., and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., the Court will weigh the constitutionality of the Texas plan, which represents just one of the partisan gerrymanders that have transformed Congress in recent years.”
Alongside a serviceable retelling of an old story — how Tom DeLay engineered the Republican gerrymander in Texas — Toobin adds a nice bit of counterintuitive insight.
“The Republican majority in Texas and the Bush Justice Department are asking the Court to preserve the Texas plan,” writes Toobin. “But DeLay’s political fortunes have changed so much that, paradoxically, the best thing that could happen to him now may be for the Court to strike down the plan he created.”
“The 2003 redistricting plan was implemented at a time when DeLay still looked invincible in Texas, so in redrawing his own congressional district in the Houston suburbs he was magnanimous toward his Republican colleagues,” explains Toobin. “As a result of his generosity, DeLay won in 2004 with only fifty-five per cent of the vote, against an underfunded and obscure Democratic opponent.”
This time around, however, Delay faces an experienced, well-funded opponent — Nick Lampson, a former congressman who lost his congressional district in 2004 thanks to DeLay’s reshuffling.
Currently, Lampson is leading DeLay in the polls. But, as Toobin points out, if the Supreme Court strikes down the 2003 redistricting map, then Lampson, in theory, could have his old district back. So too, could DeLay. And without the competition from Lampson, DeLay would presumably cruise to reelection.