BURGLING IN BAGHDAD

New York City

I would like to commend an excellent, frank and well-researched review by Andrew Cockburn of Joseph Braude’s book The New Iraq [“The Mess in Mesopotamia,” Sept. 1/8]. The one thing it was short on, however, was the news that Braude was so concerned about the well-being of ordinary Iraqis, he decided to buy one of the looted ancient artworks from Baghdad and smuggle it into JFK Airport, where he was arrested and charged with smuggling stolen artifacts from an Iraqi museum.

Goes to show how much the neocons care about Iraq.

ENRIQUÉ SANCHEZ


WOMEN: POLLS OR POLEMIC?

New York City; Princeton, NJ

We appreciate Katha Pollitt’s August 4/11 “Subject to Debate” column and are especially grateful for her conclusion that the report “Progress and Perils,” published by the Center for the Advancement of Women, is a summons to all women who want to protect the rights and gains that we now enjoy. Pollitt makes several statements, however, that do not accurately reflect the survey’s methodology.

There is no evidence that polls conducted during December and early January produce findings different from polls conducted at other times of the year, as Pollitt claims. In instances where telephone survey results can be compared with actual behavior, telephone surveys have been shown over many decades of research to be extremely accurate.

The poll has an overrepresentation of “marrieds and born-agains,” says Pollitt, which may have skewed the abortion responses. This is not true. The demographic profile of the sample matches the demographic profile of the US population of adult women as measured by the Census Bureau.

Pollitt notes that the results of our poll are not as “pro-choice” as those reported in other surveys. This is because our poll avoids the use of words or phrases that might lead respondents with uncertain or mixed feelings to choose one particular response over others.

The question we used to measure the abortion preference was chosen from among dozens of trend questions that have been used by pollsters over the years to measure abortion attitudes. Many of these historical questions use language that leads respondents to think about abortion in a limited or biased way. We chose the one we thought was the most neutral, and that used language closest to the language that ordinary women use in thinking about the issue.

We believe that the responses to different questions in the survey about abortion are generally consistent with one another. Forty-one percent of our respondents said that keeping abortion legal should be a top priority of the women’s movement, and 81 percent of respondents want abortion to remain legal in some form. Many women want access to abortion severely restricted, but they do not go so far as to say it should be illegal. The story about how women rate the abortion issue, as a priority, doesn’t change if you look only at the responses of women who support a strong women’s movement.

While the findings of the survey may not be as encouraging as we would like, we agree with Pollitt’s conclusion that revisionists should not celebrate this shift in attitudes and that those who believe in preserving women’s rights and advancing our status must do the hard work of winning the hearts and minds of women to assure that the hard-fought gains for women in the twentieth century do not become relics in the twenty-first century.

FAYE WATTLETON, president
Center for the Advancement of Women

DIANE COLASANTO, president
Princeton Survey Research Associates


Rocky River, Ohio

It’s déjà vu all over again. In 1999 Faye Wattleton, then at the Center for Gender Equality, commissioned a poll, the results of which were almost the same as the current one Katha Pollitt describes. As a member of NARAL, I worked with one of their staff and found other more reliable polls, one from the Wall Street Journal earlier that same year, refuting Wattleton’s results. We were able to show Wattleton’s poll as being heavily weighted with not only born-again or evangelical women but with members of other religions opposed to abortion rights. My letter to the editor was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and I was pilloried by the right-to-lifers, who, however, were unable to find any flaw in the Journal poll I cited. Why Wattleton keeps coming up with these flawed polls is a mystery to me.

JEAN GELDER


POLLITT REPLIES

New York City

“Progress and Perils” interviewed women 18 and over, 56 percent of whom described themselves as married; adjusted to exclude women under 18, the Census figure is 52 percent (thanks to Nation intern Mark Sorkin, who worked this out with help from the bureau). The Census does not keep track of born-agains, but Wattleton’s figure–45 percent–is higher than the 41 percent in a recent Gallup poll, and much higher than the 19 percent Gallup came up with in l995, when it counted as born-agains only those who explicitly assented to three central tenets of born-again Christianity. As I noted in my column, many other polls have found much more support for abortion rights; a lot depends on how the question is phrased. As for whether the “Progress and Perils” results are internally consistent or not, I still don’t understand how someone can want abortion to be illegal under almost all circumstances–even to preserve a woman’s health or in the case of catastrophic birth defects–but also believe “keeping abortion legal” should be a top priority of the women’s movement.

KATHA POLLITT


US-ISRAEL: SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

Washington, DC

I was delighted to see The Nation give so much space to Patrick Seale’s review essay of my book Support Any Friend: Kennedy’s Middle East and the Making of the US-Israel Alliance, and I was pleased that he liked the book [“A Costly Friendship,” July 21/28]. Seale is, of course, free to use the book to make whatever points he likes, however little resemblance they bear to its argument. But I’d hate your readers to think that my historical research amounted to nothing more than Seale’s polemic about the Israel lobby. I hope that readers who are interested in a more historically grounded and less tendentious take on the origins and implications of the US-Israel alliance will find it in the pages of Support Any Friend.

WARREN BASS


Portland, Ore.

I congratulate Patrick Seale for his bravery in writing “A Costly Friendship,” knowing that to criticize Israel in this country almost automatically labels one as anti-Semitic. I have found, sadly, that there is more criticism of Israeli policy in the Israeli press than the US press.

Seale is quite right to question the value of our friendship with Israel and its fanatical neocon supporters. Our blind support of this tiny nation has cost us billions in welfare payments to Israel and our arms producers, made our citizens targets of terrorists and delivered into the hands of our potential enemies, like China, advanced US weapons via Israeli companies. A costly friendship indeed!

JIM VINSEL


North Kingstown, RI

I was shocked that The Nation allowed Patrick Seale to use a “book review” as a cloak for brazen anti-Semitism. I am Jewish and have many Jewish friends. None of us were in favor of the war on Iraq, and none of us imagine that the violent and mistaken military policy of the Bush Administration there will redound to Israel’s benefit. Nor do we believe that the war is being fought to obtain “an improvement in Israel’s military and strategic environment,” as Seale asserts. It seems much more probable that it is being fought for the profit margins of Halliburton and Bechtel, which received government contracts to rebuild Iraq without having to bid for them. Despite the Administration’s “pro-Israeli” rhetoric, I have no doubt that our fearless leaders will change their tune as soon as their alleged “support” for Israel ceases to be expedient.

While pretending to review a book about the Kennedy Administration’s Mideast policy, Seale alerts his naïvely unsuspecting audience that “most prominent neocons are right-wing Jews.” I would suggest to Seale that right-wing Jewish neocons are simply unfeeling sons-of-bitches like the rest of the right-wing neocons, and not because they’re Jewish. I thought the notion of an international Jewish conspiracy died when Hitler shot himself in the head, but apparently it lives on in Seale’s heart and in your pages.

JACK L. SCHWARTZWALD


SEALE REPLIES

Paris

I imagine Warren Bass would not dispute that his exploration of the origins of the US-Israeli alliance is of interest largely because of the influence the present Israeli government and its right-wing US friends have acquired over America’s Middle East policy. Without this critical contemporary influence a study of origins would attract little attention, and Bass might have chosen a different subject on which to exercise his undoubted historical talents. It is precisely because the alliance has, in his telling words, grown into “one of the most expensive and extensive relationships of the postwar era, with a price tag in the billions of dollars and diplomatic consequences to match” that his book makes important reading.

Among the alliance’s “diplomatic consequences,” I argue in my review, is America’s war on Iraq, waged on false premises. Pressure from the Sharon government and from pro-Likud officials in the Pentagon and other agencies of the US government, as well as persistent warmongering by lobbyists, right-wing journalists and think tanks, helped to shove America into war. The same people who were its advocates now hold a posture of “no retreat,” perhaps for fear of what an admission of failure might do to their careers and to the causes they espouse! It is neither tendentious nor polemical to say so, and it is pitiful that Bass’s courage fails him when he moves from safe history to the more confrontational present day.

I salute Jack Schwartzwald’s distaste for the “violent and mistaken military policy of the Bush Administration,” but it is curious that he refuses to recognize the role of Israel and its hard-right pro-Zionist American friends in shaping this policy. To draw attention to this role is not to be anti-Semitic, as Schwartzwald charges, but the very reverse. It is out of concern for peace between Arab and Jew in the Middle East (a cause to which I have dedicated my life) that I argue that Israel should seek to be a good neighbor to the Arabs, rather than to strive to dominate them by military force. Sharon’s apparent belief that a Greater Israel can be built on the “comprehensive defeat” of Israel’s enemies has bred suicide bombers and could tomorrow, out of Palestinian desperation and Muslim anger, breed something a good deal worse. His brutal policies have themselves created a new and frightening anti-Semitism, which should alarm us all.

Fortunately, one hears less today of the neocons’ pre-war fantasy that, once Arabs and Muslims were freed from their local tyrannies, they would give up Arab nationalism and Islamic militancy and become pro-America and pro-Israel. The reverse has happened. A tidal wave of anti-American and anti-Israeli hate now engulfs the whole region, putting citizens of both countries gravely at risk.

The Arabs totally reject a new colonial experience. They will never accept the military conquests or the long-term domination of either the United States or Israel. They want America out of Iraq and Israel out of the occupied territories. It must be recalled that, at the Arab Summit of March 2002, all the Arab states without exception solemnly pledged that they would establish normal peaceful relations with Israel once it withdrew to its 1967 borders. A blind and arrogant Sharon dismissed the offer out of hand, but it remains the only way Israel can ever achieve permanent security and the United States recover its authority and immunity from attack.

PATRICK SEALE