Speaking to Tennessee reporters from Brussels on Tuesday, 8th District congressman John Tanner, who was there as chairman of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization delegation from the U.S., commented on the obvious: Our NATO allies require -- and on this occasion got -- confirmation that our misadventures in Iraq and the lingering controversy about our involvement there will not hinder the American commitment to Afghanistan.
"One of the reasons for the trip was to reaffirm to our allies that from the congressional point of view the two are not the same. Afghanistan is a completely different situation," Tanner said. Such reassurance was all the more necessary, he pointed out, because of wide international publicity given the congressional debate over President Bush's "surge" strategy for pacifying Baghdad.
Tanner, who voted with the majority in the House of Representatives last week to oppose the surge, said his delegation's talks with military and civilian representatives of NATO, beginning over the weekend, had buttressed his convictions. "We've tried two surges -- actually three -- and not lessened the violence."
Noting an ominous amount of evidence that resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda forces are preparing a Tet-style spring offensive on Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, Tanner made an effort to sound reassuring that NATO had the situation under control. He pointed out the obvious distinction between our go-it-alone policy in Iraq and the coordinated multinational effort in Afghanistan.
And, at a time when the Bush administration is making much of alleged provocations in Iraq by Iran, Tanner passed on a note of caution that pervaded his delegation's talks in Brussels: "There is a feeling in NATO that we need a diplomatic approach to Iran, that we need more diplomatic and political effort with respect to Iran and Iraq."
We can only hope that this wise counsel on our allies' part has at least a modicum of impact on President Bush and other administration officials, and we are grateful to Representative Tanner and his delegation colleagues for helping to broker such views.
A Modest Suggestion
Face it: For better or for worse, Shelby County commissioner Henri Brooks has become a force in local government -- and, increasingly, a focus of controversy. Most recently, she was the target of criticism for a taxpayer-paid trip to Washington to request a Justice Department investigation of procedures at Juvenile Court. Critics charged that her action was premature, in that she will return to Washington next month for a meeting of the National Association of Counties.
We are struck by a certain irony in Brooks' actions. In her brief tenure on the commission, she has made a point of citing federal statutes and the authority of the national government to achieve a variety of ends commensurate with racial equality. We suggest that such commendable single-mindedness might oblige her to reconsider her persistent refusal to join her commission colleagues in their ritual Pledge of Allegiance to the emblem of the federal government -- under which, after all, hundreds of thousands of young Americans, white and black, once died to abolish slavery and other instruments of the inequality she so rightly detests.