President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq last week, flying into Anbar province, which only last year was one of the most dangerous areas in the nation. "In Anbar you're seeing firsthand the dramatic differences that can come when the Iraqis are more secure," Bush told U.S. troops at Al-Asad Air Base. "You see Sunnis who once fought side by side with al-Qaeda against coalition troops now fighting side by side with coalition troops against al-Qaeda."
The president hinted at a potential troop reduction but gave nothing like a timetable: "Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground-not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media."
Another part of the country, meanwhile, has been showing what Iraqis in relative peace can achieve. Protected by U.S. air power before the war and largely unaffected by Islamist violence since, the Kurds have turned their homeland economically and politically into a magnet for refugees fleeing other parts of Iraq.
German authorities last week arrested three men accused of planning to bomb American targets in Germany. Two of the men were German converts to Islam and the third was a Turkish resident of Germany. Officials said they had trained at al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan and were collecting large amounts of hydrogen peroxide for bombs to use at pubs, airports, and other spots that large numbers of Americans visit.
Security experts said the homegrown nature of the terrorists-Germans who could easily blend into Western societies, and a member of Germany's large Turkish minority-made the case especially worrisome. "This is the first time I've seen a Turkish-German network," terrorism researcher Guido Steinberg told The New York Times. "That it is connected to a Turkish network in Pakistan is an even bigger problem."
Actor-politician Fred Thompson, who had been unofficially campaigning for president for months, made it official last week. While other GOP candidates were preparing for their Sept. 5 debate at the University of New Hampshire, Thompson was taping a guest shot on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "I'm running for president of the United States," he told the surprised and enthusiastic audience.
New Hampshire GOP officials, who had asked Thompson to participate in the debate, were less thrilled. "For him to then go on Jay Leno the same night and be trading jokes while other candidates are having a substantive discussion on issues is not going to be missed by New Hampshire voters," said New Hampshire GOP chair Fergus Cullen.
Larry Craig began last week as a disgraced soon-to-be former U.S. senator. He ended the week by suggesting he might want to keep his job. The fifth-term Republican from Idaho landed in hot water late last month when reports surfaced that he had pled guilty to charges of disorderly conduct. The charges stemmed from an alleged attempt to solicit sex in a men's room at an airport in Minneapolis (see sidebar below). That led to a Sept. 1 news conference in which Craig said he wasn't homosexual and that his actions in the restroom had been misinterpreted, but that he would resign from the Senate at the end of September.
Then Craig apparently changed his mind, telling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would try to withdraw the guilty plea and perhaps remain in office. But the Senate Ethics Committee quickly refused to dismiss a complaint lodged against Craig, and many of Craig's GOP colleagues publicly advised him against trying to keep his Senate seat. "Any reconsideration would be a mistake," said Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah). "Once you announce you are resigning, you don't take it back."
Polk County (Iowa) Judge Robert Hanson briefly made same-sex marriage the focus of the presidential campaign with an Aug. 30 ruling that Iowa's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The ruling, which is under appeal, brought to the surface the candidates' different approaches to the issue.
Mitt Romney said the ruling "once again highlights the need for a Federal Marriage Amendment to protect the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman," while John McCain said it "only reinforces my belief that we must have a president who is committed to appointing strict constructionists to the bench." Rudy Giuliani also promised to nominate conservative judges. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama said they favored leaving the definition of marriage to the states.
Tensions between Syria and Israel flared up again last week as Syrian officials claimed Israel had invaded the country's air space and bombed its territories. Israeli authorities refused to comment on the report. Syria's official news agency said the alleged attack did not cause any deaths or damage, but warned that the "Syrian Arab Republic . . . reserves the right to respond according to what it sees fit."
Oh for the good old days when Jimmy Carter lusted only in his heart. Now deviancy's downward spiral has reached the level where a United States senator pleads guilty to cruising an airport men's room in search of an anonymous "quickie" and is forced to resign.
Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho labored as a second-tier Republican member of Congress until news that he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct became public. He then rocketed to first-tier status, though not for the reason any politician would wish. His sins, not his legislative skills, had found him out. He became fodder for late-night comedians and a problem for the self-righteous community, which hoped that Senate voters would not penalize Republicans come election time, if they expunged Craig from the Senate.
During the last election campaign, now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged that a "culture of corruption" exists in Washington. She was right. The political culture is corrupt and that corruption is not the exclusive property of Republicans, as anyone with a sense of even recent history knows. Politicians can quickly get out of touch and embrace an entitlement mentality that, at the extreme, results in Oval Office shenanigans (Bill Clinton) and their equivalent (Larry Craig and Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, whose name showed up on the D.C. Madam's client phone list).
There is something else about the sexcapades-whether heterosexual or homosexual. The very condemnation that fell upon Larry Craig-from fellow senators to the most liberal editorial pages-affirms a standard that may no longer be practiced sufficiently in the public square, but still resonates in our private hearts. That great theological nag named Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Romans when he writes of those who ignore God's requirements yet "not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).
Does that not fit our present state of mind and cultural condition? Don't liberal activists and their judicial enablers regularly tell us that to affirm an immutable standard, especially if it comes from God, violates church-state separation? But then we quickly hark back to the standard to hold even United States senators accountable.
In our reaction to Larry Craig's misdeeds, we affirm the standard. We also seek to be quickly rid of him because he serves as a reminder that the standard still exists-and who among us does not fall short of it at some level?
-© 2007 Tribune Media Services, Inc.