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When is it a war?
Members of Congress may “regret their votes” on the Second Gulf War, but the misinformation is not to blame (“Wauthorisation”, September 4). The admittedly erroneous estimate of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq swayed few votes. The Senate voted 77-23 to authorize the use of force. Only six senators have read the budget and a dozen others have been informed. The key factor was the Democrats who did not want to vote against an ultimately successful war, as they did in 1990.
Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis, 2002-05
You correctly concluded that there should be more congressional oversight over the conduct of the war. In fact, it is not as difficult to “not declare war” as you might think. The “wars” against al-Qaeda and Iraq have never been declared by Congress; it simply authorizes the use of force. As Oona Hathaway recently argued, the solution should be for Congress to include sunset clauses in any future authorization, which should also be consistent with international law.
Any use of force must be subject to the rule of law. The powers of war are assumed by the President of the United States and other powerful executive powers in the world with timid oversight or without oversight from the legislature or the judiciary. We should ask ourselves more questions when politicians claim to be “at war”.
Professor of international law
Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID)
Speed dial 3
Joe Biden’s first phone call as president to a foreign leader was to Justin Trudeau, not Boris Johnson (“Another Quarrel,” August 28). Indeed, Mr Johnson was not even number two. This honor went to Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Salt Spring Island, Canada
Pakistan and the Taliban
Maleeha Lodhi picked her facts at America’s How to Deal with the Taliban conference (by invitation, digital editions, September 9). A former Pakistani diplomat cannot be expected to discuss the role of her country’s intelligence services in preparing the Taliban or in hosting Osama bin Laden. Yet since Ms Lodhi mentioned how furious the Pakistanis were at the US operation that brought out bin Laden, she may also have empathized with the American people, who were given a shutdown order. (and not just Pakistani officials, who “were privately relieved”).
Perhaps the US involvement in Afghanistan made Pakistani officials nervous, not only because it hampered their own designs on their hapless neighbor, but also because they feared they would be the next to be the target of the American military might. Pakistan is suspected of providing nuclear secrets (or worse) to regimes that no one would like to see with atomic bombs.
To legislate, not to judge
Regarding the anti-abortion law in Texas, you quoted Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who denounced the Texas state legislature for undermining decisions on abortion rights (“Roe on the ropes », September 4). But the central problem is with Deer vs. Wade, the 1973 court ruling. In intervening to legalize abortion, this ruling distorts the checks and balances at the heart of the constitution, shifting the political authority from the most politically responsible branch of government, Congress, to the lesser, the Supreme Court. Remember Thomas Sowell’s more general warning in “Knowledge and Decisions”, all the more imminent 40 years later: the Supreme Court “has neither obeyed a constitutional constraint nor filled an institutional vacuum; it has chosen to replace other decision-making processes.
So when you say in a subsequent article that the court’s decision not to intervene in Texas is “bad for the rule of law” (“Court Trouble”, September 11), I would respond that the court, precisely in Roe deer, has long beaten Texas to the punch.
False / not false
Social media companies can help prevent conspiracy theories from spreading virally, you say (“It’s all connected, man,” September 4). Recall that Facebook has spent months labeling the discussion of the original covid-19 lab leak hypothesis as “false” and “debunked”; it is now taken seriously and might be correct. YouTube and Twitter have similar glaring examples.
We need to say more about Aristotle’s contribution to the science of life (Bref de biologie, “On the origin of ‘species’”, August 28). About a quarter of the existing Aristotelian corpus is devoted to the first systematic scientific investigation of the animal kingdom. Many eighteenth and nineteenth-century biologists referred to in your essay were amazed at his accomplishments.
On Aristotle’s “The History of Animals”, Georges Cuvier wrote that “it is hard to understand how the author was able to obtain, from personal observations, so many generalizations and aphorisms whose correctness is perfect”. In a letter to William Ogle, Charles Darwin noted that “Linnaeus and Cuvier were my two gods, although in very different ways, but they were just schoolchildren to old Aristotle”. And Richard Owen, perhaps the greatest comparative anatomist of the nineteenth century, declared in 1837 that zoological science emerged from the works of Aristotle: “one can almost say, like Minerva of the head of Jupiter, in a state of noble and splendid maturity.
As someone who has spent decades translating these works, I can attest that none of Aristotle’s praise as a zoologist is overstated.
Professor Emeritus of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh
We read with interest the reports of The Economist and other media on the “global normalcy index,” a tool that provides a framework to assess behavioral changes associated with the emergence of the covid-19 pandemic in 50 of the world’s largest economies.
It is very important to monitor the progress these economies are making towards returning to pre-pandemic behavior. However, it is striking to note that the eight criteria used to evaluate this progress are behaviors strictly linked to the economy and not to the more complex behaviors encountered in sectors such as health.
Covid-19 shows that epidemics can overwhelm entire health systems, resulting in loss of life both as a direct result of the pandemic and indirectly from disruption of routine health services. We believe that the indicators used to create the Global Normality Index should take this reality into account.
For example, adding behaviors directly related to public health interventions such as research and provision of vaccines (through strong national immunization programs) would highlight a routine public health service that has been disrupted in many countries with the necessary emphasis on combating the pandemic. It would also highlight the role that immunization will play in achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the United Nations has set out as a model for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all. A third result would be a better baseline against which to assess “normality”. Such a benchmark would be particularly useful if the index were extended to all economies and not just the 50 strongest.
As it stands, the index criteria paint an incomplete picture of what normalcy should look like in the future. This partial view could be misleading for political leaders because they prioritize post-pandemic actions; their choices now will make a difference if and when the next emerging respiratory virus pandemic occurs. These decisions will also shape the impact of the next seasonal flu outbreak, particularly if it comes as part of the ongoing efforts to manage covid-19 and its variants.
Before the covid-19 pandemic, many economies, including some of the 50 most powerful as measured by the index, faced a constant struggle to meet basic health requirements. During the pandemic, it became clear that every nation and region, no matter how strong its economy, is an integral part of our collective health security. As highlighted in the report of the G20 High Level Independent Expert Group on World Heritage Funding for Pandemic Preparedness and Response of June 2021, resilient national systems remain the basis for stopping an emerging epidemic.
We therefore suggest that the Global Normality Index be extended to refer to all economies and that health-based criteria be added to the tool used to compile the index. These criteria should capture the status of immunization programs in the country. The latter is particularly important as the next seasonal influenza epidemics approach, hopefully with new and improved influenza vaccines, and would also help ensure the vaccinations needed to meet the SDGs.
MASHAL M. ALSHAZI
Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, College of Pharmacy and Research Chair in Infectious Disease Vaccines
King Saud University
Epidemiology of infectious diseases
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP)
Independant consultant; Former director
Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR)
Ernst van de Wetering had a brilliant precursor who could also spot a Rembrandt (obituary August 28). Hubert von Sonnenburg, curator of paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has carefully examined all the works attributed to Rembrandt in museums around the world. It took him 45 minutes to evaluate a painting. He came to conclusions similar to Van de Wetering’s and wrote a book about his findings, but lost the manuscript in a New York cab. He then published another book on the subject, “Rembrandt / Not Rembrandt”.
Considering whether to expect their employees to work while on vacation (Bartleby, Aug.21), bosses could also think about the likely effects of a heat over 30 degrees, from several beers to the lunch time and a general “vacation brain” on people’s decision-making. -make capacity. I know mine wouldn’t have been very reliable.
This article appeared in the Letters section of the print edition under the headline “On War, Joe Biden, Pakistan, Abortion, Social Media, Aristotle, The Global Normality Index, Rembrandt, Vacation”