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Volume I, Number 5, May, 2003

No Dictator Left Behind?

Most of us are extremely happy to see Saddam toppled from power. Nobody loves a dictator, especially one who slaughters thousands of people, employs torture to maintain power and imposes suffering across his land while dwelling in opulent palaces.

At the same time, our new foreign policy raises serious issues for education here at home.

It costs a lot of money to topple dictators. At a time when the budget is once again running deficits, unemployment is rising and we see huge revenue shortfalls at the state level undercutting the support of American schools, we ought to be asking tough questions about this new policy. And the President wants to give tax breaks to the wealthy?

How much are we willing to pay to topple other dictators? All dictators? Or just some?

In February of 2003, Parade Magazine (Boston Globe) published the following list of the "Worst Dictators on the Planet."

1. Kim Jong-il (North Korea)
2. King Fahd and Prince Abdullah (Saudi Arabia)
3. Saddam Hussein (Iraq)
4. Charles Taylor (Liberia)
5. Than Shwe (former Burma, now Myanmar)
6. Teodoro Obiang Nguema (Equatorial Guinea)
7. Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenistan)
8. Muammar Gaddafi (Libya)
9. Fidel Castro (Cuba)
10. Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus)
"The 10 Worst Living Dictators"
Parade; New York; Feb 16, 2003; Wallechinsky, David
To compile his "10 Worst" list, Wallechinsky consulted independent human-rights organizations that are willing to expose both left- and right-wing regimes, such as Freedom House, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. "I looked at the documented suppression of those freedoms and rights that Americans take for granted," he says. "Freedom of speech and religion, freedom to choose elected representatives and to disagree with their government, and the right to a fair trial." He gave "extra credit" to those dictators who torture prisoners and others, execute political opponents, cause their citizens to starve or to suffer malnutrition and who interfere violently in the politics of countries other than their own.

Wallechinsky gave "dishonorable mention" to several other dictators:

The preceding list does not include all of the world's dictators. Sad to say, the competition for the 10 Worst Dictators is stiff. Among those who did not make the list but who did earn "Dishonorable Mentions" are Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the leaders of the People's Revolutionary Party of Laos.

Notice how we asked #2 on the list above to help us topple #3?

One down, nine to go? Or is it 99?

What are our priorities?

Estimates for the cost of this Iraqi effort fall in the $60-100 billion range when the costs of the fighting ($20 billion) are added to the costs of the rebuilding ($79 billion). See Washington Times, April 17, 2003 article (click here).

In the past we often built partnerships with dictators provided they helped us to oppose the Soviet Union or some other enemy. We even funded terrorists like Osama Bin Laden when he was opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan.

All that has now changed? Can we count on a consistent national policy of opposing and toppling all dictators, regardless of their religion or region?

The Administration's embrace of preemptive strikes and regime change raises the possibility of a series of wars like the one in Iraq that would severely strain the budget of the United States. Just how many of these wars are we prepared to support and fund?

Will we expect real evidence of threat before such strikes are permitted? Will Congress regain its constitutional role of declaring war, or will we allow the executive branch to decide these matters free of restraint? Will we suspend the balance of power provided by the Constitution?

What are the consequences for American schools and our children?

Do we intend to invade all countries with dictators who slaughter and torture their people? Or will we only invade those who are suspected of having weapons of mass destruction?

How long is the list of dictators we intend to topple? Or is this one enough? Do we expect that this single example of "shock and awe" will have a domino effect that will cause all the other dictators to adopt democratic policies?

Shift of Focus from Domestic Needs to The New World War

After decades of trying to engage the United Nations or NATO in handling various peace-keeping issues and challenges, the United States has moved dramatically to independent military action with a handful of allies. Evidently, we no longer have the patience to work within the old rules of the international community.

"Speed up, you move too slow!"

Even now as the most severe combat in Iraq is completed, the administration has not been able to produce evidence to support its original reasons for going to war - the existence of weapons of mass destruction and a nuclear threat. All those gas masks and suits and not a single canister of lethal gas has been uncovered.

There has been too little open debate in this country about the precedents set by this war and the new foreign policy of preemptive strikes. Dissent and questioning are too often characterized as unpatriotic. Domestic policy failures go unmentioned as the nation rallies around the troops who have risked their lives to protect us from terror.

Supporting the troops is one thing. Leaving policies unchallenged and inquestioned is quite another.

The budget is a mess. Domestic needs are shunted aside as TERROR gets top billing in all policy discussions. Homeland Security is the oxymoron of the century as we divert funds, resources and psychic energy to war, crack downs and duct tape.

We awaken each day to kaleidoscopic terror alerts and color codes accompanied by headlines and announcements that make crouching and flinching the natural order of the day. Are we actually feeling safer?

The economy is faltering despite the huge influx of war, terror and security related expenditures. Without a strong economy, we cannot afford to fix our schools and we cannot even afford to fight wars against terrorists and dictators.

Double Jeopardy

Increasing the national debt to fund these ventures while giving out tax refunds is irresponsible and foolhardy. We mortgage our children's future in two ways:

1) We fail to fund the educational reform we profess to value that might close achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

2) We build up the national debt so that future generations will see huge portions of the budget allocated to interest payments rather than policies.

A Call for Balance and Coherence

We need a foreign policy that is consistent and coherent - one that calls upon the world community to share in the responsibility and expense of maintaining security and order.

In concert with this foreign policy, we need to focus on creating well being at home. We must fund our schools and build a vibrant economy that will sustain a vital future.

NCLB without funding is about punishment, failure and chaos.

While we are rebuilding schools in Iraq, perhaps we could try rebuilding our own?


Ian Fisher: From Power Grid to Schools, Rebuilding a Broken Nation. New York Times, April 20, 2003 (free access after registration). (Go to article)

Nicholas Kristof: Why truth matters. CNN, May 6, 2003. (Go to article)

By Paul Krugman, Man on Horseback, New York Times, May 6, 2003. (Go to article)

© 2003, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.
What can you do to change this law before it does great damage to the schools and children in your state and town?
  1. Subscribe to "No Child Left" to stay informed about efforts to repeal NCLB. Click here.
  2. Speak with the school board members, administrators and teachers in your community to learn how NCLB will change schools and learning in your town.
  3. Start communicating with your Senators and Representatives to let them know you want this law changed to put more emphasis on capacity building and support rather than testing and punishment.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concerns. Illustrate the dangers of this law with specific and compelling examples.
  5. Emphasize concrete alternatives that would do more to improve the futures of disadvantaged children.

A List of ESEA (NCLB) Amendments

1. Fund social programs that impact school readiness so that all children actually enter school ready to learn as the first President Bush promised long ago.

2. Fund capacity building (enhanced teaching and learning) in districts and districts for several years before engaging in punishing labels and reckless choice provisions. Capacity building might mean providing hundreds of hours of training in effective reading strategies, for example. But it does not mean training everybody in a single highly scripted program endorsed by the administration for pseudo-scientific reasons.

3. Devote public money to truly public schools. Be careful not to divert funds to reckless experiments or diploma mills.

4. Fund enough construction of new schools within public systems so parental choice is real.

5. Support informed school choice within public systems.

6. Emphasize rewards and incentives rather than sanctions.

7. Hold all publicly funded schools to standards for performance and quality, whether actually private, charter or truly public. Be careful about simplistic notions of high stakes testing.

8. Fund recruitment and preparation of effective teachers and aides from all racial and economic groups to close the gap between current staffing levels and what is desirable.

9. End the insulting, broad brush assaults on teachers and administrators struggling against difficult challenges.

10. Capitalize on the good research conducted to discover what works best in schools and avoid simplistic panaceas and platitudes imported from the world of business and medicine.

11. Enrich the options available to all children. Forswear tightly scripted, robotic programs and the fast food approaches to school improvement.

12. Build school improvement on a richly defined foundation of alternatives and strategies.

13. Eliminate Trojan horses, hidden agendas and shameful politics from ESEA.

14. Stop using Madison Avenue techniques to hide the harsh realities of so-called compassionate conservatism.