Is United States the 'bully on the block'?

Regarding your Aug. 12 editorial "Democrats and Security": I'm not sure I follow your argument. You seem to suggest that the Democrats need to follow the line espoused by the Bush administration. I, for one, find the jingoism of the current administration and its unilateral bullying of the UN and countries that don't agree with its militaristic aggrandizement the greatest threat to peace and our security I've ever encountered. I trust that the Monitor is not suggesting we need to be the bully on the block to be secure, for tough posturing never wins over foes - it only increases their number and their intransigence. Just look at Israel and its unsafe position with regard to its neighbors.
Bernard Norcott-Mahany
Kansas City, Mo.

Dishonest depiction of West Africa

Thank you for publishing "Logic behind W. Africa's 'senseless' violence?" (Aug. 11). It is an antidote to the overwhelmingly racist tone taken by the majority of European and American press when writing on Africa. Indeed, the reasons cited by the author are accurate, but do not tell the whole story. Often violence stems from multinational struggles in which nations and corporations - which seek to plunder Africa's wealth - back "insurgents" willing to sell their services to anyone. Africa's history is riddled with foreign intervention, and it is far more pleasing to Western leaders to have stories written that are based on old racist modes of thinking.
James Healy
Canton, Ohio

All warring may be senseless, but it is certainly no more senseless in West Africa than anywhere else. Indeed, after having been colonized, pillaged, stripped of their religions, and then abandoned, many West Africans have literally had to fight for basics like housing and water. Those who sit in judgment are often from the very same nations that perpetuated the acute suffering.

One thing I did want to add to your article is this notion of "West Africa." West Africa is composed of many nations, some that have enjoyed a peaceful climate for hundreds of years. It seems these countries are always lumped together, as if it is a nation unto itself - and this is a great disservice to the nations that have peacefully struggled to survive. Countries like Senegal suffer terribly from such lumping, which cripples tourism. Senegal is a center for commerce, art, and learning. Its cities are largely modernized, and its people are some of the most dignified, cultured, multilingual, innovative, and friendly people I have encountered.
Krista Claudene Retto
New York

Amtrak derailed

Your Aug. 11 editorial on Amtrak ("Training for the Future") was muddled by ambiguity. You seem to support the Bush administration's plan to turn responsibility for Amtrak over to the states, yet you urge caution because the states don't have the financial resources to take that on. Therein lies the plan's fatal flaw.

The administration points to the jointly funded Oregon/Washington Cascades corridor as an example of how states can cooperate to maintain reliable interstate service. Ironically, when the administration began promoting its plan, the Oregon legislature was in the process of eliminating funding for its segment. If Amtrak becomes subject to the whims of 48 different state budgets, it will mean the end of most interstate rail service.

Our nation's rail policies need to be reformed, but true reform will require federal leadership with a commitment to build a coherent, reliable, and cost-effective national network. The Bush plan imposes that responsibility on the states, and the result will be a hodgepodge of disconnected routes.
James B. Toy
Seaside, Calif.

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