New Republic: The Most Overlooked Stories of 2011

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The end of the year always brings retrospectives on the biggest headlines. But what about the topics that didn't make the cut? The columnists, writers, and editors of The New Republic share their picks of stories that should have seen more attention.

Lawrence Kaplan: America's Silent Withdrawal From Iraq

War is over.

No, really. "Permanent" bases? Absolutely not. A decades-long partnership between Iraq and the United States? With the American officials who guide the fortunes of the world's lone superpower and who, doing violence to their word, ordered the last of U.S. forces out of Iraq without condition and regardless of consequence? Doubtful. An "over-the-horizon" residual force in the event of catastrophe? Not really, given that catastrophe approaches more likely than not.

"The tide of war is receding," Vice-President Joe Biden exulted during a less-than-victorious lap around Baghdad earlier this month. A classic Washington slip: What Biden meant to say was that the tide of Americans was receding. True, sloppy and heedless departures have become an American staple. Even Biden could never outdo Gerald Ford's aside, mumbled amidst the havoc of Saigon's collapse, that the war in Vietnam "is finished as far as America is concerned." In this, however, Ford had things exactly backward. The war was over for the Vietnamese; as far as America was concerned, it burned on for decades.

In Iraq, the reverse seems to be true. To judge by the journalistic coverage of America's extrication, it is more or less as if the war had never happened. Even at its bloody height in 2006, the television minutes that the networks devoted to the Iraq war amounted to roughly half of what they had broadcast during Vietnam. Last week, Pew released a study showing that less than 1% of recent news coverage related to America's departure from Iraq. Exhaustion, revulsion, Justin Bieber—whatever the explanation, this much is evident: as an expression of civic literacy, much less civic vigor or solidarity with those who have endured so very much in our name, the amount of attention that we have expended on the conclusion of war that cost nearly 5000 American lives and many times that number maimed doesn't even qualify.

What if they threw a war and nobody came? Fair enough. But what if they ended a war and nobody came? The answer to that question is likely to have profound and lasting consequences for all of us, the Iraq war's supporters and detractors alike.

Tim Noah: Declining Illegal Immigration

"Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. 'No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,' Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. 'For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.'"

On July 6, 2011, even as opposition to illegal immigration to the United States was boiling over at the state level and splitting the Republican party in two, the reporter Damien Cave passed along this data point on Page One of the New York Times ("Better Lives For Mexicans Cut Allure Of Going North"), America's newspaper of record, where it remained hidden in plain sight.

Most undocumented (i.e., illegal) immigrants come from Mexico. If Mexicans are losing interest in migrating illegally to the United States, that's a very big deal. But opponents to illegal immigration don't want to acknowledge that the phenomenon might be ebbing, while defenders of the status quo are too diversity-sensitized to acknowledge that any reduction in undocumented Latino immigration—even one occurring already, independent of U.S. policy—might be worthy of praise.

The number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. peaked in 2007 at 12 million and has since fallen to about 11 million, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The simplest explanation is that there's been a falloff in economic opportunity in the U.S. due to the recession of 2007-2009; the lingering decline in construction due to the real estate bubble; and a persistently high unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent. If that's the case, then undocumented immigrants will resume pouring into the U.S. when the economy recovery picks up a bit.

But the percentage of Mexicans who entered the U.S. illegally for the first time has been declining for a decade, according to Massey's research. It's also worth noting that the U.S. has experienced three recessions during the past two decades (including an especially brutal 16-month recession in 1981-1982 during which the unemployment rate rose to nearly 11 percent). Yet only during the most recent recession did the flow of undocumented immigrants decline. Moreover, the decline appears to be limited to Mexico; illegal immigration from the rest of Latin America (which has never approached the volume of illegal immigration from Mexico) is pretty much unchanged.

Cave's Times story suggested that the decline might be due to changes in Mexico itself. The country's fertility rate has fallen to 2 children per woman. Secondary school attendance is up. Per capita gross domestic product has increased more than 45 percent since 2000. Family income has increased by a comparable amount. During that same period family income in the U.S. declined slightly. Might the North American Free Trade Agreement and other favorable economic developments in Mexico have achieved what decades of U.S. immigration policy could not? It would be premature to conclude this for certain. But it's telling that in the current political climate no politician, Democrat or Republican, dare raise even the possibility that the only practical long-term solution to the problem of uncontrolled immigration — rising economic prosperity in Mexico — might be at hand.

Continue reading at The New Republic.

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