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Plans to legalize prostitution in South Africa gain ground, critics

YOAV LEMMER/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa might be giving its all to prepare for the 2010 World Cup, but some think it has stepped out of bounds. A proposal to legalize prostitution there before the tournamount starts has several opposition parties and religious groups in the country crying foul, both for fear that the practice could become permanent and because, in the words of one critic, it "defies the word of God."

The hullabaloo started back in January when George Lekgetho, a member of Parliament, made a pitch for legalization at a committee meeting. He pointed out that prostitution is legal in Germany, the 2006 World Cup Host, to bolster his argument, adding that legalization would mean less rape and "added tax revenue."

Though most of the other MPs laughed off the proposal, the idea has gained major ground with Durban's local government. South Africa's third largest city boasts a sizeable prostitute population, which legalization advocates claim would be better protected if the trade was allowed.

That's questionable. Legalization isn't likely to make things any better for the thousands of young girls in the trade, who are typically at the mercy of pimps and dismal working conditions in the widely impoverished country. Even in comparatively well-off Germany, legalization brought its own share of problems during the cup, including how to handle reported increases of sex-trafficking from Eastern Europe.

Nor does South Africa's astronomical AIDS rate help the argument much, since legalization probably won't be accompanied by widespread promotion of "safer-sex practices." This, after all, is a country where the likely future president "took a shower" after having sex with an HIV-positive woman to prevent infection.

In any case, South Africa has plenty of other battles to wage before 2010. The skyrocketing costs of stadium construction, constant power outages, and consistently high petty and violent crime rates in major cities are sure to keep the South African government occupied until the tournament kicks off. Or else thousands of tourists and millions of TV-watchers worldwide could get a dismal view of a country that has held so much hope.

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H.R. McMaster gets his star

Last year, a lot of folks noticed when Col. H.R. McMaster, the by-all-accounts brilliant commander who led counterinsurgency efforts in Tal Afar, got passed over for promotion to one-star general. Commenting on the move, Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly wrote, "it certainly doesn't inspire confidence that the military has any intention of supporting serious institutional change in response to 9/11." Desert storm veteran James Joyner called McMaster "just the type of scholar-warrior that the military needs in its flag ranks right now." The counterinsurgency gurus at the Small Wars Journal saw it as "a type of reverse Peter Principle" at work.

These commentators will be pleased to note that McMaster was not doomed to be a lowly colonel forever. After failing to make the Pentagon's annual promotion list twice, he's just been given his first star:

[President Bush nominates] Army Col. Herbert R. McMaster Jr. for promotion to the grade of brigadier general. He is currently enroute to serve as director, concepts development and experimentation, Army Capabilities Integration Center [ARCIC], U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Va.

The ARCIC is a relatively new center that has the potential to be very influential in setting Army doctrine. As the Washington Post's Ann Scott Tyson suggests, the promotion indicates that the counterinsurgency types in the Petraeus mold are gaining the upper hand against the big war crowd.

UPDATE: Via e-mail, retired Lt. Col. John Nagl (now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security) comments:

The selection of my friend and mentor H.R. McMaster for promotion to Brigadier General is another indication that the Army is learning and adapting to the wars of this century--and putting the right people in the right places to drive change. H.R. has had strategic influence on the Army since he was a Major, and he'll be able to do even more with the power of a star behind him. Although I don't know many of the other officers selected for promotion to Brigadier, and many great officers didn't make this list, from all accounts these officers who were picked have the experience, vision, and drive to continue to improve one of America's best learning organizations."