Roundup: Historian's TakeFollow Roundup: Historian's Take on RSS and Twitter
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
Lynda Hurst, in the Toronto Star (Nov. 20, 2004):
Michael Ignatieff is not in the best of moods. A double espresso helps. A bit.
On this brief lecture tour of Toronto, the Canadian historian, prolific author and Harvard professor has clearly been encountering people who dismiss the newly re-elected president of the U.S. as "a dumb, ignorant Texas hick," and it raises his hackles because he says underestimating George W. Bush is a monumental error, as the Democrats learned for the second time on Nov. 2, and that Canadians, for the sake of their own sovereign futures, should start to take on board double quick. Though he's the one to bring up her name, the mere thought of Carolyn Parrish, the newly ousted Liberal MP who's made a career of Bush-bashing, incenses him.
"She makes me cringe," he says, cringing. "That attitude is so embarrassing."
Don't misunderstand him. Because Ignatieff originally supported the invasion of Iraq, there are people who think he's become some sort of apologist for the administration. Not so.
Ignatieff is no fan of the president or, for that matter, the entire Bush clan, whom he refers to as "the Corleones of American politics."
It is simply that "it never pays, never, to underestimate this president, intellectually or politically," he says. "He is not the cipher of Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, or Condoleezza Rice. He is the boss. There is absolutely no question about it. Sorry."
He adds that the only way to beat an "enemy" is to treat him with respect.
Not that he had a vote, but Ignatieff is still intensely rankled by the outcome of the U.S. election. As a "tax-and-spend, Pearsonian, Trudeau Liberal," he is, by proxy, a Democrat, he says, and he believes John Kerry could have won, and would have, had he been a better candidate.
"Bush was very vulnerable and beatable, on Iraq because it's not a popular war, on the deficit, on the economy. But he is a highly effective politician. He was the better candidate with the better machine."
No, Ignatieff doesn't buy the morning-after theorizing that a cultural shift in America accounted for the Republican victory. Kerry had the numbers to win, he says. But he allowed himself to be victimized by "the most disgraceful political smear in 30 years" - the Swift Boat Veterans' allegations that his war record was trumped up.
In public, Bush praised Kerry's Vietnam service, but his election team's financial paw prints were all over the smear campaign, says Ignatieff.
"I was at the University of Toronto in the 1960s and the town was full of draft dodgers. It was extraordinary that Kerry even went to serve in that war when so many others, like Bush, got out of it. It was a very courageous thing to do, the only great thing Kerry has ever done."
When the Swift Boat accusations hit the media, the Democrat camp took nearly a month to respond. Tactical mistake. Ignatieff acts out what Kerry should have done, with attendant ferocity.
"He should have got up and said, 'Excuse me, excuuuse me, my war record is under attack, my record, when you were flying loops over Texas and absconding from duty in Alabama?'
"A great politician knows how to deck an opponent. Kerry could have landed a punch and put the president on the floor. And he didn't do it."
That's what the election turned on, he says. Well, that, and Bush's Bill Clinton-like ability to understand and appeal to minorities and immigrant groups who are family-oriented, Christian and aspirational....
Tom Engelhardt, at his bog (Nov. 19, 2004):
[Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is a co-founder of The American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture among other books.]
Here was our tactical kindness: By threatening the invasion of Falluja for months and launching a bombing campaign against parts of the city long before the assault was to begin, the Bush administration managed to turn an unknown but staggering number -- up to 90% -- of that city's 250,000-300,000 residents out of their homes and into refugees living off relatives elsewhere or in the most pitiful of makeshift camps often without enough food, or clean drinking water, electricity, or medical aid. The first mainstream account of such a camp finally appeared Friday in the New York Times (Robert A. Oppel, Jr., Refugees: Fallujans in Flight: Transit Camps Are Not Much Safer Than Siege They Left), even though some of the residents described in it had been relocated there weeks, if not months before.
It's not simply a matter of journalistic lack of concern. Most non-Iraqi journalists have little choice but to be"embedded," whether in actual U.S. military units (allowing for movement into"no-go" parts of Sunni Iraq but only where the military is conducting operations, not exactly the best perspective from which to get an Iraqi view of things) or essentially in their hotels. Hannah Allam of Knight Ridder Newspapers, for instance, writes:
"The hotel has become a prison, and every foray outside its fortified gates is tinged with anxiety about returning in one piece. Baghdad has never been tougher for journalists. Treacherous roads and kidnapping squads restrict travel. 'Embedding' with the military or going with Iraqi government officials is the safest way to leave the capital. Our ability to uncover and tell the truth about Iraq -- good and bad -- has suffered terribly… As the close calls grew, the Iraq we knew shrank. The northern mountains and southern marshes are off-limits now because the roads out of Baghdad are lined with bombs and gunmen. Even a jaunt to the grocery store is a meticulously planned affair. Do you have a radio? A flak vest? A second car to watch for kidnappers?"
A recent piece in the Washingtonian magazine on-line about the return of the Washington Post's superb Anthony Shadid to Iraq after months out of the country, described the situation of Western correspondents in Iraq this way:
"[S]ome television news crews have hired security firms with armed Americans to follow their teams. Newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post prefer former British military or armed Iraqis in vehicles that follow their cars. 'They could lay down cover fire,' says Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who recently returned from 18 months as the Washington Post's bureau chief in Baghdad. 'It's a matter of improving your odds.'"
While journalists in Iraq narrowed their scope and improved their odds, the American military, after a fashion, did the same. Military commanders gathered 12,000-15,000 American troops and a couple of thousand questionable Iraqi ones and then pulled up the artillery, the planes with their 500-to-2000 pound bombs, the helicopters armed with Hellfire missiles, the lethal AC-130 gunships, the tanks, the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the mortars, and the heavy machine guns. After months of careful planning in the wake of last April's aborted attempt to take Falluja, they then launched these forces against relatively small numbers of reasonably well-prepared insurgents, a few thousand at most, scattered in a significant-sized city.
In recent years, the American military has paid a great deal of attention to the matter of urban warfare -- much feared by our commanders before the invasion of Iraq. The question then was: Would the American army be caught in a final block-by-block urban battle for Baghdad? (Given the way things are going, the answer may still be yes.) Cities are considered great levelers of the playing field between otherwise asymmetric military forces. The Iraqi rebels are armed largely with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, some mortars, and, of course, those car bombs and IEDs; but in Falluja as elsewhere in urban Iraq, they know the terrain intimately, the warren of city streets, and street fighting has a notorious reputation for cutting down on sight lines and negating technological advantages. As it happens, our military seems to have dealt with this in Fallujah largely by bringing asymmetric amounts of firepower to bear on the slightest signs of resistance even by lone snipers; in other words, as far as can be told, they responded to the challenge of urban warfare in some areas of Falluja by quite literally leveling the playing field.
Rubblizing the Neighborhood
News about the resulting devastation grows worse by the day, though the announced body counts of dead insurgents -- 1,200 or more -- can't be trusted. (I'm reminded of the informal"Mere Gook Rule" of the Vietnam War when it came to body counts:"If it's dead and it's Vietnamese, it's VC [Vietcong].") But the main point no one will make in the American news mainstream -- where U.S. military self-constraint tends to be emphasized and military claims about efforts to avoid civilian casualties are printed without significant comment -- is simple indeed: The levels of destruction in Falluja were not a by-product of the campaign, but the product itself. The rubblizing of whole neighborhoods was meant.
The Bush administration may indeed have invaded Iraq on a theory, not a plan, but the assault on Falluja itself was planned with great care over significant periods of time. So what remains of that city in which hardly a building evidently emerged unscathed (among those that remain standing) must be considered the Falluja that was supposed to be. The brief shots on the nightly news are breath-taking (or breath-stopping) in the visible levels of destruction whenever the camera bothers to pull back for a few seconds. You have to return to 1968 and the old Vietnamese imperial capital of Hue to find a city flattened in anything like this manner by the American war machine; and in that case, the Americans were responding to Hue's surprise seizure by the other side in the midst of the nationwide Tet Offensive.
As I've argued in the past, it was in the Vietnamese countryside -- where we instituted free-fire zones and bombed at phenomenal levels -- that similar planning and results could be found. The free-fire zone that was much of rural Vietnam, including in some cases literal"jungle," has been replaced in Iraq by the"urban jungle." Veteran journalist Simon Jenkins made just this point in a striking piece recently in the British Sunday Times (A wrecked nation, a desert, a ghost town. And this will be called victory)."In Vietnam," he wrote,"the Americans destroyed the village to save it. In Iraq we destroy the city to save it."
Some of you may remember that Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong famously compared guerillas to fish swimming in the sea of the people. During the Vietnam era, there was much talk among American counterinsurgency strategists about how to"drain" that sea. In Vietnam, what this turned out to mean in practical terms was grim indeed -- the forcible removal of Vietnamese peasants from rebel-controlled areas (and so their lands), their resettlement in government-controlled"strategic hamlets" (or as refugees in the South's then swelling cities) and the creation of"free-fire zones" in large swaths of the countryside which was devastated by a bombing campaign of almost unparalleled fierceness (Laos was worse), involving record tons of bombs dropped per square inch of territory. This bombing campaign in the South, unlike the one against North Vietnam, went largely unreported in our media at the time.
This was, of course, a punitive strategy leveled collectively against a population without reference to what any individual peasant might have thought or done. It gave the counterinsurgency strategy of"draining the sea" a bleakness beyond words. It also, not unsurprisingly, alienated the rural population from both the South Vietnamese government and the Americans in ways that seem all too repetitively familiar in Iraq today, and it created an especially atrocity-conducive environment for young Americans sent into an alien and hostile landscape, knowing nothing of Vietnamese culture or history, unable to communicate, and generally having no way to separate friend from foe. Does this sound the least bit repetitive to anyone?
In such circumstances acts of war grow ever more brutal. Just the other day, for instance, Tom Lasseter, a fine reporter for Knight Ridder wrote a small piece about a Marine company in Falluja whose commander had been"shot through the torso" by an RPG. In grief and anger here's what they did, according to Lasseter:"In the surrounding neighborhood, troops furious at the news of their fallen leader called in revenge, in the form of a 2,000 pound bomb airstrike and a storm of 155 millimeter artillery shells. A mosque lost half a minaret, its main building smoldering in fire and smoke." This is what you tend to do, and do ever more of, under conditions of war in an alien and increasingly hostile land.
Much of this, though not yet on a Vietnamese scale, is already taking place, not in Iraq's" countryside," but in its heavily populated cities. Just as we dropped leaflets warning residents to depart the free-fire zones of Vietnam, so we seem to have dropped endless leaflets on Falluja. (It would be interesting to have some reporter tell us just what these actually said.) It seems that, as in Vietnam where napalm and white phosphorus -- unbearably gruesome weapons -- were commonly employed, American troops have already used white phosphorus in Falluja. ("Some artillery guns fired white phosphorous rounds that create a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water. Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorous burns.") Similarly, they seem, at least informally, to have declared parts of Falluja the equivalents of"free-fire zones."
Imagine in any case simply pouring artillery fire into a cityscape. For example, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who flew out to"Camp Falluja" with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Richard Myers (now, there's high-class embedding for you) to"inspect the toughest problems in Iraq firsthand" had this throwaway line in a piece about -- what else? -- how we've arrived at the"tipping point" in Iraq:"Most of the fighting in Falluja was over by the time we arrived at this headquarters compound, although the tom-tom beat of 155-millimeter howitzers, still pumping rounds into the city, was constant." Remind me one more time about that definition of"over..."
Draining the Swamp
Nor is the media doing a better job of covering the air war in Iraq than they did in South Vietnam. As I've written numerous times, while individual air strikes may be reported daily -- all those"targeted" bombings of"terrorist safe houses" in Falluja, for instance -- the loosing of air power against urban Iraq has now gone on for almost a year with increasing ferocity (as overstretched American troops, lacking any serious support from Iraqi troops or police, have to deal with an ever-widening rebellion). And yet no significant account of the overall use of air power in Iraq or of the military or political calculations behind it has yet appeared. There's a special irony here, since early in the last century the British first tested the punitive abilities of air power on rebellious Iraqi villages.
Iraq may indeed not be"Vietnam," and there may be many other more plausible historical analogies for what's happening in Iraq to draw on, but let's face it, Vietnam is unavoidable. When we train Iraqi troops with hopes that someday they will replace American ones, military officials and reporters naturally speak about "'Iraqifying' security and politics" (as once such officials and reporters talked about"Vietnamizing" them). Similarly when our military men on the ground express"disappointment" in the Iraqi troops we're training and a sneaking respect for the willingness of those they oppose to fight and die ("The insurgency has shown 'outstanding resilience'"), Vietnam will naturally come to mind.
The fact is that"Vietnam = Iraq" will never go away as long as we occupy Iraq. As a start, Vietnam (or avoiding the subject) has been obsessively on the collective brain of the Bush administration for years now; but it's been no less on the minds of others around the world. And that makes good sense. Vietnam was, after all, the last great moment before this one of American imperial overstretch and the last great American defeat. How can people everywhere not be amazed to see so many of its elements uncannily reappear, even after U.S. leaders have spent over three decades trying to obliterate that era from American memory. (It was, after all, the elder Bush at the time of Gulf War I who exulted:"By God, we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome!")
If the people of the world in some sense cannot help but be focused on the last remaining superpower and its catastrophic encounter with Iraq, then how could they not help but think about Vietnam as well. It's not a mistake that Saddam's military officers studied the Vietnam experience and evidently considered it in planting the seeds of a post-war insurgency before our invasion even began; nor that rebellious Shiites in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City last June were writing "Vietnam Street" on walls along their embattled avenues ("This is called Vietnam Street because this is where we kill Americans."); nor that a rebellious Sunni cleric in Falluja this week spoke about drawing the Americans into the"quagmire of Fallujah." Even giving some leeway for translation, the reference has to be to Vietnam, just as thoughts of the Vietnam"quagmire" never quite depart from the minds of Americans, top to bottom, assigned to Iraq. (As one American soldier in Samarra recently put it to a French reporter:"I don't think we're going to win this place. It's going to be like another Vietnam. We'll be here for a long time.")
"Quagmire" (or its cognates swamp, quicksand, bog, morass, sinkhole, bottomless pit) was, of course, the single most famous image of the Vietnam war -- we were being drawn in step by step and couldn't extricate ourselves -- and a strange one it was, as I've written elsewhere. After the September 11th 2001 assaults, it was, I believe, the first Vietnam image to come to mind in official Washington and in a curious form that combined the quagmire environment with the counterinsurgency idea of draining the sea. The phrase was"draining the swamp" (assumedly so that the mosquitoes and other evil creatures there would have no place left to propagate), and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used it within days of 9/11. Tony Karon of Time magazine reported on September 20, 2001 that earlier in the week Rumsfeld had said of Bin Laden and his followers in Afghanistan,"[T]he campaign would combine military, political, intelligence and diplomatic initiatives to ‘drain the swamp they live in.'"
A week later, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz addressed a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels saying,"While we'll try to find every snake in the swamp, the essence of the strategy is draining the swamp" -- and, though he didn't quite point a finger at Iraq by name, his references were clear. Everyone there had to know, even then, just two weeks after 9/11, that in his mind the snake of snakes was Saddam, and the swamp of swamps, Saddam's Iraq.
One, two, three, many Fallujas?
In Iraq, the phrase is still"drain the swamp." Falluja was actually our second attempt to drain the Iraqi"swamp" by obliterating it -- our first having been in the Old City of Najaf -- which meant of course draining out of it those hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, many of whom may have felt little sympathy for the Talibanization of Falluja but undoubtedly now feel great anger at the brutal actions of their occupiers. Unsurprisingly, the process of draining the swamp in Iraq has had the effect of turning what were previously cities into the equivalent of swamps, places fit only for those"snakes."
Parts of Falluja were evidently quite literally turned into"swamps," according to Patrick J. McDonnell of the Los Angeles Times who wrote of"[s]hattered water and sewage pipes have left pools of sewage-filled water, sometimes knee-deep." It seems that our memorial, thus far, in Iraq is a"swamp" where a city once stood. And this is supposed to be, as Jonathan Schell pointed out at Tomdispatch recently, the prelude to a democratic vote. Now that the Falluja solution is in place (actually the Najaf-solution done far more methodically), administration planners will naturally find themselves considering "Fallujah-type solutions" for Sunni Iraq's other rebellious cities. Another lesson of Vietnam was that there's a kind of grim momentum to such things.
And here's the present black humor punch line to the Iraqi joke, as McDonnell of the Los Angeles Times wrote,"Reconstruction of Fallouja is on hold as the fighting persists." There is now much press-talk about the reconstruction of Falluja, the difficult task ahead, and the challenges we face, but imagine for a minute that after nearly two years, under far better circumstances, we haven't been able to bring 24-hour a day electricity or clean water to much of Baghdad and then think about just what kind of reconstruction we can possibly do in a destroyed but not fully subjected city in the heart of the inflamed Sunni Triangle. Subject closed.
In the meantime,"draining the swamp" in such wars, it's worth remembering, is hardly a unidirectional activity. As the London Times' Jenkins comments, reaching back to Napoleon's 19th century invasion of Russia (and an early version of the quagmire image),"The Russian general, Kutusov, called Moscow ‘the sponge that will suck Napoleon dry.' Sunni Iraq is taking on the same function for the Americans." And the rebels of various factions are intent on hastening the process by performing their own grim"draining" activities -- draining away all support for the occupiers. The horrific murder of Margaret Hassan of CARE was heavily reported here. Hers was the death of an innocent and the act of brutes, but of course it only hastened the withdrawal of aid organizations from the country (which, though certainly harmful to the American effort, is undoubtedly devastating to the lives of many ordinary Iraqis).
Yet more brutal (if such things can even be measured) has been the remarkably coordinated campaign to"drain the swamp" of anyone willing to associate with the Americans, even laundrywomen on American bases, for instance, no less translators, truck drivers, or policemen. Assassinations, beheadings, the slaughter of innocents via car bombs and roadside bombs, kidnappings, murders of every sort are met on the American side, as on Friday, by the raiding of mosques and hospitals, by the use of weapons that are, by their very nature, indiscriminate in the neighborhoods of great cities. These surely are the gates of hell. It's difficult even to remember a time when Americans could have dreamt about"liberating" Iraqis. That might as well have been in another world.
Our gamblers in Washington cast the die in March 2003 and invaded Iraq based on a"theory." Now, the game is being played out ever more extremely and murderously by others on the ground. In the penultimate paragraph of a recent piece -- oh, those last, seldom-read paragraphs of news reports in our imperial press where reporters can finally slip in their hunches and opinions, usually through the words of others -- Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post quotes a"Special Forces veteran, who speaks Arabic" as summing up the situation this way:"Across Baghdad, Latifiyah, Mahmudiyah, Salman Pak, Baqubah, Balad, Taji, Baiji, Ramadi and just about everywhere else you can name, the people absolutely hate us. . . . The Iraqi people have not bought into what the Americans are selling, and no amount of military activity is going to change this fact."
Simon Jenkins writes this:
"No statement about Iraq is more absurd than that ‘we must stay to finish the job.' What job? A dozen more Fallujahs? The thesis that leaving Iraq would plunge it into anarchy and warlordism defies the facts on the ground. Iraq south of Kurdistan is in a state of anarchy already, a land of suicide bombings, kidnapping, hijackings and gangland mayhem. There is no law or order, no public administration or police or proper banking. Its streets are Wild West. The occupying force is entombed in bases it can barely defend or supply. Occasional patrols are target practice for terrorists. Iraq is a desert in which the Americans and British rule nothing but their forts, like the French Foreign Legion in the Sahara."
But perhaps the simplest way to sum up where matters may rest in Iraq today I ran across in the final lines of a recent long New York Times piece by Edward Wong and James Glanz (Rebels Attack in Central Iraq and the North):" [T]he violence [in Mosul] had calmed since then, and children could be seen playing in some parks. At one playground, Amin Muhammad, 10, and his friends raced around with plastic guns. 'We divide ourselves into two teams,' he said, 'the mujahedeen versus the American forces.'' And in their battles, he said, the mujahedeen always win."
Copyright C2004 Tom Engelhardt
[Mr. Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins, is the author of "Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime" (Anchor, 2003).]
To the role of secretary of state, Colin Powell brought enormous popularity in the U.S. and abroad, charisma and the instincts and habits of a skilled leader. He brought a fund of experience, including service as national security adviser, as well as the outlook of a prudent and moderate man. He had as his deputy a formidable friend and leader in his own right, Richard Armitage, to whom he could delegate with confidence, and on whose counsel he could rely. He won the allegiance of Foggy Bottom by doing what leaders do -- listening, making it easier for the operators to do their jobs, attending to the needs of those on the front lines.
And yet, he will not go down in history as a successful secretary of state. The two views of Mr. Powell that those about him have fostered -- loyal soldier of the administration and thwarted internal dissident -- do not quite mesh. He did not stop a war that he probably thought deeply unwise; he did not forestall a shredding of American reputation among allies and neutrals alike; he does not leave the U.S. more respected, and certainly leaves it less admired, than when he came to office.
"Not his fault," some might say, and "Who cares?" others might shrug. He was up against formidable opponents within, and intractable circumstances without, no doubt: But that is not quite enough of a response. In thinking about his tenure, and in contemplating her own path forward, the new secretary of state should think about how a superbly qualified man failed to achieve what was expected of him.
The Bush administration has two great strengths in its foreign policy: backbone, and clarity of vision. Those qualities, indispensable in time of war, have their accompanying weaknesses. Their resulting price has been sheer stubbornness, culpable tactlessness, and more dangerously, a lack of realism. Whether in dismissing the Kyoto treaty without suggesting some kind of alternative, or indeed treating seriously the problems it was meant to address; or in failing to acknowledge the errors and mistakes that have landed us in a full-blown guerrilla war in an Iraq that did not have the weapons a hapless secretary of state insisted to the world it did have, the administration has alienated more friends than it needed to, and made itself look arrogant to the point of blindness. The world gives us opponents enough: No need to cool our friends and heat our enemies by our own words and deeds.
Mr. Powell knew all that, but was not successful, in part because he did not make adequate use of the chief resource at his disposal. A secretary of state does not command a large budget or a vast work force. He or she cannot, as the secretary of defense can, send thousands of soldiers into battle, build roads, or catch terrorists. What the secretary has is, chiefly, the English language. Aside from an impassioned speech at the U.N. and a stirring evocation of the American record in Europe at Davos, Secretary Powell will leave behind no memorable words, no speeches that clarify the American position abroad, explain it at home, or guide those who must implement it.
The rhetorical function of leadership has succumbed to PowerPoint, e-mail, and telephone calls; indeed, the word "rhetoric" itself now has a pejorative connotation. But now more than ever we need rhetoric in its true sense, persuasive and illuminating speech about the troubles of our times.
As Mr. Powell's successor, Condoleezza Rice should begin by casting aside the
ungainly acronym GWOT, and the more obscure term for which it stands: the Global
War on Terror, a term that makes as much sense as if Americans had responded
to Pearl Harbor by declaring a global war on dive bombers....
Mr. Zinn's latest book is Voices of a People's History of the United States (Seven Stories Press) with co-editor Anthony Arnove
I am calling it "our" war on terrorism because I want to distinguish it from Bush's war on terrorism, and from Sharon's, and from Putin's. What their wars have in common is that they are based on an enormous deception: persuading the people of their countries that you can deal with terrorism by war. These rulers say you can end our fear of terrorism--of sudden, deadly, vicious attacks, a fear new to Americans--by drawing an enormous circle around an area of the world where terrorists come from (Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya) or can be claimed to be connected with (Iraq), and by sending in tanks and planes to bomb and terrorize whoever lives within that circle.
Since war is itself the most extreme form of terrorism, a war on terrorism is profoundly self-contradictory. Is it strange, or normal, that no major political figure has pointed this out?
Even within their limited definition of terrorism, they--the governments of the United States, Israel, Russia--are clearly failing. As I write this, three years after the events of September 11, the death toll for American servicemen has surpassed 1,000, more than 150 Russian children have died in a terrorist takeover of a school, Afghanistan is in chaos, and the number of significant terrorist attacks rose to a twenty-one-year high in 2003, according to official State Department figures. The highly respected International Institute for Strategic Studies in London has reported that "over 18,000 potential terrorists are at large with recruitment accelerating on account of Iraq."
With the failure so obvious, and the President tripping over his words trying to pretend otherwise (August 30: "I don't think you can win" and the next day: "Make no mistake about it, we are winning"), it astonishes us that the polls show a majority of Americans believing the President has done "a good job" in the war on terrorism.
I can think of two reasons for this.
First, the press and television have not played the role of gadflies, of whistleblowers, the role that the press should play in a society whose fundamental doctrine of democracy (see the Declaration of Independence) is that you must not give blind trust to the government. They have not made clear to the public--I mean vividly, dramatically clear--what have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq.
I am speaking not only of the deaths and mutilations of American youth, but the deaths and mutilations of Iraqi children. (I am reading at this moment of an American bombing of houses in the city of Fallujah, leaving four children dead, with the U.S. military saying this was part of a "precision strike" on "a building frequently used by terrorists.") I believe that the American people's natural compassion would come to the fore if they truly understood that we are terrorizing other people by our "war on terror."
A second reason that so many people accept Bush's leadership is that no counterargument has come from the opposition party. John Kerry has not challenged Bush's definition of terrorism. He has not been forthright. He has dodged and feinted, saying that Bush has waged "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time." Is there a right war, a right place, a right time? Kerry has not spoken clearly, boldly, in such a way as to appeal to the common sense of the American people, at least half of whom have turned against the war, with many more looking for the wise words that a true leader provides. He has not clearly challenged the fundamental premise of the Bush Administration: that the massive violence of war is the proper response to the kind of terrorist attack that took place on September 11, 2001.
Let us begin by recognizing that terrorist acts--the killing of innocent people to achieve some desired goal--are morally unacceptable and must be repudiated and opposed by anyone claiming to care about human rights. The September 11 attacks, the suicide bombings in Israel, the taking of hostages by Chechen nationalists--all are outside the bounds of any ethical principles.
This must be emphasized, because as soon as you suggest that it is important, to consider something other than violent retaliation, you are accused of sympathizing with the terrorists. It is a cheap way of ending a discussion without examining intelligent alternatives to present policy.
Then the question becomes: What is the appropriate way to respond to such awful acts? The answer so far, given by Bush, Sharon, and Putin, is military action. We have enough evidence now to tell us that this does not stop terrorism, may indeed provoke more terrorism, and at the same time leads to the deaths of hundreds, even thousands, of innocent people who happen to live in the vicinity of suspected terrorists.
What can account for the fact that these obviously ineffective, even counterproductive, responses have been supported by the people of Russia, Israel, the United States? It's not hard to figure that out. It is fear, a deep, paralyzing fear, a dread so profound that one's normal rational faculties are distorted, and so people rush to embrace policies that have only one thing in their favor: They make you feel that something is being done. In the absence of an alternative, in the presence of a policy vacuum, filling that vacuum with a decisive act becomes acceptable.
And when the opposition party, the opposition Presidential candidate, can offer nothing to fill that policy vacuum, the public feels it has no choice but to go along with what is being done. It is emotionally satisfying, even if rational thought suggests it does not work and cannot work.
If John Kerry cannot offer an alternative to war, then it is the responsibility of citizens, with every possible resource they can muster, to present such an alternative to the American public.
Yes, we can try to guard in every possible way against future attacks, by trying to secure airports, seaports, railroads, other centers of transportation. Yes, we can try to capture known terrorists. But neither of those actions can bring an end to terrorism, which comes from the fact that millions of people in the Middle East and elsewhere are angered by American policies, and out of these millions come those who will carry their anger to fanatic extremes.
The CIA senior terrorism analyst who has written a book signed "Anonymous" has said bluntly that U.S. policies--supporting Sharon, making war on Afghanistan and Iraq--"are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world."
Unless we reexamine our policies--our quartering of soldiers in a hundred countries (the quartering of foreign soldiers, remember, was one of the grievances of the American revolutionaries), our support of the occupation of Palestinian lands, our insistence on controlling the oil of the Middle East--we will always live in fear. If we were to announce that we will reconsider those policies, and began to change them, we might start to dry up the huge reservoir of hatred where terrorists are hatched.
Whoever the next President will be, it is up to the American people to demand
that he begin a bold reconsideration of the role our country should play in
the world. That is the only possible solution to a future of never-ending, pervasive
fear. That would be "our" war on terrorism.
[Anthony Pagden is professor of political science and history at UCLA and the author of "Peoples and Empires" (Modern Library).]
In the 1960s, as Europe's once-proud empires shed their remaining colonies, "empire" became a dirty word. The Soviet Union alone was one, and an evil one at that. Only enemies of the United States used the slanderous term against this country and its "imperialist" policies.
Long before American troops' well-televised push into Fallouja, however, things had begun to change.
Books with titles such as "The Sorrows of Empire," "America's Inadvertent Empire," "Resurrecting Empire" and "The Obligation of Empire" appeared almost daily, offering positions both for and against.
Influential journalists, including Robert Kaplan, have likened the U.S. to Rome in its struggle with Carthage. Historians such as Niall Ferguson and, in a more muted tone, Michael Ignatieff (one British, the other Canadian) have pointed to parallels with the British empire -- which they suggest the U.S. do more to emulate.
In short, at a time when there is again but one remaining empire, the term's respectability has been revived.
But is the U.S. really an empire?
Of course, the U.S. often acts like former imperial powers, and its leaders sometimes sound like them. "If we have to use force, it is because we are America," Madeleine Albright, then the secretary of State, declared in 1998. "We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."
No Roman consul could have put it better.
Like any great empire, the U.S. has client states and subservient allies. It also has a string of military bases around the globe, which some see as a global empire. But if military power alone were all that was needed to be an empire, neither Rome nor Britain, both of which relied on foreign-born troops to do their fighting, would have qualified.
Although it is stylish these days to speak of a Pax Americana, 21st century America bears not the slightest resemblance to ancient Rome, and very little to 19th century Britain. It has no significant overseas settler populations in any of its 14 formal dependencies, as all previous European empires had, and no obvious desire to acquire any. It does not conceive the control it exercises beyond its borders as constituting a form of citizenship, as nearly all European, and many Asian, empires did. It exercises no direct rule anywhere outside these areas. And it has always attempted to extricate itself as swiftly as possible from anything that looks as if it were about to develop into even indirect rule.
Nineteenth century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes once said that he would colonize the stars if he could. Today in the U.S., it is hard to imagine even Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz harboring such desires.
There is one similarity between the American, British and Roman empires. All claim to be shouldering some version of what Rudyard Kipling famously called the "white man's burden." For the U.S., this has meant democracy. But even this analogy will not stand for long.
"An empire," declared the Roman historian Livy at the end of the 1st century BC, "remains powerful so long as its subjects rejoice in it." When the Roman empire fell, it was not destroyed by rebellious subjects but by nomadic tribesmen eager to acquire what they did not have and could not produce.
The British, with rather less success, tried to impose what Lord Macaulay in 1833 called "better government ... European knowledge and European institutions." That is not far from what George W. Bush calls "freedom."
The difference -- and it is crucial -- is that the British sought to impose it upon peoples who were assumed neither to understand nor to desire what they were being offered. One day, it was hoped, the subject peoples would come round, as Macaulay put it, to "demanding" a European constitution, and this in his view would be "the proudest day in English history." But until that day dawned, the English would remain firmly in place.
The U.S., however, assumes that everyone understands freedom and democracy and that most appreciate the opportunity to embrace these ideals. Remove those who don't -- those who stand to lose in a democracy -- and everything will sort itself out for the best....
Even so resolute an imperialist as Teddy Roosevelt could not finally imagine turning Cuba or the Philippines into colonies. When the U.S. has brought states under its control, it has incorporated them into the nation as a sovereign body ( Hawaii, Alaska) or returned them to their native rulers ( Cuba, the Philippines).
Colonialism is unacceptable partly because the U.S. came into existence by an anti-colonial revolt and, even during 1898, when the U.S. came as close as it has ever done to acquiring an overseas empire, most Americans claimed to look upon empire-building as a matter for Europeans. It is unacceptable also because colonization, especially when there are large native populations to be controlled, inevitably require sharing some sovereignty with them. This is how the Romans ruled their empire, and it is how the British governed India.
The U.S., however, cannot do this because to do so would be to menace the integrity of the nation by, in effect, creating different levels of citizenship. The major exception to this rule is, of course, Puerto Rico. But the continuing debate about what to do with this commonwealth and the fact that everyone sees Washington's relation to the island as an anomaly prove the rule....
If circumstance compels the U.S. to prolong its presence and increase the size of what is, in effect, an army of occupation, then Washington may soon see a need to transform Iraq into a colony or at least what the British called a "protectorate," because the only alternative is inconceivable: making Iraq the 51st state.
Americans should reject any such notions. When either detractors or defenders of American foreign policy represent the U.S. as an expansionist empire imposing some latter-day version of the "white man's burden" on the world, they are not just being historically misleading. They are courting political danger.
As Alexis de Tocqueville warned prophetically of France's invasion of Algeria in 1830, no nation can acquire an empire without finding itself radically transformed. Rome was a republic when it acquired its empire. It ended its days as a tyranny.
"Education by murder" describes the slow and painful way people wake up to the problem of radical Islam. It took 3,000 deaths to wake up Americans, or at least to wake up the half of them who are conservative. Likewise, it took hundreds of deaths in the Bali explosion to semi-wake up Australians; it took the Madrid assault for Spaniards, and the Beslan atrocity for Russians. Twelve workers beheaded in Iraq awoke the Nepalese.
But it took just one death to wake up many Dutch. Indeed, one gruesome killing may have done more to arouse the Netherlands than September 11, 2001, did for Americans.
The reason for this lies in the identity of the victim and the nature of the crime. He was Theo van Gogh, 47, a well-known radical libertarian, a filmmaker, television producer, talk show host, newspaper columnist, and all-around mischief-maker who enjoyed the distinction of being a relative of one of Holland's most renowned artists, Vincent van Gogh. In recent years, Theo garnered attention by critiquing Islam (in a 2003 book Allah Knows Best and a 2004 film Submission).
He was murdered at 8:40 a.m. on November 2 in his hometown of Amsterdam while bicycling down a busy street to work. In the course of being shot repeatedly, Van Gogh beseeched his killer, "Don't do it. Don't do it. Have mercy. Have mercy!" Then the killer stabbed his chest with one knife and slit his throat with another, nearly decapitating van Gogh.
The presumed murderer, Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, a Dutch-born dual Moroccan-Dutch citizen, left a five-page note in both Arabic and Dutch attached to Van Gogh's body with a knife. In it he threatened jihad against the West in general, ("I surely know that you, Oh Europe, will be destroyed"), and specifically against five prominent Dutch political figures.
Police investigators quickly realized that the assassin was an Islamist whom they knew well and had been following until just two weeks earlier; they also placed him in the "Hofstadgroep" network and charged him and six of his associates with "conspiracy with a terrorist intent." The authorities additionally asserted that these had possible connections to the Takfir wa'l-Hijra and Al Qaeda terrorist groups.
That a non-Muslim critic of Islam was ritually murdered for artistically expressing his views was something without precedent, not just in Holland but anywhere in the West. Dutch revulsion at the deed shook the deep complacency of what is perhaps the world's most tolerant society. The immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, one of the five persons threatened, publicly rued the country's having long ignored the presence of radical Islam. "For too long we have said we had a multicultural society and everyone would simply find each other. We were too naïve in thinking people would exist in society together."
Jozias van Aartsen, parliamentary leader of the VVD party, went further, warning that "jihad has come to the Netherlands and a small group of jihadist terrorists is attacking the principles of our country. These people don't want to change our society, they want to destroy it."
One day after the murder, 20,000 demonstrators gathered to denounce the killing, and 30 people were arrested for inciting hatred against Muslims. The interior minister, Johan Remkes, announced that he could not rule out unrest. "The climate is seriously hardened." Proving him right, the next two weeks saw more than 20 arson and bombing attacks and counterattacks on mosques, churches, and other institutions, plus some major police raids, giving the country the feel of a small-scale civil war.
Dutch attitudes toward Muslims immediately and dramatically hardened.. A poll found 40% of the population wanting the nearly million-strong Muslim community no longer to feel at home in the Netherlands. Double that number endorsed more stringent policies toward immigrants.
De Telegraaf, a leading paper, published an editorial unimaginable before the van Gogh murder calling for "a very public crackdown on extremist Muslim fanatics." Even left-wing politicians woke up to the need to speak "harsh truths" about immigration, focusing on the disproportionate criminality of Muslims.
Islamist terrorism in the West is counterproductive because it awakens the sleeping masses; in brief, jihad provokes crusade. A more cunning Islamist enemy would advance its totalitarian agenda through Mafia-like intimidation, not brazen murders.
But if Islamists do continue with overt terrorism, the tough Dutch response will everywhere be replicated.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Many Westerners thought, or preferred or pretended to believe, that he was talking about the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and constituting 22 percent of historic Palestine. But they were belittling the man and his dream. Mr. Arafat didn't want and never really acquiesced in the idea of a stunted West Bank-Gaza state. And in his vision Mr. Arafat accurately reflected the general will of his people - as he had throughout his life on all major issues, which was the secret behind the longevity of his rule (he headed the Palestine Liberation Organization from 1969 to 2004).
For all Palestinians, from the fundamentalist Islamic Jihad to Mr. Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement, the tragedy of Palestine and the "occupation" began not in 1967 or even 1917 but in 1882, when the first Zionist settler set foot in Palestine. And in 1948 and 1949, the state of Israel was established on 78 percent of Palestine and some two-thirds of Palestine's Arab population was displaced.
When Mr. Arafat set out as a young engineer in the Palestinian Diaspora to bring justice to his people, he thought and spoke, clearly and insistently, of the return of the Palestinians to Palestine and the return of Palestine to its "rightful owners." Nothing less. That is what Mr. Arafat strove for all his life, wavering only on tactics and strategy, not on the goal. By the 1990's he understood that only a combination of political-diplomatic stratagems (resulting in international - meaning mainly American - pressure on Israel), terrorism and demographics would do the job, producing a Palestine with an Arab majority.
Whatever deluded Westerners might believe, Mr. Arafat was no liberal, taking account of others' views and feelings and seeking solutions through conciliation and compromise. In Mr. Arafat's eyes and those of his people, there is only one justice: Palestinian justice. Only what the Palestinians believe and seek is just. That is why, according to Dennis Ross, former chief American negotiator in the Middle East, Mr. Arafat insisted at Camp David in July 2000, to President Bill Clinton's astonishment and chagrin, that there had never been a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The small, walled hillock, called the Noble Sanctuary, with its two mosques, was an Islamic Arab site. That alone. And so there had to be sole Palestinian Arab sovereignty over the site.
Of course, Mr. Arafat was actually making a more comprehensive point - that all of Palestine belonged rightfully to the Palestinians and that Jewish claims lacked any legitimacy. That was why he turned down the peace proposals of Mr. Barak in July 2000 and the proposals from Mr. Clinton the following December. It was not because Mr. Barak had declined to kiss both his cheeks or because the Palestinians wanted an additional sliver of land here or there.
Mr. Arafat said no because he refused to accept any settlement that did not include a mechanism for its future subversion, a loophole that would allow the Palestinians, down the road, to undermine its two-state core - specifically, the "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory. Such a return would, of course, spell Israel's demise. (Israel currently has a population of about 5 million Jews and almost 1.3 million Arabs; there are some 4 million Palestinians registered as refugees by the United Nations.) In short, Mr. Arafat wanted "Palestine," all of it, not a watered-down 22 percent solution.
Yet Mr. Arafat needed to take account of Israel's presence and power, and of the international community's endorsement of Jewish statehood. So on the road to realizing his vision, he had on occasion to make ephemeral tactical concessions, like renouncing terrorism in 1988 and recognizing Israel's right to exist as part of the 1993 Oslo agreement. ...
Amid the left's general dismay, a major anniversary just came and went without much notice. Thirty-five years ago last week Richard Nixon delivered his famous "Silent Majority" speech. In deep doo-doo after the biggest anti-war march in American history—a march in which middle-class squares far outnumbered wild-eyed hippies—Nixon went on TV before the largest audience ever for a presidential address. A treacherous minority wanted to get out of Vietnam at any cost, he explained (he mentioned a protest sign he saw in, of course, San Francisco: "Lose in Vietnam, Bring the Boys Home"). But the "great silent majority" knew better: that "the minority who hold that point of view and try to impose it on the nation by mounting demonstrations in the street" were not really moral.
We have "values," they do not: The message was Nixon's most enduring contribution to Republican politicking.
Something else happened that week. Telegrams of approval poured into the White House, glowing letters to the editor appeared in newspapers across the nation. Nixon proudly displayed them to reporters, who duly reported a grassroots outpouring of support for the president.
Only later, during the Watergate investigations, was it revealed that the White House ran a sophisticated operation to produce fake telegrams and letters to the editor after major presidential addresses. That's the difference between then and now. Now, the media tell the stories the White House needs told without any external prompting.
The idea that last week's election results show that there is a great silent majority of Americans who vote first and foremost on their moral values, which means that they vote for the Republicans, has become gospel on our nation's airwaves by now. It is nonsense on stilts. Bush didn't win this election on "moral values." It turns out he didn't do any better among strong churchgoers, or rural voters, than he did in 2000. What was it that actually put him over the top? It's the wealth, stupid.
Pundits blow hot air. Political scientists crunch numbers. On his blog Polysigh, my favorite political scientist, Phil Klinkner, ran a simple exercise. Multiplying the turnout among a certain group by the percent who went for Bush yields a number electoral statisticians call "performance." Among heavy churchgoers, Bush's performance last time was 25 percent (turnout, 42 percent; percentage of vote, 59 percent). This time out it was also 25 percent—no change. Slightly lower turnout (41 percent), slightly higher rate of vote (61 percent).
Where did the lion's share of the extra votes come from that gave George Bush his mighty, mighty mandate of 51 percent? "Two of those points," Klinkner said when reached by phone, "came solely from people making over a 100 grand." The people who won the election for him—his only significant improvement over his performance four years ago—were rich people, voting for more right-wing class warfare.
Their portion of the electorate went from 15 percent in 2000 to 18 percent this year. Support for Bush among them went from 54 percent to 58 percent. "It made me think about that scene in Fahrenheit 9/11," says Klinkner, the one where Bush joked at a white-tie gala about the "haves" and the "have-mores": "Some people call you the elite," Bush said. "I call you my base."...
What are your first impressions of President Bush's re-election?
I think it is a catastrophic result for the Democrats. The party lost seats in the Senate, lost seats in the House, did not pick up any governorships. The Senate Minority Leader, [Thomas] Daschle [D-S.D.], lost. And Bush, in the middle of an unpopular war that's not going particularly well, with the price of oil over $50 a barrel and the most negative drumbeat of stories I can remember about foreign policy, wins with a popular vote majority of 3.5 million. It's astonishing.
Does this indicate that the pundits were wrong in thinking that foreign policy would play that big a role in the election?
There has been a lot of talk about moral values being the issue that moved a lot of the voters to the polls. But I think moral values include foreign policy as well as domestic policy, in the sense that it includes standing up to terrorists and being a straight-shooter. I think a lot of people perceived that foreign policy was connected to Bush's domestic policy. So I think it means that voters may not always make the sharp divisions between foreign policy and domestic policy that wonks tend to make.
Even though Kerry won a lot of electoral votes from big states like New York, Illinois, and California, there seems to be a disconnect between the broad mass of voters and the Democratic Party establishment.
Another thing to think about is that the states that the Democrats are winning are states that continue to lose population. If this time Bush had won exactly the same states he won last time, and Kerry won exactly the same states [as Democratic nominee Al Gore won in the 2000 election], Bush's electoral count would've been up by eight because of the redistricting that comes after the census. So six years from now we'll have another census, and presumably a state like Arizona will gain electoral votes, while states like Massachusetts, New York--it used to be the biggest state in the union, when I was a kid--will continue to lose electoral votes. The power is tilting away from the Democratic establishment, the Democratic parts of the country, to these new places and new people.
At this point, are you able to speculate a bit on Bush's place in history? He is obviously a strong campaigner.
I think a lot is going to depend on the situation in Iraq. Bush essentially has no excuses now: he has a mandate, he has both houses of Congress, and he is in full control of the foreign policy machinery. The war in Iraq is one that he chose, that he planned, that he has led. Bush is going to look pretty good if even two years from now Iraq is more or less pacified, and there is a government that is at least, in some ways, better than Saddam Hussein, and you have an island of stability in the middle of the Middle East. In retrospect he will look like a visionary, and people will forget all the ups and downs. When people now think of the Mexican War, they think about it as this quick, glorious dash. But in fact [President James] Polk had terrible problems during the Mexican War [1846-1848].
You mean politically, at home?
Yes. Politically, at home, there were questions like, "Will those Mexicans ever negotiate?" "Are we stuck in this quagmire?" And this was a war that ended with the United States getting a whole lot of territory. Likewise, if you think about the Filipino insurrection after the Spanish-American War, I think we lost significantly more troops in suppressing that insurrection than we did in the Iraq war. [American casualties in the Filipino guerrilla war are estimated at 4,000 killed and 3,000 wounded]. What's interesting is that by 1910, even people like Teddy Roosevelt, who himself was an arch-imperialist, were saying that it was a strategic mistake to take the Philippines because it gave us an Achilles heel exposed to Japan. So here you have a war with thousands of U.S. casualties to capture a place that we then basically spent the next 30 years trying to figure out how to get rid of. Yet nobody who supported that war ever paid a political price, and everybody who opposed the w ar paid a political price. And conceivably, if the war in Iraq goes even reasonably well, Bush looks good.
Daniel Pipes, in the NY Sun (Nov. 9, 2004):
"I think it's very important for our friends, the Israelis, to have a peaceful Palestinian state living on their border. And it's very important for the Palestinian people to have a peaceful, hopeful future." So spoke President Bush just two days after his re-election, just exactly as news reports were leaking Yasser Arafat's demise.
The combination of Mr. Bush's stunning new mandate and Mr. Arafat's near-death condition will lead, I predict, to a quick revival of Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy after months of relative doldrums and to massive dangers to Israel.
The doldrums will cease because the Bush administration views Mr. Arafat as the main impediment to achieving its vision - articulated above by the president - of achieving a"Palestine" living in harmony side-by-side with Israel. As Mr. Arafat exits the political stage, taking with him his stench of terrorism, corruption, extremism, and tyranny, Washington will jump to make its vision a reality, perhaps as soon as this Thursday, when the British prime minister ("I have long argued that the need to revitalize the Middle East peace process is the single most pressing political challenge in our world today") comes to town.
This observer expects that the president's efforts will not just fail but - like so much prior Arab-Israeli diplomacy - have a counterproductive effect. I say this for two reasons, one having to do with his own understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the other having to do with the situation on the ground in the Palestinian territories.
Mr. Bush's understanding: The president's major statement of June 2002 remains the guideline to his goals vis-à-vis this conflict. In it, he outlined his vision for a"provisional" Palestinian state and called on Israel to end what he called its"settlement activity in the occupied territories." As these two steps make up the heart of the Palestinian Arab program, the president was effectively inviting the Palestinian Arabs to behave themselves for an interval, long enough to collect these rewards, and then go back on the warpath.
Instead, the president should have told the Palestinian Arabs that they need unequivocally and permanently to accept that Israel is now and will always remain a Jewish state; in addition, they need to renounce violence against it. Furthermore, this change of heart must be visible in the schools, press, mosques, and political rhetoric before any discussion of benefits can begin.
But Mr. Bush did not make these demands, so, as Eli Lake has reported in The New York Sun, his approach translates into likely pressure on Israel.
Situation on the ground: There will be no successor to Mr. Arafat - he made sure of that through his endless manipulations, tricks, and schemes. Instead, this is the moment of the gunmen. Whether they fight for criminal gangs, warlords, security services, or ideological groups like Hamas, militiamen grasping for land and treasure will dominate the Palestinian scene for months or years ahead. The sort of persons familiar from past diplomacy or from TV commentaries - Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qurei, et al. - lack gunmen, and so will have limited relevance going forward.
The Palestinian territories have already descended into a hellish anarchy and circumstances will probably worsen as the strongmen struggle for power. Eventually, two of them will emerge with the ability to negotiate with the Israelis and Americans.
Note, two of them. The geographic division of the West Bank and Gaza, of only minor import until now, looms large upon Mr. Arafat's passing. As Jonathan Schanzer has suggested, whoever rules in the one unit is unlikely to gain traction in the other, making the notion of a"Palestine" that much more difficult to promote.
Two Palestines, anyone?
In conclusion, Israel has been spared from unremitting American pressure during the past three years only because Mr. Arafat continued to deploy the terrorism weapon, thereby alienating the American president and aborting his diplomacy. Thanks to growing anarchy in the Palestinian Arab territories, Israel will probably remain"lucky" for some time to come.
But this grace period will come to an end once clever and powerful Palestinian Arab leaders realize that by holding off the violence for a decent interval, they can rely on Israel's only major ally pressuring the Jewish state into making unprecedented concessions. I doubt this will happen on Mr. Bush's watch, but if it does, I foresee potentially the most severe crisis ever in U.S.-Israel relations.
One of the ugliest elections in American presidential history is over but the deep divide in the country is anything but.
For all the talk about the economy, job losses, budget deficits and health insurance as well as terrorism, Iraq, and the character flaws of both men - one a flip-flopper and the other a flimflam man - the compelling issue seems to have been cultural values. Where voters stood on abortion, gay rights, gun control, stem-cell research and religious faith was apparently more important than other public policies.
Conservative states - red on the map - seem to have ignored Bush's generally poor record in both domestic and foreign affairs to keep someone in the White House who reflected their outlook on American values and their seeming indifference to world opinion. The more progressive blue states cast their ballots less for Kerry and more against Bush. His ultra-conservatism - which they saw reflected in his tax cuts, faith-based initiative, appointment of John Ashcroft as Attorney General, judicial selections, stingy backing of stem-cell studies, abuse of civil liberties, support of a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, and a distinctly limited coalition fighting a questionable war in Iraq - deeply offended them.
The anger toward the President and closely divided popular and electoral votes can be seen as "an alarm bell in the night", to quote what Thomas Jefferson said in 1820 about the dangers to the Union from the growing national divide over slavery.
The current cultural split in the United States is reminiscent of the bitter conflict in the 1920s between urban modernists and rural fundamentalists. For the first time in its history, more Americans, including millions of southern and eastern European immigrants who had flooded into the country in the previous 50 years, were living in cities of 100,000 or more.
Farmers and small-town residents, seeing a danger to the traditional way of American life from the attitudes of city dwellers, won passage of a Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution, the National Origins Act establishing ethnic quotas favouring north-western Europeans. They resurrected a Ku Klux Klan preaching anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and 100 per cent "Americanism", which meant strict segregation of southern blacks and bars against teaching evolution in the schools.
The famous Scopes trial pitted William Jennings Bryan, representing the state of Tennessee, against the Chicago attorney Clarence Darrow defending the biology teacher John Scopes. The trial encapsulated the national tensions between church-going, bible-reading Americans in rural areas across the South and Middle West and big city sophisticates contemptuous of their "backwater" compatriots.
Somewhat like the 2000 and 2004 elections, Scopes was a clash of the coasts and big cities in the upper Midwest on one hand, and the millions of generally less educated, white Protestants in the South and prairie states, on the other....
What comes next? If Bush pushes his conservative agenda in a second term, trying to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade abortion ruling by appointing ultra conservative justices to the Supreme Court, for example, it will deepen the antagonisms in the country and likely produce an explosion of opposition reminiscent of the antiwar movement of the Sixties.
By contrast, if Bush consults the larger national interest, finds an early exit strategy for Iraq and tempers his conservative social agenda, he could ease the almost palpable anger of Democrats and leave a legacy of reasonably successful leadership. With control of both Houses of Congress and numerous judicial appointments likely to be available in the next four years, Bush's historical reputation will be very much in his own hands. On the basis of his first term, which I and many others see as a failure, Bush will go down as one of the worst Presidents of the past 100 years. He needs a second term to rectify the damage done in the first.
Tom Engelhardt, editor of TomDispatch.com (Nov. 4, 2004):
[Mr. Engelhardt is the author of THE END OF VICTORY CULTURE and co-editor of HISTORY WARS, THE ENOLA GAY AND OTHER BATTLES FOR THE AMERICAN PAST.]
How can I not start on a personal note today? Election night was a roller coaster. I had written http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=1967 a piece a day earlier in which I had expressed guarded optimism about the prospects of experiencing 2005 without George Bush. By Tuesday evening, with hopeful exit polls pouring in, I was pumped. Optimism surged. Phone calls with friends, exchanging bits of half-baked information, only added to the effect. My children arrived; the TV went on; friends began to drop by. I actually found a bottle of champagne, probably years old, and put it on ice. A moment of madness -- and hope.
And then, worst of all, I realized I was experiencing a startling surge of relief, of happiness, of well-being. Whatever it was, it coursed through my body and made me realize how deeply George Bush and his cronies had gotten under my skin. And then, of course, slowly, ever so slowly, it began -- with me saying again and again as one state after another turned red on various TV channels: That was expected; that was expected; that was expected.
This morning, a wonderful young friend, guessing my mood, e-mailed me to say that, even if I felt terrible, at least the election results would be good for Tomdispatch. He may be right. Four more years of Bush folly and horror, how perfect for an oppositional blog. But unfortunately there's a problem, since Tomdispatch, as it happens, is just me, and I feel mighty drear today. If the news isn't good for Tom Engelhardt, how can it be good for Tomdispatch?
Now, I look at my son and I imagine a draft. I look at him and I think of the young Americans who should never have been but are desperately in harm's way in Iraq. I think of the Iraqis and try to wrap my brain around the next 100,000 of them who will die in the urban killing fields of that country, while the second Bush administration pursues its mad, murderous policies. I think about those northern glaciers and the polar ice, and try to imagine them gone in a globally warmed world. I think about being in the heart of the heart of a vast (possibly failing) empire and my heart sinks -- and so, unfortunately, does Tomdispatch's.
I think of the possibly dying Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has held on these extra years by the skin of her teeth, and I remember all too well what it meant in the years of my young manhood to search for a back-alley abortionist, and then I wonder what the Bush court of 2006 will say when the next set of Guantanamo-like cases reach it, or when other U.S. citizens, even perhaps some without names like Hamdi, find themselves jailed on the President's whim. I think of the hideous and useless new weapons systems on which our money will now be squandered. I think of the administration's race to militarize space, as if there weren't enough advanced weapons on our own planet. I think about the neocons, hidden away these last months, who will undoubtedly return oh-so-eager to take a whack at Syria or Iran or North Korea or who knows where else.
I think about the very concept of governing checks and balances -- inexorably slipping away these last decades -- in a world in which the Bush administration controls the White House, Congress, and the courts, and in which the President now has his own political people running his own secret armed intelligence agency, the CIA. And I think about that greatest check and balance of all, the one between our government and a country which, in its relatively short history, has often enough been convulsed by spiritual awakenings and -- yes, what other word can we use -- crusades of every sort, now that the political and religious are increasingly combined in the body of a single man, our President.
In the meantime, a little over half of voting Americans -- and there were a lot of voting Americans this time around -- have now signed on to the rashest presidency in our history (short perhaps of that of Jefferson Davis); they have signed on to a disastrous crime of a war in Iraq, and a losing war at that which will only get worse; they have signed on to whatever dangerous schemes these schemers can come up with. They have signed on to their own impoverishment. This is the political version of the volunteer Army. Now, they have to live with it. Unfortunately, so do we.
My small guarantee. Much of this will change over the years to come. This world of ours already spins on a dime, economically, politically, militarily, environmentally. (Just wait, for instance, until the tactic being developed in Iraq, thanks to our President, the blowing up of oil pipelines, spreads beyond that country's boundaries, as it certainly will, and then check out oil prices and the stock market.) But, to sound a small note of hope, as the world spins on a dime, so often do administrations. And you just never know when one of them will indeed implode. Take Richard Nixon, who sailed through a disastrous war in Vietnam and into office as second time in 1972 on a veritable landslide of votes, and then slide slowly into Watergate and disgrace. These will not be quiet years and, I suspect, they will not prove good ones for George Bush.
I noticed a tiny piece today. Not 24 hours after the election, the Hungarian government announced that, with one more three-month extension, it would, by the end of March, withdraw its 300 troops from our mighty coalition in Iraq. It's a miniscule statement. Easy to miss. No one here is even likely to notice. But consider it a tiny, polite omen. The United States is obviously the 800-pound gorilla in any global "room," but in the coming years much of the rest of the world will have little choice, distaste aside, but to do its best to figure out how to turn backs on, or work ways around, or cut out of the mix this country and its aggressive, treaty-eating, go-it-alone rulers -- its "Moolas" (as George Bush called the Iranian mullahs in one of the presidential debates, as you might speak of "simoleons").
I predict that, within a short space of time, we will find ourselves -- if I can coin a phrase -- an imperial pariah. The Bush administration demanded the right to go it alone. Now they may have no choice but to do so, and the "tribute" any empire can demand of its allies and subject nations may trickle into our economy far too slowly for anything but terrible times, just as the world's oil economy begins to spring endless leaks.
There can be no comfort in predicting bad times, and only small comfort, given what will certainly lie ahead, in the impressive surge of activism that accompanied this election even if, matched from the other side, it could not win it. But we should all take modest heart, not in the pious babble of John Kerry in concession and George Bush in triumph talking about healing the wounds and bridging the splits in our polarized land. No, we should remember that they -- the Republicans -- had decades to organize themselves, and they've had power as well. We've had only the barest few years since George Bush conjured us up from quiescence. How can we really be surprised?
In some ways it's already remarkable what's occurred. The war the President started has chased him to the polls. He wasn't a sitting war president, he was a fleeing one -- even if, thanks to Karl Rove and others, a fleet enough one as well. Now, he's elected but soon enough he'll find out that he's going to have to keep on running.
In the meantime for us, for me, there's the hangover from an election -- many elections -- lost. Tomorrow, or in the days or weeks or months thereafter, an antiwar movement of growing power will undoubtedly come into being. Is there really a choice? In the meantime, there's always the present to deal with.
Deep into election night, my wife wept in her sleep, and I arose in the morning with my jaw locked tight and the mood-hangover of a lifetime. But we're a protective species. I got up, skipped the television news, took a desultory few-minute wander around the Internet, got dressed, grabbed my usual breakfast, went out and bought my hometown paper. I glanced at the headline, "Bush Holds Lead," already knowing he had done more than that, and then I did the protective thing. I found "the Arts" section, triple folded the paper in that identifiably New York way at the crossword puzzle, pulled out a pen, and while walking down Broadway toward the subway, began to fill it in.
A small, ordinary, everyday pleasure. And it did calm me. Tonight, I'll go home and watch the Knicks season opener. (I start all New York sports seasons -- Knicks, Mets, Giants -- with hope but always prepared to follow my team right to the end, right into fan hell.) Ordinary life, it's what we all want most of the time. And we try always to hang onto it, most of the time, under the worst of circumstances, however mild or horrific they might be, in New York or Dayton or Baghdad or Beijing.
Here in New York City, we don't exactly specialize in starry skies. And the other night when the moon was actually in eclipse and you could see it, miraculously, from our street corner (as my wife did), I'm embarrassed to say I was tired and caught it from the couch on TV instead. But I'm still capable of conjuring a sky-worth of the universe, the sort of sky that stretches from horizon to horizon and leaves you feeling awed, and oh so very small. Sometimes that can be a scary feeling, but sometimes -- as now -- it's worth remembering anyway. Sometimes, on the nights when everything imaginable goes wrong, it's worth reminding yourself that we're just one species -- the whole lot of us -- on a tiny planet at the edge of a not so grandiose galaxy, one of only god knows how many. It's worth remembering that it's not, as they say, the end of the world. Tom
[Mark LeVine, History, University of California, Irvine]
Three years ago, as the pungent odor of what was left of the World Trade Center slowly pervaded my neighborhood, I wrote a piece called “We’re all Israelis Now.” I didn’t invent the idea; in the hours since the attacks I had heard several commentators say essentially the same thing, although our meanings were in fact diametrically opposed. For them, the September 11 attacks had constituted a tragic wake up call to America about the mortal threat posed by Muslim terrorism, which Israel had been living through for decades and whose methods the US would now have to copy if it wanted to “win the war on terror.”
For me, however, the attacks suggested a more troubling scenario: That like Israelis, Americans would never face the causes of the extreme violence perpetrated against us by those whose oppression we have supported and even enforced, and engage in the honest introspection of what our role has been in generating the kind of hatred that turns commuter jets into cruise missiles. Instead, my gut told me that we’d acquiesce to President Bush’s use of the war to realize the long-held imperial, even apocalyptic visions of the neoliberal Right, ones that find great sympathy with its Israeli counterpart.
As I watch George W. Bush celebrate his reelection I realize I never could have imagined just how much like Israelis we would become. Think about it: in Israel, the majority of Jewish citizens support the policies of Ariel Sharon despite the large-scale, systematic (and according to international law, criminal) violence his government deploys against Palestinian society, despite the worsening economic situation for the lower middle class religious voters who constitute his main base of support, despite rising international opprobrium and isolation. Sound familiar?
As for the country’s “liberal” opposition, it’s in a shambles, politically and morally bankrupt because in fact it was a willing participant in creating and preserving the system that is now eating away at the heart of Israeli society. Aside from occasional plaintive oped pieces by members of its progressive wing, the Labor Party can and will do nothing fundamentally to challenge Sharon’s policies. Why? Because they reflect an impulse, nurtured by the Labor movement during its decades in power, that is buried deep in the heart of Zionism: to build an exclusively Jewish society on as much of the ancient homeland as possible, with little regard for the fate of the country’s native inhabitants.
As any native American will remind us, America was built on a similar holy quest. So it shouldn’t surprise us that the parallels between Israel’s mini-empire and America’s Iraq adventure are striking.
It’s not just that America’s occupation is faring as terribly as Israel’s. In the last week--with more than enough time to influence the election--doctors from America’s leading research hospitals published a study demonstrating that US forces have killed upwards of 100,000 Iraqis, the majority of them women and children killed by American bombs. Yet before November 2 Americans could at least say they weren’t directly responsible for the disaster that has unfolded there in Iraq, since an unelected President had taken the country to war under false pretenses. No more. As of today, American society has declared its support for the invasion, and as such is morally and politically culpable for every single one of those 100,000 dead, and every single one of the tens of thousands of deaths that are sure to follow.
To put it bluntly, Americans have chosen to return a man to the White House who has supervised the killing of more civilians than Slobodan Milosevic. We have signed onto a President who sanctions torture, who wantonly rejects any international treaty--Kyoto, the ABM and the International Criminal Court--that doesn’t suit his messianic agenda. Who truly believes “God Almighty” is on his side.
America, in short, has become a criminal nation, and it must be stopped. (Yes, there are many other criminal nations, but aside from Israel how many even have the pretense of democracy? Russia? The Sudan? China? India is perhaps one; and given its sordid occupation of Kashmir it shouldn’t surprise that a US-India-Israel axis of occupation and Islamophobia is one of the most prominent features of the world’s geo-strategic post-9/11 landscape.)
In Israel most citizens know full well the realities of their occupation; even right-wing newspapers routinely publish articles that describe its details with enough clarity to make any ignorance willful. This dynamic is in fact why Israelis have responded to the civil war with Palestinians by increasing the dehumanization of the occupation, accompanied by a fervent practice of getting on with life no matter what’s happening ten or fifteen miles away in “the Territories.” The alternative, actually working to stop the insanity of the occupation, would lead to much more hatred and violence within Israel and between Jews than Palestinians could ever hope to inflict on Israeli society from the outside.
The situation is almost identical vis-à-vis the American perspective on Iraq. Abu Ghraib? Mass civilian casualties caused by a war launched on demonstrably false pretenses? The erosion of civil liberties? The transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payer money (not to mention Iraqi resources and capital) by the US government to its corporate allies? To more than 70% of America’s eligible votes--that is, the approximately thirty percent that voted for Bush and the forty percent that didn’t feel this situation was compelling enough to warrant their taking the time to vote--none of it really matters. America is great and strong and can do what it wants, and to hell with anyone who gets in our way, especially if they fight back.
The numbing acceptance of large scale and systematic violence perpetrated by the state as a normal part of its exercise of power and the willingness of a plurality of the electorate to support parties and policies which are manifestly against their economic and social interests (as demonstrated by the increase in poverty and economic insecurity across the board in Israel and the US produced by the last two decades of neoliberalism) sadly characterize both societies today. This is why I never shared the optimism friends who thought this situation would help elect Kerry. Like Israel’s Barak or Peres, in the context of a post-9/11 militant globalization, John Kerry offered Americans little more than Bush lite on the most crucial issue of the day. In America’s increasingly obese culture, is there any wonder we chose SuperSize over Nutrasweet?
So here we are, three years after the tragic day of 9/11. The smell of charred metal, fuel and flesh no longer pervades the five boroughs of New York; instead it wafts across the major cities of Iraq (where most Americans don’t have to smell it, but I can attest from personal experience that the odor in Baghdad is as pungent as in Queens). The Bush Administration is free to proceed with a violently imperialist foreign policy with little fear of repercussion or political cost at home--who cares about abroad?--the Left is stupefied at its own political and moral incompetence, and the people at large are increasingly split between a fundamentalist religious-nationalist camp, and a yuppie-liberal camp that has no real legs to stand on and has little hope of engaging the millions of poor and working class who have moved to the right because of “social issues.” Indeed, it is clear that they don’t care if the rich are getting richer and the environment is going to Hell, as long as they’re on the road to Heaven--or at least the Second Coming.
This situation reveals something dark, even frightening about America’s collective character. Making the situation worse are the reasons why people voted for President Bush: the belief that he better represents America’s “moral values,” along with the faith that he, not Kerry, will fight a “better and more efficient war on terror.” What kind of moral values the occupation of Iraq represents no one dares say. What kind of terror the US military has wrought in Iraq most American don’t want to know.
Better to “stay the course” and pray for the safe return of the troops. Leave the troubling moral lessons of Iraq to be exorcised by Hollywood’s or Nintendo’s latest version of Rambo, helicoptering across the sands of Iraq blasting away yet more hapless Iraqi soldiers (as if enough weren’t killed in the real war) and rescuing whatever is left of America’s honor once the reality of a determined anti-colonial resistance drives America out of Iraq--the common fate of occupying powers across history.
Until such time, however, unimagined damage will likely be done to the world and America’s standing in it. What are progressives to do about it? Whether in Israel or the US the liberal opposition--the Labor Party in Israel, the Democrats in the US--have proven themselves to be politically and morally bankrupt. They are dying parties and should be abandoned as quickly as possible in favor of the hard work of slowly building truly populist progressive parties that can reach out to, engage and challenge their more conservative and often religions compatriots who today look Right, not Left, to address their most basic needs.
In the meantime, the international community, especially the EU, most assert a defiant tone against US and Israeli militarism and perform the novel but fundamental role acting as a counterweight and alternative to America’s imperial vision (at the same time, however, they must move beyond a narrow anti-American and anti-Zionist anti-imperialism to a broader critique of the larger system of Middle Eastern autocracy and violence, whose victims are no less deserving of our concern than Palestinians or Iraqis). But this will not happen on its own; it’s up to citizens across the continent to ensure that their governments don’t take the easy road of adopting a pragmatic approach of supporting the status quo and “working” with the Bush administration, while waiting for America to bleed itself dry in Iraq and other imperial adventures.
One thing is for sure. Bush and his millenarian policies can’t be defeated by the kind of violence and hatred that guides his worldview. As Antonio Gramsci warned us seventy years ago, a “war of maneuver” or frontal assault on an advanced capitalist state by the Left cannot be won. Instead we need to dust off our copies of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and buy a copy of Subcomandante Marcos’s dispatches from the Lacondan jungle. Then perhaps we can find clues on how to fight a better and more efficient “war of position” against the terrifying prospect of four more years of George W. Bush.
While the Left has often turned to Gramsci for guidance, most commentators have ignored one of his most important insights: that however negative a role religion played in Italian society, it constituted the most important social force in the struggle against capitalism and fascism, without which the Left could never hope to achieve social hegemony against the bourgeoisie. This is because religion contains the kernel of “common sense” of the masses whose natural instinct is to rebel against the domination of the capitalist elite. But because it is largely unformed or articulated, it is easily manipulated by that elite--as Thomas Frank has so eloquently shown in his recent What’s the Matter with Kansas--and needs to be joined to the “good sense” of radically progressive intellectuals in order to shape the kind of ideology and political program that could attract the majority of the poor and middle class. But in this dialog the secular intellectuals would be transformed as much as the religious masses, creating the kind of organic unity that helped propel the religious Right from the margins of their party to the center of power.
It’s sad but telling that a sickly political prisoner in fascist Italy writing from memory on scraps of paper could anticipate the struggle facing America today better than most contemporary leaders of the so-called Left. But never fear, if John Ashcroft has his way many of us will soon have a similar opportunity to learn the benefits of solitary confinement for producing innovative social theory. In the meantime if progressives don’t figure out how to reach working class conservative Christians, before to long we will all be living through Bush’s dreams of apocalypse.
Over the course of the last two days, since the election, various members of the media have said that President Bush now has a mandate. Presumably, this is attributable to the fact that Bush received precisely one percentage point about 50 in the popular vote. And to be fair, he is the first president to achieve a popular vote exceeding 50% since his father’s election in 1988. But there is evidence suggesting that the mandate Bush received is not what he expected or believes it to be.
An analysis of the exit-polling data from the election indicates that while the electorate preferred President Bush to Senator Kerry, a majority did not view his presidency favorably. 52% felt that things are going badly for the U.S. in Iraq. More voters were “angry” or “dissatisfied” (49% to 48%) with his administration than were “enthusiastic” or “satisfied.” Asked whether Bush is concerned more about average Americans or large corporations, 54% said it was big business. In rating the economy, 52% regarded it as “not good” or “poor.” Similarly, 52% felt that the war in Iraq has made America less secure.
Perhaps the press is merely reciting what they’ve heard the administration saying in recent days. The day after the election, Vice-President Cheney stated that “the nation responded by giving him [President Bush] a mandate.” The following day, Bush said in his first post-election press conference, “I earned political capital in the campaign.” During the last four years, the media has been guilty of simply repeating the administration’s standard lines, often regarding key issues. They recited the story that there were weapons of mass destruction, only to admit a year later, as was the case with The Washington Post, that they accepted the Bush administration’s assertions and didn’t bother to actually investigate.
Historically, a mandate has been given by a demonstrable majority, and in support of clear policies and objectives. When President Roosevelt won re-election in 1936 by garnering 60% of the popular vote, it was accurately viewed as support for the various governmental programs initiated by the New Deal. Likewise, when President Reagan won 59% of the vote in 1984, it was seen as public confirmation that his “supply-side economic” policies had succeeded in reinvigorating the economy.
If there was a mandate from the voting public Tuesday, it is confused and ambiguous at best, and at most can be viewed as support for George W. Bush rather than his presidency. Yet, to my knowledge, not a single journalist has attempted to refute or even temper the administration’s assertion that Bush has a mandate. Oddly enough, the only prominent person who has done so is Arlen Specter, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, who is expected to serve as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee next year. The day after the election, Senator Specter wisely noted in an interview that “If you have a race which is decided by a percentage point or two…that does not qualify for the traditional mandate.” Perhaps Senator Specter should consider working as a journalist after he retires. Or a historian.
[Robert Dallek is a presidential historian, and recently authored"An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963" (2003, Little Brown).]
In 1968, after rioting at the Democratic convention in Chicago underscored the bitter divide in the United States over the Vietnam War, a French travel agency urged its customers to"see America while it lasts."
Today's antagonism rivals what happened in 1968. Although we've not seen massive demonstrations or violence in the streets as we did that year, the anger over the 2000 campaign and over issues such as stem cell research, civil liberties and the Iraq war is as intense as anything we've heard in the last 100 years. Regardless of who wins today's election, the deep division in the country seems likely to survive and fester into the next administration.
But although this is clearly a bitter and partisan moment in American history, it is important to remember that we have been here before. This is not the first time the U.S. has been at war with itself. Even if we do face an electoral mess on Wednesday, or even a constitutional crisis, we should recall some of our earlier efforts -- all successful -- to subordinate political antagonisms to a national consensus.
At the turn of the 19th century, for instance, during an unusually ugly campaign about the nation's course at home and abroad, Thomas Jefferson was described as the antichrist who would cause blood to run in the streets. Still, when he was finally selected in 1801 as the new president by the House of Representatives over Aaron Burr, he chose not to continue the bitterness."We are all Federalists. We are all Republicans," he said.
In 1864, during the Civil War, which was the greatest threat in the country's history to its survival as one nation, Abraham Lincoln promised"malice toward none; charity for all."
In 1901, after William McKinley's assassination in a nation struggling with class warfare produced by the Industrial Revolution, Theodore Roosevelt rallied the country with promises of a"Square Deal" -- a government serving the general interest rather than any special interest.
In October 1968, after Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey learned that his GOP rival, Richard Nixon, (in violation of the Logan Act) had discouraged the South Vietnamese government from participating in the Paris peace talks -- a potential October surprise that could have transformed the election -- Humphrey chose not to reveal it. The journalist Theodore White called that decision"an uncommon act of political decency."
Should today's election turn out to be as closely divided as the 2000 election, let us hope that both sides will put the national well-being above self-serving purposes. Conceding the presidency after so long and arduous a campaign will not be easy. But to have teams of lawyers again battling over hanging chads and voter intimidation does not seem like a prescription for renewed confidence in our electoral process. No one wants to see Americans cheated out of their right to vote or any candidate denied the support legitimate voters wish to give him. But a bitter-end fight to win the presidency will serve neither the country's political stability nor the candidates' historical reputations. Sensible restraint should be the motto of both sides in any postelection disputes.
The fact is, the country will come together again. Seemingly unbridgeable differences in the past have found solutions. Majority doubts about legitimizing labor unions, abolishing Southern segregation or having a Catholic as president were decisively ended by the experience of the last 70 years. Likewise, fears that a federal pension system and national health insurance for seniors would undermine free enterprise have also proved false. Contemporary antagonisms over stem cell research, abortion rights, environmental protections and gun control -- and even issues as volatile as Iraq -- will at some point lose their urgency as new issues rise to the fore.
Those who see politics as a vehicle for realizing personal ambitions should remember John F. Kennedy's enduringly wise advice to the nation:"Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." And in this case, it is to find a way to get along.
This election confirms the brilliance of Karl Rove as a political strategist. He calculated that the religious conservatives, if they could be turned out, would be the deciding factor. The success of the plan was registered not only in the presidential results but also in all 11 of the state votes to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Rove understands what surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.
This might be called Bryan's revenge for the Scopes trial of 1925, in which William Jennings Bryan's fundamentalist assault on the concept of evolution was discredited. Disillusionment with that decision led many evangelicals to withdraw from direct engagement in politics. But they came roaring back into the arena out of anger at other court decisions - on prayer in school, abortion, protection of the flag and, now, gay marriage. Mr. Rove felt that the appeal to this large bloc was worth getting President Bush to endorse a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (though he had opposed it earlier).
The results bring to mind a visit the Dalai Lama made to Chicago not long ago. I was one of the people deputized to ask him questions on the stage at the Field Museum. He met with the interrogators beforehand and asked us to give him challenging questions, since he is too often greeted with deference or flattery. The only one I could think of was:"If you could return to your country, what would you do to change it?" He said that he would disestablish his religion, since"America is the proper model." I later asked him if a pluralist society were possible without the Enlightenment."Ah," he said."That's the problem." He seemed to envy America its Enlightenment heritage. Which raises the question: Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation? America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values - critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed"a candid world," as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of"a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more, when a poll taken just before the elections showed that 75 percent of Mr. Bush's supporters believe Iraq either worked closely with Al Qaeda or was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11.
In his victory speech yesterday, President Bush indicated that he would"reach out to the whole nation," including those who voted for John Kerry. But even if he wanted to be more conciliatory now, the constituency to which he owes his victory is not a yielding one. He must give them what they want on things like judicial appointments. His helpers are also his keepers. The moral zealots will, I predict, give some cause for dismay even to nonfundamentalist Republicans. Jihads are scary things. It is not too early to start yearning back toward the Enlightenment.
Part of me perversely hopes that Tuesday's election is a replay of 2000.
Three years ago, I undertook a fool's errand to the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta to urge the National Commission on Federal Election Reform to recommend altering or even abolishing the electoral college. The former president, host and honorary chairman, received me graciously, but when Carter heard my message, he said: "It is a waste of time to talk about changing the electoral college…. I would predict that 200 years from now, we will still have the electoral college."
The conventional wisdom that Carter voiced has an obvious source. Any effort to replace our state-based electoral system with a national popular vote would require a constitutional amendment, and its ratification could easily be blocked by a coalition of the 13 smallest states, which would naturally resist their presumed loss of political influence.
This is a formidable obstacle. But I also believe that Carter got the basic point backward. If we never talk about the electoral college, we will remain stuck with it for another two centuries. But if we discuss it, the arguments made in its defense can be exposed for the fallacies they are.
Logic alone would never be sufficient. Compelling evidence of the need for change would also be needed. This requires hoping that the electoral college misfires another time, as it did in 2000, when it gave an electoral majority to George W. Bush and a popular plurality to Al Gore.
The conditions for chaos in Tuesday's election already exist. Turnout will be decisive, and a good dozen states appear in play. It's plausible for Sen. John Kerry to gain an electoral victory while President Bush carries the popular vote. Electoral numerologists also have scenarios for an electoral tie (269-269), which would throw the decision into the House of Representatives.
But my own preferred if perverse formula for chaos involves Colorado.
Appearing on that state's ballot is Amendment 36, which would divide Colorado's nine electoral votes proportionally, based on statewide results, and take effect immediately. So consider this wild scenario:
The amendment passes and the election turns on Colorado. Give Kerry 269 electors, Bush 260, allow Bush to carry the state's popular vote, even while its confused citizens approve Amendment 36. Presto, we're back in Florida. Kerry picks up four electors, surpasses the magic electoral number of 270, and Republicans immediately go to court. They argue that when the Constitution says that electors in each state are to be appointed "in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct," it means the "legislature" as an institution, not legislation enacted by popular referendum. Democrats reply that the people also act as a legislature when they approve a referendum, and that in 18th century usage, legislature meant the supreme law-giving power within a state, and not merely the people's elected representatives. You make the call.
As the campaign comes to an end, public opinion and turnout may still move decisively in favor of one candidate, sparing the nation its second electoral debacle in a row. Yet whatever its fate and effect, Amendment 36 nicely exposes the problematic nature of our electoral college. It recognizes that one effect of the winner-take-all rule that has prevailed since the early 19th century is to disfranchise the minority within any state....
As the campaign to select the putative Leader of the Free World ends, myth-making proliferates amid the image-making. Even when the conventional wisdom errs, it will nevertheless shape this election. The most popular misconceptions, festering left, right, and center include:
That This is The Nastiest Campaign Ever: In fact, most campaigns get vicious, and there is a grand tradition of American political mudslinging. The slick Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads pummeling John Kerry as a poseur, a coward, and a traitor, pale in comparison to the Coffin Handbills circulated in the 1828 election. These coffin-shaped pamphlets accused Andrew Jackson of murdering soldiers who deserted his command. As for the attacks on George Bush, the candidate in 1884, Grover Cleveland had not even served in the National Guard during the Civil War. Critics mocked Cleveland for paying $500 for a Polish immigrant to serve as his surrogate – although his opponent had done the same.
That African-Americans were Disenfranchised En Masse in 2000: Quick, barely half the American electorate bothered voting last time, what percentage of eligible African-Americans voted? Americans and Canadians, leftists and rightists, having absorbed the Michael Moore-Jesse Jackson spin, invariably guess 15%, 20%, 25%. In fact, according to the New York Times, 57 % voted – a higher percentage than whites. Of course, there must be zero-tolerance for electoral intimidation, but we may need to rethink stereotypes, considering blacks MORE politically engaged overall than whites.
That The Campaign is Too Expensive: True, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates that Campaign 2004 will nearly cost $4 billion, with the presidential race alone costing $1.2 billion. Yet in a country of 300 million people, where Procter & Gamble budgets $2 billion to advertise detergents and the Yankees’ spend $180 million on baseball salaries, averaging $4 per American to provoke a transcontinental conversation about choosing a President is not bad.
That Bush is Too Stupid to be President: Ignoring the obvious contradiction that the same people who condemn nasty campaigns often trash their leaders – "Bush and Stupid" gets 1,760,000 hits on Google – this is doubly misleading. First, Bush’s IQ is not the issue, his ideology is. Second, great presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt were considered to have first rate temperaments but second-rate minds, while one of the smartest recent presidents, Jimmy Carter, was quite the disaster. Maybe the issue is not formal brainpower but emotional intelligence or people smarts.
That Kerry is Too Much of a Waffler to Win: Two words: Bill Clinton. Clinton’s verbal acrobatics put Kerry’s on-again, off-again $87 billion authorization votes to shame. In 1992, the man who as president would teach us that "it all depends on what your definition of the word is, is," frequently proclaimed: "We can be pro-growth and pro-environment, we can be pro-business and pro-labor… we can be pro-family and pro-choice. The Republican Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle called such waffling "pulling a Clinton." Many Americans nevertheless, shook their heads, shrugged their shoulders, and pulled the lever for Clinton, twice. Apparently, Americans don’t mind being served waffles.
That the Press is Biased: Conservatives are sure that the liberal media elite disrespects them; liberals complain that the media corporate shills serve the status quo. The New York Times ombudsman, after certifying his paper’s news coverage as bias-free, ceded his column space to two critics, one Left, one Right, each of whom berated the Times for its slanted coverage. In truth, the press is biased, but not toward one party or the other necessarily. The media’s bias is toward action, conflict, over-simplification and polarization, mindlessly reducing complex issues to a polarized he-said-she-said, and selling newspapers – or advertising space.
The German leader Otto von Bismarck supposedly once said: "God protects children, fools and the United States of America." Thanks to a hyperactive press corps, overly aggressive partisans, hysterical observers – and a perilous world -- we may need that prayer again this year. Then again, as this exercise in myth-busting suggests, the conventional wisdom just may be wrong – the United States may be more mature, stable, focused and free than the stereotypes suggest. Perhaps the country, like its current incumbent, should not be "misunderestimated."
Gil Troy, in the Montreal Gazette (Oct. 27, 2004):
At times, this epic 2004 U.S. presidential contest, debating pressing issues regarding the war on terrorism, recipes for prosperity, the responsibility of democratic citizens to one another, has degenerated into schoolyard brawling.
In the Jon Stewart era, the president as village idiot and the challenger as flip-flopper have moved from late-night comedy to the editorial page and the stump. Googling "Bush" and "stupid" yields 1.8 million hits; "Kerry" and "flip flop" yields 163,000 - demonstrating this election remains a referendum on the incumbent.
This seemingly frivolous exchange of insults reveals a serious clash of temperaments and ideologies. It is no coincidence that Democrats tar George W. Bush with the same brush as his ideological grandfather, Ronald Reagan; the Republican linkage between Kerry and the granddaddy of modern American political waffling, Bill Clinton, is also purposeful. The issue is worldview, not IQ.
Bush himself has joked about the IQ issue, playing the all-American, happy-go-lucky boy next door who stumbled upward, rather than the ambitious keener elbowing his way to the top. "You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too. People sometimes have to correct my English," Bush joked at the Republican National Convention. "I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it."
Similarly, two decades ago, Ronald Reagan shrugged off claims he was clueless with his characteristic mix of populism, confidence, and humour.
"I have never claimed to be a whiz kid, a robot, a bionic adding machine or a walking encyclopedia," he said, using language in the computer age to charm the masses and mock the elites.
Republicans have made the presidential intelligence question another wedge issue in the culture wars. In the New York Times Magazine, reporter Ron Suskind recalled being challenged by Bushie Mark McKinnon, who derided Bush critics for thinking the president is an idiot: "Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read the New York Times or Washington Post or the L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!"
Bush, like Reagan, is tapping into longstanding American suspicions about smart politicians being too smooth, too clever. Long before Adlai Stevenson the "egghead" lost to Dwight Eisenhower the man of action, American voters prized the rough-hewn plain-speaking frontiersman over the hyper-educated silver-tongued urbanite. In his forthcoming biography of George Washington, the bestselling historian Joseph Ellis attributes Washington's perfect political pitch and superb judgment to the fact he was a man of action surrounded by abstract intellectuals. More recently, Reagan contrasted his bold, simple vision with Jimmy Carter's intellectually oriented temporizing when Iranian fundamentalists took Americans hostage. Reagan insisted "there are simple answers - but there are no easy ones."
Modern conservatism champions this notion of big-picture governance with clear principles repudiating modern liberal intellectual wishy-washiness. Bush positions himself as a man of clarity not eloquence, as opposed to his "slick" opponent.
Flip-flopping - or more fairly, parsing - comes more naturally to John Kerry and Bill Clinton because they view the world as more complex, multi-dimensional, nuanced.
As the first Flower Children turned presidential contenders, Kerry and Clinton in their youths imbibed a gospel of doubt, questioning authority, rejecting traditional assumptions, acknowledging multiple sides of the story. Critics of Clinton's infamous all-things-to-all-people approach joked that, when asked his favourite colour, Clinton would answer "plaid."
In truth, his presidency suffered from an initiatives surplus and a decisiveness deficit, except when he fought for his political life.
This year, while debating Bush, Kerry cleverly tried to turn the flip-flop charge around, quipping: "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong."
Of course, liberal Democrats have their core values, ideological blind spots
and unshakable orthodoxies, but they, nevertheless, recoil at black-and-white
views of the world. Part of the conservative restoration project - what Tom
Wolfe called The Great Relearning - involves resurrecting the black-and-white
building blocks of the stereotypical, nostalgia-drenched, pre-1960s world. For
all their delight in complexity, when Democrats call Republicans stupid, they
tend to betray an assumption no intelligent person could possibly not be liberal;
when Republicans call Democrats "wishy-washy," they, too, are obscuring
ideological disagreements with character slurs....