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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.
[Allan Megill teaches history at the University of Virginia. He is the author of"Karl Marx: The Burden of Reason."]
The 9/11 Commission Report offers an account of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that is nothing short of gripping. It is especially worth reading as an object lesson in how easy it is to be blindsided by things that lie outside one's framework of expectations.
But how will future historians view this document? How well will its findings stand up 10, 20 or 50 years from now? How will historians use it when they turn to writing the history of our time?
If they are any good, the historians will rip the report to shreds, for in various ways it falls short as a historical work. It is almost inevitable that it should fall short, given the time constraints and the commission's agenda.
One problem is that we have not yet developed a sense of having gotten beyond 9/11. The events of that day still fall under the heading of"today's news." Historians, if they are to do their best work, need to be separated in both time and idea from the historical reality they describe.
Future historians will harvest from the report whatever well-justified claims it makes. They will cast a withering eye on its errors and oversights. They will note how out of date its perspective is, so unaware of what came later. They will note that its focus is on what it represents as"our" needs and aspirations, ignoring the rest of the world except insofar as it impinges on the United States. Then they will write histories that both use the report and go beyond it.
One thinks of Gordon W. Prange's monumental"At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor" (1981), on which he worked for 37 years. Between 1941 and 1946 there were nine separate investigations of the Pearl Harbor fiasco. These produced 40 volumes of report and testimony, which Prange mined with profit. But he also did an immense amount of additional research, which included interviewing all the major surviving figures on the Japanese side....
If you want to know what's wrong with the CIA — and these days who doesn't? — start with the fact that it's almost 60 years old. How many 60-year-olds do you know who take insane risks, rethink cherished shibboleths and produce brilliant flashes of insight? That is what's required to win the war on Islamist terror.
But, like many other prosperous geezers, the CIA would prefer to hit the links and avoid uncouth places where nobody has heard of Metamucil.
Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of bright, energetic people at the CIA (I've met some of them), but, as the reports of the 9/11 commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee attest, they work in a sclerotic institution.
Fixing this problem is going to require a lot more than a new intelligence czar — unless the person picked for that post plans to emulate Tom Clancy's fictional hero, Jack Ryan, by personally nabbing bad guys between meetings. What's needed is not another organizational reshuffle but a time machine that would return the CIA to the glory days when it was young and frisky.
The CIA grew out of the Office of Strategic Services, formed in 1942 under the leadership of William Donovan, who wasn't known as"Wild Bill" for nothing. A World War I hero, a wealthy lawyer and an incurable romantic, he molded the OSS into his own image: dashing, slightly madcap and highly effective.
Donovan came from the upper crust, and that's where he recruited from too. As analysts, he hired a who's who of notable scholars, such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Walt Rostow and William Langer. Allen Dulles, nephew of one secretary of State and grandson of another, ran the station in Bern, Switzerland. Even Julia Child was on the payroll — before her cook-show fame.
This led to sniffing that OSS stood for"Oh So Social," but Donovan's high-powered recruits did impressive work, often utilizing connections that no humdrum bureaucrat could possibly have cultivated....
Rick Perlstein, in the Village Voice (July 20, 2004):
Here are some things that Christopher Nunneley, a conservative activist in Birmingham, Alabama, believes. That some time in June, apparently unnoticed by the world media, George Bush negotiated an end to the civil war in Sudan. That Bill Clinton is"lazy" and Teresa Heinz Kerry is an"African colonialist." That"we don't do torture," and that the School of the Americas manuals showing we do were"just ancient U.S. disinformation designed to make the Soviets think that we didn't know how to do real interrogations."
Chris Nunneley also believes something crazy: that George W. Bush is a nice guy.
It's a rather different conclusion than many liberals would make. When we think of Bush's character, we're likely to focus on the administration's proposed budget cuts for veterans, the children indefinitely detained at Abu Ghraib, maybe the story of how the young lad Bush loaded up live frogs with firecrackers in order to watch them explode.
Conservatives see it differently.
"He's very compassionate," says Chris, an intelligent man who's open-minded enough to make listening to liberals a sort of hobby."If you look at the way he's bucked the far right: I mean, $15 billion for AIDS in Africa!" He speaks at the church services of blacks, and"you don't fake that. That's not just a photo op."
Of course, two years after Bush made his pledge, only 2 percent of the AIDS money has been distributed (in any event, it will mainly go to drug companies). And appearing earnest in the presence of African Americans has been a documented Bush strategy for wooing moderate voters since the beginning.
So what does a conservative say when such"nice guy" jazz is challenged? Say, when you ask whether a nice guy would invade a country at the cost of untold innocent lives on the shakiest of pretenses? Or, closer to home, whether he would (as Bush did in late 2000) go on a fishing trip while his daughter was undergoing surgery, and use the world's media to mockingly order her to clean her room while he was away? Doesn't signify with Chris."If you're in one camp, the idea of being firm, 'tough love,' is very popular. If you're in another, you can say, 'Well, that's just mean!' On my side, well, I like the whole idea of 'tough love.'"
This is a journey among the"tough love" camp. The people who, even in the face of evidence of his casual cruelty, of his habitual and unchristian contempt for weakness, love George Bush unconditionally: love him when he is tender, love him when he is tough—but who never, ever are tough on him....
With the Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded and L. Paul Bremer III back at home, it's time to ponder the future of American imperialism. Many, of course, will huffily reply that U.S. imperialism has no future, and they will point to all the troubles we've encountered in Iraq during the last year as evidence.
But whatever happens in Iraq, there will continue to be strong demand for U.S. interventions around the world. Failed states and rogue states constitute the biggest threats to world peace in the foreseeable future, and only the United States has the will and the resources to do anything about them. Even many of those who detested the invasion of Iraq plead for the U.S. to bring order to places like Darfur, a province in Sudan where genocide is occurring. The U.S. cannot shrug off the burden of global leadership, at least not without catastrophic cost to the entire world, but it can exercise its power more wisely than it did in Iraq over the past year.
One of Bremer's chief failings was that he tried to act the part of an imperial proconsul. He and his spokesmen hogged the media spotlight, which only exacerbated Iraqis' tendency to blame them for everything that went wrong, from too many car bombings to not enough electricity. It was almost as if Bremer were Lord Curzon, the notoriously vain viceroy of India from 1898 to 1905, who delighted in pomp and circumstance, such as the grandiose festival he staged in 1903 to mark Edward VII's coronation as king of Britain and emperor of India. For obvious reasons — the rise of nationalism, the fall of traditional European empires — that approach doesn't work well today. No one is going to crown George II emperor of Mesopotamia.
Yet the infinitely adaptable British had different ways of ruling different parts of their empire, and some of them are applicable today. There was, for instance, Lord Cromer (born Evelyn Baring), who effectively ruled Egypt from 1883 to 1907 with the modest titles of British agent and consul general.
The British came to dominate Egypt in 1879 when they, along with the French, imposed financial controls to ensure that foreign bond-holders would be repaid by a bankrupt government. (Shades of the International Monetary Fund!) The British occupied the country on their own in 1882 after a nationalist revolt. But they refrained from formally annexing it, which would only have stirred up nationalist sentiment....
President Bush gave a speech on Tuesday in which he made specific claims about how the United States is safer as a result of his military action. I dispute assertions about particular Middle Eastern or South Asian countries. (Statements in italics are from the media coverage of the speech.)
"The world is changing for the better because of American leadership. America is safer today because we are leading the world. Afghanistan was once the home of al-Qaeda. Now terror camps are closed, democracy is rising, and the American people are safer," he said.
The Afghanistan war was the right war at the right time, and it did break up the network of al-Qaeda training camps from which terrorists would have gone on hitting the United States. But the fact is that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld did not want to fight that war after September 11. Rumsfeld sniffed that"there were no good targets" in Afghanistan. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney all wanted to leave al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and attack Iraq first. At first Wolfowitz was leaked as the proponent of this crazy idea, and although he did back it, it is now clear from insider accounts like that of Richard Clark that the three top leaders just mentioned wanted Iraq first. The UK ambassador to the US maintains that it was Tony Blair who talked Bush into going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan first, with a promise that he would later support an Iraq war. MI6 would have been briefing Tony about the dire threat coming from Afghanistan, and he, unlike the Bush team, could see the dangers of getting bogged down in an Iraq quagmire while al-Qaeda and the Taliban were still in control of Afghanistan. (Can you imagine the full scope of that disaster that Bush had planned for us?)
Even after Bush was dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing by Blair, he did it half-heartedly. He let Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri escape. (I'll repeat that. He let Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri escape). Instead of rebuilding and stabilizing Afghanistan, as he promised, he put almost nothing into reconstruction for that country.
Then he let the poppy growing industry come back with a vengeance. Afghanistan's GNP is $5 billion a year. At least $2 billion of that is poppies, and Afghanistan has become the top source for heroin in Europe. With al-Qaeda and the Taliban still powerful in the country or its borderlands, Afghanistan is on the way to becoming a terrorist's dream-- a place worse than Colombia from which narco-terrorism can be funded and launched. This looming disaster will certainly blow back on the American homeland. Yet Bush is doing nothing to avert it.
As for democracy and liberating 50 million people, neither the people of Afghanistan nor that of Iraq have elected national governments by popular sovereignty. It is not entirely clear when they will be able to do so. For the moment, there hasn't been any introduction of anything like democracy. The US invaded each and installed a government of its choosing. That isn't democracy. In Iraq, Paul Bremer repeatedly blocked democratic municipal elections. That was a great lesson for the people in democracy, all right.
The dictator in Iraq had the" capability of producing weapons of mass murder. And now, the dictator is a threat to nobody, and the American people are safer."
Bush must think we are a nation of retards if he believes we will buy this language of Saddam having the" capability" to produce weapons of mass destruction. All countries have the" capability." The point is that Iraq had given up its WMD programs and destroyed the stockpiles. The US was not in any danger from Iraq, and so cannot be safer because it was invaded.
Worse, the American invasion of Iraq is a major recruitment poster for al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's message was that the Americans are coming to Muslim lands. 'They will invade your countries, expropriate your property, rape your women, and humiliate your men,' al-Qaeda screams. What does Bush do? He proves al-Qaeda right. More angry young Arab men are ready to fight the United States now than ever before. Bush is less popular than Bin Laden in most Muslim countries according to polls.
Not only has the Bush administration angered the Sunni Muslim world with its invasion and hamhanded occupation of Iraq, but it has managed to turn the Shiites against us too, by desecrating the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala this past spring.
The US is arguably much less safe because of the invasion of Iraq.
He said Pakistan used to be a safe transit point for terrorists on missions of murder."Now Pakistani forces are rounding up terrorists, and the American people are safer."
This is a nice sound bite but bears no resemblance to reality. The major jihadi groups in Pakistan are still operating, and the Pakistani government has been largely unable or unwilling to stop them. The Pakistanis did arrest some 500 al-Qaeda Arabs, but Pakistani courts have not cooperated with its attempts to subject the jihadis to mass arrests. A major jihadi leader was sitting in parliament until he was assassinated recently!
Moreover, Pakistan remains virtually a military dictatorship, where parliament is not sovereign and where Gen. Musharraf basically appoints and removes prime ministers by fiat (PM Jamali was recently forced out).
In Saudi Arabia, terrorists were meeting little opposition, but today the Saudi Government is taking the fight to al-Qaeda, and the American people are safer, he said.
In Saudi Arabia, Americans were relatively safe before the Iraq war. Now Americans are in danger in Saudi Arabia, and are fleeing the country. This is an improvement?
Not long ago, Libya was spending millions to acquire weapons of mass destruction."Now, thousands of Libya's chemical munitions have been destroyed. Libya has given up nuclear processing equipment, and the American people are safer," he claimed.
Oh, give it up. Libya had been trying to make that deal for years. (The European pressure and boycott was what had done the trick). What really changed was that the Americans became more receptive to such a deal. But then right in the middle of Qaddafi coming in from the cold it surfaced that he had gotten up a plot to assassinate a Saudi leader! Made it hard to crow too loud about rehabilitating him.
Plus Bush does not mention that the entire Muslim world is royally pissed off at the United States for coddling Ariel Sharon while he gobbles up nearly half of the West Bank, expropriating and brutalizing the Palestinians in the process. Even the World Court has condemned his greedy fence, which annexes massive amounts of Palestinian land. Bush has just lain down on the ground and pleaded with Sharon to walk all over him with hobnail boots, and then smiled for the privilege. Arab satellite television shows Israelis repressing Palestinians every day. The Bush administration has actually endorsed the forcible Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, which violates the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Accords!
Pursuing a policy that makes us highly unpopular with 1.3 billion people is not a means of making us safer.
So, no, Americans are not safer, Mr. Bush. They face the threat of substantial narco-terrorism from Afghanistan. Iraq is a security nightmare that could well blow back on the American homeland. Pakistan remains a military dictatorship with a host of militant jihadi movements that had been fomented by the hardline Pakistani military intelligence. Saudi Arabia is witnessing increased al-Qaeda activity and attacks on Westerners. And the Israeli-Palestine dispute is being left to fester and poison the world.
These are not achievements to be proud of. This is a string of disasters. We are not safer. We face incredible danger because of the way the Bush administration has grossly mishandled the Middle East.
Morris P. Fiorina, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor of Political Science at Stanford, in the WSJ (July 14, 2004):
"There is a religious war going on in this country, a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America."
With those ringing words insurgent candidate Pat Buchanan fired up his supporters at the 1992 Republican National Convention. To be sure, not all delegates cheered Mr. Buchanan's call to arms, which was at odds with the "kinder, gentler" image that George H.W. Bush had attempted to project. Election analysts later listed Mr. Buchanan's fiery words among the factors contributing to the defeat of President Bush, albeit one of lesser importance than the slow economy and the repudiation of his "Read my lips, no new taxes" pledge.
In the years since Mr. Buchanan's declaration of cultural war, the idea of a clash of cultures has become a common theme in discussions of American politics. The culture-war metaphor refers to a displacement of the classic economic conflicts that animated 20th-century politics in the advanced democracies by newly emergent moral and cultural ones. The literature generally attributes Mr. Buchanan's inspiration to a 1991 book, "Culture Wars," by sociologist James Davison Hunter, who divided Americans into the culturally "orthodox" and the culturally "progressive" and argued that increasing conflict was inevitable.
No one has embraced the concept of the culture war more enthusiastically than journalists, ever alert for subjects that have "news value." Conflict is high in news value. Disagreement, division, polarization, battles and war make good copy. Agreement, consensus, moderation, compromise and peace do not. Thus, the notion of a culture war fits well with the news sense of journalists who cover politics. Their reports tell us that contemporary voters are sharply divided on moral issues. As David Broder wrote in the Washington Post in November 2000, "The divide went deeper than politics. It reached into the nation's psyche . . . It was the moral dimension that kept Bush in the race."
Additionally, it is said that close elections do not reflect indifferent or ambivalent voters; rather, such elections reflect evenly matched blocs of deeply committed partisans. According to a February 2002 report in USA Today, "When George W. Bush took office, half the country cheered and the other half seethed," while some months later The Economist wrote that "Such political divisions cannot easily be shifted by any president, let alone in two years, because they reflect deep demographic divisions . . . The 50-50 nation appears to be made up of two big, separate voting blocks, with only a small number of swing voters in the middle."...
In sum, observers of contemporary American politics apparently have reached a new consensus around the proposition that old disagreements about economics now pale in comparison to new divisions based on sexuality, morality, and religion, divisions so deep and bitter as to justify talk of war in describing them.
Yet research indicates otherwise: Publicly available databases show that the culture war script embraced by journalists and politicos lies somewhere between simple exaggeration and sheer nonsense. There is no culture war in the U.S. -- no battle for the soul of America rages, at least none that most Americans are aware of.
Certainly, one can find a few warriors who engage in noisy skirmishes. Many of the activists in the political parties and the various cause groups do hate each other and regard themselves as combatants in a war. But their hatreds and battles are not shared by the great mass of Americans -- certainly nowhere near to "80-90 percent of the country" -- who are for the most part moderate in their views and tolerant in their manner. A case in point: To their embarrassment, some GOP senators learned this week that ordinary Americans view gay marriage in somewhat less apocalyptic terms than do the activists in the Republican base.
If swing voters have disappeared, how did the six blue states in which George Bush ran most poorly in 2000 all elect Republican governors in 2002 (and how did Arnold Schwarzenegger run away with the 2003 recall in blue California)? If almost all voters have already made up their minds about their 2004 votes, then why did John Kerry surge to a 14-point trial-heat lead when polls offered voters the prospect of a Kerry-McCain ticket? If voter partisanship has hardened into concrete, why do virtually identical majorities in both red and blue states favor divided control of the presidency and the Congress, rather than unified control by their party? Finally, and ironically, if voter positions have become so uncompromising, why did a recent CBS story titled "Polarization in America" report that 76% of Republicans, 87% of Democrats, and 86% of Independents would like to see elected officials compromise more rather than stick to their principles?...
Republican strategists have bet the Bush presidency on a high-risk gamble. Reports and observation suggest that they are attempting to win in 2004 by getting out the votes of a few million Republican-leaning evangelicals who did not vote in 2000, rather than by attracting some modest proportion of 95 million other non-voting Americans, most of them moderates, not to mention moderate Democratic voters who could have been persuaded to back a genuinely compassionate conservative. These Republican strategists had better pray that their Democratic opponents indulge themselves and cater to the Michael Moore crowd. For if the Kerry-Edwards campaign can avoid capture by the wing-nuts in the Democratic base and credibly promise a strategy akin to Bill Clinton's triangulation, the myth of a polarized America will be exposed for what it is.
James Jay Carafano, in a paper published by the Heritage Foundation (July 13, 2004):
... Although occupation is an inevitable task in any successful military conflict, it is one that arguably receives little attention from the public, policymakers, or the military itself. One has only to compare the scope of scholarship on the battles of World War II with the post-war occupation period.3 There appear to be signs that lack of historical memory plays a role in the public perception of operations. In both the Iraq and Afghanistan operations there are abundant signs that public expectations have been far from realistic--despite warning before the wars that the operations would likely be protracted and difficult.4
In part, such warnings may have carried less weight because the prospects for these operations are so unpredictable that any assessments--no matter how optimistic or gloomy--are always suspect.5 Before the battle, everyone wants clear answers on what lies ahead, but there are few military activities more difficult than predicting the end state of a conflict.6 Prior to the onset of post-conflict operations, it is unlikely that the military can provide firm assessments about the cost, character, or duration of an occupation.
Once operations are underway, expectations that post-conflict activities will be smooth, uncomplicated, frictionless, and non-violent are equally unrealistic, as are assumptions that because difficulties do emerge they can only be the result of grievous policy errors or strategic misjudgments. After all, the enemy gets a vote, and how indigenous opposition forces or outside agitators choose to defy the occupation authorities will, in part, determine the course of events. In post-war Germany, for example, the poor organization and subsequent collapse of planned Nazi opposition made the Allies' task of reinstituting civil order significantly easier. The Office of Strategic Services, for example, estimated that the Allies would face a guerrilla army of upwards of 40,000--an assessment that proved wildly inaccurate.
Additionally, it is often forgotten that there is a "fog of peace" that is equally as infamous as Clausewitz's "fog of war"--which rejects the notion that outcomes can be precisely predicted or that there is a prescribed rulebook for success that any military can follow.7
Yet as conditions in occupied Iraq worsened and Bush Administration officials tried to draw parallels to the difficulties of the post-war occupation of Europe to illustrate the difficulties often faced after the battle, they were excoriated for being unhistorical.8 In fact, post-war conditions in Europe were far from sanguine. For example, the displaced populations in post-war Europe (upwards of 14 million by some counts) in conjunction with shortages of food, lack of suitable housing, ethnic and racial tensions, and scarcity of domestic police forces created significant public safety and physical security concerns.9
Pre-war assumptions are a poor yardstick for measuring post-conflict performance. The current debate over planning for the number of forces to support the occupation in Iraq offers a case in point. Initial projections for occupation troops were between 75,000 and 100,000.10 Some skeptics, including the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, suggested that several hundred thousand would be needed for the occupation.11 The actual troop levels during the occupation have ranged from about 125,000 to 160,000. Critics have pointed to these lower force levels as a significant contributing factor in the outbreak of violence. Yet as one pre-war analysis conducted by the U.S. Army War College pointed out, criticizing pre-war projections is unrealistic. Any forecasts of actual troop numbers made before the actual post-war situation develops--the report concluded--are "highly speculative."12 Indeed, claims that force structure estimates were based on historical precedents13 from previous occupations are dubious. Given the diverse conditions and requirements for different operations, drawing useful comparisons appears unrealistic.
Likewise, recognizing that Iraq is a country the size of California with porous borders awash with arms, and a population of about 25 million (with at least 10 million in eight major cities), it is unclear how numbers alone might have made a difference. Considering the scope of the security challenge, 300,000 troops would likely have had just as much difficulty as 100,000. Clearly, more troops would have helped, but numbers by themselves are not a silver bullet solution.
The American public is not alone in lacking a frame of reference for judging progress. The armed forces' appreciation is not much better than that of the public at large. According to Antulio Echevarria, a well-respected Army historian and national security analyst, the American way of war rarely extends "beyond the winning of battles and campaigns to the gritty work of turning military victory into strategic success."14 As a result, while civilian expectations and assumptions are usually wrong, the problems of public misperception are often aggravated by inadequate military preparations. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq may merely offer the most recent cases in point....
7. Manfred K. Rotermund, The Fog of Peace: Finding the End-State of Hostilities (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, November 1999), pp. 47-52.
8. Daniel Benjamin, "Sorry, Dr. Rice, Postwar Germany Was Nothing Like Iraq," Slate, August 29, 2003, at www.slate.msn.com/id/2087768 (June 2, 2004); James Jay Carafano, "A Phony, Phony History," National Review, September 18, 2003, at www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-carafano091803.asp (June 2, 2004).
9. Mark Wyman, DPs: Europe's Displaced Persons, 1945-1951 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), pp. 15-27.
10. See Scott Feil, testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senate, August 1, 2002, at http://www.iraqwatch.org/government/US/HearingsPreparedstatements/feil-sfrc-080102.htm (May 30, 2004).
11. Vernon Loeb and Thomas E. Rick, "For Army, Fear of Postwar Iraq," The Washington Post, March 11, 2003, p. A1.
12. Conrad C. Crane and W. Andrew Terrill, Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, February 2003), p. 33.
14. Antuilo J. Echevarria II, Toward an American Way of War (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, March 2004), p. v.
Daniel Pipes, at frontpagemag.com (July 9, 2004):
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, a London-based Arabic paper, yesterday began the complete serialization of Saddam Hussein's final novel written as a free man, Be Gone Demons! As though it were just any book, the newspaper posted a picture of the cover and of the author (appearing as a jailbird, however, not as absolute ruler).
The Associated Press's Salah Nasrawi helpfully provides a summary of the plot, as related to him by Ali Abdel Amir, an Iraqi writer and critic who read the whole manuscript: The novel recounts a Zionist-Christian conspiracy against Arabs and Muslims that an Arab army eventually defeats by invading the Zionist-Christian land and toppling one of its monumental towers, an apparent reference to Sept. 11, 2001.
The novel opens with a narrator, who bears a resemblance to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim patriarch Abraham, telling cousins Ezekiel, Youssef and Mahmoud that Satan lives in the ruins of a Babylon destroyed by the Persians and the Jews. …
Ezekiel, symbolizing the Jews, is portrayed as greedy, ambitious and destructive."Even if you seize all the property of others, you will suffer all your life," the narrator tells him. Youssef, who symbolizes the Christians, is portrayed as generous and tolerant - at least in the early passages. Mahmoud, symbolizing Muslims, emerges as the conqueror at the end of the book.
The critics have not been kind to Be Gone Demons! Saddam"was completely out of touch with actual reality, and novel writing gave him the chance to live in delusions," comments Abdel Amir. Saad Hadi, a journalist who had a hand in the production of Saddam's novels, agrees:"He lost touch with reality. He thought he was a god who could do anything, including writing novels."
According to Hadi, Saddam's favorite novelist was Ernest Hemingway, in particular The Old Man and the Sea, whose style he tried to emulate."He'd sit in his state room and recount simple tales, while his aides recorded his words." Youssef al-Qaeed, an Egyptian novelist, describes the dictator's oeuvre as"naïve and superficial."
This is hardly Saddam's first published novel."At the end of the year 2000, a publishing sensation left Baghdad abuzz with rumor," reports Ofra Bengio in"Saddam Husayn's Novel of Fear," an analysis of Saddam's becoming the author of a historical romance titled Zabiba and the King. Although Bengio finds the novel"boring and incoherent," she argues it"is best understood as Saddam's own preparation for his final descent from the stage. It should be read as a summary of his life, an ‘artistic' contribution to his people, an epitaph, and a last will and testament, all rolled into one."
One might have thought that more pressing issues of state would have been on the absolute dictator's mind by late 2002, as the Bush administration made clear its impatience with Iraqi behavior and signaled an intent to take action. One would be wrong, at least according to an account given by NBC news on July 15, 2003: Tom Brokaw reported on the authority of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, already in captivity, that"in the last year Saddam Hussein has been preoccupied with writing three epic novels."
Even more remarkable is the information from a subsequent report in London's Daily Telegraph:"Saddam Hussein spent the final weeks before the war [in March 2003] writing a novel predicting that he would lead an underground resistance movement to victory over the Americans, rather than planning the defence of his regime. As the war began and Saddam went into hiding, 40,000 copies of Be Gone Demons! were rolling off the presses."
After Zabiba and the King, Saddam produced The Fortified Castle and Men and the City and finally Be Gone Demons! Tariq Aziz's comment suggests that another two novels were in the works when war so rudely interrupted.
Saddam's being caught up with novel writing as war was brewing directly confirms a thesis I presented months back, in"[Saddam's] WMD Lies," to explain the seemingly missing weapons of mass destruction. Supposing there really are no nukes in Iraq, Saddam gave off the impression he had them as a result of a terrible error.
This mistake can best be explained as the result of Saddam inhabiting the uniquely self-indulgent circumstance of the totalitarian autocrat, with its two key qualities: Hubris: The absolute ruler can do anything he wants, so he thinks himself unbounded in his power. Ignorance: The all-wise ruler brooks no contradiction, so his aides, fearing for their lives, tell him only what he wants to hear. Both these incapacities worsen with time and the tyrant becomes increasingly removed from reality. His whims, eccentricities and fantasies dominate state policy. The result is a pattern of monumental mistakes.
Saddam Hussein's being consumed with a literary urge, even as his dictatorship was about to be destroyed by the greatest power on earth, points to both his hubris and his ignorance. It also goes far to explain how he could think there were nuclear weapons in the works when they did not exist by the time his political demise began in March 2003.
Rick Perlstein, in Boston Review (July 2004):
...Dissenters who do call for a bolder Democratic Party—one thinks of Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future—are sometimes dismissed as throwbacks to the ’60s. Well, I can’t be dismissed as a throwback. The ’60s ended when I was less than three months old. The traumas that shaped the world view of a Teixeira, a Greenberg, a Judis were the post-’60s backfirings of left-of-center boldness. The same goes for Al From, whose formative political experience, he has told me, was McGovern’s loss in 1972. The traumas of my own political generation, conversely, were the backfirings of left-of-center timidity.
Which may be why, when I read these writers’ stories about the history of the past 25 years, I don’t know what they’re talking about.
When Al From sent out the memo to potential members announcing the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985 he blamed the Democrats’ decline on “consistent pursuit of wrongheaded, losing strategies” such as Walter Mondale’s “making blatant appeals to liberal and minority interest groups in the hopes of building a winning coalition where a majority, under normal circumstances, simply does not exist.” As a historian, I looked up the record. And what I learned was that Walter Mondale’s grand strategy for his general election campaign was a promise to cut the deficit by two thirds in his first term through $92 billion of spending cuts and a tax hike. He also promised $30 billion in spending to restore some of Ronald Reagan’s cuts in social services—the money coming from other cuts elsewhere.9
Now I’m not sure what kind of strategy it would have taken to beat Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” in 1984. But deficit reduction surely was not it. Deficit reduction was also not a direct appeal to liberal and minority interest groups.
Cut to 1988 and the Dukakis campaign, the inspiration for the famous 1989 DLC monograph by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck The Politics of Evasion: Democrats and the Presidency, which argued that the Democrats had degenerated into “liberal fundamentalism.” But the closer I studied the actual content of that campaign, the more I trusted the assessment of Sidney Blumenthal in his book on the 1988 election, Pledging Allegiance: “Dukakis’s very inability to offer any definition of liberalism was taken as perhaps his most encouraging trait” by Democrats that year, he writes. “It was seen as an enormous shrewdness, a form of wisdom. Dukakis’s politics of lowered expectations, his career of slashing budgets and tax cuts, made him seem a new kind of Democrat, a man of his time.”10 Thus, under the slogan “This election is not about ideology, it’s about competence,” did Dukakis, incompetently, run. I’ll buy anyone a steak dinner who can, without a trip online or to the library, come up with a single “liberal fundamentalist” program that Dukakis advocated that year.11
And what about Bill Clinton in 1992? I once interviewed a liberal political activist who explained to me that the DLC loses every election but always manages to win the battle to interpret every election. It’s an exaggeration with more than a grain of truth. “Bill Clinton would not have been able to win the election if he had not run as a New Democrat, addressing the problems of cultural breakdown, the perceived practical failures of government, and public doubts about the welfare state,” the New Democrat historian and loyalist Kenneth Baer writes. As for cultural breakdown, any American who read a newspaper in 1992 knew that Bill Clinton had tried marijuana, violated the sanctity of his marriage vows, and dodged the draft. They voted for him anyway. And anyone who heard Bill Clinton speak during the 1992 general election season knows that a constant refrain was a promise of $50 billion a year in new investments in cities and $50 billion a year in new funding for education—and, what’s more, a first hundred days to rival FDR’s, culminating in the passage of a plan to deliver health care to every American. He also, of course, made noises about his toughness on crime, his commitment to beat down government bloat, his (vague) pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” He made rhetorical flourishes about issues like school choice. But the argument that DLC talking points won him the election cannot be sustained. It would also be wrong to argue that nobody-shoots-Santa-Claus-style liberalism did it. It was Ross Perot who won the election for Clinton, taking away many votes that ordinarily would have gone to Bush. Bush, with the economy as it was, had the lowest approval rating of any president seeking reelection in history. My little mutt Buster could have beaten George H.W. Bush in 1992.
* * *
Revisionism might seem a knottier course as our story progresses. Wasn’t it Clinton’s turn to a paleoliberal plan for universal health care that slew the Democrats in the 1994 Congressional elections, his neoliberalism that allowed him to get, as the subtitle of Dick Morris’s memoir Behind the Oval Office puts it, “Reelected Against All Odds”?12
But isn’t it also logical to hypothesize that the Democrats lost Congress not for proposing health care, but for losing on health care?
A suggestive piece of evidence comes from Greenberg, who had his focus groups write imaginary postcards to President Bush and his Democratic opponent. The most poignant comes from a Florida swing voter, who wrote, plaintively: “Dear Democratic Nominee, What can you actually do better. What happened to the health care programs you promised us 8 years ago?”
The point is supported by an argument of the political scientist Martin Wattenberg, who has demonstrated that “registered nonvoters in 1994 were consistently more pro-Democratic than were voters on a variety of measures of partisanship.” This suggests that the real triumph of the Republicans in 1994 was not ginning up any kind of new national consensus on their issues, but in motivating their own core voters to create a temporary mirage of such a consensus. And thus, when the Republican congress tried to legislate, radically, based on this purblind “mandate,” the more massive electorate in the presidential year 1996, more reflective of the ideological predilections of registered voters as a whole, found the Republican Senate leader Bob Dole easy to reject. “Whereas the credit for Clinton’s comeback in 1996 is often given to the triangulation strategy designed by his pollster Dick Morris,” Wattenberg concludes, “these results suggest that another plausible factor was the increase in turnout from 1994 to 1996.”13
Let me clear the decks, and let me do it bluntly. There is a more elegant explanation for why the Democrats succeeded in every election of the 1990s but one. It is, simply, that the core Democratic message of economic populism appeals to people—despite, not because of, the Democrats’ retreat from that selfsame message. And that the old ’60s bugaboos no longer keep people from voting for Democrats because so many voters are too young to remember, or care....
Edwin Black, in the Forward (July 9, 2004):
In April 1941, a Romanian census taker came to the home of a suspected Roma Gypsy working as a blacksmith in the picturesque town of Schaas. The senior Nazi statistical official observing the process wrote,"He did not dare to deny his ethnical descent as Gypsy." The census taker instructed:"Now, please write: Gypsy."
Shortly thereafter, that Gypsy blacksmith's census questionnaire, filled out by simple pencil, joined thousands of similar questionnaires at the Romanian Central Institute for Statistics facility. This facility was equipped with the latest IBM Hollerith high-speed punch-card machines, specifically programmed for the Romanian census. IBM's Hollerith punch-card system stored any information, such as ethnic type, profession and residential location, in the rows and columns strategically punched. The cards could then be counted and cross-tabulated at the rate of 24,000 cards per hour, yielding almost any permutation of data.
To help systematize the persecution and extermination of minorities, the Romanians used custom-designed punch cards, printed exclusively by IBM, which included special columns and rows for all ethnic groups, including Roma Gypsies. The printed census forms were approved for compatibility by IBM engineers, ensuring each of the numbered boxes on the printed census forms corresponded to the designated punch-card column. Because this was a state-of-the-art census, the women operating IBM equipment were all at least high school educated.
Within a year of being identified, an estimated 25,000 Gypsies were rounded up pursuant to the Romanian Interior Minister's order #70S/1942. Typically, roadblocks were set up on the outskirts of town as gendarmes, with lists of names, fanned out to arrest the Gypsies. Gypsies were then deported in trains, which were scheduled and tracked by IBM's leased and regularly serviced Hollerith machines. Their destination was a death of starvation, beatings or execution every bit as horrible as that experienced by the Jews of Romania.
The Nazi census expert observing the Romanian census was Friedrich Burgdörfer, president of the Bavarian Office for Statistics in Munich. Ludwig Hümmer, an IBM punch-card expert working in IBM's German subsidiary, Dehomag, accompanied Burgdörfer to Romania. Hümmer went to Romania only reluctantly since he was not receiving a commission on the punch-card business in Romania.
Romania was a sales territory operated directly from New York. But Hümmer was specifically instructed to assist in the Romanian census by Werner Lier, IBM's general manager in Geneva, Switzerland. Lier acted with the full knowledge of IBM president Thomas J. Watson.
Recently, IBM's role as a willing accomplice in the mass murders of Gypsies — and indeed, the larger question of its Swiss operation — has come back to haunt the technology company. Big Blue has refused to answer the charges since the first simultaneous disclosures in 40 countries on February 11, 2001, that IBM knowingly systemized Hitler's persecution and extermination of Europe's Jews, directly from New York and through its subsidiaries in Europe coordinated through the Swiss office. But on June 22, a Swiss appellate Court ruled that a compensation suit filed by the Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action could proceed.
"The precision, speed and reliability of IBM's machines," the Swiss judge ruled,"especially related to the censuses of the German population and racial biology by the Nazis, were praised in the publications of Dehomag itself, the branch of respondent IBM. It does not thus seem unreasonable to deduce that IBM's technical assistance facilitated the tasks of the Nazis in the commission of their crimes against humanity, acts also involving accountancy and classification by IBM machines and utilized in the concentration camps themselves."
The judge's ruling pointedly added:"In view of the preceding, IBM's complicity with material and intellectual assistance in the criminal acts of the Nazis during the Second World War by means of its Geneva establishment does not appear to be ruled out, as there is a great deal of evidence indicating that the Geneva establishment was aware that it was aiding and supporting these acts."
Daniel Pipes, at his blog (June 27, 2004):
A seemingly forgotten topic – the Lauder-Nader round of negotiations between Israel and Syria in August-September 1998 – has suddenly revived, thanks to Bill Clinton's autobiography, My Life, published June 22. In it, the former president roughly confirms my investigative article of July 1999, where I wrote that Binyamin Netanyahu"agreed that Israel would … return to the 1967 lines" separating the two countries. Here is Clinton, in the context of discussing the January 2000 Syria-Israel talks in Shepherdstown, Virginia:
Before he was killed, Yitzhak Rabin had given me a commitment to withdraw from the Golan to the June 4, 1967, borders as long as Israel's concerns were satisfied. The commitment was given on the condition that I keep it"in my pocket" until it could be formally presented to Syria in the context of a complete solution.
After Yitzhak's death, Shimon Peres reaffirmed the pocket commitment, and on this basis we had sponsored talks between the Syrians and the Israelis in 1996 at Wye River. Peres wanted me to sign a security treaty with Israel if it gave up the Golan, an idea that was suggested to me later by Netanyahu and would be advanced again by [Ehud] Barak. I had told them I was willing to do it.
This vague statement ("gave up the Golan" can mean many things) has prompted several reactions in Israel.
Netanyahu himself rejected Clinton's assertion."I never agreed to withdraw from the Golan Heights in any situation or in any talks," he said in one radio interview."The negotiations were unsuccessful because I insisted that the final international border be located miles eastward of the current border." In another radio interview, he repeated this with a few more details:"In no situation did I agree to leave the Golan. That's what caused the break-up of the negotiations. … I agreed only to make concessions in the Golan - concessions that were defined as setting the border ‘kilometers' from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) - or, to be exact, ‘miles.' That's what we wrote there."
Ehud Barak, Netanyahu's successor, also rejected Clinton's account:"Netanyahu did not speak of returning to the international border line, rather a line that would leave a strip up to two miles wide."
Uri Saguy, Barak's chief Syria negotiator, in contrast, confirms that Netanyahu agreed to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines, i.e., to the water line of the Sea of Galilee. Saguy says that when he took on the task of coordinating negotiations with Syria, he read up on previous negotiations under four governments – those of Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak.
Anyone with eyes in his head, not to mention the Syrians, could have understood that all of the Israeli leaders were willing to leave all of the Golan Heights if satisfied in the realms of security, water, normalization, and also regarding a settlement in Lebanon."
By reading these documents, I learned that if I were a Syrian, I would understand from the proposal brought by [negotiator for Israel, Ronald] Lauder that if Israel can be satisfied regarding all of the abovementioned points, it would be willing to withdraw to the June 4, 1967, lines.
Comment: I outlined the two sides of this dispute in my July 1999 article and by all measures, they are still very much locked in place. (June 27, 2004)
July 9, 2004 update: Dennis Ross' memoir, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (Farrar Straus Giroux) has just reached me, and he confirms on pp. 527-28 that Netanyahu had promised to return to the June 4 lines. Specifically, he tells about Bill Clinton in September 1999 receiving from Ronald Lauder"an eight-point paper which he claimed included the final points that had been agreed upon by both sides in 1998" and it indicated an agreement by Netanyahu for a"withdrawal to a commonly agreed border based on the June 4, 1967 lines." Ross notes with irony that this"meant that Barak's position on peace with Syria was less forthcoming than Netanyahu's."
Juan Cole, at his blog:
George W. Bush alleged Thursday that John Edwards lacks the experience necessary to be president.
The problem with this argument is that Bush lacked the experience necessary to be president when he ran in 2000, so this sort of cheap shot just hoists him by his own petard. Let's just remember a seminal Bush moment in 1999:
' Bush fails reporter's pop quiz on international leaders
November 5, 1999
Web posted at: 3:29 p.m. EST (2029 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush is enduring sharp criticism for being unable to name the leaders of four current world hot spots, but President Bill Clinton says Bush"should, and probably will, pick up" those names.
The front-runner for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination faltered Thursday in an international affairs pop quiz posed by Andy Hiller, a political reporter for WHDH-TV in Boston.
Hiller asked Bush to name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan. Bush was only able to give a partial response to the query on the leader of Taiwan, referring to Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui simply as"Lee." He could not name the others.
"Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?" Hiller asked, inquiring about Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, who seized control of the country October 12.
"Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?" asked Bush.
Hiller replied:"No, it's four questions of four leaders in four hot spots." . . .
Bush, in answering the question about the leader of Pakistan, also said:"The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected -- not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the subcontinent."
Gore released a statement Friday taking Bush to task for his comments on Pakistan's recent coup.
"I find it troubling that a candidate for president in our country -- the world's oldest democracy -- would characterize the military takeover as"good news," Gore said."Further, I find it even more disturbing that he made these comments about a nation that just last year tested nuclear weapons -- shortly after voicing his public opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
A spokesman for President Clinton also criticized Bush's comments.
"It is very dangerous for this country to condone the overthrow of democratically elected governments," said David Leavy, spokesman for the National Security Council.
Not only did Bush not know who General Pervez Musharraf was, he seems to have confused coup-making with"taking office," and moreover went on to suggest that the overthrow of an elected prime minister and the installation in power of the Pakistan military, then the world's strongest supporter of the Taliban, would bring"stability!" Musharraf made his coup in part because of the military's anger over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's willingness to back down from confronting India over Kashmir, so that he explicitly came to power as a warmonger.
I can't tell you how ominous I found Bush's performance in that interview. I still remember him stuttering about"the General," unable to remember Musharraf's name. He obviously had no idea what he was talking about, though he demonstrated a number of ill-fated instincts. He obviously liked authoritarian rule better than democracy, equating dictatorship with"stability." And, he didn't think he needed to know anything about South Asia, with its nuclear giants and radical religious politics--the latter a dire security threat to the US. He couldn't tell when things were becoming more unstable as opposed to less. Musharraf went on to play nuclear brinkmanship with India in 2002, risking war twice that year. Although Musharraf did turn against the Taliban after September 11, under extreme duress from the US, elements of his military continued to support radical Islamism and have recently been implicated in assassination attempts on Musharraf himself. This was the body that Bush proclaimed was bringing"stability" to the region in fall of 1999.
So, one answer to Bush's charge about Edwards is that if it had any merit, Bush should have declined to run himself.
Another answer is that Edwards certainly knows far more about foreign affairs now than Bush did then. Indeed, given how Bush has rampaged around the world alienating allies and ignoring vital conflicts with the potential to blow back on the US, one might well argue that Edwards knows more now than Bush does.
This is what Edwards' campaign literature said about his positions:"Edwards believes that the U.S. must be an active leader to help resolve conflicts, from reducing tensions between India and Pakistan to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Edwards is a strong supporter of Israel, and believes that the U.S. has a vital role in promoting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians."
I don't see Bush doing any of this.