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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.
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.