Roundup: Media's TakeFollow Roundup: Media's Take on RSS and Twitter
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
Brendan Miniter, in the WSJ (May 27, 2004):
For more than a decade I believed that the first President Bush made a massive mistake in leaving Saddam Hussein in power in 1991. I almost voted against him for this wobbliness in 1992. But the longer the fight drags on in Iraq today, the more I thank God that the first Gulf War stopped with the liberation of Kuwait. This is no endorsement of Saddam's final 12 years of rule, nor a repudiation of the invasion last year. But it's time to face a hard truth: America cannot afford to be beaten in the sands of Iraq.
Let's consider what would've happened had George H.W. Bush ordered the troops to go on to Baghdad in the first Gulf War. Whether in quiet desertion or mass protest, much of Europe and the Arab world would have turned against the American president in the face of a protracted insurgent war--and there is every reason to believe Saddam loyalists would have been much stronger then than they are today. Each ally's departure would have emboldened domestic opponents, who were more numerous back then. (Only 10 of 56 Senate Democrats voted for the Gulf War, compared with 29 of 50 who backed Iraq's liberation in 2002.) The impulse to withdraw with less than total victory would have been almost irresistible. And without seeing the war in moral terms, the first Bush administration would likely have buckled under the pressure.
Republicans didn't control Congress at the time of the Gulf War, so the erosion of what little Democratic support there was would have doomed the war effort. Last week the House approved a defense bill north of $400 billion. Would a Democratic Congress have been willing to appropriate such a large sum to fight insurgents and rebuild Iraq in the run-up to the 1992 presidential election, at a time when the nation hadn't been steeled by a terrorist attack on our own soil?
On the world stage, this would have been infinitely worse than Mogadishu. Osama bin Laden would have had the kind of victory he'd hoped for in Afghanistan in 2001--proof that a Muslim population could defeat the U.S. And domestic resolve would have been devastated.Today we are facing a similar situation. With a presidential election approaching, domestic opposition to the war is growing ever more vocal. With J. Paul Bremer and Colin Powell promising that the U.S. will withdraw troops if the Iraqi government asks for as much after the June 30 transfer of sovereignty--which has prompted Katie Couric to sound a similar drum--it's possible to imagine American GIs leaving Iraq with less than total victory. ...
Steven Aftergood, in the newsletter of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy (Volume 2004, Issue No. 47 May 26, 2004):
The yawning gulf between the Bush Administration's sequential rationales for the war in Iraq and the facts as they have emerged (e.g. regarding weapons of mass destruction, links to al Qaida, etc.) has left many people grasping for an explanation of what went wrong.
Lately, the suggestion has been raised that the war was propelled by an Iranian effort to spread disinformation about the state of Iraqi WMD programs. Was the Bush Administration the unwitting victim of a foreign covert action?
Historian John Prados doesn't think so. In his new book "Hoodwinked," he argues that officials knowingly manipulated the available information "to win popular support for an unprovoked war."
"This book is an attempt to compile and share with the American public for the first time the actual intelligence available to the Bush administration as it made its case for war. It then aims to show how this information was consistently distorted, manipulated, and ignored, as the president, vice-president, secretaries of defense and state, and others, sought to persuade the country that the facts about Iraq were other than what the intelligence indicated," Prados writes.
Although the author plainly has a point of view, the book stays fairly close to the documentary record, providing copies of key source documents like the October 2002 CIA White Paper on Iraq, and carefully annotating and analyzing them.
Though it is not the last word on the subject, the book provides a solid formulation of the questions about the U.S. war in Iraq that citizens and voters will have to contend with in the months and years to come.
See "Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War" by John Prados of the National Security Archive, just published by the New Press, 2004:
Gerald Nicosia, author of Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans' Movement (Crown Publishers, 2001, forthcoming in a new edition from Carroll & Graf this August), in the LAT (May 25, 2004):
... The next big event by the VVAW [Vietnam Veterans Against the War] began in late January 1971, at a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge in Detroit. [John] Kerry attended the Winter Soldier Investigation, reluctantly. Despite claims by recent Kerry-bashers, including Vietnam veteran Stephen Sherman in the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 26, 2004), that Kerry was the "emcee" of Winter Soldier, not a single FBI document concerning that event bears his name.
Winter Soldier "shattered" Kerry, he said to me in a 1988 interview. More than 100 veterans spoke. Kerry saw their discharge forms and talked with the vets enough, he said, to become satisfied that most were telling authentic storiesof torturing and murdering Viet Cong prisoners, raping village women, shooting villagers for target practice, cutting off ears and other body parts. These accounts were news to him and educated him, he said then. "It was a very, very heavy, difficult kind of thing to listen to, and it was painful."
Others wondered at the time if Kerry had made peace with his memories. Jack Smith, a veteran from Connecticut, says in a recent interview that he could see from Kerry's eyes that he was struggling as he listened to veterans telling painful war stories. Peggy Kerry says that her brother "had the anguish" shared by so many other vets just back from Vietnam; she says he suffered "indescribable pain" about the people who'd died in the war, and that he would sometimes wake up screaming from nightmares that continued even into his present marriage with Teresa Heinz Kerry. At a rally on Wall Street in April 1971, the files show, Kerry spoke of being "guilty" like everyone else in the country "for having allowed the war to go on"a burden that, he said to me in a second interview, in 1989, could have "croaked" him if he had not been personally strong enough to deal with it.
Winter Soldier was held in Detroit because its sponsor, Jane Fonda, wanted to reach the "working class." By then, Kerry's public speaking had impressed two VVAW founders, Jan Barry and Sheldon Ramsdell. After Kerry's speech at Valley Forge, Ramsdell had told Peggy Kerry: "Whoa! He looks like Lincoln, and he sounds like a Kennedy. Get him on the road!" Kerry quickly became what the FBI calls several times "National Spokesman for VVAW."
But the Winter Soldier meeting received virtually no publicity, which bothered Kerry, and gave him an opening. He called upon VVAW leaders to demonstrate in Washington, a proposal that brought Kerry his first taste of the opposition that would drive him from the organization later in 1971. Many veterans, especially the grunts, were tired of being led by officers. Mike McCusker, a former Marine sergeant who was then VVAW Oregon coordinator, says the dispute was between the "top-downers versus the bottom-uppers." McCusker says he and the other bottom-uppers wonfor the momentbut only by agreeing to go along with the demonstration in Washington, known as Operation Dewey Canyon III.
The next month, in February, McCusker recalls walking into VVAW's national office in New York and discovering to his dismay that Kerry was in charge of the meeting. Organization leaders were gathering for their first national steering committee meeting. Kerry looked "stiff and starchy," a "top-downer" if McCusker had ever seen one. But, he says, Kerry won him over in two ways. First, he saw that as the room filled with vets, Kerry loosened up, as if these truly were his brothers, people with whom he felt safe and comfortable. Second, Kerry began sounding unlike an officer, talking about his Paris trip to meet the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong delegates and about his great respect for the Vietnamese. Kerry and McCusker developed an immediate rapport.
After the New York meeting, Kerry began stumping the country to raise funds for the demonstration in Washington. FBI files show that the agency was unsure what to make of him, for despite his tailored suits, Gucci loafers and "JFK" monogrammed sweaters that other vets kidded him about, and despite the patrician manners and stock patriotic phrases, Kerry seemed to harbor, and at times openly express, some fairly radical beliefs. The files contain an array of his edgy political positions, including his statement in Philadelphia that "Ho Chi Minh is the George Washington of Vietnam." Southeastern VVAW coordinator Scott Camil says that he heard Kerry make the comment several times. Also in Philadelphia, according to the files, Kerry noted Ho Chi Minh's understanding of the United States Constitution and his efforts "to install the same provisions into the government of Vietnam."
Kerry also attacked President Richard Nixon as relentlessly as he praised Ho Chi Minh, but his criteria for both, Camil says, was honesty and sincerity. What Kerry held most against Nixon was that he had been elected in 1968 on a promise to end the war, yet by mid 1971, Nixon had extended the ground war into Laos and Cambodia and had begun plans to massively escalate the air war against North Vietnam. "Nixon ran 3 1/2 years ago saying, 'I have the secret plan for peace,' " the files say Kerry told one audience, "and now, the only promise he has kept is that the plan is still a secret."
Though Kerry at times lectured VVAW to stick to the single issue of ending the war, and to eschew attacks on racism, poverty and other broader issues, Kerry himself often condemned social injustices. He told an audience in Reno that, "The United States has become a society based on whose ox is being gored," and in Oklahoma City, he warned, according to a newspaper account, that the country must change its political power structure to avoid violent efforts to seize power.
Anyone who thinks, as some veterans do, that the young Kerry calculated his remarks with an eye toward running for president some day will have to deal with the many unequivocal charges he made against his own government and society as recorded in the FBI documents. At times, Kerry sounded more like Eugene Debs than today's typical Republicrat. One newspaper reported: "Kerry said it is wrong for some persons to make millions of dollars and pay no taxes while others barely making a living have to pay them," and that "of 234 congressmen's sons eligible for service in Vietnam, only 24 went there and only one of them was wounded."
Indeed, the files show that Kerry was far from politically correct even within his own organization. He joined in the dedication of Victor Westphall's Vietnam War memorial, an activity hardly prescribed for VVAW leaders, in Angel Fire, N.M., on May 18, 1971. Nixon sent a supportive letter about the memorial to Westphall that month. An FBI agent, apparently spotting the potential for embarrassing Kerry by putting him on the same side of an issue with Nixon, forwarded both texts to the bureau's Washington office.
The Kansas state coordinator for VVAW, John Musgrave, who spoke beside Kerry at a couple of colleges, says that Kerry impressed him by "always speaking directly from the pain and misery of a combat veteran. He adds, "I believed every word he said in those days." Musgrave, a Marine veteran who almost lost his life to three AK-47 rounds, recalls that Kerry touched hearts with his honesty and deep feelingas though he were speaking for America's conscience. He believes that Kerry played a major role because "the nation needs to hear what combat vets have to say, and Kerry was able to tell them." Musgrave is angry at Kerry today mainly because he believes that Kerry "has stopped speaking that way, and he owes it to the American people to speak like that againlike a human being, not a politician."...
Columnist John Nichols, in the Wisconsin Capital Times (May 25, 2004):
When she served as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Lynne Cheney established herself as an outspoken advocate for the teaching of history in the public schools.
She even published a groundbreaking report, "American Memory," which argued that a slackening commitment to teach history fully and accurately posed a genuine threat to coming generations.
"A system of education that fails to nurture memory of the past denies its students a great deal: the satisfactions of mature thought, an attachment to abiding concerns, a perspective on human existence," Cheney argued in the report.
Since leaving the National Endowment for the Humanities, Cheney has continued her advocacy on behalf of history education as a senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing "think tank" based in Washington, and more recently as the nation's second lady....
The wife of Vice President Dick Cheney has made a name for herself in recent years by organizing the James Madison Book Award Fund, which has been established to present a yearly award of $10,000 to the author of the book that does the best job of bringing knowledge and understanding of American history to young people.
With that sort of track record, one might presume that Lynne Cheney would treat history with reverence. But, obviously, she does not feel so inclined.
In La Crosse Friday night to deliver a pep talk to delegates at the Wisconsin Republican Convention, Cheney was peddling some of the most bizarre revisionist history since Stalin stopped rewriting Soviet textbooks.
After repeating the standard Republican spin of attacks on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, Cheney declared George Bush to be a model of presidential propriety and advancement. "These 3 years have provided a textbook case of outstanding leadership at the head of our government."
"A textbook case of outstanding leadership"? George Bush?
George Bush's presidency has been a textbook case of something, all right, but that something is certainly not "outstanding leadership."...
"Outstanding leadership"? By comparison to whom? Herbert Hoover? Richard Nixon? Ronald Reagan?
Only a revisionist history that abandons the truth in order to score cheap political points would even attempt to put George W. Bush in the "outstanding" category when it comes to American presidents. If Bush is lucky, he will be remembered by historians as one of the lesser crooked presidents, a James K. Polk or Warren Harding for the 21st century.
More likely, however, he will be remembered in a darker light, as a Nixon without intellect or, worse yet, as the final, malignant stage of Reaganism.
Whatever the precise fate of Bush's legacy once it is handed off to the historians,
it is safe to say that the judgment of honest scholars will not be kind.
Gregory Clark, a former Australian diplomat and vice president of the new Akita International University, in Japan Times (May 25, 204):
U.S. President George W. Bush says often that the American aim in Iraq is to promote something called "democracy." But what is this democracy?
The American philosopher Francis Fukuyama has gotten much publicity with his thesis that democracy, particularly the Anglo-Saxon version, is "The End of History" -- namely the last and final stage in humanity's efforts to establish the ideal political system.
Ideal? With the news of prisoner torture and abuse by U.S. forces in Iraq?
Few may realize this, but the origins of the Fukuyama thesis can be traced back to a 1980s visit to Japan by a Lawrence Harrison, a dedicated U.S. expert on aid to Latin America. His visit was part of a quest to discover why Latin American societies found it so hard to match the economic and social progress of North America. His hypothesis was that the "radius of trust" -- the extent to which individuals in a society cooperate with each other -- was much wider in North American and northern European than in Latin societies.
Where the northern peoples had networks of professional and trade groups, traditions of voluntarism, etc., Harrison saw the Latin radius of trust as confined largely to close relatives and the Church.
Why the difference? Harrison saw it as embedded in religion -- the Protestant ethic of the north as opposed to the Catholicism of the south. But this left him with the problem of explaining non-Protestant Japan, whose progress at the time seemed to exceed even that of North America and Europe.
Visiting Japan, Harrison found similarly wide networks of trusting relationships, and assumed that the Confucian ethic was the reason. He saw that ethic as matching the Protestant ethic. At the time, some of us tried in vain to convince him that Japan was not a very Confucian society and that traditional Confucianism was usually seen more as a brake than as an aid to progress. This flaw, plus the lack of hype, probably caused his otherwise valuable radius-of-trust concept to be overlooked.
Enter Fukuyama. With only slight attribution, he picked up Harrison's concept of trusting relationships as the key to social and economic progress. But Fukuyama saw the radius of trust in North America, North Europe and Japan as having little to do with any religious ethic. Rather he saw it as proof that these societies had moved much further than others down the path of history -- all the way to advanced industrialization and liberal democracy.
The Fukuyama thesis has had enormous influence. It coincided with the collapse of communism in East Europe. Today it provides much of the rationale for the fruitless U.S. push into Iraq. But with a U.S. president as blinded by messianic fundamentalism as any al-Qaeda suicide bomber, who owes his job partly to electoral manipulation and who plans to continue it with massive spending aimed at slandering his opponent, can anyone really talk of democracy being the final stage in humankind's political development?
Far from being the end of history, democracy is the middle of history, and a very temporary one at that....
This "middle of history" thesis could explain the sharp contrast
between the relative honesty and cooperation found at home in Japan and the
Anglo-Saxon societies compared with the clumsy deviousness of their foreign
policies and the brutality of their soldiers abroad....
Mark Schmitt, the Director of Policy for the U.S. Programs of the Open Society Institute, in the American Prospect (May 20, 2004):
American liberals suffer from a well-earned inferiority complex. How often do we hear phrases like, We need a Heritage Foundation for our side, or, We need ideas and a framework, like the right has? Robert B. Reich has put forth the most comprehensive such argument in the May issue of the English magazine Prospect: The radical conservatives have a movement, which explains their success they have frames of reference used in the policy debates and they have developed a coherent ideology Democrats have built no analogous movement.
It's not that this is wrong. Its inarguably correct (though changing, with the establishment of the Center for American Progress and a few other outfits). But to pretend that all that stands between progressives and power is money, message discipline, rapid response, and a friendly cable-news network or three is a dangerous delusion. By so often looking to the right for the model of ideological success, we risk cutting ourselves off from our own strengths, the power of our own ideas, and, above all, our rich history.
I began thinking about this paradox most recently when I joined a blog exchange, responding to a contention in a National Review Online posting by Jonah Goldberg that his fellow conservatives are universally literate in the intellectual heritage behind their belief system, in contrast to the generalized ignorance or silence of mainstream liberals about their own intellectual history. As an example, Goldberg asked, When was the last time you saw more than a passing reference to Herbert Croly?
I thought there was a kernel of truth to Goldbergs mostly incorrect claim, and I intend to explore that kernel in more depth through this occasional column. The relationship of liberalisms current plight to its intellectual history is far more complicated than Goldberg recognized.
Consider Goldbergs example: Are liberals familiar with or interested in Croly or the implications of his 95-year-old ideas about national greatness and federal power? In fact, about a decade ago, everyone was reading Crolys The Promise of American Life. E.J. Dionne Jr., John B. Judis, and Michael Lind were, in different ways, calling attention to Crolys ideas about a strong federal government and national identity. Crolys era, which was the transition from the Gilded Age into 20th-century progressivism, was held out as a model or prediction for that time.
But it was not just Croly. In the Bill Clinton-Newt Gingrich years, liberals seemed to be awash in many such ideas and historical antecedents. We were reviving ideas at a mad pace. Communitarians, the politics of meaning groupies, those interested in civil society, the Clintonites who wanted to incubate bottom up community-development strategies, and even the thinkers around the Democratic Leadership Council were among many factions engaged in a deep, ongoing, and not at all destructive debate that was thoroughly rooted in history.
But since then -- silence. After the election of 2000, and perhaps earlier, liberals seemed to begin to fall back on an envious observation of the right, looking for something to emulate rather than finding our own voice. The absence of a coherent economic policy in the 2002 elections was a tactical problem, but also a symptom of a larger failing that went well beyond the policy shop of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
For the most part, the mythologized history of the far right rests on the Alcoholics Anonymous theory: Only when you hit rock bottom can you begin the journey to recovery. Historians of both the left and the right find the roots of the far right's current power in the aftermath of the Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964, or in soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powells 1971 memo roughly outlining the array of policy and advocacy organizations needed to reverse the plight of the free enterprise system.
This is actually a comforting thought -- perhaps too comforting. It suggests that as low as liberalism has fallen, the seeds of its renewal may be sprouting, even if we are doing nothing to water them. Outside the realm of ideas, it is probably true: The Democrats small-donor fund-raising base, volunteer base, Internet base, and get-out-the-vote activism would never have emerged under circumstances in which the far rights influence and ideas were more muted or forced to compromise. But, with some experience of futility over the last three years, there is little reason to think that it has helped liberals in developing either new ideas or a coherent way of talking confidently about existing ideas. Liberalism is different from conservatism, not its mirror. Liberalism thrives when it has an opportunity to experiment, to debate, to test ideas. And when, in a time of futility, we also cut ourselves off from the historical roots of our ideas, we lose the benefit of the experience and experimentation that has gone before.
The corollary to the rock-bottom theory is an overestimation of liberalism's dominance in an earlier era. We often tend to exaggerate the era of liberal consensus, assuming that even through the Nixon administration there was unflinching public support for taxation, an activist government, redistributionist economic policies, and a rich social safety net. But each of these was a struggle then, as it is now. There were backlash and resistance throughout that era, even when conservatism did not seem to offer a coherent ideological alternative. As Jacob Hacker's The Divided Welfare State shows, our social-insurance programs were consistently compromised by the political pressure to expand private-sector social insurance, so that the Bush administration's preference to provide all benefits through private-sector subsidies is not a reversal of earlier trends but simply the latest stage in a long struggle. ...
Jon Meacham, in Newsweek (May 31, 2004):
In the first days of the Bush Restoration in 2001, Karl Rove, the new president's senior adviser and in-house history buff, was dining at the British Embassy in Washington with the then ambassador, Christopher Meyer. In the grand building up on Massachusetts Avenue, Rove mentioned George W. Bush's fascination with Churchill. "He was a man who saved the world," Rove said of Churchill, "a wartime leader who charted his own course, and did it with wit and personal morality and courage." Meyer called Rove a few days later. "The P.M. has a spare bust or two of Churchill," Meyer said. Would the president like one? Absolutely, came the reply. Bush, who tells Oval Office visitors that he works at a desk once used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, loved the idea of adding the Churchill.
And so there the Last Lion sits, in bronze, next to the fireplace beneath a
West Texas painting. Bush likes the juxtaposition. Churchill, the president
said in accepting the bust, "knew what he believed, and he really kind
of went after it in a way that seemed like a Texan to me... He charged ahead,
and the world is better for it." Churchill's visage sometimes appears to
take in the whole room. "He watches everything I do," Bush has joked.
What would Churchill make of what he's seeing? What would FDR think of the man sitting at his desk? By drawing on the drama of World War II in talking about his own war, Bush himself has invited the questionsand the comparisons. Charging ahead, we are learning, does not automatically make the world better. Given the faulty intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that justified the Iraq war, the peculiarities of the pre-emptive strike against Saddam's regime, the casualties in the aftermath and the poor planning for a post-Saddam order, invoking the Great Men of World War II is fraught, for their legacies are so large Bush risks seeming small in their long shadow.
Yet at a gathering to open a Library of Congress exhibit on Churchill this winter, Bush explicitly linked World War II to Iraq and the war on terror. "In their worship of power, their deep hatreds, their blindness to innocence, the terrorists are successors to the murderous ideologies of the 20th century," Bush said. "And we are the heirs of the tradition of liberty, defenders of the freedom, the conscience and the dignity of every person. Others before us have shown bravery and moral clarity in this cause. The same is now asked of us, and we accept the responsibilities of history." The "we" includes Tony Blair. "A majority of decent and well-meaning people said there was no need to confront Hitler and that those who did were warmongers," Blair told the Guardian in March 2003.
Now, amid dark days for the American effort in Iraq, a wave of World War II commemoration is about to break over us. On Memorial Day comes the dedication of the World War II Memorial on the Washington Mall, where Bush will speak. Then, a week later, the president travels to Normandy to give an addreess marking the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landings that began the liberation of Europe. Bush's appearances at the ceremonies will, for many, raise a fundamental question about that most elusive and essential of gifts: war leadership. How does Bush measure up against the giants of old? What can heand welearn from the road to D-Day?On substantive grounds, the analogy is an enormous stretch. Bush's war against Al Qaeda and the battle for Iraqthe president thinks of them as parts of a wholeare not comparable to World War II in scope or scale. Roughly 60 million people, soldiers and civilians, died in that conflict. Churchill and Roosevelt were leading a global hot war in which states, driven by ideology and avarice, were embarked on conquest; great armies and navies massed against one another in ways that would have been recognizable to the ancients. Fighting terrorists and their sympathizers is, we know, a different kind of war, one more like President Kennedy's "long twilight struggle" against communism, a battle fought in an atmosphere of anxiety with flashes of combat.
Trying to find the right historical frame for our current conflict has become a consuming intellectual exercise. Someincluding NEWSWEEK, in a cover story in Aprilhave sought clarity in comparing and contrasting Iraq to Vietnam. Others think of the French fight for Algiers; still others point to the aftermath of the Great War and Versailles, which created Iraq in the first place. No parallel is exact, but turning to history is the only way we can make sense of the present. "The farther backward you can look," Churchill once said, "the farther forward you can see."
Governing always looks easier from the visitor's side of the desk in the Oval Office, from the press room or from the historian's perspective in the archives. But there is no doubt that the early returns on Bush's war leadership are troubling. Despite the administration's claims, there is still no convincing evidence of Iraqi ties to terrorism; no weapons of mass destruction have been found; we have not been greeted as liberators, and more Americans have died in Iraq since Bush prematurely declared victory aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln a year ago than had died there before. So the president has a learning curve to master, and he should start with the Great Men of the Greatest Generationor else he may face Churchill's political fate, defeat at the polls in the wake of a war. Bush has read the right books, from Martin Gilbert and William Manchester on Churchill to Michael Beschloss, James MacGregor Burns and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. on Roosevelt. Whether he has absorbed the lessons of such works is another question.
Bush eschews complexity; FDR and Churchill embraced it. Bush prefers to decide, not go into details or revisit issues; FDR and Churchill were constantly examining their own assumptions and immersing themselves in postwar planning. Bush is largely incurious about the world; FDR and Churchill wanted to know everything. It is not too late, however, for the president to reach back into their lives for guidancethey are not inaccessible figures. Steely and subtle, hawkish and gentle, fierce and forgiving, they were men before they were monuments. And in the debate over D-Day (or Overlord, as the cross-channel invasion was called), all of their gifts and quirks, genius and weaknesses, came into sharpest focus....[Click on the link at the top to read comparisons with DeGaulle.]
Adam Bruce, in the Scotsman (May 23, 2004):
ITS undeniable - the coverage of American foreign policy makes for grim reading. The lack of an exit strategy, the ongoing violence and the failure to build a credible administration are common themes. "Americans are losing the victory", "How we botched the occupation" and "Bin Laden has exceeded even his wildest dreams" are three headlines that stand out.
Youre probably unsurprised, but two of these are not what they seem. "Americans are losing the victory in Europe" was the message of Life magazine in January 7, 1945, and "How we botched the German occupation" was the leader in the Saturday Evening Post of 26 January, 1946. The Bin Laden article, by Simon Jenkins, appeared in the Times on 19 May 2004.
"Never has American prestige in Europe been lower", continued John Dos Passos Life article, which highlighted the unrest and disorder that followed the allied victory in Western Europe.
The Saturday Evening Post article concentrated on the apparent lack of a strategy to extricate American troops from Europe. "We have got into this German job without understanding what we were tackling or why", wrote the journalist, Demaree Bess.
Jenkins sentiments in the Times are similar. "The victors are enduring the most appalling hangover. They can smash nations but not rebuild them... [They] cannot walk and chew gum at the same time."
That article, and those from the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, give great emphasis to the here and now, and are less interested in taking the long view. In 1946 the Americans were facing twin tasks of rebuilding Japan and Germany without any track record in nation-building, save their own. In 2004 American policy makers can look back to the lessons learned in Europe and Asia over the past half-century. Iraq is not Germany, but neither is it Vietnam. There may be resistance to the coalition occupation, but it isnt the Vietcong.
As Robert Kagan wrote in 2002, the invasion of Iraq "is a historical pivot. Whether a post-Hussein Iraq succeeds or fails will shape the course of Middle Eastern politics, and therefore world politics, both now and for the remainder of this century." Looking back to American involvement in other post-war settlements Kagan reminded his readers about the need for a long-term commitment to the Middle East. "American policy in Japan, as in Germany, was nation-building on a grand scale, and with no exit strategy. Almost six decades later there are still American troops on Japanese soil."
Bob Thompson, in the Washington Post (May 18, 2004):
To invade or not to invade, that was the question. Once again, you had a bunch of Washington pundits and insider types shooting off their mouths about a decision that would get thousands of people maimed or killed and poison international relations for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, the eight panelists holding forth at the Shakespeare Theatre yesterday were talking about the 15th century, not the 21st. And the topic they were debating was King Henry V's decision to lead an English army into France in 1415, not President Bush's decision to send an American army to Iraq in 2003.
Or was it?
"Let's see what we have here. We have a king whose father had been a king. We have a king who spent a carousing youth," said industrialist and Shakespeare Theatre trustee Sidney Harman as he introduced the program. Harman went on to mention the "invasion of another sovereign nation" and to paraphrase the hoary advice of George Santayana that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Before long, Vanity Fair contributing editor Christopher Hitchens was quoting Henry IV's deathbed advice to the newly reformed future Henry V that in order to suppress domestic discontent, he should, in Shakespeare's words, "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels." MSNBC hardballer Chris Matthews was referring to the English longbows -- used to great effect by young Henry's archers in his immortal victory at Agincourt -- as "weapons of mass destruction." And moderator Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute (which helped put on yesterday's panel), was citing a bon mot by panelist and New York Times columnist David Brooks in which he'd compared the neoconservative advocates of George W. Bush's war to the English churchmen who gave their blessing to Henry's.
"Theocons," Brooks had called them.
The audience roared.
Such contemporary resonance was exactly what Isaacson had been hoping for when he came up with the idea for yesterday's debate.
From the NYT (May 21, 2004):
With his reports in 1969 of a massacre by young American soldiers at My Lai, Seymour Hersh began his run as one of journalism's best-known investigative reporters. But in spite of his longevity, none of his subsequent reportorial efforts has had the impact of his first.
In less than a month, Hersh, 67, has written three articles in The New Yorker that have helped set the political agenda by reporting that once again American soldiers had committed atrocious acts in the midst of a war where the enemy is elusive and the cause is complicated.
The two sets of articles, on My Lai and on the mistreatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison, serve as bookends on a career built on dogged pursuit. And longtime associates of Hersh say it is no coincidence that the news that has brought him back to the center of American journalism is one in which right and wrong are separated by clear lines.
Throughout his career Hersh has served as a sort of a global cop reporter, working disaffected bureaucrats, intelligence op-eratives and soldiers to uncover intelligence pratfalls, foreign intrigues and administration wrongdoing.
"There is a sense of outrage at this story for him," said Tom Goldstein, a professor of business and journalism at Arizona State University who was a colleague of Hersh at The New York Times in the 1970s. "He has a sense of outrage unlike anyone I have ever known, and it remains undiminished over a career."
The subjects of his reporting often find themselves outraged as well. On Monday the Defense Department accused him of writing a "hysterical piece of journalistic malpractice" for the New Yorker article reporting that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved the use of a clandestine unit to find terrorists within the walls of Abu Ghraib prison. In Bob Woodward's Bush at War, the president called Hersh a liar.
And Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who was accused by Hersh in a lengthy New Yorker article in 2000 of authorizing the massacre of fleeing Iraqi troops at the end of the Persian Gulf War, said the charges were outrageous. "The guy just fundamentally lacks integrity," he said in an interview.
Hersh and the editor at The New Yorker, David Remnick, stand by his reporting, and many former colleagues and press crit-ics praise Hersh's body of work.
Unlike his colleagues at newspapers and on television, Hersh can be quite subjective in his judgments; anyone who is reading his current magazine articles is well aware he opposes the war.
To Hersh, what took place at Abu Ghraib -- and the responsibility that higher-ups bear for the abuses -- represent a grievous perversion of the American mission.
"My Lai and Vietnam was a technical problem. America was not jeopardized," he said. "This story represents a very important strategic loss, not something that can be fixed by setting up an embassy and giving people some breaks on trade."
John McManus, in Grade the News (May 19, 2004):
New Yorker Editor David Remnick had the stage all to himself Monday evening. But Tuesday during the John S. Knight Journalism Symposium, he faced off against three prominent journalists, a history professor -- and the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson.
Mr. Remnick's critique of the American press for turning from expensive foreign news to "non-fiction show business" featuring celebrity trials elicited agreement. But when he blamed the public for failing to pay adequate attention to serious journalism, Stanford Professor David M. Kennedy demurred with a little help from the author of the Declaration of Independence.
Prof. Kennedy, who like Mr. Remnick has won a Pulitzer Prize, likened the editor's indictment of the public the night before to Jimmy Carter's infamous "malaise" address. He paraphrased the former president: "I'm a good leader, but you're not cooperating by being good, attentive citizens."
"It's absolutely fatal to democratic theory to believe the public is incompetent," said Mr. Kennedy. "To whom else can we turn?"
Mr. Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan professor of history, quoted an 1820 letter of Thomas Jefferson: "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education." News media, Mr. Kennedy said, must be more "clever" at making what's important compelling.
Editor Remnick responded: "I don't think at all people are incompetent. They are faced with a more difficult world than Thomas Jefferson faced." In Jefferson's time, he said, there was no "entertainment blizzard ... the narcotic effect of television at the end of a day.
"I feel sorry in a way for the news consumer," Mr. Remnick continued.
"They are faced with a blizzard of choices and they are their own navigators."
Michael Kranish and Bryan Bender, in the Boston Globe (May 13, 2004):
... Even as President Bush apologized for the abuses by the military under his command, questions have resurfaced about allegations that Kerry, his Democratic challenger for the presidency, made about the behavior of US troops in Vietnam three decades ago....
Three weeks ago, Kerry said his allegations were a "little over the top," even as he pointed out that many atrocities have been documented.
But the question remains: How widespread was the abuse by American troops in Vietnam?
"There were atrocities, without any question," Robert McNamara, the Vietnam-era defense secretary, said in an interview. "We had photographs of officers shooting innocent Vietnamese. I would say it was not intentional, at least through the hierarchy of command. But I don't think enough attention was paid to it by the chain of command."
The official US record on wartime atrocities in Vietnam is that 278 members of the armed forces were convicted of war crimes in an eight-year period. But some historians say that atrocities were much more widespread than that, although perhaps not as common as Kerry asserted.
The most notorious Vietnam atrocity was the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968, in which at least 175 civilian men, women, and children and possibly as many as 400 were killed by US troops.
In 1971, Kerry shocked many Americans and caused great consternation in the Nixon White House when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about alleged atrocities that went far beyond My Lai.
A decorated combat veteran, Kerry based his remarks partly on the Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit, which featured 150 veterans telling their stories in a forum financed partly by actress Jane Fonda. Kerry told the Senate that soldiers "personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Kahn."
One of Kerry's most publicized allegations, that soldiers cut off heads, became the subject of scrutiny by US officials as Kerry was preparing to testify in 1971, according to a report published last year by The Toledo Blade. The newspaper said that in February 1971 the US Army was examining an allegation that a soldier had cut off an infant's head. The 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning series also said that Army investigators found that more than 100 civilians may have been killed and that 18 soldiers committed war crimes; none was charged.
Stanley Karnow, author of "Vietnam: A History," said there is no question that atrocities occurred on both sides in the Vietnam War. Indeed, Karnow said Kerry made a mistake on "Meet The Press" last month when he backed off some of his allegations about atrocities and war crimes.
"He could have dealt with it forthrightly by saying atrocities were committed by everybody," Karnow said.
In 1971, Kerry blamed the atrocities on a culture that began at the top, and he accused leaders in Washington of setting a tone that condoned the outrages. In the Iraqi abuse scandal, Kerry once again raised questions about the involvement of people high in the chain of command.
But even some former Kerry commanders who acknowledge that atrocities occurred in Vietnam said they have believed for 33 years that Kerry wrongly tarred them. While Kerry has not specifically said that his own commanders acted improperly, his 1971 statement was sweeping and targeted even himself. "I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed, in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones," he said.
Kerry went on to say that the people who designed the strategy of firing on anyone who violated that curfew zone "are war criminals."
Retired Rear Admiral Roy Hoffmann, who was ultimately responsible for ordering Kerry into the free-fire zones, took such offense at Kerry's allegations that he organized last week's gathering of veterans to criticize the Democratic presidential candidate, which drew several of Kerry's former commanding officers, along with some other officers who served with Kerry. While many of those critics were Republicans, they insisted they were motivated by Kerry's allegations, not his standing as a Democrat.
Kerry's close friend, David Thorne, who was at his side during the 1971 protests, said that Kerry was not trying to blame his own commanders. Rather, Thorne said, Kerry's aim was to "break through the public apathy."
"Fourty-four thousand people had died, and no one was listening," Thorne said, referring to the number of US war dead at that time.
But the retired officers who criticized Kerry said he misled the public by lumping together documented atrocities like My Lai with his complaints about the in humanity of the US military's policy on free-fire zones.
They also questioned whether the 1971 testimony of veterans at the Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit was accurate. They pointed out that one of Kerry's fellow antiwar leaders was found to have misstated his service record, and they cited reports that some of the Winter Soldier testimony has been discredited.
Asked about those assertions last month on Meet The Press, Kerry said: "A lot of those stories have been documented. Have some been discredited? Sure, they have."
One of Kerry's former commanders, Coast Guard Captain Adrian Lonsdale of Massachusetts, said he has no recollection of Kerry ever expressing concern about atrocities during their conversations while in Vietnam. Lonsdale was among those who said he opposed Kerry on grounds that he falsely made allegations about atrocities.
"Atrocities by US Navy men and Coast Guardsmen under my command were never reported to me," Lonsdale said via e-mail. "Once in a while, a trigger-happy gunner may have shot up a pig or empty hutch in a free-fire zone. I would consider those acts of poor judgment to be vandalism and not to be condoned. I would not have considered them atrocities.
"I do not know what happened during the interrogation of captured Viet Cong," he added. "My experience is that about 90 percent of our personnel were moral, compassionate, patriotic Americans, trying hard to follow the rules and do their duty for their country. Perhaps 10 percent were misfits, half of whom already had problems before they arrived in Viet Nam. Atrocities probably were committed, but they would have been isolated incidents."