Roundup: Historian's Take
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.
The United States began its war against Iraq with a campaign of "shock and awe." An overwhelming demonstration of American airpower was designed to persuade the Iraqis to throw down their arms and surrender even while rising in revolt againAst Saddam Hussein. Sadly, that expectation has been thwarted, as the war drags on and Americans and Iraqis continue to die.
The term "shock and awe" is in keeping with a long-standing Anglo-American faith in technological quick fixes. Military techno-hype has frequently fed expectations of a "clean" victory. But we have found that the latest technology does not always shorten wars.
As early as 1609, John Smith, a leader of colonial Virginia, told his troops that if they just discharged their muskets, "the very smoake will bee sufficient to affright them." Unfortunately, Smith was wrong. Virginia's Indians developed tactics to circumvent the colonists' technological advantages. Smith returned to England, proclaiming his mission accomplished; but the Virginia Indian wars lasted for decades.
In the American Revolution, Britain's Captain Patrick Ferguson believed his ingenious breech-loading rifle would guarantee victory. His confidence cost Ferguson his life in the South Carolina forests at King's Mountain, where American "peasants" carrying old-fashioned weapons wiped out his forces.
Modern weaponry is far more destructive and would seem able to convince any opponent to avoid fighting. The American Richard Gatling employed such reasoning in the nineteenth century, predicting that his rapid-fire gun would put an end to war, as no one could advance in the face of such overwhelming firepower.
But Gatling, like many later innovators, underestimated the willingness of people to give their lives in even the most bloody conflicts.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:33
An ABC News-Washington Post poll released Sunday:
Percentage of Americans who disapprove of Bush administation policy in Iraq: 51
Percentage who approve: 47
Percentage who think Bush has made the US more prosperous: less than 10
Percentage who say Bush cannot understand their problems: 58
Percentage who disapprove of Bush's handling of the economy: 53
Percentage who think the economy is more important than terrorism as an issue: 62
I think the most important statistic in this set is that 58% say Bush cannot understand their problems. All the folksy Texas malapropisms in the world have not been able to convince ordinary Americans that this prince from a Northeast finance and political dynasty is one of them. What gave it away? It wasn't the huge tax giveaways to the rich. Americans seldom mind rich people getting breaks, since they all plan on being rich themselves one day. It was that princes can get consumed by foreign wars in distant places, but ordinary Americans can seldom focus on such things longer than a year or two, more especially when their economic situation is faltering. Bush is giving away their money to foreigners, and sacrificing their boys to a foreign adventure. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction has demonstrated to people that it hadn't been necessary to the country's defense. And there is only one word in the lexicon of ordinary Americans for an expensive foreign war that didn't need to be fought, and that is boondoggle.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:32
When a white, patrician guy from a very white state starts talking about Confederate flags, he really ought to be careful. Howard Dean's clumsy recent statement that he wants to court "white folks in the South who drive trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back" is a good example of why. But though he fumbled the rhetoric, burned himself politically and failed to develop his idea in any sophisticated way, the sentiment behind Dean's statement is exactly what the Democratic Party needs.
At some point during his political education, Dean -- or, more likely, someone on his campaign staff -- learned some very valuable, if oversimplified, history. "The Republicans have been talking about [race] since 1968 in order to divide us, and I'm going to bring us together," Dean has said. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he was well aware that he was pushing white southerners out of the Democratic Party for at least a generation. Then, in 1968, Republican strategist Kevin Phillips conceived his party's southern strategy -- combining its traditional base with segregationist Democrats to form a national majority -- and inaugurated 35 years of GOP dominance that continues to this day. By littering their politics with thinly veiled racial rhetoric ("silent majority," "law and order," "welfare queens," "Willie Horton" and the rest) Republicans have done an outstanding job of driving -- and keeping -- much of the white working-class out of the Democratic Party.
Before the Civil Rights Act, however, the white, southern working class was primarily Democratic, not simply because of segregation but also because of the party's progressive economic policies. Poor, southern whites, as Thomas and Mary Edsall wrote in their 1992 book, Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, were "among the nation's most liberal constituencies on non-racial economic issues, supportive of government intervention on behalf of full employment, improved education, and low-cost medical care." White, working southerners were, in fact, outflanked on the left by only the most liberal elements of the Democratic Party -- Jews and blacks.
Those days, of course, are long gone....
... [But a] frank confrontation with the recent political history of race and class might just deliver Dean's mythic truck driver, along with the whole of American politics, to a more sincere discussion about equality.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:32
The idea that anything so trivial as a made-for-TV mockumentary might harm [Ronald Reagan's] reputation is ludicrous. Theodore Roosevelt suffered much worse damage, historiographically speaking, in 1931, when the biographer Henry Pringle depicted him as an overgrown bully. Pringle's book is still in print, but has not stopped T. R. from settling at No. 4 on several recent scholarly surveys of the greatest presidents. And John F. Kennedy, who has been repeatedly portrayed on television as a Mafia stooge, a serial bimbophile and the plotter of Marilyn Monroe's murder (or was that some other Kennedy?) still shines in American memory.
What Mr. Reagan did as president the big, enduring things: restoring national pride, rebuilding the military, refiring the economy, rearming Western Europe, and above all, forcing Soviet Communism to self-destruct cannot be argued away. Neither, it might be added, can his more serious derelictions, such as the bartering of arms for hostages, and (yes) his lack of any particular sympathy for the victims of AIDS. The writers of CBS's canceled miniseries have invented a bit of dialogue to the latter effect, but historians might more seriously ponder Mr. Reagan's actual remarks, including, "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague [because] illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments."
Behind the soft exterior, I repeat, was hard metal, and not all of him was nice. But more of him was nice than is normal in men that powerful. Even in ruminations like the above, and in the very funny stories he told (many of them politically incorrect), there was never any hint of malice. Well, maybe there was, when he leveled his wit against the one thing he really did hate: totalitarianism. Aides cringed at plenary sessions with Mr. Gorbachev as Mr. Reagan chucklingly told (again and again and again) jokes that ridiculed everything the Soviet leader stood for. It was insensitive, it was moral, and it was magnificent.
What he did, he did out of conviction, not caring how his actions might be perceived, then or now. Those protesting the reported slurs and inaccuracies of CBS's canceled miniseries forget that before he was afflicted by Alzheimer's, and particularly during the early years of his presidency, Ronald Reagan was lampooned with a savagery that Bill Clinton might feel happy to have escaped.
I remember Garry Trudeau drawing a series of "Doonesbury" cartoons, with explorers scouting a sterile landscape, under the rubric, "In Search of Reagan's Brain." Paul Slansky published a devastating book, "The Clothes Have No Emperor," that consisted almost entirely of presidential quotations as goofy as any emanating from the present White House. And on the private yet world-encompassing grapevine used by heads of state to convey their true feelings about one another, Mr. Reagan was a subject of such French contempt that his national security adviser flew secretly to Paris to plead with President François Mitterrand to stop making plaisanteries about le cow-boy in the White House.
It is a matter of record that President Mitterrand came to admire Mr. Reagan, as most sophisticates did when they got past what one Brit called "the corn barrier." He was especially impressed with Mr. Reagan's notion de l'état, his dignified self-identification with all that was strong in the American state.
When I published my biography of Ronald Reagan, my confession that I found him to be, on first acquaintance, "an apparent airhead," caused screams of outrage among his acolytes. The fact that the book was narratively designed to prove the author wrong that Mr. Reagan was, for all his emotional coolness and often dumbfounding cultural ignorance, a visionary statesman did not soothe the incense-swingers.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:32
[What Book Most Richly Deserves Greater Attention?] For me this is an easy question. The answer is The Great South Carolina Ku Klux Klan Trials, 1871-1872, by Lou Falkner Williams. Published in 1996 by the University of Georgia Press, it is already out of print, perhaps because readers think it a narrow book interesting only to specialists. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in fact, essential reading, especially at the present time.
Its topic is the difficulties of Reconstruction in South Carolina and how, basically, the terrorist Ku Klux Klan was able to defeat the well-motivated efforts of state and federal officials to bring about a new day in that state. Given the U.S. Supreme Court's almost willful amnesia about the realities of Reconstruction, it would be helpful if all lawyers and judges brushed up on this facet of our history. But the reason I find it so important at this very instant is for the light it casts on what is involved if one is serious about "regime change." To put it mildly, such change is difficult and expensive. Even if one has defeated an enemy on the field of battle and attained unconditional surrender, one will still have to invest immense time, political energy, and money in changing the society that has ostensibly been defeated.
This doesn't mean that "regime change" should never be tried; the United States would have been far better off had Reconstruction worked (though it would have required far, far more than the North was ever willing to spend in order to achieve that victory). But one ought never undertake a process of regime change while being almost willfully ignorant of its likely costs. This 147-page book by a professor of history on an ostensibly narrow topic provides far more food for thought about both past and present than many far-longer tomes written by the most famous of professors. I do feel very strongly that -- in the words of 7th graders everywhere when delivering book reports -- "everyone should read this book!"
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:31
Over the past two years, the Bush administration has inspired one of the more stimulating scavenger hunts in recent memory -- the search for the Ur-theorist of its bold foreign policy initiatives. With each new turn another name has emerged. "Regime change" gave us the political philosopher Leo Strauss. The "shock and awe" campaign brought forth the Cold War calculations of military strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Hints of follow-up aggression against Syria and North Korea had some consulting Trotsky's writings on "permanent revolution."
A likelier candidate might be Richard Pipes, the eminent historian of Russia who two decades ago interrupted a thriving career as a Harvard professor to help the Reagan administration articulate an assertive foreign policy that strikingly prefigured the "Bush doctrine" of today.
Drawing on themes he first explored as a scholar in the 1950s and `60s -- in particular, the brutal top-down nature of Russian power and its ultimate fragility -- Pipes wrote hardline policy memos that gave impetus to the "second Cold War" of the late 1970s and `80s in which negotiation with the USSR was replaced by political confrontation. His influence peaked in 1981-82 when, as an official at the National Security Council, he helped steer Ronald Reagan toward the belief that the Soviet regime could and must be defeated....
All this history seems to point in one direction. Does Pipes mean to say the "second Cold War" was in fact a rehearsal for the "war on terror"?
He is carefully agnostic on the matter. But the connection is hard to ignore. "If your view is that the problems the United States faces today are analogous to those of the Cold War, that you face an organized opponent with a radically different worldview," says [Russian expert Stephen] Sestanovich, "you can then see some similarities between a comprehensive strategy to get at that worldview that was developed by Pipes during the Cold War and the strategy the Bush administration has developed since 9/ 11."
It is all the more remarkable, then, that Pipes has some misgivings about the most recent application, in Iraq, of the approach he helped formulate. "I think the war was correct -- destroying this invasive evil. But beyond this I think they're too ambitious," he says.
He bluntly dismisses the promise of a democratic Iraq -- "impossible, a fantasy" -- citing obstacles similar to Russia's. "Democracy requires, among other things, individualism -- the breakdown of old clannish, tribal organizations, the individual standing face-to-face with the state. You don't have that in the Middle East. Iraq is tribally run."
What about the constitution soon to be written in Baghdad? Pipes laughs. "Stalin had a wonderful constitution, the most perfect constitution in the world. There's a lot of naivete in that. I should think we'd be satisfied with some kind of stability, preventing Saddam Hussein from coming back. It's fantastic that we haven't caught this man. He sits there somewhere."
It is not lost on Pipes that his criticism goes directly to the judgment of the Bush team, conservatives like himself, in some cases former colleagues, most prominently Team B's own Wolfowitz. "Paul didn't have much education in history," Pipes says. "It's not his field. He was educated as a military specialist, a nuclear weapons specialist. Like most scientists, he doesn't have a particular understanding of other cultures."
The administration official with whom Pipes is most in sympathy is its resident Russian expert, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. "She came to see me after I left Washington in 1983," Pipes says, though he has not heard from her since. Perhaps now that her portfolio has been expanded, the call will come.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:31
A letter earlier this month signed by Saddam Hussein and addressed to the sheiks of the Arab tribes in the Sunni Triangle insisted that Iraq "has been a poison" to the American soldiers and that "victory is near." It was one more sign that the former dictator understands that the tribal values of Iraq are ripe for exploitation.
But what works for Saddam Hussein can also be made to work against him. The coalition is eminently capable of winning over many tribes. An old saying in Iraq has it that you cannot buy a tribe, but you can certainly hire one.
And the nation's Sunni minority is open to offers. With Saddam Hussein's downfall, Sunnis, who make up only 15 percent of the population, were deprived of their long-standing political hegemony. The Sunnis from the triangle lost their prestigious and well-paying jobs in the armed forces and internal security apparatus. They were humiliated in the conflict and have had their homes and communities searched in its aftermath. Last but not least: they have been largely frozen out of the Governing Council and the senior bureacracy.
The Sunni network was held together by a web of patronage, perks and favors that filtered down from the presidential palace to the tribal sheik to the "tribesman in the field." Of course, retribution played a role, too. Tribes were severely punished for transgressions (like refusing to abide by the whims of Baathist officials or allowing illicit traffic across borders without the dictator's permission), with the sheiks occasionally deposed and sometimes executed. In the south, whole villages were razed. But much more often the tribes were handsomely rewarded for cooperation with money, weapons, state lands or even the property of rival clans.
While this network has been fractured, many of the older tenets of tribal life linger, and help to fuel the pattern of violence in the triangle today. Attacks on coalition troops should be viewed through the prism of tribal warfare. This is a world defined in large measure by avenging the blood of a relative (al-tha'r); demonstrating one's manly courage in battle (al-muruwwah); generally upholding one's manly honor (al-sharaf). For some of these young men, killing American soldiers is a political act, but it is also not unlike what hunting lions was to British colonial officers in 19th-century Africa: it involves a certain risk, but the reward is great.
Yes, religious fanaticism may also serve as a motivation, but in Iraq the rural tribes have generally been less inclined toward religious fanaticism than the city dwellers. The problem for the coalition is that religious fanaticism and tribal values are now working in the same direction. The coalition leaders must bear in mind that while the violence is endemic, it is not unstoppable in large part, we are dealing with people who are open to persuasion.
Specifically, the Governing Council and its American supporters must come up with a coherent tribal policy. Certainly they can be excused for not having one they've racked up many other achievements while focusing on more pressing problems. Moreover, the hesitation to give power to tribal leaders has been understandable: cultivating the tribes and the sheiks might be seen as a contradiction of the new leaders' stated goal of forming a democratic Iraqi civil society in a modern way. But to avoid increasing violence in the Sunni Triangle, there is a need to rethink that approach.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:30
The Zionist ideal is perhaps best captured in a slogan of Israel Zangwill, an early Zionist, who described Palestine as "a land without a people for a people without a land." The idea is that the Jews were a "people without a land" in the sense of being a minority wherever they lived, hence vulnerable to persecution. Palestine, in turn, was a "land without a people" in the sense of being a barren land without significant population, hence open to redemption by Jewish settlement and labor. Zionism, then, aimed to secure Jewish ownership of and sovereignty over Palestine, thereby saving the Jews from destruction, and facilitating their return to their ancestral homeland. The consummation of this wish was the establishment in May 1948 of the State of Israel.
The crucial claim at the center of Said's work is that for all of its redemptive power in Western eyes, Zionism was in fact a form of Orientalism-that is, an ideology of conquest and dispossession. For contrary to Zionist convictions, Palestine was not a "land without a people," but a land with one-namely the Palestinians, who outnumbered and out-owned the Zionist settlers until the very eve of Israel's creation. Given this, the project of creating a specifically Jewish state in (or throughout) Palestine was bound to lead to the dispossession or even destruction of the Palestinians, a fact that indicts Zionism of a grave injustice. On this view, the relationship between Orientalism, the Zionists and the Palestinians is analogous to that between Manifest Destiny, the American settlers, and the destruction of the Native Americans. In both cases, a messianic religious vision derived from the Old Testament justified the conquest and dispossession of an indigenous ethnic group, relegating them to the status of second-class citizens, refugees, and in the worst case, death. And in both cases, the conquerors engaged in conquest while cynically playing the role of victims: in the American case by exploiting the "Buffalo Bill" mythology; in the Zionist case by "playing the Holocaust card." The complex interaction of Zionism and Orientalism in this thesis is what I'm calling Zionist Orientalism.
The Zionist Orientalist thesis involves a complex and controversial set of claims, almost every one of which may legitimately be disputed. Precisely because it is complex, however, and difficult to dispute in a soundbite culture, defenders of Israel have often (in fact, typically) taken the path of least resistance in dealing with it, making reflexive charges of "anti-Semitism" against its proponents in lieu of dealing with their arguments. We see a succinct example of this in a recent essay by the Israeli writer Hillel Halkin:
One cannot be against Israel or Zionism, as opposed to this or that Israeli policy or Zionist position, without being anti-Semitic. Israel is the state of the Jews. Zionism is the belief that the Jews should have a state. To defame Israel is to defame the Jews. To wish it never existed, or would cease to exist, is to wish to destroy the Jews.
Despite its syllogism-like appearance, Halkin's argument is little more than an exercise in obfuscation. First, Zionism is not merely "the belief that the Jews should have a state"; it is the belief that the Jews should have had a Jewish state in a place where the majority population was not Jewish-a difficulty Halkin neither addresses nor even acknowledges. Secondly, to reject Zionism is not to "defame" anyone or anything; it is to reject its principles, something that can surely come from a well-intentioned commitment to incompatible principles. (Nor in any case is "Israel" to be so blithely equated with "the Jews.") Thirdly, "to wish Israel never to have existed" is not "to wish to destroy the Jews" so long as one thinks that there were other viable options for saving them. And it's an open question whether there were. Finally, "to wish that Israel cease to exist" is ambiguous. In its non-malevolent sense, it refers not to a wish to harm Jews, but to a wish to do away with the specifically Jewish character of the Israeli legal system so as to promote a secular as opposed to sectarian conception of citizenship. In short, whatever the merits or demerits of the anti-Zionist position, no argument like Halkin's counts as a legitimate response to it. The deficiencies of the argument, however, have done nothing to weaken its currency, and one regularly finds pro-Israeli polemicists using it in brazen attempts at insult and defamation.
As with the Arab/Muslim case, the "highbrow" Zionist literature finds its debased counterpart at the middle- and low-brow levels, where we find habitual comparisons of Arabs and Muslims to predatory and scavenging animals, wild rumor and innuendo about Arab/Muslim treachery, and casual proposals made for the forcible expulsion and even extermination of the Palestinians. Here, too, the connection between "high-brow" and "low-brow" is attenuated but real, as is the need for the corresponding moral judgment.
So: On the one hand, we have the very real and menacing phenomenon of Muslim anti-Semitism, discussed principally by the Jews targeted by it, but ignored or even brusquely dismissed as a Zionist ploy by the wider Arab/Muslim community. On the other hand, we have the equally real and dehumanizing phenomenon of Orientalism, discussed principally by Arabs and Muslims, but contemptuously dismissed as a fig-leaf for anti-Semitism by pro-Israeli Jews. Each side stands indicted by the other, and each side uses its indictment-fallaciously-to discredit the claims of the other. Further, each side has a powerful investment in the evasion of facts identified by the other side. And each resists, with furious vehemence, the attempt to integrate both sets of facts into a single coherent account. Finally, each side uses supercharged moral rhetoric to discredit and disarm opponents, while seeking to coerce the assent of the as-yet uncommitted.
The key to understanding the vicious cycle at work here, I think, is to see that the mechanism behind it is each side's fear of discovering that its most cherished beliefs might be "stained in sin." What Arabs and Muslims fear is the discovery that anti-Semitism might really turn out to be an intrinsic feature of Islamic theology rather than a Christian import. What Zionists fear is the discovery that Zionism might really be an ideology of conquest and dispossession on par with Manifest Destiny-that the Palestinians are, to put it somewhat perversely, the Cherokees of Israel (perverse because the Cherokees were thought by the American settlers to be one of the lost tribes of Israel!). The fear in both cases speaks to deep questions of identity. Arabs and Muslims, even relatively secular ones, have for decades invested their moral identities in mythologies about the "glories of Islam." And Jews, even apolitical non-Israelis, have equally invested themselves in mythologies about Zionism and Israel. Each side sees the very thought of public discussion of its "sore points" as an existential threat to identity. The result is a discourse structured by evasion and fear, compensated for by blackmail and recrimination.
If I'm right about this, the key to breaking the cycle may well be to press each issue against the side that least wants to deal with it, demanding that each side cease its evasions of fundamental issues.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:30
The France-bashers are at it again.
This time, however, they don't work for the Pentagon or the British tabloids. They aren't emptying bottles of Bordeaux into American gutters or canceling tours of the Riviera.
This time, the people announcing that France is going to the dogs are respected and influential French intellectuals. This country enjoys a good old rip-snorting, two-fisted theoretical debate, so the outburst of lament over France's supposed decline has reverberated far and wide.
Nicolas Baverez, a historian and economist, has led this fall's doom-and-gloom pack of books and essays. His manifesto: a 135-page bestseller titled "France Is Falling." His thesis: The country's economy, politics and society have sunk into paralysis because leaders have consistently and self-destructively resisted change and refused to accept the realities of a modernizing, globalizing world.
Baverez blames an antiquated, statist mentality for unemployment mired at near 10%, economic growth near zero, crippling strikes, the deaths of almost 15,000 people during an August heat wave that overwhelmed a health system on vacation, and other maladies both tangible and existential.
In contrast to the United States, Baverez writes, French leaders believe "the more things change, the more must be done to change nothing... This political, economic and social immobility, which is also intellectual and moral, has plunged France into decline.
"The autism of a political class moored to the models of the 1960s and 1970s has ... [degraded] the nation."
Those are fighting words. And the French take them seriously because they don't come from a chauvinist of the kind seen prowling the American heartland lately...."France finds itself in complete isolation in the world and in Europe," Baverez writes.
Such sweeping statements are hard to prove and give ammunition to critics. But they make for spirited discussion, especially in an intellectual culture that loves a provocative theory.
Another cultural factor also may be at work. The French devotion to the glories of the past often goes hand-in-hand with pessimism about the future. In a recent commentary on the crop of France-is-fading books, the editor of Le Monde said that the authors are bright and talented, but offer only one slanted way of seeing the country.
Their analyses suffer from ingrained negativism, said the editor, Jean-Marie Colombani. This tinges even apparent good news, such as the announcement that Air France would absorb Dutch airline KLM, a deal that would create a new airline juggernaut, Colombani wrote.
"Instead of saluting the brio of the owner of Air France and the perspectives for development that have been created, voices from all sides raise warnings, denounce the risks of the operation, announce a social catastrophe," Colombani wrote.
"Whether bad, medium or really good news, we lament. As if we were destined for decline."
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:30
Though there always will be soldiers and sailors"seeking the bubble reputation, even in the cannon's mouth," it seems that the vainglory of individual commanders has lately become less dangerous in war, as improvements in the technology of communications and surveillance have increased the ability of commanders to control subordinates. But there is a continuing danger from an institutionalized vainglory. Sometimes a branch of the military may try to maximize its opportunity for glory, turning its back on other less glamorous tasks that are really needed....
Just as the Royal Navy preferred "hunting" to convoy duty in World War I, and the Allied air forces preferred strategic bombing to ground support in World War II, and the cavalry preferred independent action to the support of infantry in the Civil War, so in recent years the United States Army has preferred to plan for fighting battles without worrying about how to govern conquered territory. The Army in World War II had an effective Division of Military Government. It was established in the Office of the Provost Marshall in July 1942, long before there were any captured Axis territories to govern. It was this division and the personnel whom it trained at the Charlottesville School of Military Government that made it possible for the United States later to govern Japan and parts of Germany and Italy in an orderly way, without encountering widespread looting, rioting, or guerrilla attacks.
In the years after the war, responsibility for military government was relocated in the Civil Affairs branch of the Army. Support for this branch was allowed to dwindle, and Civil Affairs survived several attempts to disband it as a separate unit, until in 1987 it finally found a home in the Special Operations Command. There it had to fight off attempts to divert its remaining funds and personnel slots to Special Forces. At the end of the 1980s, an Army-commissioned report, in a chapter called "Pruning Non-Essentials," asked the questions "Should 7,000 reservists continue to be trained to govern occupied nations? Is there a need for those trained in the administration of art, archives, and monuments to preserve the culture of occupied territories?" Civil Affairs became known as a dead end for career officers.
There is now just one active-duty Civil Affairs unit, the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), headquartered at Fort Bragg; the remaining 95 percent of Civil Affairs personnel are reservists. In Afghanistan there are now only about two hundred Civil Affairs personnel, as compared with about 15,000 military government soldiers in the American Zone of Germany soon after the German surrender in World War II. A colonel (not in Civil Affairs) who is just back from Iraq tells me that there are about two thousand Civil Affairs officers there (not all in military government), leaving few anywhere else, and that although they are doing good work, there are not nearly enough of them. Unfortunately the Defense Department's priorities do not seem to have changed. Later this year it plans to close the ten-year-old Peacekeeping Institute of the Army War College
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:29
Am I being wholly rational when I say that I miss the Cold War?
There was a time, say a decade ago, when I wouldn't have hesitated for a minute to answer that I most certainly do not miss the Cold War. But as I pull my shoes back on at Sea-Tac airport, rebuckle by belt, repack my laptop, mourn the confiscation of my metal money clip (with a tiny, hidden knife blade) and watch female airport security agents pass their wands over the bras of female passengers, I have a curious thought: In the worst days of the Cold War, even during the Cuban missile crisis, you simply showed your ticket and marched onto the plane. And if your plane was hijacked to Cuba, it might only mean a short delay for refueling and back home without a scratch.
To put it simply, I never thought I'd look back on the Cold War with a rash of rather kindly, if awkward, memories. Admittedly, most people who live in Russia, Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and the Baltic states wouldn't feel quite the same way. Yet today, even these liberated countries have to worry about Islamist terrorism because they all have Western embassies in their midst. The Cold War world of the 20th century is not the world of the 21st. To amend Hobbes's "Leviathan": It is a condition of war of some against all, a universal vulnerability. We have gone from a world of bipolar quasi-stability to a world of bipolar anarchy. That transformation has affected our quality of life as the Cold War never did to those of us fortunate enough to have lived beyond the Iron Curtain and outside the Berlin Wall.
Totalitarian Russia in the Stalin-Khrushchev-Brezhnev-Andropov era was a horrifying example of socialism at work. The Cold War had many frightening moments -- the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and even the aberrant Soviet shootdown of Korean Flight 007 on Sept. 1, 1983 -- but we never had to worry about anybody else's shoes. Despite the ferocity of Soviet diplomacy, the West still engaged in cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union. And we managed to carve out with it a Helsinki agreement on human rights. Can it be that the Kremlin was more civilized outside its own borders than Osama bin Laden is outside his mosque?....
Soviet history is replete with courageous opponents among its own people: Sakharov, Solzhenytsin, Bukovsky, Ginsberg, Mandelstam, Pasternak, Akhmatova, Bulgakov, Zamyatin, Zoshchenko and others. Where is the anti-Osama opposition in the Islamic world?
The story is far different with bin Laden and his single-minded followers. All one need do is read the mosque sermons. The Islamist jihadists have no immediate desire to convert the West to Islam. They are not interested in WHAM'ing ("winning the hearts and minds," as it used to be called in the days of the Vietnam War). They are not interested in negotiations, summit meetings, detente agreements, cultural exchanges or non-aggression pacts, as we all were during the Cold War. As an ultra-state, ultra-government, ultra-treasury, ultra-supreme court legitimized, in its own eyes, by the Koran, al Qaeda decides who lives and who dies.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:29
"America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people," said President Bush (news - web sites) to a joint session of the Congress of the Philippines last week. "Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule."
Unfortunately, we then killed more than 200,000 Filipinos. Almost all of the dead were civilians, killed in the two years after we liberated them from the Spanish in 1898. One of our generals there, a cranky Civil War veteran named Jacob Smith, told his men: "I wish you to kill and burn ... I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States."
"How young?" asked Maj. Waller Tazewell Waller (cq) of the U.S. Marines. "Ten years and up," said Gen. Smith.
None of this was secret at the time. American soldiers -- we sent 70,000 there after the Spanish colonial authority surrendered when Commodore George Dewey's fleet sailed into Manila Harbor -- wrote of the details in letters to hometown newspapers. Here are samples quoted in a new book, "Flyboys," by James Bradley:
"We bombarded a place called Malabon, and then went in and killed every native we met, men, women and children" ... "This shooting human beings is a 'hot game' and beats rabbit hunting all to pieces" ... "Picking off niggers in the water is more fun than a turkey shoot" ... "I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger. Tell all my inquiring friends that I am doing everything I can for Old Glory and for America I love so well."
Back in Washington, President Theodore Roosevelt was calling that "the most glorious war in our nation's history." The Filipino victims he dismissed as "a syndicate of Chinese half-breeds."
George W. Bush knows all this. At Yale, he got a B in History 35, a study of that era, taught by John Morton Blum, a biographer of Theodore Roosevelt. And if he has forgotten, he could look up some of it in Bradley's book. This president's father, Lt. George H.W. Bush, U.S. Navy (news - web sites), is a hero of "Flyboys" (and of a CNN documentary with the same title), which includes a frightening section on American anti-Asian attitudes and Japanese anti-American and anti-Christian attitudes that fed slaughter, massacre and even cannibalism in World War II.
We are, more often than not, relatively decent people in war and occupation. The Spanish rulers of the 7,000 islands of the Philippines were worse than the Americans, and there was a significant anti-war movement at home between 1899 and 1902. On July Fourth of that year, Roosevelt declared victory, after 4,234 Americans were killed in guerrilla attacks during the first three years of occupation. Mark Twain proposed that the stripes of Old Glory should be black and red. Gen. Smith was court-martialed and Maj. Waller tried (and acquitted) on murder charges. During Smith's court-martial, one of his aides said, "If people know what a thieving, treacherous, worthless bunch of scoundrels these Filipinos are, they would think differently."
That quote, in Stanley Karnow's 1989 book, "In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines," illustrates one of the more important historical lessons of occupation: Not only do the occupied inevitably come to hate the occupiers, the occupiers come to hate the occupied. Last Wednesday, a New York Times story by John Tierney -- the headline began "Baffled Occupiers ..." -- quoted a GI watching over a Baghdad market as saying: "If you really want to know, I'm sick of being in a country where lying is the national pastime."
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:28
[I]t's not too early to predict that if the Democrats lose the presidential election next November, Lieberman will be the one to blame. That will certainly be so if he ends up becoming the nomineein which case the Democratic Party will be left without an activist base.... Perversely, it might even be worse for the Democratic Party if he fails.
... as his star fades, he'll have only one viable strategy left, a manic, all-or-nothing strategy: trying to convince Democrats that the front-runner must be dumped altogether, using the dark arts of opposition research, trying to dig up something purportedly embarrassing from the front-runner's past that the jubilant Republicans might even have missed if left to their own devices....
The year was 1987, an October much like this one, with a crowded Democratic field usefully united on many, if not most, issues, but for a single irritant: Al Gore, who, determined to distinguish himself from the field by a supposedly sage and mature moderate conservatism, stepped up to the microphone at the National Press Club and read his fellow Democratic candidates clear out of the United States of America. "The politics of retreat, complacency, and doubt may appeal to others," he said, "but it will not do for me or for my country." He had already bragged in a Des Moines debate about his support for the Reagan administration's position on the B-1 bomber and the MX missile, even on chemical weapons, accusing his opponents of being "against every weapons system that is suggested"; at the next forum, he lectured his fellows on the imperative of invading Grenada and supporting the Contras. For that, some Democratic insiders were whispering, was just what it would take to be electable.
And even though the message hardly took with votersparty conservatives had scheduled a cluster of Southern primaries early in 1988 specifically to favor a candidate like Gore, but the dead-fish Tennesseean still got skunked on "Super Tuesday" by the most liberal candidate, Jesse JacksonGore stuck around just long enough to run a vicious campaign in the late-inning New York primary, in which he grilled front-runner Michael Dukakis for his apparent support of "weekend passes for convicted criminals."
In Washington, opposition researchers for the Republican front-runner, George Herbert Walker Bush, were taking notes.
"I thought to myself, 'This is incredible,' " Bush staffer Jim Pinkerton recalled of Gore's tarring the Massachusetts prisoner furlough program as if it were the idea of Michael Dukakis, when in actuality the program had been initiated by the Republican governor who preceded him. "It totally fell into our lap." Dukakis emerged from the convention that nominated him with a 17-point lead. Then Gore's million-dollar lines, so self-consciously crafted to make himself "electable," began finding their way into George H.W. Bush's mouth. Bush was able to successfully paint Dukakis as a dangerous radical. Al Gore had provided the palettehis smears having had nearly a year to sink into the American psyche.
Think about that next time you're watching one of the Democratic debates and hear Joe Lieberman say, as he did at one, that if Vermont's former governor won the presidential election, "the Bush recession would be followed by the Dean depression." Or say, as Lieberman did at his own National Press Club policy address this year, that his opponents disastrously "prefer the old, big-government solutions to our problems," even though "with record deficits, a stalled economy, and Social Security in danger, we can't afford that."
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:28
As in the United States, many of the books that have recently found their way to the top of German bestseller lists concern Sept. 11, 2001. Unlike those in the United States, many of them also argue that the Bush administration was responsible for Sept. 11. One book, by a former German government minister, argues that the planes that hit the World Trade Center may have been secretly steered from the ground. Another translated from the French and titled "The Appalling Lie" says that the Pentagon was never hit by a plane at all but was instead deliberately blown up with a bomb. Germany's establishment press has studiously debunked these theories, to little avail: Recently, an opinion poll showed that one in five Germans believe them.
But if German bestseller lists reveal a German reassessment of the United States, they have also in recent years revealed an even more vigorous German reassessment of Germany. Not one but two books have become popular through their descriptions of the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945, which resulted in fires that caused tens of thousands of deaths. One of the authors used the word "crematoria" to describe the burning buildings, described the Allied bomber pilots as the equivalents of Nazi police units that murdered Jews and concluded by wondering whether Winston Churchill, who ordered the bombings, ought to have been condemned as a war criminal.
These books have also been effective: According to another opinion poll, more than a third of the Germans now think of themselves as "victims" of the Second World War just like the Jews. Nor has this new interpretation of history remained limited to books. Lately momentum has gathered behind a movement to build a new museum in Berlin dedicated to Germans expelled from their homes at the end of the war just like the Holocaust museum. It's not wrong for Germans to remember their relatives who suffered, but the tone of the campaigners is disturbing, because they seem, at times, almost to forget why the war started in the first place. Their leader, for example, is the daughter of a Wehrmacht officer, and was born in occupied Poland. Tragically, she was expelled from her childhood home when German troops were defeated the adverb "tragically" representing a certain point of view here, not an objective observation.
That point of view, always popular on the far right of the German political spectrum, has spread rapidly leftward in recent years, attracting supporters among Social Democrats, bank presidents and others. Not everybody agrees by any means, but the subject is shockingly raw, even difficult to discuss politely. As I can attest, there are German politicians who will shout down other guests at dinner parties if their right to victimhood is questioned too harshly.
It is my guess that these things are related: It cannot be an accident that a wave of unusually virulent, even irrational anti-Americanism has peaked just as Germans have begun, for the first time since the war, to talk about their past in a new way. Germany is reassessing its place in Europe, its role in the world, its postwar subordination to the United States. Some of the recalcitrance we've seen in Germany during the past year has been genuine opposition to the war in Iraq and genuine dislike of President Bush and what he is thought to stand for. But some reflects a deeper change. Germans, or at least some of them, no longer want to apologize for the 20th century. Germans, or at least some of them, no longer want to accept the political leadership of the United States. Just look at the bestseller lists for proof.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:27
THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO this fall, a small band of well-educated young Americans hell-bent on storming heaven steeled themselves to commit an act of spectacularly gratuitous violence. A militant breakaway faction of Students for a Democratic Society, they called themselves the Weathermen. Their strategy, such as it was, blended theatrical bravado with puritanical zeal -- Bonnie and Clyde meet John Brown. Wearing crash helmets and wielding baseball bats, ululating like the revolutionaries they had studied on screen in "The Battle of Algiers," they would run wild in the streets of Chicago, lashing out at any available symbol of privilege and power: police, parked cars, affluent bystanders.
Now, more than a generation later, the Weathermen are back in the news. This summer, a new documentary, "The Weather Underground," directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, brought the group's story into movie theaters. In September, one of the group's most famous members, Kathy Boudin, was released on parole from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in upstate New York, where she had spent more than two decades after pleading guilty to a felony charge connected to a murder in the robbery of a Brink's truck in 1981. Boudin's release has in turn prompted the early release of Susan Braudy's book "Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left" (Knopf).
Braudy, a former classmate of Boudin's at Bryn Mawr College, argues that Boudin's violent acts were part of a ploy to get her father's attention. But the book's own evidence suggests no such Oedipal melodrama. Instead, we catch a glimpse of an intelligent young woman blindly driven into tragic violence by overpowering moral hubris. Though it contains some new information gleaned from access to Boudin's mother, Jean Boudin, and her private papers, Braudy's study has more in common with tabloid journalism than serious history. (Caveat lector: Michael Boudin, chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston and Kathy's older brother, is a personal friend.)
The Weathermen's 1969 melee in Chicago, billed "The Days of Rage," was meant to inspire working-class youth to commit similarly gratuitous acts, and to prove the group's revolutionary macho to the Black Panthers. But the Panthers spurned them, and there was no evidence that working-class youth were ready to run wild in the streets. So the group changed its tactics, with deadly results. Early in 1970, a group of Weathermen inadvertently blew up three of their members along with a townhouse on Eleventh Street in New York's Greenwich Village. The group was trying to build an anti-personnel bomb, in order to give Americans a taste of the kind of cruel weaponry their government was using in Vietnam.
Now the object of a national manhunt, and rechristened the Weather Underground, the fugitives -- several dozen militants in a handful of American cities -- established guerilla "focos," secret cells in which members learned how to build bigger and better bombs, to be detonated in acts of "strategic sabotage." Besides issuing a stream of turgid communiques denouncing racism and sexism and proclaiming sympathy for fellow revolutionaries such as Ho Chi Minh, the group succeeded in bombing several symbolic targets, including the Pentagon and the Capitol building. Though the group issued warnings to evacuate their targets, inevitably some bystanders were injured. Against all odds, the most notorious Weathermen -- Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, Kathy Boudin -- all managed to elude the FBI....
In the years to come, will the violence of the Weathermen be regarded with similar forbearance?
I think not. Although they imagined themselves paragons of political courage, the Weathermen were too divorced from political reality to have an impact even remotely analogous to John Brown's.
Moreover, many of the Weathermen today seem small, self-absorbed, stunningly complacent. It is hard to say which is more dispiriting: Kathy Boudin's wooden self-criticism or Bill Ayers' imperturbable self-regard. It is as if self-examination had devolved into a form of self-righteous narcissism, and the Puritan strand in American radicalism had become a farcical parody of itself. And without a modicum of saving self-knowledge, the self-sacrifice of these men and women now seems as pointless as the violence and suffering that they deliberately inflicted on others.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:27
On October 14, the Senate unanimously passed America's first serious anti-genetic discrimination bill, which now goes to the House for consideration. The measure would forbid discrimination by insurers, employers and others based on genetic background or identity, just as current protections cover workplace or financial bias because of race, religion and national origin.
All eyes are now on the House. If the bill does pass the House, it is expected to receive an enthusiastic signature from President George Bush. If anti-gene-lining legislation succeeds, it would mark the first time America has preemptively checked an entire category of discrimination before society accumulates thousands of victims. As such, we are confronting our future before a dismal new legacy is created.
In so doing, our nation must also confront the dismal legacy of American eugenics, where genetic information was twisted and distorted into an official crusade to create a white, master blond-haired and blue-eyed Nordic race. In the process, the reproductive ability of all other peoples who did not resemble this Nordic ideal would be eliminated.
It took me and some fifty researchers two years, delving through dozens of archives to retrieve some 50,000 pages of documentation to connect the dots for my book War Against the Weak, Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. The story is an ugly one.
In the first three decades of the 20th Century, American corporate philanthropy combined with prestigious academic fraud to create the pseudoscience eugenics that institutionalized race politics enshrined as national policy with enabling legislation in 27 states. These laws were ruled constitutional and the law of the land by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The method? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to legislated segregation and sterilization programs. But eugenicists also talked about public gas chambers and medicalized euthanasia. Indeed, doctor-organized euthanasia was sporadically practiced.
The victims: poor people, brown-haired white people, African Americans, immigrants, Indians, Eastern Europeans, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the superior genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists. The main culprits were the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune, in league with America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, operating out of a complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island....
[W]hile the House ponders the anti-genetic discrimination bill to guard our future, America must also explore its own biological crimes. Society must ensure that the much needed, long overdue genie of human genetics will never return to the black days of eugenics--from whence it came.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:26
For the past century and a half, America's capital punishment debate has resembled a strange game of leapfrog: opponents of the death penalty claim that the current method, whatever it may be, is barbaric, which prompts capital-punishment supporters to refine that method or develop a new one.
Although 19th-century Americans tended to believe that justice and order demanded the ultimate sanction, they were often shaken by graphic accounts of the pain suffered by hanged men. In 1876, after an especially gruesome hanging, Maine abolished capital punishment. Inspired by this victory, opponents of the death penalty began to emphasize the cruelty of the gallows. But their effort was self-defeating: by claiming that the problem with hanging was the suffering of the condemned, they simply challenged death penalty advocates to find a better way to kill.
First came adjustments to the gallows. Hangmen created a formula in which rope length was a function of the prisoner's weight the heavier the victim, the shorter the drop. But such delicate calculations of anatomy and gravity often failed to add up, and many prisoners slowly strangled to death. To dull the pain, Brooklyn officials in 1847 knocked a murderer cold with ether before hanging him, but this simply highlighted the deficiencies of the gallows.
Then, in 1889, New York State built the first electric chair, a device championed by Thomas Edison. Edison's advocacy was inspired in part by a wicked plan to hurt his business rival, George Westinghouse the chair was powered by Westinghouse's alternating current, and Edison hoped consumers would begin to associate AC with danger and death. But Edison had less cynical reasons as well: he was an opponent of the death penalty "an act of foolish barbarity," he called it and he believed that electrocution would be less barbaric than the noose. Many others agreed, and eventually 25 states and the District of Columbia installed electric chairs.
Electrocution remained the state of the art for three decades, until the public grew dismayed by bungled executions that required several shocks or set the prisoner on fire. Before long there was another scientific option: an airtight chamber filled with poison gas, adopted by Nevada in 1924 and then by 10 more states in the coming decades. Like all complex machines, however, these execution devices were prone to malfunction, and prisoners suffered the consequences.
So in 1977 Oklahoma began to poison condemned prisoners with a three-drug cocktail: sodium thiopental (to produce unconsciousness), pancuronium bromide (to paralyze the muscles) and potassium chloride (to stop the heart). Promising a clean, painless death, this protocol quickly gained widespread acceptance.
Until now, that is. The next step seems obvious: states will adopt a different drug regimen, which, no doubt, will soon gain critics of its own.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:26
The second great fiction of this story is the notion that Robert Novak is a "journalist." Nobody else published this story, because all six of the other reporters given the leak weighed the perceived motives of the leaker and the likely cost of publication to the country and to Plame and Wilson against the value of this hand-delivered scoop. The only person to take the bait was Novak--who published it in the Washington Post unedited, because its editorial page apparently sends his copy to the printer without reading it first. In publishing what one "senior administration official" describes as a leak "meant purely and simply for revenge," Novak even refused a request from the CIA not to reveal Plame's identity.
Novak may have acted unpatriotically but not inconsistently. He has never made any bones about the fact that he is an ideological warrior first and a journalist second, if at all. To offer one small but revealing example from a previous decade that appears to have new relevance today, let's go back to October 5, 1986, when Sandinista soldiers shot down a C-123K cargo plane ferrying weapons to the contras in southern Nicaragua. Of the four-man crew, the two American pilots were killed, but its cargo kicker, Eugene Hasenfus, also an American, survived and was captured. He revealed to the world that his entire effort had been controlled by the CIA and sanctioned by the US government, sending both into a massive panic.
The contras' man in the State Department, Elliott Abrams, took to the airwaves on the Evans & Novak program on CNN. Asked whether he could offer "categorical assurance" that Hasenfus was not connected with the government, Abrams smirked, "Absolutely, that would be illegal.... This was not in any sense a US government operation. None." This performance was a part of Abrams's plea-bargained conviction for withholding information from Congress by Iran/contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
I interviewed Novak not long after this for a too-kind profile I was writing and asked how he felt about being a pawn in Abrams's deception. His answer: He "admired" Abrams for lying to him on national television because the lie was told in the service of fighting Communism. "He had a tough job and there were lots of people out to get him," Novak averred, expressing zero regrets about misinforming his viewers. "Truth" did not even appear to enter into his calculations. There was his side and there were the other guys, period. That the Post and CNN willingly lend space to the man, knowing what they do, is another of the ongoing scandals involving journalistic standards and conservative ideological domination of the elite media.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:25
In recent weeks a publishing scandal involving charges of anti-Semitism has dominated the feuilleton sections of leading German dailies. The debate has embroiled one of the nation's most respected publishing houses, the Frankfurt-based, left-liberal firm of Suhrkamp Verlag. It has also implicated the world-renowned philosopher Jürgen Habermas for having made a controversial publishing recommendation. More generally, the dispute raises an issue of fundamental importance concerning the ground rules of the continuing, fractious debate over Middle East politics -- an issue familiar to American academics: At what point does vigorous criticism of Israeli policy dovetail with rank anti-Semitism?
At the center of the maelstrom in Germany is a slim volume by the philosopher Ted Honderich, who until his retirement taught at University College London. The book, After the Terror, is an attempt to reassess global politics in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Written in an offhand, chatty style, its main point -- unarguable, as far as it goes -- is that first-world nations bear responsibility for third-world nations' impoverishment. Yet the lines of clarity -- and reasonability -- quickly blur when Honderich attempts to define the nature of that responsibility and its consequences. At issue, in his view, is not just political responsibility for the deleterious economic consequences of American-backed globalization policies on the part of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, but also a direct moral responsibility allegedly shared by all Westerners. What makes that argument problematic is its blanket refusal to acknowledge any indigenous causes of third-world poverty, be they geographic, climatological, regional, sociological, or political. Rather than promote intelligent reflection on the causes of global social injustice, Honderich is interested in playing a simple blame game. Because Westerners (or at least a good number of them) live affluently, while most third-world denizens languish in squalor, the former are by definition morally culpable exploiters....
Honderich does not, as one might expect of a philosopher, evaluate such rhetoric. In fact, he seems strangely unaware of, or uninterested in, the continuing dialogue regarding Palestinian terrorist tactics. Rather than offer a considered analysis of the dominant arguments on both sides, he shoots from the hip, his endorsement of political terrorism seemingly designed merely to provoke.
Dating back to the Hague Conventions of 1898 and 1907, one of the mainstays of international law is the imperative that warring parties distinguish between combatants and civilians. Those precepts were vigorously reaffirmed by Additional Protocol I to the 1977 Geneva Convention, which representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization attended. The distinction is widely recognized as a linchpin of international human-rights law. By intentionally targeting civilians, suicide bombings deliberately contravene those precedents. More insidious still, some of the recent bombings seem to have intentionally targeted young Israelis -- to wit, a June 1, 2001, bombing at a Tel Aviv discoth`eque that killed 21 and wounded 120, and an August 19, 2003, Jerusalem bus bombing that killed 5 children among the 18 dead, and wounded 40 children among the 100 wounded.
According to an October 2002 report by Human Rights Watch, "Erased in a Moment: Suicide Bombing Attacks Against Israeli Civilians," which condemned the intentional and systematic massacre of innocents, the suicide bombings qualify as a crime against humanity. In international human-rights law, the fundamental precedent was set by the 1945 Nuremberg Charter. The Nuremberg precepts were recently reaffirmed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines crimes against humanity as the "participation in and knowledge of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population," and "the multiple commission of [such] acts ... against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack." According to the Rome Statute, both individual perpetrators and the organizations that sponsor them bear criminal accountability for such acts. They are crimes of universal jurisdiction and are subject to no statute of limitations.
Are the bombings morally or politically defensible? The attempt to morally justify suicide bombing seems especially specious. One of the cardinal precepts of the just-war doctrine, dating back to the days of early Christianity, has been the prohibition against the massacre of innocents. In the 2,500-year-old canon of Western moral philosophy, I am hard pressed to find a single thinker who accepts the taking of innocent life to further political aims. Moreover, experts on the Middle East have frequently pointed out that suicide bombing explicitly contravenes three cardinal precepts of Islamic law: the prohibition against killing civilians; the prohibition against suicide; and the protected status of Jews and Christians. Here, too, the burden of proof is squarely on Honderich's shoulders.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:25
The ambitious aim of the American war in Iraqarticulated by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and other neoconservative defense intellectualswas to effect a fundamental transformation in Middle East politics. The war was notor not principallyabout finding weapons of mass destruction, or preventing alliances with al Qaeda, or protecting the Iraqi population from Saddams terror. For U.S. policy makers the importance of such a transformation was brought home by the events of September 11, which challenged U.S. strategy in the region by compromising the longstanding U.S. alliance with Saudi Wahhabis. In response to this challenge, the Bush administration saw the possibility of creating a new pillar for U.S. policy in the region: a post-Baathist Iraq, dominated by Iraqi Shiites, which would spark a wave of democratization across the Middle East.
But the Bush administration badly neglected the history of the group they wanted to claim as their new ally. Who are the Iraqi Shiites? And how likely are they to support democracy or U.S. goals in the region?...
From 1970 until the end of the Cold War, U.S. policy in the Middle East was based on three principles and two key alliances. The principles included fighting against Communist and other radical anti-American influences; supporting conservative religious and authoritarian political elites; and ensuring access to Middle Eastern petroleum supplies. The two principal allies were Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The centrality of the anti-Soviet pillar to regional policy is often ignored, but it helps explain the others. Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, was a crucial pivot of U.S. policy from the 1970s forward. U.S. officials viewed its deeply conservative Wahhabi form of Islam as a barricade against Communism andafter the 1979 Iranian Revolutionagainst Irans Shiite Khomeinism. Israel, too, battled leftist and pro-Soviet forces, though its determination to annex much or all of the territories it captured in 1967 made it a problematic partner for a United States seeking Arab friends. The United States could maintain an alliance with both the Zionist state and the Wahhabi kingdom, even though the two did not care very much for one another, because both disliked the Soviets and leftist Palestinians.
Because the Cold War was a contest of economic systems, winning it depended crucially on the prosperity of Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea. Inexpensive energy was essential to their prosperity. And the Saudi alliance was one key to inexpensive energy. Because of its small population and unusually large capacity, Saudi Arabia had enormous influence on the price of petroleum. By pumping extra oil, the Saudis kept the price lower than other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), such as Algeria and Iran, would have liked. Moreover, Riyadh supported Western European prosperity by investing (recycling) its petrodollars back into the West.
The Saudis also bolstered regional conservatism, in particular by aiding the anti-Communist Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt from the 1950s forward. In this period the Brotherhoodformed in 1928 and precursor to contemporary fundamentalismwas increasingly persecuted by Abdel Nassers secular Arab socialist state. With Egypt tilting toward the Soviet Union in the 1960s, Saudi support for the Brotherhood was implicated in the U.S.Soviet struggle. In the 1970s dictator Anwar El Sadat shifted Egypt from the political left to the right and allied with the United States. With U.S. advice he sought a new, positive relationship with Saudi Arabia and with the Muslim Brotherhood. When Sadat made peace with Israel, key pieces of U.S. policy fell into place. (That Sadat was assassinated for taking this direction, by the very Sunni radicals he had unleashed, was irrelevant to the outcome, since his new foreign policy remained in effect).
Saudi Arabia remained central to U.S. policy in the 1980s. It took the lead in the Gulf in opposing Irans Khomeinist revolution and backed Saddam Husseins war against Iran, with Washingtons blessing. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan the United States pressured Saudi Arabia to support the efforts of the Muslim fundamentalist mujahidin (holy warriors) who volunteered to fight Moscows troops. In a breathtaking lapse of judgment, the Reagan administration gave billions of dollars to these groups. The administration misunderstood the difference between Muslim traditionalism and conservatism, and the virulent new strands of Sunni radicalism that were proliferating in the 1980s.
While the United States was consolidating an alliance with Saudi Arabia, policy toward Iraq fluctuated wildlythough here, too, anti-Communism was always the fundamental principle operating in the background. In the mid-1950s the United States and the British pushed the Baghdad Pact (signed in 1955), which grouped Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan in an anti-Soviet alliance. This strategy collapsed in 1958 when Colonel Abdel Karim Qasim staged a bloody coup in Iraq against the government of Nurias-Said. Washington saw Qasim, who had Communist allies, as a dangerous radical. It has been alleged that the United States supported the 1963 failed coup attempt by the Arab nationalist Baath Party against the officers, receiving guarantees in return that the Iraqi Communist Party would be disbanded.
The Baath Party finally came to power in 1968, and though it did ban the Communists it went on to have indifferent relations with the United States until the Iranian Revolution and the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980. During the 1980s the United States threw its support behind Saddam Hussein and the Baath to combat Khomeinist radicalism, whose rabid anti-Americanism it saw as aiding the Soviet Union. The U.S.Saddam alliance, of course, ended with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Paul Wolfowitz and other national security hawks later grouped in the Project for a New American Century saw two principal security challenges to the United States: the remaining Communist powers in Asia, especially North Korea but also China, which they wished to see contained or, if possible, broken up; and the anti-American Middle Eastern states, including Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The two problems were linked because the East Asian Communists and the Middle Eastern radical states were suspected of proliferating missile and nuclear technologies to one another. Pakistan, for instance, is suspected of helping North Koreas nuclear program. Wolfowitz likened Chinese sales of intermediate missiles to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s to the Cuban missile crisis. Many of them also saw threats to Israels power as necessarily menacing to U.S. security.
The attacks on September 11 should have made it clear that the hawks had been looking for threats in all the wrong places. Iran and Iraq had been effectively contained, and China was too busy making money off the West to think about harming its economies. At the same timeand in significant part as a result of U.S. support for Muslim fundamentalism as an anti-Communist bulwarkSunni radicalism had emerged as a much more powerful threat than either East Asian Communism or Baathism and Khomeinism. Mujahidin who had trained in Afghanistan fanned back out to their home countries in 1989, victorious, and determined to establish Islamic states in places like Algeria and Yemen. Sunni radicals fought a virtual civil war in Algeria with the secular military government in the 1990s, waged a less bloody but still highly disruptive campaign against the Mubarak government in Egypt, and pioneered new militant political movements such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and the neo-Deobandis in Pakistan. Once the Soviets had fallen the Sunni radicals abandoned their alliance of convenience with Washington and turned against the United States, which they now saw as a bulwark of the secular governments that they were trying to overthrow, in addition to resenting its role in supporting Israeli expansionism. The more radical of these groups coalesced into al Qaeda and decided to hit the far enemy rather than only the near one.
After September 11 the national security hawks, many of whom who had actively fostered the jihadis in the 1980s, attempted to link new the forms of Muslim terrorism to their longstanding preoccupations with Iraq and Iran. The anti-American Middle Eastern states were now even more dangerous, they alleged, because they either had joined up with the terrorists already or might in the future share weapons of mass destruction with the jihadis for use against the United States. But the Iraqi Baathists were devoted to secular Arab nationalism, and the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran despised al Qaeda and the Taliban. It was implausible that Khomeinist Shiites, Baathist Arab nationalists, and Sunni al Qaeda would collaborate closely with one another and share deadly technology. Nor was there any good evidence for it, though plenty was manufactured by innuendo.
The pillars of policy were now trembling. Some within the Bush circles, especially Secretary of State Colin Powell, sought a reduced American tolerance for Israels expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories, among the main sources of Muslim anger at the United States. Fearful of this outcome, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accused George Bush in October 2001 of trying to appease Arab countries by forsaking Israel in the way that Europe had tried to appease Hitler in 1938 by abandoning the Czech Sudetenland. Sharply rebuked, Sharon backed off quickly, and by late fall of 2001 the Bush administration had been convinced, by a combination of domestic political calculations and geopolitical judgments, to remain committed to acquiescing in substantial expropriations of Palestinian land by Israel.
But the other central pillar remained in doubt. Some analysts associated with the administration criticized the Saudi alliance of monarchy and Wahhabi Islam as dangerously unstable and destabilizing. At the very least, some wealthy Saudis had given monetary support to al Qaeda or al Qaedalinked charities. Wahhabi missionizing in the Muslim world had spread the distinctively Wahhabi ideas that Muslims who are not strict in their observance are actually infidels and that non-Muslims are threats to Islam.
The hawks came to see an Americanized Iraq as a replacement for Saudi Arabia. The plan was risky, not least because the secular Baath government had been among the main ramparts against Sunni and Shiite religious radicalism in the Gulf. The hawks argued that a liberated Iraq would kick-start a wave of democratization in the Middle East, paralleling events in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union weakened and then fell. (They did not explain why the United States, if it wanted democratization, did not start with places like Egypt and Jordan, which were more plausible candidates, being allies, developed civil societies, and recipients of substantial aid). They believed, incorrectly, that Iraqs petroleum-producing capacitywhile not at Saudi levelswas significant enough to offset Saudi dominance of the oil markets. And unlike Saudi Arabia, Paul Wolfowitz thought, Iraq did not have holy cities such as Mecca and Medina that would make the stationing of U.S. troops there objectionable: Iraqis, he said, dont bring the sensitivity of having the holy cities of Islam being on their territory. (He apparently did not then know about the Shiite shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala). The hawks were aware that a democratic Iraq would have a Shiite majority, but their client, Ahmad Chalabi (head of the expatriate Iraqi National Congress), convinced them that Iraqi Shiites were largely secular in mindset and uninterested in a Khomeinist theocracy. In the short term, they thought, Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress would run Iraq in at least a semi-democratic fashion.
This plan proposed an almost complete reconfiguring of the old pillars of American Cold War policy in the region. The two key alliances were now to be with Israel and a Shiite-majority secular Iraq. Saudi Arabia would be marginalized and the allegedly pernicious effects of its Wahhabism fought. ...
It is a plan. And like other ambitious plans it makes many assumptions. But perhaps the largest is that the Iraqi Shiites are plausible allies....
In removing the Baath regime and eliminating constraints on Iraqi Islamism, the United States has unleashed a new political force in the Gulf: not the upsurge of civic organization and democratic sentiment fantasized by American neoconservatives, but the aspirations of Iraqi Shiites to build an Islamic republic. That result was an entirely predictable consequence of the past 30 years of political conflict between the Shiites and the Baathist regime, and American policy analysts have expected a different result only by ignoring that history.
To be sure, the dreams of a Shiite Islamic republic in Baghdad may be unrealistic: a plurality of the country is Sunni, and some proportion of the 14 million Shiites is secularist. In the months after the Anglo-American invasion, however, the religious Shiite parties demonstrated the clearest organizational skills and established political momentum. The Islamists are likely to be a powerful enough group in parliament that they may block the sort of close American-Iraqi cooperation that the neoconservatives had hoped for. The spectacle of Wolfowitzs party heading out of Najaf just before the outbreak of a major demonstration of 10,000 angry Sadrists, inadvertently provoked by the Americans, may prove an apt symbol for the American adventure in Iraq. The August 29 bombing in Najaf deeply shook the confidence of Shiites in the American ability to provide them security, and provoked anger against the United States that will take some time to heal.
In addition, the Saudis cannot be pushed out of the oil picture so easily. It will be years before Iraq can produce much more than three to five million barrels a day. A good deal of that petroleum, and much of the profit from it, will be needed for internal reconstruction and debt servicing. It would take a decade and a half to two decades for Iraqi capacity to achieve parity with that of the Saudis (11 million barrels a day), and even then they will not have the Saudis low overhead and smaller native population. The Saudis can choose to produce only seven million of the 76 million barrels of petroleum pumped in the world every day, or they can produce 11 million. That flexibility, along with their clout in the OPEC cartel, lets them exercise a profound influence on the price, and Iraq will not be able to counterbalance it soon. Neoconservative fears about Saudi complicity with al Qaeda are also overdrawn, since the Saudi elite feels as threatened by the Sunni radicals as the United States does. High Saudi officials have even expressed regret about their past support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they now see as dangerous in a way that mainstream Wahhabism is not. (Would that Reaganite supporters of the mujahidin were similarly contrite!) So the U.S. alliance with the House of Saud, however badly shaken by September 11 and Wahhabi radicalism, will provide an essential foundation for world petroleum stability into the indefinite future.
For now, the United States is back to having two footstools in the Middle East: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iraq has proven too rickety, too unknown, too devastated to bear the weight of the strategic shift imagined by the hawks. And far from finally defeating Khomeinism, U.S. policy has given it millions of liberated Iraqi allies. Their new Iraqi Interim Governing Council has declined to recognize Israel, citing Iraqs membership in the Arab League and lack of genuine progress toward a Palestinian state. Al Qaeda and allied terrorist threats were not countered by the invasion of Iraq.
Whether Iraqs Sunnis will turn to radicalism and reinforce al Qaeda is as yet unknown. But what does seem clear is that the Iraq war has proved a detour in the War on Terror, drawing away key resources from the real threat of al Qaeda and continued instability in Afghanistan. The old pillars have proven more resilient than the hawks imagined. What really needs to be changed are U.S. support for political authoritarianism and Islamic conservatism, and acquiescence in Israeli land grabs on the West Bank. Those two, together, account for most of the trouble the United States has in the Muslim world. The Iraq war did nothing to change that.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:24