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.
Robert Kagan offered a thoughtful critique of the "Kerry Doctrine" -- that the United States goes to war only "because we have to." I suggest another example he failed to mention.
Did President Abraham Lincoln really have to use force to preserve the Union in 1861? After all, the people of several Southern states were only asserting a right that had been spelled out in the Declaration of Independence long before. These people reached their decision through democratic political processes.
No serious historian would contend that the Confederacy had any designs on Northern territory. Had Lincoln been willing to abandon Fort Sumter instead of resupplying it, 600,000 American deaths could have been avoided.
I believe that Lincoln was un- questionably right to act as he did, but I wonder how supporters of the Kerry Doctrine could reach the same conclusion.
Posted on: Friday, August 13, 2004 - 14:08
A range of public figures—former ambassadors, university professors, think tank experts – routinely opine in America about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while quietly taking Saudi funds. They learnedly discuss Arabian affairs on television, radio, in public lectures, and university classrooms. Having no visible connection to Saudi money, they speak with the authority of disinterested U.S. experts, enjoying more credibility than, say, another billionaire prince from the royal family.
Saudi funding for opinion makers has been known but not its exact specifics. I can for the first time expose how the Saudis manage their covert publicity campaign in America thanks to a Saudi-employed public relations firm having incautiously contacted a senior professor at a major research institution. Although the professor did not accept the offer of the speakers, he showed enough interest to document the proposed transaction and then made the details available to me.
An employee at a leading public relations firm in Washington offered the professor Saudi-funded speakers for the lecture program he runs, doing so as part of a program to provide ongoing education to communities around the country about"the importance and value of strong U.S.-Saudi relations. … One of our campaign components is to implement a speaker's bureau program on behalf of the Kingdom that reaches into target markets across the nation. I think there is a wonderful opportunity," she gushed,"to develop a very stimulating event with [your speakers' series]."
The letter invites further inquiries, with the p.r. employee adding eagerly that she is"available to come speak with you in person if possible." The letter then lists five lecturers ready to speak on the Saudi tab. They make for an interesting group.
Walter L. Cutler and Richard W. Murphy – two former U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia. Like too many others who served in Riyadh, Cutler and Murphy have translated their government service into apologizing for the Saudis. Their actions are all too typical of Americans who deal with Riyadh in their high-level official capacity and then take Saudi funds to promote Saudi interests.
Sandra Mackey – a free lance writer who makes statements to the media like,"The only thing that is holding Saudi Arabia together today is the House of Saud with its strength and its shortcomings. The worst thing the United States could do is go after the House of Saud."
Mary E. Morris – a staffer at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council who praises the kingdom as"one of the U.S.'s staunchest allies and oldest friends in the Middle East" and ascribes anti-American public opinion in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East to American actions alone –"the U.S. invasion of Iraq without international validation and the lack of a strong U.S. support of an unbiased settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Samer Shehata – an assistant professor of politics at Georgetown University who unabashedly lauds Riyadh in the media:"the Saudis have been staunch allies. And it's absurd really to characterize them in any other way," he said on MSNBC in April 2002."I don't think that the Saudis are trying to hide anything," he added on MSNBC in July 2003."Saudi Arabia is our ally. … I think that the Saudi regime, certainly the royal family is the ally of the United States, and they have been the ally of the United States for quite some time. … since 9/11 the Saudis have really done a huge amount in terms of getting on top of charities, limiting money flows, arresting people."
Because the professor can pay only modest honoraria, he inquired about funding these speakers and was assured that the university need not pay any of their honoraria or expenses. The Saudis would, via the p.r. firm, handle these pesky matters.
The Saudis are engaging in an underhanded propaganda campaign that subverts the U.S. debate concerning Arabian issues. It is vital to prevent such corruption, especially on the delicate issue of Riyadh's self-proclaimed role as America's"friend" in the war against Islamist terrorism. To do so, editors, journalists, radio and television producers, think tank directors, and speaker-series hosts need to ascertain that whoever deals with Saudi issues is not on that country's dole. A simple question,"Are you receiving funds from Saudi Arabia," should do the trick.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - 21:20
A sound bite from President Bush on Monday strikes me as emblematic of the country's current crisis. He said,"It is a ridiculous notion to assert that, because the United States is on the offensive, more people want to hurt us," he said."We’re on the offensive because people do want to hurt us." Let me try to help Mr. Bush with this problem. The number of persons in the Muslim world who wanted to inflict direct damage on the US homeland in 2000 was tiny. Even within al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri's theory of"hitting the distant enemy before the near" (i.e. striking the US rather than Egypt or Saudi Arabia) was controversial.
The Muslim world was largely sympathetic to the US after the 9/11 attacks. Iranians held candlelight vigils, and governments and newspapers condemned terrorism. Bush's
unprovoked attack on Iraq, however, turned people against the US. The brutal, selfish, exploitative occupation, the vicious siege of Fallujah, the tank battles in front of the shrine of Ali, a vicar of the Prophet, Abu Ghuraib, and other public relations disasters have done their work.
The US was not always universally despised in the Middle East. In some countries, large majorities thought well of the US! Lawrence Pintak notes:
The latest survey results out of the Middle East show that America's favorability rating is now, essentially, zero. That's down from as high as 75 percent in some Muslim countries just four years ago.Al-Ahram explains further:
In the first poll, which surveyed six Arab nations and was commissioned by the Washington-based Arab American Institute (AAI), the overall approval ratings of the US ranged between an unprecedented low of two per cent in Egypt and a high of 20 per cent in Lebanon. Those holding a favourable view of the US in Saudi Arabia were four per cent, 11 per cent in Morocco, 14 per cent in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and 15 per cent in Jordan. That marked a relatively sharp decline compared to a similar poll held by AAI two years ago, and indicated that the main reason behind the fall was the policies of the present US administration led by the George W Bush.The respondents in the poll did not dislike the US because of values like freedom and democracy. Middle Easterners have even more faith in democracy than do Americans. They dislike the US because of its policies. According to the recent Zogby poll, they had three main concerns: The US-supported persecution of the Palestinians, the US occupation of Iraq, and US plans to dominate and humiliate Arabs in general. It is policies that they hate, and want changed, not US values.
So, Mr. Bush, that is how America"being on the offense" can in fact inspire hatred of the US. Your premise is simply incorrect. In some Middle Eastern countries, the US favorability rating was as high as 75% in the last year of the Clinton administration. They didn't start off necessarily disliking the US. Even after the Afghanistan war, a third of Jordanians thought well of the US. Now almost no one anywhere does. These changes in attitude (which greatly benefit al-Qaeda) are mostly the result of your war on, and occupation of Iraq.
All this is not to factor in the vast fall in prestige and esteem for the US among European publics, our most steadfast allies for half a century. That you do not understand that being unnecessarily and arrogantly"on the offensive" is offensive to the rest of the world and actually hurts US security is extremely worrying.
Posted on: Friday, August 6, 2004 - 22:30
Max Boot, in the LAT (Aug. 5, 2004):
If I read the tea leaves at the Democratic convention correctly, it seems that John F. Kerry served in Vietnam. But seeing as how Vietnam vets run the gamut from doves like Ron Kovic to hawks like Oliver L. North, Kerry's four months "in country" don't tell us much about what he would do in the next four years as president.
Figuring out in advance what any potential president will do is a difficult undertaking in the best of circumstances, because political rhetoric often has little in common with actual policy. Witness George W. Bush's transformation from skeptic to champion of nation-building. Or Bill Clinton's metamorphosis from China-basher to China-booster.
But prognostication is especially tough in Kerry's case. There are three main schools of American foreign policy: isolationism, idealism and realism.
At various points in his career - sometimes at various points in the same speech - Kerry has championed all of them.
Kerry first strode onto the national stage with his 1971 congressional testimony against the Vietnam War. He called the conflict "barbaric,"
accused U.S. soldiers of atrocities "reminiscent of Genghis Khan" and beseeched Americans to "conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more." Anyone who thinks America is guilty of such terrible crimes obviously would not support military action unless the U.S. suffered a major attack - something that's happened only twice in recent history (Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001). This is the definition of an isolationist, and that's exactly what Kerry sounded like early in his career.
After winning election to the Senate in 1984, he was a vocal critic of support for the Contras fighting to free Nicaragua from the Sandinista dictatorship; he even journeyed to Managua to shake hands with strongman Daniel Ortega. He consistently voted against defense spending and in favor of a nuclear freeze. He opposed the 1983 invasion of Grenada ("a bully's show of force against a weak Third World nation") and the 1991 Persian Gulf War ("a war for pride, not for vital interests"). It did not matter to Kerry that the U.N. Security Council had voted unanimously to authorize military action to free Kuwait; at that point, isolationism was more important to him than multilateralism.
Kerry changed his tune with Clinton's election in 1992. He supported all of Clinton's military actions - in Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq and Kosovo - although these were manifestly wars of choice, not necessity. He chided Republican realpolitikers who opposed using force for humanitarian ends, warning them in 1999 "of the human price the world suffers when we avert our eyes from international atrocities." In keeping with his support for humanitarian interventions, Kerry has recently criticized President Bush for not doing more in Liberia, Haiti and Darfur. This would seem to make Kerry a Wilsonian idealist who is willing to promote human rights at gunpoint if necessary.
Except that during the last year he's also developed a realist critique of Bush's foreign policy. In discussing the war on terror, he seems to have adopted the Kissingerian view that we should defend only our vital strategic interests, not try to promote our "ideology" (a.k.a. our ideals). One of his aides told the Atlantic magazine that there would be "a lot of similarities" between his foreign policy and the cautious, status quo approach pursued by the first Bush administration, which was once roundly criticized by Democrats, including Kerry, for being amoral.
So which course would Kerry adopt as president? Idealist, realist or isolationist? His convention acceptance speech was no help. "I will never hesitate to use force when it is required," he proclaimed, yet he offered no criteria to suggest when that would be, save when "we have to."...
Posted on: Friday, August 6, 2004 - 21:50
I was somewhat surprised by the Kerry/Edwards war rhetoric. As one commentator on PBS (David Brooks?) put it, the Democrats were attacking the Republicans from the right. One reason for doing so was apparently to distance themselves from the the Democratic Party of the Vietnam War era, which is/was accused of being weak. I find this odd, because general sentiment in the US now seems to be that both the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War, were bad ideas. It seems that the somewhat mixed message is that Kerry's strong enough to fight in Vietnam, and wise enough to admit it was a bad idea.
The strangest thing to me about the war rhetoric was how completely the Democrats have adopted Bush's rhetoric, such as the "war on terror," and Bush's statement that he is a "war President" and that the US is "at war." (Has the US actually declared war in either Afghanistan or Iraq?) John Edwards said something to the effect that under Kerry, the US would take the fight to "the terrorists," rather than wait for them to strike. And Kerry said something about never needing permission (from the UN?) to protect America's interests. Those statements seem to ignore the fact that terrorism is itself often "blowback" that results from the US taking the fight to terrorists. It also seems to assume an essentialist notion of what a terrorist is, as if one is simply born that way, and one's political and material situation in life has nothing to do with it. This indicated to me that the Democrats are attacking not with historical facts that may help us understand and prevent terrorism, but with martial rhetoric. It also suggested to me that the Democrats may will willing to adopt the kind of unilateralism--despite Kerry's insistence that he's a multilateralist--that itself has historically fueled anger and violence.
I realize that this list is designed for academic purposes, rather than for discussing current events, and I apologize if my comments are inappropriate. But, if it's not beyond the purview of the list, I would like to ask a related question, specifically of list members who are not in the U.S.: how do people in other countries view the upcoming presidential election in the US? For example, do Canadians tend to see a Kerry administration as returning the US to a more traditional role in the world, or improving relations with Canada, or being more likely to promote world peace?
Department of American Studies
University of Maryland
Posted on: Wednesday, August 4, 2004 - 21:54
Gary B. Nash and Maurice Barboza, in the NYT (July 31, 2004):
Back in 1925, American society tended not to advise young white males about the consequences of intimacy with the black maid. Even if the 22-year-old Strom Thurmond considered himself a father, the standards of the time did not require him to give the daughter born of that intimacy any love, support or acceptance. He did, however, irretrievably give her his bloodline.
Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the offspring of Mr. Thurmond and his family's black maid, 16-year-old Carrie Butler, recently announced that she intended to join the Daughters of the American Revolution based on her Thurmond bloodline. Reared apart from her father, Ms. Washington-Williams did not have the same privileges as Mr. Thurmond's white children during his life, yet she is seeking the right to some of the privileges of her lineage.
She is not the first to do so. Ms. Washington-Williams said she was motivated by the battle of Lena Santos Ferguson to join a Washington chapter of the organization and by Ms. Ferguson's quest to honor black soldiers. Ms. Ferguson's grandmother, a black Virginia woman, had married a white man from Maine whose ancestor, Jonah Gay, was a patriot. In the 1980's, Ms. Ferguson fought a four-year legal battle for full membership and to enter her local chapter. It wasn't until the organization was faced with the potential loss of its tax-exempt status in Washington that she was permitted to join.
Perhaps more significantly, Ms. Ferguson demanded, and received, a settlement agreement that bars discrimination and requires the D.A.R. to identify every African-American soldier who served in the Revolutionary War. It was important to Ms. Ferguson that black women know of their ancestors' contribution to the founding of this nation and that they embrace it.
At the time of Ms. Ferguson's settlement, the D.A.R., as an organization, likely knew of many black soldiers who served in the Revolution, yet the organization was not open with the information nor was it receptive to black members. Ms. Ferguson's settlement required the D.A.R. to publish the names they had and to do research to identify more black soldiers, those who were somewhere, undiscovered, in historical records.
On this matter, the D.A.R.'s behavior has been troubling. By early 2000, six years after the settlement agreement, the names of only 1,656 black patriots had been published in 11 D.A.R.-issued pamphlets. Yet some historians estimate 5,000 African-Americans served in the Revolutionary War. The organization's own genealogist, James Dent Walker, said estimates were"deceptively low" and that"no one took the time to examine the records."
The settlement required the D.A.R. to do historical and genealogical research to find the names of black soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. Yet, while doing this research, the D.A.R. has failed to use census records and other historical documents that could help identify the races of soldiers. It has also used a narrow classification system for race ....
...in the black community, many people are unaware of their Revolutionary War heritage or reluctant to embrace it - whether their ancestors were white or black. They may fear ostracism from other blacks who may view white ancestry as a source of shame and a reminder of the injustices and indignities of slavery. The Daughters of the American Revolution's efforts to hide the complicated realities of the past have fueled these types of feelings. But every American, regardless of color, must realize that the past is not pretty, linear, or easily explained.
Posted on: Wednesday, August 4, 2004 - 15:40
In 2002, the spokesman for FBI director Robert Mueller memorably described the American Muslim Council (AMC) as the “the most mainstream Muslim group in the United States.” A year later, the Catholic bishops called the AMC “the premier, mainstream Muslim group in Washington.”
Its founder and long-time chief, Abdurahman Alamoudi, was a Washington fixture. He had many meetings with both Clintons in the White House and once joined George W. Bush at a prayer service. He arranged a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner for congressional leaders. He six times lectured abroad for the State Department and founded an organization to provide Muslim chaplains for the Department of Defense. One of his former AMC employees, Faisal Gill, serves as policy director at the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division.
In brief, as the Washington Post describes him, Alamoudi was “a pillar of the local Muslim community.”
But the one-time high-flyer last week signed a plea agreement with the U.S. government admitting his multiple crimes in return for a reduced sentence. His confession makes for startling reading.
Alamoudi acknowledges having obtained money from the Libyan government and other foreign sources, “unlawfully, knowingly, and willfully falsified, concealed and covered up by a trick, scheme and device.” He transmitted these funds to the United States, “outside of the knowledge of the United States government and without attracting the attention of law enforcement and regulatory authorities.”
In doing so, he engaged in illegal financial transactions and filed false tax returns. He lied about his overseas travels, his interest in a Swiss bank account, his affiliation with a Specially Designated Terrorist (the Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook), and his membership in terrorist-related organizations.
Of particular note are admissions by Alamoudi that he:
· Was summoned by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi to two meetings, and as a result of these Alamoudi helped organize the assassination of Saudi crown prince Abdullah. (The plot was foiled.)
· Transported money from Libya to Saudi Arabia to the United States, where he deposited it in the American Muslim Foundation, one of his non-profits.
· Omitted on his U.S. citizenship application his connections to many radical organizations: the United Association for Studies and Research, Marzook Legal Fund, Mercy International, American Task Force for Bosnia, Fiqh Council of North America, Muslims for a Better America, Eritrean Liberation Front/People’s Liberation Force, and Council for the National Interest Foundation.
Then there is the fact that Alamoudi’s Palm Pilot, seized at the time of his arrest, contained contact information for seven men designated as global terrorists by U.S. authorities. Also, law enforcement found an unsigned Arabic-language document in Alamoudi’s office with ideas for Hamas to undertake “operations against the Israelis to delay the peace process.” And Alamoudi has at least indirect links to Osama bin Laden through the Taibah International Aid Association, a U.S. non-profit where he served along with Abdullah A. bin Laden, Osama’s nephew.
For his crimes, Alamoudi’s punishment can include serving up to 23 years in prison, forfeiting US$1¼ million received from the Libyans, paying six years’ worth of back taxes plus penalties, and having his U.S. citizenship revoked. Alamoudi could also be removed from the country and not allowed back in. (But the agreement defers a decision on Alamoudi’s expulsion until after his prison term ends, suggesting that he is singing like a bird.)
Alamoudi is hardly the only high-profile, seemingly non-violent leader of an Islamist organization to associate with terrorists. At the Council on American-Islamic Relations, five staffers and board members have been accused or convicted of terrorism-related charges and the same has happened with leaders of the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland, Holy Land Foundation, Benevolence International Foundation, and the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom.
The Alamoudi story points to the urgent need that the FBI, White House, Congress, State Department, Pentagon, and Homeland Security – as well as other institutions, public and private, throughout the West – not continue guilelessly to assume that smooth-talking Islamists are free of criminal, extremist, or terrorist ties. Or, as I put it in late 2001: “Individual Islamists may appear law-abiding and reasonable, but they are part of a totalitarian movement, and as such, all must be considered potential killers.”
Militant Islam is the enemy; even its slickest adherents need to be viewed as such.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2004 - 15:04
Robert Dallek, in the WSJ (Aug. 3, 2004):
... Mr. Kerry enters the fall campaign in as strong a position as any Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and his prospects are certainly stronger than Bill Clinton's in 1992, when Bush 41 had his decidedly successful war against Iraq to his credit. Like Mr. Carter, who had the advantage of running against a failed Nixon presidency and Gerald Ford, who bore the onus of pardoning Nixon, Mr. Kerry enters the contest against a president with a less than sterling record in either domestic or foreign affairs.
John F. Kerry will want to remember John F. Kennedy's successful presidential bid in 1960. Like Mr. Gore, Nixon was a well established national figure as Ike's V.P. Like Kennedy, who carried potential negatives into the campaign -- his youth and inexperience, his religion, his undistinguished congressional record and unenviable caution in response to McCarthyism -- Sen. Kerry has to overcome questions about his capacity to speak to Americans in understandable ways and his alleged inconsistency as a senator or politician who speaks out of both sides of his mouth.
Sen. Kerry needs to recall how JFK outdid Nixon in their first and most important televised debate. Nixon had a reputation as a skilled debater with a track record of having effectively stood up to Nikita Khrushchev in the famous kitchen debate in Moscow. President Bush does not compare to Nixon in spontaneous forensic skills, but he will carry the mantle of the presidency into his confrontation with Mr. Kerry and it would be a serious mistake to dismiss him as some kind of lightweight. He will be well prepared and ready to strike at any Kerry weak points.
While Mr. Kerry will certainly want to emphasize President Bush's questionable record in the White House, he will do better to put a positive message before the country, not as some policy wonk but as a genuinely compassionate man with a clear, understandable vision of where to lead the country at home and abroad. He began to do this last Thursday night, but he must do more to sway the undecideds. Like Kennedy, he will want to come across as less of a debater than a sensible man of action who can do better than the current administration in promoting prosperity and securing the country's safety. Mr. Kerry should recall that Kennedy's New Frontier was an attractive antidote to the mood of concern that had settled over the country at the end of Eisenhower's eight-year term, which was marred by three recessions, the Soviet's launch of Sputnik, and an alleged"missile gap."
It would be a mistake, however, for John Kerry to put himself too much in Kennedy's shadow, however attractive JFK remains to millions of Americans. Jimmy Carter's unsuccessful attempt to imitate Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chat with an uninspiring televised talk should be a cautionary flag. As with most victors in presidential election contests, Mr. Kerry needs to walk the fine line between regard for party predecessors and programs and a demonstration of his capacity to overcome contemporary challenges with fresh ideas.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2004 - 14:54