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.
Curiously, before the slaughter in the trenches taught them otherwise, many Europeans in 1914 welcomed the coming apocalypse as a cleansing force for the moral good of nations, a sweeping away of what they thought had become corrupt and decadent.
There was also a strong belief in empire, of the civilizing effects of what Europeans could teach "those lesser breeds without the law," as Rudyard Kipling put it.
The last decades of the 19th century were called the Belle Epoque, a materialistic, hedonistic age of peace and plenty that no distant cloud could ever threaten. Or so it seemed.
Yet as pleasant as those last days of peace might have been, there were discontented intellectuals. Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, quotes Thomas Mann on war as a moral necessity, "both purging and a liberation." In England, "any vestiges of (Oscar) Wilde would be swept away at last, and the reign of Kipling secured," Gopnik writes.
Even Sherlock Holmes, who surely should have known better, tells Dr. Watson in the summer of 1914 that the coming war will be "cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind, nonetheless, and a cleaner, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared."
The American ambassador to Imperial Germany in 1914, James Gerard, wrote in his memoirs that when war was declared, "there was a general feeling among the Germans that their years of preparation would now bear fruit, that Germany would conquer the world and impose its Kultur among all nations."
One has to wonder if, among those discontented intellectuals of the Bush administration, there was not a similar impatience with America's "belle epoque," the decade of peace and plenty between the end of the Soviet Union and 9/11. Some of the Republicans close to Bush today called themselves "the Vulcans" after the Roman god of fire. Did they perceive a moral decay and a lack of imperial will in that brief, fin de siecle age of Bill Clinton, whom they despised? Did they perhaps see in the sloppy Clinton White House, culminating in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the modern equivalent of an Oscar Wilde age waiting to be swept away by the harder values of the right?
Did the German plans for war in 1914 and the German dream of spreading Kultur to other nations by force have their echo a century later in America with the pre- 9/11 plans to invade Iraq in order to spread democracy and American Kultur to lesser breeds without the law? If so, then the assassination of the Austrian archduke in Sarajevo in 1914 and Sept. 11, 2001, provided both sets of narcissistic idealists with the crisis they needed to put their plans into action.
George Bush's foreign policy is described as "Wilsonian," but perhaps it has more in common with an Imperial Germany that thought that a whiff of gunpowder and the use of raw power in the service of empire might restore moral fiber as well as make the world over in its image....
Posted on: Friday, October 15, 2004 - 21:47
The visions for the American future laid out by George W. Bush and John Kerry differ starkly on matters of war and peace, and the shape of American power in the Middle East.
Bush has put enormous resources into the Iraq war compared to those he has committed to fighting al-Qaeda. Kerry pledges to concentrate on stamping out al-Qaeda. The American public has a clear choice between a continued US push into the Middle East, with bases and very likely further wars, and between a calmer, more patient foreign policy that makes room to address the problem of practically fighting terrorism.
As Barbara Slavin of USA Today noted after the first debate, Kerry differs strongly from Bush on the issue of a long-term US military presence in Iraq:
' Kerry charges that the war has further alienated other Muslim countries and diverted the United States from its main target, the al-Qaeda network. In the debate Sept. 30, Kerry said Bush sent the wrong signals to Iraqis and other countries in the region by establishing 14 military bases in Iraq that appear to be permanent.
"I will make a flat statement," Kerry said."The United States has no long-term designs on staying in Iraq. Our goal ... would be to get all of the troops out of there with the minimal amount you need for training and logistics ... to sustain the peace." '
If elected, that is, Kerry might not be able to bring the troops home immediately, in order to avoid chaos. But he is willing to say up front that he will bring them home in relatively short order.
In contrast, if he is reelected, Bush will almost certainly attempt to retain bases in Iraq, and to ensure a long-term US military presence in that country on the analogy of Japan, Korea and Germany. If elections can be held in Iraq and if the political crisis there subsides, he will be in a position to draw down troops eventually to about a division (say 20,000 men). The Pentagon already speaks of 12 enduring bases in Iraq.
Unlike John Kerry, Bush has never even talked about having US forces leave altogether when security returns. The US under Bush will likely be a permanent Persian Gulf Power, succeeding the Portuguese, Safavid, Ottoman, and British Empires in that role. At the moment, the US lacks a big permanent land base in the region, though it has a de facto naval base in Bahrain and an air base in Qatar. These are small countries that can host only small facilities. With 12 enduring bases in Iraq, the US posture in the Gulf becomes dominant for perhaps the entire twenty-first century. Being an Iraq power would bring the US into permanent and active diplomatic and military contact with Iraq's neighbors, including Syria and Iran. In all likelihood, the Bush path of Iraq bases leads inexorably toward further US military conflict in the region.
The dark cloud over this scenario is that in recent polls the Iraqi public evinces no enthusiasm for a long-term US military presence in their country (between 44% and 56% want the US out now, and 80% are opposed to the US troops remaining in the long term). If Iraqi democracy starts to look incompatible with Bush's bases, and he has to choose between them, might he not be tempted to send parliament home and put in a strong man?
In the second debate, Bush said,
It is naive and dangerous to take a policy that he suggested the other day, which is to have bilateral relations with North Korea. Remember, he's the person who's accusing me of not acting multilaterally. He now wants to take the six-party talks we have -- China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States -- and undermine them by having bilateral talks.
That's what President Clinton did. He had bilateral talks with the North Koreans. And guess what happened?
He [Kim Jong-Il] didn't honor the agreement. He was enriching uranium. That is a bad policy. Of course, we're paying attention to these. It's a great question about Iran. That's why in my speech to the Congress I said: There's an Axis of Evil, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and we're paying attention to it. And we're making progress.
I read this remark as an indication that Bush would continue to address North Korea through multi-lateral diplomacy (essentially acquiescing in its nuclear weapons program, since it is too late to do anything about it except appeal to Pyongyang to be reasonable).
But Bush pairs Iraq and Iran toward the end, suggesting to me that he intends to overthrow the ayatollahs in Tehran just as he overthrew Saddam. Certainly, as Tom Barry argues in In These Times, there are strong voices in the Bush administration that desperately want to go on to Tehran. I disagree with those who say Bush's military is too overstretched for that option. Given these constraints, they could always attempt to foment a coup, as the US did against the elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953. Of course, a coup could go wrong, reqauiring a military follow-up. It is also not impossible that Iraq will go well enough in the medium term to allow a draw-down there, freeing troops for use in Iran.
As Joshua Landis has cogently argued, there are also strong voices in the administration urging military action against Syria. [See also his column on Thursday]. Aside from the threat of more social turmoil, there is no obvious reason for Bush to leave Damascus alone. An attack on Damascus would make both the Turkish and the Israeli hawks happy. Syria's only patron is Iran, which could do little about it except foment guerrilla resistance. Europe and Russia would complain, but would do nothing. The one brake on such a move might be Egypt and the Arab League, which don't hate Bashar al-Asad the way they hated Saddam and may finally find ways diplomatically to intervene with Washington to stop the Bush demarche.
Although the Bush administration will frame any aggression against Syria and Iran as a means of removing weapons of mass destruction (neither government has any), and as a way of spreading democracy, in fact it will be aimed at strengthening the US position as the Persian Gulf hegemon.
The Iraq war was never about an attempt to control Iraqi petroleum. Petroleum is fungible or freely exchangeable, and cannot be" controlled." Once pumped, it goes where the market wants it to go. But a plausible argument could be made that the Iraq war was in part about securing control of the Persian Gulf petroleum infrastructure (security, access to oil exploration and refining rights, distribution, and assurance that local powers could not disrupt supplies). Michael T. Klare at Tomdispatch.com makes a disturbing and extended argument about"Oil Wars and the American Military."
The likelihood that Bush can accomplish his military goals without a renewed draft seems to me close to zero, despite his protestations to the contrary. Thousands of young people will be involuntarily inducted into his crusade, and the US economy and society will be warped in favor of war industries.
Bush is a risk-taker in the high stakes game of global blackjack. His recklessness and aggressiveness could well turn the eastern marches of the Middle East into an active chain of political volcanoes. The bad news is that the last time we had this sort of adventurer in the White House, it was Ronald Reagan. He and his administration helped create what became al-Qaeda to fight the Soviets, setting up the conditions for the blow-back of September 11. If Bush gets back in, can we really be sure the chickens of his Middle East policy won't eventually come home to roost?
Posted on: Friday, October 15, 2004 - 20:55
There was a time when the word"perestroika" evoked visions of hope and change.
The term means"reconstruction," and what was being rebuilt in those heady years of the late 1980s was the Soviet Union's entire relationship with its citizens and the world outside.
These days, many Russians talk about perestroika with more scorn than reverence because millions here have been plunged into poverty by its free-market reforms.
People have become so disenchanted with the restructuring that leaders of Russia's democratic movement have been warning of a backlash.
Alexander N. Yakovlev, the man widely acknowledged to be the architect of perestroika, said recently that Russia's democratic revolution was in danger of reversing course after 15 years of political reform.
"Six years ago, I spoke about how a setback [in the revolution] was unavoidable. I meant there would be a certain stoppage in the movement forward. But I never thought that it would take the shape of a movement backward, of a restoration of what was before.
"Unfortunately, this is what we are seeing today," said Yakovlev, who crafted much of the reforms instituted by former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
"And when I was speaking about setbacks, I don't think one could have forecast beforehand the depth and the size of the current setback," he said.
In recent weeks, both Gorbachev and his successor, Boris N. Yeltsin, have raised questions about Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's moves to further consolidate his power after a wave of deadly attacks blamed on separatist rebels from Chechnya.
Gorbachev and Yeltsin were mild in their criticism compared with Yakovlev, who accused Putin of trying to impose a Chilean model of economic liberalism and political authoritarianism.
In an interview at the office of the Moscow-based program he heads, the International Democracy Foundation, Yakovlev, 80, said Putin had shown signs early on of returning to Russia's Soviet past.
In 2000, at the end of his first year as president, Putin restored the former Soviet national anthem with updated lyrics.
"This anthem was the backdrop for the execution by shooting of a million people. Millions more were thrown into labor camps. And now, when they begin to play this anthem, some listen to it with disgust. But others listen with pleasure," Yakovlev said.
"Bringing this anthem back was an immoral deed, a sacrilegious step."
Posted on: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - 10:20
It's not every French intellectual whose death is commemorated by an announcement from the office of Jacques Chirac, the French president. But Jacques Derrida, who died Friday at age 74, was not just any French intellectual. His work, as Mr. Chirac's office noted, was "read, discussed, and taught around the world."
Whether Mr. Derrida was also "one of the major figures in the intellectual life of our time," as Mr. Chirac's office asserted, is a point that has been fiercely contested ever since Mr. Derrida burst onto the intellectual scene in the mid-1960s.
Mr. Derrida (the name is pronounced deh-ree-DAH) was without doubt one of the most famous intellectuals of the past 40 years. His celebrity rivaled that of Jean-Paul Sartre. As the founder, honorary CEO and chief publicist for an abstruse philosophical doctrine he called "deconstruction," Mr. Derrida was celebrated and vilified in about equal measure. Academics on the lookout for a trendy intellectual and moral high-explosive tended to love Mr. Derrida. The rest of us felt...otherwise.
What is deconstruction? Mr. Derrida would never say. It was a question certain to spark his contempt and ire. He denied that deconstruction could be meaningfully defined. I think he was right about that, though not necessarily for the reasons he believed.
But even if deconstruction cannot be defined, it can be described. For one thing, deconstruction comes with a lifetime guarantee to render discussion of any subject completely unintelligible. It does this by linguistic subterfuge. One of the central slogans of deconstruction is "il n'y a pas de hors-texte," i.e., "there is nothing outside the text." (It sounds better in French.) In other words, deconstruction is an updated version of nominalism, the view that the meanings of words are completely arbitrary and that, at bottom, reality is unknowable.
Of course, if you put it as baldly as that, people will just laugh and ignore you. But if you dress up the idea in a forbidding vocabulary, full of neologisms and recondite references to philosophy, then you may have a prescription for academic stardom.
Stock in deconstruction has sagged a bit in recent years. There are basically two reasons for this. The first has to do with the late Paul de Man, the Belgian-born Yale professor of comparative literature. In addition to being one of the most prominent practitioners of deconstruction, Mr. de Man -- as was revealed in the late 1980s -- was an enthusiastic contributor to Nazi newspapers during World War II.
That discovery, and above all the flood of obscurantist mendacity disgorged by the deconstructionist brotherhood -- not least by Mr. Derrida, who was himself Jewish -- to exonerate Mr. de Man, cast a permanent shadow over deconstruction's status as a supposed instrument of intellectual liberation.
The second reason that deconstruction has lost some sheen is simply that, like any academic fashion, deconstruction's methods and vocabulary, once so novel and forbidding, have gradually become part of the common coin of academic discourse, and thus less trendy.
It is important to recognize, however, that this very process of assimilation has assured the continuing influence of deconstruction.
Once at home mostly in philosophy and literature departments, the nihilistic tenets of deconstruction have cropped up further and further afield: in departments of history, sociology, political science and architecture; in law schools and -- God help us -- business schools.
Deconstructive themes and presuppositions have increasingly become part of the general intellectual atmosphere: absorbed to such an extent that they float almost unnoticed, part of the ambient spiritual pollution of our time. Who can forget the politician who, accused of wrongdoing, said in his defense that "it all depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is"?...
Posted on: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 21:14
The same week a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered the FBI to release the last ten pages of its file on John Lennon, a group of rock musicians, headed by Bruce Springsteen, began an election-year concert tour of battleground states. The two recent events had a strange but distinct resonance.
Lennon came under FBI surveillance because he planned a US concert tour for 1972--when Nixon was running for re-election and the war in Vietnam was going strong. Nineteen seventy-two was also the first year 18-year-olds had been given the right to vote. Lennon's plan: Use the concert tour to encourage young people to register to vote, and vote against Nixon. On October 1 Springsteen, along with R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam and a dozen other musicians, launched his concert tour in swing states, based on the same plan Lennon had thirty-two years earlier: Encourage voter registration among young people, and then a vote against the Republican in the White House on election day.
There is, however, one crucial difference: Lennon canceled his tour after one performance because the White House ordered him deported. He spent the next year and a half in and out of immigration court. Of course, Nixon was re-elected, but then Watergate changed everything: Nixon left the White House, and Lennon stayed in the USA.
Nobody is stopping this month's "Vote for Change" tour (www.moveonpac.org/vfc). Organized through MoveOn PAC, it seeks not only to register those in the audience but also to raise money for the voter registration project America Coming Together (http://actforvictory.org), a sophisticated $30 million effort to mobilize millions of new voters in swing states.
If the plans for 1972 and 2004 had the same strategy, the concert programs reflect different times and tastes. Lennon did do one concert before the White House got to him: a trial run at the University of Michigan's Crisler Arena in December 1971. That concert had a stellar and much more eclectic lineup than this month's efforts, where Springsteen teamed up onstage with R.E.M. Lennon shared the bill with Stevie Wonder, who sang "For Once in My Life," and then gave a brief speech attacking Nixon; Allen Ginsberg, who chanted a half-hour-long mantra; jazz avant-gardist Archie Shepp, country rocker Commander Cody and protest singer Phil Ochs.
And of course the Ann Arbor lineup also included John and Yoko: The Lennon FBI file contains a long report from an undercover agent who was in the audience of 15,000, and he transcribed the lyrics Lennon sang to a new song he had written for the occasion, "John Sinclair," about the Michigan antiwar activist who had been sentenced to ten years in prison for possession of two joints of marijuana. "John Sinclair/It ain't fair/In the stir for breathing air"--these lines were sent to J. Edgar Hoover, and then classified "confidential" by the FBI and kept secret for the next decade--even though Lennon printed them on the back of his next LP....
As for those last ten pages of the Lennon FBI file, the government has argued for twenty years that they can't be released because they contain information provided by a foreign government under an explicit promise of confidentiality. The ACLU of Southern California told Judge Robert Takasugi that argument lacked specificity, and he agreed. We aren't even allowed to know the name of the foreign government that provided the information in question, but Britain seems more likely than, say, Afghanistan. Those pages probably contain information gathered by Britain's MI5 about Lennon's involvement with the New Left in London in 1970-71. The Bush Justice Department has sixty days to appeal. Perhaps it will conclude that the FBI has more important tasks these days than protecting thirty-year-old documents about the antiwar activities of a dead rock star. But if John Ashcroft's department decides to appeal, maybe the Kerry Administration--elec ted with the help of youth voters mobilized by Bruce Springsteen et al.--will reverse that decision in 2005.
Posted on: Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 14:36
[Anne G. Myles is assistant professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. She has published numerous articles on various aspects of dissent and gender in early America.]
About midway through my undergraduate seminar on American captivity narratives last fall, we were discussing one of the earliest American literary works to deploy this essential historic genre: Susanna Haswell Rowson’s 1794 play Slaves in Algiers, or, A Struggle for Freedom, a comedy-melodrama focusing on a group of Americans held captive in Algiers, one of the Barbary States of North Africa. The play is not distinguished by great literary excellence or readability, but it is fascinating in its complex mix of political agendas. On the surface level, the play was part of a wide public effort in the early 1790s to stir sympathy for the real white captives of the time. But it is equally dedicated to serving the ongoing commitment of Rowson (best known as the author of the wildly popular seduction novel Charlotte Temple) to advocate for women’s rights in the new republic and maintain the importance of female virtue. On other political levels, Slaves in Algiers reveals uncomfortable strains of xenophobia and anti-Semitism and–most conspicuously to readers in the present political era–it makes evident the deep roots of America’s imperial fantasies concerning the Islamic world.
The galvanizing moment in our class discussion came as we reread the play’s conclusion. Its closing words are shared by the young American hero and heroine, Henry and Olivia, separated by their respective captivities and now reunited following the Americans’ victory over their Muslim captors. Henry speaks of returning to the United States, "where liberty has established her court–where the warlike Eagle extends his glittering pinions in the sunshine of prosperity." And Olivia concludes, "Long, long may that prosperity continue–may Freedom spread her benign influence thro’ every nation, till the bright Eagle, united with the dove and the olive branch, waves high, the acknowledged standard of the world." "Hang on," I told my students, "Now listen to this–" and I read to them from the conclusion of President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech: "America is a strong nation and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers. Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation." Gratifyingly, I heard sucked-in breaths and exclamations at the echoes between early national and contemporary political rhetoric as we contemplated the continuing presence of the past. Bush’s speech was delivered less than two months before the tanks rolled into Iraq; Rowson’s dialogue, less than a decade before the United States’ invasion of Tripoli, the first war authorized under the U.S. Constitution and the country’s first military victory following the Revolution. What my students and I shook our heads over was how precisely for both Rowson’s characters and the current administration the dream is the same: that the world will become an empire of liberty under the leadership of the United States, a country that considers itself entitled to tell everyone else what freedom means and impose itself as "the standard of the world."...
Posted on: Saturday, October 9, 2004 - 14:03
Gil Troy, in the National Post (Oct. 7, 2004):
[Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University. This article is based on a speech professor Troy delivered at a rally in Montreal on Oct. 5.]
Today, I feel very alone, very concerned, and very sad. Concordia University has barred former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak from speaking on campus, citing a "security risk assessment" that deems hosting him too dangerous, and far too many of us have greeted it with a shrug.
Every time we are forced to rely on police to escort a guest to campus -- let alone bar him or her from speaking -- we fail as academics. We should be able to provide our own security, if necessary, mobilizing in a multicoloured procession of academic gowns rather than having to cower behind a thin blue line of noble, brave police officers.
There are three essential facts to this case:
- Jason Portnoy, a full-time, tuition-paying student at Concordia University, wanted to stretch his education by inviting Barak to speak. In so doing, he was exercising a basic right enjoyed by dozens of students on this campus every year -- and by thousands of students on campuses throughout the world. Portnoy's complaint is a legitimate one: Why is he being discriminated against?
- The "security risk assessment" -- and the subsequent decision to ban Barak from the Concordia campus -- punishes the potential victims and not the potential perpetrators of the crime. It is unfathomable to me that the mere threat of violence can silence speakers -- especially one known internationally as a peacemaker -- and it is unconscionable for a university to create this kind of a precedent.
- Offering an off-campus site, as the university has done, is the problem, not the solution. It implicitly admits that something is broken at Concordia. If its administrators cannot control their own campus, then just who is in charge?
Where are my colleagues -- not just from Concordia, but from McGill, Universite de Montreal, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and everywhere else across the country -- to defend academic values of free and vigorous debate and to point out that appeasement is not peace? As educators, are we comfortable with a campus which only gives a one-sided perspective on any topic -- from the Middle East to the Middle West?
Where is Montreal's Mayor, quiet as we're told in his city that it is too risky to learn from the former leader of a sister democracy? And where is the Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, or the Prime Minister, Paul Martin? Do they sleep well at night knowing that fundamental Canadian values of decency, civility and dialogue are being threatened under their watch? Do they understand that there is no peace, no order, and no good government when we can't even sit and reason together on a university campus?
This is about more than just a single address. In too many places around the world, Israelis are demonized, marginalized, banned by the forces of unreason who libel even Ehud Barak despite his peacemaking efforts. I would love to see pro-Palestinian professors and students at Concordia and elsewhere standing up and saying: "I disagree with Ehud Barak but I will defend his right to speak" -- just as I say I disagree with Norman Finkelstein and literally dozens of other Israel-, America- and Canada-bashers who have spoken at Concordia in these last two years. I don't just defend their rights to speak, I welcome the opportunity to learn from them, to shake up my views.
When rights of free speech and peaceable assembly become optional rather than mandatory -- when they become contingent on liking those who wish to speak freely or assemble peaceably -- we're sliding down that slippery slope to intellectual totalitarianism.
On campuses throughout North America, people are struggling with the boundaries of speech. There is all too often a toxic environment that festers, that politicizes everything, that polarizes everyone, that divides colleagues, silences dissenters and conquers our spirit.
Too many people, in the name of diversity, ironically, think that a university's mission is to promote only one alternative, quite marginal school of thought -- and woe to any free thinkers who deviate from the line of the day, the methodological trend of the moment, the political perspective of the narrow-minded thought police who might be temporarily ascendant.
But the university's true mission is to unite us in civility to learn from a diversity of opinions. Let us reason together, let us stand together, let us fight this assault on the values we hold dear. If we don't take that stand right now, it will only get worse and worse.
Posted on: Friday, October 8, 2004 - 23:52
Speaking at the 92nd Street Y in New York City Sunday night, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. warned that "if Bush is reelected he will take that as an endorsement of his policies," including the doctrine of preemptive war, "and make likely a preventive war against Iran." He warned that President Bush would also embrace Patriot Act II, which would lead to further limitations on civil liberties.
Schlesinger spoke to a nearly-packed auditorium, responding to questions posed by NYU Professor Ralph Buultjens, who described Schlesinger as our age's preeminent public intellectual.
Schlesinger, author of a new book, War and the Presidency, appeared physically frail, but argued forcefully against the Bush administration, mixing humor and history in a presentation that went over well with his upper East Side audience.
He noted that war usually leads to the curbing of civil liberties and a robust exercise of presidential power. In the past he said the return of peace would restore the normal checks and balances in the system. But Professor Buultjens noted that the war on terrorism may go on and on, ending the prospect of a return to normal times.
Schlesinger observed wryly that at other times in our history, during the quasi war with France, World Wars I and II, the president endorsed limits on civil liberties. Singling out John Adams, he commented that Adams had approved of the Sedition Act. Then he added acidly, but "he did not choose to call the Sedition Act the Patriot Act." His audience responded approvingly at his jibe.
He said Bush's victory in 2000 was alarming enough. "A second election would be grim." Repeatedly sounding a pessimistic note about our politics, he said the big threat to American democracy is not money but "religious politics." "Money politics is a danger to democracy, but it is trumped by religious politics." Noting that democracy is only two centuries old, he said it is not clear that it will last. "There is no reason to expect the permanence of democracy." Democracy, he noted, needs capitalism, but capitalism does not need democracy.
Asked if he could recommend a way for the United States to gracefully leave Iraq, he said he had no "easy or glib solution" to offer. "My solution would have been never to go in."
He surprised his audience with his comment that President Bush is a skilled leader. Asked to explain what he meant, he said that Bush had demonstrated political ability, citing as an example the adoption of the "unprecedented" doctrine of pre-emptive war without provoking a national debate.
He said he likes to think of himself as a pessimist in the short run about democracy and an optimist in the long run. "Democracy has a capacity to self-correct," he said, then added drily, "I hope it will happen by next month."
Posted on: Tuesday, October 5, 2004 - 18:01
[William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University.]
Since at least the epic of Job described in the Bible, humans have tried to understand why their God has inflicted cruelties upon believers. Many years ago, I recall my daughter of almost four, after we had been in an auto accident which injured my year-and-a-half-old son, asking my mother what had he done wrong to deserve such punishment from God?
Empires, such as that here in America, exalted by the neoconservative faithful such as William Kristol, are especially in need of rationalizations to explain the awful things happening abroad such as global “terrorism,” as well as the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add to that the most unusual hurricane season in decades, where such entities as “Ivan” don’t easily die, but are reborn and circle back, and some may ask what has America’s fundamentalist leadership under George W. Bush done to make God so angry at this nation?
The Chinese Empire, even as its elite outgrew primitive religion millennia earlier, was still faced with answering this same question. Since they had no intention of doing away with the institutions of empire, their only answer was to regularly replace specific emperors. Thus was developed the concept of the “Mandate of Heaven,” which linked nicely with the dominant neo-Confucianism of the Empire.
The Chinese believed that good things happened to the people and their Empire when the leaders lived lives of “truth” and “virtue.” When they did not, they had lost the “Mandate of Heaven” and needed to be replaced. Whether or not George W. Bush ever had such a “Mandate of Heaven,” even if he believes that he has—perhaps it was “bestowed” upon him by the Supreme Court certifying his election in 2000—he certainly seems to have lost it since then.
Now blathering on by Bush in speeches about virtue, or writing about it by the sanctimonious, compulsive gambler, William Bennett, or praying about it (or is it preying?) as do other U.S. leaders, is not a substitute for virtuous behavior.
These Chinese ideas, having filtered back to Europe in the 18th century Enlightenment, played a role in the discussions by American leaders in the founding of the republic. Thomas Jefferson was especially taken with them, talking about a “natural aristocracy of talent and virtue,” and an educational system of government schools which as the sinologist H.G. Creel noted, was clearly borrowed from China.
As the great economist Lord Bauer once mentioned to me, Alexis de Tocqueville, that insightful observer of America, when he saw these developments in early 19th century France, called it, “le system chinois (the Chinese system),” and the Japanese, in the late 19th century, searching for Western models, adopted the French educational system. What irony, Confucianism by way of France! Nations may “clash,” but civilizations tend to borrow from each other.
It was the usually dour John Adams, who in their correspondence, questioned Jefferson’s verbal constructs. He noted that there were all kinds of talents, not just the intellectual/academic ones favored by Jefferson, even a king’s mistress displayed certain talents, but most importantly, “how do you teach virtue?”
There is only one answer to Adams, as Confucius understood. Virtue is taught, or not taught, by the young emulating the behavior of their parents and elders, and by the people observing the actions of their leaders.
In this regard, has the U.S. reached new depths of degradation in pursuing an unprovoked war in Iraq and the declaration of perpetual war globally? Certainly, George Bush has lost the “Mandate” of most of the rest of the world, outside of a few client states and toadies; the President’s recent reception before the U.N. made that quite evident....
Posted on: Tuesday, October 5, 2004 - 17:27
[A nonresident fellow at the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University, Cathy Corman lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband and eleven-year-old triplets and is completing two book manuscripts, one about Indian literacy during the removal era, the other a series of profiles of successful adults with Attention Deficit Disorder.]
... we had snickered the previous evening when we had seen a particular T-shirt at a Los Lobos concert. Bracketing a silk-screened reproduction of a nineteenth-century photograph of Geronimo, armed, alongside three Apache warriors, the writing on the shirt read"Homeland Security . . . Fighting Terrorism Since 1492." Wildly popular in Indian Country ever since U.S. troops invaded Iraq, the shirt was only beginning to make the rounds in December 2001. Even then, we got the joke. Seen from Indian Country, the folks at the Department of Homeland Security are the hypocritical descendants of terrorists, themselves.
Thinking about the T-shirt and seeing that flag poster up at Acoma, I wondered what Indians were saying about 9/11. That question stuck with me. A few conversations and emails later, I have learned that, like many other minorities in America, the Indians I spoke to are struggling to negotiate multiple identities that leave them to work out their relationships with patriotism and oppression. I have also learned that there is something uniquely Indian in the quality of this struggle, something that other groups, no matter how disenchanted or disenfranchised, cannot share.A T-shirt with a message: Geronomio and Chiricahua Apache warriors. Courtesy of Matthew Tafoya and www.nativesovereigntees.com.
It is hard to understand how Indians can simultaneously fly flags, said Robert Holden, Choctaw, and view the federal government as an occupying, terrorist agency. But that is just the way it is."This is still our homeland," said Holden, a specialist in radioactive waste disposal on Native land for the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C. To illustrate Indians’ position, Holden reminded me that during World War II the Iroquois confederacy, seeing itself as a sovereign nation, declared war on Germany and Japan. Nowadays, even when they know that the U.S. government has contaminated their lands,"Indian people still go and fight for this country." The National Congress of American Indians does not have figures yet for how many Native peoples are fighting in Iraq. It estimates that eight thousand Indians fought in World War I, twenty-five thousand fought in World War II, and forty-three thousand fought in Vietnam. Maybe the hard part for non-Indians to understand, Holden said, is that Indians do not entirely see the homeland they are defending as either American or Indian."We are going to stand with our allies and protect our homeland."
Matthew K. Tafoya, Navajo, who designed the original homeland security T-shirt and marketed it through his Albuquerque company, Tribal Sovereign Tees, is far more blunt. To Tafoya, Indians who fly American flags are"brainwashed" and"not thinking for themselves." Indians do not join the U.S. Military, Tafoya said, because they are flag-waving patriots. With unemployment on Indian reservations hovering between 60 and 70 percent, Tafoya said,"the military is the only sure way to get a paycheck."
Tafoya came up with the design and slogan for his homeland security T-shirt a few weeks after terrorists flew jets into the Twin Towers. He recalls thinking,"That’s right. Now they know how it feels." Tafoya said that the shirt has been extremely popular with Indian veterans of the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, who–ironically–show up at his booth at flea markets wearing worn-out, government-issue combat fatigues. He suspects that when Indian vets see his shirt, they are thinking,"We’re completely screwed over by the government, and we’re also lucky to be alive."
"Traditional culture can promote entry to the U.S. military as an extension of the ‘warrior tradition,’" wrote Ben Winton, editor and publisher of The Native Press, which also markets a homeland security T-shirt. In an email responding to my questions about Indians, patriotism, 9/11, and military service, Winton wrote that young Indians"are protecting their families and their traditional homeland (what little of it remains under tribal control, anyway)." He mentioned the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II as a group that wanted to protect Indian Country and U. S. soil."Assimilation and acculturation allow for many people to feel a sense of dual identity/citizenship," Winton wrote."They feel both proud as an ‘Indian person’ and proud as an ‘American’."...
Posted on: Tuesday, October 5, 2004 - 16:52
Keith Watenpaugh, in a lecture delivered at the Villanova Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies (Sept. 29, 2004):
When Professor Maghan Keita first asked me to speak on issues of higher education, academic conditions and intellectual life in Iraq just a few months ago, one of the first things I had to do was come up with a title. “The Rebuilding of Iraq’s Academic Community” was the easy part: a generation of brutish Baathist rule, a decade-long cruel, indifferent and corrupt UN sanctions regime and a brief, humiliating war followed by a period of mass looting has left Iraq’s once-remarkable higher educational system in a state of collapse. “Rebuilding,” is quite frankly, all it can do. But the second part of the title left me stumped “In a time of what?” And I had to do so something historians should never do: predict the future. That’s better left to soothsayers and their modern equivalent, the legions of “political analysts” of the 24-hour news cycle. I had to ask myself what would Iraq look like in a couple months’ time. And I choose the term “civil war.”
The daily car-bombings and drive-by shootings, the assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings, the guerilla attacks on coalition and pro-US Iraqi forces, the establishment of no-go areas in central Iraq, precise and not-so precise bombing raids on civilian urban centers, intense ethnic tensions in those areas bordering Syria and Turkey and the cold-war between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq may not as yet fulfill the normative definition of civil war employed by political scientists, but it must be close. Militias have been formed and armed, and most Iraqis being killed are being killed by other Iraqis, though large numbers are also being killed by Americans. Lines are being drawn in anticipation of an American withdrawal, and US forces are fighting elements of the Iraqi body politic that welcomed us a year ago, primarily the Shia of Sadr City. Clearly, the status quo in Iraq is much more than a mere insurgency pitting a rag-tag guerilla force against an occupational army in the way America’s Vietnam war was more than just a conflict with the Viet Cong, in the way France’s Algerian war was more than just about protecting their pied-noir colonists, even in the way Britain’s war in North American in the late-18th century was more than the mere suppression of a New England tax rebellion.
We are at war with Iraqi society and Iraqi society is at war with itself.
This statement should be the central principle for understanding what is happening in Iraq and contribute to how we respond to the needs of Iraq’s people.
The invasion, the insurgency and America’s less than competent administration of post-war Iraq has caused crucial pre-existing divisions in Iraqi society – and here I don’t mean merely Sunni-Shia or Kurd-Arab – but rather divisions of class, urban/rural and those that divide the conservative, religiously-minded from secular modernists to emerge in a rapid, explosive and uncontrolled manner. These differences had been suppressed by the authoritarian and divide-and-rule style of Baathist rule and ironically, by the UN sanctions that starved the countryside and impoverished Iraq’s middle class alike.
One of the most significant outcomes of the explosive decompression of those strains of conflict is that the genie of radicalized Arab-Islamism, which had rested furtively at the margins of Arab society — al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, in particular – is out of the proverbial bottle in a very big way. And that ideology has the potential to move to the very center of a viable mass, authentic political movement as the war in Iraq continues. This amorphous, rather indistinct ideology, which we in the West are only now beginning to try to understand and take seriously brings hope to the disaffected and proletarianized middle-class young people of big Arab cities like Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus, as well as a measure of dignity to their poorer brothers and sisters who live in the slums south of Beirut, the refugee camps in Gaza and the Sadr City ghetto. America’s invasion of Iraq has handed this new ideology its greatest victory – regardless of the outcome of the next few months or even years: if the US withdraws unilaterally having Iraqified the war or if it stays and retakes the no-go areas with a brutal combination of airpower and “boots on the ground,” this movement will survive, prosper and spread.
Understanding Iraq’s civil war, what it will do to Iraqi society and to the larger Middle East is a daunting question; this evening I want to address just one element of that larger society: Higher Education. And while it may seem superfluous to think about universities and colleges, research institutions and foreign exchange programs while Iraq seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, it is precisely higher education’s role as a fundament of civil society, as a device in ameliorating forms of economic and class difference, and as a tool for building national community that should put it a the very center of all of our efforts in Iraq and the Middle East, at large.
Large-scale, free (or almost free), merit-based secondary and higher education, combined with strategic and directed programs of economic development, is the only way to lessen the magnetic attraction of radicalized Arab-Islamist nationalism. And while analysts often point to the corrosive asymmetries of the Arab-Israeli conflict or the American occupation and support of Saudi Arabia as the chief causes for this radicalism, these are merely symptoms of a more pernicious disease that wastes the human capital and potential of the Arab world.
This is not to say that Higher Education is a cure all or that if the Arabs just had an educational system more like ours then all would be well. Rather if the US is prepared to make a multi-generational commitment to investing in education in the Middle East (not just Iraq), to opening our college campuses to young people from the region, to sending American students and professors there to study, to learn and to teach, and, at home, to expanding the teaching of Middle Eastern languages, cultures and history beyond research universities and integrating those topics into standard core curricula and offerings throughout the US, then we and the peoples of the Middle East have a fighting chance; certainly a better chance than with a military option. What I’m advocating isn’t cheap, in fact it will cost a great deal. But it’s much less expensive than the alternative.......
Posted on: Sunday, October 3, 2004 - 14:18
``What are we going to do with the influence and power of this great nation?'' Woodrow Wilson asked at Philadelphia's Independence Hall on the Fourth of July, 1914. Both the setting and the date underscored the urgency of his question. ``Are we going to play the old role of using that power for our aggrandizement and material benefit only?'' Or, he asked, was it America's historical mission to fulfill the dream of its founders by going beyond building democracy at home and taking on the task of revolutionizing international life as well?
The founding generation, struggling to defend the fledgling republic's independence, could not plausibly have hoped to realize that larger dream in their own lifetimes, but they repeatedly pointed to the far horizon of their ambitions.
When Benjamin Franklin as commissioner to France spurned the powdered wigs and foppish finery of court dress in favor of a fur cap and homespun garments, he was vividly signaling his upstart nation's intention to repudiate traditional diplomatic practices. As John Adams put it in 1776, ``The business of America with Europe was commerce, not politics or war.'' That was a truly radical idea, but one with enormous implications for the future.
As Wilson sought to answer the questions he posed at Independence Hall on the eve of World War I, he looked to the founders' example. What he came up with was a revolutionary philosophy of international relations that has guided U.S. foreign policy ever since -- until now.
President Bush today claims to be pursuing the hallowed Wilsonian goal of making the world safe for democracy. But the president and his neoconservative brain trust have witlessly jettisoned Wilson's means even as they piously invoke Wilson's ends. The essence of Wilson's approach was the careful, laborious toil of building international institutions, agreements and partnerships step by careful step. He didn't expect to create a better world by flaunting America's military might or naively attempting to export democracy, but instead by patiently cultivating ties of trust, mutual interest and reciprocity.
The Bush administration's path to war in Iraq is but the most dramatic example of a set of policies that has put at risk the kind of international leadership that has served both America and the world so well for the past half-century. The policies of the past four years have made America and the world less safe, not more....
Posted on: Sunday, October 3, 2004 - 14:00
[Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.]
How might you explain the apparent abrupt change in policy of Libya; the unexpected removal of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb; and the about-face in Saudi Arabia -- and what precise plans do you have to induce similar such positive changes in attitude in Iran, Lebanon and Syria?
In January, you promised to be a president who ''reduces the overall need for deployment of American forces in the globe -- and I mean North Korea, Germany and the rest of the world.''
More recently, however, you have chastised President Bush for saying that he will do precisely that, suggesting that his ''hastily announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitments than it provides real answers.'' As president, would you send those departing American troops back into Germany and on the Korean Peninsula to restore previous levels? And if not, why?
President Bush was the first American president to isolate Yasir Arafat. Do you agree with the president's radical step of ostracizing Mr. Arafat? If so, would you also ensure that he is no longer a party to the Middle East peace negotiations?
Posted on: Friday, October 1, 2004 - 19:17
[Kazin teaches history at Georgetown University.]
As George W. Bush and John Kerry get set for their first televised debate tonight, a U.S. historian looks at a recent book that may help explain why the Democrats are having trouble in the polls.
Approach this book with caution, fellow progressives. It may confirm your worst fear.
John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, two smart Brits who work for The Economist, have written a vividly detailed study (The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, Penguin Press) of why conservatives rule American politics. What is worse, they maintain that the right is likely to dominate for some time, even if the Democrats eke out a victory this fall.
The Right Nation has nothing in common with the crude polemics by the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter that growl from racks at every airport and mall. Micklethwait and Wooldridge gaze on their American subjects with the skepticism of European agnostics who've grown up in a tidy welfare state. The moralism of the evangelical right makes them shudder, and they mock the hypocrisy of a president who rails against"big government" but has blithely run up a record deficit. A keen grasp of history and demographic trends firms up their prose, which is spiked with the dry wit that seems the birthright of every Oxford graduate.
Many Republicans, the authors report, believe high deficits will prevent liberals from enacting future social programs. That logic"is rather like saying that, because your brother-in-law drinks too much, you're going to drink all the alcohol in the house before he visits for the Memorial Day weekend."
All this frames an argument that the most confirmed W-hater should take seriously. In their view, three simple reasons explain why conservatives keep defeating the left: The right wins the battle of ideas, has a more determined and focused army of activists, and is reaping the benefits of long-term changes in American society.
The unlikely figure of William Jefferson Clinton proved an expert witness to the ideological sway of his opponents."The era of big government is over," declared the only Democratic president to win re-election since FDR.
Clinton accomplished two historic feats that conservatives had long demanded -- a balanced budget and punitive welfare"reform." But his grand liberal dream to provide every American with medical insurance was a spectacular flop. Do you want a health-care system run like the post office? asked the pitchmen for the right.
It's a myth that federal largesse goes mainly to lazy and immoral Americans -- or ungrateful foreigners. But, after decades of skilful propaganda, most Americans believe this. The golden era when Congress created Medicare and Medicaid, not to mention the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Environmental Protection Agency, seems to belong not just to an earlier century, but to a different nation.
The men from The Economist appreciate how diverse is the cadre responsible for this sea change. At the top, of course, are white guys in expensive suits, men such as Ralph Reed and William Kristol familiar to anyone who watches a Sunday morning talk show from the U.S. But the authors also introduce pro-life college kids from Colorado Springs who believe conservatism is a benevolent creed, and they identify the many women in Bush's inner circle who've enjoyed the support of right-wing foundations.
Rich conservatives, the authors point out, don't really donate more money than do their liberal counterparts in New York and Hollywood. But they target nearly all of it to projects whose sole mission is to advance the right's cause.
The authors' claim that the future smiles on conservatives is more dubious. Micklethwait and Wool-dridge show that people who own stocks and homes and attend church tend to vote Republican, and those indicators are rising. Yet, if one deletes piety from the equation, Democrats do just as well. Latinos are the wild card in such electoral predictions. The authors predict the upwardly mobile and U.S.-born will shift toward the GOP. But most Latinos toil at working-class jobs and will probably do so for years to come. They are a natural constituency for progressives -- if, indeed, the left can take its doctrine of social equality to heart.
And there's the rub. The left can't control demography, but it can build a smarter movement. In 1970, John Mitchell, Richard Nixon's leading henchman, said,"This country is going so far to the right, you are not even going to recognize it." With zeal and an eye for liberal soft spots, conservatives set about fulfilling his prophecy.
Meanwhile, the left fragmented into a variety of worthy causes -- from environmental defence to gay and lesbian rights to affirmative action. These fragments have helped make the United States a more humane place. But they forgot that the first rule of democratic politics is to state a few forceful ideas and to make clear how they can benefit the majority. Even Americans who despise the right know exactly what it believes:"family values" and"less government." Since Sept. 11, 2001, conservatives have added the defeat of"Islamo-fascism" to the agenda.
Can progressives unite behind ideas of similar clarity and appeal? Can they rid themselves of a nagging contempt for the unhip, the poorly educated, and the God-fearing? If the left is not a movement of and for working people -- blemishes and all -- then it has little chance to regain its previous influence.
Micklethwait and Wooldridge conclude their immensely valuable book with a sobering prediction. If Kerry wins, they write,"he will be reduced to trying to reconstruct the status quo ante, cutting back on tax cuts for the super-rich and repairing relations with foreigners (up to a point), but generally coping with an agenda dictated by the right."
Such a future is not inevitable; as John Mitchell knew, history often has a surprise up her sleeve. But if progressives want to prove the right wrong, they'll have to stop boasting about how enlightened they are and start winning over the heart of America.
Posted on: Friday, October 1, 2004 - 15:23