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.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - 01:43
When someone says that today the chances for Middle East peace have improved, it is worth asking two questions: can there be a sustainable truce, as long as Israel maintains a significant presence in the West Bank? And do the Israelis seem remotely interested in giving this up? If your answer to both is negative, then you share my view that we should not be deceived into optimism by a pitstop in mutual vilification between Ariel Sharon and the Palestinian Authority.
The key challenge now, as ever, is to convince Israelis that their own security interests are best served by evacuating the Occupied Territories. And this does not mean getting out of Gaza merely in order to strengthen Israel's grip on the West Bank, as Ariel Sharon is busy doing, surviving a challenge from rebels yesterday to hold a referendum on the issue.
These issues are addressed in a new book by Martin van Crefeld, who was born in Holland but has lived in Israel for much of his life, and is an internationally respected military historian and strategic guru, even if also a prophet somewhat disdained in his own country. His book, published in the US (but for which he could find no Israeli, or British, publisher), makes a powerful argument for Israel's withdrawal, not to indulge the Palestinians, but to save itself.
Van Crefeld is no soft touch. He believes unilateral action is essential, because the Palestinians will never become viable partners in a bilateral deal. He accepts that some terrorism will continue anyway, and thus proposes that Israel should shield itself with a security wall established on its pre-1967 frontiers.
He acknowledges that most Arab states will remain irreconcilably hostile, which means that Israel must maintain stringent security measures to protect its people from harm. But he believes these must be based upon internationally recognised borders, because to sustain Israel's explicitly expansionist policy of the past 25 years has become intolerable militarily, financially and diplomatically. No amount of neo- conservative encouragement from Washington, such as the Bush administration offered last week for Israel's West Bank settlements, can change this.
Van Crefeld says that hawks who argue that Israel's security demands a buffer zone beyond its borders are living in the past. In the new age of military technology, Israel's superiority over the Arabs will increase. Iraq is out of the reckoning as a foe. Syria, Egypt and Jordan can't look to US or Russian patronage to build new conventional arsenals - and the conventional threat to Israel is now almost non-existent.
Weapons of mass destruction are another matter. The only credible defence against an Arab state armed in such a way will always be deterrence, perhaps eventually supported by an anti-missile system. He is optimistic that, for all the Arabs' extravagant rhetoric, self-interest will dissuade them from launching a nuclear strike against Israel when they can be sure of an annihilating response.
The key to defusing Jewish settler militancy, Van Crefeld argues, is a guarantee of alternative housing. Most of the 200,000 people who have gone to live beyond Israel's borders have done so not as eager colonists, but because the West Bank offers affordable homes. If they are promised accommodation in Israel as part of a deal, the government will have to deal only with a small minority of madmen, who are convinced that Israel has a divine claim on biblical Israel....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - 01:31
[Ruth Rosen, professor emerita of history at the University of California, is the author of"The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America.]
My 91-year-old friend Alice, like many elderly women, has outlived her modest savings. All that stands between her and destitution is the $800 check she receives from Social Security and small contributions from a handful of caring friends and relatives. She is not alone. The Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, DC, estimates that half the women over 65 would fall into poverty without Social Security income because 70 percent of Social Security beneficiaries over 85 are women. For one-third of all unmarried female seniors, Social Security is, in fact, their only source of income.
Worried that his privatization plan is in peril, George W. Bush has been touting its benefits to widows. But they regard his proposals with particular suspicion. Since women tend to live longer than men and spend fewer years in the workforce, they depend more heavily on Social Security during the last years of their lives. They therefore stand to lose the most if they don't have a guaranteed safety net when they are seniors.
But do women of all ages understand their stake in this debate? An army of economists and pundits have vigorously debunked the President's spurious claims that Social Security is in "crisis" and that its trust fund will go "bankrupt" in 2042. What they don't publicize, however, is that the President's plan for private accounts would deepen the crisis faced by vast numbers of elderly women.
To educate women, the National Council of Women's Organizations, which represents almost 200 women's groups with more than 10 million members, held a national press conference in early February to express its strong opposition to private accounts. Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, wants women--who earn a median salary of $30,000--to understand that "Social Security provides women with life insurance, disability income, and spousal benefits, and all of these will be at risk if privatizers have their way."
The Bush Administration naturally has it own network of female cheerleaders. Among them is the Independent Women's Forum, whose job is to fabricate the ideal of the self-made woman who requires no help from anyone, a rugged individualist who can pull herself up by the straps on her stiletto pumps. Just who is this independent self-made woman? Ask the millions of working women who do the unpaid work of caring for their children and their elderly parents or spouses if they need any assistance from social services. Ask the millions of women who work for low wages at Wal-Mart, nursing homes or other women's homes if they feel like independent self-made women.
Professional women--the real target audience courted by the Independent Women's Forum--may seem like rugged individualists, but scratch the veneer and you'll often find that they have benefited from generous state fellowships, government loans, parental sacrifice or wealthy husbands. Scratch a little deeper and you'll also discover that it was the women's movement and affirmative action that gave the "self-made woman" a chance to walk through what were once closed doors.
The Independent Women's Forum, for example, wants to persuade me that I'm a self-made woman. But I'm not. Back when Nelson Rockefeller, a moderate Republican, was governor, New York State paid for my undergraduate education. The citizens of California, who once understood that a highly skilled workforce is what would fuel California's economic engine, funded my doctoral education. As a result of affirmative action, universities began hiring women faculty members, and I repaid my debt for all this assistance by teaching thousands of university students.
The truth is that hardly anyone is "self-made." Every day, we use sewer systems, ride on Interstate highways or subways, surf the Internet and send kids to schools that we created by investing in our society's public life.
Crucial as it is for women's long-term economic security, Social Security is not perfect; even now it discriminates against low-income workers, the majority of whom are women, because they pay more than their fair share of the payroll taxes that fund the system. So what's the solution? Why not exempt people who earn less than $30,000 from payroll taxes? Instead of keeping the cap at $90,000, why not raise it so that the wealthiest among us, those with the greatest financial security, can help those with the least? With this one progressive change, Social Security would bulge with surplus funds well into the next century.
We live in a world in which none of us know who will lose a job or become ill and need a helping hand. Real reform in Social Security should express our core conviction that we're not isolated, self-made men and women but a society of individuals who should care for the most vulnerable. It is not only unfair to allow elderly women to live in poverty--it's also immoral.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - 01:30
"Shocked" is how Aisha Sherazi, principal of the Abraar Islamic school in Ottawa, described the reaction of the school's administration and board on learning last week that two of its teachers had incited hatred of Jews.
And"shocked" was how Mumtaz Akhtar, president of the Muslim-Community Council of Ottawa-Gatineau, described his own reaction to the front-page news about the Abraar school.
But they may have been the only two persons on the planet to be"shocked" to learn that teachers at an Islamic school are promoting anti-Semitism or other aspects of the Islamist agenda. The fact is, inquiries into Islamic schools repeatedly discover just such a radical Islamic outlook. Some examples:
New York City: An investigation by the New York Daily News in 2003 found that books used in the city's Muslim schools"are rife with inaccuracies, sweeping condemnations of Jews and Christians, and triumphalist declarations of Islam's supremacy."
Los Angeles: The Omar Ibn Khattab Foundation donated 300 Korans (titled The Meaning of the Holy Quran) to the city school district in 2001 that within months had to be pulled from school libraries because of its anti-Semitic commentaries. One footnote reads:"The Jews in their arrogance claimed that all wisdom and all knowledge of Allah was enclosed in their hearts. … Their claim was not only arrogance but blasphemy."
Ajax, Ontario, 50 kilometers east of Toronto: The Institute of Islamic Learning is a Canadian emulation of the extremist Deobandi madrassahs of Pakistan. It focuses exclusively on religious topics, has students memorize the Koran, demands total segregation from the Canadian milieu, and requires complete gender separation. Former students complained about the school's cult-like devotion to its head, Abdul Majid Khan, and complained that it is a"twisted religion."
Then there are four leading Islamic schools in the Washington, D.C. area:
The Muslim Community School in Potomac, Md., imbues in its students a sense of alienation from their own country. Seventh-grader Miriam told a Washington Post reporter in 2001,"Being American is just being born in this country." Eighth-grader Ibrahim announced that"Being an American means nothing to me."
A textbook used at the Islamic Saudi Academy of Alexandria, Va., in 2004, authored and published by the Saudi Ministry of Education, teaches first graders that"all religions, other than Islam, are false, including that of the Jews [and] Christians." An ISA class valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was recently indicted for plotting to assassinate President Bush.
The U.S. government revoked the visas in 2004 of sixteen people affiliated with the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, of Fairfax, Va. In the words of the Washington Post,"That decision followed accusations that the institute, a satellite campus of al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, was promoting a brand of Islam that critics say is intolerant of other strains of the religion as well as Christianity and Judaism." In addition, the IIASA is under investigation for ties to terrorism.
The Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences of Ashburn, Va., referred to as a"purported" educational institution in an affidavit justifying a raid on the school, had its financial records seized in 2002 on suspicions of links to terrorism.
Nor are schools the exception among Islamic institutions in North America. A recent study by Freedom House found a parallel problem of venomous anti-Jewish and anti-Christian materials in U.S. mosques. The most prominent American Muslim organizations, especially the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spew antisemitism and host a neo-Nazi. The same applies in Canada, where the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, Mohamed Elmasry, publicly endorsed the murder of all Israelis over the age of eighteen.
So long as Muslim leaders simply declare themselves, in the spirit of Capt. Renault in the movie Casablanca"shocked, shocked" whenever news of Islamist supremacism leaks out, this cancer will continue unabated. The Islamic schools, the mosques, and other Muslim organizations like CAIR and CIC will continue their cat-and-mouse game so long as it works.
It won't work only when outside pressure is brought to bear on them by politicians, journalists, researchers, moderate Muslims, and others. They must state clearly and frequently the unacceptability of Islamist venom. Only then will today's fraudulent"shocked" reaction finally become sincere.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - 13:29
In spring 2004, members of an obscure right-wing group in southwestern Japan set sail for two islets contested between Japan and Korea in a small Boston whaler covered with Rising Sun flags. Their mission, not the first of its kind, was to reclaim what Japanese call Takeshima (Bamboo Island) and Koreans Tokdo (Lonesome Island) as Japan’s sovereign territory. Upon learning of the craft's departure from a port in Shimane prefecture, the South Korean government promised military retaliation should it approach or invade the islets that Seoul has held since independence in 1945. The Japanese government, preoccupied with the return of the abductees’ children from North Korea and growing protests against Japanese troops in Iraq, quickly acquiesced, and the Japanese Coast Guard guided the boat back to Japanese shores.
But because control over the islets has a long and fraught history, feelings on both sides did not simply melt away. On January 16, 2005, the South Korean government issued a Tokdo nature stamp that quickly sold out. The same day, the Shimane prefectural assembly passed a bill proclaiming February 22 as “Takeshima Day”.
This time, perhaps because the current round of tensions coincided with the upcoming publication of a new round of Japanese school textbooks that critics contend once again “whitewash” Japan’s history of colonialism and aggression in Asia, the Korean government and people responded to Japanese claims to Takeshima with statements and mass rallies. The ROK government, facing by-elections in April, demanded Japanese apology and remuneration for Korean victims of its colonial rule, such as the military comfort women and slave laborers, and a halt to Japan's aggressive and insensitive behavior. As the National Security Council put it in a March 17 statement, this was"land that was forcefully taken from us in the course of the colonial invasion and was restored to us with national liberation. This is not simply a territorial issue. It is nothing short of a denial of the history of our national liberation as well as a justification of aggression." NSC Chairman Chung Dong-young in a press conference on the same day described Japan's actions as"a second dispossession of the Korean Peninsula that denies the history of Korea's liberation."
Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro sought to downplay the conflict."Overcoming emotional confrontation . . . it is important for both sides to promote friendship through a future-oriented way of thinking." But on the eve of the one hundredth anniversary of Japan's seizure of the islands, and the fiftieth anniversary of Korea's independence and recovery of the islands, anodyne statements that failed to clarify Japan's position on the islands merely fanned the flames of Korean patriotism.
The “Japan-Korea Year of Friendship,” heralding the 40th anniversary of normalization of relations, a year in which both sides have indicated their intention to seal a free trade agreement to strengthen their flourishing economic relations, has begun with a crisis that has brought Japan-ROK always fragile relations to their lowest point in recent years.
The issues are one important manifestation of deepening conflicts involving Japan with each of its neighbors: with China and Taiwan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands; and with Russia over the Northern Islands, four islands of the Kuriles that Russia controls and Japan claims. The issues surface, moreover, at a time when various initiatives are being floated to create a zone of peace and commerce in East Asia that could involve China, Japan, Korea and the ASEAN nations. But they surface, too, when Japan's ruling Party has dispatched SDF forces to Iraq, has issued new defense guidelines, and is exploring an expanded Japanese military role within the framework of the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Japan Focus introduces two articles illuminating the conflict and possible paths for looking beyond the antagonisms of a century of colonial rule and the present conflict over Tokdo/Takeshima toward a more peaceful and cooperative Northeast Asia.
1. Kosuke TAKAHASHI, Japan-South Korea Ties on the Rocks
2. Wada Haruki, Takeshima/Tokdo - A Plea to Resolve a Worsening Dispute
Posted on: Monday, March 28, 2005 - 23:27
Excerpts from Tom Engelhardt's "Entries for a Devil’s Dictionary of the Bush Era" (3-28-05):
When asked if he would like to submit a Bush-era definition or two, Noam Chomsky replied,"I suspect that I'll have to fall back on Mark Twain's despair when trying to satirize General Funston: 'No satire of Funston could reach perfection, because Funston occupies that summit himself....[he is] satire incarnated.'" (General Frederick N. Funston was a commander of part of the American expeditionary force that crushed the Philippine independence movement as the twentieth century began.)
Herewith, then, entries (or are they entrees?) for a modern Devil's Dictionary (with a small bow to Ambrose Bierce).
Homelandn: A term successfully used by the Germans and the Soviets in World War II, less successfully (and in the plural) by Apartheid-era South Africa. It means neither home, nor land, has replaced both country and nation in American public speech, and is seldom wielded without the companion word"security." It is the place to which imperial forces return for R&R.
Homeland Security: synonymous with Homeland insecurity.
Homeland Security Department: The new Defense Department, known for declaring bridges yellow and the Statue of Liberty orange.
Homelandismn: a neologism for love of the Homeland Security State as in,"My Homeland, ‘tis of thee, sweet security state of liberty…"
Intelligencen: What Dick Cheney wants and the CIA must provide -- or else. (See, Iraq, weapons of mass destruction)
Nationalismn: How foreigners love their country (when they do). A very dangerous phenomenon that can lead to extremes of passion, blindness, and xenophobia. (See, Terrorism)
Oiln: 1. Black gold. 2. (defunct acronym) Operation Iraqi Liberation or OIL (name changed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, OIF, without explanation). 3. What the Bush administration wasn't after in Iraq and isn't after in Iran. (See, Democracy)
Patriotismn: How Americans love their country. A trait so positive you can't have too much of it, and if you do, then you are a super-patriot which couldn't be better. (Foreigners cannot be patriotic. See, Nationalism)
Pentagonn: Formerly, the Defense Department, but since we now have a new defense department (see, Homeland Security Department), soon be renamed the Global Forward Deployment Department or GFDD (Ge-Fudd). Its forward-deployed headquarters will be established in a two-sided building, the Duogon, now being constructed in Bahrain out of sand imported from the beaches of Texas by Halliburton subsidiary KBR. From there, it plans to rule the known world.
Senaten: Exclusive club, entry fee $10 to $30 million.
House of Representatives: Exclusive club, entry fee $1 to $5 million.
Washington Press Corps: Extension of White House and Pentagon press offices.
Checks and Balances. The system whereby the campaign checks of the few balance the interests of the many.
Free Speech Zone The area to which those who differ from the administration are confined should they be so audacious as to wish to exercise their right of free speech.
Free Press: 1. Government propaganda materials covertly funded with a quarter of a billion dollars of taxpayer money but given out for free to the press and then broadcast without any acknowledgment of the government's role in their preparation. 2. Newspapers that obscure the truth on behalf of corporate and government interests for free.
Town-hall Meeting: A meeting in a hall in a town where all the participants have first been vetted for loyalty to the Bush administration.
Mandate: 1. The opinion expressed by about a quarter of the eligible voters. 2. The opinion reflected in an electoral-vote margin smaller than in any 20th century election other than 1916 and 2000. 3. The opinion expressed by the smallest popular vote margin obtained by a sitting president since 1916.
China: See WalMart.
Deathn: An increasingly rare phenomenon, no longer occurring among soldiers of the U.S. army or civilians in affected countries. However, the media reports that death is still caused by lone gunmen and over-consumption of saturated fats as well as natural disasters.
Democracyn: 1. A product so extensively exported that the domestic supply is depleted. 2. When they vote for us. (See, tyranny: When they vote for someone else.)
Liberaladj: Widely used after the words progressive, radical, left, revolutionary, and insurrectionary were banned from the mainstream media, having the double benefit of making moderates seem vaguely dangerous and making revolutionaries seem vaguely embarrassing and ineffectual. Liberal media: Ted Koppel and anarchist zines.
Negroponte, John: Good diplomat, in the sense that Pol Pot is a good family-planner.
Ownership Society: You no longer own your national parks, your public transit, your commons, your government, your Bill of Rights, or your future, but you may purchase a Burger King franchise or some stocks with your WalMart earnings.
Peacen: What war is for.
Securityn: Something to be applied to the homeland but not to the social.
Social Security: A good idea except for two problems: Social verges on socialism and guarantees of security violate a free market.
The Marketplace of Ideas: Buy low, sell high.
WalMart: The nation-state, future tense.
Posted on: Monday, March 28, 2005 - 17:41
In Anthony Lewis’s enlightening essay on the Pentagon Papers in the current New York Review of Books, he quotes the former RAND scholar Melvin Gurtov’s description of what the Pentagon Papers were all about.
"The crux of these documents," concludes Gurtov (in John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, eds., Inside the Pentagon Papers (University Press of Kansas, 2005), "was what they revealed about the duplicity of US leaders, who consistently lied to the American people, the Congress, and the press about many aspects of the war in the Kennedy and Johnson years. Presidents and their national security advisors knew the war was being lost…." Might historians someday reach the same conclusion about the Cheney-Bush decision to invade Iraq and expand Pax Americana throughout the world when their papers and the archives are finally released to the public?
Finally, if yet another nation is to be invaded in the name of "democracy" and "freedom" then reluctant and uninspired conscripts may have to replace the Iraq war’s depleted and exhausted volunteers, swelling the casualty lists once again. None of this seems to trouble Washington’s bellicose party itching to dominate the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. A draft, imperial dreams and war always go hand in hand.
Prowar imperialists such as Theodore Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling changed their minds once their sons were killed in World War I. Grieving, TR went to an early grave. Kipling could only assuage his grief and guilt by penning his shattering couplet:
If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
Posted on: Saturday, March 26, 2005 - 17:39
Roe and its sister cases in the late 1960s and early 1970s were never"Democratic Party" issues. The right to elect to have a safe and convenient abortion was a feminist issue, a doctor's issue, and a legal reform issue. Indeed, Republican President Ford was far more pro-choice than his Democratic successor, President Carter. Carter was as strongly opposed to abortion rights (with some exceptions) as the anti- abortion rights lobby is today.
It was only in the 1980 campaign that Governor Reagan's political advisors, seeking a way to undercut Democratic support among Protestant fundamentalists in the South and among the Roman Catholic voters of the Northeast, urged him to make anti-abortion a centerpiece of his platform. That strategy (proposed by men who had little inherent interest in the issue itself) has proven remarkably effective for Republican candidates. Even then, at least one of Reagan's Republican rivals, George Bush, favored the right to an abortion.
The years since 1980 have changed something of that picture, as the two parties have taken very different positions on abortion rights in their national platforms. But as President Clinton made plain, he did not favor abortion so much as the right of a woman to choose. His view, that abortion should be legal but infrequent, is that shared by Senator Clinton. I see no shift in that position.
Posted on: Friday, March 25, 2005 - 21:31
The Democratic candidate was crushed. An urban, ethnic liberal from the Northeast, he had been caught flatfooted by the waves of vitriolic attacks that smeared his background, his years of dedicated public service, the character of his beloved wife, as well as his religious beliefs and cultural values. He lost the heartland, and even the traditionally Democratic South had turned against him in unprecedented numbers, and it looked as though Republicans would continue to control not only the White House but also both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court for a long time to come.
The Democratic candidate I’m referring to was Al Smith. He lost his run for the Presidency in 1928 by a much larger margin than the one that defeated John Kerry, yet within four years, millions of the same Southerners and Midwesterners who had voted against Smith were embracing the New Deal coalition that would dominate American politics for most of the ensuing half-century. The moral of the story is that after their big loss last November, Democrats might be better off sitting on their hands rather than wringing them. In America, shifts in power rarely occur without some significant outside event. Anticipating just what that event will be—war, recession, scandal—is impossible.
“This was the greatest vote, the greatest margin and the greatest percentage (61 percent) that any President had ever drawn from the American people; we shall live long before we see its like again,” the inventor of the modern campaign chronicle, Theodore H. White, wrote after Lyndon Johnson’s lopsided triumph over Barry Goldwater in 1964. In fact we would see its like again twice in the next 20 years, and from the Republican side, as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan swamped their opponents in 1972 and 1984, respectively. Nor was White alone in his nearsightedness.
“The result was one of the great landslides of American political history, raising ominous question marks for the future of the Republican Party,” opined that wild-eyed young liberal Robert Novak after Goldwater’s defeat. This is why we historians love having the benefit of perfect hindsight. It saves us from having to propound the sort of hasty, hip-shooting predictions that can be roundly mocked afterward (usually by historians).
Some issues in our history have simmered for years, arising predictably in one campaign after another. Slavery (and later civil rights) was certainly one. The question of “hard” or “soft” money was another, playing a major role again and again in elections from the end of the Civil War into the 1930s. The same could be said, in recent decades, for the Cold War and crime.
But just as often, presidential elections have been decided by issues and events that four years earlier no one dreamed would have been important. How many people, for instance, would have predicted in the wake of LBJ’s romp that Vietnam would dominate the 1968 campaign—and force him out of the race? Who could have guessed, before 1950, that the 1952 election would hinge on a war on the Korean peninsula? Or that the obscure governor of Georgia would rise to the Presidency in 1976 thanks to “a third-rate burglary”?...
Those gripped by either despair or euphoria over the 2004 election might want to reflect on how quickly, and unforeseeably, political fortunes have changed in the past. As to just what the next catalytic shock will be, and how it will affect the 2008 election, I would be happy to make my own predictions. Just come see me 20 or 30 years from now.
Posted on: Friday, March 25, 2005 - 21:30
Soaring oil prices - crude is over $55 a barrel and unleaded gasoline over $2 a gallon - are not much of an economic or political issue. Yet.
In absolute terms, today's prices are still half of the 1970s peaks, and the U.S. economy has become much less dependent on petroleum since then. (Computers run on electricity, not gasoline.) But imagine what would happen if Al Qaeda were to hit the giant Ras Tanura terminal in Saudi Arabia, where a tenth of global oil supplies are processed every day. Prices could soar past $100 a barrel, and the U.S. economy could go into a tailspin. As it is, high oil prices provide money for Saudi Arabia to subsidize hate-spewing madrasas and for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Both Democrats and Republicans know this, but neither party is serious about solving this growing crisis. Democrats who couldn't tell the difference between a caribou and a cow grandstand about the sanctity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, even though 70% of Alaskans are happy to see a bit of drilling in this remote tundra. Republicans, for their part, pretend that tapping ANWR will somehow solve all of our problems. If only. A government study finds that, with ANWR on line, the U.S. will be able to reduce its dependence on imported oil from 68% to 65% in 2025.
How to do better? Biking to work or taking the train isn't the answer. Even if Americans drive less, global oil demand will surge because of breakneck growth in India and China. The Middle East, home of two-thirds of the world's proven oil reserves, will remain of vital strategic importance unless we can develop alternative sources of automotive propulsion and substantially decrease global, not just American, demand for petroleum. An ambitious agenda to achieve those goals has been produced by Set America Free, a group set up by R. James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney and other national security hawks.
They advocate using existing technologies - not pie-in-the-sky ideas like hydrogen fuel cells - to wean the auto industry from its reliance on petroleum. Hybrid electric cars such as the Toyota Prius, which run on both electric motors and gas engines, already get more than 50 miles per gallon. Coming soon are hybrids that can be plugged into a 120-volt outlet to recharge like a cellphone. They'll get even better mileage.
Add in "flexible fuel" options that already allow many cars to run on a combination of petroleum and fuels like ethanol (derived from corn) and methanol (from natural gas or coal), and you could build vehicles that could get - drum roll, please - 500 miles per gallon of gasoline. That's not science fiction; that's achievable right now....
Needless to say, this runs smack dab into Republican orthodoxy that opposes new taxes and regulations, while the prospect of more drilling raises the hackles of Democratic environmentalists. Absent some political courage in both parties, we will continue to be at OPEC's mercy.
Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 21:49
[Doron Ben-Atar is a professor of history at Fordham University and author of Trade Secrets: Intellectual Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial Power (Yale University Press, 2004).]
This week the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in MGM Studios Inc. v. Grokster Ltd., a suit by 28 of the world's largest entertainment companies against Grokster, StreamCast Networks, and KaZaA -- software companies that develop peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing programs....
... Companies that try to suppress the development of P2P software are similar to the early 19th-century English Luddites, weavers who tried to save their jobs by smashing the machines. The plaintiffs' demand for monetary compensation is a ruse. P2P companies don't have the resources to pay the studios should the Supreme Court rule against them. The studios seek to destroy the P2P companies just as they did Napster in its previous incarnation. Our intellectual-property regime is their weapon of choice. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs would exclude American citizens and companies from taking part in developing and reaping the benefits of this promising technology. Other nations would quickly forge ahead in this cyberfrontier.
The neo-Luddite campaign of Hollywood studios is more than just a rear-guard action against vulnerable American-based companies. What allows the United States to remain the world's center of innovation is cultural experimentation and the free exchange of ideas. The solicitor general's brief betrays ignorance of the contradictory manner in which our own loose implementation of intellectual-property laws turned the United States from an underdeveloped confederation on the periphery of the Atlantic into the world's leading industrial power. The problems we face today are hardly new, and our conversation will be much enriched by a broader historical perspective.
The Constitution spelled out clearly America's commitment to intellectual property, granting Congress the power to "promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." Then the first Congress created an apparatus that spared authors and patentees the chore of having to secure grants in each of the individual states. And the American Patent Act of 1790 was the first intellectual-property legislation in the world that restricted patents exclusively to original inventors and established the principle that prior use anywhere on earth was grounds for invalidating a patent.
But the story behind the story is a little more complicated, and modern champions of intellectual property would be wise to look more closely at how the American system operated in its first 50 years. In theory the United States pioneered a new standard of intellectual property that set the highest possible requirements -- worldwide originality and novelty. In practice the country encouraged widespread intellectual piracy and industrial espionage. Piracy took place with the full knowledge and sometimes even the aggressive encouragement of government officials. Congress never protected the intellectual property of European authors and inventors; Americans did not pay for the reprinting of literary works and unlicensed use of patented inventions. The textile mills of Lowell, Mass., America's most famous industrial experiment, were founded on piracy. Charles Dickens was so incensed by the unlicensed reprinting of his books in the United States that he crossed the Atlantic in the 1840s in an effort to stop that practice. He failed, and expressed his resentment in his sardonic American Notes. He did, however, like Lowell.
What fueled the 19th-century American economic boom was a dual system: the principled commitment to an exacting intellectual-property regime, and the lack of commitment to enforcing those laws. That ambiguous order generated innovation by promising patent monopolies but, by declining to crack down on technology pirates, allowing for rapid dissemination of technology that made American products better and cheaper than those of other countries. The great American economic leap forward took place in the decades immediately after independence, when a culture of free international intellectual exchange turned the United States into an economic superpower....
Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 21:25
[David Fromkin, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, is the author of"A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East."]
BLISS was it in that dawn to be alive," sang William Wordsworth of the French Revolution of 1789, which, insofar as laws, customs and politics were concerned, promised to wipe the slate clean and offer the human race a fresh start. A similar exhilaration seized the Western world in the autumn of 1989, when cheering crowds dismantled the Berlin Wall - and with it, soon enough, the Soviet empire. Now many analysts are suggesting that the rumblings we hear from the Middle East presage an eruption of that sort. Is the old order in those lands about to be exploded?
Certainly there have been changes from Cairo to Kabul, and portents of more to come. More to the point, they have been in the direction of democracy. When this millennium was ushered in, few would have dared to predict that in just a few years elections of any sort would be held or announced in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories.
So in 2005, along with the bad news - the continuing deadly insurgency in Iraq, Osama bin Laden remaining at large, terrorists regrouping from Syria to Pakistan - there are welcome surprises all across the Arab-speaking Middle East. Moreover it is at least arguable that, taken together, these events may amount to something big, that they might constitute the cracks in the concrete that signal the impending collapse of the building.
But without depreciating the value of these halting first movements toward democracy, we should be aware of how limited - for a variety of reasons - they are. They may go in the right direction but are just at the beginning of the road, and most can be expected to encounter strong opposition before they move much further.
A distinctive feature of the events of 1989 in Germany that is not found in the Middle East in 2005 is that those who manned the Berlin Wall were no longer willing to defend it. The Communist regimes had lost faith in communism and in themselves; they offered no resistance when the crowds pulled down the barricades.
That is not true of our adversaries, or even many of our friends, today in the Middle East. The jihadists believe in their cause with a fanatic ardor. Taliban raiders continue to harass the democratically elected regime in Afghanistan. It is not clear whether armed groups will respect the Palestinian truce. And even if Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, the dictatorial regime in Damascus is not dissolving itself, as Moscow's did after 1989; on the contrary, any withdrawal would be part of a larger plan to consolidate its hold on domestic power.
Nor are the forces on our side necessarily fighting for democracy, as they were in Berlin. The demonstrators in the streets in Beirut were not demanding democracy, but asking for independence - which is rather a different thing.
In turn, what the men in the presidential palaces offer is closer to a hesitant gesture than to a radical break with the past. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who has held power essentially unopposed since 1981, now proposes to amend his country's Constitution to allow opposition candidates in presidential elections. But the best guess is that anyone who runs will be a mere token candidate. And in Saudi Arabia, where voting was decreed and did occur in February - for the first time in its history - the election in question was merely for municipal councils, and the voter turnout was low. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are close allies of the United States, and it is difficult to resist the conclusion that their reforms are merely cosmetic, instituted to satisfy Americans and to appease foreign critics.
The contrast could hardly be greater with what happened in the Iron Curtain countries in 1989 and the 1990's, or even in Ukraine a few months ago, when the people refused to accept half-measures and demanded instead full and honest elections and real democracy.
But of course the lands of the Arab Middle East - as is often pointed out - have had no significant experience of genuine democracy. Even the promise of democracy that has been held out to them has not been of the real thing.
Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 21:02
Mr. Engelhardt is the author of The End of Victory Culture and co-editor of History Wars, the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past.
A Little Background Music
Shakar Odai, the head of the Internal Affairs Department of the Baghdad police was recently interviewed by David Enders of Mother Jones magazine who wrote:"‘More than 98' percent of the police officers (a force known alike for its use of torture and its widespread corruption) returned to work after the war, [Odai] said, and added that the police force has been greatly expanded as well. Some of the officers definitely sympathize with the resistance, he says. As he speaks, a bomb goes off outside, rattling the windows. Odai doesn't even turn around to look. ‘That happens sometimes fifteen times a day,' he sighs before continuing. ‘Before the war, we had six months to do background checks on any police officer we hired,' he said. ‘After the war, the Americans just began appointing officers.'
"Before he refers me to the seventh floor, where the MOI [Ministry of the Interior]'s human rights department is located, he offers me a piece of wardrobe advice, specifically in regard to the powder-blue Oxford I'm wearing, the same color the police wear. ‘You should change your shirt. Someone might try to assassinate you.'"
Caryle Murphy and John Ward Anderson of the Washington Post offered the following on the opening of the Iraqi National Assembly inside"little America," also known as"the Green Zone" in a completely shut down Baghdad:"Amid tight security and the sound of explosions, Iraq's new parliament met for the first time Wednesday as Iraqi politicians and citizens alike urged lawmakers to stop bickering, form a new government and tackle the country's numerous problems, particularly the violent insurgency. The source of the blasts, which apparently came from mortars, was under investigation by the U.S. military. The explosions rattled windows in the auditorium inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where lawmakers gathered… for the first meeting of a freely elected parliament in Iraq in almost 50 years. U.S. helicopters hovered overheard, and several bridges approaching the Green Zone were closed because of the threat of suicide bombings, car bomb attacks and other potential insurgent strikes."
A Little Road Static
Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the difficulty of leaving Baghdad in safety heading in any direction now that guerrilla and criminal"no-go" areas have spread so completely around the capital:"Mohammed Ghazi Umron has a front-row seat for the perils of Iraq's roads: the cab of his truck. And while this Shiite in his 30s enthusiastically voted in Iraq's January election, from where he sits the country is as dangerous as ever. The road north through Baquba? ‘Pretty dangerous,' he says. Due south through Mahmudiyah? ‘It's bad, but I haven't heard of any drivers being killed there in a few weeks.' How about west through Abu Ghraib and on to Fallujah? ‘Very, very dangerous. We try not to go past Abu Ghraib.'… Nearly two years since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, Baghdad is still one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It is ringed in peril. Travel in any direction a few miles outside city limits and the risks intensify."
Juan Cole at his Informed Comment blog reminds us that:"US Embassy employees are forbidden to travel by land the ten miles [from the Green Zone] to Baghdad airport because it is so dangerous, and have to be helicoptered in and out of the capital." Too bad they didn't bother to tell that to the Italians before intelligence operative Nicola Calipari headed by car for the airport with the freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena.
A Little Vietnam Buzz, or Thanks for the Memories (how brief they are!)
Back in late January, John Hedren of the Los Angeles Times reported:"The latest attempt to overhaul the U.S. approach [to the Iraqi forces] will incorporate lessons of military training successes in Afghanistan -- where American advisors remain with Afghan units for two years -- and will address what commanders describe as the scarcity of mid-level Iraqi leadership." In the minds of American planners, this represents a"sea change in methods" enabling"U.S. military strategists to assign an expanded cadre of American advisors to work closely with Iraqi units after they receive basic training… Under one proposal being considered, Americans would lead Iraqi military units, which U.S. commanders say suffer from a 'leadership gap.'"
This Friday, in a piece on exceedingly modest American troop cuts planned for Iraq in 2006 (if everything goes peachily), Eric Schmitt of the New York Times reported:"To speed the training, General [Richard A.] Cody [the Army vice chief of staff] announced Thursday that 666 Army officers and senior enlisted soldiers would be dispatched to Iraq to work with the Iraqis as part of a shift away from combat operations. In addition, he said 1,140 officers and senior enlisted troops would be drawn from Army units already in Iraq to comprise 10-member training teams to work with Iraqi forces." (It's surprising, given this administration, that the Pentagon would ship exactly 666 soldiers anywhere -- that number, of course, representing the Mark of the Beast.)
On the plan to station"advisors" with Iraqi forces over the long term, Hedren quotes Centcom commander Gen. John Abizaid as saying,"There are certainly lessons that we can take from Afghanistan and apply to Iraq." Of course, those of us of a certain age can actually remember the odd event from the dark ages that preceded the military glory that is now America; and, in that murk of history, the"lessons" that come to mind are from Vietnam, not Afghanistan, where our"advisors," despite endless years of effort, could somehow never quite turn"our" Vietnamese into the sort of fighting force the other side had. (Anyone wanna lay a bet about which model better applies to Iraq?)
Donald Rumsfeld recently put the new policy this way:"I think that you will see over the coming weeks and months a modest refocusing of U.S. efforts towards increasing the mentoring and training and assisting of the Iraqi forces as the Iraqi forces take over more and more responsibility for the security in the country.""Mentoring," it sounds so darn nurturing and sensitive as we start into year three in Iraq.
The Killing Fields
Way back in March 2002, then-Centcom Commander Tommy Franks, speaking of the Afghan dead in our recent war, famously said,"I don't believe you have heard me or anyone else in our leadership talk about the presence of 1,000 bodies out there, or in fact how many have been recovered… You know we don't do body counts." (At least in that distant year, there was still a fighting man implicitly ready to claim some memory of the"lessons" of Vietnam!)
Even as the Bush administration moved its operations forcefully to Iraq, which has since become a monster killing field, its officials, military and civilian, have remained consistent on this matter. The American dead are to be slipped home in the dead of night -- none of those disturbing Vietnam-era"body bags" in sight – and foreign"body counts" are out. No toting up of Iraqi bodies, no matter how many may be lying around or how civilian they might be.
Nonetheless, in a piece published last year in the British medical journal The Lancet, a group of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad did a household study of civilian deaths in Iraq (knocking on doors in 33 places in the country for almost 8,000 interviews, a dangerous task indeed). They estimated, based on their work, that somewhere around 100,000 Iraqi civilians, a majority of them women and children, had died due to the invasion and the ongoing occupation of the country and the insurgency. This study, for reasons well explained by Lila Guterman (Dead Iraqis) in the Columbia Journalism Review, was barely reported on in the American press, though the figures, approximate as they must be, are nonetheless probably conservative, or so concludes Guterman. Based on this study, it would not, she adds, be unreasonable to assume that in the five months since the paper came out, if"the death rate has stayed the same, roughly 25,000 more Iraqis have died."
Oh, one figure on the Iraqi and Afghan dead did come to light last week. One hundred and eight of them managed to die"in American custody," and"most of them violently, according to government data provided to The Associated Press. Roughly a quarter of those deaths have been investigated as possible abuse by U.S. personnel." This is assuredly but the tip of some iceberg or other.
As it happens, when it comes to the grim statistics of death, we know far more, and far more precisely, about the non-Iraqi (and Afghan) dead.
For American troops, 1,521 died between March 19, 2003, when the invasion of Iraq began and March 19, 2005; 1,384 since our President essentially declared the war won. According to Pentagon figures (which are in dispute), 11,344 of our troops have officially been wounded. In Afghanistan, there have been 153 American military deaths.
Some Americans, as it happens, are far more likely to die in Iraq and Afghanistan than others:"43 percent of those killed in action in Iraq and 44 percent killed in Afghanistan through mid-February came from towns of 20,000 people or fewer. Less than 23 percent of the U.S. population lives in towns that size."
Among other nations whose governments sent troops to Iraq, there have been 171 deaths, ranging from 86 British troops to 1 Hungarian soldier. Among contractors working in Iraq, there have been at least 212 deaths and this has to be a partial listing, given that the privatized world of contractors remains firmly hidden in the shadows of our Iraqi policy.
Among journalists (and"assistants"), 48 seem to have died since the war began; according to the Columbia Journalism Review, Iraq remains"the most dangerous place in the world to work as a journalist" and (depending on whom you are counting) between 33 and 39 of them died in 2004 alone. Above all, according to CJR's Mariah Blake, you don't want to be an Arab journalist in Iraq. It's practically the equivalent of a death sentence. As a result, while Iraq's insurgency has grown ever fiercer, devolving events in the country have become ever harder to cover."[E]ven the Arab media are finding themselves increasingly reliant on secondhand accounts and official reports from Washington and Baghdad, and less able to gauge how events are playing out in the lives of ordinary Iraqis. 'We can no longer get close to people's suffering, people's hopes, people's dreams,' says Nabil Khatib, Al Arabiya's executive editor for news. 'We no longer know what's really going on because we can no longer get close to reality.'"
All sides (including Iraqi criminals) are now, it seems, targeting journalists in one fashion or another. Steve Weissman of the Truthout.org website has done the most interesting work on the American aspect of this, a four-part, open-ended, open-minded investigation of the subject.
On the home front, Newsweek reports that"as of last week 1,043 American children had lost a parent in Iraq. To put it another way, nearly two years after the invasion on March 19, 2003, among the 1,508 American troops who have died as of March 11 were an estimated 450 fathers, and 7 mothers."
All in all, this is no small record for a mission our President declared"accomplished" back in the spring of 2003.
The mayhem in Iraq can be measured in other ways as well. Here, for instance, are some figures from the air war: Total air sorties, 41,000; Strike Sorties, 15,500; Bombs Dropped, 27,000. And that only covers the pre-"Mission Accomplished" phase of the war. Since then, even as our Air Force has been loosed on Iraq's cities, the air war has simply fallen out of the media. Even though the old city of Najaf and just about all of Falluja were essentially destroyed, in part from the air and numerous other cities bombed, missiled, and strafed, American reporters have evinced no interest whatsoever in the destruction of heavily populated urban areas from the skies.
Or perhaps instead of more figures, a description might do fuller justice to the Iraqi mayhem -- this one from Juan Cole. (Had we not had his Informed Comment blog, we would be in the dark on all sorts of matters.):
"Readers often write in for an update on Fallujah. I am sorry to say that there is no Fallujah to update. The city appears to be in ruins and perhaps uninhabitable in the near future. Of 300,000 residents, only about 9,000 seem to have returned, and apparently some of those are living in tents above the ruins of their homes…. The scale of this human tragedy -- the dispossession and displacement of 300,000 persons -- is hard to imagine. Unlike the victims of the tsunami who were left homeless, moreover, the Fallujans have witnessed no outpouring of world sympathy. While there were undeniably bad characters in the city, most residents had done nothing wrong and did not deserve to be made object lessons -- which was the point Rumsfeld was making with this assault. He hoped to convince Ramadi and Mosul to fall quiet lest the same thing happen to them. He failed, since the second Fallujah campaign threw the Sunni Arab heartland into much more chaos than ever before. People forget how quiet Mosul had been. And, the campaign was the death knell for proper Sunni participation in the Jan. 30 elections (Sunnis, with 20 percent of the population, have only 6 seats in the 275 member parliament). However much a cliché it might be to say it, the US military really did destroy Fallujah to save it."
The Killings Fields
While the killing has gone on ceaselessly in Iraq, the country has also essentially been looted, as has the American treasury, to the tune of multi-billions of dollars by Bush-friendly corporations on the make. Tales of the corruption involved pour out weekly, one more unbelievable than the next (or is it all too believable?) in what can only be called the"killings fields" of Iraq.
Not surprisingly, our Veep's former company, Halliburton, has been right up there at the front of the line with its corporate hand out for hand-outs. In the last week alone, David Ivanovich of the Houston Chronicle revealed that Halliburton's KBR subsidiary" charged the Pentagon $27.5 million to ship $82,100 worth of cooking and heating fuel" to Iraq. (And critics assume that this but a fraction of the overcharges Halliburton dumped on the Pentagon -- and so on us all.) At the same time, Ken Silverstein and T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times discovered that a pet project of Iyad Allawi, the creation of a tank division for the new Iraqi Army (to the tune of $283 million), overseen by an American task force headed by Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, may have resulted in enormous cash kickbacks to officials of the Iraqi Defense Ministry through a Lebanese middleman. Dale Stoffel, a contractor/weapons dealer who tried to expose this scheme by emailing a Petraeus aide, was shot to death in an ambush near Baghdad only 8 days later. (Good luck to the FBI agents who are now investigating his death.) As a little footnote to the above, even after Stoffel's killing, the Americans evidently didn't blink an eye about continuing to work with the Lebanese middleman who promptly took over part of Stoffel's contract.
And that's just this week's news. Iraq is quite literally a cesspool, when it comes to the American taxpayer's dollar. If you want a little glimpse of how it all works, in the case of Halliburton's KBR, check out Vanity Fair writer Michael Shnayerson's, The Spoils of War.
On Enthusiasm for the War, or Voting with Their Feet
As news of the Iraq War filters into this country, recruits for our all-volunteer military, many having signed on for the promise of a good education in return for their time, are proving increasingly resistant to taking classes in Baghdad or environs:
"The Marine Corps for the second straight month in February missed its goal for signing up new recruits."
"The Army in February, for the first time in nearly five years, failed to achieve its monthly recruiting goal."
With the military being stretched to its limits, "part-time soldiers now make up about 40 percent of the 150,000 troops in Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman said." And the National Guard and the Reserves are fairing even worse than the regular military when it comes to volunteers:"Recruiting for the Army's reserve component -- the National Guard and Army Reserve -- is suffering even more as the Pentagon relies heavily on these part-time soldiers to maintain troop levels in Iraq. The regular Army is 6 percent behind its year-to-date recruiting target, the Reserve is 10 percent behind, and the Guard is 26 percent short."
In early January,"Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly -- commander of the Army Reserve -- … said morale was slipping and that the reserve might become a ‘broken' force because of the burdens it has taken on since the 9-11 attacks. ‘I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern,' Helmly wrote in a memo to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker." All this, despite skyrocketing financial incentives and bonuses meant to get people into the military and keep them there.
Even the look of the military has been affected:"Since fiscal 2000, when African Americans made up 23.5 percent of Army recruits, their numbers have fallen steadily to less than 14 percent in this fiscal year, officials said. A similar trend has reduced the number of female Army recruits, who have dropped from 22 percent in 2000 to about 17 percent of this year's new soldiers."
Among Americans more generally, enthusiasm for the war, according to the latest Washington Post poll, continues to sink below the horizon. Asked in mid-March,"Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq?" 39% of Americans approved and 57% disapproved. Compare that with the 75%/22% response to the same question in late April of 2003.
The Coalition of the Willing Is Increasingly Willing to Go
Loss of enthusiasm isn't just a national phenomenon. As Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson recently put the matter, the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq is turning into the Coalition of the"Wilting." Even in countries (other than the United States) whose governments were willing to send troops, the war in Iraq was never anything but unpopular. But the enthusiasm of those governments is now fast receding. The Netherlands and the Ukraine are withdrawing their troops. The Poles are planning to do so, and even Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, our President's closest non-Anglo war-pal, made his first withdrawal sounds last week, pressured by future elections and the war's immense unpopularity in Italy, before the Bush administration pressured him into backing down on his modest statements.
If you want to see the figures on foreign withdrawals, check out this New York Times chart (scroll down and click on"graphic"). What no one counts when counting forces in Iraq, however, are the possibly tens of thousands of mercenary security types, who make ever more money as the situation gets ever worse.
Other than the mercenaries, for whom the going gets good only when it gets really bad, the sole major players unwilling to speak of setting up schedules for withdrawal are Tony Blair and George W. Bush. Just this week, our President refused to discuss a"timetable" for withdrawal and insisted,"Our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself," which, given present realities, is more or less like saying: Never!
War Architects Heading for Other Planets, or Will This Be the Year of Consolidation?
Something else may be wilting -- the neocon grip on the upper levels of the Bush administration. Two key neocons crucial to pushing through an Iraq invasion policy at the Pentagon, Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz ("the Mr. Magoo of American foreign policy… the Mozart of ineptitude, the Einstein of incapacity."), are heading out of the administration, while former State Department Neanderthal John Bolton has been farmed out to -- from the Bush point of view -- the minor leagues. (Senator Jesse Helms once recommended him in the following way:"John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, or what the Bible describes as the final battle between good and evil.") Feith announced that he was leaving his job as undersecretary of defense"for personal reasons… citing the desire to spend more time with his four children. 'For the last four years, they haven't seen me a lot.'" (Why is it that important men suddenly discover the need for family time only when their jobs evaporate?) Wolfowitz (the World Bank) and Bolton (the UN) are evidently being dumped on the international community (as, in the Vietnam era, President Lyndon Johnson also dumped his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on the World Bank). Donald Rumsfeld is reputedly planning to leave town within the year (possibly ceding his post to former State Department hardliner and"realist" Richard Armitage), and Dick Cheney is said to be spending much of his time on the President's social security package.
Meanwhile, the so-called realists are evidently being brought in to clean up shop and possibly consolidate the gains, such as they are, out there in the imperium. Evidently Afghanistan is the model they have in mind. While the hard-headed John Negroponte flies off from (or is it flees?) Baghdad for Washington to become the nation's first"intelligence czar," the administration is reputedly getting ready to fly in our present ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the former oil company consultant who has steered the ex-Taliban principality into a Bush-style democracy -- that is, a warlord-divided narco-state of a grim sort with a desperately weak" central" government.
But look on the bright side, just the other day and possibly a tad early, Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers proclaimed Afghanistan"secure" and promptly suggested that"the United States is considering keeping long-term bases here as it repositions its military forces around the world."
Perfect! Now that the Khalilzad-installed government of Hamid Karzai is, we are told, seeking what's so charmingly referred to as a"strategic partnership" with the United States. U.S. Major General Eric Olsen added to the picture by mentioning our desire to hang onto the sprawling Soviet-era base at Bagram, north of Kabul. Already a major American base, he called it"a place where we see a long-term presence of coalition and, frankly, U.S. capabilities."
Right now, Baghdad may be ungovernable, the insurgency remains fierce, the new Iraqi government unable to chose its leaders, gas lines endless in Baghdad, electricity supplies desperately low in significant parts of the country, allies dropping away, and security dismal, but what-we-worry. After all, above all, chaos or not, we're still there, the self-invited guests who came for dinner, and stayed on and on and on….
In fact, though it's hardly mentioned in our media, we've been digging in. Joshua Hammer of Mother Jones magazine reported in a recent issue that approximately $4.5 billion dollars has gone to -- who else? -- KBR for the construction and maintenance of up to 14"enduring camps" or permanent military bases in Iraq. Many of these bases have a look of permanency that undoubtedly has to be seen to be imagined. But here's Hammer's description of just one:
"Camp Victory North, a sprawling base near Baghdad International Airport, which the U.S. military seized just before the ouster of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. Over the past year, KBR contractors have built a small American city where about 14,000 troops are living, many hunkered down inside sturdy, wooden, air-conditioned bungalows called SEA (for Southeast Asia) huts, replicas of those used by troops in Vietnam. There's a Burger King, a gym, the country's biggest PX -- and, of course, a separate compound for KBR workers, who handle both construction and logistical support. Although Camp Victory North remains a work in progress today, when complete, the complex will be twice the size of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo -- currently one of the largest overseas posts built since the Vietnam War."
And let's just remember what those 14 bases sit on.
The Word That Cannot Be Spoken or Written
There's a word that can't really be spoken, or written, not at least in conjunction with"Iraq," or off the business pages of our papers (even though this week, the price of a barrel of the stuff broke $56). Fortunately, I can spell it for you: It's o-i-l. Take, as the Village Voice pointed out, the New York Times piece on the possible Khalilzad appointment which"ran 592 words and referred to Khalilzad's high school basketball career and his graduate work at the University of Chicago," but not his"experience as a consultant to a major oil company," one that once negotiated with the Taliban to build a pipeline across Afghanistan.
Iraq, as it happens, sits on top of probably the second largest oil deposits in the Middle East (after Saudi Arabia where we've been drawing down our bases for a while) and right in the strategic heartland of the oil lands of the Earth. As far as I can tell, there hasn't even been much oil exploration in the country in the last two decades, so who knows how much of what may lie under its territories? As is too seldom mentioned, the Bush administration is an energy regime with a number of its major players connected at various past moments to energy companies of various sorts. (Failing sorts in the case of our President.) Our present Secretary of State, a Chevron director from 1991-2001, once even had an oil tanker named after her.
As a group, they quite naturally look on the planet in an energy sort of way and dream of global control, at least in part, in terms of controlling energy flows. (That some of these dreams may prove quite irrational is beside the point. Just recall the mad fantasies of gold that once drove Spaniards deep into the New World and that have left us with land developers who give their projects historically bizarre names like El Dorado Acres? After all, they don't call oil"black gold" for nothing.) In the future, can there be any question that historians will look upon our most recent Iraq War as an energy war? If you have your doubts and want a sense of just how much oil was on the mind of the Bush administration as it invaded Iraq, consider Greg Palast's most recent piece of reportage, Secret U.S. Plans for Iraq's Oil, based on revelations by the BBC's Newsnight (or Juan Cole's take on it).
Or just think about the"withdrawal" news in the New York Times piece mentioned above. If all goes really well, we might draw down to 105,000 troops in Iraq by 2006. And if the Iraqis can begin to take over basic internal security jobs, then, as in Afghanistan, perhaps we'll try to organize one of those"strategic partnerships" and claim at least some of those KBR bases that are now as much a part of the Iraqi landscape as any ziggurat.
The most significant fact of our Iraq War and occupation (and war), which can't be repeated too many times, is that the Bush administration busted into the country without an exit strategy for a simple reason: They never planned to leave -- and they still don't. If you have a better reason for taking a withdrawal position and pressing for it, let me know by at least the beginning of Year Four of the Iraqi Deconstruction Era. Tom
[Special thanks for research work goes to Nick Turse.]
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 16:44
[Robert G. Rabil is a visiting professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University and author of Embattled Neighbors: Israel, Syria, and Lebanon (Lynne Reiner, 2003).]
Arab leaders meet in Algiers on March 22 for an Arab League summit, at a moment of high tension within Lebanon over the pace and extent of Syria’s military withdrawal and the future domestic political map. Despite the important roles many of the summiteers have played in urging Damascus to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559, the summit itself is expected to offer little support to the push for full withdrawal.
A History of Disregarding Lebanese Interests
The League of Arab States was founded in Cairo in 1945 to promote the political, social, and cultural interests of member countries. Since then, it has served as a forum for Arab leaders to coordinate their policy positions and deliberate on matters of common concern. Although Lebanon was among the League’s founding members, its relationship with the organization has traditionally been defined by regional politics and the interests of the country’s more powerful neighbor, Syria. Indeed, despite the difficult moments Lebanon has faced over the decades, the League has rarely, if ever, played a constructive role in times of domestic or regional crisis.
For example, the small-scale civil war that erupted in Lebanon in 1958 was ended not by any inter-Arab action but rather by the landing of U.S. Marines on Lebanese soil, which came at the request of then-president Camile Chamoun. In 1969, the Arab League stood in the shadow of Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser when he supervised the signing of the Cairo Agreement, under which Lebanon was obliged to permit Palestinians to bear arms so that they could carry on their aggression against Israel. The result was that Lebanese territory became home base for the “popular struggle,” culminating in the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s state-within-a-state inside the country.
During Lebanon’s major civil war (1975–1990), the Arab League essentially promoted Syrian interests and hegemony in Lebanon. Syrian troops entered Lebanon in summer 1976, supposedly to help bring stability to the country. Following an Arab peace conference in Riyadh, the League met in Cairo in October of that year to deal with the Lebanese crisis. There, the League legitimized Syria’s presence in Lebanon by establishing the Arab Deterrent Force (ADF)—of the 30,000 ADF troops deployed in Lebanon, 27,000 were Syrian. Even as it responded quickly to Syrian interests, the League routinely dismissed Lebanon’s own requests. Between 1976 and 1982, Lebanese president Elias Sarkis made two requests to have Syrian troops removed from Lebanon. The first was a government memorandum addressed to the League in 1981 requesting that the ADF not be renewed. The second was a government memorandum as well, the so-called “Lebanese Working Paper.” This document, issued two months after Israel’s June 1982 invasion of Lebanon, asked the Arab states for an official decision ending the mission of the Syrian forces in Lebanon. Although the memorandum was taken up at the Fez Summit in September 1982, Arab leaders made no decision on it. The League did, however, condemn Israel’s incursions, as it had when Israel launched the more limited Operation Litani in 1978. Subsequently, the League came to support Hizballah as a resistance movement.
In March 1989, Lebanese general Michel Aoun, appointed by outgoing president Amin Jumayil to head an executive cabinet until a new president was elected, proclaimed a “liberation war” against Syria. Damascus responded by shelling the Christian region of Lebanon and imposing a blockade. In view of the constitutional impasse and the escalation of hostilities, the Arab League endorsed the efforts of Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco to formulate solutions. Lebanese deputies traveled to the Saudi city of Taif to hold national reconciliation talks. There, with the intercession of delegates from the three aforementioned countries, the deputies managed to introduce significant amendments to the Lebanese constitution and to provide a framework for Lebanese-Syrian relations, including Syrian withdrawal. Returning to Lebanon, they ratified the Taif Accord on November 4 and elected Rene Mouawad as president the following day. Eighteen days later, Mouawad died in a Beirut car bombing for which most observers held Syria responsible. He was succeeded by two pro-Syrian presidents, Elias Hrawi (1990–1998) and Emile Lahoud (1998–present). Over the years, the League showed little interest in promoting the implementation of the Taif Accord, to which it lent its legitimacy in 1989.
The League did side with Beirut with regard to Israel’s May 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. When the UN Security Council certified the pullout as having fulfilled Israel’s obligation under Resolution 425, the League convened in Cairo in October 2000 and issued a statement endorsing the view of the Lebanese government, supported by Syria, that the withdrawal was incomplete, since Israel still occupied Lebanese territories (mainly the Shebaa Farms). This statement gave tacit legitimacy to continued Hizballah attacks against Israel. The League said nothing, however, about growing Lebanese calls for Syrian withdrawal, failing to encourage even the Taif Accord’s call for phased redeployments of troops. ...
Lebanese looking for international support for their efforts to force a full and speedy Syrian withdrawal will be unlikely to find succor at the Arab League summit in Algiers. Although the Arab leaders who have legitimized Syria’s dominant role in Lebanon for so many years have no love lost for President Bashar al-Asad, they are reluctant to feed the U.S. and Western drive for political reform and structural change within Arab countries.
Posted on: Monday, March 21, 2005 - 21:21
From a symposium at FrontPageMag.org featuring, among others, Larry Schweikart, a history professor at the University of Dayton and co-author (with Michael Allen) of the new book, A Patriot's History of the United States (3-18-05):
FrontPage: First, let’s start with the basics. We are asking if universities can be fixed. But first, tell us briefly what is broken. Then tell us what you think some of the potential solutions are for remedying the problem.
Schweikart: First, and most obvious, universities operate, for all functional purposes, outside the market. They trumpet their "competitive" positions, but in fact most of them are immune to any real market influences. For example, they don't respond to price, because there is absolutely no price competition among universities. Oh, you see some differential among "tiers" of providers---much the way you'd see a difference in price between a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and one in Cincinnati---but among the major state schools and the large non-Ivy privates, virtually all of the so-called "competition" comes in the form of "student support" that they provide. This "support," of course, is no different than what happens in jewellery stores in malls, where the prices are jacked up double or triple, then prices "slashed" back to where they would normally be. Universities overprice themselves by 30%, then essentially rebate to a majority of students some form of "support" that is already built into the pricing structure.
Second, a corollary of the pricing system is that it has reshaped the way students and parents see costs at the university and the way legislatures fund schools. When you talk to anyone in university advancement, or development, or enrolment, and you argue for cutting tuitions, they all say the same thing: "Students expect support. It's part of our marketing and advertising." Again, that might be well and good in a normal functioning market, because there would always be a high-quality, low-cost alternative that would attract large numbers of top students. But a two-fold "snob" factor is at work: 1) students judge their worth on how much (largely bogus) support they get from a school, and 2) universities measure their success largely by how many top students they attract, regardless of what they have to give away to get them. My own midwestern university just revels in the fact that it is recruiting actively in Florida and Puerto Rico---when kids right here in Dayton might otherwise be able to afford to attend school here if the prices were lower.
I think it is fruitless to be concerned about what is taught on university campuses unless or until we can somehow make schools once again sensitive to costs that are substantially borne by the majority of the consumers....
Posted on: Monday, March 21, 2005 - 21:09
Victor Davis Hanson, in the Rocky Mtn. News (3-17-05):
Sometime in the 1960s there arose a new home-grown distrust of the United States, followed by an erosion of faith in the values of the West. Perhaps the culprit was the fiasco in Vietnam or the rise of a trendy multiculturalism that followed from it.
Our schools often insisted that all cultures were to be roughly the same. History devolved more into melodrama than tragedy. America was no longer exceptional - and thus in no position to criticize a Cuba as undemocratic or condemn the Iranian mullahs as murderously theocratic.
The enormous wealth and leisure that followed from global capitalism and democracy insulated us - creating an unreality about the sources for our privilege and naivete about why life was so bad outside our shores.
Consequently, some utopian elites forgot the free-market origins of their own riches and why they had the freedom and leisure to be so censorious of their own culture. Maybe they were guilty over our bounty. One way of enjoying an upscale American lifestyle, while simultaneously feeling pretty terrible about it, is to castigate the history and global conduct of the United States in the abstract - without ever giving up much in the concrete.
How else could the currency speculator George Soros - whose 1992 financial manipulations almost destroyed the Bank of England and thousands of its small depositors - win praise from leftists for comparing President Bush's conduct to Nazism? The angry architects of Moveon.org were neither poor nor oppressed. Nor were they bothered that their Soros millions originated from the financial losses of others. But they did reflect that the most strident anti-Americanism is largely found among our unhappy upper-middle classes....
Bill Clinton also seemed fuzzy about the true nature of tyranny, and thus was clueless about murderous theocratic Iran. Recently he cooed, "Iran today is, in a sense, the only country where progressive ideas enjoy a vast constituency" - as if theocrats there allow truly popular government.
Other elites wished outright that we would fail in the Middle East. Perhaps our defeat would prove that in a post-modern world American force can only be counterproductive or destabilizing to multilateral protocols.
Thus it was not the slur of a Joe McCarthy clone, but President Clinton's own National Security Council member Nancy Soderberg, who recently lamented on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart of George Bush's developing success in the Middle East: "It's scary for Democrats, I have to say. . . . Well, there's still Iran and North Korea, don't forget. There's still hope for the rest of us. . . . There's always hope that this might not work."
"Not work"? How sad that our most educated and sophisticated cannot fathom that an Iraqi Kurd, an Afghan woman or a Lebanese shopkeeper simply wants the same freedom and opportunity for their children that so many of the most blessed - but bitter - in America either take for granted, feel guilty about or so cynically dismiss.
Posted on: Friday, March 18, 2005 - 14:59
[Linda K. Kerber is chair of the department of history and a lecturer in law at the University of Iowa. She is president-elect of the American Historical Association.]
In the recent furor over remarks by Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard University, about why so few women go into math and science, one key issue seems to be getting lost. Among other points, Mr. Summers suggested that women don't want to work the 80-hour weeks required for an academic career. Eighty hours?
Is that really good for women? For anyone?
What has happened to our academic workplace?...
The outpouring of anger and frustration we are hearing today is invigorating: It is a sign that a shift in thinking is taking place. As more and more women join men in earning a Ph.D., the inequities of the tenure-track academic profession are becoming more apparent.
It is long past time to frame a new agenda. Once again we must re-envision how the professoriate is embodied. Once again we must redefine the boundaries of a professional career. Once again we must challenge fixed definitions of an equitable workplace. And once again, those who speak out will risk accusations of disruption, even irresponsibility. This will be the work of a generation.
But feminists -- men and women -- are better situated to solve the challenges than we once were. In the 1970s, we were demanding admission -- to degree programs, to fellowships, to tenure-track positions. In the 21st century, we have won the fellowships, we have the Ph.D.'s, many of us have tenure, some of us have distinguished chairs, some of us are deans and provosts and university presidents. What will we do with the place in the academy that we have earned?
How will we now use our optimism and our bitterness to reinvent the academy? What risks will we take?
There was a time when academic life was largely reserved for the Brahmin class: men born to wealth or at least comfortable family resources. Not until after World War II was the academy a site of social mobility, where a lower-middle-class striver might seek advancement, job security, and a good income. It is now clear that while white women's representation has skyrocketed, women of color have rarely found upward mobility in academic life. At one Ivy League university last year, 30 percent of the faculty members in the arts and sciences -- 210 individuals -- were women, but only 9 people were African-American women, and only 3 (in a total faculty of nearly 700) were tenured.
It is also clear that, while we can take pride in opening many opportunities -- and the fellowships necessary to sustain them -- to people of equal merit, the form of those fellowships shapes their impact. When graduate aid comes in the form of teaching assistantships, as it does in my university, there is far less flexibility for taking time off. That especially affects women. The implicit message is sent: Don't get pregnant in grad school. But other people are also put at a disadvantage. When the work of parenting is shared, having financial aid only or primarily in the form of teaching burdens both men and women. All those who have few other financial resources are apt to find themselves taking extra time on their dissertation as they struggle to earn enough to support themselves or their family.
The drift toward the use of adjunct and temporary faculty members, passing on fewer benefits and making it impossible to maintain a research agenda, also has a disproportionate impact on women (who often hold such jobs), but it too affects both men and women. The visiting job that once provided a breather while one looked for a permanent position now enables a minimal kind of survival at the cost of decreasing opportunities for stable tenure-track jobs.
Moreover, "married" is an insufficient marker of duties of care: Many mothers -- and some caregiving fathers -- are not married. And all of us, men and women, parents or not, are likely to find ourselves at some moment with close relations -- elderly parents, adult siblings, or same-sex partners stricken with cancer or suicidal depression -- who need our care. As the recent renovations in internship hospital schedules have demonstrated, 80-hour professional weeks are an old-fashioned way of displaying machismo, and they are not a healthy way for a society to organize its most subtle and significant work.
In the year and a half that I have chaired my department, I have learned a lot about human frailty. At one point last winter, there were at least seven members of a 30-person department who were heroic when they met their classes at all, and only one was coping with her own illness. The others were struggling with tragedies that afflicted spouses, children, parents, siblings. Half involved men as caregivers, one for a dying wife. The University of Iowa has prided itself on longstanding generous health care and other benefits for faculty members. But we have not begun to think collectively about how family care might be taken out of the crisis mode.
For institutions that pride themselves on their intellectual power, that neglect of a major challenge is remarkable. Should we not be amazed at how many of us desperately improvise when one of our members faces a personal crisis, as though such a thing never happened before, as though people in need of care -- infants, the aged, people temporarily sidelined by a broken leg -- are not a substantial portion of our population?...
Many years ago the abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote an essay, "Women and the Alphabet," in which he made the point that if you didn't like uppity women the place to start was at the beginning. Once you teach girls the alphabet they'll want to read, once they read they'll get ideas, once they get ideas they'll make claims. Once Harvard decided to educate female students, it should not have been surprised that the institution would face questions about the social arrangements in which scholarship takes place. Women have been earning Ph.D.'s in the academy in equal numbers to men for more than a decade. Why be surprised that we now demand that workplaces be user-friendly to us -- and to all?
Why not think about how all of us, men and women, tenured and untenured, staff or faculty members, whatever social and financial resources we have or have not inherited, stand to gain from more-equitable workplaces?
Posted on: Friday, March 18, 2005 - 13:55
... In effect, the Bush administration's combination of tax cuts for the Republican ''base'' and a Global War on Terror is being financed with a multibillion dollar overdraft facility at the People's Bank of China. Without East Asia, your mortgage might well be costing you more. The toys you buy for your kids certainly would.
Why are the Chinese monetary authorities so willing to underwrite American profligacy? Not out of altruism. The principal reason is that if they don't keep on buying dollars and dollar-based securities as fast as the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury can print them, the dollar could slide substantially against the Chinese renminbi, much as it has declined against the euro over the past three years. Knowing the importance of the U.S. market to their export industries, the Chinese authorities dread such a dollar slide. The effect would be to raise the price, and hence reduce the appeal, of Chinese goods to American consumers -- and that includes everything from my snowproof hiking boots to the modem on my desk. A fall in exports would almost certainly translate into job losses in China at a time when millions of migrants from the countryside are pouring into the country's manufacturing sector.
So when Treasury Secretary John Snow insists that the United States has a ''strong dollar'' policy, what he really means is that the People's Republic of China has a ''weak renminbi'' policy....
Sadly, according to a growing number of eminent economists, this arrangement simply cannot last. The dollar pessimists argue that the Asian central banks are already dangerously overexposed both to the dollar and the U.S. bond market. Sooner or later, they have to get out -- at which point the dollar could plunge relative to Asian currencies by as much as a third or two-fifths, and U.S. interest rates could leap upward. (When the South Korean central bank recently appeared to indicate that it was shifting out of dollars, there was indeed a brief run on the U.S. currency -- until the Koreans hastily issued a denial.)
Are the pessimists right? The U.S. current account deficit is now within sight of 6 percent of G.D.P., and net external debt stands at around 30 percent. The precipitous economic history of Latin America shows that an external-debt burden in excess of 20 percent of G.D.P. is potentially dangerous....
During the Second World War, Britain financed its wartime deficits partly by borrowing substantial amounts of sterling from the colonies and dominions within her empire. And yet by the mid-1950's, these very substantial debts had largely disappeared. Unfortunately, this was partly because the value of sterling itself fell significantly. Moreover, sterling's decline and fall did not reduce the U.K.'s chronic trade deficit, least of all with respect to manufacturing. On the contrary, British industry declined in tandem with the pound's status as a global currency. And, needless to say, the decline of sterling coincided with Britain's decline as an empire.
From an American perspective, all this might seem to suggest worrying parallels. Could our own obligations to foreigners presage not just devaluation but also industrial and imperial decline?
Possibly. Yet there are some pretty important differences between 2005 and 1945. The United States is not in nearly as bad an economic mess as postwar Britain, which also owed large sums in dollars to the United States. The American empire is also in much better shape than the British empire was back in 1945.
Though neither side wants to admit it, today's Sino-American economic relationship has an imperial character. Empires, remember, traditionally collect ''tributes'' from subject peoples. That is how their costs -- in terms of blood and treasure -- can best be justified to the populace back in the imperial capital. Today's ''tribute'' is effectively paid to the American empire by China and other East Asian economies in the form of underpriced exports and low-interest, high-risk loans.
How long can the Chinese go on financing America's twin deficits? The answer may be a lot longer than the dollar pessimists expect....
Posted on: Thursday, March 17, 2005 - 21:48
[Yong Xue is an assistant professor of Asian history at Suffolk University.]
HALFWAY though the 10th paragraph of an otherwise bland statement issued last month by the United States and Japan is a historic sentence. Among the "common strategic objectives" of the two nations, it reads, is "the peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait."
Such language may seem mild compared with the usual diplomatic back-and-forth between China and the United States about Taiwan, like this week's contentious exchange over the Chinese Parliament's new law authorizing the use of force to stop Taiwan from becoming independent. But in the 40-plus years that Japan and America have been making announcements regarding their security concerns in East Asia, Japan has deliberately remained silent about Taiwan. With their statement last month, for the first time the two nations have taken a clear stand together.
This is a mistake. The United States is right to be concerned with the growing military might of China, and America should honor its commitment to peace and democracy in the region. The United States is also right to encourage Japan to take a more assertive role in world affairs, as it has in Iraq. But there are parts of the world where Japan's history is too much of a burden, where it may not be in America's national interest to align itself with Japan too closely. East Asia is such an area.
Japan invaded China some 70 years ago, killing millions of Chinese. Despite expressions of regret, Japan has never formally apologized for these atrocities - certainly not to the satisfaction of most Chinese. Only when World War II was over, and millions of lives had been lost, did China win back Taiwan from Japan, which had annexed it in the late 19th century. Understandably, Taiwan is a very sensitive issue to China's national pride. On this issue, Japan commands no moral high ground.
There is no reason for the United States to carry this historical burden for Japan. To the contrary: Americans fought with the Chinese against Japan in World War II, and the goodwill they earned among the Chinese people persists to this day. By pursuing policies toward Taiwan in concert with Japan, the United States becomes less a defender of peace and democracy and more an apologist for imperialism. At least this is how many Chinese people will perceive it.
Even worse, America gains nothing by yielding the moral high ground. Historically, the United States has always held open the possibility of a military response to a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Japan, meanwhile - trapped by a sense of guilt over the war and restricted by strong public sentiment against the military - has long been unwilling to take a public stand on the Taiwan issue.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 21:42
There is a new strange mood of acceptance among Americans about the world beyond our shores. Of course, we are not becoming naïve isolationists of 1930s vintage, who believe that we are safe by ourselves inside fortress America — not after September 11. Nor do citizens deny that America has military and moral obligations to stay engaged abroad — at least for a while yet. Certainly the United States is not mired in a Vietnam-era depression and stagflation and thus ready to wallow in Carteresque malaise. Indeed, if anything Americans remain muscular and are more defiant than ever.
Instead, there is a new sort of resignation rising in the country, as the United States sheds its naiveté that grew up in the aftermath of the Cold War. Clintonism may have assumed that terrorism was but a police matter, that the military could be slashed and used for domestic social reform by fiat, that our de facto neutrals were truly our friends, and that the end of the old smash-mouth history was at hand. The chaotic events following the demise of the Soviet Union, the mass murder on September 11, and the new strain of deductive anti-Americanism abroad cured most of all that.
Imagine a world in which there was no United States during the last 15 years. Iraq, Iran, and Libya would now have nukes. Afghanistan would remain a seventh-century Islamic terrorist haven sending out the minions of Zarqawi and Bin Laden worldwide. The lieutenants of Noriega, Milosevic, Mullah Omar, Saddam, and Moammar Khaddafi would no doubt be adjudicating human rights at the United Nations. The Ortega Brothers and Fidel Castro, not democracy, would be the exemplars of Latin America. Bosnia and Kosovo would be national graveyards like Pol Pot's Cambodia. Add in Kurdistan as well — the periodic laboratory for Saddam's latest varieties of gas. Saddam himself, of course, would have statues throughout the Gulf attesting to his control of half the world's oil reservoirs. Europeans would be in two-day mourning that their arms sales to Arab monstrocracies ensured a second holocaust. North Korea would be shooting missiles over Tokyo from its new bases around Seoul and Pusan. For their own survival, Germany, Taiwan, and Japan would all now be nuclear. Americans know all that — and yet they grasp that their own vigilance and military sacrifices have earned them spite rather than gratitude. And they are ever so slowly learning not much to care anymore.
In fact, an American consensus is growing that envy and hatred of the United States, coupled with utopian and pacifistic rhetoric, disguise an even more depressing fact: Outside our shores there is a growing barbarism with no other sheriff in sight. Any cinema student of the American Western can fathom why the frightened townspeople — huddled in their churches and shuttered schools — almost hated the lone marshal as much as they did the six-shooting outlaw gang rampaging in their streets. After all, the holed-up 'good' citizens were always angry that the lawman had shamed them, worried that he might make dangerous demands on their insular lives, confused about whether they would have to accommodate themselves either to savagery or civilization in their town's future, and, above all, assured that they could libel and slur the tin star in a way that would earn a bullet from the lawbreaker. It was precisely that paradox between impotent high-sounding rhetoric and blunt-speaking, roughshod courage that lay at the heart of the classic Western from Shane and High Noon to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Magnificent Seven.
The U.N., NATO, or the EU: These are now the town criers of the civilized world who preach about "the law" and then seek asylum in their closed shops and barred stores when the nuclear Daltons or terrorist Clantons run roughshod over the town. In our own contemporary ongoing drama, China, Russia, and India watch bemused as the United States tries to hunt down the psychopathic killers while Western elites ankle-bite and hector its efforts. I suppose the Russians, Chinese, and Indians know that Islamists understand all too well that blowing up two skyscrapers in Moscow, Shanghai, or Delhi would guarantee that their Middle Eastern patrons might end up in cinders....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 16, 2005 - 18:54