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.
Asked if Muslims worship the same Almighty as Jews and Christians, President Bush replied some months ago,"I believe we worship the same God." The Islamic deity, known as Allah, in other words, is the same Supreme Being to whom Jews and Christians pray.
The president's statement provoked widespread dismay among Evangelicals; one poll found 79% of their leadership disagreeing with this view. Pat Robertson pungently explained why, observing"the entire world is being convulsed by a religious struggle. … whether Hubal, the Moon God of Mecca, known as Allah, is supreme, or whether the Judeo-Christian Jehovah, God of the Bible, is Supreme."
Muslims at times agree that God and Allah are different. Irshad Manji has recounted how her teachers at a madrassah in Canada taught her this. And a Jewish scholar, Jon D. Levenson, finds the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God"if not false, then certainly simplistic and one-sided."
This might seem like a minor semantic quibble, but the definition of Allah has profound importance. Consider two alternate ways of translating the opening line of Islam's basic declaration of faith (Arabic: la ilaha illa-la). One reads"I testify that there is no God but Allah," and the other"I testify that there is no deity but God."
The first states that Islam has a distinct Lord, one known as Allah, and implies that Jews and Christians worship a false god. The second states that Allah is the Arabic word for the common monotheistic God and implies a commonality with Jews and Christians.
The first translation is 40 times more common in a Google search than the second. Yet, the latter is accurate. Mr. Bush was right. There are several reasons to use the translation that equates Allah with God:
Scriptural: The Koran itself in several places insists that its God is the same as the God of Judaism and Christianity. The most direct statement is one in which Muslims are admonished to tell Jews and Christians"We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we do submit" (E.H. Palmer translation of Sura 29:46) Of course, the verse can also be rendered"our Allah and your Allah is One" (as it is in the notoriousAbdullah Yusuf Ali translation)
Historical: Chronologically, Islam followed after Judaism and Christianity, but the Koran claims Islam actually preceded the other monotheisms. In Islamic doctrine (Sura 3:67), Abraham was the first Muslim. Moses and Jesus introduced mistakes into the Word of God; Muhammad brought it down perfectly. Islam views Judaism and Christianity as flawed versions of itself, correct on essentials but wrong in important details. This outlook implies that all three faiths share the God of Abraham.
Linguistic: Just as Dieu and Gott are the French and German words for God, so is Allah the Arabic equivalent. In part, this identity of meaning can be seen from cognates: In Hebrew, the word for God is Elohim, a cognate of Allah. In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, God is Allaha. In the Maltese language, which is unique because it is Arabic-based but spoken by a predominantly Catholic people, God is Alla.
Further, most Jews and Christians who speak Arabic routinely use the word Allah to refer to God. (Copts, the Christians of Egypt, do not.) The Old and New Testaments in Arabic use this word. In the Arabic-language Bible, for instance, Jesus is referred to as the son of Allah. Even translations carried out by Christian missionaries, such as the famous one done in 1865 by Cornelius Van Dyke, refer to Allah, as do missionary discussions.
The God=Allah equation means that, however hostile political relations may be, a common"children of Abraham" bond does exist and its exploration can one day provide a basis for interfaith comity. Jewish-Christian dialogue has made great strides and Jewish-Christian-Muslim trialogue could as well.
Before that can happen, however, Muslims must first recognize the validity of alternate approaches to the one God. That means leaving behind the supremacism, extremism, and violence of the current Islamist phase.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Thursday, June 30, 2005 - 22:35
Neve Gordon, in In These Times (June 2005):
[Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. He is the editor of From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights, and can be reached at email@example.com.]
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is a man of deeds rather than words. So on those rare occasions when he does disclose his political goals it is important to pay close attention and carefully consider every word.
Incidentally, it was during his recent visit to the U.S. that Sharon revealed how he foresees the developments between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to a group of Jewish donors. He divulged a plan he has not yet talked about in Israel, at least not in a public forum.
“There won’t be negotiations with the Palestinians about Jerusalem or the settlement blocs of Ariel, Ma’aleh Edumim, and Gush Etzion,” Sharon said, adding that “they will remain eternally under Israeli sovereignty within a contiguous territory.” This straightforward sentence reveals both the method which Israel’s premier intends to embrace and a crucial element informing the substance of his plans.
Concerning the method, Sharon clearly stated that he intends to replicate the unilateralist approach he adopted vis-à-vis the Gaza withdrawal. Israel, in other words, does not plan to discuss two of the most central aspects of the occupation -- East Jerusalem and the large Jewish settlement blocs -- and will force its plan on the Palestinians. Peace, according to this Machiavellian logic, is achieved when the strong impose their will on the weak.
No less important is the substance, and particularly the two words with which Sharon concluded his sentence; namely, “contiguous territory.” This seemingly benign phrase is well worth noting, since the attempt to create a contiguous territory from the Jewish settlement blocs is tantamount to declaring war.
Allow me to explain. Ariel is a large settlement located in the heart of the West Bank’s northern part. The settlement Ma’aleh Edumim is located about 30 km southeast of Ariel, while Gush Etzion is located another 20 km southwest of Ma’aleh Edumim, and is situated in the West Bank’s southern part. Connecting these three settlement blocs means that the territory Sharon intends to offer the Palestinians will not be contiguous (except maybe by building tunnels!), and that Israel plans to annex a large portion of the Palestinian state-to-be, which is already a very small entity (22 percent of Mandatory Palestine).
No Palestinian leader can accept such a solution. But since negotiations, at least regarding these crucial issues, are not on Sharon’s agenda, the Palestinian position is, in a sense, besides the point.
The outcome of such a move will no doubt be devastating, since unlike Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza which has been endorsed by all of the Palestinian political factions, including Hamas, Sharon’s West Bank plan will be unanimously rejected. Resistance will most likely mount and the bloody cycle of violence will resume, this time with even greater vengeance.
Posted on: Thursday, June 30, 2005 - 22:30
Posted on: Thursday, June 30, 2005 - 22:11
By now it hardly needs saying that, contrary to the animadversions of Dick Durbin and Amnesty International, Guantanamo Bay bears no resemblance to Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags or Khmer Rouge killing fields. Millions of people were murdered in those places. The sum total of those killed at Gitmo is … zero.
But perhaps the critics of U.S. detention practices are correct in saying that this is damning with faint praise. Who wouldn't expect the "land of the free" to behave better than the most monstrous regimes in history? So let's use a better comparison. Look at how the United States' closest ally, Britain, handled an insurgency much smaller and much less threatening than the one we face today.
In Kenya during the early 1950s, a movement known as Mau Mau arose to challenge British colonial rule. Though Mau Mau became a byword for savagery, it was actually pretty restrained as far as guerrilla movements go. Its 20,000 adherents killed fewer than 100 Europeans and 2,000 African loyalists — fewer than the toll from 9/11 alone. Unlike the Iraqi rebels, the Mau Mau had no outside support and no sophisticated weapons. (They mainly killed with machetes.) Unlike Al Qaeda, they did not target the British homeland.
Yet the British used disturbingly harsh tactics against them, as revealed in two new books — "Histories of the Hanged" by David Anderson of Oxford University and "Imperial Reckoning" by Caroline Elkins of Harvard.
The British admitted killing 11,000 Mau Mau, but the real figure, these authors make clear, was much, much higher. Security forces held hundreds of thousands of suspects without trial in a system of penal camps known as the Pipeline. Unlike detainees at Gitmo, who receive three meals a day and all the medical care they need, prisoners in the Pipeline were half-starved, worked to the point of collapse, and sickened by the poor sanitation.
Torture was standard during interrogation, and was not what passes for "torture" in anti-American screeds today (e.g., stepping on a Koran). This was the real thing. According to Elkins, "the screening teams whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated Mau Mau suspects." Some men were forcibly castrated or sodomized. Others were beaten to death or summarily executed.
Little distinction was drawn between guerrillas and civilians. The Mau Mau were primarily Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group, and the British detained nearly all 1.5 million of them.
Men, women and children were forced off their homesteads at gunpoint. Those not sent to the Pipeline were herded into villages surrounded by barbed wire where they had to endure forced labor while denied adequate food or medical care. Many women were gang-raped by guards. Has anything like this happened in Iraq? Of course not. If it had, you'd hear about it on "60 Minutes."
Mau Mau was defeated by the mid-1950s, but colonial rule did not long survive. In 1963, Kenya achieved independence under Jomo Kenyatta, who had spent eight years in prison after being falsely convicted of being the Mau Mau mastermind.
There was really nothing unusual about the British counterinsurgency strategy. It was similar to the methods used by the British in South Africa during the Boer War (1899-1902) and in Malaya (1948-1960), by the French in Algeria (1954-1962), by the Dutch in Indonesia (1945-1949), and by the Americans in the Philippines (1899-1902).
These Western democracies were not guilty of genocide, a la Hitler or Pol Pot, but they did commit brutality light-years beyond anything that happened at Abu Ghraib, much less Gitmo.
Seen in historical context, what sets apart the U.S. campaign in the global war on terrorism is not its savagery, as the critics would have us believe, but its unprecedented restraint.
Military investigators have found that out of more than 50,000 suspected terrorists held since 9/11, 26 may have died wrongfully and another 100 or so were abused. Even if the real figure is higher (as it probably is), it is not worth mentioning in the same breath with the excesses committed in Algeria, Kenya or any other serious counterinsurgency. And, unlike in those places, the perpetrators are being prosecuted.
I'm not saying that unlawful conduct by U.S. service personnel should be ignored or excused. I'm simply suggesting that we can't judge U.S. soldiers by impossible standards of perfection attained by no other army in history — especially when they are battling fanatical mass murderers who make the Mau Mau look like Boy Scouts.
Posted on: Thursday, June 30, 2005 - 21:37
[Moshe Ma'oz is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and a professor emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published several books and many articles on Syrian modern history and politics, including Syria and Israel From War to Peacemaking (Clarendon Press, 1995).]
... [Flynt] Leverett, [author of Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire(Brookings Institution Press, 2005)], a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former senior analyst at the National Security Council, Department of State, and Central Intelligence Agency, lists American grievances against Bashar al-Assad, including helping the anti-American insurgency in Iraq; sponsoring Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad; developing weapons of mass destruction; occupying Lebanon (until the recent pullout); and maintaining an oppressive regime in Syria. Leverett asserts that the "Bush administration has failed to develop a genuine policy toward Syria, if by 'policy' one means an integrated series of public positions, diplomatic initiatives, and other measures ... all rooted in a strategy for persuading Syria to change its problematic behavior and cooperate in the pursuit of U.S. goals." He contrasts Bush's confrontational attitude toward Assad with the strategic cooperation that George H.W. Bush (in 1990-91) and Bill Clinton (from 1992 to 2000) maintained with Assad's father.
Apparently neither Bush père nor Clinton were concerned about the autocratic nature of Hafez al-Assad's regime and its failure to initiate economic reforms. Both U.S. presidents wished to advance American strategic objectives in the region, regardless of Assad's brutal record. As Clinton writes in his memoir concerning his visit to Damascus in 1994: "No American president had been there in 20 years because of Syria's support for terrorism and its domination of Lebanon. ... He [Assad] was a ruthless but brilliant man who had once wiped out a whole village. ... But I knew there would never be security and stability in the region unless Syria and Israel were reconciled."
Leverett favors a similar approach by the current Bush administration and a resumption of Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations. That strategy would allow Washington to put its differences with Damascus over terrorism and weapons development into a more politically manageable framework, and could also enlist Syrian cooperation in stabilizing Iraq.
Unfortunately, political conditions in Damascus and Jerusalem are not ripe for the revival of the peace process, and Washington insists that Assad should comply with its list of demands before any peace negotiations with Israel could restart. The Bush administration continues to pressure Damascus to change its behavior or risk a forced regime change. That belligerent strategy has been carried out through economic and diplomatic sanctions under Congress's 2003 Syria Accountability Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act.
But Leverett persuasively argues that unilateral sanctions are not likely to change Assad's behavior, and that European countries, Russia, Japan, and China are not prepared to join the United States in isolating Damascus. Pursuing regime change militarily would also be problematic for the United States, not only because of severe strain on the American forces engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also because of the likelihood of popular anti-American reactions in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Leverett suggests a more realistic, conditional, carrot-and-stick engagement, similar to American dealings with Sudan and Libya. The United States would impose on Damascus "costs for continued noncompliance with U.S. requirements but also promise significant benefits in the event of cooperation" -- notably helping Assad obtain the expertise and resources he needs to advance Syria's internal reforms, and promising him continued American involvement in Syrian-Israeli conciliation.
A British-trained ophthalmologist, Bashar al-Assad, unlike his father, had been exposed to Western notions of democracy and modernization. During the first several months of his rule, he tolerated free discussion of civil society through newly created political forums. He also allowed the printing of new newspapers and the opening of private universities. While trying to reform the ruling Baath Party while diminishing its massive influence, he has attempted also to modernize Syria's backward economy by introducing private banking, opening a stock exchange, inviting foreign-Arab investment, and appointing a Western-educated economist to a senior administrative position.
Most of those political and economic reforms have been stalled by opposition from the conservative old guard. But regional shifts in power and American inducement could spur Assad to salvage his reformist policies. If Assad could combine his own democratic impulses with his father's diplomatic expediency, and if Bush could recapture his father's focus on long-term regional goals, both could help modernize and stabilize the Middle East. Whether their coteries would get out of the way of such progress is another question.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 29, 2005 - 22:18
[Mr. Basker is President of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of English at Barnard College.]
The other day, I was filling out my ballot for Major League Baseball’s All- Star Game and a thought occurred to me. It’s not terribly difficult to come up with a system to help make the tough comparisons between great players. How many home runs has a player hit? What is his batting average? How many runs batted in? There are many numbers we use to measure athletes across the decades. It’s comparing apples and apples.
I watched the series “Greatest American” on Discovery Channel and found the opposite to be true. It seems impossible to measure a brilliant president against a groundbreaking scientist against an innovative entrepreneur. What is greatness, anyway? Each choice was great in some way. [Though, with all due respect to Brett Favre and Dr. Phil, I find it hard to put them in the same category as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.]
Like many notable American TV shows – and many notable Americans, such as Alexander Hamilton and Albert Einstein – the idea for “Greatest American” was born somewhere else. Similar programs in England and France chose Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle respectively. To be sure, “Greatest American” only scraped the surface of information about the most significant figures in our history. But there is value in thinking about individuals like Franklin, Lincoln and King - and even greater value in reading about them. The popularity of books by David McCullough, Ron Chernow, Walter Isaacson and many others is evidence that all Americans, not just scholars, are interested in history. The “beach book” we take with us doesn’t have to be filled with fluff. It can be filled with the story of our country.
The important choice being made is not in choosing the greatest American, it is in choosing to learn about all of our great Americans. So, when we join our family and friends at picnics and baseball games, when we share hot dogs and apple pie or peanuts and Cracker Jacks, it’s worth talking about our country’s all stars and the seasons in which they lived. The records they set are not likely to be broken anytime soon.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 29, 2005 - 11:25
'LIVE 8," the drive to fight African famine with con certs on July 2 in Philadelphia, Paris, Rome, Berlin, London and Toronto, was launched with much hoopla. "What started 20 years ago is coming to a political point in a few weeks," Bob Geldof told the BBC. "There's more than a chance that the boys and girls with guitars will finally get to tilt the world on its axis."
Geldof's idealism is lovely, but if the history of his 1985 brainchild, "Live Aid," is any indication, the results will be much less dramatic — and possibly harmful.
In the modern celebrity galaxy, where Geldof and such co-stars as Madonna, Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul McCartney live, selflessness and self-puffery blur. Even when these stars do good works, they need an audience. On July 13, 1985, 1.9 billion viewers from 152 countries watched the rock-'n'-roll aristocracy try to save the world.
"Live Aid" did raise money and awareness. But it was less activist and radical than it pretended to be. The insidious problem: Participants leave believing they helped, when they're mostly entertaining themselves and making themselves feel good. How many left those concerts in 1985 and then did anything to help in the ensuing 20 years?
The slickly produced 1985 show, flush with $4 million in corporate sponsorships, and with pop greats performing in London and Philadelphia for 16 hours, claimed to be resurrecting the now-legendary '60s spirit. "In the '80s, which is a barren era, we look back at the '60s as a great reservoir of talent, of high ideals and of the will and desire to change things," U2's Bono would say.
The Philadelphia show began with the '60s folk icon Joan Baez saying: "Good morning, children of the '80s. This is your Woodstock, and it's long overdue." Fourteen hours later, Bob Dylan sang "Blowin' in the Wind," followed by a "We Are the World" sing-a-long uniting the celebrities and the little people in song.
"I'm glad to be helping the hungry and having a good time," one 22-year-old told a reporter. Phone lines jammed. Profits would eventually hit $80 million.
The initiative inspired many imitators, including Willie Nelson's "Farm Aid" and "Hands Across America," raising money for the homeless by making a 5-million-person transcontinental human chain graced by Bill Cosby, Kenny Rogers and Pete Rose.
But such efforts are to real activism what Cheez Whiz is to cheese: similar label, different content. These celebrity singalongs were more acts of consumption — moments of entertainment, with prayers at the altar of celebrity worship and a dash of social consciousness added for effect. The billions of dollars rock stars earn dwarf the millions they helped raise for charity. In 1984 alone, Michael Jackson earned $30 million from record sales and another $50 million from tie-ins.
Organizers will say that "Live 8" is better than No Aid — and more political this time. But if fans walk away thinking they have fulfilled their obligation to solving Africa's problems for the next 20 years, this star-studded songfest will do more harm than good.
Millions need to shout from the rooftops condemning the Arab-initiated rapes and genocidal murder in the Sudan's Darfur region. Scientists have to intensify their efforts to stop the AIDS epidemic plaguing Africa. And billions must be spread — wisely — to feed Africa's poor.
If people really want to help Africa, they can spend July 2 lobbying Congress and the White House to force the Sudan to stop the Darfur genocide, pressuring health organizations to mobilize against AIDS and raising serious amounts of money to feed millions of starving kids and their parents — rather than boogeying to the sounds of Bon Jovi, Maroon 5 and the Barenaked Ladies.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 28, 2005 - 18:35
[Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin are coauthors of "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" (Knopf, 2005).]
Sixty years ago, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the World War II director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, proved that there are some things that government-university partnerships can do better than any private-sector entity. In just 27 months — from April 1943 to August 1945 — Oppenheimer and his team of scientists produced a combat-ready atomic bomb. The military head of the Manhattan Project, Gen. Leslie Groves had awarded the contract for the new laboratory to the University of California because he understood that no private corporation was capable of attracting the talented scientists needed to meet this challenge.
Important lessons for our national security are implicit in this history, lessons the Bush administration ignores as it prepares to turn over much of the management of the Los Alamos lab to a private defense contractor. Everything we know about the Manhattan Project and the subsequent history of the lab suggests that this is a mistake and a lost opportunity...
...Astonishingly, the government's bidding criteria amounts to a corporate giveaway. You'd think that this administration would assume that the private sector could run this lab more efficiently and for less money than a nonprofit academic institution. Not so. The UC administrators have been operating the $2.1-billion lab for $8.7 million in management fees. By next year, according to the terms of the Bush administration bidding criteria, this management fee will escalate to between $63 million and $79 million a year.
All of this smacks of another corporate boondoggle. Worse, it is likely to destroy an institution that has the potential to extricate us from our growing environmental quagmire. To ensure that the work at Los Alamos continues at the highest level, the facility should be divided into two separate entities: a weapons laboratory run by a defense contractor and an unclassified environmental research complex managed by a university.
"Let's give it back to the Indians." Edward Teller always claimed that this is what Oppenheimer said of Los Alamos soon after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Unlike Teller, who never saw a weapons system he didn't like, Oppenheimer never worked on atomic weapons again. Instead, he chose to spend the rest of his career as the director of the Institute for Advanced Study, and its scholars over the years have given us important theoretical insights that led to such innovations as the first real computer. Oppenheimer understood how to encourage scientists to do their best work, and he would be appalled by the Bush administration's plans.
It is time to change Los Alamos' mission. Give the defense contractors the job of dealing with our arsenal of nuclear weapons. But let's invest in a new Manhattan Project committed to winning the race against pollution in the 21st century. Otherwise, perhaps we really should just "give it back to the Indians."
Posted on: Monday, June 27, 2005 - 20:57
[Mr. Hobsbawm is author of The Age of Extremes: The Short 20th Century 1914-1991. This is an edited extract from his preface to a new edition of VG Kiernan's America: The New Imperialism.]
Three continuities link the global US of the cold war era with the attempt to assert world supremacy since 2001. The first is its position of international domination, outside the sphere of influence of communist regimes during the cold war, globally since the collapse of the USSR. This hegemony no longer rests on the sheer size of the US economy. Large though this is, it has declined since 1945 and its relative decline continues. It is no longer the giant of global manufacturing. The centre of the industrialised world is rapidly shifting to the eastern half of Asia. Unlike older imperialist countries, and unlike most other developed industrial countries, the US has ceased to be a net exporter of capital, or indeed the largest player in the international game of buying up or establishing firms in other countries, and the financial strength of the state rests on the continued willingness of others, mostly Asians, to maintain an otherwise intolerable fiscal deficit.
The influence of the American economy today rests largely on the heritage of the cold war: the role of the US dollar as the world currency, the international linkages of US firms established during that era (notably in defence-related industries), the restructuring of international economic transactions and business practices along American lines, often under the auspices of American firms. These are powerful assets, likely to diminish only slowly. On the other hand, as the Iraq war showed, the enormous political influence of the US abroad, based as it was on a genuine "coalition of the willing" against the USSR, has no similar foundation since the fall of the Berlin wall. Only the enormous military-technological power of the US is well beyond challenge. It makes the US today the only power capable of effective military intervention at short notice in any part on the world, and it has twice demonstrated its capacity to win small wars with great rapidity. And yet, as the Iraq war shows, even this unparalleled capacity to destroy is not enough to impose effective control on a resistant country, and even less on the globe. Nevertheless, US dominance is real and the disintegration of the USSR has made it global.
The second element of continuity is the peculiar house-style of US empire, which has always preferred satellite states or protectorates to formal colonies. The expansionism implicit in the name chosen for the 13 independent colonies on the east coast of the Atlantic (United States of America) was continental, not colonial. The later expansionism of "manifest destiny" was both hemispheric and aimed towards East Asia, as well as modelled on the global trading and maritime supremacy of the British Empire. One might even say that in its assertion of total US supremacy over the western hemisphere it was too ambitious to be confined to colonial administration over bits of it.
The American empire thus consisted of technically independent states doing Washington's bidding, but, given their independence, this required continuous readiness to exert pressure on their governments, including pressure for "regime change"and, where feasible (as in the mini-republics of the Caribbean zone), periodic US armed intervention.
The third thread of continuity links the neo-conservatives of George Bush with the Puritan colonists' certainty of being God's instrument on earth and with the American Revolution - which, like all major revolutions, developed world-missionary convictions, limited only by the wish to shield the the new society of potentially universal freedom from the corruptions of the unreconstructed old world. The most effective way of finessing this conflict between isolationism and globalism was to be systematically exploited in the 20th century and still serves Washington well in the 21st. It was to discover an alien enemy outside who posed an immediate, mortal threat to the American way of life and the lives of its citizens. The end of the USSR removed the obvious candidate, but by the early 90s another had been detected in a "clash" between the west and other cultures reluctant to accept it, notably Islam. Hence the enormous political potential of the al-Qaida outrages of September 11 was immediately recognised and exploited by the Washington world-dominators...
...It may be that it makes sense only in terms of the calculations, electoral or otherwise, of American domestic policy. It may be a symptom of a more profound crisis within US society. It may be that it represents the - one hopes short-lived - colonisation of Washington power by a group of quasi-revolutionary doctrinaires. (At least one passionate ex-Marxist supporter of Bush has told me, only half in jest: "After all, this is the only chance of supporting world revolution that looks like coming my way.") Such questions cannot yet be answered.
It is reasonably certain that the project will fail. However, while it continues, it will go on making the world an intolerable place for those directly exposed to US armed occupation and an unsafer place for the rest of us.
Posted on: Saturday, June 25, 2005 - 23:40
[Mr. Zinn, the author of A People's History of the United States, is a historian and playwright. His essay is adapted from a lecture he gave for MIT's Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies].
The notion of American exceptionalism—that the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary—is not new. It started as early as 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when Governor John Winthrop uttered the words that centuries later would be quoted by Ronald Reagan. Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city upon a hill.” Reagan embellished a little, calling it a “shining city on a hill.”
The idea of a city on a hill is heartwarming. It suggests what George Bush has spoken of: that the United States is a beacon of liberty and democracy. People can look to us and learn from and emulate us.
In reality, we have never been just a city on a hill. A few years after Governor Winthrop uttered his famous words, the people in the city on a hill moved out to massacre the Pequot Indians. Here’s a description by William Bradford, an early settler, of Captain John Mason’s attack on a Pequot village.
Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.
The kind of massacre described by Bradford occurs again and again as Americans march west to the Pacific and south to the Gulf of Mexico. (In fact our celebrated war of liberation, the American Revolution, was disastrous for the Indians. Colonists had been restrained from encroaching on the Indian territory by the British and the boundary set up in their Proclamation of 1763. American independence wiped out that boundary.)
Expanding into another territory, occupying that territory, and dealing harshly with people who resist occupation has been a persistent fact of American history from the first settlements to the present day. And this was often accompanied from very early on with a particular form of American exceptionalism: the idea that American expansion is divinely ordained. On the eve of the war with Mexico in the middle of the 19th century, just after the United States annexed Texas, the editor and writer John O’Sullivan coined the famous phrase “manifest destiny.” He said it was “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” At the beginning of the 20th century, when the United States invaded the Philippines, President McKinley said that the decision to take the Philippines came to him one night when he got down on his knees and prayed, and God told him to take the Philippines.
Invoking God has been a habit for American presidents throughout the nation’s history, but George W. Bush has made a specialty of it. For an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the reporter talked with Palestinian leaders who had met with Bush. One of them reported that Bush told him, “God told me to strike at al Qaeda. And I struck them. And then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did. And now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.” It’s hard to know if the quote is authentic, especially because it is so literate. But it certainly is consistent with Bush’s oft-expressed claims. A more credible story comes from a Bush supporter, Richard Lamb, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who says that during the election campaign Bush told him, “I believe God wants me to be president. But if that doesn’t happen, that’s okay.” ...
...American exceptionalism was never more clearly expressed than by Secretary of War Elihu Root, who in 1899 declared, “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the world began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.” At the time he was saying this, American soldiers in the Philippines were starting a bloodbath which would take the lives of 600,000 Filipinos.
The idea that America is different because its military actions are for the benefit of others becomes particularly persuasive when it is put forth by leaders presumed to be liberals, orprogressives. For instance, Woodrow Wilson, always high on the list of “liberal” presidents, labeled both by scholars and the popular culture as an “idealist,” was ruthless in his use of military power against weaker nations. He sent the navy to bombard and occupy the Mexican port of Vera Cruz in 1914 because the Mexicans had arrested some American sailors. He sent the marines into Haiti in 1915, and when the Haitians resisted, thousands were killed...
...The idea of American exceptionalism persisted as the first President Bush declared, extending Henry Luce’s prediction, that the nation was about to embark on a “new American Century.” Though the Soviet Union was gone, the policy of military intervention abroad did not end. The elder Bush invaded Panama and then went to war against Iraq.
The terrible attacks of September 11 gave a new impetus to the idea that the United States was uniquely responsible for the security of the world, defending us all against terrorism as it once did against communism. President George W. Bush carried the idea of American exceptionalism to its limits by putting forth in his national-security strategy the principles of unilateral war.
This was a repudiation of the United Nations charter, which is based on the idea that security is a collective matter, and that war could only be justified in self-defense. We might note that the Bush doctrine also violates the principles laid out at Nuremberg, when Nazi leaders were convicted and hanged for aggressive war, preventive war, far from self-defense.
Bush’s national-security strategy and its bold statement that the United States is uniquely responsible for peace and democracy in the world has been shocking to many Americans.
But it is not really a dramatic departure from the historical practice of the United States, which for a long time has acted as an aggressor, bombing and invading other countries (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Iraq) and insisting on maintaining nuclear and non-nuclear supremacy. Unilateral military action, under the guise of prevention, is a familiar part of American foreign policy.
Sometimes bombings and invasions have been cloaked as international action by bringing in the United Nations, as in Korea, or NATO, as in Serbia, but basically our wars have been American enterprises. It was Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who said at one point, “If possible we will act in the world multilaterally, but if necessary, we will act unilaterally.” Henry Kissinger, hearing this, responded with his customary solemnity that this principle “should not be universalized.” Exceptionalism was never clearer.
Some liberals in this country, opposed to Bush, nevertheless are closer to his principles on foreign affairs than they want to acknowledge. It is clear that 9/11 had a powerful psychological effect on everybody in America, and for certain liberal intellectuals a kind of hysterical reaction has distorted their ability to think clearly about our nation’s role in the world....
...The idea is not challenged because the history of American expansion in the world is not a history that is taught very much in our educational system. A couple of years ago Bush addressed the Philippine National Assembly and said, “America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people. Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule.” The president apparently never learned the story of the bloody conquest of the Philippines.
And last year, when the Mexican ambassador to the UN said something undiplomatic about how the United States has been treating Mexico as its “backyard” he was immediately reprimanded by then–Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell, denying the accusation, said, “We have too much of a history that we have gone through together.” (Had he not learned about the Mexican War or the military forays into Mexico?) The ambassador was soon removed from his post...
...Fortunately, there are people all over the world who believe that human beings everywhere deserve the same rights to life and liberty. On February 15, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, more than ten million people in more than 60 countries around the world demonstrated against that war.
There is a growing refusal to accept U.S. domination and the idea of American exceptionalism. Recently, when the State Department issued its annual report listing countries guilty of torture and other human-rights abuses, there were indignant responses from around the world commenting on the absence of the United States from that list. A Turkish newspaper said, “There’s not even mention of the incidents in Abu Ghraib prison, no mention of Guantánamo.” A newspaper in Sydney pointed out that the United States sends suspects—people who have not been tried or found guilty of anything—to prisons in Morocco, Egypt, Libya, and Uzbekistan, countries that the State Department itself says use torture.
Here in the United States, despite the media’s failure to report it, there is a growing resistance to the war in Iraq. Public-opinion polls show that at least half the citizenry no longer believe in the war. Perhaps most significant is that among the armed forces, and families of those in the armed forces, there is more and more opposition to it.
After the horrors of the first World War, Albert Einstein said, “Wars will stop when men refuse to fight.” We are now seeing the refusal of soldiers to fight, the refusal of families to let their loved ones go to war, the insistence of the parents of high-school kids that recruiters stay away from their schools. These incidents, occurring more and more frequently, may finally, as happened in the case of Vietnam, make it impossible for the government to continue the war, and it will come to an end.
The true heroes of our history are those Americans who refused to accept that
we have a special claim to morality and the right to exert our force on the
rest of the world. I think of William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist. On the
masthead of his antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, were the words, “My
country is the world. My countrymen are mankind.”
Posted on: Saturday, June 25, 2005 - 17:23
One of the most prominent and contentious issues in the media coverage and Arab propaganda regarding the Israel-Arab conflict is that of Jewish “occupation” of Arab lands and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (hereafter WBGS). Unfortunately, these issues have been clouded with misleading rhetoric and propagandistic mantras by both sides. To properly understand the role of the Israeli presence and settlements in the WBGS, it is necessary to review their history within the broader historical context of the Arab-Israel war, which has been proceeding without interruption since 1948.
The conflict between Israel and the Arab world began well before the 1948 war. Zionist pioneers from middle of the 19th century onward began their work of rebuilding a Jewish homeland in what was then the Ottoman or Turkish Empire by their purchase of land from the Turkish Crown and from Arab landowners (Effendi). There was no invasion, no conquest, no theft of Arab land and certainly not of Palestinians who were subjects of Turkish rule. Unarmed and with no military, the Jews bought so much land that in 1892 a group of Effendi sent a letter to the Turkish Sultan, requesting that he make it illegal for his subjects to sell land to Jews. Their successors did the same thing, via a telegram, in 1915.
No one complained of theft because there was none. No Arabs were driven from their homes. In fact, as a demographic study published by Columbia University demonstrates, the Arab population of the area grew tremendously during this period in part because of the economic development that the Jews helped to generate. Thus, between 1514 AD and c. 1850, the Arab population of this region of the Turkish empire was more or less static at about 340,000. It suddenly began to increase c. 1855, and by 1947 it stood at c. 1,300,000 -- almost quadrupling in less than 100 years. The exact causes of this increase are beyond the scope of this essay, but the causal correlation between this independently documented phenomenon and the Zionist endeavor is beyond rational argument.
Far from driving out any Arabs, stealing their land or ruining their economy, the work of the Jewish pioneers in the 19th and early 20th centuries actually enabled the population to quadruple, the economy to enter the modern era, and the society to slough off the shackles of serfdom that typified the Effendi-Fellah (land-owner/serf) relationship of the Ottoman era. An Arab working in a Jewish factory or farming community could earn in a month what his father earned in a year eking out a living as a subsistence-level farmer using medieval technology. Arab infant mortality plummeted and longevity increased as the Jews shared their modern medical technology with their Arab neighbors.
Much of the land that the Zionists purchased was desert and swamp, uninhabited and deemed uninhabitable by the Arabs. Modern agrarian techniques and the blood and sweat of thousands of idealistic Jews reclaimed that land and turned it into prime real estate with flourishing farms and rapidly growing communities sporting modern technology and a healthy market economy. As a result, Arab migrants poured into the region from surrounding states, with hundreds of thousands seeking a better life and greater economic opportunity. Based on the above, it is fair to suggest that a significant plurality, if not a majority, of Arabs living in Israel today owe their very existence to the Zionist endeavor.
Validation of this history, a history quite at variance with the standard Arab revisionism, comes from a surprising source. Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradhawi, international Arab terrorist and lieutenant to Osama bin Laden, in a televised speech in May, 2005 (cf. MEMRI), chided his followers with the following words: "Unfortunately, we (Arabs) do not excel in either military or civil industries. We import everything from needles to missiles…How come the Zionist gang has managed to be superior to us, despite being so few? It has become superior through knowledge, through technology, and through strength. It has become superior to us through work. We had the desert before our eyes but we didn't do anything with it. When they took over, they turned it into a green oasis. How can a nation that does not work progress? How can it grow?”
It was precisely this success of the Zionist endeavor that raised the ire and fear of Arab leadership. Zionist progress, technology, economy, and the Jews’ willingness to share this technology with their Arab neighbors radically threatened the medieval strangle-hold of the Effendi over the fellahin (peasantry). As part of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, the Arabs of what is today called Israel did not wish to risk civil disobedience. Turkish methods of insuring tranquility under the Sultan were rather draconian. Not so with the British. So, after World War I when the British and the French dismantled the Ottoman empire (Sykes-Picot treaty, 1916), and Britain took over the governance of British Mandatory Palestine (today’s State of Israel and Kingdom of Jordan), Arab leadership found itself with a much freer hand. Stoking religious hatred, and fanning the flames of fellah resentment with lies about the Jews’ intent to destroy Islam, representatives of the leading Effendi families led by the Hajj Amin el-Husseini began an Islamic jihad involving a series of pogroms against the Jews.
Peel Partition Plan
1919, 1921, 1922, 1929, and 1936 saw Arab violence against Jews expanding in scope and growing in brutality, with the British doing almost nothing to curtail it and sometimes abetting it. Lord Earl Peel led a commission of inquiry in 1936, with the goal of finding a solution to the seemingly endless violence. His suggestion was partition. Let the Jews have their state on the c. 15% of lands that they have purchased and redeemed. Let the Arabs have theirs on the remaining 85%.
In 1922 Britain had given all of Palestine east of the Jordan river to the emir Abdullah, which became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a kingdom with a majority Palestinian population which, by law, permitted no Jew to enter. When offered their own state in 1937 on c. 85% of British Mandatory Palestine west of the Jordan river the Arab leadership chose war and terrorism. This was the “Great Arab Revolt” of 1937-1939. With World War II in the offing, Britain lost no time in brutally crushing the Arab revolt.
Meanwhile, the pioneering Zionist endeavor continued, with the purchase of more crown land from the British. It is important to note that according to international law, what had been crown land under the Ottoman Empire was now legally crown land under the British Mandate. The disposition of that land through legal purchases was well within the rights of the British and conformed to the parameters of international law. When the West emerged from World War II, Zionist organizations owned about 28% of what is today Israel, and private Arab land ownership or British crown land accounted for the rest.
With the end of the war, Arab leadership again promoted violence and terrorism against Jewish settlements and against the British. The majority of Jewish leaders preached restraint and practiced the exploration of political solutions via the newly formed United Nations. A minority practiced terrorism against the British and violent reprisals against the Arabs.
UN Partition Plan
Sick of the violence and facing political crises growing out of economic problems following World War II, the British decided to place “the Palestine Question” into the hands of the United Nations. Several UN exploratory missions (UNESCOP being the latest) in 1947 reached Lord Peel’s conclusion of a decade earlier. On November 29, 1947 the UN decided to declare two states: the state of Palestine for the Arabs on c. 45% of the land, and the state of Israel for the Jews on c. 55%. The UN Partition Plan (UN Resolution # 181) created unwieldy boundaries between the two nascent states, based upon the land ownership and population densities of the two groups, plus the assignment of the Negev (the southern desert, crown land largely unpopulated and believed to be worthless) to the Jews. This desert constituted 60% of the Jewish portion.
It is important to note, at this juncture, that the Arab states were members of the UN. Their membership entailed their willingness to abide by majority decisions of the newly formed world governing body. But they did not.
In high-handed defiance of the UN partition plan, they launched a war of aggression which, by their own public rhetoric, was to be a war of annihilation. Their intent was not the correction of some border dispute or the reclamation of some turf lost in an earlier battle. Their vociferously ballyhooed intention was the destruction of the newly created State of Israel, and the genocide of its 605,000 Jews.
Much to their chagrin, they lost. And in losing, they lost much of the territory which the UN had designated for the state of Palestine. However, the remainder of what was to have been Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) never became the State of Palestine. Rather, Egypt maintained illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip, and Jordan illegally annexed the West Bank, both in high-handed defiance of international law and UN resolutions 181 and 194. There was no Arab or Palestinian protest over this.
To add to the Arabs’ chagrin, they were faced in 1949 with an Israeli offer of peace. In exchange for a formal peace treaty, Israel would return much of the land conquered in the war and allow the repatriation of some substantive portion of the Arab refugees created by the war (Rhodes Armistice talks, February – July, 1949). Had the Arab nations been willing to accept the UN partition plan, or had they been willing to accept the Israeli peace offer, not only would there have been a State of Palestine since 1949, but there would never have been an Arab refugee problem. But the Arab response was NO PEACE. The refugees will return to their homes only when they can fly the flag of Palestine over the corpses of the Jews. Better our Palestinian brethren should rot in squalid refugee camps than that we should acknowledge a non-Arab state in our midst. As in 1937, Arab leadership rejected the possibility of a Palestinian state in favor of continued aggression against Israel. It was not the creation of the State of Israel that caused the refugee and other subsequent problems; it was the war of annihilation waged by the Arab states that snuffed out the second opportunity for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Pre-67 Terrorism Against Israel
From 1949 to 1956, Egypt waged a terror war against Israel, launching c. 9,000 attacks from terrorist cells set up in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip. The 1956 “Sinai campaign” ended Egypt’s terror war, even though President Eisenhower forced Prime Minister Ben Gurion to return the Sinai to Egypt without a peace treaty. But the terror continued on other fronts. In 1964, Yasir Arafat began a 50-year campaign of terror the openly avowed goal of which was the destruction of Israel and the genocide of its Jews. (Arafat did not even mention the annexation of the West Bank by Jordan or the illegal occupation of Gaza by Egypt.) Sponsored first by Kuwait, and later by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran, Arafat declared unending war against Israel until all of “Palestine” would be liberated, redeemed in “fire and blood”.
It is important to note that from 1949 to 1967 there were no Jewish settlements in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. The “Palestine” that Arafat sought to “redeem” was the State of Israel within its 1949 “green line” borders. It is instructive to read the original 1964 version of the PLO Covenant: Article 24. “This Organization (the PLO) does not exercise any regional sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in the Gaza Strip or the Himmah area”. Since the PLO’s original Covenant explicitly recognized Judea, Samaria, the eastern portion of Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip as belonging to other Arab states, the only "homeland" it sought to "liberate" in 1964 was the State of Israel. However, in response to the Six Day War, in which five Arab states attacked Israel and as a result of which Israel militarily occupied the West Bank, the PLO revised its Covenant on July 17, 1968 to remove the operative language of Article 24, thereby newly asserting a "Palestinian" claim of sovereignty to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It is also instructive to note that the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank and Egyptian control of the Gaza Strip were typified by brutal totalitarian repression. In the words of Arafat himself, the Egyptians (in 1948) herded Palestinians into refugee camps, kept them behind barbed wire, sent in spies to murder the Palestinian leaders, and executed those who tried to flee. Nor were there any Palestinian protests of any self-determination they had been denied.
Belated Palestinian Nationalism
The reason why there was no agitation among Palestinians for their own national identity prior to 1967 is perfectly clear. The concept of Palestine as a nation and Palestinians as a separate people did not exist among the Arabs of the Turkish provinces that became British Mandatory Palestine after World War I. Despite the contorted, forced, and contrived narratives of Rashid Khalidi, Baruch Kimmerling and others, their own analyses acknowledge that there was never any state called Palestine, no country inhabited by “Palestinians”, and no concept of a separate political or cultural or linguistic entity representing a defined group that could be identified by such an appellation.
In fact, the opposite is the case. Arab respondents to the UN’s UNESCOP 1947 inquiries argued that there never was, nor should there ever be, a Palestine. The area under discussion was historically part of southern Syria; and for centuries had been known as “balad esh-sham” (the country of Damascus). In fact, at that time, the term “Palestinian” was applied to the Jews living in Mandatory Palestine. The Arabs of the region were known as “Arabs”.
In a March 31, 1977 interview with the Amsterdam-based newspaper Dagblad de Verdieping Trouw, PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhse’in said: “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct 'Palestinian people' to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”
Even today, Syrian 5th Grade social studies textbooks show “Greater Syria” as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. There is no nation called Palestine. The concept of “Palestinians” as Arabs living for millennia in “historic Palestine” is a fiction created for the political and military purposes described by Mr. Muhse’in. This belated frenzy of Palestinian agitation for national self-determination is simply the faux mantle of respectability behind which genocidal Arab terrorism can be perpetrated against Israel with impunity. After the Holocaust, the West cannot look kindly upon genocidal terrorism; but it can embrace warmly and enthusiastically the deep and heartfelt yearnings of an oppressed people struggling to be free. Hence, Arafat’s terrorist propagandists needed to invent the lies of Palestinian National Identity and Israeli oppression.
The Six-Day War
Contrary to current Arab propaganda, but congruent with all news accounts contemporary to the events, Israel was the victim of Arab genocidal aggression in the 6-Day War. On May 15, 1967 Egypt demanded that the UN peace-keeping forces, in place since the Sinai Campaign, evacuate at once. UN Secretary General U-Thant, for reasons never fully clarified, complied at once. Then Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran and moved two tank battalions and 150,000 troops right up to Israel’s western border. A military pact with Syria and Jordan, and illegal invasion of Israel’s air space for surveillance over-flights of the Israeli atomic reactor in Dimona, rounded out the threats. These were five casus belli: actions defined in international law as so threatening to a sovereign state that each one creates a legitimate cause for defensive military response. Had Israel retaliated with lethal force after any one of these five, its military action would have been completely legal per international law, as legitimate defensive response to existential threats from an aggressor.
However, Israel did not retaliate. It first tried political negotiations. Its complaints to the UN went unanswered. Its reminders to President Johnson that the United States had guaranteed in 1957 to intervene if the Straits of Tiran were ever closed, or if Egypt ever re-militarized the Sinai, fell on deaf ears. Mr. Johnson was too heavily involved in the Vietnam war to consider American military action elsewhere, even though President Eisenhower, when he forced PM Ben Gurion to retreat from the Sinai after the phenomenally successful Sinai Campaign in 1956, had promised America’s eternal vigilance that Israel would not again face a military threat from Egypt.
After three weeks of watching the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian forces grow in size and strength on its borders, Israel tried one last diplomatic action. Via the UN commander of the peace-keeping forces in Jerusalem, Colonel Od Bul (a Norwegian), Israel’s government sent a written message to King Hussein of Jordan: if you do not invade Israel, Israel will not invade the West Bank. King Hussein superciliously tossed the note back to Colonel Bul and walked away.
On Monday, June 5, 1967, after receiving military intelligence that Egypt was within hours of launching an invasion via the Gaza Strip, Israel launched its defensive pre-emptive strike, an air attack that destroyed the air forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria while they were still on the ground. With the control of the skies firmly in Israel’s hand, its armor and infantry put Egyptian forces to flight, reaching the Suez Canal within two days.
Despite Israel’s warning, King Hussein of Jordan began an artillery bombardment of Jerusalem and other Israeli cities along the Green Line. After more than a day of bombardment, with scores of Israelis dead, hundreds wounded, and millions of dollars of damages, Israel sent a second message to the Hashemite king: if you stop the bombardment now, we will consider it your politically necessary ‘salvo of honor’; and we will not retaliate. This message was sent via the Romanian embassy, from its West Jerusalem (Israeli) ambassador to its East Jerusalem (Jordanian) ambassador. Hussein ignored the warning and launched an infantry invasion of Jewish Jerusalem. It was only then that Israel responded with its invasion of the West Bank.
After almost a week of Syria’s constant artillery bombardment of Israeli towns and villages in the Galilee, Israel conquered the Golan Heights, destroyed the Syrian artillery, and drove the Syrian army back to within 40 kilometers of Damascus.
Israel did not invade Egypt, although its forces could have advanced almost unopposed to Cairo. It did not cross the Jordan river although the Jordan Legion was in disarray, with some troops having tossed their boots and rifles to more easily swim to the east bank. Nor did it continue its advance from the Golan Heights to Damascus, which it could have easily done in the wake of a terrified and decimated Syrian army. Israel stopped its advance on all three fronts after it had achieved its military objectives: the destruction of the armies that threatened its existence, and the establishment of defensible borders.
International Law and Israeli Sovereignty
Even one of the most critical of Israel’s historians, Professor Avi Schlaim acknowledges that Israel was the victim of Arab aggression in the six-day war. This is an important point with regard to the issue of Israeli settlements in and sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. International law is very clear. Had it been the aggressor, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip would have been illegal, as would all future expansion of Israeli population into these territories.
However, as the victim of aggression, Israel’s legal position is exactly the opposite. (See infra, Part II, for details.) Suffice it for this introduction that the legal disposition of territories conquered in a defensive war can be determined only by a peace treaty between the belligerents. Absent such a peace treaty, the continued sovereignty and economic activities of the victim of aggression over its newly won territories is completely legal as long as such activity does not unfavorably prejudice the indigenous inhabitants. For the beneficial results of Israel’s sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, see below, Parts II and III.
Moreover, immediately after the war, Israel offered to return conquered territory in exchange for peace. The Arab nations rejected this offer. Israel could legally have annexed the newly won territories, but chose not to because it expected that eventually the aggressor nations would come to their senses and want their land back, and Israel would return some of these territories to their former occupiers in exchange for peace. Israel did this with Egypt, returning all of Sinai at the Camp David I accords in 1979. Anwar es-Sadat refused to accept the Gaza Strip back, preferring that its Palestinians remain under Israeli sovereignty. When Jordan agreed to a peace treaty in 1994, King Hussein specifically excluded the West Bank from consideration, because by then 96% of Palestinians in the area were under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, and Hussein conceded that he had no legal claim to the area or its Arab population.
In sum, Israel is the only known country in all of history and across the entire world to come into existence via legal and beneficial land development (as opposed to the almost universal method of conquest). Israel’s victory in the 1948 war and in the 6-day war, in which it was the victim of genocidal aggression, and the refusal of Arab nations to join it in peace negotiations, give Israel the legal right to maintain its sovereignty over its newly won territories, and to develop those territories in any manner that is not prejudicial to the well-being of the indigenous civilians. Had Arab leadership been amenable to peace with Israel, there could have been a Palestinian state in 1937, and again in 1947, and again in 1949; and there would never have been an Arab refugee problem. Had Arab leadership in 1967 been amenable to peace with Israel, there would never have been a continued Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
With this historical framework in place, one can understand the real issues behind the controversy over Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the legal status of the settlements.
Posted on: Friday, June 24, 2005 - 17:19
The sheer dishonesty of the Bush administration whenever it speaks about the situation in Iraq was on display again during Bush's Tuesday press conference with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In recent weeks Bush has repeatedly expressed wild optimism, utterly unfounded in reality, about the political process in Iraq and about the ability of the new Iraqi government and army to win the guerrilla war. He has if anything been outdone in this rhetoric by Vice President Dick Cheney. This pie-in-the-sky attitude, which increasingly few believe, degrades our civic discourse, and it endangers the national security of the United States.
With Blair at his side, Bush trotted out his usual talking points on Iraq, speaking of freedom and remarking,"This is the vision chosen by Iraqis in elections in January." Bush added,"We'll support Iraqis as they take the lead in providing their own security. Our strategy is clear: We're training Iraqi forces so they can take the fight to the enemy, so they can defend their country, and then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned." He again trumpeted his alleged policy of spreading democracy in the region as a way of combating the"bitterness and hatred" that"feed the ideology of terror."
The two leaders were finally confronted by the press corps with the leaked Downing Street memo, which reported that Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British intelligence agency MI6, had returned from Washington in July 2002 convinced that Bush had already decided on war. The notes of his report to Blair and British Cabinet members say,"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Bush dealt with the memo by denying Dearlove's observations."My conversations with the prime minister was how could we do this peacefully, what could we do. And this meeting, evidently it took place in London, happened before we even went to the United Nations -- or I went to the United Nations."
It has gotten so that on the subject of Iraq, the way you can tell when Bush is lying is that his mouth is moving.
Bush is trying to give the impression that his going to the United Nations showed his administration's good faith in trying to disarm Saddam by peaceful means. It does nothing of the sort. In fact, the memo contains key evidence that the entire U.N. strategy was a ploy, dreamed up by the British, to justify a war that Bush had decided to wage long ago. It was the British who wanted Bush to go to the United Nations seeking an ultimatum that Saddam allow the weapons inspectors to return, in hopes that the Iraqi dictator would refuse. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is quoted as saying at the July 2002, meeting,"We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force." (Emphasis added.) Among the main fears of the British Cabinet members was that a war against Iraq might be considered illegal by the Hague tribunal, leaving them open to war-crimes charges. They felt that going to the United Nations would provide a legal basis for the war if Saddam rejected the inspectors.
So, his going to the United Nations does not prove that Bush did not want a war, and it does not refute the charges in the memo, since the memo accepts that it would be a good thing to go to the U.N. and a better thing if Saddam rejected the ultimatum. In the event, Bush did not give the inspectors time to do their jobs. They examined 100 of 600 suspected weapons sites and found nothing. Bush rushed to war anyway.
The docile White House press corps, which until the press conference had never asked the president about the Downing Street memo, predictably neglected to press Bush and Blair on those issues, allowing them to get away with mere obfuscation and meaningless non-answers....
Posted on: Friday, June 24, 2005 - 05:09
[Mr. Hochschild is a professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley and the author of The Commercialization of Intimate Life as well as The Time Bind and The Second Shift.]
Let's consider our political moment through a story. Suppose a chauffeur drives a sleek limousine through the streets of New York, a millionaire in the backseat. Through the window, the millionaire spots a homeless woman and her two children huddling in the cold, sharing a loaf of bread. He orders the chauffeur to stop the car. The chauffeur opens the passenger door for the millionaire, who walks over to the mother and snatches the loaf. He slips back into the car and they drive on, leaving behind an even poorer family and a baffled crowd of sidewalk witnesses. For his part, the chauffeur feels real qualms about what his master has done, because unlike his employer, he has recently known hard times himself. But he drives on nonetheless. Let's call this the Chauffeur's Dilemma.
Absurd as it seems, we are actually witnessing this scene right now. At first blush, we might imagine that this story exaggerates our situation, but let us take a moment to count the loaves of bread that have recently changed hands and those that soon will. Then, let's ask why so many people are letting this happen.
*On average, the 2003 tax cut has already given $93,500 to every millionaire. It is estimated that 52% of the benefits of George W. Bush's 2001–03 tax cuts have enriched the wealthiest 1% of Americans (those with an average annual income of $1,491,000).
*On average, the 2003 tax cut gave $217 to every middle-income person. By 2010, it is estimated that just 1% of the benefits of the tax cut will go to the bottom 20% of Americans (those with an average annual income of $12,200).
*During at least one year since 2000, 82 of the largest American corporations -- including General Motors, El Paso Energy, and, before the scandal broke, Enron -- paid no income tax.
In the meantime, the poor are being bled. Long-term unemployment has risen while the Bush administration has cut long-term unemployment benefits. Most American cities are looking at 15% cuts in already bare-boned budgets, which will close more libraries, cancel more after-school and esl programs, and limit access to health clinics.
Proposed budget cuts beginning in 2006 are threatening the funding given to low-income programs. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, with these cuts in place, low-income programs will be significantly reduced over the next five years. By 2010, elementary and secondary education funding will be cut by $4.6 billion, or 12%; 670,000 fewer women and children will receive assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program; Head Start, which currently serves about 906,000 children, will serve 100,000 fewer children; and 370,000 fewer low-income families, elderly people, and people with disabilities will receive rental assistance with rental vouchers. Bush proposes to cut housing and community-development aid by more than 30% in 2006 alone.
It's not hard to understand why the millionaire, with the power to satisfy so many desires, might want to claim another's bread. But why does the chauffeur open the door? Why do about half of lower- and middle-income Americans approve of tax cuts that favor the rich and budget cuts that deprive the poor? ...
...This leads me to a second effect of economic distress that Wolff notes: rising membership in nontraditional Protestant churches. Among these are some churches that promote the belief that the world is coming to an end, and that, following this, Christians will ascend to heaven in a Rapture while all others will suffer in hell. Those who hold to these beliefs are not a minor group. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 36% of Americans believe that the world is coming to an end. The 12-volume Left Behind series of Christian novels has sold more than 62 million copies.
We can understand the appeal of the idea of a Rapture, though not, or not only, in the believer's terms. There is a world literally coming to an end -- the industrial world of the well-paid blue-collar worker. It is a world to which the workingman and woman have already sacrificed much time and from which the promised rewards are disappearing. Belief in the Rapture provides, I would speculate, an escape from real anxiety over this very great earthly loss. Internet images of the Rapture often portray thin, well-dressed white people rising up into heaven to join awaiting others. The excluded are welcomed. The rejected are accepted. The downwardly mobile become upwardly mobile. The Rapture creates a celestial split between haves and have-nots, with no one in the middle. And in this vision, those caught in a social class squeeze are at last securely on top. The Rapture absorbs the sting of being hardworking losers in the harsh and rigged winner's culture of the radical right.
In a just society, of course, there need be no permanent economic losers. It is well within the capacity of a wisely led American government to restore a living wage to every worker. The power of the people once pointed in that direction. Popular uprisings in the 1930s led to massive demonstrations, strikes, and eventually Works Progress Administration projects, unemployment insurance, and our Social Security system.
But today's impulse to protest goes into blockading abortion clinics and writing Darwin out of school textbooks. The inner-city homeless, children in overcrowded public schools, unemployed in need of job retraining, and the 18% of American children who don't get enough to eat each day become part of the glimpsed world the chauffeur passes by, and his church can only do so much for them.
Like many others, I felt moved by the Christians who knelt in prayer for the family of the late Terri Schiavo, the comatose patient on life support in Florida. But it made me wonder why we don't see similar vigils drawing attention to near-comatose victims of winter living on city sidewalks. They've been taken off life support, too.
The chauffeur knows this and wants to do the moral thing. But he's worse off himself. He feels he has less to give. Bush offers him a way to feel good about giving less -- make a general ethic of giving less. He can downsize his conscience and still feel good. This deal, first struck between right-wing anti-tax interests and evangelicals back in the 1970s, offers a way to satisfy the chauffeur's better angel while getting his OK to take the bread. If right-wing ministers have talked our chauffeur into believing in the Rapture, this belief, too, can become just another reason to drive on.
In a sense, Bush is exploiting the common man twice over -- once by ignoring his own plight and that of the poor and twice by covering it over with military drums and tin-man morality. We really need to turn both things around. But to do that, we need to remind the chauffeur, wherever he is, that it's within his power to stop the car -- tax the millionaire, help the homeless, and offer new hope to those in between. Otherwise, the deal Bush is brokering between millionaire and chauffeur will impoverish the chauffeur -- in his pocketbook and in his soul.
This article appears in the July issue of The American Prospect magazine (Vol. 16, No. 7).
Copyright 2005 Arlie Hochschild
Posted on: Friday, June 24, 2005 - 05:04
No wonder public support for the war is plummeting and finger-to-the-wind politicians are heading for the exits: All the headlines out of Iraq recently have been about the rebels' reign of terror. But, lest we build up the enemy into 10-foot-tall supermen, it's important to realize how weak they actually are. Most of the conditions that existed in previous wars won by guerrillas, from Algeria in the 1950s to Afghanistan in the 1980s, aren't present in Iraq.
The rebels lack a unifying organization, ideology and leader. There is no Iraqi Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro or Mao Tse-tung. The top militant is Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has alienated most of the Iraqi population, even many Sunnis, with his indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
Support for the insurgency is confined to a minority within a minority — a small portion of Sunni Arabs, who make up less than 20% of the population. The only prominent non-Sunni rebel, Muqtada Sadr, has quietly joined the political process. The 80% of the population that is Shiite and Kurdish is implacably opposed to the rebellion, which is why most of the terror has been confined to four of 18 provinces.
Unlike in successful guerrilla wars, the rebels in Iraq have not been able to control large chunks of "liberated" territory. The best they could do was to hold Fallouja for six months last year. Nor have they been able to stage successful large-scale attacks like the Viet Cong did. A major offensive against Abu Ghraib prison on April 2 ended without a single U.S. soldier killed or a single Iraqi prisoner freed, while an estimated 60 insurgents were slain.
The biggest weakness of the insurgency is that it is morphing from a war of national liberation into a revolutionary struggle against an elected government. That's a crucial difference. Since 1776, wars of national liberation have usually succeeded because nationalism is such a strong force. Revolutions against despots, from Czar Nicholas II to the shah of Iran, often succeed too, because there is no way to redress grievances within the political process. Successful uprisings against elected governments are much rarer because leaders with political legitimacy can more easily rally the population and accommodate aggrieved elements...
...The biggest advantage the insurgents still have, aside from their total disdain for human life, is that they can get reinforcements from abroad to make up for their heavy losses. The coalition needs to do a better job of policing the Syrian border and pressuring Damascus to crack down on the influx of jihadis.
But even if the border gets sealed, pacifying Iraq will be a long, hard slog
that will ultimately be up to the Iraqis. The U.S. needs to show a little patience.
If we don't cut and run prematurely, Iraqi democracy can survive its birth pangs.
Posted on: Thursday, June 23, 2005 - 14:18
[Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University. She holds the Brown Chair in Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where she is a Visiting Senior Fellow and edits the Brookings Papers on Education Policy. Dr. Ravitch is on the Board of Trustees of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.]
It seems our math educators no longer believe in the beauty and power of the principles of mathematics. They are continually in search of a fix that will make it easy, relevant, fun, and even politically relevant. In the early 1990s, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issued standards that disparaged basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, since all of these could be easily performed on a calculator. The council preferred real life problem solving, using everyday situations. Attempts to solve problems without basic skills caused some critics, especially professional mathematicians, to deride the "new, new math" as "rainforest algebra."
In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 "contemporary mathematics" textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter "F" included "factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions, and functions." In the 1998 book, the index listed "families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises, and fund-raising carnival."...
...Partisans of social justice mathematics advocate an explicitly political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization, and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood." Others include "The Transnational Capital Auction," "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media, and environmental racism. The theory behind the book is that "teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible." Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics in relation to their students' race, gender, ethnicity, and community.
This fusion of political correctness and relevance may be the next big thing to rock mathematics education, appealing as it does to political activists and to ethnic chauvinists...
Posted on: Thursday, June 23, 2005 - 13:53
[Mr. Rakove is the Coe Professor of History and American Studies at Stanford University]
Ralph Nader and Kevin Zeese have summoned Americans once again to utter those fearsome words that ordinarily dare not speak their name: "high crimes and misdemeanors" and, more provocative still, the I-word, impeachment. The objects of their incantations are President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and the occasion is the systematic misrepresentation of intelligence about WMD that provided the now-discredited pretext for the invasion of Iraq. Since the evidence of the administration's dissembling (or "disassembling," as a recent Bushism has it) failed to sway a majority of the electorate last fall, impeachment is the last option available for those who naively believe that every political wrong must have its remedy -- and sooner rather than later.
Why would anyone even bother to make this argument? One would have to suspend oodles -- nay, caboodles -- of disbelief to imagine a scenario under which impeachment proceedings could even begin, much less make any headway in a Republican House. And even with impeachment, how could a two-thirds vote for conviction in the Senate possibly be mustered (or maybe the word is really "mustarded")?
But let's suspend our disbelief for a moment. Politically unrealistic as Nader has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be, an abstract case could be made for uttering the I-word with the current administration in mind. For one thing, the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 set the bar for "high crimes and misdemeanors" so low that any subsequent president could legitimately worry about this generally moribund provision of our Constitution being deployed against him whenever an opposition party controlling Congress found it convenient to do so.
For another, a decision to initiate a war that depended on the calculated misrepresentation of information on the scale alleged against this administration plausibly falls within the unspecified category of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that the framers of the Constitution belatedly added to their original list, limited to treason and bribery. The fact that this original deception was accompanied by a wholesale failure to plan for the occupation presumably compounds the case for impeachment.
It is worth noting, though, that the framers adopted "high crimes and misdemeanors" only after they had first rejected George Mason's proposal to add "maladministration" to the list of impeachable offenses. In James Madison's view, "So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate." Gouverneur Morris added a further objection. "An election of [the president] every four years will prevent maladministration."
Doubtless Morris was overly optimistic in thinking that the promise of reelection would always persuade incumbents to avoid "maladministration" or offer the country relief in case they failed to do so. But his rationale for linking impeachment to the election cycle identifies another compelling reason for ignoring the Nader-Zeese proposal -- assuming, that is, that we're still taking it seriously.
Simply put, Americans know as much now about the defects in the administration's case for war as we did when we voted in November. True, some details have been added here and there. Additional months of insurgency and countless bombings have repeatedly confirmed how poorly our highest leaders planned for the aftermath of an initial battlefield victory. But the nation had as much information last fall as it needed to make an informed judgment about the rationale for war and the conduct of the occupation. And the challenger, John Kerry, certainly did the best he could to place these issues at the heart of his campaign. Even if large numbers of Bush supporters proved incapable of absorbing this information, their votes do not count any the less for having been cast in self-imposed ignorance.
There is, moreover, a deeper constitutional nexus between the regularity of the election cycle and the spasmodic history of presidential impeachments. Why do we have an impeachment clause at all in the Constitution? It was not because the practice was so well established and venerated in England that the framers simply adopted it uncritically. Though the English practice of impeachment arose in the Middle Ages (the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" dates to the 1380s), it had become so thoroughly politicized in the 17th century that it had essentially faded from use. (But it was being revived just about the time the framers were meeting, in Edmund Burke's campaign to impeach Warren Hastings, the governor-general of India.)
A better answer requires asking how the adoption of the impeachment clause reflects the general difficulties the framers faced in designing the presidency. Two reasons for the adoption of that clause stand out.
First, the presidency is the sole institution in which the Constitution vests the whole power of an entire branch of government in a single individual. In the other political branches, decision making is collective, and the capacity of individuals to subvert governance is greatly diminished. In the judiciary, the special circumstance of tenure during good behavior also made a mechanism for removal necessary. With the presidency, the concentration of power in a single person established its own rationale for a constitutional procedure for removal. (The same circumstance, by the way, satisfactorily explains why this is the one office reserved to natural-born citizens.)
But there was another reason why the peculiar problem of the presidency made something like the impeachment clause seemingly necessary. Of all the institutions the framers designed, this was the most novel, and the one whose political qualities and characteristics were most difficult to predict. There was simply no precedent in 18th century political science for a national executive elected on republican principles. The framers repeatedly looped around on the subject during their debates and fixed on the zany innovation of the Electoral College only at the last minute. Even then, few of them thought the electors would regularly produce a majority for any candidate.
Given their reigning uncertainty about how presidents would actually be chosen, it made a great deal of sense to adopt an impeachment clause for a system whose operations were so difficult to predict. The great irony here is that the election system has generally worked much better than the framers envisioned, usually producing decisive and unchallengeable results. The Y2K election that installed George W. Bush in the presidency is, of course, one of a handful of notable exceptions to this rule. The last election, however, was not. An informed electorate made its choice, and for better or worse, we are stuck with the consequences.
Posted on: Thursday, June 23, 2005 - 13:43
[Patricia Nelson Limerick, director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado and the author of The Legacy of Conquest and Something in the Soil, is a guest columnist for the NYT.]
The American West, Wallace Stegner once wrote in one of the region's most quoted aphorisms, is "the native home of hope."
Having put this very cheerful sentiment on public record, Mr. Stegner soon began to wonder what on earth had possessed him.With its extraordinary landscapes, wide horizons and great natural resources, the West might qualify as hope's native home. But the West is also - in large part because of these very assets - the second home of tension, conflict, regret, dismay, gloom and bitterness.
Yet for all these miseries, the West has become the return address for my own sense of hope. I have the good luck to be employed as a kind of shuttle diplomat, carrying messages and attempting negotiations among various contending parties in the West today. That work has given me a deep - if perhaps naïve and lamblike - faith that these are great times for bridge building, alliance making and solution finding.
True, we live in an era in which we are told daily, if not hourly, about the intense and draining polarization of our political world, and the West has its own well-developed version. Environmental conflicts - energy production and consumption, water allocation, wildfire management, land-use planning, growth control - provide fine battlegrounds for the display of the rattier aspects of human nature.
But our conflicts present one great advantage: neither major political party offers much in the way of solutions. Consult the platform and mainstream positions of either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party and, on the issues that matter most to the West, you will find yourself contemplating the yawning interior of Mother Hubbard's cupboard...
... The environmental laws - the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act - were national in scope. But they carried particular consequence for the West, given the huge percentage of its lands still under federal management, and the importance of natural resources and natural beauty to local economies.
So a flood of new residents has been colliding and jockeying for position with old-timers and each other. At the very time they were most needed, the ground rules for all this colliding and jockeying were up in the air as the environmental laws were being carried out, applied, interpreted, condemned, defended and second-guessed.
Could anyone have created better conditions for the production and proliferation of conflict, tension, bitterness, litigation and reciprocal demonization?
But now, as many of the various contenders look back at years of energy-draining contention, many of them yearn for a better code of conduct among opponents, a more productive manner of dealing with conflict and a more effective way to distinguish substance from noise in these under-refereed debates.
And with that yearning, hope returns home.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 22, 2005 - 15:54
Republican Congressman Walter B. Jones (famed for insisting that the Congressional cafeteria re-label French fries as"freedom fries" on its menu), a man who represents North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District, home to the Marine's Camp LeJeune, voted enthusiastically for the Iraq War, but recently changed his mind. Last week, he became one of four congressional sponsors of a resolution calling for a timetable for withdrawal."Do we want to be there 20 years, 30 years?" he said at a Capitol Hill news conference."That's why this resolution is so important: We need to take a fresh look at where we are and where we're going."
Various explanations for his unexpected change of mind (and heart) have been offered. In the last lines of a June 13 piece, Sunni-Shiite Quarrel Edges Closer to Political Stalemate (scroll down), New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise made the following connection:
"[Jones's] remarks came two weeks after military commanders told a Congressional delegation visiting Iraq that it would take about two years before enough Iraqi security forces were sufficiently trained to allow the Pentagon to withdraw large numbers of American troops."
About two years. I was struck by that phrase in part because I had just been rereading a piece I wrote less than seven months after our President announced from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." I called it"The Time of Withdrawal" and posted it on October 31, 2003. At the time, I offered the following:
"Two years hence, according to [occupation head] L. Paul Bremer's men in Baghdad, we Americans are still going to be 'reconstructing' the country. In the Pentagon, according to the latest reports, generals are discussing what our troop levels there will be in 2006."
That was then, this is now -- or do I mean, that was now, this is then? After all, as Tavernise and other reporters, quoting our military commanders in Iraq, make clear, we're still that miraculously receding"two years" away from significantly drawing down U.S. forces and having a reconstructed Iraq (not that the reconstruction of Iraq is much mentioned any more). In other words in October 2003, we were talking about 2005-06. In June 2005, we're talking about 2007-08. What's wrong with this picture?
Sadly, if anything, the similarities may be deceptive. After all, at the end of October 2003, it was still possible for most Americans to imagine a pacified -- or as the Bush people would now say,"democratic" -- Iraq by 2005-06. Today, as poll figures indicating fast-sinking support for the war and the President tell us, as edgy monthly casualty figures tell us, as Walter Jones's changed position tells us, as the latest nose-dive in military recruitment figures tells us, as the fact that 35% of Americans, according to a Pew poll, think we are now back in Vietnam tells us, things in Iraq are just getting worse and worse.
John Newton, a reader from Michigan, recently framed this in an interesting way when, after reading a Jonathan Schell piece on our failing attempt to create an Iraqi army, he sent the following into the Tomdispatch e-mail box:
"It occurred to me that we've reached the point where we've got to bribe everyone to fight this war. The Iraqi Army salaries aren't much by our standards, but they are probably twice or three times what an ordinary Iraqi makes. And yet in a place with massive unemployment, they still desert. We have perhaps 20,000 or more" contractors" doing security work who make salaries in the 6 figures to be in Iraq. And now the military is offering signing bonuses of up to $40,000. For a high school kid, that is a down payment on a house and a car. That is not so easy to pass up, but the recruiters still can't get them to sign."
He's right. In a sense, between 2003 and 2005, we've moved decisively to the devolving side of our first free-market war. Before the invasion of Iraq even began, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was eagerly privatizing the Pentagon, stripping its forces, beefing up its technology, and outsourcing many matters which were once distinctly military to the private economy. (In other words, Halliburton, of which our Vice President was previously the CEO, and its subsidiary, KBR, off constructing bases and doing KP.) Hence, even before the invasion of Iraq, when General Eric Shinseki was essentially laughed out of neocon Washington for telling Congress that we would need an army of "several hundred thousand" men to occupy a defeated Iraq, such an army already didn't exist. (The statement was undoubtedly Shinseki's way of saying: Don't go in!)
Next, under the label of"reconstruction," the Bushniacs attempted (catastrophically) to privatize Iraq, more or less turning it over to friendly"free market" corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton (which had the good fortune of getting Global War on Terror goodies coming and going -- it was, after all, responsible for building much of that jewel-in-the-crown in the Bush administration's Bermuda Triangle of Injustice, Guantánamo prison, and only recently got a $30 million contract to add further facilities there). Now, as Newton points out in his letter, the Bush administration is trying to privatize defeat by turning military recruitment in Iraq and at home into a bonus-plus bidding war. Under these circumstances, the draft-era phrase from the Vietnam years,"Hell no, we won't go," is morphing into the Volunteer Army phrase,"Hell, no, I won't join."
Withdrawal on the Agenda
Back in 2003, when I wrote"The Time of Withdrawal," I offered the following simple summary of our situation and why withdrawal should be on the American agenda:
"History, long term and more recent, is not on our side.
"We are a war-making and an occupying force, not a peacekeeping force.
"We never planned to leave Iraq.
"Time is against us.
"Or to boil all this down to a sentence: We are not and never have been the solution to the problem of Iraq, but a significant part of the problem."
I wouldn't change a word. In October of 2003, however, the"time of withdrawal" was distinctly not upon us. Now -- finally -- it is. We seem to have reached the actual moment when the idea of"withdrawal," at least, is being placed on the American agenda -- by the unlikely Walter Jones, among others. This is, of course, a far worse moment for withdrawal than in 2003, for Iraqis as well as Americans, just as 2007 will be worse than today.
But at least it's here. How can we tell? Several signs (other than just the Congressional resolution) point to its arrival. First of all, there's the return of Vietnam. It's on everyone's mind these days -- and not just because our President is at the moment welcoming the Vietnamese prime minister to the White House and announcing that a visit to our former enemy's land is in the offing. (Keep in mind that when Richard Nixon started feeling the combined pressure of Vietnam/Watergate, he used travel to strange lands -- think: Communist China and the Soviet Union -- as a way to try to distract public attention.)
Representative Jones, for instance, recently said:"When I think about what happened in Vietnam -- we lost 58,000 -- I wonder, Wouldn't it have been nice if, two years into the war, some representatives would have said, 'Mr. President, where [are] we going?'" At about the same time, Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Staff,"alluded to the precedent of Vietnam, in which plummeting public support for the war was blamed for undercutting the U.S. effort." You could pile up such examples endlessly.
Perhaps more important, the President is now working off what clearly seems to be the Vietnam playbook -- Lyndon Johnson's playbook circa 1967. Like Johnson, facing falling polling figures and calls for withdrawal, he is staging a series of major addresses to"reassure" the American people (and shore up those polls). Just last Saturday on the radio, in his radio address, he declared that there would be no cutting-and-running for him, no withdrawal option at all:"This mission isn't easy," he said,"and it will not be accomplished overnight. We're fighting a ruthless enemy that relishes the killing of innocent men, women, and children. By making their stand in Iraq, the terrorists have made Iraq a vital test for the future security of our country and the free world. We will settle for nothing less than victory."
Words to eat, of course.
As readers never hesitate to remind me, Iraq is not Vietnam -- or as Daniel Ellsberg put it sardonically,"In Iraq, it's a dry heat. And the language that none of our troops or diplomats speak is Arabic rather than Vietnamese." But the Vietnam experience is fused into American consciousness in such a way that, the minute things start to go wrong, our leaders find themselves, almost helplessly, following that Vietnam playbook. So, as we enter the terrain of withdrawal, we should be thinking about Vietnam as well. The withdrawal resolution Jones and his co-sponsors put forward was, on the face of it, Vietnam-ish in the sense that it had relatively little to do with actual withdrawal. (In the Vietnam years, almost every"withdrawal" plan or strategy that came out of Washington had a great deal to do with keeping us in Vietnam, not getting us out.) This particular resolution evidently proposes that, by the fall of 2005, the administration create a"timetable" for a withdrawal to be begun the following fall of 2006 (with no designated end in sight, nor total withdrawal, it seems, even mentioned). This is, on the face of it, a non-withdrawal withdrawal proposal.
But the details may make little difference. The Bush administration, which could essentially have accepted the proposal and had endless"withdrawal" time to spare, attacked it strongly because what they can see -- as well they should -- is the first cracks appearing in Republican Party support. You know something's happening when Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel says"Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq"; or Republican Senator from Florida Mel Martinez pronounces himself"discouraged" by the"lack of progress" in Iraq. This is no small thing. This is not a party that is eager to be pulled into a Vietnam-like hell and then swept out of Congress in 2006 or 2008. As University of North Carolina professor (and former U.S. Air Force historian) Richard Kohn puts it:"You've got Republican grandees in the Senate who probably aren't willing to put up with this much longer."
So here we are on Vietnam-like withdrawal turf, and one sure sign of that is the sudden foregrounding of a series of predictions about the horrors that would occur if the United States were to withdraw from Iraq. These are well summed up in a recent piece by Richard Whittle of the Dallas Morning News (Experts: Iraq withdrawal now would be bad idea). According to the"foreign policy experts" Whittle interviewed, these nightmare scenarios could"at worst" include:
"A civil war in Iraq resulting in far greater bloodshed than the current conflict, though presumably without further U.S. losses.
"The transformation of western Iraq, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims, into a haven for international terrorists from al-Qaida and other groups.
"A collapse of U.S. credibility among nations of the Middle East, whose leaders would probably distance themselves from Washington.
"A collapse of the Bush administration's push for democracy in the region.
"Instability in the Persian Gulf that could lead to steep increases in oil prices, driving the cost of gasoline beyond current record levels."
Now, here's the fascinating thing when you look over a list like this: All these predicted nightmares-to-come constitute a collective warning not to act in a certain way; but each of the specific potential nightmares also represents a phenomenon intensifying at this very moment exactly because we are in Iraq. Each is in operation now largely because we have almost 140,000 troops on the ground in that country; a vast intelligence and diplomatic network, a shadow government, embedded in a kind of Forbidden City in Baghdad's Green Zone; humungous military bases all over the land, some of which have the look of permanency; an Air Force that is periodically loosed to bomb heavily populated urban areas of Iraq -- all of this, in a very foreign land which, under any circumstances, would be hostile to such an alien presence.
Between the moment in late 2003 when I wrote"The Time of Withdrawal" and today, Iraq has, in fact, crept ever closer to some kind of civil war -- it may already have begun; Western Iraq has been transformed into a"haven" for terrorists and jihadis; American" credibility" has collapsed not just in the Middle East but globally; the Bush push for"democracy" does look embattled; and oil prices, which in 2003 were surely hovering around $30 a barrel, are now up at double that price, while Iraq is almost incapable of exporting significant amounts of oil and"instability" in the Gulf has risen significantly.
A similar situation played itself out in Vietnam back when nightmarish visions of what might happen if we withdrew ("the bloodbath") became so much a part of public debate that the bloodbath actually taking place in Vietnam was sometimes overshadowed by it. Prediction is a risky business. Terrible things might indeed happen if we withdrew totally from Iraq, or they might not; or they might -- but not turn out to be the ones we've been dreaming about; or perhaps if we committed to departure in a serious way, the situation would actually ease. We don't know. That's the nature of the future. All we know at the moment, based on the last two years, is what is likely to happen if we stay -- which is more and worse of the very nightmares we fear if we leave.
The most essential problem in such thinking is the belief that, if we just hang in there long enough, the United States will be capable of solving the Iraqi crisis. That is inconceivable, since the U.S. presence is now planted firmly at the heart of the crisis to be solved.
One guarantee: the Bush administration won't hesitate to deploy such fantasies of future disaster to paralyze present thinking and planning. Expect it. And it will be all too easy to take our eyes off this disastrous moment and enter their world of grim future dreams. After all, they already live in a kind of ruling fantasy world. They step to the podium regularly, their hands dipped in blood, call it wine or nectar, and insist that the rest of the world drink. They will be eager to trade in their best future nightmares so that the present nightmare can continue. (They argue, by the way, for the use of torture, under whatever name, in quite a similar fashion, proposing future nightmares -- let's say we held a terrorist who had knowledge of an impending nuclear explosion in a major American city and you only had two hours to get that information from him, what would you do? -- in order to justify the ongoing horrors at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base and other places.)
Returning to what I wrote in October 2003, on only one point was I wrong, I believe. I wrote then:
"What is bad now for us – and for the Iraqis – will only be worse later. The resistance will be greater, more organized, and more determined. Our allies, both within and without Iraq, ever more distant; American troops more isolated, angry, and embattled; money in shorter supply; military morale lower; and the antiwar movement here stronger."
Generally on the money, except when it came to the antiwar movement. I was, of course, projecting from the huge antiwar marches of the prewar moment. But so far, at least, Iraq has not proved to be Vietnam when it comes to an antiwar movement; or rather, it's as if we had arrived at the end of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement first. In 1972, when the non-military part of that movement more or less collapsed, the antiwar soldiers remained. Vietnam Veterans Against the War was the official name of the main organization they formed, but the military in Vietnam itself was in near-revolt -- rising desertions and AWOLs, fraggings,"search and avoid" missions (where patrols just left perimeters and then sat out their assigned duties), escalating drug use, demonstrations by veterans in the U.S., and so on.
In the Iraq War, though in a far more modest way so far, the antiwar movement has been emerging in large part from the world of the military itself -- from worried parents of soldiers and would-be soldiers, angry spouses of soldiers in danger or killed in Iraq, and (slowly and quietly) from within the military itself. This is what has moved Rep. Walter B. Jones. Along with growing cracks in the Republican Party, the alienation of the military (including many officers who clearly believe that Iraq=madness) is a real threat -- perhaps the only real withdrawal threat at present. Predicting the future is a chancy thing to attempt. We humans are notoriously lousy at it. This I was incapable of fully imagining.
Otherwise, read my October 2003 piece. Withdrawal is now on the agenda, not just ours but the Iraqi one as well. Just the other day in a letter, "82 Shiite, Kurdish, Sunni Arab, Christian and communist legislators," just under a third of the newly elected Iraqi parliament, called for the withdrawal of American occupation forces. Given this administration, withdrawal is likely to be on the agenda for a long time to come. But that shouldn't stop us. Let the thoughts pour out. Let the plans pour in. (Note that Juan Cole at his always invaluable Informed Comment website has recently taken a first stab at offering a reasonable withdrawal plan, one involving the UN. Don't hold your breath, of course, if John Bolton arrives at UN headquarters after being rejected by the Senate.
I hope to return to the issue of such plans next week. In the meantime, let me just end on another letter that came into the Tomdispatch email box recently. It's a reminder -- the sort that Rep. Jones evidently got in his district -- that there is a complex constituency out there, people connected to soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women deployed in or around Iraq, who are also considering what we really should be doing and how our world actually works in fascinating and sometimes inspiring ways.
"My grandson's father came home from Iraq two weeks ago. He is one of the lucky ones as the Air Force appears (I have no documentation either way) to not be in harms way over there, but time will tell.
"I am happy for my grandson and his father. My only concern now is the 1,700 men and women who have died needlessly in this unholy war -- my version as a devout Catholic, but I believe all Christian people regardless of their religious beliefs, not the religious right, but the true Christians who believe in and pray for peace are against this war. Let us not forget that Muslims also pray to the same God we do, and believe we are doing them harm by occupying their country, so naturally, they feel God is on their side. There is too much labeling going on in the media right now and it is difficult to watch. We all have a birth-right to follow our conscience, without judgment or bias from the media.
"What concerns me is most Americans are just like me, trying to squeak out a living, pay their mortgage, pay their bills and take care of their children, and grandchildren. Example, I hit the ground running each day, fire up the laptop, answer the endless email requests I receive at work, spend long hours at work due to the volume and corporate greed which keeps our VPs from hiring enough staff, so all of us carry the jobs of two or more people. I grew up here and now that I'm 53, I think my state is going to hell in a hand-basket (pardon the expression).
"I have an interesting parallel going on in my life. My son has a Vietnamese girlfriend who is as cute as a button (she came here when she was a year old) and her dad has returned to Vietnam to live, and my son and his girlfriend are considering visiting there in the next year.
"When our boys were in Vietnam, it never for a moment crossed my mind that in my wildest dreams any of my descendents, let alone my only son, would even think of going to visit Vietnam. It was unthinkable because of the war, which we thought would never end.
"Next slide: can you picture your grandchildren visiting Iraq on vacation? No, I can't imagine it either. But it brings me back to the fact that war is momentary, even if it lasts for 20 years, and then life changes, making things we never thought possible, possible.
"I hope and pray we can get out of Iraq sooner, not later, or another 20 years of conflict and another 58,000 of our men and women will have lost their lives for nothing. There was absolutely no reason to start this war and it's brought pain and suffering to many parents in America and many citizens of Iraq.
"Don't get me wrong, I pray every day for the men and women who are over there; I know they are following orders and went into the military with open and true hearts. As a country, we have let them down. I said when George W. became president in January 2001, I'd be lucky if my job was still there by the end of his presidency, never dreaming he would be in office for 8 years.
"Well, off to get ready for another Monday. Please keep our soldiers and their parents in your prayers. I came so close to losing my daughter in the hospital in ‘99, and still can't imagine what it's like to lose a child; I'm grateful I didn't and pray for those who have.
"We can't give up on ending this war, but we have to find a better way to mobilize America. We can't give up. I pray every, every day for an end to this. Take care and Godspeed..."
It's up to all of us to consider the timing and the time of withdrawal.
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: Wednesday, June 22, 2005 - 05:03
What is a "fact?" In an age beset by bitter disputes about reality, the word itself, and its close relative "truth," become embattled. "Let the facts speak for themselves," historians, politicians and columnists like to say, but facts do not speak — they must be interpreted and spoken for. And then, , what is observed is altered by the observer's presence. Facts shift, depending on who is interpreting them.
In war, as Aeschylus said nearly 3,000 years ago, truth is the first casualty. Solid, reliable facts and objective truths, always hard to define, become more elusive in times of heightened conflict. The "war on terror" is a new sort of conflict, but truth is certainly embattled and the facts themselves are under heavy fire from all sides, and are daily receiving near-fatal wounds.
For example, l'affaire Gitmo. In May, an Amnesty International report brands the American internment camp at Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our time," provoking a furious response by the Bush administration, and, soon enough, Amnesty backs down...
...Conservative American bias, which helps to establish what we might call "conservative facts," goes something like this: There's a war on, and these detainees are our sworn and mortal enemies. Why so much fuss about the treatment of men whose allies actually decapitate their prisoners?...
...And liberal American bias, which helps to establish "liberal facts," might go something like this: The Bush administration's disregard for the human rights of its Gitmo and Abu Ghraib prisoners is an echo of its disregard for civil liberties back home. The two battles are the same battle, and it may be a more important battle to win than the invisible war against the fanatics.
Meanwhile, the view from outside America — which helps to create what one might call "non-American facts," facts interpreted through a mounting cynicism about the "truth" — is that the U.S. has been giving itself too many good reviews lately, excusing its soldiers from any blame in the matter of the March 4 shooting of the Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari who was escorting the freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena to safety, and excusing all but a few, relatively low-ranking "rotten apples" for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, and finding that only two of five incidents of Qur'anic desecration at Gitmo were deliberate — even though one of the "accidents" took place when a guard urinated near an air vent behind which an inmate was sleeping, and how accidental does that sound?
I have some sympathy with all three "biases." Self-investigation followed by self-exoneration is never convincing. However, it's hard to work up genuine sympathy for a failure of niceties toward people who would never consider upholding such niceties in return — to stick up for the human rights of people who despise the idea of human rights.
And yet the growing evidence of ugly behaviour by American military personnel is distressing in the extreme, not because of the injury to the detainees, but because of the injury to ourselves, to our identity as free and moral people living "under law," to our sense of what we stand for and who we are. That identity is, or should be, something that conservatives and liberals should both be determined to defend...
...There are lines of Marti's that are relevant here.
"Anyone who offends against the sacred freedom of our adversaries is reprehensible, and the more so if he or she does it in the name of freedom," Marti wrote. "There is no forgiveness for acts of hatred. Daggers thrust in the name of liberty are thrust into liberty's heart."
Marti's words, his "truths," allow us — indeed encourage us — to judge attacks by fanatics harshly. But even as we judge others, we should look in the mirror and say the words again.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 22, 2005 - 02:35
I admire the work of Reuel Gerecht, an insightful and prolific writer on matters Middle Eastern, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard. In 1997, I called his book, Know Thine Enemy (written under his-then pseudonym, Edward Shirley) a “quite brilliant spy’s report.”
But Gerecht has lately become the most prominent voice of the responsible right to advocate welcoming radical Islam’s coming to power. Toward this end, he offers aphorisms such as “Bin Laden-ism can only be gutted by fundamentalists” and “Moderate Muslims are not the answer. Shiite clerics and Sunni fundamentalists are our salvation from future 9/11s.”
In a short book, The Islamic Paradox: Shiite Clerics, Sunni Fundamentalists and the Coming of Arab Democracy, Gerecht lays out his views. Unlike the appeasers and the wooly-minded, he neither pre-empts nor deludes himself. His analysis is hardheaded, even clever. But his conclusion is fundamentally flawed.
How should Washington deal with radical Islam’s continuing rise among Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims? Gerecht’s reply emerges from the contrasting histories of Iran and Algeria.
In Iran, the Islamists have ruled the country since 1979, prompting a widespread disaffection from radical Islam that has even reached the upper ranks of the religious hierarchy. Time magazine recently quoted one young Iranian calling his society “an utter catastrophe” and explaining that the youth there try to act as though the Islamic republic does not even exist. In Gerecht’s words, “Twenty-six years after the fall of the shah, Iran’s jihadist culture is finished.”
Islamism has turned out to be its own best antidote. (Not coincidentally, so was communism.)
In Algeria, however, Gerecht finds that the repression of radical Islam led to disaster. As Islamists were on their way to an electoral victory in 1992, the military stepped in and aborted the voting, leading to years of civil war. Washington acceded to this coup d'état because of what Gerecht calls a belief that “the dictatorial regimes we supported, no matter how unpleasant, were more likely to evolve politically in a direction we wanted than elected fundamentalists who did not really believe in democracy.”
Looking back, Gerecht deems the Algeria policy a mistake. An Islamist electoral victory in 1992 “might have diverted the passion and energies” of those many Algerians who took up violence. As in Iran, Islamism in power would likely have stimulated a rejection of the simplistic ideology that Islam has all the answers.
He concludes that Washington should put aside its misgivings and encourage Sunni Islamists competing in elections. Let them come to power, discredit themselves, alienate their subject populations, and then be thrown into the dustbin of history.
To my slogan, “Radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution,” Gerecht replies, “Moderate Muslims are not the answer.” His view can be summarized as “Radical Islam is both the problem and the solution.” This homeopathic approach, admittedly, has a certain logic. Socially, Iran is in better shape than Algeria.
But the Islamist grip on power in Iran has exacted an immense human and strategic toll. Tehran engaged in six years (1982-88) of offensive military operations against Iraq and currently is intensely aspiring to deploy nuclear weaponry. Algiers poses no comparable problems. Had Islamists taken power in Algeria, the negative repercussions would have been similarly devastating.
In accepting the horrors of Islamist rule, Gerecht is unnecessarily defeatist. Rather than passively accept decades of totalitarian rule, Washington should actively help Muslim countries navigate from autocracy to democracy without passing through an Islamist phase.
This is indeed achievable. As I wrote a decade ago in response to the Algerian crisis, instead of focusing on quick elections, which almost always benefit the Islamists, the U.S. government should shift its efforts to slower and deeper goals: “political participation, the rule of law (including an independent judiciary), freedom of speech and religion, property rights, minority rights, and the right to form voluntary organizations (especially political parties).” Elections should only follow on the achievement of these steps. Realistically, they could well take decades to achieve.
Elections should culminate the democratic process, not start it. They ought to celebrate civil society successfully achieved. Once such a civil society exists (as it does in Iran but not in Algeria), voters are unlikely to vote Islamists into power.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 21, 2005 - 18:50