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.
SOURCE: Japan Focus (9-2-05)
Although Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro made two diplomatic visits to North Korea in the last four years, raising prospects of a breakthrough in Japan-North Korea relations, progress on normalization remains stalled. Several major conflicts hang over the discussions: North Korea’s overall military posture, its nuclear weapons program, and its abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. In order to return to the negotiating table and resolve these issues, the two countries must not only address their outstanding disputes but also grapple with the historical roots of the conflict.
History remains an open wound in Japanese-Korean relations. The citizens of both Koreas endured great suffering and harm under Japanese colonial rule. Yet when Japan normalized relations with South Korea in 1965, it expressed no regret or apology for the past. Only in August 1995 did Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi express Japan’s regret and apology for the pain and harm done by the four decades of colonialism. Three years later, the governments of Japan and South Korea signed a Joint Declaration affirming the contents of the Murayama Statement. Yet, even after forty years of normalization and with millions of people and billions of dollars of goods crossing each year between the two countries, the wounds inflicted by Japanese imperialism are scarcely healed and easily inflamed. For instance, when Japan laid claim to a disputed island between the two countries – Tokdo (in Korean) or Takeshima (in Japanese) – heated demonstrations broke out throughout South Korea. A subsequent speech by South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun in March 2005 roundly criticized Japan, describing the Murayama Statement and the Joint Declaration of 1998 as inadequate.
However belated and incomplete, the process of normalization between Japan and South Korea has at least been underway for forty years. Japan’s relationship with the northern half of the peninsula is considerably less advanced. For instance, until 2002, Japan neglected even to apologize to North Korea. If history remains a contested issue between Tokyo and Seoul, it is an even thornier topic between Tokyo and Pyongyang. North Korea’s founder and first leader was an anti-Japanese partisan leader, Kim Il Sung. The fierce hatred between the partisans and the Japanese “bandit suppression” forces became the very founding spirit of the country. This history makes a Japanese apology and expression of regret for that past indispensable to the normalization of relations.
Japan’s role in the Korean War is also a sore point. When the United States entered the war to assist South Korea, Japan automatically became an important base for U.S. military, logistical and technical activities. Japan’s National Railway, Coast Guard, and Red Cross all cooperated in the war on the U.S. side. Japanese sailors led the 1st Marine Division to their Inchon landing, and minesweepers of the Japanese coast guard cleared the way for U.S. forces to land at Wonsan. Throughout the war, U.S. B-29 bombers from Yokota (near Tokyo) and Kadena (in Okinawa) flew ceaseless bombing raids on North Korean towns, dams, and other facilities. Japan did not decide to provide this support in accordance with any decision by its government. As a defeated and occupied country, it was unconditionally obliged to obey the orders of the occupation forces. Although the Japanese people therefore have no sense or memory of having participated in this war, North Korea considers Japan a belligerent country that provided full support for the United States and South Korea.
For 52 years since the cessation of hostilities, the ceasefire in the Korean War has persisted without a peace treaty. U.S. bases are still in Japan, and Japan and North Korea remain locked in confrontation. During this time, North Korea engaged in irregular activities to gather intelligence on U.S. and Japanese bases, sending spy vessels and agents with false passports, and at times abducting Japanese people in order, presumably, to secure passports for spies sent overseas. In the 1990s, the development and deployment of medium-range missiles and the suspicions over North Korean nuclear weapon development plans heightened tensions between the two countries. As victims of the 1945 U.S. nuclear attack, the Japanese people are extremely sensitive to the emergence of any new nuclear weapon-possessing country among its neighbors. Ending the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the deployment of its missiles aimed at Japan is a major subject for Japan-North Korea negotiations. Naturally the North Korean side will also make proposals about U.S. bases in Japan.
In September 1990, nearly half a century after the end of colonial rule, negotiations between Japan and North Korea began on these matters. North Korea had begun to rethink its position following the end of the Cold War and the opening of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and South Korea. The Japanese government knocked on North Korea’s door, expressing regret over past colonial rule, and a mission went to Pyongyang consisting of Kanemaru Shin of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Tanabe Makoto of the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) bearing a personal letter from Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru. A three-party (LDP, JSP, and Workers Party of Korea) declaration on normalization was adopted. The Japanese side expressed an apology and a desire to compensate for the misery and misfortune caused by 36 years of Japanese colonialism and for the losses incurred in the 45 years since, and a readiness to open diplomatic relations.
Japan-North Korea negotiations on normalization then opened in January 1991, continued until May 1992, before breaking down following the eighth round. Combining to block progress were Japan’s resistance to any compensation for post-1945 “losses” to North Korea (despite the “Three Party Agreement  the negative attitude of the South Korean government toward any Japanese rapprochement with North Korea, suspicions over the North Korean nuclear program, and, not least, U.S. pressures on Japan. Kanemaru himself was arrested on corruption charges in November 1992. In 1995, the Murayama cabinet made an effort to reopen negotiations, but ended up only providing some rice aid to the North. It was not an opportune time for rapprochement. Missile tests and various spy ship encroachments into Japanese waters complicated negotiations as did the nuclear crisis that in 1993-94 brought the United States and North Korea to the brink of war.
More ominously, another issue gradually came to overshadow all other concerns: North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens fifteen years earlier. The suspicions began in the 1980s. Then, in 1987, KAL Flight 858 exploded over the Andaman Sea, killing all 115 people aboard. South Korean courts convicted a North Korean woman named Kim Hyon Hui, who had been traveling on a fake Japanese passport. She stated that a woman abducted from Japan, whom she knew as Lee Eun Hye, had taught her Japanese . A few years later, a North Korean agent who had defected to South Korea gave evidence that he had seen a woman named Megumi at a training facility for agents. Yokota Megumi was thirteen years old when she disappeared from the Japanese port city of Niigata in 1977. Her parents immediately took up her case, giving rise to the movement for the rescue of abducted Japanese. The issue of the abductions became – and remains in 2005 - the major single stumbling block to reconciliation.
[Click on the Source link above to read the rest of this article.]
Posted on: Monday, September 19, 2005 - 15:45
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (9-19-05)
Is Hurricane Katrina "our tsunami," as the mayor of Biloxi, Miss., A.J. Holloway, has said? Does it make sense to compare today's disaster to a catastrophe that killed upward of 200,000 impoverished people, injured roughly half a million, displaced millions more, and was felt across a huge geographic span that included Sumatra, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and eastern Africa?
In searching for meaning in the current calamity, we can learn something about the root causes of such disasters by pinpointing the proper historical analogy.
Although it is no doubt an overstatement to compare Katrina to the 2004 tsunami, the two have some things in common. Both demonstrated the vulnerability of the poor in the face of natural calamity: Consider Katrina's victims who suffered through the aftermath at the Superdome and convention center. That was a man-made disaster that clearly could have been averted if the federal government, specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had quickly marshaled the political will and resources to evacuate those without access to cars, instead of promoting on its Web site a faith-based charity that was clearly no match for the problem.
Likewise, both disasters demonstrated the tragic consequences of reckless coastal development. In Asia, industrial fish farms, tourist resorts, and refineries combined over the last generation to destroy huge stretches of coastal mangrove forest. The forest helps stabilize the land, and offers a form of natural protection that can soften the blow of a tsunami. Bangladesh experienced many fewer deaths in the disaster because of the conservation of its coastal mangroves than did Indonesia, where two-thirds of the forest has been destroyed.
In New Orleans, meanwhile, the dredging of channels to accommodate petrochemical companies has compromised huge amounts of marshland. Such changes, combined with the erosion of the area's barrier islands, and the Bush administration's policy of opening up more wetlands to development, weakened the natural frontline defense against a hurricane storm surge and left the city more vulnerable to death and destruction.
Both disasters also show the problems with neoliberal imperatives, based in a theory of political economy that idealizes the free market and chips away at the public sector at home, while worshiping at the altar of free trade and investment abroad. Foreign capital, whether in the form of tourism or the cash-cropping of fish, played a role in opening the coast around the Indian Ocean to the destructive force of the tsunami. In the aftermath of the disaster, the World Bank is leading the effort to expand the reach of those very same enterprises at the expense of the poor. The poor suffered the most in the calamity, and they are now experiencing the brutalizing effects of what the activist journalist Naomi Klein has rightly termed "disaster capitalism," as foreign corporations seek to profit from the reconstruction while the residents of the fishing villages that formerly occupied the area are being forced to relocate. In June 2005 Oxfam found that because the flow of aid has tended to go to business people and landowners, many of the poor have been made even poorer by the disaster....
After Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, President Bush, sounding much like state officials in Florida in the 1920s, said:"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Seeing the calamity as primarily the work of unforeseen and unpredictable forces, however, amounts to a form of moral hand-washing.
In fact, multiple warnings had gone out. FEMA has known about the potential for large loss of life in New Orleans, probably for a generation. Ten years ago Weatherwise magazine called New Orleans"the Death Valley of the Gulf Coast" because the city is surrounded by water and not particularly well served by major roadways. In 2000, in talking about the general decline in death rates from natural disasters in the 20th century, I called attention in my book Acts of God to New Orleans and wrote:"Think twice before assuming that high death tolls are a thing of the past." Mark Fischetti, a contributing editor to Scientific American, made the same prediction in an excellent report in the magazine in 2001. The journalists John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein reported extensively in 2002 on the potential for calamity in The Times-Picayune. And as recently as May 2005, Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center, was quoted as saying,"I can't emphasize enough how concerned I am with southeast Louisiana because of its unique characteristics, its complex levee system."
Is the current disaster the American tsunami? No, it's the Hurricane Katrina calamity. But the same blind faith in the free market and private enterprise, coupled with the brutal downsizing of the public sector, and a very explicit pattern of denial in the face of impending natural calamity, help explain why America's most vulnerable saw their lives washed out to sea.
Posted on: Monday, September 19, 2005 - 15:06
Twice a year, two-score Midwest historians of Christianity, more of them Roman Catholic than not, gather at the Cushwa Center at the University of Notre Dame. We celebrate and criticize one book each meeting. This time it was Catholic University of America Professor Leslie Woodcock Tentler's Catholics and Contraception: An American History -- a prize winner, and deservedly so. Two Catholic historians offered formal critical responses, and then the rest of us joined in.
Professor Tentler is not an ideologue or an angry rebel. There was anger, but more than that, pain was evident in the book and in her presentation -- though both the pain and the anger were enlivened by humor. She chronicles the attempt by bishops and priests to enforce anti-birth control measures in the first half of the previous century, and then observes the devastation to church discipline and authority that followed when too few Catholics believed in the strictures, or found that the strictures did not match their experiences.
Tentler tells of the millions of Catholics who tried -- oh! they tried -- to follow the teachings, and how at first they enjoyed the adjustments that came with gradual support for "family-planned" "natural methods" of limiting numbers of children. As an old hell-spotter on the margins of texts, I found the margins of my copy of the book getting cluttered with notations of "hell" and "purgatory." Women who really believed in the values of obedience and confession had to confess, and regularly heard that if they remained engaged in family planning, hell was their destiny. Mission preachers in religious orders were most up-front, mainly because they could move on a few days after preaching a mission. Parish priests often came across as a much more understanding and humane lot, since they dealt continuously with parents of eleven or twelve children who could not, in Depression times, bear having a thirteenth.
"Don't profane your holy matrimony with practices which fill heaven with disgust and hell with chuckling grins," preached one missioner against coitus interruptus. New York's Archbishop Hayes: "To take life after its inception is a horrible crime; but to prevent life that the Creator is about to bring into being is satanic ... [because] not only a body but an immortal soul is denied existence in time and eternity ... [through that] diabolical thing," birth control. Something had to give, and most everything did, after Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1967, against the advice of most of his appointed counselors. He argued that to depart from the teaching of previous popes would lead to loss of papal authority. It turns out that not departing did.
Today there are movements among some Catholics to counter the practices most have adopted, as they advocate "natural methods" or ascetic life among married couples. Tentler would probably enjoy overhearing authorized and encouraged dialogues and arguments between that minority and everybody else. But, she and others rued, since Humanae Vitae, after which such dialogue was discouraged or forbidden, "we lack a structure for even discussing these things."
Lacking a structure means that battles are fought among activists and editorialists who can blast the "other side," but find no forum to talk to the other, or to listen. Such a breakdown of structure afflicts many non-Catholic Christians, too. Catholics report that priests today rarely bring up the subject. Silence.
Posted on: Monday, September 19, 2005 - 14:39
SOURCE: Washington Post (8-18-05)
But the far more significant outcome of the presidential election is that over the last year, as Egyptians anxiously anticipated election day, a strong and significant opposition movement against Mubarak went public. And who is the backbone of this opposition movement? The Islamists. For the first time since the 1970s, thousands of Egyptians of all political and religious persuasions joined forces in street protests, demanding political reform and an end to the regime. While a fractured opposition had operated behind the scenes for years, this election inspired secularists, leftists and, most of all, Islamists to take the unprecedented step of coordinating their various campaigns against Mubarak's expected victory....
...But now the Islamists have a strategy: The Sept. 7 vote was but a dress rehearsal for parliamentary elections scheduled for November, when the Islamists hope to sway enough voters to win a significant number of seats and gain credibility. In past elections, candidates who were Islamic sympathizers and ran under the guise of "independents" were either banned from the elections or found that they had lost in the first round of voting due to state-sponsored fraud. Despite these obstacles, there are already about 17 independents in the 454-seat Egyptian parliament. We can expect many more after November....
...For two years now, many people in the Middle East have been wondering how the world can stand by while the United States creates such havoc in Iraq. Ordinary Egyptians have been glued to graphic pictures on al Jazeera TV, first of Iraqi children dying from American bombs and now of the mayhem that rules the streets of Baghdad. For the first time in the 20 years that I have visited, studied or worked as a journalist in Egypt, I have begun to feel true hostility toward America and Americans. In the past, no matter what happened in the Middle East, you could always count on the mild-mannered Egyptians to maintain favorable attitudes toward their American guests.
That has all but gone. But I couldn't persuade my administration lunch partner of that two years ago, and I don't see any evidence of change in the administration's attitude since then. When I cited polls showing the growing animosity toward America within the Muslim world, even among the United States' historical allies, my hostess corrected me. Polls should not be believed, she said. It is in vogue for Arabs and Muslims to voice their disapproval with the democracy the Bush administration is exporting to the Middle East.
In the looking-glass world that is U.S. policy, failure is often mistaken for success. Aside from Iraq, there is no place where this is more apparent than in longtime U.S. ally Egypt. Rather than celebrate the flawed poll and the reelection of Mubarak, the Bush administration should heed the wake-up call of the country's invigorated opposition. It won't do any good simply to erase all those images of veiled school girls from Egyptian textbooks .
Posted on: Saturday, September 17, 2005 - 20:12
Posted on: Friday, September 16, 2005 - 12:34
SOURCE: Sandstorm, a web log commentary and analysis from Martin Kramer (9-15-05)
Fine. But I don't believe that a truly bum prediction can be dismissed as the equivalent of a bad hair day. It's evidence of some fundamental misunderstanding or latent bias. And while academics aren't paid to make predictions, they make them anyway, often in support of some political agenda. So as long as academic oracles continue to issue predictions, I'll continue to collect them, test them against reality, and grade them. Today I offer a fine specimen of a failed prediction. Grade:"F."
The pseudo-oracle is Tanya Reinhart, a former student of Noam Chomsky's and an emeritus professor of linguistics at Tel Aviv University, who now teaches at the University of Utrecht. She writes an occasional political column for Israel's largest daily newspaper, and she's the author of a book entitled Israel/Palestine: How To End the War of 1948. To call Reinhart a post-Zionist, or even an anti-Zionist, doesn't do her justice. She has made the reviling of Israel an art form, on behalf of an appreciative audience who thrill to her every denunciation and condemnation. The late Edward Said called her book"the most devastating critique now available of Israel's policy toward the Palestinian people," and that says a lot.
After Ariel Sharon announced his Gaza disengagment plan, she plied her loyal readers with this prediction: Sharon didn't mean it, so it would never happen. True, Sharon's disengagment plan, launched in February 2004, didn't leave a lot of room for equivocation:"Israel will evacuate the Gaza Strip, including all the Israeli settlements currently existing there, and will redeploy outside the territory of the Strip... The evacuation process is planned for completion by the end of 2005." But here was the clairvoyant Reinhart, in a talk she delivered in Paris last November, and that zipped around the internet under the title"Sharon's Gaza Pullout: Not Gonna Happen!"
There is one presupposition shared in all discussions of this plan—that in the process, Sharon intends to dismantle the settlements of the Gaza strip, and return the land they are built on to the Palestinians. I should say that had I believed this might happen, I would have supported the plan. The Gaza settlements, together with their land reserves, security zones, Israeli-only roads, and the military array protecting them, occupy almost a third of the strip's land, which is one of the most densely populated areas of the world....But what basis is there to believe that Sharon indeed plans to dismantle settlements at some point?Reinhart then brought her brilliant logic to bear on the disengagement legislation, leading her to one conclusion: the whole plan was a lie.
All that is repeated over and over again in the Western media is the propaganda produced by the Israeli political system—headlines from which one could infer that the dismantling of settlements is around the corner. Thus, the political debate around Sharon's plan concentrates only around whether it is good enough. The possibility that this is just another Israeli deceit does not even arise. And if you try to bring it up, you are perceived as having landed from the moon, as has happened to me in several European media interviews.Reinhart didn't waver even as the evidence began to go against her. To the contrary: she dug in her heels, in a column published just last March:
Sharon is known as a man who has not always told the truth... He can always propose a new commitment that would postpone the realization of the previous one. Why should the Gaza"disengagement" be any different? The answer that the right and the left agree on is that, this time, Sharon has changed. That is an interesting answer in the realm of psychology. But what confirmation does it have in the realm of facts? It is much easier at present to imagine many scenarios in which there will not be any evacuation of settlements in July, than the one in which there will be an evacuation.Easier indeed! And the evidence on which she based this speculation? First, the settlers hadn't yet been compensated:
A government that really wanted to evacuate them would have already given them the compensation, so they could leave before the evacuation. In the evacuation of Yamit, in 1982, the overwhelming majority of the residents were compensated and left before the evacuation.... So why doesn't Sharon facilitate their immediate departure? Could it be that he wants the photographs of the first attempt to evacuate them to show us entire families with their children whose world has been destroyed, so that we will understand through empathy that it is simply impossible to evacuate?
Impeccable logic! Second, Sharon opposed a referendum on the Gaza disengagement."Why then does Sharon oppose it? Perhaps he does not really want the settlers to compromise and accept the will of the majority? Maybe he is afraid that if the evacuation decision passes in the referendum it will have to be actually carried out sooner or later?" More impeccable logic!
Uh... well, something in this chain of logical inferences must have gone wrong, since Sharon did evacuate the settlements from Gaza, exactly as he planned and exactly on schedule. But fear not for the intrepid Reinhart: she's found an escape hatch!
It's obvious, she still maintains, that Sharon never wanted to implement his own plan. It was Bush, she reveals, who"suddenly changed direction" because of troubles in Iraq, and the president then"steamrolled" Sharon."When the U.S. really does exert pressure," she concludes,"no Israeli leader would dare defy its injunctions. And so we have pulled out of Gaza." We have indeed. How logical! How ingenious! And how convenient: Reinhart's infallible expertise on Israel and Sharon is intact. She didn't anticipate Bush's"sudden change," but he's a new boy on the block compared to Sharon, and he's not her forte anyway. Does she bring any new evidence to support her revolutionary thesis—that Bush hijacked Sharon's plan, and imposed it on Israel against Sharon's will? None. But it'll turn up, perhaps on the moon.
Cut through Reinhart's fact-free analyses and self-justificatory monologues, and you've got a plain case of bias run amuck. Blinding bias drove her to make a 180-degree error in estimating the course of Israeli policy; the only"Israeli deceit" was Reinhart's deceit of herself, and of anyone naive or foolish enough to believe her.
But it's more than bias. Like every bum prediction, this one reflects an underlying flaw in understanding. In Reinhart's case, it's a very deep flaw, and it's this: she's completely missed the most salient development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The flaw is perfectly evidenced in this accusation she's made against Israel:
What is happening in the [Israeli-occupied] Territories is a process of slow and steady genocide. People die from being shot and killed, many die from their wounds—the number of wounded is enormous, it is in the tens of thousands. Often, people can not get medical treatment, so someone with a heart attack will die at a road block because they can not get to the hospital. There is a serious shortage of food, so there is malnutrition of children. The Palestinian society is dying—daily—and there is hardly any awareness of this in Israeli society.
What's wrong with this picture? For a"dying society," subjected to"slow and steady genocide," Palestinians have enjoyed an astonishingly robust population growth. In the West Bank, the net population growth rate is 3.13%, and in Gaza it's 3.77%, compared to Israel's 1.2%. That's also much higher than the net growth rates of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt (CIA estimates for 2005). Life expectancy at birth is 72.3—at least five years above the Arab average, and higher than the same figure for Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia (Arab Human Development Report III, 2002 figures).
Palestinian population is exploding. Israelis are acutely aware of this reality, which is why there's broad support for disengagement (and Sharon). And Palestinians are keenly aware of it, which is why some of them now believe that Israel can be swamped by numbers. Take, for example, Edward Said, in an interview before his death:
I figure that by 2010 there will be an equal number of Palestinians and Israelis on historical Palestine. There will be demographic parity between Jews and Arabs. At which point, how much can the Israelis control? By 2030 there will be twice as many Arabs as there are Jews. So the Jews in Israel will be in a minority.
"Slow and steady genocide"?"Palestinian society is dying"? Will someone, Israeli or Palestinian, please clue Reinhart into the most salient fact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Either she doesn't know it, which is shameful; or she knows it and she lies, which is atrocious.
We can't know which it is, but does it matter? Reinhart is a hero in some quarters precisely because she makes such claims. When you accuse Israel of something beyond belief—when you make claims so outlandish that it's embarrassing—you're immediately labeled" courageous." And the more far-fetched the accusation, the more its inventor is lionized for his or her courage. Israel is committing genocide (Reinhart)? Zionism is antisemitism (Joseph Massad)? Sure, pile it on. There's a vast market for falsehoods about Israel, especially in academe's heart of darkness, where no one believes in the existence of truth anyway. If you're Jewish, you get an extra fifty percent bonus for the" courage" of your falsehood. If you're Israeli, make it a hundred percent.
Which makes this professor's bum prediction and moonbat analysis all the more valuable. Tanya Reinhart, Chomsky in drag: no collection of predictions gone wrong would be complete without her.
Posted on: Thursday, September 15, 2005 - 15:12
SOURCE: New York Sun (9-13-05)
The reason for the assault? A Muslim woman from Dair Jarir, Hiyam Ajaj, 23, fell in love with her Christian boss, Mehdi Khouriyye, owner of a tailor shop in Taybeh. The couple maintained a clandestine two-year affair and she became pregnant in about March 2005. When her family members learned of her condition, they murdered her. That was on about September 1; unsatisfied even with this "honor killing" – for Islamic law strictly forbids non-Muslim males to have sexual relations with Muslim females – the Ajaj men sought vengeance against Khouriyye and his family.
They took it two days later in an assault on Taybeh. The Ajajs and their friends broke into houses and stole furniture, jewelry, and electrical appliances. They threw Molotov cocktails at some buildings and poured kerosene on others, then torched them. The damage included at least 16 houses, some stores, a farm, and a gas station. The assailants vandalized cars, looted extensively, and destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary.
"It was like a war," one Taybeh resident told the Jerusalem Post. Hours passed before the Palestinian Authority security and fire services arrived. The 15 assailants spent only a few hours in police detention, then were released. As for Khouriyye, the Palestinian Arab police arrested him, kept him in jail, and (his family says) have repeatedly beat him.
As the news service Adnkronos International notes, for Palestinian Christians "the fact that the Muslim aggressors have been released while the Christian tailor-shop owner is still being held, at best symbolizes the PA's indifference to the plight of Palestinian Christians, at worst shows it is taking sides against them."
A cousin, Suleiman Khouriyye, pointed to his burned house. "They did this because we're Christians. They did this because we are the weaker ones," he said The Khouriyyes and others recall the assailants shouting "Allahu Akbar" and anti-Christian slogans: "Burn the infidels, burn the Crusaders." To that, an unrepentant cousin of Hiyam Ajaj replied, "We burned their houses because they dishonored our family, not because they are Christians."
This assault fits a larger pattern. According to the Catholic Custodian of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Christians in the Bethlehem region alone have suffered 93 cases of injustice in 2000-04. In the worst of these, in 2002, Muslims murdered the two Amre sisters, 17 and 19 years old, whom they called prostitutes. A post-mortem, however, showed the teenagers to have been virgins – and to have been tortured on their genitals.
"Almost every day – I repeat, almost every day – our communities are harassed by the Islamic extremists in these regions," Mr. Pizzaballa says. "And if it's not the members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, there are clashes with … the Palestinian Authority." In addition to the Islamists, a "Muslim land mafia" is said to operate. With PA complicity, it threatens Christian land and house owners, often succeeding to compel them to abandon their properties.
The campaign of persecution has succeeded. Even as the Christian population of Israel grows, that of the Palestinian Authority shrinks precipitously. Bethlehem and Nazareth, historic Christian towns for nearly two millennia, are now primarily Muslim. In 1922, Christians outnumbered Muslims in Jerusalem; today, Christians amount to a mere 2% of that city's population.
"Is Christian life liable to be reduced to empty church buildings and a congregation-less hierarchy with no flock in the birthplace of Christianity?" So asks Daphne Tsimhoni in the Middle East Quarterly. It is hard to see what will prevent that ghost-like future from coming into existence.
One factor that could help prevent this dismal outcome would be for mainline Protestant churches to speak out against Palestinian Muslims for tormenting and expelling Palestinian Christians. To date, unfortunately, the Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, as well as the United Church of Christ, have ignored the problem.
Instead, they pursue the self-indulgent path of venting moral outrage against the Israeli bystander and even withdrawing their investment funds from it. As they obsess with Israel but stay silent about Christianity dying in its birthplace one wonders what it will take to awaken them.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 13, 2005 - 15:57
SOURCE: The Christian Science Monitor (9-12-05)
If the storm was a Category 4 when it made landfall, the images left in its wake are Category 5 or more. They have the power to topple not buildings but myths, so deeply rooted in the American landscape that they've begun to seem permanent.
Katrina has reminded us that we have neighbors, most often people of color,living in poverty. They are part of the underclass, always in harm's way and far more likely to suffer during disasters that we somehow still insist on mislabeling"natural."
The chorus of outraged questions we're hearing are pointed and persistent: How can this be happening in the United States?
Are we so close, suddenly, to tsunami-stricken Banda Aceh, despite the geographic and socioeconomic gulf separating us from such a distant place?
The images we're confronting might lead us to blurt out an embarrassed "yes."
But the answer actually is more complicated. We have relatively small pockets of poverty in our cities and scattered across the countryside - small, at least when compared with the developing world. But these pockets are big enough: slightly more than 12 percent of our population overall; a bit higher than that in the South, our poorest region; close to 25 percent among African-Americans; still higher, 34 percent, for New Orleans, our ninth poorest and one of our most African-American cities (approximately 70 percent).
In the wake of Katrina we've been forced to grapple with the poverty in our backyard. Perhaps this is because the nettlesome images come from a submerged New Orleans, a city with such an enduring grip on the American imagination. Or maybe we are so shaken because so many of the faces we see suffering belong to African-Americans, highlighting, yet again, our greatest unresolved dilemma: the problem of race.
Regardless, Katrina has dredged up ugly truths about poverty, which, though it does indeed hit African-Americans hardest, cuts through all strata of our society. As a result, people are demanding change. Or at least they're dusting off discussions last held in earnest when Lyndon Johnson spoke of a Great Society, before scuttling this vision in Vietnam.
Both recent and distant history suggest, sadly, we'll soon move on.
Americans forget disaster because they forget its victims, who are hidden in plain sight. They are the people who turn down sheets at New Orleans' hotels, who bus dirty dishes at the city's restaurants, who clean up discarded beads after Mardi Gras. They are invisible, their labor crucial but camouflaged in our service economy.
Or they're unemployed. In the Ninth Ward, New Orleans' hardest hit district, more than 3 in 10 people lack jobs, and more than half the households live on less than $20,000 annually. On this low-lying land, settled early last century after New Orleans began reclaiming the cypress swamp that sat on its margins, African-Americans and poor whites built their homes, rows and rows of shotgun houses, so typical of New Orleans' vernacular architecture. Most whites left long ago. And now, because of Katrina, many of the homes are gone, too. The structures will probably soon be forgotten as a wave of well-intentioned urban renewal rolls through or wetlands are allowed to seep back in, to mitigate, as they once did, flooding.
New Orleans, in fairness, can exist only because of this disaster amnesia, a willful forgetting that makes it possible to ignore the next catastrophe lurking around the corner. Just a few entries from a ledger of the city's forgotten calamities: fires twice razed New Orleans at the end of the colonial period: a massive flood nearly washed it away in 1849, ushering in an era of federally subsidized levee building; the great inundation of 1927 prompted New Orleans to blow out a levee downstream, flooding two rural parishes in order to relieve pressure on the urban floodwall. Hurricanes, too, have been frequent visitors, so common that claims about how unexpected this debacle has been now sound hollow.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 13, 2005 - 15:56
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (9-11-05)
In some ways, the situation would be worse:
The Iraqi population would still suffer under the totalitarian rule of Saddam Hussein. The shaky economy, car bombs and ethnic unrest that Iraqis face today are far lesser evils compared with the poverty, injustice, brutality and barbarism that was their fate between 1979 and 2003.
Regional security would be imperiled. Saddam Hussein invaded two countries (Iran in 1980, Kuwait in 1990) and launched missiles against two others (Saudi Arabia, Israel); the chances are high that he would aggress again, perhaps this time to impede oil routes through the Persian Gulf. Additionally, he sponsored suicide terrorism against Israel and maintained close relations with the thug regime of Bashar al-Asad of Syria.
U.S. security would be endangered so long as a megalomaniac ruled Iraq with the means to build and the will to use weapons of mass destruction. Hussein showed this capability as early as 1988, when he several times deployed chemical gas, even against his own people (in a village in 1988, killing 5,000). His links to al-Qaeda might have led to his cooperating with it to deploy WMD in the United States.
But, had the war not taken place, the situation in other ways might be better:
European attitudes toward the United States would be improved. Polling and other data demonstrate that the Iraq war inflamed an international hostility against Americans unprecedented since 1945.
Muslim unrest has been exacerbated by the war. A powerful radicalization has been apparent not only in majority-Muslim countries (Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan are good examples) but also in Western countries (such as the United Kingdom).
Domestic U.S. politics would be less fractious without the war. The post-9/11 solidarity had already frayed before the Iraqi war began in March 2003, but that decision worsened tensions, as symbolized by the heightened acrimony in the U.S. presidential elections of 2004.
To generalize, benefits of the war have been mainly security-related and the costs mainly attitudinal. The world is safer with Hussein awaiting trial in a jail cell, but also more divided. The Bush administration succeeded militarily but failed politically.
On balance, the war brought more positives than negatives; unpopularity and acrimony are a price worth paying so that the Iraqi government no longer endangers Iraqis or the rest of the world.
Posted on: Monday, September 12, 2005 - 20:32
HEADLINE: America Celebrates Independence Day; How Would Fouding Father's View America Today?
GUESTS: Kevin Baker, Dr. Gary Namie, Sandy Baum, Lawrence Kersten
BYLINE: Jack Cafferty, Andy Serwer, Susan Lisovicz, Christine Romans, Allen Wastler
CAFFERTY: ... We were thinking a little bit back to the founding fathers who got this whole the experiment underway about 236 years or so ago and wondering how closely today's America matches the country they envisioned.
To help us figure that out, we're delighted to be joined by historian and novelist, Kevin Baker, who's a columnist for"American Heritage" magazine. His latest book is something called,"Paradise Alley," based on the Civil War draft riots that happened right here in New York City.
Kevin, it's nice to have you with us. Happy Fourth of July.
KEVIN BAKER, HISTORIAN: Thank you. Happy Fourth of July to you.
CAFFERTY: What do you think the biggest surprise would be if the founding fathers could travel through the time machine and drop in to the middle of the U.S. of A on July 4, 2004?
BAKER: Well, there would be a lot of surprises for them. I think possibly the biggest surprise would be what a multiethnic country America has become. After all they lived in a time when it was still a predominantly protestant, predominantly white and white dominated country.
So I think they would be surprised and probably very pleased to see how many people have felt this was a beacon of liberty and came here and able to become -- you know, wonderful, productive citizens of this country.
LISOVICZ: You know, Kevin, what do you think they'd think about the public servants of today? Call me a cynic, but -- you know, when I read this book on Lewis and Clark expedition"Undaunted Courage"
LISOVICZ: Thomas Jefferson spending years trying to educate Meriwether Lewis and funding that great expedition, it just seems like we don't have visionaries anymore in public office for all sorts of reasons. Can you address that? What's changed over the last two centuries, three centuries?
BAKER: Well, you know, I think in a democracy, the people have a great deal of responsibility for what they get. And I think that is one thing that would disturb the founding fathers somewhat, is how passive we've become about a lot of our participation in this democracy. I think they'd be kind of appalled by at most 50 percent voting rates. I think even in terms of the war, they might be upset at how this is being fought by a relatively small number of Americans and how the rest of us kind of get to -- you know, sit back and enjoy these rare hamburgers.
SERWER: Kevin, there's a historian at the University of Pennsylvania, I believe, named McDougal, you probably know his work, who has a book out which talks about the history of America and really how our country was settled and developed by rogues.
SERWER: And, you know, that's what made America great, people who went out there, Robber Barrons, people who developed the railroad, maybe the internet. What's your take on that?
BAKER: There are great many rogues; there are a great many idealists, too. And in fact, if you get the two together, it's often a very dynamic combination.
BAKER: Look at something like Central Park which is put together by the most idealistic people in New York and the biggest scoundrel of politicians. It was a great result.
CAFFERTY: As you look into the future, and that's a tough thing to do, the current polling of Americans indicates that a lot of people don't think the country is on the right track. Leaving today's short- term political arguments and dialogue out of the discussion, what is the right track for this kind of melting pot of all of us that has developed here over the last 240 years? Where should we be going as we look down the road?
BAKER: Well, it's hard to say. I mean it's -- yes, I -- you know, am a frequent critic of things going on in America and I think that's the role that historians and writers should have. On the other hand, things are just going -- you know, very well in many ways.
You know, it's -- I think we'll be on the right track as long as we keep endorsing the things that have worked so well for us so far. That is, keeping hold of the checks and balances in the system, keeping hold of our civil liberties, being willing to embrace people coming from different countries, being willing to kind of take in -- and that's America's biggest advantage, I think, it that ability to attract the best and the brightest and just the most kind of fervent and dedicated people to from -- you know, the most eager to improve themselves, people from around the world.
I think as long as we can stick to that, and we don't become a xenophobic place, we'll be doing well....
Posted on: Monday, September 12, 2005 - 19:03
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (9-9-05)
... there is a great deal that the  tsunami and the present hurricane share in common. But a much better historical comparison exists closer to home, one that highlights the irresponsible decision making and denial on the part of government officials that, combined with profit-driven land development, largely explains why the poor pay with their lives in such disasters. I have in mind the 1928 hurricane that took the lives of at least 1,836 people in Florida, the vast majority of them poor migrant workers who drowned as the waters of Lake Okeechobee rose up over a dike and pounded them to death.
* * *
That disaster is comparable to what is happening in the wake of Hurricane Katrina not just because the victims in both cases are overwhelmingly poor and African-American. They compare because, in both cases, there were clear signs, in advance, that they were disasters waiting to happen -- literally, unnatural disasters.
In the case of the 1928 Florida hurricane, the warning was telegraphed several years in advance. Earlier in the century, state authorities had overseen a vast drainage project that reclaimed land around the shores of Lake Okeechobee and turned it into valuable agricultural enterprises. Yet living around the lake had its price. In 1922 heavy rains caused the water to rise more than four feet and flooded Clewiston and Moore Haven, towns along the lake's southern shore that housed the black laborers who worked the rich agricultural land nearby.
In 1924 storms again raised the lake level, causing more flooding. Then, in the summer of 1926, heavy rains raised the level of the lake yet again, leading a journalist named Howard Sharp to beg state officials to take steps to lower the water: "The lake is truly at a level so high as to make a perilous situation in the event of a storm," he wrote in The Tampa Tribune.
The Everglades Drainage District, led by some of the highest officials in the state, including Gov. John W. Martin and Attorney General J.B. Johnson, took no action to lower the water. By September 1, the level of Lake Okeechobee exceeded 18 feet. The levees around the lake were built to only 21 feet, and anyone even remotely familiar with the area knew that a stiff wind could cause the lake to rise as much as three feet. The mathematics of fatality and destruction were painfully obvious. Yet the drainage commissioners, beholden to wealthy agricultural and commercial interests -- who wanted the lake water high to help with irrigating crops and with navigation -- refused to act.
Nobody listened, and on September 18, 1926, a Category 4 storm ripped across Florida and caused the waters of Lake Okeechobee to wash over a dike and kill at least 150 people (though 300 seems more likely) in Moore Haven, which had an entire population of only 1,200 at the time.
After the disaster, the attorney general explained: "The storm caused the loss and damage. ... It is not humanly possible to guard against the unknown and against the forces of nature when loosed." Interpreting the event as a "natural" disaster masked the calamity's man-made causes and scarcely moved anyone to action to help ward off a future catastrophe, which, it turned out, was just around the corner.
On September 16, 1928, a powerful storm, with a barometric low of 27.43 inches -- even lower than that recorded in 1926 -- swept ashore near Palm Beach. After the notorious 1900 Galveston hurricane (which left at least 8,000 dead), it was the deadliest storm in 20th-century American history. Most of those who died were black migrant workers, virtually all of whom drowned in the towns along the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee, as the howling winds sent a wall of water crashing over the dikes in a grim repetition of what had happened two years before.
Sightseers, brimming with morbid curiosity, filed into the region to see the mounds of swollen, rotting corpses firsthand. According to one report, "The visitor would stare for moments entranced, then invariably turn aside to vomit." Bodies were still being found more than a month after the disaster, when searching ceased for lack of funds.
Again, Sharp seemed remarkably prescient, writing a week before the storm that those who advocated a high water level in Lake Okeechobee were taking "a terrible responsibility on themselves." And again, a member of the Everglades drainage commission -- this time Ernest Amos, the state comptroller -- called the disaster an "act of God," in what is surely one of history's more irresponsible outbursts of denial.
After Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, President Bush, sounding much like state officials in Florida in the 1920s, said: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Seeing the calamity as primarily the work of unforeseen and unpredictable forces, however, amounts to a form of moral hand-washing.
In fact, multiple warnings had gone out. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has known about the potential for large loss of life in New Orleans, probably for a generation. Ten years ago, Weatherwise magazine called New Orleans "the Death Valley of the Gulf Coast" because the city is surrounded by water and not particularly well served by major roadways. In 2000, in talking about the general decline in death rates from natural disasters in the 20th century, I called attention in my book Acts of God to New Orleans and wrote, "Think twice before assuming that high death tolls are a thing of the past." Mark Fischetti, a contributing editor to Scientific American, made the same prediction in an excellent report in the magazine in 2001. The journalists John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein reported extensively in 2002 on the potential for calamity in The Times-Picayune. And as recently as May 2005, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, was quoted as saying, "I can't emphasize enough how concerned I am with southeast Louisiana because of its unique characteristics, its complex levee system."
Is the current disaster the American tsunami? No, it's the Hurricane Katrina calamity. But the same blind faith in the free market and private enterprise, coupled with the brutal downsizing of the public sector, and a very explicit pattern of denial in the face of impending natural calamity, help explain why America's most vulnerable saw their lives washed out to sea.
Posted on: Friday, September 9, 2005 - 15:17
SOURCE: NYT (9-8-05)
THE last time a great American city was destroyed by a violent caprice of nature, the response was shockingly different from what we have seen in New Orleans. In tone and tempo, residents, government institutions and the nation as a whole responded to the earthquake that brought San Francisco to its knees a century ago in a manner that was well-nigh impeccable, something from which the country was long able to derive a considerable measure of pride.
A stentorian Army general named Frederick Funston realized he was on his own - his superior officer was at a daughter's wedding in Chicago - and sent orders to the Presidio military base. Within two hours scores of soldiers were marching in to the city, platoons wheeling around the fires, each man with bayonet fixed and 20 rounds of ball issued; they presented themselves to Mayor Eugene Schmitz by 7:45 a.m. - just 153 minutes after the shaking began.
The mayor, a former violinist who had previously been little more than a puppet of the city's political machine, ordered the troops to shoot any looters, demanded military dynamite and sappers to clear firebreaks, and requisitioned boats to the Oakland telegraph office to put the word out over the wires: "San Francisco is in ruins," the cables read. "Our city needs help."
America read those wires and dropped everything. The first relief train, from Los Angeles, steamed into the Berkeley marshalling yards by 11 o'clock that night. The Navy and the Revenue Cutter Service, like the Army not waiting for orders from back East, ran fire boats and rescue ferries. The powder companies worked overtime to make explosives to blast wreckage.
Washington learned of the calamity in the raw and unscripted form of Morse Code messages, with no need for the interpolations of anchormen or pollsters. Congress met in emergency session and quickly passed legislation to pay all imaginable bills. By 4:00 a.m. on April 19, William Taft, President Theodore Roosevelt's secretary of war, ordered rescue trains to begin pounding toward the Rockies; one of them, assembled in Virginia, was the longest hospital train ever assembled....
Posted on: Thursday, September 8, 2005 - 18:48
SOURCE: Salon (9-3-05)
These bellicose intellectuals--a band of Wilsonian idealists, cutthroat imperial capitalists, Trotskyites bereft of a cause, and neo-patriots traumatized by Sept. 11 are now increasingly divided and full of mutual recriminations. Among them all, the combative British essayist Christopher Hitchens continues most forcefully to uphold the case for the war, most recently in a piece for the Weekly Standard.
In contrast, this week Francis Fukuyama, long since upbraided by History for his Hegelian fantasies concerning the end of History, openly castigated the Iraq war as an unfortunate detour in the War on Terror, in an opinion piece in the New York Times. Hitchens, fighting a rear-guard battle against public disillusionment with the war, suggested 10 reasons why Americans should be proud of the Iraq war. His essay appeared the week after George W. Bush launched his own public relations crusade for "staying the course" in the face of the media attention given to Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in the war. (Hitchens dismisses her campaign as "the sob-sister tripe pumped out by the Cindy Sheehan circus and its surrogates.") The campaign was a dud, derailed by dithering in Baghdad over a never-finished constitution and continued mayhem and U.S. deaths. Bush's alarmed handlers are looking at polling numbers on his performance as president and on his handling of Iraq that are heading so far south that they'll soon be embedded in the wilting Antarctic ice shelf.
It is sad to see Hitchens reduced to publishing in the Weekly Standard, intellectually the weakest of the right-wing propaganda fronts for the new class of billionaires created by the excesses of corporate consolidation in recent decades (it is owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch). It is even sadder to see this grotesque, almost baroque, essay carom from one extravagant argument to another, miring itself in a series of gross fallacies and elementary errors in logic. I have read Hitchens for decades and usually admire his acute wit, his command of detail, his polemical gifts, and his contrarian sense of ethics, even when we disagree. He must surely know, however, that his argument for the Iraq misadventure is growing weaker every day, since he clearly does not any longer care to defend it rigorously.
The essay begins by arguing that cowardice and short-sightedness dominated the 1990s, during which democratic leaders declined to react, or reacted too late, to the dictators, genocides and failed states that emerged with the end of the Cold War. Rwanda, Serbia, Kosovo and Afghanistan stand in this view as monuments of shame. Once the West finally shed its cynical isolationism with the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and once the dangers of inaction had been demonstrated by Sept. 11, Hitchens argues, it was natural and proper for the United States and the United Kingdom to fix their sights on Iraq.
Hitchens lays out the familiar charges against the Baath regime in Iraq. It had invaded neighboring countries, committed genocide, given refuge to terrorists, and contravened the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Hitchens' argument succeeds only by confusing the situation in Iraq in the 1980s with that in 2003. He mysteriously neglects to note that the Baath regime had in fact given up its weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s, in perhaps the most thorough-going and successful U.N.-led disarmament in modern history. At the time of the 2003 war Iraq was neither in contravention of U.N. resolutions on disarmament nor of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
A further problem is that the same charges could be made against other states. For example, Israel has launched several wars of aggression, gave refuge to terrorists of the Jewish Defense League, defied a whole raft of U.N. resolutions, and thumbed its nose at the Non-Proliferation Treaty far more successfully than Saddam, producing hundreds of nuclear warheads where Iraq never produced a single bomb. Of course Israel cannot be compared to Saddam's Iraq in the numbers of persons killed by its wars and repression, but if the issue is crimes against international law, then the numbers are surely less important than the fact of an infraction.
Hitchens is, moreover, highly selective in his outrage. He is not disturbed by the brutal, scorched-earth tactics of the Russians in Chechnya or the heavy-handedness of India in Kashmir. The deaths of 3 million Congolese pass without mention. The terrorist threat posed by the Tamil Tigers and the weakened state in Sri Lanka does not attract his attention. Many more dangerous situations existed in the world than the one in Iraq, which turns out not to have been dangerous at all.
Hitchens castigates Iraq as having been both a rogue and a failed state, and offers this self-contradictory depiction as a legitimate cause for war. If we translate this Orwellian concept, it transpires that a warrant is being offered to superpowers to invade other countries at will, since all possible targets clearly will either be fairly strong states (rogues) or weak ones (failed).
The argument is most dishonest in leaping from alleging crimes to lauding unilateral action to punish them, outside any framework of international legality. The U.N. Security Council declined to authorize a war against Iraq. Iraq had not attacked the United States or the United Kingdom. Iraq had no nuclear weapons program and no unconventional military capabilities, and it posed no threat to anyone except its own people in 2003. Hitchens collects anecdotes about centrifuge plans and centrifuge parts being kept by Baath figures after the nuclear program was dismantled, as though a few buried rotting blueprints and rusting parts were something more than pitiful testaments to a decisively defeated dream. In essence, Hitchens is arguing for the legitimacy of a sort of hyperpower vigilantism, in which the sitting president of the United States decides which regimes may continue to exist, virtually by himself. The U.S. Congress did not even have the moral fortitude to declare war. The U.N. charter forbids wars of aggression, and, indeed, forbids all wars not clearly defensive that are not explicitly authorized by the Security Council. The Security Council may be, as Hitchens implies, corrupt and yellow-bellied, but it represents most of humankind, while Bush did not even represent a majority of Americans.
After his general argument, Hitchens turns to his 10 specific reasons why the war on Iraq should be celebrated. Hitchens' first point is that Bush has overthrown Talibanism and Baathism, and has exposed "suggestive" links between the two, who he says had formed a "Hitler-Stalin pact." His attempt to tie these ideologies together is absurd, but he goes through the motions because he wants to hide the Iraq disaster under the U.S. achievements in Afghanistan -- which he overstates. In fact, the secular Arab nationalist Baath state had nothing whatsoever to do with any radical Islamist movements, including Talibanism. Talibanism is a variant of the Deobandi school of revivalist Sunnism deriving from British colonial India. The link Hitchens suggests is the Jordanian terrorist Ahmad Fadil al-Khala'ilah, known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who went off as a teenager in 1989 to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, but arrived only in time to wave goodbye to them. He later had a vigorous rivalry with Osama bin Laden and refused to share resources with him. It is not clear what his relationship was to "Talibanism"; he appears to be a radical "Salafi" in the Jordanian Sunni revivalist tradition.
Hitchens writes that Zarqawi "moved from Afghanistan to Iraq before the coalition intervention." In fact, Zarqawi moved to Iraqi Kurdistan, over which the Baath Party had no control after the United States imposed the no-fly zone. Hitchens wants to use Zarqawi's ties in Kurdistan with the tiny Ansar al-Islam terrorist group, which he asserts Saddam supported to fight his Kurdish enemies, to prove that there was some kind of connection between Saddam and al-Qaida. But the allegation that Saddam supported Ansar has never been proved. In any case, Zarqawi was not even in Iraq before 9/11, so his presence there can't be used to prove that Saddam was involved in 9/11. Hitchens also claims (who knows if it is true) that Zarqawi recently renamed his group "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia." But that is no proof of a link between Talibanism and Baathism. This fallacy is known as anachronism: Later events do not cause earlier ones.
The truth is, Bush squandered his victory over the Taliban by failing to follow through at the crucial moment, and by diverting needed military resources into a disastrous second front in Iraq. He allowed bin Laden and his key associate, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, to escape, probably into the lawless mountain regions on the Pakistani border, from where they put out videotapes encouraging the later bombings in Sharm El Sheikh and London. He diverted the resources that could have been used to put war-torn Afghanistan back on its feet instead to a costly imbroglio on the Tigris. After the successes in fighting narcotics trafficking in the 1990s, nearly half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product now derives from the poppy trade, which shows up as heroin in Europe and raises the specter of Colombian-style narco-terrorism. Remaining Taliban are adapting to Afghanistan the techniques of roadside bombings and shaped charges honed by the guerrillas in Iraq, with whom they appear to have established tenuous links. Politicians with ties to the Taliban are likely to do well in the Pashtun regions in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
Hitchens next lists as an achievement of the Iraq war the "capitulation" of Moammar Gadhafi's Libya over its weapons of mass destruction programs. But Hitchens offers no proof whatsoever that Libya's overture had anything at all to do with the Iraq war. Rather, it is quite clear that Libya is a case where the European and U.S. economic sanctions placed on the country to punish it for its terrorist activities actually worked as designed. (European sanctions had already been lifted, in return for a change in Libyan behavior, in 1999. U.S. sanctions had not.) Moreover, al-Qaida leader Anas al-Libi had Gadhafi in his sights. Gadhafi, influenced by North African Sufism and millenarianism, is no fundamentalist. He saw an opportunity to end the U.S. sanctions, which were harming Libya's economic development, and to form a common front against radical Islamism. All he had to do was give up his rather insignificant "weapons of mass destruction" programs.
Hitchens does not do us the favor of admitting that the tiny country of Libya, despite its past involvement in serious acts of terrorism, was not exactly a dire menace to Western civilization. Gadhafi no longer needed the chemical weapons he is alleged to have used in the Chad war, since it had wound down. His nuclear ambitions had never advanced from the drawing board. So he made a small concession and received huge rewards. There is no reason at all to believe that without the Iraq war this breakthrough, years in the making, would have been forestalled. This fallacy is known as "post hoc ergo propter hoc," that is, "afterward, therefore because of." Not every event that occurs after another is caused by its predecessor.
Hitchens is correct in asserting that the Libyan breakthrough led to the unmasking of the A.Q. Khan network, which illegally transferred nuclear technological know-how from Pakistan to Iran, North Korea and Libya. But since the breakthrough itself was not a consequence of the Iraq war, the unmasking cannot be credited to the war.
Having committed the fallacies of anachronism and questionable cause, Hitchens now goes on to some other points that I think are too trite to spend much time on. He says that the Iraq war helped to identify a quasi-criminal network within the United Nations elite, referring to the oil-for-food scandal. But surely we did not need to send 140,000 young Americans to war in Iraq in order to carry out some basic investigations with regard to United Nations officials resident in New York? This fallacy is known as a lack of proportionality.
He then goes on to suggest that the Iraq war had caused President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany to admit that nothing will alter their "neutralism." He suggests that their current alleged insouciance with regard to Iran is of a piece with this neutralism. This argument contains an ad hominem fallacy, since it seems to suggest that their political stances simply derive from their being craven men. Hitchens neglects to address the obvious rejoinder that the Bush administration failed to make a convincing case to them that Iraq posed an imminent danger to Europe or the United States. It might also be that no convincing case has been made about Iran as yet, either.
Hitchens then argues that the ability to certify Iraq as truly disarmed, rather than having to accept the representations of a "psychopathic autocrat," is a benefit of the Iraq war. Yet the American public spends over $30 billion a year on our intelligence agencies. Why should it have to be necessary to launch a costly and possibly disastrous war in order to find out something that a few spies should have been able to tell us? Moreover, if Hitchens were not so contemptuous of the U.N. weapons inspectors, he might acknowledge that they could have answered this question themselves from February 2003, if only Bush had given them the time to perform their mission, which he asked the U.N. Security Council to authorize. The Central Intelligence Agency gave them a list of more than 600 suspect sites. Satellite photos of many of these sites showed "suspicious" activity, but it turned out that they were mostly just being looted, something easily certified when they were visited and found stripped. The U.N. inspectors had cleared some 100 of those before Bush pulled them out and just went to war.
The weapons inspectors were all along far more professional and far more capable than anyone gave them credit for. It was they who had dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons program after the Gulf War. We did not need a war to discover whether Iraq was truly disarmed. Hitchens has here attempted to turn Bush's enormous blunder, of invading Iraq on suspicion of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, into a virtue. "Well," he says with a smirk, "now we know for sure, don't we?" This fallacy is called the "false dilemma," since Hitchens has left out the possibility of our knowing with fair certainty -- by methods other than warfare -- that Iraq was disarmed.
The seventh benefit of the Iraq war, Hitchens says, are the "immense gains" made by the Kurds. But the Kurds had already made their gains, under the U.S. no-fly zone. Since the war, their situation has arguably worsened. They are faced with finding a way to reintegrate themselves with Baghdad, a process clearly painful for them (they keep threatening to secede at the drop of a turban). Their oil pipelines have been sabotaged, and they have been subjected to a wave of assassinations, kidnappings and bombings. And the petroleum city of Kirkuk, which they desperately covet, is still inhabited by Turkmens and Arabs who do not intend to go quietly. Turkey has threatened to invade to protect the Turkmens. Kurdistan is now a powder keg. These are not immense gains.
Hitchens then rehearses the argument, loudly made in conservative circles a few months ago, that the Iraq war encouraged democratic and civil society movements in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. He argues that Lebanon, in particular, has "regained a version of its autonomy." As I argued in greater detail in March, the argument that Bush's Iraq war has spread democracy in the Middle East is extremely weak. Let us look at his examples one at a time.
Hitchens has not shown that the Iraq war has encouraged democratic and civil society movements in Egypt. Bush's war did encourage 100,000 Muslim Brothers to come out to protest it, and it therefore reinvigorated the fortunes of political Islam in Egypt. The Mubarak government, however, refuses to recognize the Brotherhood as a legitimate political party, despite its popularity. Democratic and civil society movements in Egypt are of old standing, and they did not need an American imperial boot print in Iraq to jump-start them. Hosni Mubarak has agreed to allow a small number of officially recognized parties to field candidates against him in the presidential elections, but this change is window-dressing. Does Hitchens seriously believe Mubarak will lose?
As for Syria, it has not changed much. The Syrians had to leave Lebanon in part because their heavy-handedness had decisively alienated the Lebanese, including Sunni allies. In addition, the Saudis, who in the past have helped to fund the Syrian troop presence, withdrew their support for it.
The major change in Lebanon is that in the wake of the Syrian withdrawal of 14,000 troops, the Shiite fundamentalist Hezbollah Party and its militia seem to be filling in the security vacuum. These developments in Lebanon had almost nothing to do with Iraq. Lebanon has been having parliamentary elections since the 1940s (there were even some in the French colonial period). This entire argument is simply a form of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which seems plausible to Americans only because they know so little about Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and the preexisting trajectories of those countries' political development.
Hitchens' last points are the most gruesome and heinous. As number 9, he argues that "thousands" of "Bin Ladenist" infiltrators into Iraq have been killed. The studies done of the Muslim volunteers who have gone to Iraq indicate that the vast majority of them had never been involved in terrorism before. They went because they were angered by the U.S. military occupation, as they see it, of a Muslim country. So Bush's Iraq is not a flytrap bringing in already-existing al-Qaida operatives. It is actively creating terrorists out of perfectly normal young men who otherwise would be leading a humdrum existence. This argument is a form of begging the question, since it assumes facts not in evidence in order to force a foregone conclusion.
There are, by the way, probably not very many foreign fighters in Iraq. Only 6 percent of the fighters captured by the United States at Fallujah were foreigners. At that rate, if estimates of 20,000 guerrilla fighters are accurate, there would be about 1,200 foreigners. It is also probably not the case that the United States has killed all that many of them, though hundreds have died as suicide bombers, helping kill thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of U.S. troops. That the argument is heinous was recognized by one Iraqi observer, who asked Bush to please find some other country to which to attract terrorists and kill them, since rather a lot of innocent Iraqis were getting killed in the cross-fire.
Finally, Hitchens argues that a benefit of the war is the "training and hardening" of many thousands of American servicemen and women, which he says will be of use in "future combat." Large numbers of the servicemen and women in Iraq are in the National Guard or the Reserves, and very large numbers are not going to renew their service when they finally get out of Iraq, so their war experience is unlikely to do anyone much good later on. Many will suffer severe trauma, psychological problems and alcoholism as a result of horrific wartime experiences. Some number will end up on the street begging. Thousands of U.S. troops have been "hardened" right into wheelchairs, with lost limbs, faces blown away, and little prospect of productive lives. We had a right to ask them to sacrifice themselves to defend our country against aggression. We did not have a right to ask them to give their bloody forearms, tattered eyeballs, shattered tibias, oozing brain mass, and crushed pelvises to achieve the petty foreign-policy aims that Hitchens lists in his article, even if the Iraq war had accomplished most of those aims, which it has not.
Christopher Hitchens has produced not a coherent picture of positive achievements clearly flowing from Bush's Iraq war but rather a farrago of innuendo, logical fallacies, begged questions, anachronisms, false dilemmas and questionable causes. Nor has he in any balanced manner addressed the negative foreign-policy consequences of the war. These include the diversion of resources from the fight against al-Qaida to Iraq, the neglect of Afghanistan (itself a basket case and a proven threat to global security), the strengthening of the Iranian position when the Shiite religious parties came to power in the Jan. 30 elections, the deep alienation of much of the Muslim world, the dangers to the world economy inherent in a destabilization of the Oil Gulf, and the rendering of the American colossus as faintly ridiculous, given the false representations that the Bush administration made about the danger Iraq posed to Europe and the United States.
Even the ability of the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent plausibly to lecture Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov about his use of torture has been effectively removed after revelations of U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib. Hitchens says that the U.S. practices at Abu Ghraib were much better than those of Saddam. But when you are reduced to defending yourself by pointing to your superiority over a genocidal psychopath, then you are suffering from severely low self-esteem and should enter a 12-step recovery program rather than invade other countries.
The Iraq war, like all foreign-policy quagmires, is a conundrum, not an unalloyed propaganda victory for any "side." There was a case to be made for removing Saddam Hussein, on the basis of the Genocide Convention. But that case required a U.N. Security Council resolution. As it was, the war was illegal, and I turned against it the moment the Bush administration tossed aside the United Nations, in March 2003. As undertaken, it contravened the United Nations charter. Worse than being merely illegal, it was impractical. It lacked the kind of international support that George H.W. Bush assembled for the Gulf War in 1990-91, and which would have been critical to its success.
Still, the war itself was short and need not have been a total disaster. It did after all accomplish the overthrow of one of the most odious dictators of the 20th century, a mass murderer. But the manner in which the Bush administration trumped up the casus belli was profoundly dishonest, and few good things follow from a dishonest policy. The subsequent period of American hegemony in Iraq has been a disaster, beset with ignorance, arrogance, cupidity, double-dealing and shadiness, not to mention a massive civilian death toll, vindictive military policies, and a sheer incompetence that dwarfs all the previous foreign-policy misadventures of the United States during the past 220 years.
It is not that no good has been done. Enormous good has been done, by devoted troops on the ground helping build community centers or restore schools, by campaign workers helping build a democratic ethos, by medical workers carrying out immunizations, by savvy commanders who have taken on and killed the serial murderers who call themselves by such names as "Monotheism and Holy War" or "The Army of Muhammad." The good that has been done, however, has been fatally poisoned by bad policy. The best-case scenario for Iraq is now to limp along as Lebanon did in the 1980s, in a desultory and shadowy set of revolving civil wars. Iraq may eventually emerge, as Lebanon did, from this medium-term instability. It is certainly the case that the sooner U.S. ground troops are out of that country, the sooner its recovery can begin.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 7, 2005 - 18:01
SOURCE: Nation (9-7-05)
The only bright spot in this man-made disaster has been the wave of public outrage at the Bush Administration's abject failure to provide aid to the most vulnerable. Indeed, it is hard to think of a time, other than at the height of the civil rights movement, when the plight of poor black Southerners so deeply stirred the conscience of the nation. Perhaps Hurricane Katrina will go down in history alongside Bull Connor's fire hoses in Birmingham and the Alabama State Troopers' nightsticks at Selma as a catalyst for a new national self-awareness regarding the unfinished struggle for racial justice.
But a better historical analogy, although not one that immediately springs to mind, may be the Lawrence strike of 1912, best-known for giving the labor movement the slogan "bread and roses." Thousands of poor immigrant workers walked off their jobs in the city's giant woollen mills to protest a wage reduction. Bill Haywood, leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, who had been invited in to help direct the strike, devised a plan to send the workers' children to live with sympathetic families in other cities for the duration.
By 1912 the Progressive Era was well under way, but the sight of the pale, emaciated children marching up Fifth Avenue transformed public opinion regarding the strike (leading the governor of Massachusetts to pressure the mill owners to accede to the workers' demands). More important, it broadened public support for efforts to uplift the poor and placed the question of poverty, and the federal government's obligation to combat it, front and center in the presidential campaign of 1912.
"I have worked in the slums of New York," wrote Margaret Sanger, "but I have never found children who were so uniformly ill-nourished, ill-fed and ill-clothed." Today, as in 1912, the shameful (and growing) presence of poverty has been thrust from invisibility onto the center stage of national discussion.
Let's hope the country finally awakens to the consequences of years of trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the rich, privatization of public responsibilities and the demonization of both government and the poor.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 7, 2005 - 12:40
SOURCE: NY Sun (9-6-05)
The Jewish High Holidays this year fall in early October, and that's when a massacre was planned against two Los Angeles synagogues, as well as other targets, according to an indictment just handed down against four young Muslim men.
Law enforcement traces the origins of this plot to 1997. That's when Kevin Lamar James, a black inmate at New Folsom Prison, near Sacramento, Calif., founded Jam'iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (Arabic for"Assembly of Authentic Islam" and known as JIS). JIS promotes the sort of jihadi version of Islam typically found in American prisons As the indictment puts it, James, now 29, preached that JIS members have the duty"to target for violent attack any enemies of Islam or ‘infidels,' including the United States government and Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel."
James, serving a 10-year prison sentence for an armed robbery in 1996, recruited acolytes among fellow inmates Volunteers swore to obey him and not to disclose the existence of JIS. On release from prison, they promised to get directives from him at least every three months, recruit Muslims to JIS, and attack government officials and supporters of Israel.
Levar Haney Washington, 25, allegedly joined the JIS and swore allegiance to James just before being released from New Folsom in November 2004, having served his six-year sentence for a 1999 assault and robbery. On getting out, Washington immediately began recruiting at his mosque, Jamat-E-Masijidul Islam in the Los Angeles area."He regarded Osama bin Laden very highly," reported one person whom Washington tried to recruit.
Two men, both 21 years old and without criminal records, did sign up: a lawful Pakistani immigrant and student at Santa Monica College, Hammad Riaz Samana; and a black convert who had worked at a duty-free shop in Los Angeles International Airport, Gregory Vernon Patterson The three, plus James, now face up to life in prison for conspiring"to levy a war against the Government of the United States through terrorism."
They did so in five ways. They conducted surveillance of American government targets (military recruitment stations and bases), Israeli targets (consulate in L.A. and El-Al airlines), and Jewish targets (synagogues). The trio monitored the Jewish calendar and, the indictment notes, planned to attack synagogues on Jewish holidays"to maximize the number of casualties."
They acquired an arsenal of weapons. To fund this undertaking, they set off on a crime wave, robbing (or attempting to rob) gas stations 11 times in the five weeks after May 30. They engaged in physical and firearms training. Finally, they tried recruiting other Muslims.
But Patterson dropped a mobile telephone during the course of one gas station robbery, and the police retrieved it. Information from the phone set off an FBI-led investigation that involved more than 25 agencies and 500 investigators. The police staked out Patterson and Washington, arresting them after they robbed a Chevron station on July 5. Washington's apartment turned up bulletproof vests, knives, jihad literature, and the addresses of potential targets. Patterson was waiting to acquire an AR-15 assault rifle.
The JIS story prompts some worried observations.
Although Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales lavished praise on"the work of able investigators at all levels of government" in solving this case, law enforcement was as clueless about the JIS gang as was its British counterpart about the July 7 bombers. If not for the lucky break of a dropped phone, the jihadists probably would have struck. It is extremely disturbing to see law enforcement pat itself on the back for ineptitude.
American prisons are comparable to the banlieues in France, the principal recruiting grounds for a criminal form of Islam. As Frank Gaffney observes,"The alleged New Folsom State plot had better rouse us out of our stupor." Will it? Senate hearings in 2003 on prison jihadism yielded distressingly few results.
The emergence of a primarily African-American Islamist terrorist cell signals a new trend. Native-born Americans have taken part in terrorist operations before, but (again, as in London), this case this marks their first large-scale plot.
Terrorist plans that fail don't make headlines, but they should. This was a near-miss. Home-grown radical Islam has arrived and will do damage.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 6, 2005 - 19:37
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (9-4-05)
The headline was:"Direct hit in New Orleans could mean a modern Atlantis," and the first paragraph of the story read:"More than 1.2 million people in metropolitan New Orleans were warned to get out Tuesday as [the] 140-mph hurricane churned toward the Gulf Coast, threatening to submerge this below-sea-level city in what could be the most disastrous storm to hit in nearly 40 years." That was USA Today and the only catch was -- the piece had been written on September 14, 2004 as Hurricane Ivan seemed to be barreling toward New Orleans.
I commented at the time:"When ‘Ivan the Terrible' threatened New Orleans, correspondents there had a field day discussing whether the city might literally disappear beneath the waves -- this was referred to as the ‘Atlantis scenario.'" I was then trying to point out that we might indeed be entering a new, globally warmed world of Xtreme weather and no connections whatsoever were being made in the media. At the time, global warming, if discussed at all, was a captive of the far north (melting glaciers, unnerved Inuit, robins making miraculous appearances in Alaska), and "Atlantis scenarios" were the property of distant islands like the atolls that make up the tiny South Pacific nation of Tuvalu, threatened with abandonment due to rising ocean waters and ever fiercer, ever less seasonal storms And yet just short of a year ago, not only was it well known that New Orleans' levees weren't fit for a class 5 hurricane or that the Bush administration was slashing the budget of the Army Corps of Engineers, but the"Atlantis scenario" was already somewhere on the collective mind. Now, it has been upon us for almost a week.
Much of New Orleans has become the Atlantis from hell, a toxic sludge pool of a looted former city, filled with dead bodies, burning in places, threatened with diseases like cholera and typhus that haven't visited the Big Easy since early in the last century, and with thousands upon thousands of the black poor and a few of the stranded better-to-do like doctors, nurses, and a few local officials left for days on end with next to no way out. It is, in short, the feral city that thirty years of science fiction films (and post-apocalyptic novels) have delivered to the American public as entertainment as well as prophesy. (Think, Escape from New York).
Now, try this passage:"The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of [the] hurricane... looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less -- mainly Black -- were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath." Admittedly a vivid description, but certainly commonplace enough at the moment -- except that it, too, was written back in September 2004 by Mike Davis, also for Tomdispatch, and prophetically labeled, "Poor, Black, and Left Behind." It, too, concerned not Katrina's but Ivan's approach to New Orleans. So there we are. It was possible to know then the fundaments of just about everything that's happened now -- and not just from Tomdispatch either.
In the last week, we've seen many of the black poor of New Orleans not only left behind in a new Atlantis, but thousands upon thousands of them -- those who didn't die in their wheelchairs, or on highway overpasses, or in the ill-fated convention center, or unattended and forgotten in their homes -- sent off on what looked very much like a new trail of tears. Right now, above all, New Orleans and the Mississippi coast, as so many reporters have observed with shock, are simply the Bangladesh of North America (after a disastrous set of monsoons), or a Kinshasa (without the resources). Soon, if Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has anything to do with it, the city may simply be consigned to the slagheap of history or a lot of it, as he so delicately put it to a suburban weekly in Illinois (where a few farmers who need the crucial deep water port of New Orleans to send their upcoming crops onto the global market may take umbrage), perhaps"bulldozed." Someday, Katrina may be seen as the"perfect storm," the harbinger of a future for which we remain far more adamantly, obdurately unwilling to prepare than even the Bush administration was for this localized"Atlantis scenario."
Iraq in America: Parallels and Connections
New Orleans is not the only toxic sludge pool in sight. Let's not forget the toxic sludge pool of Bush administration policy which came so clearly into view as Katrina ripped the scrim off our society, revealing an Iraqi-style reality here at home. Unlike conquered and occupied Iraq, the strip-mining of this country in recent years has taken place largely out of sight. While Baghdad was turned into some kind of dead zone of insecurity, lack of electricity, lack of gas, lack of jobs, lack of just about everything a human being in a modern city has come to expect, American cities -- until last week -- stood seemingly untouched in what was still proudly called"the world's last superpower." But just out of sight, the coring, gutting, and dismantling of the civilian governmental support system of the United States, that famed"safety net," was well underway. Bush administration proponents and conservative ideologues had long talked about"starving the beast"; but, until Katrina hit, it remained for many Americans at best a kind of political figure of speech.
Now we know for real. The beast has been starved; or rather, the beasts have been fed and the much-maligned part of the state that protected its citizens with something other than guns has been starved. What Katrina's course through Mississippi and Louisiana revealed was the real meaning of starvation. It seems we no longer have the capacity for a full-scale civilian response to a major disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security and led by an incompetent who had been fired from his previous job as head of the International Arabian Horse Association, has had "its ties to state emergency programs… weakened, and… has reduced spending on disaster preparation." In the same way, we now know that the Army Corps of Engineers was financially reined in on crucial levee work in New Orleans. Much of this sort of thing was done under the guise of preparing for, or fighting, or funding the war on terror at home and abroad. Many pundits, for instance, have remarked on the obvious fact -- which had previously worried the governors of many states -- that significant chunks of the National Guard and, just as important for disaster relief, its heavy equipment are to be found in Iraq, not here to be called upon in an emergency. (And when the avian flu, or the next health disaster, suddenly hits our country, consider it a guarantee -- the media will again be filled with the same sort of shock about the civilian response to the crisis, because our public health system has also been gutted and de-funded under the guise of the war on terrorism.)
Over the last years, just about everything of a helping nature that is governmental, other than the military, has begun to be starved or stripped by the looters of this administration -- set loose in Washington rather than Baghdad or New Orleans. If you want a signal of this, we should all be wincing every time the President gets up, as he did the other day in the presence of his father and Bill Clinton, and shakes the tin cup, urging"the private sector" and generous citizens to fill in -- an impossibility -- for what his administration won't pony up.
The Bush people undoubtedly thought that they would be able to slip out of town in 2008 without paying the price. But when Katrina roared onto the vulnerable coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana, it swept all of the Bush administration's devastating policies -- environmental, fiscal, energy, and military, as well as its plans for the unraveling of the civilian infrastructure -- into a perfect storm of policy catastrophe that, ironically, may threaten the administration itself. By the time motorists in non-disaster states return from a Labor Day with $3-4 a gallon (or more) gas (and possibly long lines) to an ongoing catastrophe which will take months, if not our lifetime, to fully unfold, it's possible that the levees of the President's base of support -- that 40% which still approved of his administration in the latest Gallup Poll, conducted the week before Katrina hit -- will have been breached for the first time.
Think of our last two years in Iraq, which has left the world's most powerful military running on baling wire and duct tape, as a kind of coming attractions for Katrina. In fact, so many bizarre connections or parallels are suggested by the Bush administration's war in Iraq as to stagger the imagination. Here are just six of the parallels that immediately came to my mind:
1. Revelations of unexpected superpower helplessness: A single catastrophic war against a modest-sized, not particularly dramatically armed minority insurgency in one oil land has brought the planet's mightiest military to a complete, grinding, disastrous halt and sent its wheels flying off in all directions. A single not-exactly-unexpected hurricane leveling a major American city and the coastlines of two states, has brought the emergency infrastructure of the world's mightiest power to a complete, grinding, disastrous halt and sent its wheels flying off in all directions.
2. Planning ignored: It's now notorious that the State Department did copious planning for a post-invasion, occupied Iraq, all of which was ignored by the Pentagon and Bush administration neocons when the country was taken. In New Orleans, it's already practically notorious that endless planning, disaster war-gaming, and the like were done for how to deal with a future"Atlantis scenario," none of which was attended to as Katrina bore down on the southeastern coast.
3. Lack of Boots on the ground: It's no less notorious that, from the moment before the invasion of Iraq when General Eric Shinseki told a congressional committee that"several hundred thousand troops" would minimally be needed to successfully occupy Iraq and was more or less laughed out of Washington, Donald Rumsfeld's new, lean, mean military has desperately lacked boots on the ground (hence those Louisiana and Mississippi National Guards off in Iraq). Significant numbers of National Guard only made it to New Orleans on the fifth and sixth days after Katrina struck and regular military boots-on-the-ground have been few and far between. No Pentagon help was pre-positioned for Katrina and, typically enough, the Navy hospital ship Comfort, scheduled to help, had not left Baltimore harbor by Friday morning for its many day voyage to the Gulf.
4. Looting: The inability (or unwillingness) to deploy occupying American troops to stem a wave of looting that left the complete administrative, security, and even cultural infrastructure of Baghdad destroyed is now nearly legendary, as is Donald Rumsfeld's response to the looting at the time. ("Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here." To which he added, on the issue of the wholesale looting of Baghdad,"Stuff happens.") In New Orleans, the President never declared martial law while, for days, gangs of armed looters along with desperate individuals abandoned and in need of food and supplies of all kinds, roamed the city uncontested as buildings began to burn.
What, facing this crisis, did the Bush administration actually do? The two early, symbolic actions it took were typical. Neither would have a significant effect on the immediate situation at hand, but both forwarded long-term administration agendas that had little to do with Katrina or the crisis in the southeastern United States: First, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was relaxing pollution standards on gasoline blends in order to counteract the energy crisis Katrina had immediately put on the table. This was, of course, but a small further step in the gutting of general environmental, clean air and pollution laws that strike hard at another kind of safety net -- the one protecting our planet. And second, its officials began to organize a major operation out of Northcom, Joint Task Force Katrina, to act as the military's on-scene command in"support" of an enfeebled FEMA. The U.S. Northern Command was set up by the Bush administration in 2002 and ever since has been prepared to take on ever larger, previously civilian tasks on our home continent. (As the Northcom site quotes the President as saying,"There is an overriding and urgent mission here in America today, and that's to protect our homeland. We have been called into action, and we've got to act.")
There were to be swift boats in the Gulf and Green Berets at the New Orleans airport, and yet Donald Rumsfeld's new, stripped-down, high-tech military either couldn't (or wouldn't) deploy any faster to New Orleans than it did to Baghdad, perhaps because it had already been so badly torn up and stressed out in Iraq (and had left most of its local"first responders" there).
5. Nation-building: As practically nobody remembers, George Bush in his first run for the presidency humbly eschewed the very idea of"nation-building" abroad. That was only until he sent the Pentagon blasting into Iraq. Over two years and endless billions of dollars later -- the Iraq War now being, on a monthly basis, more expensive than Vietnam -- the evidence of the administration's nation-building success in its"reconstruction" of Iraq is at hand for all to see. That country is now a catastrophe beyond imagining without repair in sight. (For Baghdad, think New Orleans without water, but with a full-scale insurgency.) So as the Pentagon ramps up in its ponderous manner to launch a campaign in the United States and as the Marines finally land in the streets of New Orleans, don't hold your breath about either the Pentagon's or the administration's nation-building skills in the U.S. (But count on"reconstruction" contracts going to Halliburton.) If Rumsfeld's Pentagon -- where so much of our money has gone in recent years -- turns out to be even a significant factor in the"reconstruction" of New Orleans, we'll never have that city back.
6. Predictions: Given the last two years in which the President as well as top administration officials have regularly insisted that we had reached the turning point, or turned that corner, or hit the necessary tipping point in Iraq, that success or progress or even victory was endlessly at hand (and then at hand again and then again), consider what we should think of the President's repeated statements of Katrina" confidence," his insistence that his administration can deal successfully with the hurricane's aftereffects and is capable of overseeing the successful rebuilding of New Orleans. ("All Americans can be certain our nation has the character, the resources, and the resolve to overcome this disaster. We will comfort and care for the victims. We will restore the towns and neighborhoods that have been lost in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. We'll rebuild the great city of New Orleans. And we'll once again show the world that the worst adversities bring out the best in America.")
As an aside, one great difference between the American public's experience of the Iraqi War and of the aftermath of Katrina shouldn't be overlooked. This time, our reporters weren't embedded with the troops, and so weren't experiencing mainly the administration's artificially-created version of reality. Instead, they made it to the distressed areas of the southeastern U.S. way ahead of the troops, remained in their absence, saw unreconstructed, unspun reality for themselves, and were generally outraged. So, for instance, when Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff made ridiculous claims about what the government had accomplished, reporters were able to say, emphatically, that his version was a lie and other Americans knew it was so, because they had seen it for themselves.
And don't even get me started on comparisons to Bush administration behavior from the moment, also in Crawford in August 2001, that the President and his advisors ignored the infamous CIA daily intelligence briefing on Osama bin Laden ("Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S."), delivered at a length and with a simplicity that even George Bush should have been able to absorb. Speaking of déjà vu all over again, his recent behavior re: Katrina echoed strangely his 9/11 behavior. After all, on 9/11, he first sat paralyzed in a classroom in Florida, then boarded Air Force One and headed not for Washington but (gulp…) for Louisiana. It was an act of panic if not cowardice that was quickly covered over when he finally did make it to Washington and later New York City, talking tough and launching his war against Evil.
When Katrina hit, he sat in Crawford; then (perhaps -- to have a thoroughly unkind thought -- continuing his flight from Cindy Sheehan), he boarded his plane and headed in the wrong direction, for San Diego where he stood against the backdrop of an aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan (don't these people ever learn?), and pretended it was actually World War II and we were occupying Japan. By this time, every excuse for his war in Iraq having peeled away (the al-Qaeda connection, the wmds, even"freedom"), he finally arrived at a new explanation for why we were there. It was... oil -- or to be more exact, an oil fantasy. ("If Zarqawi and bin Laden gain control of Iraq, they would create a new training ground for future terrorist attacks; they'd seize oil fields to fund their ambitions; they could recruit more terrorists by claiming an historic victory over the United States and our coalition.")
Maybe he should send David Kay, who headed his fruitless weapons-of-mass-destruction search team, back to Iraq to look for oil, since it's been in short supply there, and now is about to be here. Only then did our President get on a jet heading in the right direction -- towards Louisiana, where he had the pilot swoop down to 1,700 feet (as if that were something daring) for a close look -- on his way to Washington. Nobody in the administration, it seems, thought to put boot to the soil of Mississippi or Louisiana in the first crucial days of this crisis. (If you want the details -- Vice-President Cheney remained on vacation in Wyoming and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in New York buying shoes by the scads while offers of aid poured in from such disparate countries as Australia, Israel, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela -- check out Maureen Dowd's latest New York Times blast, United States of Shame.) The one constant of this President and his administration is that their most essential impulse is never to head for the frontlines themselves -- not in war, not in disaster, not for our safety or our planet's safety, not even on the campaign trail. They are invariably at the front of nowhere at all, and more than happy to be there. The old" chickenhawk" label has a deeper meaning than we ever realized.
In the meantime, what we know from Katrina is that, in George Bush's new America, we are no longer capable, as a civilian society, of rescuing ourselves. Even the more civilian part of our military is gone. The Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard, after all, are mainly in Iraq, feeling, I'm sure, mighty helpless right now, while chaos reigns in their home cities. Thank you, George. Mission Accomplished!
Before the Iraq War, it was already evident that the State Department -- the foreign policy equivalent of a civilian effort -- was atrophying. (Administration officials were, after all, starving that beast too.)"Diplomacy," such as it was, was being conducted with other nations ever more regularly by our military proconsuls like our Centcom commander in the Middle East on a military-to-military basis. A grim wag suggested to me recently that the only way New Orleans would have gotten some quick action was if the administration had renamed Katrina"Osama," claimed it left behind weapons of mass destruction (as it may, in fact, have), and then invaded the city.
When an administration which has long believed that the resort to force should be the initial impulse behind any policy finally acts, force is unsurprisingly all it knows. If what we've observed in the last week is the response of the Bush administration to an essentially predictable civilian catastrophe, then imagine how prepared it is, after these four years of"homeland security," for an unpredictable one. Or what about, for instance, just another massive hurricane in this age of Xtreme weather? After all, though you can't find a word in the papers about it at the moment, we are only halfway through the fiercest, longest hurricane season in memory. We should be scared. Very scared.
In the end, this country remains in a powerful state of denial on two major matters which help explain why the elevation of George Bush and his cronies was no mistake. We are now a highly militarized society in all sorts of ways that any of us could see, but that is seldom recognized or discussed (except when the threat of base closings sends specific communities into a panic). Unrecognized and unconsidered, the militarized nature of our society is likely in the future to prove both dangerous and highly destructive. Right now, we are a weakened superpower wired for force and force alone -- and if Iraq has shown us one thing, it's that, when it comes to solving human problems of any sort, military force is highly overrated.
And of course, we are as a society in denial over the toxic sludge pool where climate change (or global warming) meets Middle Eastern energy dependence. On this, our future rests. If someone doesn't get to the frontlines of planetary security soon, we may be living not just with one feral city, but on a feral continent, part of a feral world.
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: Monday, September 5, 2005 - 13:58
Posted on: Monday, September 5, 2005 - 13:37
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (9-4-05)
Disasters happen. Two hundred and fifty years ago, on November 1, 1755, the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, was flattened by an earthquake that killed thousands of its inhabitants. Like the hurricane that inundated New Orleans last week, the calamity inspired not only awe at the power of nature and sympathy for the helpless victims, but also all kinds of moral commentary. None was more profound than that of the French philosopher Voltaire.
To Voltaire, the destruction of Lisbon was proof that we do not live "in the best of all possible worlds" - a philosophical position associated with Gottfried Leibniz, but most pithily expressed in Alexander Pope's Essay on Man: Whatever is, is right. According to Leibniz, evil and suffering were integral parts of the order God had ordained. Though they might seem inexplicable to us, they were a vital part of the divine plan; the world would, paradoxically, be less perfect without them.
I wonder how many Southern preachers will venture that argument today, at a time when untold numbers of bodies are lying unburied in the streets of what used to be "the Big Easy", or floating in the toxic flood unleashed by Hurricane Katrina? Most, I suspect, will prefer to echo the prayer published by the United Church of Christ not long after the deluge: "Be present, O God, with those who are discovering that loved ones have died, that homes and jobs are gone. Embrace them in your everlasting arms.
"Be present, O God, with those who suffer today in shelters, hot and weary from too little sleep and too much fear. Let them know they are not alone."
No doubt those are appropriate things to be asking of God at a time like this, but they rather beg the question where He was when Katrina burst the levee walls. I must say I prefer clergymen who, like Leibniz, at least address the issue of why God allows such horrors to happen
Voltaire's answer was a classic statement of the atheist position. Disasters happen because there is no God. As he wrote to a friend, the Lisbon earthquake was "a cruel piece of natural philosophy! We shall find it difficult to discover how the laws of movement operate in such fearful disasters in the best of all possible worlds - where a hundred thousand ants, our neighbours, are crushed in a second on our ant-heaps-, half dying, undoubtedly in inexpressible agonies, beneath debris from which it was impossible to extricate them… What a game of chance human life is! ...
The old-time hellfire and brimstone reaction would have been to interpret the inundation, John Wesley style, as a judgment on the city that brazenly calls itself "Party Town". But few Christian Churches risk such strong moral medicine these days.
No such inhibitions constrain today's Islamic extremists. The Associated Press reported that they "rejoiced in America's misfortune, giving the storm a military rank and declaring in internet chatter that 'Private' Katrina had joined the global jihad. With God's help, they declared, oil prices would hit $100-a-barrel this year."
It would be hard to get more tasteless. Yet the same underlying impulse - to interpret the disaster as confirmation of one's own ideological position - was at work among many American liberals too. Opponents of the war in Iraq were not slow to point out that National Guardsmen who should have been on hand to rescue hurricane victims were instead failing to prevent lethal stampedes in far-away Baghdad. The usual suspects could not resist pointing out that most of the people trapped in the flooded city were poor African-Americans, who lacked the means to flee the hurricane.
And, inevitably, environmentalists rushed to portray the storm as retribution for the Bush administration's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol....
The reality is, of course, that natural disasters have no moral significance....
Posted on: Sunday, September 4, 2005 - 20:47
SOURCE: Wa Po (9-4-05)
America's most contentious war is being freely evoked to explain the "quagmire" we are supposedly now in. Vietnam is an obvious comparison given the frustration of asymmetrical warfare and savage enemies who escape our conventional power. But make no mistake, Iraq is not like Vietnam, and it must not end like Vietnam. Despite our tragic lapses, leaving now would be a monumental mistake -- and one that we would all too soon come to regret.
If we fled precipitously, moderates in the Middle East could never again believe American assurances of support for reform and would have to retreat into the shadows -- or find themselves at the mercy of fascist killers. Jihadists would swell their ranks as they hyped their defeat of the American infidels. Our forward strategy of hitting terrorists hard abroad would be discredited and replaced by a return to the pre-9/11 tactics of a few cruise missiles and writs. And loyal allies in Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan, along with new friends in India and the former Soviet republics, would find themselves leaderless in the global struggle against Islamic radicalism.
The specter of Vietnam will also turn on those who embrace it. Iraq is not a surrogate theater of the Cold War, where national liberationists, fueled by the romance of radical egalitarianism, are fortified by nearby Marxist nuclear patrons. The jihadists have an 8th-century agenda of gender apartheid, religious intolerance and theocracy. For all its pyrotechnics, the call for a glorious return to the Dark Ages has found no broad constituency.
Nor is our army in Iraq conscript, but volunteer and professional. The Iraqi constitutional debate is already light-years ahead of anything that emerged in Saigon. And there is an exit strategy, not mission creep -- we will consider withdrawal as the evolution to a legitimate government continues and the Iraqi security forces grow.
But the comparison to Vietnam may be instructive regarding another aspect -- the aftershocks of a premature American departure. Leaving Vietnam to the communists did not make anyone safer. The flight of the mid-1970s energized U.S. enemies in Iran, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Central America, while tearing our own country apart for nearly a quarter-century. Today, most Americans are indeed very troubled over the war in Iraq -- but mostly they are angry about not winning quickly, rather than resigned to losing amid recriminations.
We forget that once war breaks out, things usually get far worse before they get better. We should remember that 1943, after we had entered World War II, was a far bloodier year than 1938, when the world left Hitler alone. Similarly, 2005 may have brought more open violence in Iraq than was visible during Saddam's less publicized killings of 2002....
Posted on: Sunday, September 4, 2005 - 19:49
SOURCE: Slate (9-1-05)
The Kennedy administration thus learned that the army must be told in advance what to do. As a matter of law and preference, the military does little training for domestic missions. It balks and mutters about posse comitatus, the legal principle that prohibits the use of the army for law enforcement, and leaves the hard work for the National Guard and state and local authorities. This has made sense most of the time. But in an era when we are supposed to be better prepared for an urban disaster, the tradition of allowing local and state authorities to be overwhelmed before the federal government and military step in should have been rethought.
Located only three hours from New Orleans is Fort Polk, home of the 4th Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry unit with about 3,000 soldiers. Also at Fort Polk is the Joint Readiness Training Center, which prepares military units to respond rapidly to crises abroad. The 4th Brigade has been training for duty in Afghanistan. Why was it also not ready to take on a local disaster scenario in hurricane season? Or at the least, once the National Hurricane Center predicted that the eye of Katrina would come close to New Orleans, couldn't DHS have deployed the military to help shore up the levees?
And in the event of a WMD attack, when there would likely be no warning at all, what is DHS's contingency plan for moving into position the army or the marines to restore order and sustain life? In the wake of Katrina and the breached levee, the answer seems to be not much of one. In the wake of 9/11, that is worse than incomprehensible. It is unforgivable.
Posted on: Friday, September 2, 2005 - 19:19