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: National Interest (Fall 2005)
...In Bush's first term, the "Bush Doctrine" meant above all the avowal that the United States would not sit on its hands and await the development of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of tyrants but was prepared, on the contrary, to take the offensive against them. Now it is the "being" and not the "doing" of autocratic states that creates the security threat to the United States, which can only be addressed by dramatic change in the character of these governments, either through reform or revolution. Though Bush concedes that ending tyranny is the work of generations, he also styles it as an urgent task of American security. He acknowledges, too, that such change is not primarily the task of arms, but he does not exclude the possibility that it may in the future be a task for arms, and he seems to pledge U.S. support to all those who seek to revolutionize despotic governments. "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
A central question raised by the Bush Doctrine is the extent to which it comports with the historic understanding of the American purpose. Normally, an active role in the propagation of free institutions is attributed to Woodrow Wilson, and it has become customary to identify America's recent presidents--especially Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush--as "neo-Wilsonians." But Bush goes further, insisting that the policy proclaimed in his second Inaugural Address is a logical outgrowth of America's historic commitment to free institutions: "From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value. . . . Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government. . . . Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation."
The determination of the "intentions" or "original understanding" of the Founding Fathers has often excited attention and speculation, but as often as not their intentions have seemed shrouded in ambiguity. The "silences of the Constitution" have often been as important--and mystifying--as its plain avowals. But the questions raised by the Bush Doctrine--whether it is rightful to propagate changes in another nation's form of government and what role the United States should play in the protection and expansion of free institutions--often commanded serious attention, and the answers given by the Founders and their epigones lend no support to the Bush Doctrine.
The question of whether force might be used to revolutionize foreign governments arose quickly after the making of the Constitution, in the wars provoked by the French Revolution. The British government, James Madison would later recall, "thought a war of more than 20 years called for against France by an edict, afterwards disavowed, which assumed the policy of propagating changes of Government in other Countries." The offensive edict to which Madison refers is the declaration of the French Convention on November 19, 1792, that "it will accord fraternity and assistance to all peoples who shall wish to recover their liberty"--a declaration that bears an uncanny resemblance to the policy Bush announced in his second Inaugural Address. Alexander Hamilton also took umbrage at the doctrine and argued that the French decree was "little short of a declaration of War against all nations, having princes and privileged classes", equally repugnant "to the general rights of Nations [and] to the true principles of liberty." Thomas Jefferson, who unlike Hamilton strongly sympathized with the French Revolution, nevertheless acknowledged that "the French have been guilty of great errors in their conduct toward other nations, not only in insulting uselessly all crowned heads, but endeavoring to force liberty on their neighbors in their own form." Much as Hamilton and Jefferson differed in their assignment of guilt to the warring parties, both of them made their normative assessments of the European war in terms that emphasized the illegitimacy of war for the purpose of propagating changes of government in other countries. ...
Posted on: Monday, October 31, 2005 - 12:51
SOURCE: Wa Po (10-30-05)
Continuous campaigning, dating back to Richard Nixon and perfected in succeeding decades, has evolved into the approach of choice. Stage-managed events, orchestrated by masters of spin, provide the appearance of a chief executive in charge of the nation's destiny. Some presidents -- Ronald Reagan, Clinton and the younger Bush -- were or are masters of the art. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were less adept on the hustings and more at home with policies, diplomacy and personnel choices. Their performances varied but their impulse was toward making the government run, not creating the illusion of an executive in perpetual motion.
The Bush team brought its campaign skills from the 2000 presidential contest into the White House and never stopped its reliance on these methods. Along with that style went the assumptions rooted in the Republican DNA of the president and those around him: The Democratic Party is not a worthy partner in the political process; repealing key elements of the New Deal is but a prelude to overturning the accomplishments of the Progressive Era; and negotiations with a partisan opponent are not opportunities to be embraced but traps to be avoided.
The other part of the recipe for Bush's success was an unstated but evident identification of the president himself with the nation at large. Accompanied by a willing array of incense swingers in the White House, Bush attained (particularly in the minds of his base) a status that embraced both the imperial and in some cases the quasi-deified. Why then become involved in the details of running a government from the Oval Office? Appoint the right Republicans to key posts, and the federal government would run itself while providing an unending source of patronage for supporters, contracts for friendly businesses and the sinews of perpetual political dominance. It seemed to cross no one's mind that the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- a post where dealing with extraordinary crises is all in a day's work -- might need to be super-competent rather than just a superintendent.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq insulated the president from questioning whether his government was operating effectively. In the first term, criticism and contrary advice could be (and often was) labeled as mere partisan sniping, as happened with such figures as former National Security Council counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and, more notably, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.
During a campaign, attacking the opponent's motives is part of the cut and thrust of politics, and so the substance of charges can be finessed with the claim that their author had worked for the opposition or had some other hidden agenda. In the case of Wilson, the attack on him fit with the principle of rapid retaliation so characteristic of a campaign. Less thought was apparently devoted to whether revealing the identity of his wife, a CIA employee, served the interests of wise and prudent governance. Whatever the outcome of the charges filed Friday against Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the apparent blurring of the line between campaigning and governing is evident in the indictment returned by the federal grand jury....
Posted on: Sunday, October 30, 2005 - 20:25
SOURCE: National Review Online (10-28-05)
Before Harriet Miers, conservatives pined for a Chief Justice Antonin Scalia, with a Justice Roberts and someone like a Janice Rogers Brown rounding out a battle-hardened and formidable new conservative triad. They relished the idea of a Scalia frying Joe Biden in a televised cross-examination or another articulate black female nominee once again embarrassing a shrill Barbara Boxer — all as relish to brilliantly crafted opinions scaling back the reach of activist judges. That was not quite to be.
But now, with the Miers' withdrawal, the president might as well go for broke to reclaim his base and redefine his second term as one of principle rather than triangulating politics. So he should call in top Republican senators and the point people of his base — never more needed than now — and get them to agree on the most brilliant, accomplished, and conservative jurist possible. He should then ram the nominee through, in a display to the American people of the principles at stake.
It is also time to step up lecturing both the American people and the Iraqis on exactly what we are doing in the Sunni Triangle. We have been sleepwalking through the greatest revolutionary movement in the history of the Middle East, as the U.S. military is quietly empowering the once-despised Kurds and Shiites — and along with them women and the other formerly dispossessed of Iraq. In short, the U.S. Marine Corps has done more for global freedom and social justice in two years than has every U.N. peacekeeping mission since the inception of that now-corrupt organization.
This is high-stakes — and idealistic — stuff. And the more we talk in such terms, the more the president can put the onus of cynical realism on the peace movement and the corrupt forces in the Middle East, who alike wish us to fail. Forget acrimony over weapons of mass destruction, platitudes about abstract democracy, and arguments over U.S. security strategies. Instead bluntly explain to the world how at this time and at this moment the U. S. is trying to bring equality and freedom to the unfree, in a manner rare in the history of civilization.
Yes, the Kurds and the Shiites need to compromise. The Sunnis must disavow terrorism. But above all, the American people need to be reminded there was no oil, no hegemony, no money, no Israel, and no profit involved in this effort, but something far greater and more lasting. And so it no accident that the Iraqis are the only people in the Arab world voting in free elections and dying as they fight in the war against terror....
Posted on: Friday, October 28, 2005 - 19:09
SOURCE: Life During Wartime Series (10-27-05)
Posted on: Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 16:27
SOURCE: NYT (10-27-05)
Comparative historical arguments, too, are not much welcome in making sense of the tragic military deaths - any more than citing the tens of thousands Americans who perish in traffic accidents each year. And few care to hear that the penultimate battles of a war are often the costliest - like the terrible summer of 1864 that nearly ruined the Army of the Potomac and almost ushered in a Copperhead government eager to stop at any cost the Civil War, without either ending slavery or restoring the Union. The battle for Okinawa was an abject bloodbath that took more than 50,000 American casualties, yet that campaign officially ended less than six weeks before Nagasaki and the Japanese surrender.
Compared with Iraq, America lost almost 17 times more dead in Korea, and 29 times more again in Vietnam - in neither case defeating our enemies nor establishing democracy in a communist north.
Contemporary critics understandably lament our fourth year of war since Sept. 11 in terms of not achieving a victory like World War II in a similar stretch of time. But that is to forget the horrendous nature of such comparison when we remember that America lost 400,000 dead overseas at a time when the country was about half its present size.
There is a variety of explanations why the carnage of history seems to bring today's public little comfort or perspective about the comparatively moderate costs of Iraq. First, Americans, like most democratic people, can endure fatalities if they believe they come in the pursuit of victory, during a war against an aggressor with a definite beginning and end. That's why most polls found that about three-quarters of the American people approved of the invasion upon the fall of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad in April 2003.
The public's anguish for the fewer than 150 lost during that campaign was counterbalanced by the apparently easy victory and the visible signs of enemy capitulation. But between the first 200 fatalities and the 2,000th, a third of those favoring the war changed their minds, now writing off Iraq as a mistake. Perhaps we could summarize this radical transformation as, "I was for my easy removal of Saddam, but not for your bungled and costly postwar reconstruction."
Part of the explanation is that, like all wars against amorphous insurgencies, the current struggle requires almost constant explanation by the government to show how and why troops are fighting in a necessary cause - and for the nation's long-term security interests. Unless official spokesmen can continually connect the terrible sacrifices of our youth with the need to establish a consensual government in Iraq that might help to end the old pathology of the Middle East, in which autocracies spawn parasitic anti-Western terrorists, then the TV screen's images of blown-up American troops become the dominant narrative. The Bush administration, of course, did not help itself by having put forth weapons of mass destruction as the primary reason for the invasion - when the Senate, in bipartisan fashion, had previously authorized the war on a score of other sensible writs.
Yet castigating a sitting president for incurring such losses in even a victorious or worthy cause is hardly new. World War I and its aftermath destroyed Woodrow Wilson. Franklin Roosevelt's closest election was his fourth, just as the war was turning for the better in 1944 (a far better fate, remember, than his coalition partner Winston Churchill, who was thrown out of office before the final victory that he had done so much to ensure). Harry Truman wisely did not seek re-election in 1952 in the mess of Korea. Vietnam destroyed Lyndon Johnson and crippled Richard Nixon. Even George H. W. Bush found no lasting thanks for his miraculous victory in the 1991 Gulf war, while Bill Clinton's decision to tamper Serbian aggression - a victory obtained without the loss of a single American life - gave him no stored political capital when impeachment neared.
Americans are not afraid of wars, and usually win them, but our nature is not militaristic. Generals may become heroes despite the loss of life, but the presidents rarely find much appreciation even in victory.
Television and the global news media have changed the perception of combat fatalities as well. CNN would have shown a very different Iwo Jima - bodies rotting on the beach, and probably no coverage of the flag-raising from Mount Suribachi. It is conventional wisdom now to praise the amazing accomplishment of June 6, 1944. But a few ex tempore editorial comments from Geraldo Rivera or Ted Koppel, reporting live from the bloody hedgerows where the Allied advance stalled not far from the D-Day beaches - a situation rife with intelligence failures, poor equipment and complete surprise at German tactics - might have forced a public outcry to withdraw the forces from the Normandy "debacle" before it became a "quagmire." ...
Posted on: Thursday, October 27, 2005 - 15:20
SOURCE: NY Sun (10-26-05)
An Islamist group named Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to bring the world under Islamic law and advocates suicide attacks against Israelis. Facing proscription in Great Britain, it opened a clandestine front operation at British universities called"Stop Islamophobia," the Sunday Times has disclosed.
Stop what, you ask?
Coined in Great Britain a decade ago, the neologism Islamophobia was launched in 1996 by a self-proclaimed"Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia." The word literally means"undue fear of Islam" but it is used to mean"prejudice against Muslims" and joins over 500 other phobias spanning virtually every aspect of life.
The term has achieved a degree of linguistic and political acceptance, to the point that the secretary-general of the United Nations presided over a December 2004 conference titled"Confronting Islamophobia" and in May a Council of Europe summit condemned"Islamophobia."
The term presents several problems, however. First, what exactly constitutes an"undue fear of Islam" when Muslims acting in the name of Islam today make up the premier source of worldwide aggression, both verbal and physical, versus non-Muslims and Muslims alike? What, one wonders, is the proper amount of fear?
Second, while prejudice against Muslims certainly exists,"Islamophobia" deceptively conflates two distinct phenomena: fear of Islam and fear of radical Islam. I personally experience this problem: Despite writing again and again against radical Islam the ideology, not Islam the religion, I have been made the runner-up for a mock"Islamophobia Award" in Great Britain, deemed America's "leading Islamophobe," and even called an"Islamophobe Incarnate." (What I really am is an"Islamism-ophobe.")
Third, promoters of the"Islamophobia" concept habitually exaggerate the problem:
Law enforcement: British Muslims are said to suffer from persistent police discrimination but an actual review of the statistics by Kenan Malik makes mincemeat of this"Islamophobia myth."
Cultural: Muslims"are faced with an extreme flow of anti-Islamic literature that preaches hatred against Islam," claims the president of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Virginia, Taha Jabir Al-‘Alwani:"novels, movies, books and researches. Just among the best selling novels alone there are almost 1000 novels of this type." One thousand bestsellers vilify Islam? Hardly. In fact, barely a handful do so (for example, The Haj, by Leon Uris).
Linguistic: A professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, falsely reported (in his keynote speech at a U.N. event,"Confronting Islamophobia," reports Alexander Joffe) attempts to hide the Arabic origins of English words such as adobe – which derives in fact from ancient Egyptian, not from Arabic.
Historical: The term anti-Semitism was originally used to describe sentiment against Arabs living in Spain, Mr. Nasr also stated in his speech, and was not linked to Jews until after World War II. Nonsense: anti-Semitism dates back only to 1879, when it was coined by Wilhelm Marr, and has always referred specifically to hatred of Jews.
Fourth, Hizb ut-Tahrir's manipulation of"Stop Islamophobia" betrays the fraudulence of this word. As the Sunday Times article explains,"Ostensibly the campaign's goal is to fight anti-Muslim prejudice in the wake of the London bombings," but it quotes Anthony Glees of London's Brunel University to the effect that the real agenda is to spread anti-Semitic, anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh, anti-homosexual, and anti-female attitudes, as well as to foment resentment of Western influence.
Finally, calling moderate Muslims (such as Irshad Manji) Islamophobes betrays this term's aggressiveness. As Charles Moore writes in the Daily Telegraph, moderate Muslims,"frightened of what the Islamists are turning their faith into," are the ones who most fear Islam. (Think of Algeria, Darfur, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.)"They cannot find the courage and the words to get to grips with the huge problem that confronts Islam in the modern world." Accusations of Islamophobia, Mr. Malik adds, are intended"to silence critics of Islam, or even Muslims fighting for reform of their communities." Another British Muslim, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, discerns an even more ambitious goal:"all too often Islamophobia is used to blackmail society."
Muslims should dispense with this discredited term and instead engage in some earnest introspection. Rather than blame the potential victim for fearing his would-be executioner, they would do better to ponder how Islamists have transformed their faith into an ideology celebrating murder (Al-Qaeda:"You love life, we love death") and develop strategies to redeem their religion by combating this morbid totalitarianism.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 26, 2005 - 20:30
SOURCE: American Heritage Blog (10-18-05)
But I part ways with Mr. Gordon in his ultimate assessment of the underlying scandal. He writes, “This is not a hands-in-the-cookie-jar scandal like Teapot Dome, which sent an attorney general to jail. It is not a serious breach-of-national-security scandal like the Pumpkin Papers, which sent Alger Hiss to jail. It is not an old fashioned corruption scandal like the vicuna coat affair that cost Eisenhower’s chief of staff his job. It is not a hanky-panky-in-high-places scandal like Monicagate, which got a President impeached. Instead, it has been basically a scandal about politics as usual.”
First, a note about history. Alger Hiss was not jailed for breaching national security. He was convicted of perjury for denying (under oath) that he had handed government documents over to Whittaker Chambers, and for denying (again, under oath) that he had had any contact with Chambers after 1937. Whether he shared classified documents with Soviet agents remains a hotly contested subject on which reasonable people can disagree. Furthermore, Bill Clinton was not impeached for hanky-panky. He was impeached for allegedly committing and suborning perjury.
History aside, how does Plamegate not represent a “serious breach of national security?”
If someone within the White House leaked the name of an undercover agent–and this, mind you, in the midst of a perpetual war on terror that the Bush White House has invoked time and again to widen executive authority–then we are indeed facing a grave situation. Either we take national security seriously or we don’t. Either it’s illegal to out a covert operative or it’s not. I fail to see the gray area here.
I agree with Mr. Gordon that Plamegate represents a sordid case of “politics as usual.” But whereas Mr. Gordon sees the Bush administration as the wronged party–in other words, he argues that the Democrats have cynically criminalized mundane political actions for strategic gain–I’d argue, instead, that the scandal has revealed the dangers of unchecked executive power. Just as in the Nixon administration, which routinely used federal agencies like the FBI and IRS to quell constitutionally protected dissent, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration may have violated federal law and compromised the safety of covert operatives to discredit a political opponent.
This isn’t a sin specific to the Republican party; indeed, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations also misused presidential powers to play hardball against their political opponents. It’s more likely a problem of the postwar imperial Presidency. Still, as since 1968 Republicans have controlled the Presidency more often than not, Republicans are by implication more culpable. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, October 25, 2005 - 15:25
SOURCE: Historians Against the War (HAW) (10-24-05)
Donald Rumsfeld encouraged the Pentagon press corps this week to forget the short term and start thinking like historians. In looking at the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, “We should ask what history will say.”
Let us follow that advice and ask Rumsfeld’s question: “What will history say?”
History will say that a reckless President and a coterie of cynical advisors tricked a frightened nation into an unnecessary war.
History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors dissipated the good will of countries around the world and turned compassion into fury.
History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors multiplied 3000 deaths in the World Trade Center into tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths.
History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors turned volunteer soldiers and National Guardsmen into national hostages, and sent them as conquerors into a place they had no right to be, without a reason, without a plan, without adequate equipment, without proper training and without international support.
History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors ignored the environment, ignored the poor, ignored the health care system, ignored the cities and then one day they ignored the weather.
And in their arrogance and indifference brought the devastation and suffering of the Iraqi town of Fallujah to the American city of New Orleans.
History will also say that this reckless President and his cynical advisors had a great many helpers. That when it mattered, the American media did not do its job, that journalists asked too few questions and repeated too many lies.
History will say that when it mattered America’s opposition party – the cowardly Democrats – changed the subject and voted for war, knowing all the time and in advance that going to Iraq was a fool’s errand and a disastrous mistake. Knowing they would never send their own children to such a place. But not sufficiently ashamed of putting Cindy Sheehan’s son and the children of other people in harm’s way.
We could also tell Donald Rumsfeld that history is a work in progress and that we are gathered here today to write a new chapter, transforming sorrow and anger into hope. As we look around us, we feel our potential strength and we know what history might say if we act on our convictions.
History might say that in 2005 the people of America regained their wits and found their voice, recognizing that you cannot defeat “terrorism” by terrorizing others and that you cannot build democracy by shooting at checkpoints, breaking down doors and bombing towns.
History might say that in 2005 the American people had enough of war, enough of torture, enough of lawlessness, enough of lying, enough of corruption, enough of “Yellow Alerts and Orange Alerts” and hyped announcements of captured “ringleaders” and vanquished enemies, who always seem to multiply.
History might say that in 2005 the American people became weary of politicians, who were evading the war or supporting it. And that they sent a message to all the would-be Presidents – to Hillary Clinton, Kerry, Biden, Bayh, Frist, McCain and anyone else – that nobody goes to the White House, who wants an expanded military or who just want “to get it right,” when the compelling need is to get us out.
History might say that in 2005, the American people fired Donald Rumsfeld and sent him for trial to the International Criminal Court, which the United States finally joined.
History might say that in 2005, the American people closed down Gitmo, shuttered Abu Ghraib, returned the National Guard to the places they were needed, and brought 147,000 of our troops back to the United States, to the homes and families where they belong.
History might say that in 2005, the American people realized that there was no easy path to safety, not from “terrorists” nor from hurricanes.
And that our best hope as a country depends on doing justice, relieving suffering, respecting difference and honoring the rule of law.
Will history actually say these things? That depends on what we do – whether we leave Washington DC today with the energy, the commitment, the belief in our own country, the faith in our fellow citizens to find a new direction and to replace the President’s message of war with a fervent call for peace.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 25, 2005 - 12:08
SOURCE: Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) (10-24-05)
The blogosphere's importance in Democratic politics has acquired additional scrutiny in the wake of Rep. Sherrod Brown's recent decision to re-enter next year's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Mike DeWine. Brown, of Lorain, earlier had announced that he would not give up his House seat to run for the Senate. That encouraged Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett to seek the Democratic nomination. Hackett, a fresh face in state and national politics, had become the darling of progressive bloggers with his near victory this summer in a special congressional election in a heavily Republican district in southwest Ohio.
Those bloggers who have been the most passionate about Hackett's Senate campaign are now deeply upset over Brown's about-face. Bloggers generally view themselves as anti-establishment insurgents, and they like to champion political novices over established politicians. Few Ohio Democrats are more established than Brown, whose political career extends over three decades in Columbus and Washington. His status as a congressional incumbent and political insider ensures a large campaign chest. Some of those funds are being used to promote Brown's candidacy among some of those same Web sites that earlier championed Hackett. Critics contend that Brown is attempting to buy off the liberal blogosphere and stifle its anti-establishment tone.
This criticism is most sharply directed at Jerome Armstrong, the blogger and national political consultant who, with his business and political associate Markos Moulitsas, catapulted to fame two years ago with their work on behalf of Howard Dean's ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. According to filings with the Federal Elections Commission, Armstrong, through his consulting firm, Political Technologies LLC, has been receiving $5,000 a month from Brown's campaign for Web site hosting and design. Brown has what amounts to two separate campaign Web sites. One, SherrodBrown.com, functions as a traditional source for candidate information. The Brown campaign has been paying $3,500 a month to a blogger who writes entries on and oversees the other site, GrowOhio.org. It has been in operation since the early summer but was actively promoting Hackett against DeWine until Brown decided earlier this month that he was going to run. Beyond the sense of betrayal felt by Hackett's supporters is the commercial muscle Armstrong has used to suppress blogger sympathy for Hackett.
Unlike the most popular conservative blogs, whose readership is evenly distributed among a variety of sites, Moulitsas' Daily Kos dominates the liberal blogosphere, with more than three quarters of a million visits each day, or nearly five times the readership of the next most popular progressive blog, Eschaton. According to recent statistics from SiteMeter, the 10th-most-popular political blog on the left attracts roughly 20,000 daily visits, while the 10th-most-popular political blog on the right has roughly 25,000 daily visits. This drop-off in visits among lesser-read blogs continues to be more severe on the left than on the right, indicating that many progressives tend to visit the same small set of sites, giving those blogs much greater influence among Democratic activists than conservative blogs have among Republicans.
Posted on: Monday, October 24, 2005 - 21:10
SOURCE: Japan Focus (10-19-05)
... The election was called because Koizumi insisted the Post Office must be privatized. Yet nobody in Japan suggested that the service offered by the Post Office was unsatisfactory and Koizumi offered little explanation other than the mantra: “kan kara min e” (from public to private).
The Japanese Post Office is a unique institution, handling not only the management of 25,000 post offices and the nation-wide postal delivery system but also a savings and life insurance system. In that latter capacity it now sits atop the world’s largest pool of funds, a total of around 350 trillion yen (over $3 trillion), made up of 230 trillion in postal savings and 120 trillion in insurance funds (thirty per cent of the Japanese life insurance market). In scale that is roughly two and a half times Citigroup or 20 times Germany’s Postbank (the banking subsidiary of Deutsche Post) . In many remote communities the post office is the central social institution. People entrust their savings to it in preference to private banking institutions despite the low interest (less than one per cent) because of its security, its low fees, and the sense that it constitutes a national fund that is used for national development projects. Koizumi’s plan called for the existing post office entities to be split into four corporations, with full privatization to take place over a ten year period to 2017, and even then government would still hold over one third of the total value of stocks through a holding company.
The Post Office, through its savings and insurance wings in particular, became a central part of the system perfected in the 1970s by Tanaka Kakuei, known sometimes as the “construction state” or doken kokka . The bureaucrats of the Finance Ministry channeled the population’s savings and insurance funds into a wide range of semi-public bodies – constructing highways, airports, bridges, and dams under the over-arching national plan. Wealth was redistributed, both between regions and between social strata. Under Tanaka and his successors, “the doken kokka spread a web of power and corruption throughout the country, substituting interest representation – brokering – for politics in the strict sense, legitimated by its short-term benefits and by the engine for growth that it seemed to provide. ” The LDP political machine gained widespread public acceptance, despite the problems, because it functioned to redistribute wealth to the regions and provided a welfare system that was under funded by European standards but still offered a measure of social safety net.
The Post Office thus became a core component of the Japanese bureaucratic developmentalist state, serving “development” by ensuring the flow of investment funds for designated development projects on the one hand, and serving the LDP, especially the Tanaka faction, by vote gathering and influence-peddling on the other. The system provided lucrative amakudari (post-bureaucratic retirement) positions in the semi-public development corporations for faction-favored cronies who moved from managing the flow of funds to enjoying the benefits of the flow. It was a variant of Keynesianism, inclusive and effective, and under it Japan enjoyed its hey day of lifetime employment, universal education and health provision, corporate welfare, and the company loyalty system. Most people felt they were middle class in those years. The system was predicated on growth, however, and, because it was constantly manipulated to serve private advantage as well as public purpose, was intrinsically corrupt. In the 1990s, growth slowed and eventually ground to a halt, prodigious national debt accumulated, and scandals proliferated.
For all its flaws, it was, as one critic put it, a “pastoral capitalism,” in which effort, discipline, skill and care, were rewarded and a sense of social solidarity nurtured, by contrast with Anglo-Saxon “wild capitalism,” in which reward and effort were de-linked and the speculative spirit dominated . As it slowly was discredited, however, its enemies within the LDP became more confident. When Koizumi became party leader and Prime Minister in 2001, he chose to take up the cudgels on the Post Office issue, and thereby to try to right what he saw as the wrong done in 1972, when his original mentor in politics, Fukuda Takeo, a former finance ministry bureaucrat, was defeated in a turf war with Tanaka Kakuei that was dubbed the “Kaku-Fuku War”. 2005 was his year of revenge on the adherents of the Tanaka system.
The outcome, bruited as a triumph for anti-bureaucratic politics, was rather a triumph of the high-priests of bureaucratic governance in the Ministry of Finance, the one Ministry not challenged by Koizumi’s reformist broom, yet the one at the heart of the amakudari and influence-peddling system . Koizumi’s September victory signaled the regaining of control over the levers of power by his Finance Ministry mentors and the driving out of the party as heretics of proponents of the distributive, egalitarian principles of the Kakuei state. In an unguarded moment, Koizumi even admitted that he had not read through the post office bill that was supposedly indispensable to national salvation.
If Koizumi and the LDP wagered everything on postal reform, remarkably the election passed without discussion, not so speak of serious scrutiny, of the implications of the plan for future delivery of services, especially in remote areas, the prospect of higher charges and increased risks, or the likely consequences of opening the national savings to global market forces. Most likely few especially cared whether their mail was delivered by public servants or private companies, but the security of their savings and insurance was another matter. Koizumi was careful not to raise the matter during the campaign, and opposition leaders and media failed to make it an issue. The claim that privatization would invigorate the Japanese economy also seemed improbable since private banks currently have more funds than lending outlets, demand is weak and major corporations are well cashed-up. Why would fully privatized institutions choose to put their funds in zero to low-interest government bonds (of which they now hold around 105 trillion worth)? And yet, if they stopped doing so, the bonds might either collapse in price or their interest rate rise precipitately, with grave consequences. The precedent of the privatization of the Japan National Railways, carried out in 1987 and involving the freezing and then slow expansion of the former national body’s enormous debt even as all the assets were sold off, was scarcely mentioned in the privatization push.
Outside the Koizumi theatre, in the streets where the neo-liberal script has to be lived, all is far from well. During his time at the helm of the nation, the economy contracted , national debt spiraled , and working people’s wages fell steadily . While Koizumi talked incessantly of small government, shifting public sector tasks to the private sector, and deregulating, he poured vast sums of public monies in to shore up private banking institutions and continued public works projects for the construction of largely superfluous new express rail lines, dams, airports, and highways (with five trillion yen plus on a new Tokyo-Nagoya expressway alone).
The “restructuring” that he enthusiastically promoted meant the loss of jobs for many, the further gutting of the already enfeebled “traditional” Japanese employment system, reduction of salaries, increases in social security payments and reductions in benefits for many. Anxiety became widespread, and fears over the possible collapse of the national pension system spread. Young women were turning away from marriage and the society itself was signally failing to reproduce. Over one million households subsist on welfare, and two or three times that number are without resources or reserves and should be on it . Lifetime employment virtually disappeared. The manufacturing sector shed four million jobs in the decade to 2004 , many of which were not replaced, being either permanently shifted offshore (mainly to China) or transformed into quasi-jobs, to be “outsourced,” done by temporaries, freeter, (casual labor hired from labor supply companies), or robots. Freeters doubled in the decade to 2004, now over 4 million , and are expected to grow to 10 million by 2014, with a growing middle-aged component (aged 35 and more) constituting one in five of them . They are a ”reserve army” of labor, able to be moved about, exploited, and cut loose and sacked when it suits employers, who are not required to make any provision for their health or welfare . They earn about half the salary of regular workers, or over a lifetime about a quarter; they are the new poor. Another group, 2.13 million aged between 15 and 34, are not in school or employment and therefore described as NEET (not in employment, education, or training) . For those who still, for the moment, retain jobs, stress and anxiety levels rise, since for the most part they have reduced job security, reduced income, and increased anxiety over future pension entitlements and tax burdens . The official figure for unemployment (3.13 million) remains relatively low, but only because shame or helplessness deter many from registering for it. Full-time, regular male labor is replaced by part-time, cheap and insecure female labor, and those in under- or quasi-employment grow steadily . Robots proliferate. By 2007, Canon will have one quarter of its domestic production coming from robots that work 24/7, and do not complain or get tired, sleepy, or sick .
From 1997, the suicide rate leapt from around 22,000 per year to over 30,000 where it has stayed ever since. In 2004 it was over 32,000 (90 per day), roughly double the US rate, and with the increase coming especially among middle-aged and elderly males, for economic reasons . Furthermore, for each “successful” suicide, there are said to be five times as many “failed” attempts . To spend time in Japan in recent years is to hear all too often the chilling announcement on the train or subway about a delay due to a "jinshin jiko" or “accident involving a human body.” The Japan that in the 1970s and 1980s was known for its astonishing degree of worker commitment and identification to the corporation, the land of the corporate warrior, is now the OECD country with the lowest levels of corporate loyalty , and one of the highest levels of income inequality .
What voters were most concerned about was not the Post Office but pensions and welfare (52 per cent), economy and employment (28 per cent), foreign affairs and defense (9 per cent), with just 2 per cent for postal privatization . Shortly before the election was called, on 6 July, the Yomiuri reported that postal privatization was ranked No. 16 of 17 priorities, 7 per cent, still way below pensions and welfare. Only as the parliamentary crisis built towards the election, however, and Koizumi stepped up his campaign, was a small majority in favor of privatization detected . His popularity surged in response to his bold decision to threaten a national election if his bill were defeated.
Japan’s welfare budget is among the lowest in OECD (14.7 per cent, compared to 14.6 per cent for the US and an OECD average of 24.2 per cent) , but the mass retirement of the baby boomer generation expected around 2007, in the context of rapid aging and a declining birthrate means that expenditure will rise vertiginously. With a median age in 2004 of 42.6 and, with over-65s at 19.5 per cent, Japan is leading the OECD into the unfamiliar territory of a “super aged” society . The 2004 welfare budget, at 32 trillion yen already equal to 76 per cent of national tax revenues (42 trillion), is expected to more than double by 2025 . In due course, public services and social protections have to be degraded “in order to oblige the mass of citizens to buy social protection from private finance and insurance houses. ” Less than a year before his triumph, individual politicians, including core members of Koizumi’s LDP, were shown to have cynically evaded payments into the compulsory national pension scheme. It was no mean political feat, therefore, for Koizumi to manage to have this crisis dropped from public attention, especially after his cavalier response to a Diet question about his own pension premiums being paid for him (around 1970, before his election to the Diet) by a mysterious political patron for whom he did no work. He replied in the immortal words: “There are all sorts of people, all sorts of companies, and all sorts of employees. ”
Books analyzing the transformation of Japanese society in terms of the disappearance of` the 100 million-strong middle class and of the widening split between the super rich and the marginal masses (winners and losers, kachigumi and makegumi) became best sellers. The political events of 2005 were rooted in this deep social malaise.
Beyond the kingdom, however, lay the empire. Postal privatization had been pressed upon Japan by the US for decades, and it has long been high on the Washington wish list of Japanese policy changes. Following the Plaza Agreement of 1985, when despite massive yen revaluation the US trade deficit with Japan continued to grow, Japan was assumed to be deriving “unfair” advantage from the “difference” or closedness of its social and economic system. Negotiations to level the bilateral playing field began in 1989 under the name “Structural Impediment Initiative” (SII). To soften the implication of peremptory US intervention in Japan’s internal arrangements conveyed by the term, the Japanese Foreign Ministry deleted the word “impediment” and simply translated it as “structural negotiations” (kozo kyogi). At the second meeting, the US side presented a list of over 200 demands for reform – covering everything from budget, tax system, and joint stockholding rules, to the request that Japanese stop working on Saturdays. It was described by one senior Japanese official as tantamount to a “second occupation. ”
Negotiations in similar vein, to remove “impediments” to the US share of the Japanese market resumed under various names thereafter. In the round that was conducted under Clinton and Miyazawa in 1993, Koizumi, as post and telecommunications minister, was actively involved. His personal stake in attacking party and factional enemies coincided with the US government’s view that Japan’s Post Office, like its bureaucratically-regulated banking and insurance system, was a trade barrier, an “impediment,” to be dismantled. When he became Prime Minister, he agreed with George W. Bush to reopen negotiations from June 2001 under the title “U.S.-Japan Regulatory Reform and Competition Policy Initiative” Their scope was breathtaking – including “telecommunications, information technology, energy, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, financial services, competition policy, transparency, legal reform, commercial law revision, and distribution,” in short pretty well everything . Koizumi’s popularity in Washington reflected the appreciation for the enthusiasm with which he embraced his mission of transforming Japan to meet American standards.
Koizumi’s postal reform bill was discussed on many occasions between the two governments. The office of the USTR (US Trade Representative) insisted that privatization be implemented “based on market principles only,” and that the Japanese government withdraw completely from postal savings and life insurance . Koizumi’s policy was acclaimed as “an important step” in that direction. An October 2004 letter from US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick (who was shortly to become Deputy Secretary of State) to Japan’s Finance Minister Takenaka declaring US enthusiasm and readiness to help pursue postal privatization was tabled in the Diet on 2 August . It included a handwritten note from Zoellick commending Takenaka for the splendid job he was doing and offering assistance if required. Challenged to explain this apparent US government intervention in a sensitive and contentious Japanese matter, Prime Minister Koizumi merely expressed his satisfaction that Takenaka had been befriended by such an important figure. When President George W Bush raised the question with Koizumi himself in New York in September 2004, Koizumi is said to have replied: “I will do my best” (shikkari yatte ikitai). It was tantamount to an absolute commitment, and the president duly expressed his satisfaction .
Koizumi’s government had already contributed enormously towards stabilizing the US economy by its purchases of US treasury bonds and notes, and postal privatization would be a further, large step in sustaining Washington’s Iraq mission and related imperial policies. It was a prospect for the Bush administration to relish.
US private investment institutions, for their part, were also excited over the prospect of access to the Japanese pool of savings. According to the Wall Street Journal (August 26) Citigroup expected US treasuries, European bonds and Japanese and foreign stocks to be “the big winners. ” Currently, while about 50 per cent of the population in the US own and 36 per cent trade stocks, the figure in Japan is around 10 per cent owning and 3 per cent trading them. “It’s ... a big space for us to grow into," as one broker put it....
Posted on: Friday, October 21, 2005 - 15:49
SOURCE: National Review (10-21-05)
But how odd that in the face of threats, a higher percentage of Iraqis in this nascent democracy voted in a referendum than did we Americans during our most recent presidential election — we who have grown so weary of Iraq’s experiment.
Something must be going on when the cable-news outlets could not whet their appetite for carnival-like violence and pyrotechnics in Iraq, and so diverted their attention to Toledo, where live streams of American looting and arson seemed to be more like Iraq than Iraq.
There have been three great challenges with the Iraqi reconstruction that would determine its success or failure — once the spectacular three-week invasion both falsely raised public perceptions of perfection in war, and posed the problem of how to rebuild an entire society whose pathological elements were never really defeated, much less humiliated during the actual conventional war....
The media has long since written Iraq off as a “quagmire” and a “debacle.” The war is now hopelessly politicized and has been misrepresented in two national elections. Then we heard that the war’s purpose was either to steal oil (the price actually skyrocketed), enrich Halliburton (in fact, few other conglomerates wished to venture to Iraq), or do Israel’s dirty work (it just withdrew voluntarily from Gaza). Our aims were said to be anything other than to remove the worst dictator in modern memory, allow the Arab world a chance at democracy, and undo the calculus of Middle-Eastern terrorism that is so parasitic on the failures and barbarity of regional autocracies.
While no mainstream Democrat has yet gone the McGovern route, it is still politically toxic for any to state publicly that we should be optimistic about the future of Iraq, inasmuch as they are convinced that such an admission could only help George W. Bush. Some of us who are Democrats are baffled that the party that used to decry cynical realism, gave us the Truman Doctrine and JFK’s tough stance against Communism, galvanized us to hold steady in WWI, WWII, and Korea, and preached that we must promote and protect democracies, is now either joining the isolationist Right or drifting into quasi-pacifism — or simply standing against anything that the opposing party is for.
The public too is turned off. Perhaps it is the constant media stream of IEDs and suicide bombs — never the news of thousands of new schools, a free and stable Kurdistan, progress in the Shiite south, or any of the other countless positive developments from elections to Saddam’s trial. Polls reveal that the American people care little that, in terms of military history, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the creation of a constitutional government in his place — in less than three years and at the cost of 2000 lives — are still formidable achievements, making the lapses seem minor in comparison to those in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam....
Posted on: Friday, October 21, 2005 - 14:36
SOURCE: Dissent (Fall 2005)
"Something terrible happened here. And I don’t know what it is,” Bill Herod remembers thinking in his first days in Phnom Penh in 1980. He was with Church World Service, one of a group of aid workers allowed into the country after the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge in January 1979 and put an end to the three-and-a-half-year-long nightmare of the Cambodian people. In 1980, Herod had just come from Vietnam. He had seen plenty of devastation, but this was something different, a higher order of magnitude.
In those first months, Westerners were only beginning to grasp the enormity of what the KR—as they’re always called in Cambodia—had done. In the city and the refugee camps on the Thai border, relief workers were piecing together accounts of starvation, brutal forced labor, and mass executions into some comprehension of the whole. Cambodians were stunned, largely affectless, many in a state of shock. Hospitals housed crazed, emaciated children who had been found wandering in the forests, abandoned and lost by parents fleeing KR camps as the Vietnamese approached.
Thirty years later, the extent and nature of the horror are no mysteries. Between April 1975, when the KR overthrew the despised Lon Nol regime, and January 1979, when the Vietnamese invaded, the rulers of Democratic Kampuchea killed—by murder, starvation, and forced labor—1.7 to two million people, close to a quarter of the entire population. In the torment they wreaked on a small country in such a short time, the KR ranks as possibly the most savage Communist Party to curse the twentieth century.
In the name of revolutionary purity, the KR abolished private property, personal possessions, money, leisure, socializing, marriage (except in cadre-approved cases), religion, and all personal liberties. Democratic Kampuchea was a land of totalitarian rural communes. The day the KR took power, they evacuated the entire population of Phnom Penh in twenty-four hours, including infirm hospital patients whom family members had to push out of town in their beds, some trailing intravenous tubing and bags. By nightfall, the capital was almost empty. In the countryside, people slaved and starved to grow rice that went to China and hauled buckets of earth to build dams without engineers or technicians. The purges of counterrevolutionary elements began on Day Two of the revolution (on the roads out of Phnom Penh) and never let up, culminating in a frenzy of executions within the party itself in 1978.
Under the Vietnamese, the country was a communist dictatorship, with the KR (supported by China and the United States and recognized by the UN as the legitimate government in a bizarre turn of cold war logic) waging war from the jungles. Only after 1989, with the Vietnamese withdrawal and negotiations in Paris, did peace of a sort begin to set in. In 1993, a UN transitional authority—with a tremendous infusion of troops, advisers, and money—sponsored democratic elections. The elections came off with a huge, enthusiastic turnout—some 90 percent of eligible voters. Ultimately, though, it was behind-the-scenes guns and intrigue, not liberal democracy, that seized the day. Negotiations between the strongmen—the ever-present Prince Norodom Sihanouk and Hun Sen, a former KR commander who defected and served as foreign minister for the Vietnamese—negated the popular results and created a national reconciliation government with Sihanouk as king and Hun Sen as effective prime minister. Popular optimism gave way to cynicism, then despair. In short order Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) began despoiling what remained of the country after twenty-five years of disaster.
The CPP continues to hold power, and the country swarms with internationally supported nongovernmental agencies (NGOs), successors to the UN humanitarians. But peace, foreign aid, and political stability based on corruption and repression have done little to relieve the emotional, moral, and cultural devastation....
Posted on: Friday, October 21, 2005 - 14:25
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (10-20-05)
... "Increasingly, officials say, Syria is to the Iraq war what Cambodia was in the Vietnam War: a sanctuary for fighters, money and supplies to flow over the border and, ultimately, a place for a shadow struggle."
So wrote the New York Times' James Risen and David Sanger, quoting more of those faceless officials, in an ominous, front-page piece (G.I.'s and Syrians in Tense Clashes on Iraqi Border) last weekend about U.S. military border-crossings into Syria.
If this isn't the Is-To War, as inelegant as that may sound, I don't know what is. After all, in his most recent Saturday radio address, the President quoted a letter the American military claims to have intercepted on its way from al-Qaeda number-two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to Iraq's terrorist of the year, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It seems the al-Qaeda leader and the President agree that we're all working off a version of the same Vietnam-style script in Iraq."The terrorists," said the President,"know their only chance for success is to break our will and force us to retreat. The al Qaeda letter points to Vietnam as a model. Zawahiri says: ‘The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam, and how they ran and left their agents, is noteworthy.' Al Qaeda believes that America can be made to run again. They are gravely mistaken. America will not run, and we will not forget our responsibilities."
There's a long history behind such Vietnam analogies. When the President's father was exulting in the glow of victory in Gulf War I, he claimed that defeat in Vietnam was finally in the past, exclaiming,"By God, we've kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all!" How wrong he was. (By then, the Vietnam Syndrome was the way the whole Vietnam experience was summed up -- as if it had been nothing more than a prolonged state of mental aberration. It's worth noting that an Iraq Syndrome has already made its first appearance.)
Above all, the Vietnam War was never banished from the minds of our war planners and policymakers. Even when they were playing an opposites game with Vietnam (as in, for instance, their no-body-bags, no-photos-of-the-American-dead-coming-home policy), Bush administration officials had a clear case of Vietnam-on-the-brain, as did the society they represented. In 2003, while the invasion of Iraq was still ongoing, the historian Marilyn Young commented,"In less then two weeks a 30 year old vocabulary is back: credibility gap, seek and destroy, hard to tell friend from foe, civilian interference in military affairs, the dominance of domestic politics, winning, or more often, losing hearts and minds."
It came back, of course, because it had never strayed far; nor was this just a matter of the return of images or words in print. When we look back on these years, it will, I suspect, be clearer that Vietnam -- upside-down, inside-out, in reverse -- has driven the American war in Iraq. Thus, when U.S. commanders now send their troops"spilling" across the Syrian border, they do so in"hot pursuit" of insurgents -- another term (from the Risen/Sanger piece) that comes straight out of the Vietnam-era, crossing-the-Cambodian-border playbook.
And it's not just the war makers or the war fighters who have Vietnam on the brain. Even many war opponents seem to be playing by an only half-buried Vietnam script. Take the bloodbath-to-come -- the future Iraqi civil war of catastrophic proportions now featured in endless speculations and in the fears of many antiwar thinkers and activists, a fantasy (which could, of course, become reality) that acts as a constraint on thoughts about any kind of speedy military withdrawal from that country. A similar bloodbath was on the minds of, and a powerful constraint on, opponents of the Vietnam War, who long accepted that an American departure from Vietnam would lead to a terrible bloodbath there. This was a paralyzing fantasy, one which somehow mitigated the actual bloodbath then underway.
Of course, in the bright light of day, if Iraq is Vietnam and Syria is Cambodia, the analogy is a bizarrely unbalanced one. To make the comparison seriously, after all, you would have to start by saying that in Iraq the American foe is far less imposing, but what's immediately at stake is so much more consequential. The force that fought the United States to bloody stalemate (and finally defeat off the battlefield) in Vietnam was formidable indeed -- a regular army as well as a powerful guerrilla movement aided by two world powers, the USSR and China. It was politically unified, well-armed, well funded, and well supported; whereas the force that has so far fought the American military into a state of frustration in Iraq remains comparatively under-armed, fractured and politically at odds, and haphazardly funded; in short, relatively rag-tag. (In a chilling Time magazine piece on a former Baathist who prepares suicide bombers for both jihadist and nationalist organizations, journalist Aparism Ghosh offers this telling passage:"He fears [the jihadists] want to turn Iraq into another Afghanistan, with a Taliban-style government. Even for a born-again Muslim, that's a distressing scenario. So, he says, ‘one day, when the Americans have gone, we will need to fight another war, against these jihadis. They won't leave quietly.'") On the other hand, Vietnam was, from the American point of view, a nowhere, a happenstance at the periphery of a great global struggle, while Iraq is a vast oil reservoir, an essential part of the powering of any future the Bush administration might care to imagine.
Nonetheless, just for the heck of it, let's take seriously the analogy laid out by those anonymous officials quoted in the Risen/Sanger piece. The Bush administration is, as they point out, already engaged in military as well as political actions aimed at"rattling the cage" of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, much as the Nixon administration"rattled the cage" of neutralist Cambodian leader King Norodom Sihanouk (who believed his survival and that of his government lay in looking the other way as North Vietnamese troops manned those"sanctuaries" in his borderlands). In the case of Cambodia, first there were the U.S. covert cross-border missions and black ops; then unofficial"hot pursuit" across that border followed by Richard Nixon's massive, secret, and illegal B-52 carpet-bombing campaign against those borderlands (and beyond); and finally, in 1970, an actual invasion of the already wrecked country (though it was politely referred to as an"incursion").
When it comes to Syria we're obviously not there yet. The clashes remain minor; the air raids haven't started; an American occupation of the Syrian borderlands seems not in the immediate offing. (Of course, it's worth remembering that, on the other side of the border, is something a lot less impressive than the North Vietnamese Army.) Just yesterday, however, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice all but threatened Assad's regime with some mix of the above, not just refusing to take any of the President's"options" off the table, but claiming that he would need no authorization from Congress to launch a full-scale attack on Syria. ("[She] said that President Bush would not need to ask Congress for authorization to use military force against Iraq's neighbors. 'I don't want to try and circumscribe presidential war powers,' Rice said in response to a question on whether the administration would have to return to Congress to seek authorization to use military force outside Iraq's borders. 'I think you'll understand fully that the president retains those powers in the war on terrorism and in the war in Iraq.'")
It's clear that (in conjunction with the Sharon government in Israel), the Bush administration has long been thinking about destabilizing Assad's regime much as we destabilized Sihanouk's government. So it's worth recalling the outcome in Cambodia. While the long-awaited bloodbath never happened in Vietnam, an unexpected post-war bloodbath did occur in destabilized neighboring Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge rebel movement rose to power in the vacuum left when Sihanouk's government fell -- and then committed acts of mass slaughter for which there is no name ("genocide" being the wrong word when you murder vast numbers of your own people).
The Bush administration already blithely opened a Pandora's box in Iraq. Does it really care to go two for two by ratcheting up the pressure on Assad and then attempting a military-induced regime"decapitation" in Syria? In that void, don't even think about what might emerge -- not to speak of the fact that, under a banner that seems to read,"the Middle East for the Iranians," the Bush administration is clearing away all of Iran's enemies (except, of course, Israel). So this could certainly be labeled the Be-Careful-What-You-Wish-For War....
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: Friday, October 21, 2005 - 14:14
SOURCE: Nation (10-24-05)
Roosevelt's masterminding of the battle against Nazism and Japanese militarism is indeed inspirational. His ability to navigate the crosscurrents of leading America industrially, militarily and politically--simultaneously careening among an unreasonable Churchill, a murderous Stalin and later (at Churchill's insistence) a vainglorious De Gaulle--leaves one's head spinning like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist. It was a complex, frequently contradictory, task to maintain what he always insisted was a clear path to victory and a stable, peaceful postwar world. But many of the problems that arose--and ended up killing tens of millions of people in decolonization struggles overlaid with US-Soviet proxy warfare--can be attributed to FDR's unwillingness either to follow through on his announced policies, to place competent people in positions to implement them or to level with the public about what he was trying to do. FDR behaved like a savvy nineteenth-century European realpolitician at Yalta, smartly playing the weak diplomatic hand that battlefield realities had bequeathed him before returning home and pretending he'd achieved a Wilsonian "We Are the World"-style solution. And since he died shortly thereafter, leaving little indication of how he planned to manage the various contradictions he'd created, it fell to an unbriefed and inexperienced Harry Truman to hazard more than a few unhappy guesses. As Walter LaFeber wondered at the conference's end: "How did the Good War end with [such] tragic conclusions?"
I've got my own theories, which is why I devoted so much attention to FDR's Yalta bargain in my book When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences. But the accepted answer of almost all those who attended the conference is that while FDR did many things brilliantly, his belief that he could handle everything by juggling ends and means in ways that he alone understood, together with his untimely death on April 12, 1945, probably undermined whatever chances, however unlikely, there may have been for lasting postwar peace.
Outrageous even by his own considerable standards, George W. Bush has tried to hijack Roosevelt's World War II legacy for his own, most recently at a speech in San Diego commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of V-J Day. The obvious difference between FDR's and Bush's wars is necessity. True, FDR led the nation into war by less than forthright means, but he did so because he knew that Germany and Japan were genuine and unavoidable threats to American security and prosperity. Bush chose war for reasons of ideological fanaticism, coupled with personal pique and historical ignorance rather than any verifiable threat. The Administration's repeated demonstration of dishonesty and incompetence vis-à-vis Iraq helps explain why, despite desperate propaganda efforts--and little Democratic opposition--a mere 33 percent of Americans currently voice support for his handling of the war.
Second, while superpowers fighting wars do a lot of things that most of us wish they wouldn't, FDR managed to do them while advancing the image of America as the world's protector and defender of freedom and democracy. This perception grew tarnished during the cold war, particularly at the time of the war in Vietnam, but never to the point that our allies questioned the fundamental arrangements upon which world security and economic prosperity rested. Bush's war, on the other hand, has destroyed much of the good will that America built up among our allies during two world wars and afterward. In the late 1990s the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, symbol and spokesperson for a humane, social-democratic liberal Europe, told me in unequivocal terms that America's protection of European democracy had been necessary and valuable during the last half-century. (He would not extend the argument into the Third World.) And yet under Bush, America's image has fallen so far, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, that totalitarian China is more admired than we are by most European nations, and we are more isolated than at any time since perhaps the end of slavery.
Bush's ability to deceive the nation into an unnecessary war rested in part on his willingness to lie but also on war agitators' deployment of the discourse of Wilsonian internationalism. Rutgers historian Lloyd Gardner notes that Americans are used to hearing that democracy travels well, that democratic institutions can be established easily, that other people want to be like Americans "once the bad people are removed." The phenomenon leads LaFeber to term US politicians' linguistic attachment to Wilsonianism less "a policy than a disease."
Bush has had a great deal of help in this endeavor, from the right-wing punditocracy as well as from politically naïve and ahistorical liberal hawks. Few gave much thought to the likely consequences of "democracy promotion" in Iraq: greater hatred for America and Israel, coupled with a strategic coup for the theocratic ambitions of Iran's medieval mullahs. As the Administration's incompetence slowly transforms Iraq into an ungovernable terrorist training camp, we may be forgiven our nostalgia for a "juggler" who, for all his flaws, had the good sense to address genuine threats with the kind of creativity and competence that right-wing Republicans these days seem to reserve only for criminal enterprise.
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: Thursday, October 20, 2005 - 20:00
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (10-20-05)
As the United Nations' 60th anniversary (October 24) approaches, the usual ritualistic spate of editorials, columns, and op-ed essays will barrage the American public. Liberals will excoriate the Bush administration's unilateralism, lecture about the importance of legitimacy, and conclude that any of the UN's failings lie not with the organization itself, but with its member states-and most notably, with the United States. When America leads, pundits will claim, the UN works.
Conservatives, on the other hand, will point to the oil-for- food scandals, the fecklessness of allies, the inaction in Darfur, the failed efforts at nation-building in Haiti and Somalia, and the efforts by the Euro-NGO complex to create a paradise of virtuous people through paper covenants adopted at international conferences-covenants that would leave almost no aspect of national life free from the eyes of international monitors. In the end, conservative commentators will probably applaud the appointment of John Bolton as someone who will knock some sense into the place.
In fact, there is truth in what both sides say. The UN has been and always will be an "on-the-one-hand/on-the-other- hand" organization. On the one hand, the UN's oil-for-food program probably was "the largest scam in the history of humanitarian relief," as Claudia Rosett claimed after the release of Paul Volcker's first interim report. On the other hand, without that program, French, Chinese, and Russian pressure might have led to the dropping of sanctions altogether and undercut the leverage needed to allow weapons inspections to continue in Iraq for three more years.
On the one hand, the imprimatur of the Security Council and General Assembly do add legitimacy to American undertakings, as the Korean War and the first Gulf War demonstrate. On the other hand, to argue that the United States should always work through the UN is to argue that China, Russia, or France should have a veto over our use of military force. Neither the Clinton administration nor any previous administration accepted that position. Nor will any administration in the future, or any other member of the Security Council, do so. Were Taiwan to declare its independence, the last thing China would do is ask UN Security Council for permission to use military force.
It is also true that American leadership has made a significant difference throughout the Organization's history. If it were not for President George H. W. Bush, Kuwait would have become an Iraqi province. In fact, the Security Council's authorization of the use of "all measures" to get Iraqi forces out of Kuwait was the first time the UN (or its predecessor, the League of Nations) acted as intended by the founders. And although it took two years of persistent and tortuous diplomatic leadership, President Clinton finally got the UN to end the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia.
However, despite these and many other successes, it would be a fatal error to conclude that America can always lead the UN, and that the absence of "American leadership" is the only problem facing the Organization. Consider the following examples:
* When Serbs were shelling Sarajevo in the summer of 1992, George H. W. Bush sought to get the permanent members of the Security Council to hit Serb positions and use troops to close alleged death camps. His suggestion was immediately stymied by the Russians, who feared domestic consequences if they moved against the Serbs, and the French and British, who were casualty averse because they had peacekeepers on the ground.
* When Somalia was descending into a humanitarian disaster, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali appealed to President Bush and not to the Security Council, which only later authorized the intervention of American troops to secure deliveries of humanitarian supplies.
* When the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was forced to leave that country, members of the UN Security Council sought not to deal with Saddam Hussein but to rein in Bill Clinton and, later, George W. Bush. For almost four years after Saddam's expulsion of the UN inspectors, America's "partners" in the Security Council dithered, met, talked and, in the end, offered watered-down "monitors" instead of "inspectors"-all under the guise of reasonableness, concern for the Iraqi people, the need to engage in sophisticated, incentive-based diplomacy, and not expecting perfection. But the truth was clear to everyone: Saddam Hussein had cowed the "international community." As Edward Luck, former president of the UN Association of the USA, recently noted: "By repeatedly failing over the past decade to take effective action against Iraq, those permanent members now claiming to be guardians of international law have, in fact, done the most to undermine it."
* As Kosovo descended into disaster, stalemate arose in the Security Council. When China and Russia refused to countenance the use of military force under the UN, the Clinton administration turned to NATO, having decided that "illegitimately" stopping Serb repression in Kosovo was more important than a conception of legitimacy that would give a pass to Slobodan Milosevic in deference to the views of veto- wielding members of the Security Council.
* Today, the UN Security Council watches as genocide takes place in Darfur. The presence of a totally inadequate and largely ineffective Organization of African Union force has provided our partners on the Security Council with a rationale for making excuses and procrastinating as the genocide continues.
The experience of the Clinton and two Bush administrations makes one thing clear: There are limits to American leadership in the UN-and even when America tries very hard.
While America's posture and policies toward the UN have not always been beyond reproach, the UN's major problem is not a lack of American leadership. In the past and now, the UN's weaknesses and inadequacies have also stemmed from the policies and foreign policy worldviews of our continental European allies and our Russian and Chinese "partners" in the Security Council.
Over the past-several decades, our European allies have moved well beyond the state-centric liberal internationalism rooted in the ideas of Woodrow Wilson and FDR. Spurred no doubt by the success of their own European Union, many European political elites seek a supranational international order that would secure not national security but human security; not national interests but planetary interests; not the sovereign rights of states but human rights; not collective security but the collective abolition of weapons systems-all to be attained through codes of conduct that stand above states and to which states will be held accountable.
For them, force-if it is to be used at all in international relations-should only be used as a last resort, and only when authorized by the UN Security Council. Thus, when the conflict in the Balkans began, the Europeans sent in a "peaceful observer force"-the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR). In the end, they went along with the use of force in Bosnia only because President Clinton threatened to intervene unilaterally. When Saddam Hussein sent the UNSCOM weapons inspectors packing, our European allies refused to countenance the use of force, just as they would later oppose the war against Iraq. Today, in regard to Iran's violations of the nonproliferation treaty, they have pursued a diplomacy of carrots alone, and in Darfur, France has deferred on taking up a leadership role in the Security Council.
The diplomacy of post-Cold War Europe is a diplomacy of words and covenants. It is, in fact, a diplomacy quite similar to the diplomacy America embarked upon when it shed its isolationism at the turn of the last century-a diplomacy of peace through multilateral treaties such as the Open-Door Notes, the Washington Naval Treaty, the Four-Power Treaty, the Nine-Power Treaty, and, perhaps, most notably, the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Peace and world order through nonmilitary means: what better words describe the European approach today?
Over the past fifty years, Europe has settled into an international posture that combines the worst of America's geopolitical isolationism with the worst of its former utopian internationalism. Today, we see a Europe that is strategically passive, in military decline, culturally provincial, and preoccupied with the pursuit of grandiose diplomatic objectives unrelated to military power. The legalistic-moralistic approach to diplomacy that George Kennan chided Americans for over fifty years ago in his American Diplomacy well describes the diplomacy of Europe today.
France, of course, is an anomaly among the continental nations. While fully participating in Europe's quest for a supranational international order, it also seeks to regain its position as a great power in the old-fashioned sense, which means conducting foreign relations on the basis of interests rather than moral principles. For example, while France is an active participant in the international "human rights regime," it maintained good relations with Saddam Hussein in the past and has good relations now with authoritarian North African regimes that routinely violate the covenants which France promotes as a cosmopolitan nation. And in regard to Iraq, France's interests involved not only oil and other economic goods; but a lucrative weapons trade, as well.
While Europeans have retreated into cosmopolitan utopianism, the Chinese and Russians are practitioners of nineteenth- century realpolitik. They might put their signatures on Europe's parchments, but their role models are neither Immanuel Kant nor Woodrow Wilson, but Klemens von Metternich and Otto von Bismarck. National interests and sovereignty guide Chinese and Russian diplomacy within the UN and without.
For example, when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for more active intervention by the UN when civilian populations were at risk, China's foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, demurred, claiming that respect for national sovereignty and noninterference in the internal affairs of another country are "the basic principles governing international relations." Deviation from those principles by the UN, he claimed, would lead to a new form of gunboat diplomacy and "wreak havoc."
On the issue of humanitarian intervention, Chinese leaders claim that any such activities are a violation of the principles of the UN Charter. "The outbreak of war in Kosovo," Tang claimed, "has sounded an alarm for us all: A regional military organization, in the name of humanitarianism and human rights, bypassed the United Nations and took military action against a sovereign state." In so doing, Tang said, NATO created "an ominous precedent in international relations." Troubled by Chechnya and fearful of precedent, the Russians take a similar "strict constructionist" view of the UN Charter.
In contrast to the Western concept of universal human rights, the Chinese proclaim "the sanctity of cultures" and "the sanctity of borders." To be sure, China has not been able to become a hermit nation. Nor has it ignored the UN's human rights organizations, for defensive purposes alone, if no other. However, as Ann Kent's definitive study on the issue makes clear, while China may have signed the various rights covenants and issued perfunctory, formalized reports, they have not permitted any monitoring on Chinese soil.
On larger issues of international security, Russia and China base their UN policies on their interests rather than the abstractions of the UN Charter and international treaties. In regard to Iran's violations of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Washington Post recently noted that "prospects for Security Council action are dismal, largely because of the interest China and Russia have in keeping their economic deals with Tehran." China vetoed a peacekeeping force for Macedonia because of that country's relations with Taiwan. The Chinese and Russian joint declaration on a multipolar world, released in 1997, amounted to an old-fashioned alliance in noble sounding trappings. Both Russia and China view their veto power in the Security Council as a lever to restrain and contain the United States whenever they fear their interests might be jeopardized.
America's unilateralism and its failure "to lead" are not the only obstacles to an effective UN. The unilateralism of inaction by other member states has frequently led to immobilisme in the organization, no matter how much America may have tried to lead. In the summer of 2004, then- Secretary of State Powell and UN Ambassador John C. Danforth circulated a draft resolution to Security Council members seeking sanctions against the Sudanese government. They found no takers-despite a death toll of more than 30,000 and more than 1 million people driven from their homes. Russia, a supplier of military planes to Sudan, claimed the situation was complex, but that sanctions would not be in the interests of humanity. The Algerian delegate expressed profound concern; the Europeans weren't sure the situation warranted the term "genocide"; and the Chinese delegate, whose country has oil interests in the Sudan, threatened to veto any resolution containing sanctions. In the end, the Security Council passed a resolution that praised the Sudanese government because the massacres were proceeding at a slower rate.
What is needed as the UN turns sixty are not more calls for new study groups or commissions that will, once again, come up with the same old timeworn proposals for making the UN more effective, such as making the UN Security Council "more democratic." Creating an effective UN will also require more than our signing pieces of paper that are honored more in the breach than in the observance. An effective UN will also require a positive commitment to the organization by our Russian and Chinese partners and a willingness on the part of our European allies to countenance sticks as well as carrots in their diplomacy.
In short, as the UN turns 60, Americans should consider the past policies of others as well as ourselves in trying to assess the state of the organization.
 For more on this, see my "Post-Democratic Cosmopolitans: The Second Wave of Liberal Internationalism," Orbis, Fall 2004.
 Claudia Rosett, "Blame Game: Kofi Annan's silence," New Republic, Feb. 21, 2005.
 "Stayin' Alive: The Rumors of the UN's Death Have Been Exaggerated," Foreign Affairs, July/August 2003.
 On this point see Eric Reeves, "The African Union is Failing in Darfur," New Republic, Oct. 10, 2005.
 Barbara Crossette, "China and Others Reject Please That the UN Halt Civil Wars," New York Times, Sept. 23, 1999.
 Ann Kent, China, the United Nations, and Human Rights: The Limits of Compliance, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, pp. 245, 247.
 "An Alliance on Iran," editorial, Washington Post, Sept. 27, 2005.
 See David Brooks, "Another Triumph for the United Nations," New York Times, Sept. 25, 2004.
Posted on: Thursday, October 20, 2005 - 19:11
SOURCE: NY Sun (10-18-05)
Two recent stories dramatically illustrate Europe's looming immigration problem.
One concerns a gang reported to have smuggled 100,000 illegal immigrants, mainly Turkish Kurds, into Great Britain. These economic migrants paid between £3,000 ($3,600) and £5,000 ($6,000) to be transported via an elaborate and dangerous route. The Independent explains:"Their journeys lasted several weeks and involved safe houses, lorries with secret compartments and, in some cases, clandestine flights to airfields in the South-east."
A senior British police source commented:"It's a tortuous journey, full of discomfort and danger, but they are determined to get here, given the particular attraction of London's established Turkish community."
Turks are hardly alone in wanting access to Europe; the second story concerns waves of impoverished sub-Saharan Africans storming and breaching fences to enter two tiny Spanish enclaves on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla.
Until recently, these Iberian vestiges of the Crusades appeared to be curious remnants of a bygone age. Now, however, they are (along with the Canary Islands, Lampedusa, and Mayotte) among the European Union's most isolated and vulnerable entry points, stepping-stones feeding illegal immigrants to the whole of the European Union.
Melilla is a town of 60,000 with a six-mile border with Morocco, protected by Spanish Legion and Moroccan civil guard units, high fences bristling with razor-wire, and the latest anti-personnel technology (sensor pads, movement detectors, spotlights, infrared cameras).
The typical African migrant travels across the Sahara desert to reach the Mediterranean coast, where he idles nearby until the right moment for a run to Spanish territory."We were just tired of living in the forest," a young man from Guinea-Bissau explained."There was nothing to eat, there was nothing to drink."
In mid-September, the Africans began assaulting the frontier en masse. Deploying crude ladders made of branches, they used their weight to bring the fences down in places. As one of them put it,"We go in a group and all jump at once. We know that some will get through, that others will be injured and others may die, but we have to get through, whatever the cost."
The tactic works. When over 1,000 persons tried to enter Melilla at a single go in September, an estimated 300 succeeded. In early October, 650 persons ran for the fence and 350 are said to have made it."There were just too many of us" to be stopped, one Malian observed. An estimated 30,000 more Africans await their turn.
The confrontation can resemble a pitched battle. The Africans throw rocks at the security forces, which respond with bayonets, shotguns, and rubber bullets. The assaults left about a dozen Africans dead, some trampled in the rush to Spanish territory, others shot by Moroccan police.
Madrid eventually prevailed on Rabat to crack down on the remaining Africans-in-waiting, which obliged by flying some 2,000 of them to their countries of origin and exiling another 1,000 to Morocco's southern desert, far from the Spanish enclaves. The removal was done with some brutality, dumping the Africans and leaving them to fend off the harsh elements almost without help. But the unwelcome signal was received."I will go back now," another Malian said, in tears."I will not try to come back. I am exhausted."
Modern communications and transportation increasingly inspire Turks, Africans, and others (such as Mexicans) to leave their native lands, taking extreme risks if necessary, to reach the West's near-paradise. In response, Europeans are baring their teeth, brushing aside multicultural pieties such as Kofi Annan's statement that"What is important is that we don't make a futile attempt to prevent people from crossing borders. It will not work."
But preventing people from crossing borders is very much on the agenda; it is probably only a matter of time until other Western states follow Spain and Australia and resort to military force.
Giant smuggling rings and human waves cascading over fortified positions represent the starkest manifestations of profound and growing dilemmas: how islands of peace and plenty survive in an ocean of war and deprivation, how a diminishing European population retains its historic culture, and how states from Turkey to Mali to Mexico solve their problems rather than export them.
With no solutions in sight, however, there is every reason to expect these problems to worsen.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 - 14:09
SOURCE: Martin Kramer's Blog (10-17-05)
In the summer of 1798, a French expeditionary force under Bonaparte occupied Egypt, destroying the Mamluk regime at the Battle of the Pyramids. The French cast themselves as liberators, but they eventually incurred the wrath of the ulema of al-Azhar, who tapped a wellspring of popular resentment. On October 21, 1798, the ulema put themselves at the head of a revolt, preaching to the faithful that"jihad is incumbent upon you." The French resolutely put down the uprising in 36 hours, at a cost of a couple of hundred French lives, and a couple of thousand Egyptian ones. The Egyptian chronicler Jabarti described the French thrust in these words:
The French entered the city like a torrent rushing through the alleys and streets without anything to stop them, like demons of the Devil's army... And the French trod in the Mosque of al-Azhar with their shoes... They treated the books and Qur'anic volumes as trash, throwing them on the ground, stamping on them with their feet and shoes. Furthermore they soiled the mosque, blowing their spit in it, pissing, and defecating in it... They are enemies of the Religion, the malicious victors who gloat in the misfortune of the vanquished, rabid hyenas, mongrels obdurate in their nature.
The French, of course, saw it differently. And while Bonaparte's Egyptian venture ultimately ended in retreat, the First Empire later commissioned a slew of paintings to celebrate it. Girodet, a disciple of David, received the commission to portray the Cairo uprising on an epic scale. His Revolt of Cairo was first displayed at the 1810 Salon, the competitive exhibition of French academic painting. Today it resides in the museum at Versailles.
Take a close look at the painting. (Click here or on the image above, for a larger, detailed view.) It depicts a moment of the battle when French troops had stormed the inner sanctum of the Azhar mosque. To the left is a French hussar, sword raised above his head, bearing down on the insurgents with a steely resolve. To the right are the insurgents, centered on the naked figure (identified by contemporary viewers as an"Arab") whose sword is raised in defense. In his left arm, he grasps a wounded Mamluk in lavish garb; at his feet is a black man, with a short bloodied sword in one hand, and the pale severed head of a French hussar in the other. It's a tumultuous work. As one art historian has written,"To be fully appreciated the Revolt must make you smile. Death and decapitation cannot override (or suppress) the picture's sheer glee. The painting is absurd, and also inflated, bombastic, extreme. In the Revolt of Cairo, the logic of the world we live in is fantastically suspended." (And Girodet, for all his care in detailing clothes and arms, played loose with the identity of the insurgents: the revolt was led by ulema, not Mamluk holdovers, and no Arab bedouin joined it.)
I've just quoted art historian Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby of Berkeley, and to fully appreciate Girodet's work, consult her bookExtremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France, where she devotes sixty riveting pages to the Revolt of Cairo. Sure, there's the customary dwelling on the homoeroticism of the painting--it can't be missed, and Girodet reportedly had liaisons with Mamluks who found their way to Paris and who posed for him.
But there's more. Girodet, Grisgsby argues, subverted the very political purpose he was commissioned to serve:
Girodet prominently displays the 'orientals' and eclipses the French hussar's face by a cast shadow. The painter thus deprives his primary French protagonist not only of highest rank--there is no general here--but also of individual celebrity. He is neither Murat nor Bonaparte but an anonymous French soldier and the picture refuses to grant him the stature of portraiture. He remains, moreover, despite his tightly fitting clothing, a flattened pattern of rotating limbs.... Boots, pants, jacket, cape, we dress him like a paper doll... In the Revolt of Cairo, the naked warrior, unlike the spinning hussar, is irresistably charismatic.... In Girodet's painting of colonial warfare, it is the insurgents not the French colonizers who are aligned with the classical narratives of passion, loyalty, and courage so revered within the French tradition.
So much for Edward Said. Even this officially-commissioned work, to commemorate a (short-lived) French victory, has the power to subvert. But to appreciate that, you need a sense of irony.
The American reception of Girodet's painting is bound to be colored by America's experience in Iraq. Conquest, insurgency, decapitation--there's too much here not to evoke Iraq. Personally, I find that analogies between Iraq and Vietnam or World War Two don't speak to me, and when I need an analogy as a crutch, I go back to the history of the Middle East itself. The French occupation of Egypt seems to me especially relevant. That brief intervention ended in military failure, but as the Syrian Sadek al-Azm has written, it"made a clean sweep of all that had become irrelevant on our side of the Mediterranean--the traditional Mamluk and Ottoman conduct of warfare, the supporting production systems, local knowledges, and forms of economic, social, legal, and political organization." The French left in defeat, but their ideas became thoroughly embedded in the minds of those who resisted them.
Will the U.S."moment" in the Middle East produce a similar transformation? In a paradoxical way, this doesn't depend upon success in stabilizing Iraq, which may prove to be a mission impossible, just as holding Egypt was beyond the capabilities of Bonaparte. In the longer term, the more lasting impact may result not from anything the United States succeeds in building, but from the combined destruction of Saddam's regime and the constant reiteration of the democracy message. Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim has put it this way:
It was a jolt of the French Expedition back in 1798 that was the beginning of the Liberal Age, the Arab awakening after not decades, but centuries, of stagnation.... Egyptians resisted the French Expedition and finally got it out; Napoleon was expelled out of Egypt in less than three years, like you--probably Americans would be expelled out of Iraq--but the three years of the French Expedition were really the beginning of the so-called New Arab Renaissance.
"I don't mean to compare Bush to Napoleon," Ibrahim has said, but"over the past 200 years, it seems that it is usually such external jolts that enable the seeds of change to materialize, for the pregnant to give birth." We can't know how the Iraq intervention will appear two centuries hence (and it probably won't leave behind anything quite like Girodet's Revolt of Cairo). But let's not presume to know how history will judge it.
Girodet: Romantic Rebel: Art Institute, details here; Met, here; Montreal, here.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 18, 2005 - 14:08
SOURCE: NYT Magazine (10-16-05)
History has, to say the least, disproved these judgments. Yet many prominent liberals continue to see contemporary conservatism as a rhetorical smoke screen intended to deceive the masses - even as conservatives often trace their movement back no farther than William F. Buckley Jr.'s founding of National Review in 1955, fusing religious and pro-business-minded voters. Such thinking, however, slights the coherence and durability of conservative politics in America. The blend of businessmen's aversion to government regulation, down-home cultural populism and Christian moralism that sustains today's Republican Party is a venerable if loosely knit philosophy of government dating back to long before the right-wing upsurge that prepared the way for Reagan's presidency. A few pundits and political insiders have likened the current Republicans to the formidable, corporate-financed political machine behind President William McKinley at the end of the 19th century. The admiration Karl Rove has expressed for the machine strengthens the historical connection. Yet neither conservatives nor liberals have fully recognized that the Bush administration's political and ideological recipe was invented decades before McKinley by a nearly forgotten American institution: the Whig Party of the 1830's and 40's.
The Whigs arose in 1834 to oppose Andrew Jackson's anti-elitist Democratic Party. Furious at Jackson's destruction of the privately controlled, all-powerful Second Bank of the United States and his forceful claims for presidential authority, the Whigs built a national following dedicated to protecting business and reducing federal economic regulation. Enriching the rich, they proclaimed, would eventually enrich everyone else. By combining a pro-business conservatism geared to the common man with an evangelical Christian view of social virtues and vices, they won the presidency twice in the 1840's and controlled either the House or the Senate for most of the decade. In the Senate, the legendary Henry Clay of Kentucky and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts magnified the Whig Party's influence far beyond Capitol Hill with the power of their oratory. Insofar as perennial themes shape our politics, it is remarkable how so many of contemporary conservatism's central ideas and slogans renovate old Whig appeals....
Posted on: Monday, October 17, 2005 - 21:35
SOURCE: National Review (10-14-05)
Some 60 years ago Arnold Toynbee concluded, in his monumental “Study of History,” that the ultimate cause of imperial collapse was “suicidal statecraft.” Sadly for George W. Bush's place in history and — much more important — ominously for America's future, that adroit phrase increasingly seems applicable to the policies pursued by the United States since the cataclysm of 9/11.Brzezinski soon adds, “In a very real sense, during the last four years the Bush team has dangerously undercut America's seemingly secure perch on top of the global totem pole by transforming a manageable, though serious, challenge largely of regional origin into an international debacle.” What are we to make of all this, when a former national-security adviser writes that the war that began when Middle Eastern terrorists struck at the heart of the continental United States in New York and Washington — something that neither the Nazis, Japanese militarists, nor Soviets ever accomplished — was merely a “challenge largely of regional origin”? Some “region” — downtown Manhattan and the nerve center of the American military. Aside from the unintended irony that the classical historian Arnold Toynbee himself was not always “adroit,” but wrong in most of his determinist conclusions, and that such criticism comes from a high official of an administration that witnessed on its watch the Iranian-hostage debacle, the disastrous rescue mission, the tragicomic odyssey of the terminally ill shah, the first and last Western Olympic boycott, oil hikes even higher in real dollars than the present spikes, Communist infiltration into Central America, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Cambodian holocaust, a gloomy acceptance that perpetual parity with the Soviet Union was the hope of the day, the realism that cemented our ties with corrupt autocracies in the Middle East (Orwellian sales of F-15 warplanes to the Saudis minus their extras), and the hard-to-achieve simultaneous high unemployment, high inflation, and high interest rates, Mr. Brzezinski is at least a valuable barometer of the current pessimism over events such as September 11. The war against the terrorists may be entering the fifth year, but despite over 2,000 combat fatalities, we have still only lost a little over 2/3s of those killed on the very first day of the war, almost 50 months ago — quite a contrast with the over 400,000 American dead at the end of World War II. And a wrecked Japan and Germany were not on a secure path to democracy until six years after America entered the war, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan that were defeated without killing millions and already have held plebiscites on new constitutions.
The story of the war since September 11 is that the United States military has not lost a single battle, has removed two dictatorships, and has birthed democracy in the Middle East. During Katrina, critics suggested troops in Iraq should have been in New Orleans, but that was a political, not a realistic complaint: few charged that there were too many thousands abroad in Germany, Italy, the U.K., Korea, or Japan when they should have been in Louisiana.
Posted on: Monday, October 17, 2005 - 17:42
SOURCE: Library of Congress Website (n.d.)
Ruthless, unconventional foes are not new to the United States of America. More than two hundred years ago the newly established United States made its first attempt to fight an overseas battle to protect its private citizens by building an international coalition against an unconventional enemy. Then the enemies were pirates and piracy. The focus of the United States and a proposed international coalition was the Barbary Pirates of North Africa.
Pirate ships and crews from the North African states of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers (the Barbary Coast) were the scourge of the Mediterranean. Capturing merchant ships and holding their crews for ransom provided the rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power. In fact, the Roman Catholic Religious Order of Mathurins had operated from France for centuries with the special mission of collecting and disbursing funds for the relief and ransom of prisoners of Mediterranean pirates.
Before the United States obtained its independence in the American Revolution, 1775-83, American merchant ships and sailors had been protected from the ravages of the North African pirates by the naval and diplomatic power of Great Britain. British naval power and the tribute or subsidies Britain paid to the piratical states protected American vessels and crews. During the Revolution, the ships of the United States were protected by the 1778 alliance with France, which required the French nation to protect "American vessels and effects against all violence, insults, attacks, or depredations, on the part of the said Princes and States of Barbary or their subjects."
After the United States won its independence in the treaty of 1783, it had to protect its own commerce against dangers such as the Barbary pirates. As early as 1784 Congress followed the tradition of the European shipping powers and appropriated $80,000 as tribute to the Barbary states, directing its ministers in Europe, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, to begin negotiations with them. Trouble began the next year, in July 1785, when Algerians captured two American ships and the dey of Algiers held their crews of twenty-one people for a ransom of nearly $60,000.
Thomas Jefferson, United States minister to France, opposed the payment of tribute, as he later testified in words that have a particular resonance today. In his autobiography Jefferson wrote that in 1785 and 1786 he unsuccessfully "endeavored to form an association of the powers subject to habitual depredation from them. I accordingly prepared, and proposed to their ministers at Paris, for consultation with their governments, articles of a special confederation." Jefferson argued that "The object of the convention shall be to compel the piratical States to perpetual peace." Jefferson prepared a detailed plan for the interested states. "Portugal, Naples, the two Sicilies, Venice, Malta, Denmark and Sweden were favorably disposed to such an association," Jefferson remembered, but there were "apprehensions" that England and France would follow their own paths, "and so it fell through."
Paying the ransom would only lead to further demands, Jefferson argued in letters to future presidents John Adams, then America's minister to Great Britain, and James Monroe, then a member of Congress. As Jefferson wrote to Adams in a July 11, 1786, letter, "I acknolege [sic] I very early thought it would be best to effect a peace thro' the medium of war." Paying tribute will merely invite more demands, and even if a coalition proves workable, the only solution is a strong navy that can reach the pirates, Jefferson argued in an August 18, 1786, letter to James Monroe: "The states must see the rod; perhaps it must be felt by some one of them. . . . Every national citizen must wish to see an effective instrument of coercion, and should fear to see it on any other element than the water. A naval force can never endanger our liberties, nor occasion bloodshed; a land force would do both." "From what I learn from the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of their money," Jefferson added in a December 26, 1786, letter to the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, "it will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them."
Jefferson's plan for an international coalition foundered on the shoals of indifference and a belief that it was cheaper to pay the tribute than fight a war. The United States's relations with the Barbary states continued to revolve around negotiations for ransom of American ships and sailors and the payment of annual tributes or gifts. Even though Secretary of State Jefferson declared to Thomas Barclay, American consul to Morocco, in a May 13, 1791, letter of instructions for a new treaty with Morocco that it is "lastly our determination to prefer war in all cases to tribute under any form, and to any people whatever," the United States continued to negotiate for cash settlements. In 1795 alone the United States was forced to pay nearly a million dollars in cash, naval stores, and a frigate to ransom 115 sailors from the dey of Algiers. Annual gifts were settled by treaty on Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli.
When Jefferson became president in 1801 he refused to accede to Tripoli's demands for an immediate payment of $225,000 and an annual payment of $25,000. The pasha of Tripoli then declared war on the United States. Although as secretary of state and vice president he had opposed developing an American navy capable of anything more than coastal defense, President Jefferson dispatched a squadron of naval vessels to the Mediterranean. As he declared in his first annual message to Congress: "To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to denounce war, on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. . . ."
The American show of force quickly awed Tunis and Algiers into breaking their alliance with Tripoli. The humiliating loss of the frigate Philadelphia and the capture of her captain and crew in Tripoli in 1803, criticism from his political opponents, and even opposition within his own cabinet did not deter Jefferson from his chosen course during four years of war. The aggressive action of Commodore Edward Preble (1803-4) forced Morocco out of the fight and his five bombardments of Tripoli restored some order to the Mediterranean. However, it was not until 1805, when an American fleet under Commodore John Rogers and a land force raised by an American naval agent to the Barbary powers, Captain William Eaton, threatened to capture Tripoli and install the brother of Tripoli's pasha on the throne, that a treaty brought an end to the hostilities. Negotiated by Tobias Lear, former secretary to President Washington and now consul general in Algiers, the treaty of 1805 still required the United States to pay a ransom of $60,000 for each of the sailors held by the dey of Algiers, and so it went without Senatorial consent until April 1806. Nevertheless, Jefferson was able to report in his sixth annual message to Congress in December 1806 that in addition to the successful completion of the Lewis and Clark expedition, "The states on the coast of Barbary seem generally disposed at present to respect our peace and friendship."
In fact, it was not until the second war with Algiers, in 1815, that naval victories by Commodores William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur led to treaties ending all tribute payments by the United States. European nations continued annual payments until the 1830s. However, international piracy in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters declined during this time under pressure from the Euro-American nations, who no longer viewed pirate states as mere annoyances during peacetime and potential allies during war.
For anyone interested in the further pursuit of information about America's first unconventional, international war in the primary sources, the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress holds manuscript collections of many of the American participants, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington (see the George Washington Papers), William Short, Edward Preble, Thomas Barclay, James Madison, James Simpson, James Leander Cathcart, William Bainbridge, James Barron, John Rodgers, Ralph Izard, and Albert Gallatin.
Posted on: Monday, October 17, 2005 - 17:21