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: Tribune Media Services (12-5-05)
Contrary to popular belief, throughout history torture has brought results — either to gain critical, sometimes lifesaving intelligence or more gratuitously to obtain embarrassing confessions from terrified captives.
The question, then, for a liberal democracy is not whether torture in certain cases is effective, but whether its value is worth the negative publicity and demoralizing effect on a consensual society that believes its cause and methods must enjoy a moral high ground far above the enemy's.
Nor can opponents of torture say that it is entirely foreign to the U.S. military experience, at least from what we know of it even in so-called good wars like World War II. There were American soldiers — sometimes in furor over the loss of comrades, sometimes to obtain critical information — who executed or tortured captured Japanese and German prisoners. Those who did so operated on a de facto "don't ask, don't tell" understanding, occasionally found it effective and were rarely punished by commanding officers. Even so, G.I.s never descended to the levels of depravity common in the Wehrmacht or the Soviet and Imperial Japanese armies.
There is also not much to the argument that our employment of torture will only embolden the enemy to barbarously treat Americans held captive. What a silly idea! Captured Americans have already been filmed being beheaded — or shot or burned — and their mutilated corpses hung up for public ridicule.
We know from both its professed creed and its conduct in the field that al-Qaida cares nothing for civilized behavior. Its barbarism is innate, not predicated on any notion of reciprocity. Beheading and torturing prisoners occurred before the sexual humiliation so amply photographed at Abu Ghraib. U.S. soldiers already grasp what surrendering to al-Qaeda terrorists would mean; they've seen other Westerners appearing hooded and in jumpsuits on the Internet before losing their heads to choruses of "Allah Akhbar."...
Posted on: Sunday, December 11, 2005 - 21:30
SOURCE: WSJ (12-10-05)
The charge that FDR knew of the Japanese intention to attack Pearl Harbor, but used it to ensure U.S. entry into the war against the Axis, surfaced after 1945, when the war was over, FDR was dead, and the decks were cleared for some sleeves-rolled-up recrimination. In 1948 the progressive historian (and prewar isolationist) Charles A. Beard accused Roosevelt of "maneuvering the country into war." Anti-New Deal Republicans such as Robert A. Taft, anxious for a stick with which to whack at FDR, thought his "policy of bluff" drove Japan to its Pearl Harbor attack. The accusation never really took hold, but never wholly faded away. Eccentric historian John Toland (who found much good in Hitler) resurrected the FDR conspiracy story in his book "Infamy" (1982), which unfortunately appeared a year after Gordon Prange's "At Dawn We Slept" definitively buried it.
Fast forward (not very far) to June 1950, and to what almost everyone saw as North Korea's invasion of South Korea. Once again the U.S. was caught flatfooted by a devastating assault. And once again, politically motivated conspiratorialists shifted the blame to an administration charged with either cuddling up to the communists or hell-bent on going to war with them....
When we get to Mr. Bush, WMDs and Iraq, the principle that while history doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes, applies in spades. In March 2003, as in December 1941, June 1950 and the summer of 1964, there was broad agreement that Something Had to Be Done. If flat-out lying created that mood, that is a black mark indeed on American policy making. But if the conspiracy charge was (to put it mildly) far from open-and-shut, and if the conspiratorialists were driven more by ideology and partisanship than by proof, then a healthy skepticism is in order.
History's lesson is this: In modern America, the path to war is beset with actions that rest on uncertain or arguable justification. The political/ideological fringes will craft theories of conspiracy with scant regard for fact or probability. And the opposition will make what it can of this material, within the limits of political prudence.
Posted on: Saturday, December 10, 2005 - 13:43
SOURCE: Austin American-Statesman (12-9-05)
"America, love it or leave it" was an ultimatum, and a bumper sticker, popular in the late '60s among the silent majority when it wanted to say something.
Just over 36 years ago, President Richard Nixon delivered his famous Silent Majority speech. In it, he laid out our troubles in Vietnam and at home; he surveyed our available options for "bringing peace" to Vietnam - and to us.
Nixon, as we know him from his own White House tapes, was not a nice guy. He privately spewed racist and anti-Semitic comments. He proposed to Henry Kissinger that he not rule out thinking big - i.e., using the atomic bomb in southeast Asia.
But in his official role as president on Nov. 3, 1969, Nixon publicly recognized the right of those who opposed the war to speak freely and in good conscience. He was forthright and presidential:
"Honest and patriotic Americans have reached different conclusions as to how peace should be achieved. In San Francisco a few weeks ago, I saw demonstrators carrying signs reading: 'Lose in Vietnam, bring the boys home.' Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view."
At that point, 31,000 Americans had been killed in action. The training program to hand the war over to the South Vietnamese was behind schedule. We had been at war for four years but involved in Vietnam for 15. This parallels our own long-term attention to Iraq, beginning well before Operation Desert Storm and including the fly-overs and embargoes leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The question we might now ask is, "What happens when the America we love leaves us?" I mean the America we once knew - America in the late 1940s and '50s. That America had its serious flaws, but that America and its leaders tried to do many right things. America led the defense of the free world. As a conqueror, it offered help to the conquered. That America had learned hard lessons during the Depression and World War II. It used big government to address three related social problems - race, poverty and economic disparity.
That America came of age in the violent '60s. Its federal government was strong. Its congressional leaders and presidents of both parties paid attention to civil and human rights.
The America that left us offered a home to the United Nations, because it had seen the evil the world could do without a common place of meeting and humanitarian cooperation, without procedures for settling disputes. That America supported imposing limits on mechanized war and what it does to armed soldiers and innocent non-combatants. That America signed all four of the revisions of the Geneva Conventions in 1949 and formally ratified them in 1955. That America tried, despite the ambiguities of Cold War conflicts, to live up its role as world leader of a free and humanistic democracy.
That America saw civil rights abuses and reacted with real courage in support of nonviolent means of guaranteeing basic human freedoms. Its federal government and its Supreme Court played activist roles in correcting social injustices. That America launched a war on poverty. Both Democratic and Republican presidents supported that good war.
Is it forgotten that Nixon again rose to the occasion as our leader and proposed the Family Assistance Program? It would have guaranteed income to single-parent families and the working poor. Do we forget that he worked to further desegregation by setting up biracial state committees throughout the South?
That America and that kind of leader have left us. We now live in an America whose president and attorney general manipulate legal language to justify the torture, or its equivalent, of prisoners in its "war on terror." They themselves have never been at risk of being prisoners. Former POW John McCain is in the forefront of the debate on torture policies that disgrace our national morality.
In today's America, a war veteran congressman enriches himself with bribes from immoral contractors, while our soldiers suffer and die in Iraq. The White House in today's America does not honor the right of fellow Americans to express different views. It attacks distinguished opposition leaders, including war veterans, as unpatriotic cowards for their political opinions. And White House-aligned conservative strategists and talking heads use trigger issues such as gay marriage, the long-unburnt American flag and the "X" in Christmas - it ironically stands for "khi," the first letter in the Greek name for "the anointed one," Khristos - to sow discord among citizens.
I know we cannot bring back the old America. But I would trade George Bush straight up for Richard Nixon.
Posted on: Friday, December 9, 2005 - 18:25
SOURCE: Email to HNN (12-9-05)
A short article posted on the Web site of Israel's most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot, described the killing of a Jerusalem resident. According to the article, the man, a young father of two, was shot down by police after he tried to run over one of the officers. Following the killing, his enraged friends and neighbors filled the streets, burning tires and torching a parked car.
The readers' reaction to the news item was immediate. Within hours there were 150 responses on the Web page, almost all of which reiterated a similar viewpoint: "Come on police, take care of them" (signed Zionist); "Hit them without delay" (an Israeli with high blood pressure); "No mercy" (a Sabra); "Bomb the rioters with a few missiles, it's not France here"; and finally, "Arabs beware, Israel is not Europe."
The readers' reactions were not surprising considering that the dead man's name was Samir Ribhi Dari and not, for example, Joseph Cohen. The actual killing did not even warrant a response, since incidents like this have become routine. It was only the spontaneous protest that drew the readers' attention. Angry Arabs in the streets? We must respond rapidly and with force, "bomb them with a few missiles."
The readers, however, were right about one crucial point: Israel is neither France nor Europe, since in Israel police violence toward Arabs tends to be much more lethal. Indeed, both Samir's killing and the readers' responses reflect some of the most disturbing and dangerous aspects of contemporary Israeli culture. Most prominent among these is the deep-seated racism that encourages violence.
This racism is inextricably linked to Israel's repetition compulsion, which transforms the victim into the aggressor. A Palestinian is killed and immediately he is described as violent; the police beat a Palestinian and he, not they, is portrayed as brutal; Israel occupies and represses the Palestinian people, but they are to blame. Thus, it is no surprise that after Samir Dari was shot in the back from just a few yards away the police instantly claimed that he was trying to run them over. It is almost as if lying has become an involuntary reflex for the authorities.
But in order for the culture of deceit to be effective it needs the assistance of the culture of dissimulation and suppression. If the past is any indication of the future, then the policeman who shot Samir Dari can rest easy. The internal affairs department did not indict a single policeman following the killings of 13 Arab citizens in October 2000, nor did it indict any of the policemen who gave false evidence regarding their illegal behavior during protests against the separation barrier.
The cultures of deceit and suppression fan the flames of violence. The clear message -- that Jews are eternal victims, and therefore they cannot be found guilty regardless of the brutal means they employ -- renders Palestinian life cheap and encourages a trigger-happy attitude. We have accordingly reached a stage where we can predict that the Israeli security forces will continue killing Palestinians. The only unknown variable is the identity of the next victim. We could not have known, for example, that the policeman would shoot our friend Samir.
Samir liked the nights. His days would begin in the early afternoon, and in the evening he would sit in his car, driving clients, talking on his cell phone and instructing the other drivers employed by his taxi company. He was a patient man, and in the four years that we worked with him -- often under extremely stressful conditions -- we found him to be a bit shy, but always resourceful. And most important, he was forever willing to offer help to those in need.
We would like to believe that the person who shot Samir will be brought to a fair trial. We would like to believe that Samir's death will begin undermining the patterns of deceit, suppression and racism that have served as the propelling force of the culture of violence. We would like to believe that Samir's children will be the last ones orphaned by the Israeli security forces. But no. We cannot deceive ourselves.
Posted on: Friday, December 9, 2005 - 17:51
SOURCE: WSJ (12-8-05)
The riots in France have died down, and European politicians and observers are putting forward optimistic scenarios (at least in public) that rule out any encores.
The Germans, for example, argue that ethnic upheavals won't happen there if only because their housing conditions are different. It's quite true that Germany didn't put up high-rise buildings in the suburbs. Muslim concentrations in Germany happen to be mostly in the inner parts of big cities. But housing conditions were not the only and perhaps not the most important cause of the troubles in France.
Future street violence in Europe is hard to predict because it depends not only on "objective" social factors but also to a considerable extent on how conditions are perceived by a generation of young, uprooted and discontented males (there were no young women among those arrested in France). Riots break out not so much in the poorest and most disadvantaged areas but where the best organized and most violent street gangs are. The quarters dominated by the drug dealers, however, remained quiet since the upheavals would have been bad for business.
The reaction of the authorities matters, too. If their reaction is slow, clumsy and weak, conviction naturally grows that there is no reason to be afraid of a government backlash. The young rioters in Paris often complained about the lack of respect shown to them. But there is another side of the medal: respect for the government and its institutions. Most of the rioters were under 18, knowing that for any crime short of murder they will be kept in prison for a few days at most. If respect for authority is low or nonexistent, violence is of course more likely to escalate....
Integration of Muslims in Europe has failed so far and multiculturalism is discredited. The exhortations of European politicians that the new immigrants should make a greater effort to get integrated in their societies are pointless, and the self-criticism sometimes heard -- most often, that Western governments did not make a real effort -- are misplaced. Even if a greater effort had been made and more money invested, the majority of new immigrants from Islamic countries have no wish to accept Western values and the European way of life. If there has been ghettoization, it happened because they wanted to be among themselves not because anyone imposed it on them.
All this does not necessarily mean that Europe is facing a violent confrontation that will last as long as one can see ahead. Over time successive generations of immigrants will accept many features of the European way of life (not necessarily the most positive), and as their number is growing and as they will emerge even as the majority in European cities, they will be drawn into the political process. In Britain they are wooed very actively by the Trotskyites, but this will not take them very far. Other parties are bound to follow, and once there is the chance for them to attain their political, social and religious aims through political means, the attraction of violence could be lessened. There still will be tension among the various immigrant communities. There will also likely be -- and indeed is already -- a backlash from native populations who feel themselves turning into strangers in their own home.
A new Europe is emerging. So what will it be like? A fascinating question, not the Europe of merry old England, of la douce France and the Germany of the Classics and Romantics. Various scenarios will be discussed, some admittedly more likely than others, ranging from the infusion of new blood to a tired Europe bringing a new cultural and economic blossoming to the decline of Europe to Middle Eastern and North African conditions and standards. Watch this space.
Posted on: Thursday, December 8, 2005 - 21:47
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (12-8-05)
An editorial in the New York Times caught the moment this way in its opening sentence: "A simple truth of human existence is that it is vastly easier to amplify fear than it is to assuage it." Now, there was a post-9/11 truth -- except that the editorial was headlined "The Statistical Shark" and its next sentence wasn't about planes smashing into buildings or the way the Bush administration had since wielded the fear card, but another hot-button issue entirely. It went: "Consider the shark attacks that have occurred in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina this summer."
This was, in fact, September 6, 2001, the waning days of a man-bites-dog summer in which headlines had been dominated by the deaths of David Peltier, a 10 year-old boy in Florida, and Sergei Zloukaev, a 27-year-old in North Carolina in fatal shark attacks. Just the day before, in fact, the Times had carried a piece by William J. Broad reassuring readers that scientists did not believe the world was facing a shark "rampage." "If anything," Broad concluded, "the recent global trend in shark attacks is down."
It was just past Labor Day. Congress was barely back in session. Heywood Hale Broun, the sportswriter, would die at 83 that relatively quiet week, while Mexican President Vicente Fox swept triumphantly into Washington and a new book, featured on Newsweek's cover, would carry the title, The Accidental President. The Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section was promoting "the new season" in entertainment, while that night a highly publicized 10-part mini-series was premiering on HBO -- Band of Brothers, a Tom Hanks/Steven Speilberg production that followed a platoon of Greatest-Generation soldiers deep into Germany. If World War II nostalgia was on the tube, war elsewhere in the American world was also largely on screen. On September 7, Times journalist Thom Shanker reported on a classified war game, a computer-generated simulation played out by "the nation's senior commanders" which determined that the U.S. military could "decisively defeat one potential adversary, North Korea, while repelling an attack from Iraq" -- even if "terrorists [attacked] New York City with chemical weapons."
All in all, that week before September 11th was a modestly uneventful one. An afternoon spent revisiting the New York Times' version of it, via a library microfiche machine, making my way through that paper, day by day, section by section, plunged me into a nearly forgotten world in which the Democrats still controlled the Senate by a single vote and key Republican senators -- it was Texan Phil Gramm's turn to announce his retirement that week -- were going down like bowling pins. (Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond had preceded Gramm "adding a new element of uncertainty to the 2002 race.") The President had been met by exceedingly gloomy economic news as the unemployment rate jumped that Saturday to 4.9% -- another 100,000 jobs lost -- a full point above election day, ten months earlier; and Wall Street responded with a sell-off that dropped the Dow Jones to 9,600. Republicans were "panicked," the administration adrift, and we wouldn't see the likes of it again for four years.
A number of post-9/11 subjects would be in the paper that week:
Torture was in the headlines -- leading off the culture page that Saturday ("Torture Charge Pits Professor vs. Professor") in a memory piece, datelined Santiago, on Augusto Pinochet's brutal military rule in Chile. (The anniversary of his bloody coup -- September 11, 1973 -- was approaching.)
Then, too, an American citizen had been imprisoned without charges for 18 months -- but it was electrical engineer Fuming Fong and China was holding him.
Anthrax made the op-ed page -- but only because Russian scientists had developed a new type that could "overcome the standard Russian and American vaccines."
Terrorism in the U.S. was in the news -- an Oklahoma prosecutor was seeking the death penalty for Terry L. Nichols in the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing.
"Violence in the Middle East" was on the front page -- but in that week, it had only one meaning, the endless Israeli/Palestinian conflict. (The first Israeli-Arab suicide bomber had just struck.)
The Taliban could be found on the front page on September 7 (and inside on subsequent days) -- but only because the mullahs were trying eight foreign aid workers for preaching Christianity. The bemused articles ("Another Strange Kabul Problem: Finding a Lawyer") were of the weird-foreigners variety.
Military recruitment was a topic of interest then as now -- the Army, after switching ad agencies and slogans ("Army of One" for "Be All You Can Be") had just conducted an "elaborate event" at the Pentagon, swearing into service its 75,800th recruit of the year, 19 year-old Rodrigo Vasquez III of Karnes City, Texas, in order to highlight meeting its recruitment goals a month ahead of schedule in the "most successful recruiting year since at least 1997."
Howard Dean made the inside pages of the paper that week -- the little-known Vermont governor (tagged with "fiscal conservativism/social liberalism") announced that he would not seek reelection to his fifth two-year term. There was "speculation" that he might even "run for the Democratic nomination for President."
Missing in Action
And then there were -- in terms of what we've been used to ever since -- the missing, or almost missing. Saddam Hussein didn't make it into the paper that week. Kim Jong Il was nowhere in sight. Osama bin Laden barely slipped into print -- twice deep into articles -- as "the accused terrorist" being hosted by the strange Taliban government. The Axis of Evil, of course, did not exist, nor did the Global War on Terror, and the potential enemy of the week, pushed by Donald Rumsfeld (himself on the defensive over the military budget and arguments with his generals), was "the rising China threat." Iran was scarcely a blip on the news radar screen; Syria rated not a mention. Also missing were just about any of the names we now consider second nature to the post-9/11 news. No "Scooter" Libby. No Valerie Plame. No Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, or Douglas Feith. In fact, not a neocon made it into the pages of the paper over those seven days, and Judy Miller, the neocons' future dream reporter, who would soon enough storm the front page of the Times and take it for her own, had two pieces that week, a September 5th page-five article about a former Arms Control and Disarmament Agency general counsel challenging the administration's "assertion that the global treaty banning biological weapons permits nations to test such arms for defensive purposes"; and, two days later, a tiny Israel piece tucked away at the bottom of page fifteen on "the alleged [on-line] support for terrorism" by Islamic groups and charities. The Vice President, seen silently at the President's side at a "hastily arranged" and awkward "appearance" on the White House grounds after the unemployment figures broke, was otherwise nowhere to be seen, though the Times speculated on its editorial page ("The Bush Merry-Go-Round") that he was "losing influence." ("Mr. Cheney's heart problems and his ardent embrace of the coal, oil and gas industries seem to have hobbled him.")
Though the sharks in the world's oceans that week were feeding on something other than humans, there were still "sharks" around. Allison Mitchell began a Sunday lead Week in Review piece ("Face Off: Which Way to Win Control of Congress?") this way: "Talk about shark season, Congress came back into session last week and the Democrats were circling, sensing blood in the political waters." Little wonder. This was, after all, a non-majoritarian President who had, as Times writers didn't hesitate to remind people, just squeaked through with a helping hand from the Supreme Court. After managing to get one massive tax cut by Congress, he began to drift like a lost lifeboat at sea, while his advisers fretted over polls "showing that many people still view Mr. Bush not as decisive but as tentative and perhaps overly scripted." He was, as a front-page piece by Richard L. Berke and David E. Sanger, put it on September 9th, "essentially out of economic ammunition."
The nature of politics in Washington that week could be caught in lines like: "Democrats go on the attack…" and "Democrats intensified their attacks against Mr. Bush…" Less than a year into a Bush presidency, Columnist Tom Friedman was already offering the faltering leader heartfelt advice on how not to lose the next election. Be "Clinton-minus," not "Reagan-squared" was the formula he offered. As the Mitchell piece made clear, this was a presidency under siege as well as a Republican Party -- so "everyone" in Washington agreed -- "in peril." In the sort of action not to be seen again for years, a Senate committee actually cut money from the defense budget that week, an act Shanker of the Times termed "another stark challenge" from committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan. The political failure of the President's father was evidently on Washington minds as well, and so the paper in a number of pieces linked father and son. The father's bid for reelection had, after all, gone down in flames in the nation's previous recession or, as the headline of one story put it, "Like Father, Bush Is Caught in a Politically Perilous Budget Squeeze."
A few aspects of our post-9/11 political world were quite recognizable even then. That week, the Bush administration was easing up on Big Tobacco ("Justice Official Denies Pressure to Settle Tobacco Suit") and Big Computer ("U.S. Abandoning Its Effort to Break Apart Microsoft"), while preparing to bail from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. And as the administration pushed for legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a "hobbled" Dick Cheney was already stonewalling about what had occurred when his Energy Task Force of Big Oil met earlier in 2001.
The two days before 9/11 were so quiet that you could practically hear a news pin drop. In the Times of September 11th -- in that moment before the Internet took full possession of us, a day's lag between events and the news was a print norm -- the major story ("Key Leaders Talk of Possible Deals to Revive Economy, Bush is Under Pressure") indicated that "some Republicans" were anxiously bringing up the 1982 midterm elections when President Reagan "told the nation to ‘stay the course' in a recession" and the Party dropped numerous House seats in the midterm elections.
At the bottom of the front page was a plane-hijacking story, though it was thirty years old. ("Traced on Internet, Teacher Is Charged In '71 Jet Hijacking.") Across the rest of the page-bottom on that final morning were: "In a Nation of Early Risers, Morning TV Is a Hot Market" and "School Dress Codes vs. a Sea of Bare Flesh."
For intimations of what was to come, you would have had to move inside. On page 3, Douglas Frantz reported, "Suicide Bomb Kills 2 Police Officers in Istanbul," a bombing for which no one took credit and which was automatically attributed to "a leftist terrorist group" (something that would not happen again soon). A page farther on, you could find Barry Bearak and James Risen's piece "Reports Disagree on Fate of Anti-Taliban Rebel Chief" about the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, an anti-Taliban warlord, by two Arabs posing as journalists (which we now know was connected to the September 11 plot). In its penultimate paragraph was this: "If the would-be assassins were indeed Arabs… the fact would lend credibility to those who contend that foreigners, including Osama bin Laden, are playing an ever bigger decision-making role among the Taliban."
Peering further into the future -- on page 8, under World Briefs, was a throwaway paragraph on the low-level air war even then being conducted against Saddam Hussein's Iraq ("Iraq said eight civilians were killed and three wounded when Western planes attacked farms 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. The Pentagon said American and British warplanes attacked three surface-to-air missile sites in the so-called no-fly zone…"); and another, "Iran: Denial on nuclear weapons," that began: "The government rejected charges by the United States that it was seeking nuclear weapons…"
And then, of course, there was nothing to do but oh-so-slowly turn the microfiche dial, knowing exactly what was around the corner of time and, after a pitch-black break between days, stumble into those mile-high headlines -- "U.S. Attacked, Hijacked Jets Destroy Twin Towers and Hit Pentagon in Day of Terror" -- and, despite yourself, experience with a kind of gasp the sky in your brain filling with falling bodies.
Here, by the way, is how that September 6th Times shark editorial ended. If it doesn't give you a little chill for what we've lost, I don't know what will. "Life is full of things that carry more risk than swimming in the ocean. Most of them are inevitably the byproducts of daily life, like falling televisions and car accidents, because daily life is where we spend most of our time. It may lack the visceral fears aroused by the unlikely threat of a shark attack, but it is also far more lethal."
Only five days after that was written, almost three thousand New Yorkers, some adopted from countries around the globe, would face a danger far more shocking -- and, until that moment, far less imaginable to most of us, than any shark attack. Things would indeed fall from the sky -- and from a history so many Americans knew nothing about -- and visceral fears would be aroused that would drive us, like the Pearl Harbor-ish headlines that greeted the audacious act not of a major power but of 19 fanatics in four planes prepared to die, into a future even more unimaginable.
Put another way, an afternoon spent in the lost world of September 5-10, 2001, reminds us that the savage attacks of the following day would, in fact, buy a faltering, confused, and weak administration as well as a dazed and disengaged President a new life, a "calling" as he would put it, and almost four years to do its damnedest. It would be 2004 before the President's polling figures settled into the levels of that long-lost September 10th. It would be the summer of 2005 –- and the administration's disastrous handling of hurricanes Sheehan, Katrina, and Iraq -- before the President would again be criticized for his "gone fishing" summer vacation; before the Democrats would again begin to attack; before newspapers would again be relatively uncowed; before the Republicans would again gather in those private (and then public) places and begin to complain; before Congress would again be up for grabs. Four long years to make it back to September 10th, 2001 in an American world now filled to the brim with horrors, a United States which is no longer a "country," but a "homeland" and a Homeland Security State.
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: Thursday, December 8, 2005 - 19:57
SOURCE: New Republic (12-8-05)
Tham Yong remembers the events that took place in Batang Kali in early December 1948 with disturbing clarity. It was the early days of the communist insurgency in Malaya, and British soldiers had arrived in her village. They singled out scores of Chinese civilians, accusing them of supplying the communists with food. The women were loaded onto trucks and taken away, though not before they witnessed British troops leading off two dozen men and shooting them in the back. Two days later, when Tham returned to look for her fiancé, she found mutilated bodies with heads hacked off and genitals smashed. The surrounding village had been reduced to ashes.
Today, as the Bush administration searches for a counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, several military thinkers are pointing to the British operations in Malaya as a model. Episodes like the Batang Kali massacre seem to have been forgotten. Instead, contemporary analysts argue that Great Britain effectively suppressed communist insurgents and won civilian support through a large-scale, "hearts-and-minds campaign." In his recent article in Foreign Affairs, Andrew Krepinevich, a former Pentagon official who now heads the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments--and whose views have had a major impact on the administration's thinking (see Lawrence F. Kaplan, "Clear and Fold,")--argues, "In the 1950s, the British used [hearts and minds] successfully in Malaya.... For the United States, the key ... is [also] winning 'hearts and minds.' The Iraqi people must believe that their government offers them a better life than the insurgents do, and they must think that the government will prevail." According to an August 28 New York Times column by David Brooks, this argument is "already a phenomenon among the people running this war, generating discussion in the Pentagon, the CIA, the American Embassy in Baghdad, and the office of the vice president."
To be sure, Britain's counterinsurgency operations in Malaya were a short-term success. British forces reestablished order and disengaged from imperial occupation. But the hearts-and-minds campaign, the theoretical backbone of Britain's counterinsurgency strategy, was more myth than reality. To seize civilian control, the British created a police state and invoked draconian powers ranging from movement-restriction and collective punishments to detention without trial. Winning the war against insurgents came at a high price for the local civilian population and for the independent state that picked up the mantle from its former colonizer. Rather than serving as a historical precedent for a successful hearts-and-minds campaign, the British campaign in Malaya illustrates the dangers of continuing our current strategy in Iraq. ...
Posted on: Thursday, December 8, 2005 - 18:36
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (12-7-05)
My column yesterday,"Converts to Terrorism," delved into the issue of converts to Islam who engage in terrorism. Space constraints limited the information I could include, so here, I add to it in three ways: (1) providing names of converts suspected, arrested, or indicted of terrorism but who have not yet either gone into action or been convicted; (2) reviewing the matter of non-terrorist jihadis; and (3) summarizing a French intelligence report on converts to Islam.
(1) Yesterday's list included converts who had either engaged in or been convicted of terrorism. That leaves many other converts who have not yet reached either of those stages, including:
Australia: David Hicks, accused of joining Lashkar-i Tayyiba. Shane Kent, a red-haired, light-skinned former rock musician who trained in an Afghan terrorist camp, was one of the seventeen terrorist suspects detained in November 2005. Joseph Terrence Thomas, accused of training with and financing Al-Qaeda.
France: Willie Virgile Brigitte, accused of membership in Al-Qaeda and helping the Taliban murder Afghan leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. Jérôme Courtailler (brother of David), arrested with two other French converts, Johann Bonté and Jean-Marc Grandvisir, for a plot to blow up the American embassy in Paris. Lionel Dumont, blamed for several terrorist attacks, including one connected to a Group of Seven summit in 1996.
Germany: Michael Christian Ganczarski, held in France for suspected ties to Al-Qaeda and involvement in a bombing in Tunisia in 2002.
Switzerland: Albert Friedrich Armand Huber, designated a terrorist suspect by the U.S. government.
United States: Adam Gadahn, sought in connection with"possible terrorist threats" against the United States. Three of four members in the Jam'iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh, accused of planning a terror spree in the Los Angeles area, are converts. Jose Padilla, accused of planning to"make an improvised dirty bomb," or a radiological dispersion device. Three members of an alleged group, Rafiq Sabir, Tarik Shah, and Mahmud Faruq Brent, are accused of pledging an oath to Al-Qaeda. The list of unindicted co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing includes two American Islamist star converts, Siraj Wahhaj and Bilal Phillips, and what appears to a number of lesser ones (Jack Hamrick, John Kinard, Frank Ramos, Kelvin Smith, Richard Smith).
In addition, Charles J. Bishop (original last name: Bishara) was a teenager who drove his small plane into a high-rise Tampa building after writing a suicide note professing admiration for Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers. It is not established, however, that Bishop converted to Islam.
(2) Many converts engage in jihad in such places as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Kashmir, generally acting more like soldiers than terrorists. (Those who go to Iraq or the Palestinian Authority, in contrast, are rank terrorists.) According to Bob Blitzer, who headed the FBI's first Islamic terrorism squad in 1994,"Between 1,000 and 2,000 jihadists left America during the 1990s alone." Some of them were converts.
Better known Americans of this description include John Walker Lindh, sentenced to twenty years for supplying services to and carrying arms for the Taliban; Earnest James Ujaama, two years for conspiring to provide goods and services to the Taliban; several members of the"Portland Seven" (Jeffrey Leon Battle, Patrice Lumumba Ford, October Lewis), up to eighteen years for trying to help the Taliban; and Aukai Collins wrote My Jihad, a book of memoirs. Other jihadi soldiers include Hiram Torres, who died in Afghanistan; Cleven Raphael Holt, who went to fight in Bosnia; and a mysterious young black convert from Atlanta known as Jibreel al-Amreekee, killed fighting the Indian Army in Kashmir. Converts of other nationalities also joined the jihad, such as Thomas Fischer of Germany, who died fighting in Chechnya.
(3) Shortly after the London bombings in July 2005, Le Monde reported on a study of converts by the intelligence service Renseignements généraux (RG) in"Les conversions à l'islam radical inquiètent la police française" (French police worried about conversions to radical Islam). Looking at 1,610 French converts, it found no typical profile of the convert. That said, one-third of them have police records and 10 percent of them converted in prison. Converts are 83 percent male and have a median age of 32 years. The RG study finds that close to 13 percent" converted for socioeconomic reasons," often to improve commercial relations with the Muslim community; nonetheless, more than half of them are unemployed. Tabligh Jamaat and the Wahhabis converted 28 and 23 percent, respectively, of the French to Islam, 44 percent of converts are Islamist, and 3 percent are suspected to"belong to or have gravitated to the violent Islamist movement."
In conclusion, I repeat my yesterday's finding: Conversion to Islam substantially increases the probability of a person's involvement in terrorism.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 7, 2005 - 20:10
SOURCE: frontpagemag.com (12-5-05)
Each round of Israeli disengagement, withdrawal, retreat (or whatever one wishes to call it) wins the temporary approval of the wide world, as symbolized by the United Nations General Assembly.
After the Oslo accords were signed in September 1993, the General Assembly voted 155 to 3, with 1 abstention and 19 states not voting, to express"its full support for the achievements of the peace process thus far." After the Barak government retreated from Lebanon in May 2000, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Israel for this"important development in the Israeli-UN relationship."
Within months, however, those sweet notes soured, forgotten except by archivists, replaced by the standard anti-Zionist canards, embellishments, and double standards.
True to form, after the August-September 2005 pullout from Gaza, Ariel Sharon was the toast of the United Nations. No Israeli prime minister had ever before had world leaders vying to meet with him or enjoyed such opportunities to promote himself and his country. Here's the New York Times in mid-October discussing Israel as the new U.N. favorite:
Israel recently proposed a United Nations resolution, it submitted its candidacy for a two-year seat on the Security Council, and its prime minister has been warmly received speaking to the General Assembly.
For any of the 190 other nations in the world organization, those would be routine events. But in Israel's case, the resolution is the first the country has ever proposed, and the request for a Security Council seat presumes an end to the disdain with which the country has historically been treated at the United Nations. The address by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on Sept. 15, was his first at the United Nations. It was delivered to a hall that has rung with denunciations of his country, where a tide of condemnatory resolutions has passed by lopsided votes and which Arab delegates regularly vacated whenever an Israeli rose to speak.
"These are steps that could not have happened even two years ago," said Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador, referring to the new efforts to gain acceptance."It would have been unthinkable, suicidal, for us even to try them."
Thus did Sharon's move to the far left of the Israeli political spectrum nearly erase decades of personal vilification. Hob-nobbing with Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, and Jacques Chirac paved the way for a United Nations triumph.
This time, surely, the good will might last, no? In a mid-September interview, I predicted it would not:
There is a long history of Israeli prime ministers being rewarded for giving things away. … He will look to be rewarded, and someone who had been unpopular in the UN will be feted. It will be a high point of his career. The world will say it is a good step forward, and in a month or two or three the world will say,"What is next?" This only buys a little time of feting. It's a sucker's game. You can't win. … I can predict with confidence that if he doesn't take further steps to withdraw Israelis from the West Bank, the good mood will be over.
And – surprise! – right on schedule, the good mood is indeed over. On Dec. 2, the General Assembly voted on six resolutions concerning Israel and its neighbors, and in each of the six it reverted to form, lambasting, bashing, and accusing Israel at every turn. For example, by a vote of 156 in favor to 6 against (those being Australia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, United States), with 9 abstentions (Cameroon, Canada, Costa Rica, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu), the General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Israeli withdrawal from the territories it won in 1967. By 153 to 7, it condemned Israeli jurisdiction and administration in Jerusalem. And so forth, through the various issues.
The Palestinian Authority's information service rightly heralded the votes as"Landslide Support to the Palestinian Question in the UN General Assembly." From its point of view, all is well and back to normal.
Since 1992, Israel's hapless leaders have followed a policy of appeasement in the hopes that"timely concessions to disgruntled nations whose grievances had some legitimacy [would succeed in] … defusing difficulties and promoting peace and goodwill."
But, in a perpetually relevant comment dating to the dark days of 1940, Winston Churchill warned that"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." The U.N. crocodile has shown it is satiated but briefly by Israel, returning after each"painful concession" with an even more voracious appetite. Will Israelis ever again understand that wars are won through victory, not retreat?
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes.
Posted on: Monday, December 5, 2005 - 21:56
SOURCE: Yahoo News (12-2-05)
But after he actually became president himself, he stopped filling them out.
"No one knows what it's like in this office," he said after being in the job. "Even with poor James Buchanan, you can't understand what he did and why without sitting in his place, looking at the papers that passed on his desk, knowing the people he talked with."
Poor James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history. Ironically, the Pennsylvania Democrat, elected in 1856, was one of the most qualified of the 43 men who have served in the highest office. A lawyer, a self-made man, Buchanan served with some distinction in the House, served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and secretary of state under President James K. Polk. He had a great deal to do with the United States becoming a continental nation -- "Manifest Destiny," war with Mexico, and all that. He was also ambassador to Great Britain and was offered a seat on the Supreme Court three separate times.
But he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason. It also did not help that his administration was as corrupt as any in history, and he was widely believed to be homosexual.
Whatever his sexual preferences, his real failures were in refusing to move after South Carolina announced secession from the Union and attacked Fort Sumter, and in supporting both the legality of the pro-slavery constitution of Kansas and the Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott class declaring that escaped slaves were not people but property.
He was the guy who in 1861 passed on the mess to the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Buchanan set the standard, a tough record to beat. But there are serious people who believe that George W. Bush will prove to do that, be worse than Buchanan. I have talked with three significant historians in the past few months who would not say it in public, but who are saying privately that Bush will be remembered as the worst of the presidents.
There are some numbers. The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered -- maybe they were all crazed liberals -- making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than Buchanan....
[Editor's Note: The poll Mr. Reeves referred to was actually completed 18 months ago: Robert S. McElvaine: Historians vs. George W. Bush .]
Posted on: Monday, December 5, 2005 - 13:46
SOURCE: NYT (12-4-05)
... As we listened to Mr. Bush's speech [last week before the Naval Academy], our thoughts raced back four decades to another president, John F. Kennedy. In 1963, the last year of his life, we watched from front-row seats as Kennedy tried to figure out how best to extricate American military advisers and instructors from Vietnam.
Although neither of us had direct responsibility on Vietnam decision-making, we each saw enough of the president to sense his growing frustration. In typical Kennedy fashion, he would lean back, in his Oval Office rocker, tick off all his options and then critique them:
Renege on the previous Eisenhower commitment, which Kennedy had initially reinforced, to help the beleaguered government of South Vietnam with American military instructors and advisers?
No, he knew that the American people would not permit him to do that.
Americanize the Vietnam civil war, as the military recommended and as his successor Lyndon Johnson sought ultimately to do, by sending in American combat units?
No, having learned from his experiences with Cuba and elsewhere that conflicts essentially political in nature did not lend themselves to a military solution, Kennedy knew that the United States could not prevail in a struggle against a Vietnamese people determined to oust, at last, all foreign troops from their country.
Moreover, he knew firsthand from his World War II service in the South Pacific the horrors of war and had declared at American University in June 1963: "This generation of Americans has had enough - more than enough - of war."
Declare "victory and get out," as George Aiken, the Republican senator from Vermont, would famously suggest years later?
No, in 1963 in Vietnam, despite assurances from field commanders, there was no more semblance of "victory" than there was in 2004 in Iraq when the president gave his "mission accomplished" speech on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Explore, as was always his preference, a negotiated solution?
No, he was unable to identify in the ranks of the disorganized Vietcong a leader capable of negotiating enforceable and mutually agreeable terms of withdrawal.
Insist that the South Vietnamese government improve its chances of survival by genuinely adopting the array of political, economic, land and administrative reforms necessary to win popular support?
No, Kennedy increasingly realized that the corrupt family and landlords propping up the dictatorship in South Vietnam would never accept or enforce such reforms.
Posted on: Sunday, December 4, 2005 - 17:18
SOURCE: truthdig.com (12-2-05)
Shiite religious leaders and parties, in particular, have crucially shaped the new Iraq in each of its three political phases. The first was during the period of direct American rule, largely by Paul Bremer. The second comprised the months of interim government, when Iyad Allawi was prime minister. The third stretches from the formation of an elected government, with Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister, to today.
In the first phase, expatriate Shiite parties returned to the country to emerge as major players, to the consternation of a confused and clueless “Coalition Provisional Authority.”
The oldest of these was the Dawa Party, founded in the late 1950s as a Shiite answer to mass parties such as the Communist Party of Iraq and the Arab nationalist Baath Party. Dawa means the call, as in the imperative to spread the faith. Dawa Party leaders in the 1960s and 1970s dreamed of a Shiite paradise to rival the workers’ paradise of the Marxists, with a state ruled by Islamic law, where a “consultative council” somehow selected by the community would make further regulations in accordance with the Koran. The Dawa Party organized covert cells throughout the Shiite south. In 1980, in the wake of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party cracked down hard on Dawa, executing many of its leaders, attacking its party workers and making membership in the party a crime punishable by death. The upper echelons of the Baath were dominated by Sunni Arabs who disliked religious Shiites, considering them backward and Iran-oriented rather than progressive and Arab. In the same year, 1980, Saddam invaded Iran, beginning a bloody eight-year-long war with his Shiite neighbor.
In the early 1980s, Iran came to be viewed in Washington as public enemy Number 2, right after the Soviet Union. In the Cold War, the United States had viewed Iran as a key asset, and in 1953 the CIA overthrew the populist government of elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, which had broken with the country’s monarch. The U.S. put the autocratic Mohammad Reza Shah back on his throne, building him up as an absolute monarch with a well-trained secret police and jails overflowing with prisoners of conscience. The shah’s obsequiousness toward the U.S., and his secularism, provoked the ire of many religious Shiites in Iran. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, exiled as a troublemaker in 1963, had lived from 1964 to 1978 in Iraq, where he developed a new doctrine that clerics should rule. In 1978 he was expelled from Iraq to Paris and helped lead the revolution of 1978-79 that overthrew the shah and brought Khomeini to power as theocrat in chief.
Khomeini’s rise coincided with that of Saddam, a secular Sunni. Thousands of activist Shiites from Iraq fled to Iran, and the leadership congregated in Tehran. In 1982, with the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iraqi Shiite exiles formed a militant umbrella group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Dawa was also active there. Among its leaders was a physician from the Shiite holy city of Karbala named Ibrahim Jaafari. In 1984, the cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim became the head of SCIRI. From Iran, both Dawa and SCIRI mounted commando attacks on Baathist facilities and officials, attempting to overthrow the Baath government. In 1989 Jaafari and other lay leaders of the Dawa Party relocated to London, seeking greater freedom of action than they could attain under the watchful eyes of the ayatollahs in Tehran.
During the Gulf War of 1990-91, when the U.S. and its allies pushed Saddam Hussein’s forces back out of Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush called on Iraqis to rise up against the dictator. The Shiites took him at his word, launching a popular revolution in the spring of 1991 in which they took control of the southern provinces. Bush, fearful of a Shiite Islamic republic, then allowed the Baath to crush the revolution, killing tens of thousands. In the aftermath, two clerical leaders emerged: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, originally from Iran but resident in Najaf since late 1951, took a cautious and quietist course, teaching religion but staying out of politics. His rival, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, increasingly defied Saddam, organizing poor Shiites into a puritanical form of religion. In 1999 the Baath secret police killed al-Sadr and his two older sons. His middle son, Muqtada, went underground. The religious Shiite parties established their credibility with the Shiite public by their dissident activities.
In the run-up to the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, both the London branch of the Dawa Party and the Tehran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq engaged in consultations with Washington. Both had been involved in extensive meetings with secular Shiite politician Ahmed Chalabi, who organized the Iraqi National Congress as an expatriate party aimed at overthrowing the Baath. When Saddam fell, leaders of both Shiite organizations established themselves in Iraq. Ibrahim Jaafari came from London with his colleagues and sought to organize the Dawa Party as a populist political force in the Shiite south. Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq made a triumphal journey overland from Tehran to Iraq. SCIRI immediately launched membership drives in the villages and small cities of the Shiite south and garnered thousands, perhaps millions, of new members over the next year and a half.
In April and May of 2003, after the fall of Saddam, the Sadr movement emerged into the spotlight. Muqtada al-Sadr, just 30 years old, did not have the scholarly credentials to be a great clerical leader, but the fanatic devotion of the slum-dwelling Shiite masses to his father ensured that he, too, would be met with acclaim when he came out of hiding. He organized the takeover by his followers of most major mosques in the ghetto of East Baghdad, which was promptly renamed Sadr City in honor of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. He immediately launched regular demonstrations against what he characterized as the U.S. occupation of Iraq, demanding that American troops depart immediately. In the summer of 2003, he began organizing his militia, the Mahdi Army. He desires a theocratic government similar to that in Iran.
The U.S. State Department, fearful that the Pentagon might install corrupt expatriate politician Chalabi in power in Iraq, convinced President George W. Bush instead to send in Paul Bremer, who had been a career foreign service officer. Bremer intended initially to rule Iraq single-handedly. As the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement gained momentum in May and June, it became clear to him that he could not hope to rule Iraq by himself, and he appointed a governing council of 25 members. Ibrahim Jaafari of Dawa and Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim of SCIRI were appointed, as were several prominent figures with backgrounds in the Iraqi Dawa Party, along with Sunni Arabs and members of minorities.
Bremer’s plan to have the constitution written by a committee appointed by himself foundered when it met strong objections from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. In a fatwa, or legal ruling, Sistani insisted that an Iraqi constitution must be drafted by delegates to a constituent assembly elected by the Iraqi people. Bremer initially discounted this criticism. He is alleged to have asked one of his aides, “Can’t we get a fatwa from some other mullah?” It gradually became apparent that Sistani’s authority was such that he could overrule the U.S. proconsul on this issue.
By October of 2003, as the guerrilla war grew, it became clear that Bremer could not in fact hope to rule Iraq by fiat, and that the U.S. would have to hand sovereignty back to the Iraqis. Bremer’s initial plan was to hold circumscribed elections for a parliament. Most voters would be members of the provincial councils (each with 16 to 40 members) that the U.S. and Britain had somehow massaged into existence.
Again, Sistani objected, insisting that only open, one-person, one-vote elections could guarantee a government that reflected the will of the Iraqi people. It was almost as though Sistani were quoting French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the Americans. He also insisted on a prominent role for the United Nations as midwife to the new Iraq. When it seemed as though the Bush administration might ignore him, Sistani brought 40,000 demonstrators into the streets in Basra and 100,000 in Baghdad in mid-January of 2004. The Bush administration immediately acquiesced. U.S. special envoy Ibrahim Lakhdar came for extensive consultations, and elections were set for January 2005. In the meantime, the U.S. would hand sovereignty to an appointed government for six months, with a supporting United Nations resolution.
The weakness of the U.S. in Iraq encouraged the proliferation of party paramilitaries. The Dawa Party began having men patrol in some cities. SCIRI expanded its Badr Corps militia, originally trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. These militias avoided conflict with the U.S. because their parties had a marriage of convenience with the Bush administration, and because they agreed not to carry heavy weaponry. It is alleged that the Supreme Council continues to receive substantial help from Iran, and that the clerics in Tehran still pay the salaries of some of the Badr Corps fighters. The likelihood is that the Iranians give at least a little money and support to a wide range of Shiite politicians in Iraq, including some secularists, so that whoever comes out on top is beholden to them. The mullahs in Iraq probably support the Supreme Council more warmly than any other political party, however.
In contrast, the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr was viewed by the Americans as a threat, even though the Sadrists seldom came into violent conflict with U.S. troops. As the handover of sovereignty approached, the Americans in Iraq suddenly announced that they wanted to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr, and they arrested several of his key aides in early April 2004. He responded by launching a massive revolt, which initially succeeded in taking control of East Baghdad and several southern cities. Through hard fighting, the U.S. military gradually defeated the Mahdi Army, reaching a truce in early June. In August, fighting broke out again between the Sadrists and the Marines in the holy city of Najaf. This crisis was resolved when Sistani returned from London after a heart procedure there to call for all Iraqis to march on Najaf. The flooding of the city by civilians made further fighting impossible, and Muqtada al-Sadr slipped away. Thereafter Muqtada fell quiet for many months. When he reemerged, it was as a political broker rather than simply a warlord.
The Americans had had to give up their hopes of ruling Iraq directly, both because of the Sunni Arab guerrilla war and the challenge of the Shiites. Although he was more peaceful about it, Sistani opposed key American initiatives as much as the young firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr did. The Mahdi Army uprising was the nail in the coffin of direct American rule of Iraq. Next, the U.S. completely lost control of the political process.
In fall 2004, Sistani intervened to shape the upcoming elections. He insisted that all the major Shiite parties run on a single list, to avoid splitting the Shiite vote. Since Shiites comprise about 62% of Iraqis, a united Shiite list could hope to win a majority in parliament. The coalition of Dawa, SCIRI and smaller Shiite parties won the election on Jan. 30, as Sistani had foreseen. The U.S. had attempted to build up the old CIA asset and secular ex-Baathist, Iyad Allawi, as the natural leader of Iraq. It signally failed. His list received only about 14% of seats in parliament.
The real winners of the January 2005 elections were the Shiite religious parties. This was bad news for Bush. In partnership with the Kurdish Alliance, they formed a government that brought Ibrahim Jaafari of Dawa to power as prime minister and gave Dawa and SCIRI several important posts in the executive. Sunni Arabs from the rival branch of Islam were largely excluded from the new government, insofar as they had either boycotted the election or had been unable to vote for security reasons. The new Jaafari government quickly established warm relations with Iran, receiving a pledge of $1 billion in aid, the use of Iranian port facilities and help with refining Iraqi petroleum.
At the provincial level, the Shiite parties swept to power throughout the south. SCIRI dominated nine of 11 provinces that had a significant Shiite population, including Baghdad province. The Sadrists took Maysan province and Basra province. Shiite militias proliferated and established themselves. ...
Posted on: Sunday, December 4, 2005 - 13:25
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (12-4-05)
Enjoy the holiday season while you can. Once it's over, the Senate Judiciary Committee will open its hearings on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Once again, we will have to steel ourselves to withstand Sen. Joseph Biden's rambling disquisitions on the Constitution, while we marvel at how well the nominee manages to disguise his deep conservatism.
Once again, we will be reminded that Americans spend more time and energy worrying about the meaning of their Constitution than any other people on Earth.
Its interpretation is the subject of repeated controversy. We disagree about the meaning of key provisions of the Constitution, about the rules for its interpretation, and even about where the final power of interpretation should rest.
Our political disputes regularly escalate into constitutional quarrels, and our reading of the Constitution frequently reflects our political preferences.
This might be a good time, then, to ponder this deceptively simple question: Why do Americans argue so much about their Constitution?
To this question one might offer an equally deceptive answer. The primary fault lies with the exercise and baneful excesses of "judicial activism" during the heyday of the Earl Warren and Warren Burger courts -- the two decades of rights-enlarging, values-imposing jurisprudence that began with Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 and reached its climax with Roe vs. Wade in 1973.
To liberals, of course, this was the Supreme Court's heroic age. Not only did the court begin the legal dismantling of Jim Crow segregation, it also remade the political landscape with the one-person, one-vote reapportionment decisions of the early 1960s, revolutionized the criminal justice system in every state; sanctioned affirmative action and established a fundamental right to privacy that covered not only abortion but ultimately sodomy.
The conservative hue and cry against judicial activism has been a reaction against these perceived excesses. Only Brown vs. Board has been beyond reproach.
Virtually everything else the court accomplished during that era has come under the strict critical scrutiny of conservative commentators, who attained an intellectual respectability in the final two decades of the last century that they had largely forfeited during the preceding 50 years since the New Deal.
Their criticism has extended not only to the substance of what the court did but to the constitutional propriety of opening so many fundamental questions to judicial decision.
Insofar as liberals came to prefer pre-emptive judicial decisions to the painstaking work of securing desired reforms through political coalition building, conservatives had ample room to abuse judicial activism.
It would be easy to argue that our unshakable habit of arguing so much about the Constitution is merely an expression of our continuing disagreement over this legacy.
Liberals desperately struggle to defend the good work the court did, with abortion looming as the critical bastion to be held at all costs.
Conservatives, meanwhile, pursue a strategy of rollback, desperately seeking that elusive fifth vote to undo Roe, put prayer back into the classroom and pursue other goals.
There are two problems, however, with the notion that judicial activism is the best answer to our deceptively simple question. One is that the concept of judicial activism is itself too flabby, subjective and imprecise to explain or describe much of anything. It is more a term of opprobrium than of serious analysis.
Any decision we dislike can be labeled activist, especially when a plausible case can be made that a court (or The Court) has intervened to decide some question better left to another institution.
Bush vs. Gore was as "activist" a decision as Roe vs. Wade, but we won't hear conservative commentators arguing that the Supreme Court should have adhered to existing understandings and allowed either the Florida Supreme Court or Congress to resolve the great recount debacle of 2000.
But the second and greater problem with attributing our constitutional travails to judicial activism is that it makes courts responsible for the sins of citizens.
The real activists in our system are not judges fishing for cases to hear so that they can impose their superior moral wisdom on a supine society.
We are the culprits here, because when we feel our just rights have been infringed, we expect courts to be responsive. If a plausible constitutional claim can be made -- about our freedom of speech or religious expression, about our treatment by government officials, or the regulation of our property -- then, by golly, some court ought to consider the redress of our grievance.
It is true that this resort to the courts has been promoted and even provoked by energetic interest groups eager to find just the right litigant to challenge one policy or another. The great pioneers here were liberal interest groups like the NAACP and the ACLU.
In the 1920s and 1930s, each forged legal strategies to attack segregation and defend civil liberties. Neither attained immediate success.
But ultimately they did, and their example has since been emulated across the political spectrum.....
Posted on: Sunday, December 4, 2005 - 12:51
SOURCE: NYT (12-3-05)
IN a recent article in The New Yorker, Brent Scowcroft, a close friend of and former national security adviser to President George H. W. Bush, sharply criticized the current administration and, in all but name, its leader, President George W. Bush. That set tongues wagging anew about filial relations in the Bush family, which had earlier been brought into sharp relief in the book "Plan of Attack," by Bob Woodward. Asked by Mr. Woodward if he had discussed Iraq with his father, the younger Bush said: "You know, he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to."
How does that compare with the relationship between John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the only other father and son to occupy the White House? ...
John Quincy Adams frequently consulted his father during the campaign of 1824. He took time in the summer to visit the elderly former president in Quincy, particularly after being reminded by his wife that the public's eye was on him and he would be expected to display the character "of a good son." Hearing the news on Feb. 9, 1825, that he had been elected president by the House of Representatives (no candidate had won enough electoral votes, throwing the election into the House), the president-elect's first act was a note to his father, saying, "I can only offer you my congratulations and ask your blessing and prayers."
John Adams responded by describing himself as so overcome by the victory that he could convey only his hope that God would continue to bless his son as he had "in so remarkable a manner from your cradle." It required just a day, however, before the father was restored to his role as counselor. Via a grandson, he sent word that his son should subdue "every petty passion" and "every selfish feeling." As his father put it, "This is not an event to excite vanity." He added his wish that his son and the new first lady would find the White House "a more wholesome and comfortable habitation than it was when I was there."
From the start, however, John Quincy Adams found the executive mansion an even more miserable residence than his father had. Congress was controlled by an angry faction of mostly Southerners determined to ruin the Adams administration as vengeance for what they deemed an election stolen from their leader, Andrew Jackson. The younger Adams fought gamely, comforted that his father remained in good health and, despite shaky hands, still able to dictate invaluable letters. When September came, the president eagerly fled Washington for his annual visit to Quincy, where his father did what he could to comfort him.
Then, in May 1826, John Adams's sturdy constitution began to fail. Reports of this decline spurred his son to leave for Massachusetts. He did not get away in time, however, to see his father alive. John Adams died on the Fourth of July, a few hours after Thomas Jefferson. The news did not reach his son until July 10, while he was en route to Quincy.
Once he had arrived, and after the numerous memorial services and orations for John Adams had ended, John Quincy Adams found himself caught up by his father's memory and postponed leaving Massachusetts, claiming he must carry out instructions in his father's will. He wandered around the Quincy neighborhood, where he learned more about the Adams family's kinsmen and genealogy and spent hours pondering the family's graves in old cemeteries.
Finally setting out for the capital on Oct. 6, John Quincy Adams confided to his diary that "I commence my return to Washington with an aching heart." He knew that his remaining years as president would become even more wretched now that he had lost the encouragement and advice of his father.
What especially troubled the president as his carriage jolted back to Washington, however, were his thoughts as a classical scholar. His father's death reminded him of the admonition from Roman times that sons should "think of their fathers and of their children." Why was it, John Quincy Adams wondered, "that from the days of Pericles, the sons of eminent men have almost universally been mindless of both?"
Posted on: Saturday, December 3, 2005 - 23:11
SOURCE: Nation (12-12-05)
The mid-November revelation in the Washington Post that as early as February 2001 senior executives of at least four of the country's biggest oil companies met with aides to Vice President Cheney has reopened the debate over Big Oil's influence on the Bush Administration's energy policy. The immediate controversy concerns whether executives of ExxonMobil, Conoco, Shell and BP America misled the Senate Energy and Commerce committees when they denied knowledge of the meetings in testimony on November 9. The leaked documents confirm that these meetings in fact took place, but because Republican chair Ted Stevens declined to oblige the executives to testify under oath--which committee Democrats strongly protested at the time--they cannot be charged with perjury. (They could, however, be charged with making false or fraudulent statements to Congress.)
The executives' evasive answers have renewed questions about the functioning of the secretive White House Energy Task Force, especially its unwillingness to draft policies that transcend the interests of Big Oil. The focus on industry profits and prevarication, although it's important, misses a much more important reason for the Bush Administration's desperate attempts to keep documents related to the task force secret. In a word: Iraq.
While Iraq was absent from the oil executives' November 9 testimony, it is clear that the country and its immense petroleum reserves were on the minds of the Administration and its industry friends from the moment Bush assumed office, and for good reason: With Americans consuming one-quarter of the world's daily petroleum production of 84 million barrels, scientists and industry leaders were by 2001 increasingly considering the possibility that the "age of peak oil production" was approaching much sooner than had previously been acknowledged.
Once peak oil is reached, it will no longer be possible to extract enough oil from the earth to replace what we consume, thereby setting off a potentially explosive competition for the world's remaining supplies. In such a scenario, insuring American access to, and where possible leverage or even control over, the world's major oil deposits would be a natural concern for an Administration umbilically tied to Big Oil, particularly in the context of escalating competition with an aggressive, energy-hungry China.
The belief in peak oil, while not universally shared, has had increasing scientific support in recent years. And it is reflected in the November 9 testimony of Chevron chair David O'Reilly, who explained that in the context of "growing demand for energy, particularly in Asia...oil production in mature basins, particularly in Europe and North America, has been declining.... Meanwhile, OPEC production has increased, but is now approaching its current capacity to deliver." Yet Iraq has, in addition to its proven reserves--second only to Saudi Arabia's--vast untapped fields that remain, in the words of one industry analyst, "virgin territory."
In this context, the few documents that have been made public from the Energy Task Force (thanks to the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch) reveal not only that industry executives met with Cheney's staff but that a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of "Iraq oil foreign suitors" were the center of discussion. The map erased all features of the country save the location of its main oil deposits, divided into nine exploration blocks. The accompanying list of suitors revealed that dozens of companies from thirty countries--but not the United States--were either in discussions over or in direct negotiations for rights to some of the best remaining oilfields on earth.
It's not hard to surmise how the participants in these meetings felt about this situation. As Deutsche Bank explained in a 2002 report titled "Baghdad Bazaar: Big Oil in Iraq," with upward of $38 billion in projects already agreed to by the Iraqi government, the major US companies would lose if Saddam made a deal with the UN, whereas the Europeans, Russians and Chinese would come out ahead. In a post-Saddam Iraq, however, the US oil majors--specifically, according to the report, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco--could manage the country's resources. No wonder the executives of those companies denied meeting with Cheney's staff only weeks after George W. Bush's inauguration--and fully half a year before September 11 and the subsequent concrete planning of the Iraq War.
The centrality of Iraq to the task force meetings requires us to reconsider the calculus used by senior Bush Administration planners in judging the risks and benefits of invading and occupying Iraq, and its resulting definitions of success. The thinking they reveal suggests that neither democracy nor a reduction of violence in the country, however desirable in theory, is necessary to achieve core US objectives.
Instead, insuring a long-term US military presence in Iraq and a significant (if behind-the-scenes) role in managing and developing its petroleum sector together constitute a prize of immense economic and geostrategic value for the Administration and its corporate sponsors. In fact, at the very moment the first Energy Task Force meetings with industry officials were held, in February 2001, the National Security Council issued a directive for staff to cooperate with the task force in the "melding" of new "operational policies towards rogue states" with "actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields." No place on earth was more amenable to such melding than Iraq.
From this perspective, it is possible to argue that despite great human and financial costs, the United States--or rather the oil, arms and related industries, if not US citizens--may still "win" a war for which planning could well have commenced as early as the first weeks of the Bush Administration. While increasing numbers of politicians and pundits are calling for troop withdrawals, the subject of a total US withdrawal remains largely unbroachable within the political establishment. Senator Joseph Biden put it succinctly when--after the furor over John Murtha's courageous demands for a pullout--he warned that if the United States brings the troops home, nothing will protect "our core interests," which, tellingly, he did not define. For their part, Iraqis have been so overwhelmed by the daily grind of violence and failed reconstruction efforts, they were unable to challenge Washington by including in the recently approved Constitution provisions prohibiting foreign military bases or foreign management of the oil industry--two crucial markers of genuine sovereignty.
"Maybe after the next election," one senior Iraqi government adviser explained to me. Perhaps; but if the United States can manage the chaos and violence in Iraq in a manner that avoids a significant escalation of US casualties while making it too dangerous for Iraq's elected government to "ask us to leave" anytime soon, the sponsors of Operation Iraqi Freedom can look forward to a happy retirement indeed.
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: Friday, December 2, 2005 - 21:16
SOURCE: Natonal Review Online (12-2-05)
Almost everything that is now written about Iraq rings not quite right: It was a “blunder”; there should have been far more troops there; the country must be trisected; we must abide by a timetable and leave regardless of events on the ground; Iraq will soon devolve into either an Islamic republic or another dictatorship; the U.S. military is enervated and nearly ruined; and so on.
In fact, precisely because we have killed thousands of terrorists, trained an army, and ensured a political process, it is possible to do what was intended from the very beginning: lessen the footprint of American troops in the heart of the ancient caliphate.
Save for a few courageous Democrats, like Senator Joe Lieberman, who look at things empirically rather than ideologically, and some stalwart Republicans, most politicians and public intellectuals have long bailed on the enterprise.
This is now what comprises statesmanship: Some renounce their earlier support for the war. Others, less imaginative, in Clintonian (his and hers) fashion, take credit for backing the miraculous victory of spring 2003, but in hindsight, of course, blame the bloody peace on Bush. Or, better yet, they praise Congressman Murtha to the skies, but under no circumstances go on record urging the military to follow his advice.
How strange that journalists pontificate post facto about all the mistakes that they think have been made, nevertheless conceding that here we are on the verge of a third and final successful election. No mention, of course, is ever made about the current sorry state of journalistic ethics and incompetence (cf. Jayson Blair, Judy Miller, Michael Isikoff, Bob Woodward, Eason Jordan). A group of professionals, after all, who cannot even be professional in their own sphere, surely have no credibility in lecturing the U.S. military about what they think went wrong in Iraq.
Of course, the White House, as is true in all wars, has made mistakes, but only one critical lapse — and it is not the Herculean effort to establish a consensual government at the nexus of the Middle East in less than three years after removing Saddam Hussein. The administration’s lapse, rather, has come in its failure to present the entire war effort in its proper moral context.
We took no oil — the price in fact skyrocketed after we invaded Iraq. We did not do Israel’s bidding; in fact, it left Gaza after we went into Iraq and elections followed on the West Bank. We did not want perpetual hegemony — in fact, we got out of Saudi Arabia, used the minimum amount of troops possible, and will leave Iraq anytime its consensual government so decrees. And we did not expropriate Arab resources, but, in fact, poured billions of dollars into Iraq to jumpstart its new consensual government in the greatest foreign aid infusion of the age.
In short, every day the American people should have been reminded of, and congratulated on, their country’s singular idealism, its tireless effort to reject the cynical realism of the past, and its near lone effort to make terrible sacrifices to offer the dispossessed Shia and Kurds something better than the exploitation and near genocide of the past — and how all that alone will enhance the long-term security of the United States.
That goal was what the U.S. military ended up so brilliantly fighting for — and what the American public rarely heard. The moral onus should have always been on the critics of the war. They should have been forced to explain why it was wrong to remove a fascist mass murderer, why it was wrong to stay rather than letting the country sink into Lebanon-like chaos, and why it was wrong not to abandon brave women, Kurds, and Shia who only wished for the chance of freedom....
Posted on: Friday, December 2, 2005 - 18:31
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (12-1-05)
On the September 27th Charlie Rose Show, interviewing New Yorker editor David Remnick, Rose brought up the question of what the United States should do in Iraq. Should we "get out" -- or, as Remnick so delicately put it, should we "bolt"? Here was how Remnick ended their discussion, while talking about those who had written on Iraq for his magazine:
"There's Jon Lee Anderson and George Packer and Sy Hersh and Rick [Hertzberg], they all look at it from different angles. But I think all of those people would agree -- I don't know about Sy -- would agree that an immediate American withdrawal just, you know, just pick up your skirts and run, would not lead to a happy situation in the short term or the long."
Pick up your skirts and run. Forget the Republicans, that more or less sums up the state of mainstream liberal opinion on Iraq just two months ago. Only that recently "withdrawal" was still synonymous with cowardice, or, in a classic phrase of the Vietnam era (that like so many others has taken an extra bow in our own moment), "cutting and running." Withdrawal from Iraq was a subject for the margins and the political Internet (as well as secret Pentagon planning); certainly not something to be bandied about in Congress or taken seriously by the mainstream media. What a difference a few weeks can make -- a few weeks and one hawkish congressman with heart (channeling the views of a panicky military facing an increasingly unwinnable war). When Congressman John Murtha stood up -- and there wasn't a "skirt" in sight (not, at least, until Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt accused him, briefly, of cowardice on the floor of the House of Representatives) -- and suggested a withdrawal of American ground troops from Iraq on a six-month timetable, you could hear the administration's angry heart thumping.
Then, Chicken Little, the sky began to fall and withdrawal proposals, withdrawal trial balloons, withdrawal op-eds, withdrawal hints, clues, and suggestions of every sort suddenly rained down on us like those cats and dogs of children's books. It turns out that there was hardly a major mainstream figure anywhere who didn't have some kind of "withdrawal" proposal in his or her hip pocket; or put another way, when Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden come out with positions that fit, however faintly, under the ever-widening label of "withdrawal" and only good ol' Joe Lieberman is left twisting, twisting in the Presidential hot air of "progress" and "victory," something is certainly afoot.
It gives one heart, really, to think about the strange processes that sometimes suddenly unclog the arteries of American discussion and debate, turning the previously impermissible into a topic quite suitable for the mainstream to take possession of. Give us another two months and who knows, maybe Judge Alito will actually go down to a filibuster; give us a year and maybe impeachment, just now creeping out from the margins, will find itself a topic in Congress and on the editorial pages of our papers. Like Charlie Rose, everybody knows what the proper limits of conversation are… until, of course, they unpredictably change.
Watch the Words
That said, this new withdrawal season of ours will undoubtedly prove a difficult one to sort out. With the President's speech at Annapolis, after a huge hint from Condoleezza Rice earlier in the week ("I do not think that American forces need to be there in the numbers that they are now because -- for very much longer -- because Iraqis are stepping up"), "withdrawal" or "pullout" or "draw-down" is everybody's property. In some ways, it was the Iraqis, meeting in Cairo, who helped get the withdrawal ball rolling by calling for a withdrawal "timetable" -- promptly rejected by the Bush administration. Now, Bush officials and military men are jumping on board in a thoroughly confusing way. No surprise there, since a lot of yesterday's non-withdrawal people have a fair amount at stake in muddying the waters today.
We've just entered a period where you won't be able tell the players without a scorecard and, unfortunately, nobody in the know is going to be selling scorecards. In fact, as the public withdrawal debate began, and the administration first "lashed out" in anger at its suddenly voluble opponents and then rushed to put forward its own "plans," the news in our papers and on TV promptly shifted into full-frontal anonymity mode. Even Congressman Murtha spoke with, it might be said, more than one tongue. After all, as a key figure on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, he is known for his closeness to the military brass; and, in laying out his proposal, he offered some startling figures (on soaring attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and on the 50,000 soldiers who are likely to suffer from "battle fatigue") that clearly came directly from the military. Here's how the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh explained the Murtha proposal in a recent interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman:
"He's known for his closeness to the four-stars. They come and they bleed on him… So Murtha's message is a message… from a lot of generals on active duty today. This is what they think, at least a significant percentage of them, I assure you. This is, I'm not over-dramatizing this. It's a shot across the bow. They don't think [the Iraq war is] doable. You can't tell that to this President. He doesn't want to hear it. But you can say it to Murtha."
So when, for instance, you read in the press about some general officially worrying that we may "draw-down" too quickly, you have no way of knowing whether at this point his real position is the one Murtha articulated. Get the hell out fast!
In a typical recent front-page piece on "withdrawal," for instance (As Calls for an Iraq Pullout Rise, 2 Political Calendars Loom Large), David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker of the New York Times start with the "mounting calls to set a deadline to begin a withdrawal from Iraq." By paragraph two, however, that "withdrawal" has somehow been pluralized: "But in private conversations American officials are beginning to acknowledge that a judgment about when withdrawals can begin…" ("withdrawals" being, of course, something less than "withdrawal"). By the fifth paragraph (just after the jump to an inside page), anonymous "White House aides" are saying that the President "will begin examining the timing of a draw-down after he sees the outcome of the Dec. 15 election in Iraq."
So in five paragraphs and a headline, you have pullout, withdrawal, withdrawals, draw-down… and by then you've already met a plethora of pluralized sources as well -- not just those "White House officials," but even vaguer "American officials," and lest even that give away too much, "several officials." They're soon joined by a roiling mass of other obscurely less-then-identified beings ("current and former White House officials," "one former aide with close ties to the National Security Council," "senior officers," plain old "officers," and "senior Pentagon civilians and officers"). And if that isn't murky enough for you, just throw in the "ifs" that go with any story of this sort and tend to negate even the best proposed plan:
"[O]fficials in the Bush White House were already actively reviewing possible plans under which 40,000 to 50,000 troops or more could be recalled next year if ‘a plausible case could be made' that a significant number of Iraqi battalions could hold their own."
Here, for instance, are typical phrases from correspondent Rosiland Jordan's withdrawal story on NBC national news last Sunday: "The debate is focusing on how many and when… that depends on how quiet the situation is… if conditions on the ground allow it… provided the situation on the ground improves." Or consider the following quote from a Los Angeles Times piece: "'It looks like things are headed in the right direction to enable [a large drawdown of forces] to happen in 2006,' said the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. But he said those hopes could be derailed if there were setbacks." Or take this bit from the latest report on Hillary Clinton's ponderously shifting position: "…troops could be redeployed next year if coming elections in Iraq go well." So our news is now filled with posses of unidentifiable officials offering limited "withdrawal plans," which are actually draw-down plans, which are so provisionally linked to matters unlikely to unfold as expected that they may, in a sense, simply be meaningless.
The Return of Vietnamization
What then are the "plans" of those in power, as best we can tell?
The realities of the moment are, in a sense, simple and strange all at once. The grandiose preparations for planetary military and energy domination hatched by a group of utopian (or, if you prefer, dystopian) thinkers in Washington, aided and abetted by "native" dreamers and schemers in exile, and meant to begin but hardly end in Iraq, have by now run aground on the shoals of reality. A modest-sized but fierce and well-stocked insurgency, conducting a low-level guerrilla war -- Americans are basically killed on roads on their way somewhere, seldom in regular battles or on their bases -- fueled by our President's hubris, by an unquenchable urge for national sovereignty, and by religious fundamentalism as well as fanaticism, has driven this administration from its emplacements.
Now, a second force has joined the fray, turning this into one of the stranger two-front "wars" in memory. Unlike in the Vietnam era, the second front at home remains something of a specter. Perhaps it's not so surprising though that a President ever in fantasy-land and his utopian followers (many now set out to pasture) are being driven by publics that, at the moment, exist largely as sets of poll-driven numbers. The streets are seldom filled with demonstrators; the universities are not up in arms; and yet it's quite clear that some ghostly form of popular pressure is indeed at work -- in combination with growing pressures from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald (think Watergate) and a military command that, as in the Vietnam era, fears, if something doesn't happen soon, the wheels might truly start coming off the American military machine. Still, it is fascinating that, without a significant political opposition yet in sight, we're witnessing what looks ever more like an administration and Republican meltdown. (For those of you who believe that the Republicans have put all election victories beyond anyone's grasp, rising Republican fears about the 2006 congressional elections should indicate that this is not yet so.)
In the eye of its own strange storm, the administration is finally starting to put policy back into the hands of those who pass for "realists," as journalist Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service has been pointing out recently. For instance, the astute and Machiavellian neocon Zalmay Khalilzad, our former ambassador to Afghanistan and present-day ambassador to the Green Zone of Iraq, has just been given permission to negotiate with the Iranians for help in Iraq and is, according to Newsweek, beginning to put American funds where they might actually matter -- into bribes to Sunni officials. In the meantime -- just a little straw in the gale -- Secretary of State Rice recently met for the first time in who knows how long for a chat with her former mentor, the elder Bush's National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. (If Daddy's men are ever actually called back in, then you'll know for sure that the White House is in humiliating "withdrawal" mode.)
In the meantime, we are once again seeing the return of the repressed (that is, the Vietnam era) to American consciousness. It's not just the language of that moment -- White House aides "circling the wagons" and going into "bunker mode," or Democratic Senator Jack Reed insisting that the President has a growing "credibility gap" -- but the way the White House is digging itself ever deeper into the Big Muddy of that era's playbook.
As if on cue this month -- in fact, it's hard to believe it could have been happenstance -- Nixon's Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, the man who claims he invented the term "Vietnamization," has returned as if from the dead (in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine) to argue that his policy actually worked, and so would "Iraqification." Maybe Laird was simply called back into existence when Dick Cheney denounced those intent on "rewriting history," but now we know from the horse's mouth that we coulda, woulda, shoulda won -- except for a pusillanimous Congress! ("The truth about Vietnam that revisionist historians conveniently forget is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973... I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now.")
The essence of Laird's Vietnamization policy was a realization that, on the draft-era home front, the Vietnam War was being driven by American casualties and that the Army itself was in a state of incipient revolt and disintegration. So Nixon abolished the draft, began the all-volunteer military, put an emphasis on building up the South Vietnamese army, and withdrew 500,000 American ground troops over a three-year period. What he replaced them with was a fiercely intensified air war over South Vietnam (and neighboring countries). And this policy was indeed successful in tamping down protest at home, though (despite Laird's claims) it created insuperable problems in South Vietnam (as Iraqification will in Iraq). These led, after much further bloodshed, to the collapse of our allies in the south.
The Bush administration's new "plan," such as it is, to draw-down our troops (while pressing our shrinking set of allies not to do the same) is clearly modeled on Laird's Vietnamization experience -- a failed strategy being re-imagined as a successful one. By a shift of tactical priorities, it is meant to create the look of withdrawal before the 2006 congressional elections, and it, too, will emphasize the mayhem of air power. On the ground, American forces are to be slowly withdrawn from Iraq's cities to their bases, cutting down on both casualties and, for Iraqis, that oppressive sense of being occupied by foreigners.
In draw-down terms, the plan seems to go something like this: While withdrawal was making onto the public agenda, our actual force in Iraq has risen in recent months from approximately 138,000 to about 160,000. So the first "withdrawals" (plural) the administration will be able to announce after the December 15 election -- about 20,000 troops -- will simply get us back to the levels that Donald Rumsfeld and his planners always meant us to be at.
General George Casey, U.S. commander in Iraq, and others have been letting the news ooze out for a while (despite rumors of presidential slap-downs for doing so) that, if all goes half-well, we will perhaps withdraw another 40,000 troops (the figures vary depending upon the leak) in 2006, leaving us with just under 100,000 troops there. In 2007… well, who knows, but the process, it's clear, is meant to be more or less unending, and, mind you, that's according to the Pentagon's "moderately optimistic" scenario. (Seymour Hersh claims that the administration's "most ambitious" plans call for all troops designated "combat," which is not all troops, to be withdrawn by the summer of 2008.)
Nothing in the last two-and-a-half-plus years, of course, should lead anyone to be "moderately optimistic." If you want a little dose of realism, just consider the latest report on the new Iraqi army from the Atlantic Monthly's James Fallows; or visit the rare Iraqi unit that has been more or less "stood up" with Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter and consider what it's been stood up for (a Shiite revenge war in Sunni neighborhoods); or check in with "two senior Army analysts who in 2003 accurately foretold the turmoil that would be unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq" and now claim it is "no longer clear that the United States will be able to create (Iraqi) military and police forces that can secure the entire country no matter how long U.S. forces remain"; or visit with "the only non-American author on the U.S. Army's list of required reading for officers," Hebrew University military historian Martin Van Cleveld, who recently called George Bush's little Iraqi adventure "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC sent his legions into Germany and lost them."
In perhaps the most important piece of reportage of the year, Up in the Air, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh dissects the sinews of the administration's Iraqification strategy. Unsurprisingly, while drawing-down troops (in hopes of lessening American casualties), the Pentagon is to intensify the air war, which means, of course, loosing the U.S. Air Force on Iraq's urban areas where the insurgency thrives and undoubtedly increasing Iraqi casualties. Or as Hersh puts it:
"A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what."
As Hersh essentially points out, what this is likely to mean in practice -- if combat is significantly turned over to the new Iraqi Army -- is sending our Air Force against targets of that army's choosing; that is, putting American air power in service to a Shiite and Kurdish revenge war against the Sunnis -- not exactly a recipe for a pacified Iraq.
The thinking behind such strategies is, in fact, as recognizable to those of us who lived through the Vietnam era as "Vietnamization." Here's what I wrote about such "withdrawal" plans during the Vietnam era in my book, The End of Victory Culture, published a distant decade ago. See if it doesn't have a familiar ring to it:
"The idea of ‘withdrawing' from Vietnam was there from the beginning, though never as an actual plan. All real options for ending the war were invariably linked to ‘cutting and running,' or ‘dishonor,' or ‘surrender,' or ‘humiliation,' and so dismissed within the councils of government more or less before being raised. The attempt to prosecute the war and to withdraw from it were never separable, no less opposites. If anything, withdrawal became a way to maintain or intensify the war, while pacifying the American public.
"'Withdrawal' involved not departure but all sorts of departure-like maneuvers – from bombing pauses that led to fiercer bombing campaigns to negotiation offers never meant to be taken up to a ‘Vietnamization' plan in which ground troops would be pulled out as the air war was intensified. Each gesture of withdrawal allowed the war planners to fight a little longer; but if withdrawal did not withdraw the country from the war, the war's prosecution never brought it close to a victorious conclusion."
Clash of Languages
So now, having passed through much of the Vietnam era's strategy and language in a mere couple of years, we find ourselves in the Vietnamization/Iraqification period. Forgetting for a minute that, among other differences with Vietnam, this seems increasingly to be a war not for national unification but for national disunification, we seem finally, as in those distant years, to be on the downhill slope of language and imagery.
To give but one example: Proud neocon neocolonials like Paul Wolfowitz, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the President himself, regularly talked about bringing "democracy" to Iraq in patronizingly parental terms. They liked to say that they were trying to figure out the moment to take the "training wheels" off the Iraqi bike and let the toddler wheel around the nearest corner on his own. Now we find one of our many anonymous generals quoted in a Washington Post piece using that very image no less patronizingly but far more fearfully in military terms. "Another senior general likened an accelerated withdrawal to ‘taking the training wheels off of a bike too early.'"
Or here's another example: American "senior officials" in the glory days of our Iraq adventure spoke regularly and without shame about the need to "put an Iraqi face" on Iraq. This was a wonderfully grim phrase which, in a strange way, expressed their deeper meaning exactly; they wanted to put a comforting Iraqi mask over the American face of the occupation. Now, we find a military version of the same, whose bluntness makes a certain sense of our moment, as quoted in a mid-November piece from Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor of the British Telegraph:
"Senior US military commanders have long argued that the way to defeat the insurgency is to reduce substantially the number of foreign troops in order to ‘reduce the perception of occupation' and draw Sunnis into the political process."
To "reduce the perception of occupation," that's a phrase to savor for its truth-telling essence. It catches something of the administration's policy now that it's actually on the run at home.
In the meantime, our President, in the first of several speeches he is to give on Iraq before the December 15th elections, took a roller-coaster ride through Iraqi Disneyland. As Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post commented, "President Bush's safety zone these days doesn't appear to extend very far beyond military bases, other federal installations and Republican fundraisers."
Not exactly surprising, then, that his speech should have been so la-la-(out)landish. For instance, as Paul Woodward of the War in Context website pointed out, he promoted his "strategy for victory in Iraq" by referring to "progress" a mere 28 times before the assembled cadets of the Naval Academy. And then there was "victory," once quite hard to find in administration documents that emphasized how we were in an endless multi-generational struggle against terrorism. Yet, at this desperate moment, the President managed to mention "victory" 15 times (and add another for the title of the speech) -- and not just victory but the fact that we would not "accept anything less than complete victory."
That had a ring not heard since Americans called for total victory and unconditional surrender in World War II, but then the President remains in a World War II dream world, that thrilling place he experienced in the movies of his childhood where the Marines always advance; our grinning native sidekicks are friendly and remarkably willing to die in our place; the enemy is destined to fall by their hundreds before our fire; and total victory is an American birthright. In fact, the President, who mentioned no post-1945 war (except the Cold one) -- and there were so many to chose from -- spoke of World War II twice. You know, that war so like the present one in which "free nations came together to fight the ideology of fascism, and freedom prevailed." (Just in case you've forgotten, that was the war in which the other side had the Guantánamos…)
Perhaps there's poetic justice in seeing a President trapped in his fantasy world being driven from pillar to post by a fantasy public, while his generals and top officials do their best to ignore him as they search desperately for ways out, and his advisers (and political supporters) hire lawyers.
How to Tell Withdrawal from Its Doppelgangers
If you pay attention not to the war of words or the storm of confusing withdrawal proposals, but to four bedrock matters, you'll have a far better sense of where we're really heading. These are air power, permanent bases, an "American" Kurdistan, and oil; and, not surprisingly, they coincide with the great uncovered, or barely covered, stories of the war. In the present flurry of withdrawal discussions, only air power, thanks to Hersh, is getting any attention. The others have so far gone largely or totally unmentioned -- and yet, without them, none of this makes any sense at all.
Air Power: It remains amazing to me that Hersh's report is the first serious mainstream piece since the invasion of Iraq to take up the uses of air power in that country. It's a subject I've written about for the last two years. After all, we've loosed our Air Force on heavily populated urban Iraq, regularly bombing (and sometimes destroying significant sections of) Sunni cities and towns (and in 2004 Shiite ones as well). There have been hundreds and hundreds of reporters in Iraq, many embedded with the military -- and yet it's as if they simply never look up. Figures on the use of air power are almost impossible to come by, though Hersh tells us in his Democracy Now interview that the bombing has "gone up exponentially, certainly in the last four or five months in the Sunni Triangle." He adds, however, that "we don't have reporters at the air bases. We don't know what's going on with the air war." Here's just one passage that gives a modest sense of some of what the Bush administration has been doing from the air: "Naval efforts in Iraq include not only the Marine Corps but also virtually every type of deployable Naval asset in our inventory. Navy and Marine carrier-based aircraft flew over 21,000 hours, dropped over 54,000 pounds of ordnance and played a vital role in the fight for Fallujah."
Add in another reality of America's Iraq: L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, in a burst of blind pride in 2003, disbanded the Iraqi military. For well over a year or more, Pentagon plans for rebuilding it called for a future Iraqi military force (lite) of only 40,000 men with minimal armaments and essentially no air force at all! This is the Middle East, mind you. What that meant, simply enough, was that the Bush administration intended the American Army and Air Force to be the Iraqi military for eons to come. Under the pressure of the insurgency, the army part of that plan was thrown out the window. But "standing up" the Iraqi military has meant just that. Standing on the ground. There is still no real Iraqi air force. Iraq was never to "fly," but to stay on that "bike" and under the tutelage of Washington.
The actual use of American air power will undoubtedly prove tricky indeed (without many American ground troops around) and probably no more successful in the long run than it was in Iraq -- except, of course, in terms of devastating the country. But watch the Iraqi skies as best you can. They will tell you something.
Permanent Bases: We were to control military-less Iraq and perhaps the region from a small series of permanent bases, already imagined and on the drawing boards as the invasion began. At the height of our base-building mania, we had about 106 bases there, ranging from multibillion-dollar Vietnam-era-sized mega-structures like Camp Victory North (renamed Camp Liberty) just outside of Baghdad to tiny base camps in outlying parts of the country. We now claim to be turning these over to the Iraqis. Part of our draw-down plan, according to Hersh, includes "heavily scripted change-of-command ceremonies, complete with the lowering of American flags at bases and the raising of Iraqi ones" -- one of these occurred, conveniently enough, near the Syrian border the day the President spoke.
We have so many of these bases that we can hand them back one by one with appropriate special ceremonies almost in perpetuity without ever getting to the small core of 4-5 bases that the Pentagon planned on permanently garrisoning as American troops first crossed the Iraqi border. So here's what to watch for: If any of these key bases are handed back, with flags lowered and troops removed, then you can begin to believe that an actual withdrawal may be in the offing.
Kurdistan: You would largely not know that the Kurdish parts of Iraq existed from most daily news reports on the war. But one major change from the Vietnam era is that we have potential "sanctuaries" in the area to withdraw to. Murtha suggested one of them, Kuwait, and it is the focus of attention at the moment. But Kurdistan, at present the quietest part of Iraq (despite fierce tensions between the two main Kurdish political parties and non-Kurdish residents of the as-yet somewhat undefined area), is also likely to be the most welcoming to American forces "withdrawing" from "Iraq." Present-day Kurdistan was created under the American and British no-fly zones in the 1990s and its future autonomy, no less independence, would be at least temporarily guaranteed by the presence of American troops there. Even the Turks might prefer American forces in Kurdistan, if they restrained local forces from any kind of cross-border shenanigans in Kurdish regions of Turkey. The sole reference I've seen to this possibility was in a recent piece by veteran reporter Martin Walker who wrote: "There are other ideas circulating in the Pentagon, including the establishment of a major and possibly permanent base in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where U.S. troops are less controversial, and would be welcomed by the neighboring Turks, always worried at the prospect of an independent Kurdistan becoming a magnet for their own disaffected Kurdish minority."
Were the rest of Iraq to fall completely out of our hands, it's easy to imagine an "American" Kurdistan (conveniently near the Iranian border), possibly expanded to include the oil lands around the tinderbox city of Kirkuk, with its own set of bases. Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times has just revealed that one of the Kurdish political parties signed a private oil exploration deal with a Norwegian company. Of course, the Kurdish areas would have their own set of explosive problems, but over the next year watch for Kurdistan to surface as part of any American draw-down which isn't actually a withdrawal.
Oil: So here we are at another of the great, hardly covered stories of the Iraq war. As Mark LeVine has recently made so clear, the Bush administration, with its former energy industry execs and consultants, was thinking oil -- and Iraqi oil in particular -- from literally the first moments of its existence. "[T]he few documents that have been made public from [Vice President Cheney's] Energy Task Force… reveal not only that industry executives met with Cheney's staff [in February 2001] but that a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of ‘Iraq oil foreign suitors' were the center of discussion." Hmmm… These were people who already had "peak oil" on their minds. They entered Iraq, a nation sitting on untold amounts of oil, thinking about the global control of future energy resources. They sent soldiers to guard the Oil Ministry and the oil fields, while allowing pretty much everything else to be looted as the country fell to them. They have no desire to abandon either their permanent bases or that reservoir of "black gold" to others. But beyond pious statements about preserving the Iraqi "patrimony" (i.e. oil) in the early days of the war, they never broached the subject publicly and the media followed their lead. It's rare today -- though a perfectly obvious point to make -- for someone to say, as Ambassador Khalilzad did recently, "You could have a regional war that could go on for a very long time, and affect the security of oil supplies." Keep your eyes on this issue. It's what separates Vietnam, which itself contained nothing special for a foreign power, from Iraq.
In the end, ignore (if you can) the whirlwind of withdrawal language that will turn all sorts of non- or semi-withdrawal schemes into something other than what they are, and try to keep your eyes on those shoals of reality. This is not Vietnam, which happened in slow-time. This war, as the historian Marilyn Young claimed in its first weeks so few years ago, is "Vietnam on crack cocaine" and, whatever anyone is saying now, it's a fair bet that events will outpace all administration plans and fantasies in the explosive year to come.
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, December 2, 2005 - 13:49