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: Bostn Globe (5-28-06)
"Despite our confidence in our national greatness, the American tradition is both nebulous and surprisingly infertile," wrote Theodore Goff, a Yale junior, in January on his application to a seminar I teach there. Still waters run deep, thought I as I followed his soundings in civic-republican seas across the semester. I told Goff that his writing comes from depths he must plumb even if there's no market for the yield. A republic needs strong narratives as much as it needs laws. Finding them may be his calling.
But a college education can block their discovery, I realized as Little, Brown canceled a $500,000, two-novel deal with Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore whose authorial voice, like her application to Harvard, had been packaged by pricey handlers. Today's Harvard is no more likely to help this 19-year-old find an inner moral compass than Tiffany & Co. is to improve its customers' morality. Students contemplate with hollow-eyed self-recognition her fall from what one, in the Harvard Crimson, called"the same rickety tower of meritocracy that so many of us built on our way to our Harvard admission." Some even fret more about public perceptions of their Harvard investment than about what's right. It all recalls Ross Gregory Douthat's ''Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class,'' which opened with Christopher Lasch's apothegm,"Meritocracy is a parody of democracy."
Now Harry Lewis, dean of Harvard College from 1995 to 2003, reminds us that before the old colleges morphed into international career factories and cultural gallerias for a global ruling class, they set civic standards for American democratic leaders such as Harvard's Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, and Al Gore. To do that, they met pedagogical challenges that today's administrators and faculty don't even detect in one student's quiet civic passion or another's busy emptiness.
The Harvard Lewis shows us is tone-deaf to the American Republic, whose liberties it relies on yet whose virtues it no longer nurtures. It has forsaken such pedagogy for market come-ons and moralistic sallies against sexism, racism, and"jock culture" --"proxies for misgivings about deeper values." The college no longer turns freshmen into adults who can recognize and take responsibility for hard moral choices:"The Enlightenment ideal of human liberty and the philosophy embodied in American democracy barely exist in the current Harvard curriculum."
Harvard's assumption that"students are free agents and for the most part should study what they wish" drains its"long-term commitment to the welfare of students and the society they actually serve," he writes. Even administrators with"perspective on deep and enduring problems" have left or been forced out of"the new retail-store university." Lewis's chapters on controversies he faced as dean apply civic-republican standards to what he considers conservatives' misplaced moralism about grading and liberals' promulgation of campus definitions of rape - which only make women seem more helpless - and their snobbish over-regulation of athletics, in which, he insists, students at least learn to lose cleanly and to find themselves by dedicating themselves to team efforts.
You expect Lewis's villain to be Lawrence Summers, who forced him out after tussles over internationalization, grade inflation, and curricular balance. He does blame Summers for turning liberal education into a game of money, power, and public relations. But he adds that Summers only"played the role cast for him by the large forces shaping research universities today, which are the very forces that led the [Harvard] Corporation to think he was the man for the job."
Lewis sometimes sounds tired and annoyed after standing up to the arrogant consumer sovereignty of success-obsessed Harvard parents, only to be undercut by a president promising them just what they think they're buying. The bitter irony, he says, is that while elite universities'"wealth and their desirability have put them in the best position to press back against the forces that have compromised the education they offer, they have instead drifted complacently along."
You wonder why Ivies don't stop cooperating with US News & World Report rankings, which might liberate everyone from their empty thrall, in which, as one blogger at the Harvard Independent website lamented,"'lucritas' might be more accurate as a motto than 'veritas,' especially as the latter, if pursued, often interferes with the former."
It would be better to impose serious core curricular requirements on students than to offer ''what they myopically claim to want,'' Lewis writes, admitting that more teaching takes time from scholarship; but the faculty needs"to ..... develop a shared sense of educational responsibility for its undergraduates." Summers bullied professors as if they were employees, Lewis claims, prompting him to counter that they're shareholders; but more properly they're peers of a realm that governs itself free of market riptides. Fortunately former president Derek Bok, a dedicated educator whose book"Universities in the Marketplace" warned of such riptides in 2003 when Summers was riding them, returns next month to help the faculty rise to its true calling.
Ultimately, Lewis writes, only the Board of Overseers and Corporation can decide that Harvard, no less than my student at Yale, must reclaim a vast inner terrain from bad developers. The high cost to Harvard of renewing its ancestors' worth might become a great national investment, a first flower of the new wilderness we're in now.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 21:05
SOURCE: Informed Comment (blog) (5-29-06)
"We have conducted a thorough assessment of our military and reconstruction needs in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan. I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion. The request will cover ongoing military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, which we expect will cost $66 billion over the next year. This budget request will also support our commitment to helping the Iraqi and Afghan people rebuild their own nations, after decades of oppression and mismanagement. We will provide funds to help them improve security. And we will help them to restore basic services, such as electricity and water, and to build new schools, roads, and medical clinics. This effort is essential to the stability of those nations, and therefore, to our own security. Now and in the future, we will support our troops and we will keep our word to the more than 50 million people of Afghanistan and Iraq."
- George W. Bush
The Bush administration is in the midst of"imperial overstretch" on a grand scale. Taking on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, convincing Pakistan to change its policies, and reconstructing Afghanistan would have been a tough enough job. It might not have been possible even with the investment of enormous resources and personnel. Afghanistan is large and rugged and desperately poor. Bad characters are still hiding out in the region, who have proved that they can reach into the United States and hit the Pentagon itself.
Instead of doing the job, Bush ran off to Iraq almost immediately. Even as our brave troops were being killed at Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in spring of 2002, Centcom commander Tommy Franks was telling a visiting Senator Bob Graham that the US"was no longer engaged in a war in Afghanistan" or words to that effect, and that military and intelligence personnel were being deployed to Iraq. The US troops in Afghanistan would have been shocked and disturbed to discover that in the Centcom commander's mind, they were no longer his priority and no longer even at war! As for money, Iraq has hogged the lion's share. What has been spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan is piddling.
Bush's Iraq imbroglio, or"Bush's Furnace," as history might well call his trillion-dollar purchase, has sucked up money and resources on a vast scale and left US personnel in Central and South Asia to struggle along on the cheap. Afghanistan defeated the British Empire in its heyday twice, and is not an enterprise that can be accomplished without significant resources. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Monday's riots in Kabul, in which altogether 14 died and over 100 were wounded and during which thousands thronged the streets chanting"Death to America", also produced violent attacks and gunfire throughout the city, with hotel windows being sprayed with machine gun fire. The protests were sparked by a traffic accident. But they have other roots.
The US military presence in Afghanistan has quietly been pumped up from 19,000 to 23,000 troops.
A fresh US airstrike in Helmand killed some 50 Afghans on Monday Over 400 Afghans have been killed by US bombing and military actions in only the past two weeks. While most of these are Pushtun nativist guerrillas (coded by the US as"Taliban"), some have demonstrably been innocent civilians. (Taliban are, properly speaking, mostly Afghan or phans and displaced youths who got their education in neo-Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan and were backed by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence. It is not clear that those now fighting the US in southern Afghanistan are actually in the main Taliban in this technical sense.)
Whoever they are, the Pushtun guerrillas have been waging a very effective terror campaign in the countryside around Qandahar, and have launched a fierce series of spring offensives. They wounded 5 Canadian troops on Monday, something US mass media anchors somehow have trouble getting past their lips. (Another 5 had been wounded last week, and several Canadian and French troops have been killed, not to mention US troops.)
A recent US airstrike that killed 16 children, women and noncombatant men provoked an enormous outcry in Afghanistan, and sparked President Hamid Karzai to begin a presidential inquiry into it.
While most anti-US actions in Afghanistan come from the Pushtun ethnic group, these Kabul protests, which paralyzed the capital and resulted in the imposition of a curfew, heavily involved Tajiks. Kabul is a largely Tajik city, and the Tajiks mostly hated the Taliban with a passion, and many high officials in the Karzai government have been Tajik. So they haven't been as upset with the US invasion and presence as have been many Pushtuns, especially those Pushtuns who either supported the Taliban or just can't abide foreign troops in their country (who have moreover installed the Tajiks in power . . .) The demonstrators Monday carried posters of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance who had played a major role in expelling Soviet troops in the late 1980s and then fought the Taliban tenaciously before being assassinated shortly before September 11, 2001. Significant numbers of Tajiks are clearly now turning against the US, and that is a very bad sign indeed.
Despite Bush administration pledges to reconstruct the country, only six percent of Afghans have access to electricity. Less than 20 percent have access to clean water. Although the gross domestic product has grown by 80 percent since the nadir of 2001, and may be $7 billion next year, most of that increase comes from the drug trade or from foreign assistance. (Some of the increase also comes from the end of a decade-long drought in the late 90s and early 00s, which had reduced the country's arable land by 50 percent. The coming of the rains again is good luck but nothing to do with policy). About half the economy of Afghanistan is generated by the poppy crop, which becomes opium and then heroin in Europe. Afghanistan produces 87 percent of the world's opium and heroin, and no other country comes close in its dedication of agricultural land to drug production (over 200,000 hectares).
The government lives on international welfare. Some 92 percent of Afghan government expenditures come from foreign assistance. The Afghan government is worse at collecting taxes than fourth world countries in subsaharan Africa. Unemployment remains at 35 percent. Unemployment is estimated to have been 25 percent in the US during the Great Depression.
The great danger is renewed Muslim radicalism and the reemergence of al-Qaeda, combined with a narco-terrorism that could make Colombia's FARC look like minor players.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 20:29
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (5-30-06)
In recent months, among other uproars and scandals, Americans learned that the Defense Department has been collecting intelligence on and tracking domestic antiwar activists; that, since 2001, the National Security Agency (NSA) has had a presidentially authorized, law-breaking, warrantless surveillance program to listen in on the international phone calls of possibly tens of thousands of U.S. citizens; that, with the help of three of the four major telephone companies, it also has had a data-mining operation -- "the largest database ever assembled in the world" -- linked, at least one case, directly into a major telecommunication carrier's network core ("where all its data are stored"), giving it access to almost all telephone calls made in this country; that, as Director of the CIA, Porter Goss, a Bush-appointed, Cheney-backed, ex-congressman, had whipped out his lie detector and conducted an internal war and purge of an agency viewed by the administration as little better than the Axis of Evil, tearing its upper ranks apart via numerous resignations and retirements; that, meanwhile, Goss's third-in-command, a fellow with the evocative name of Kyle "Dusty" Foggo (think: fog o' intelligence), was being investigated for possibly granting illegal Agency sweetheart contracts to a pal already involved in another major Washington corruption scandal (and don't even get me started on those poker games and prostitutes); that Goss, in turn, was pushed out of the CIA by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte, head of a new uber-intelligence "office" (ODNI) meant to coordinate the whole sprawling "intelligence community," and his second in command, Air Force General Michael Hayden, the former head of the NSA (who oversaw those surveillance and data-mining operations for the administration); that the President then nominated the active-duty general to take Goss's place as the head of the country's major civilian spy agency -- in his Senate hearings, he would offer the following comment on Goss's tenure: "You get a lot more authority when the work force doesn't think it's amateur hour on the top floor"; that Republican and Democratic Senators, having questioned the credibility of a military man who had overseen a patently illegal surveillance program on American citizens for years and then defended it vigorously, promptly collapsed in a non-oppositional heap of praise, and rubber-stamped him director by a vote of 78-15; that in the ever-upward-rippling CIA-agent-outing case of Valerie Plame -- about which a stonewalling Goss said, while still head of the House Intelligence Committee, "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation" -- rumors of Karl Rove's indictment continued to circulate; while Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald reserved the right to call the Vice President, whose office seems ever more in his sightlines, to testify in former aide I. Lewis Libby's trial next year.
All this news involving what we call "intelligence" -- and much more -- played out on the front pages of the nation's newspapers and on TV, replete with copious leaks from within the intelligence community, threats from the White House to prosecute journalists reporting those leaks, outraged press editorials about sundry intelligence topics, and a great deal of heat and noise.
Each scandal came and went, the news spotlight flickering from one to the next; and yet, as Hayden's testimony before the Senate made clear, just about no one seemed to have the urge to ask the obvious what's-it-all-about-Alfie question. Nobody wondered what this thing called "intelligence," over which so many tens of thousands of analysts, code breakers, and agents labor with so many tens of billions of our dollars, really is; what sort of knowledge about our planet all those acronymic intelligence organizations really deliver. The value of the "intelligence community" to deliver this thing called "intelligence," whatever mistakes or missteps might be made, is simply taken for granted.
Department of Redundancy
Let's back up a moment, though, and consider what any of us out here can know about the alphabet soup of the American Intelligence Community or IC (as it likes to term itself). Start with the simplest thing: There's obviously a lot we don't know. Much of this world is, by definition, plunged into the darkness of secrecy, including untold billions of dollars hidden away in highly classified "black" budgets. Moreover, the blanket of intelligence secrecy (regularly broken by leaks to the media from so many unhappy members of that roiling "community") has grown ever more encompassing, given the Bush administration's general mania for secrecy. So whatever numbers follow have to be taken with a large grain of unverifiable salt. But we do know this: The IC is simply enormous with, seemingly, a life of its own -- imperially vast, a veritable mountain of proliferating agencies, groups, and organizations, larger by multiples than that of any other country -- and growing more enormous almost literally as you read.
Until fairly recently, newspaper articles regularly cited an iconic 15 civilian and military intelligence agencies in that all-American "community," a number now raised to 16 at the official website of the IC, and that figure doesn't even include Negroponte's new Office of the Director of National Intelligence with its near billion-dollar budget.
In addition to the Central Intelligence Agency, the gang of 16 includes the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the NSA (surveillance and code-breaking), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO-- satellites), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA -- mapping), all under the aegis of the Pentagon, as well as the intelligence agencies of each of the Armed Services and the Coast Guard. Our second defense department, the Department of Homeland Security, has its own expanding intelligence arm with a mouthful of a name: the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate. (No self-respecting agency in our government would be without one!) So do the FBI, the State Department, the Energy Department, the Drug Enforcement Department, and the Treasury Department. But the iconic 16 (or 17) don't include numerous other intelligence groupings tucked away in the government. Some outsiders doing the counting have come up with upwards of 30 entities in the IC. That assumedly represents a whole heap of secret knowledge and, certainly, a whole heap of taxpayer money.
Recently, in a slip of the tongue, Mary Margaret Graham, deputy director for national intelligence collection under Negroponte, offered (for only the third time since the founding of the CIA) a public estimate of the overall annual U.S. intelligence budget -- $44 billion just to cover the iconic 15. Undoubtedly, that's a low-ball figure, but as a crude measure of IC growth, consider that it's almost $18 billion higher than the 1998 IC budget -- that being the last time such an estimate came our way.
Of the various intelligence outfits, the CIA, the IC's star of the big and small screen, is the most famous (or infamous, depending on your address on this planet). Its budget is estimated at perhaps $5 billion a year and, by another ballpark estimate, it has 16,000 employees; yet, in budgetary and payroll terms, that makes up a relatively small part of the intelligence landscape, dwarfed by the Pentagon's intelligence organizations. The NSA has a budget estimated at $6-8 billion yearly; the NRO, $6-8 billion; the NGA, $3 billion; the DIA, $1 billion; and that's not even counting the sizeable intelligence outfits run by the four individual services.
Cumulatively, an estimated 80-85% (or possibly more) of the total U.S. intelligence budget is controlled by the Pentagon, the 800 pound intelligence gorilla in the IC room -- and in the midst of a growth spurt that's threatening to send it soaring into the one-ton range.
As with so much else in these last years, the real story in the intelligence community seems to have had less to do with the production of, or analysis of, intelligence than with its militarization. Known for his skill as a bureaucratic infighter, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld conducted a tough rear-guard action against the creation of Negroponte's 9/11 Commission-sponsored ODNI; then, upon "giving in," he managed to get what was essentially a Pentagon veto over Negroponte's power to meddle with military intelligence. He also lobbied successfully in Congress "to curtail much of Negroponte's clout over personnel and budgets." (According to Doyle McManus and Peter Spiegel of the Los Angeles Times, when Negroponte did try to make changes at the Defense Department, he was told "to take a flying leap.")
Far more important, just as in recent years the Pentagon has moved into areas once controlled by the State Department, so Rumsfeld has for several years been moving aggressively to infringe on the CIA's key turf, "human intelligence" or "humint." (Think: operatives out in the field doing whatever.) Not long after 9/11, according to Barton Gelman of the Washington Post, Rumsfeld issued a written order to end his "near total dependence on [the] CIA" for humint. Then, using "reprogrammed funds" not authorized by Congress, he established a secret organization, the Strategic Support Branch, to provide him "with independent tools for the ‘full spectrum of humint operations.'"
In March 2003, he set up his right-hand man, neocon Stephen Cambone, as the first ever undersecretary of defense for intelligence. (Cambone is now regularly referred to as the Pentagon's "intelligence czar.") Cambone, in turn, took on as his deputy, the notorious, born-again, evangelizing Lieutenant-General William G. Boykin, who plunged himself into controversy in 2003 by saying of Islam, "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol," and of President Bush, "The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? And I tell you this morning that he's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this." Naturally, he rose in the administration hierarchy as a result.
Rumsfeld charged them both with "reorganizing" -- meaning, of course, expanding -- Pentagon intelligence operations through "the Special Operations Command, which reports to Rumsfeld and falls outside the orbit controlled by John Negroponte." They were to expand specifically into the CIA's "humint" area, creating intelligence that would "prepare the battlefield" -- in part, by sending covert operations teams to spy in various countries where no battlefield was even faintly in sight. Cambone now "oversees 130 full-time personnel and more than 100 contractors in an office whose responsibilities include domestic counterintelligence, long-range threat planning and budgeting for new technologies." And only a month ago, Rumsfeld gave the "green light" for yet another new group to be set up -- the Defense Joint Intelligence Operations Center, to further "centralize" intelligence.
For some years now, the American IC has focused much attention on the issue of global nuclear proliferation, but think of these as the real "proliferation wars," inside the only world, the only reality, that truly matters. The results, no matter which agencies top the list of winners, add up to an unsightly, ungainly Department of Redundancy and Overlap. While the NSA may, for instance, be conducting extensive data-mining operations, so is another new Pentagon organization, the Counterintelligence Field Activity or CIFA (on which more below). You don't have to be inside the IC to see it as a vast bureaucratic landscape for fierce turf wars, power grabs, mini-empire building, squabbling, scrabbling, coups and purges, alarums and preemptive attacks; nor do you need special insider's knowledge to recognize that the basic urge to know the world in a deeper way, to anticipate what one's enemies (and friends) have in mind, to grasp how they think and what they may do, takes, at best, a distinct second place to the complex politics of, the real and necessary knowledge of, the intelligence world itself.
Intelligence Empire Builders in a Growth Universe
Put another way, the real story of American intelligence is simply growth and bureaucratic infighting. The Bush administration, supposedly made up of "conservatives" who loath (and once endlessly railed against) "big government," have ensured that, like the Pentagon, the IC, already an entangled monstrosity when they arrived, would experience its greatest growth spurt in memory, becoming an ever more bloated example of hopeless big government. This reflects a more general pattern clearly visible in the creation of the administration's pride and joy, the Department of Homeland Security, another vast, bloated, inefficient agency filled with redundancy, riddled by turf wars, plagued by inefficiency -- and just to make matters worse still, the creation of an ever-expanding US Northern Command (Northcom) for the defense of -- you guessed it -- the "homeland."
Within the IC, consider but three examples of Bush administration growth policies:
Start with the CIA, an agency in the process of being downgraded. It has, in fact, lost its central position as the President's daily briefer -- Negroponte does that now -- and the agency is no longer his covert right-arm either. As intelligence expert Thomas Powers wrote recently: "Historically the CIA had a customer base of one -- the president. When its primacy in reporting to the White House was taken away, the agency was being told in effect that henceforth it would be talking to itself." But talking, it turns out, is hardly everything in the IC.
In the very period when it was slipping down the pole of influence, its forces on the ground were ramping up. The Agency has opened or reopened 20 stations and bases abroad, experienced a flood of new recruits, and, since 2001, tripled the number of case officers it has in the field -- without as yet coming anywhere close to "a presidential directive, announced in late 2004, to increase the number of case officers and intelligence analysts by an additional 50 percent."
Or take Negroponte's ODNI operation. When originally suggested by the 9/11 commission and approved by Congress, it was to be a lean, mean coordination office meant to bring the sprawling IC under some control. Its staff of perhaps 750 was to lop the fat and overlap out of the IC. Instead, according to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, it has undergone "rapid growth," now has a staff of over 1,500, and a budget of nearly $1 billion -- "about one-third the size of all CIA funding in years before… Sept. 11, 2001" -- without yet having any significant accomplishments (other, of course, than its own growth).
Or, to return to the Pentagon, consider the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), which started as a small office to protect military facilities and personnel, but in the last years has "grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority." As CIFA garnered more power, it also gained "the ability to propose missions to Army, Navy and Air Force units, which combined have about 4,000 trained active, reserve and civilian investigators in the United States and abroad." At the same time, according to that NBC Investigative Unit, it is becoming "the superpower of data mining within the U.S. national security community… Since March 2004, CIFA has awarded at least $33 million in contracts to corporate giants Lockheed Martin, Unisys Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation and Northrop Grumman to develop databases that comb through classified and unclassified government data, commercial information and Internet chatter to help sniff out terrorists, saboteurs and spies." Recently, CIFA reportedly "contracted with Computer Sciences Corp. to buy identity-masking software, which could allow it to create fake Web sites and monitor legitimate U.S. sites without leaving clues that it had been there."
Now, multiply what happened at the CIA, ODNI, and CIFA, across 17-30 major and minor organizations, all sensing financial good times and looking for expansive "intelligence" missions to "protect" us all And so, as Kurt Vonnegut might have written, it goes.
Thirty Flew into the Cuckoo's Nest
There is, of course, no way for an outsider -- or probably any insider either -- to keep track of, or make sense of, this imperial mess. In the this-way-the-madness category, consider just how blind to the larger impulsions of the intelligence world you have to be to decide to reorganize, coordinate, and simplify it, so that information-sharing and the like become normal ways of life, by placing yet another "office" on top of the hodgepodge of powerful competitors already in existence. You would have to be nearly brain-dead not to predict that such a new office would have no choice but to follow the well-beaten path of expansion, develop its own institutional base, its own institutional prerogatives, and its own turf, only adding to the chaos -- or wither and die.
This is, by now, a process that should be as predictable as that at the Pentagon when it comes to the competing weapons systems of the four services. In the most recent Department of Defense budget, for instance, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, supposedly intent on "transforming" the military into a leaner, more agile, more high-tech fighting force, let every major weapons system, no matter how useless or redundant, pass through essentially untouched and with not a single one cut.
With the IC, add in another factor: Even if all its competing parts really did add up to a "community" -- rather than a group of warring, bureaucratic mini-states on a collective proliferation mission -- what kind of "intelligence" could possibly come out of such a conglomerate entity? Try to imagine these organizations, each filled with thousands of employees, most of them believing in intelligence and that they are in the process of delivering it, sorting through and pouring out information of every sort. Globally, all those billions of telephone calls, cell-phone calls, letters, and emails to be monitored, all those satellite photos to be checked and interpreted, all that data to be mined, all that territory to be mapped, all that "humint" to sort through, not to speak of the "open-source" material in the media, on-line, in foreign documents of every sort, spewing into our world in a Babel of languages and images.
From such a tangled web of intelligence organizations, fighting for turf, squirreling away money in black accounts, running covert operations (not to speak of secret prisons and interrogations, kidnappings and assassinations), surveilling everyone in hearing or sight, and monitoring the universe, undoubtedly comes a tangled mass of information, however computerized, beyond the ken of any set of human beings. This is the definition not of "intelligence," but of information overkill. It is a perfect formula either for drowning in data or cherry-picking only the data and analyses that suit your preexisting plans and urges.
You can find hints of this problem in many news pieces on individual intelligence programs. For instance, that NBC Investigative Unit mentioned earlier cited "Pentagon observers" who worried that, "in the effort to thwart the next 9/11, the U.S. military is now collecting too much data, both undermining its own analysis efforts by forcing analysts to wade through a mountain of rubble in order to obtain potentially key nuggets of intelligence and entangling U.S. citizens in the U.S. military's expanding and quiet collection of domestic threat data." Seymour Hersh in a recent New Yorker piece on the NSA surveillance and data-mining programs similarly quoted a "Pentagon consultant" this way: "The vast majority of what we did with the intelligence was ill-focused and not productive… It's intelligence in real time, but you have to know where you're looking and what you're after."
Almost by definition, what has to emerge from the IC much of the time is essentially the opposite of "intelligence," whatever that might be. We out here often fret about being barraged by information; now, imagine a world filled with hopeless reams and streams of information, a world in which any piece of information will be but another needle in an endless series of haystacks. In a sense, the minute you begin "mining" billions of phone calls, you've already admitted that, in information terms, you're at a loss.
In search of information on the inner workings of our world, no one reasonable would ever set up a system like the IC. Were you forced to reform such an already existing mechanism, you would certainly cut all those agencies and organizations down to, at most, two competing ones -- for alternate views of the world. Not that that would be ideal either.
For a maximum of a few million dollars, you might put almost any fifty knowledgeable people in a building with normal computers, access to the usual search engines, libraries, and open-source information, and you would surely arrive at a more comprehensible, saner view of our planet and what to do on it than anything $44 billion and a bevy of militarized agencies could produce. If, in fact, you had simply read Tomdispatch.com (produced for next to nothing) on a number of areas of the world over the last few years, you would have had more coherent, accurate "intelligence" than the IC seems to have been able to provide much of the time. And let's not forget that human beings, no matter what they say on the phone, in emails, or even to their closest associates in private often don't themselves understand what they are about to do or why they are doing it, and so are essentially unpredictable.
In other words, whatever the IC may be, it can't be a system for the reasonable delivery of "intelligence" to American leaders. If you need proof of this, just consider one thing: On the single most important subject for every administration in the last decades of the last century, the Intelligence Community simply didn't have a clue. With so many of its resources focused on that other empire, the USSR, they were incapable of predicting its collapse even as it was happening. Most of them didn't believe it even after it happened.
Oh, and here's one more awkward thing to throw into the intelligence mix. The administration that has done more than any other in recent memory to expand the IC, that has poured untold billions into ever more active intelligence capacities, has had a visible, violent allergy to intelligence. After the endless sorting of information, after the blind alleys and lying informants, after all that pressure from the Vice President as well as other top officials, and who knows what else, when the IC actually got it right, it made no difference whatsoever -- as in the daily briefing handed to the President on that lazy August day in 2001 in Crawford, Texas ("Bin Laden determined to strike in US") or on al-Qaeda links to Saddam Hussein, or on Niger yellowcake and those infamous "16 words" in the President's 2003 State of the Union Address. In those cases, the intelligence was simply ignored in favor of exaggerated or doctored versions of the same, or lies based on nothing at all (except perhaps a blinding desire to invade Iraq). For $44 billion dollars a year, this administration still had to set up a small separate operation inside the Pentagon, Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans, to search for the "intelligence" that would take them where they wanted to go anyway.
If the IC actually worked as an effective intelligence delivery system, we would be a genius nation, a Mensa among states. We would have an invaluable secret repository of knowledge that would be the equivalent of the destroyed ancient Library of Alexandria (which reputedly collected all the knowledge in the then-known world). And you would have to wonder, looking back on the last years: In that case, how exactly could we be quite so dumb?
But let's consider the obvious: While undoubtedly filled with hard-working, thoughtful intelligence analysts, producing -- sometimes -- on-target intelligence, the IC is not in any normal sense a system for the delivery of "intelligence"; that is, operative information through which our leaders could take in the world, its dangers and its possibilities. At the very least, that is only the most tertiary aspect of its operations. And yet, based on claims about the crucial nature of intelligence in our world, it continues to expand without cease.
If not primarily for intelligence, then what is it for, if anything? Does anyone know? Does it even matter? Those are certainly questions worth asking. What we lack, in helping us begin to answer them, is an American John Le Carré, who could bring back in striking form from the strange netherworld of the IC, as Le Carré so devastatingly did from the Cold War world of superpower espionage, a real sense of the lay of the land.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 20:10
SOURCE: dissidentvoice.org (5-29-06)
As I wrote last November, “it is too soon to speak of the ‘twilight of the neocons’ while [John] Hannah, [Stephen] Hadley, [William] Luti, [David] Wurmser, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, John Negroponte and other neocons remain in power, with [Michael] Ledeen and [Abram] Shulsky still skulking about.” This was the same month that Democrats staged an abortive mini-rebellion in the Senate, demanding that the Intelligence Committee’s long-delayed Phase II investigation focusing on Feith’s OSP finally get off the ground. But this seems to have been deliberately delayed by the initiation of a separate in-house investigation of Feith’s office by the Pentagon’s inspector general. Feith’s successor and fellow neocon Eric Edelman and Rumsfeld’s intelligence chief Stephen Cambone are supposedly cooperating on that. I wouldn’t expect any startling report detailing the disinformation campaign leading to the Iraq war anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Abram Shulsky, the neocon’s neocon, a scholar of Leo Strauss and Machiavelli, who has written about the application of Strauss’s thought to intelligence, is back. The Straussians of course uphold the use of disinformation (“noble lies”) to prepare the public for the difficult choices they, the Wise, have made. Already there is evidence for the deliberate planting of bogus stories planted in the press, such as occurred in the months leading up to the Iraq attack. Amir Tahiri’s report on the front page of Canada’s National Post about a religious dress code adopted by the Iranian parliament was immediately, eagerly embraced by State Department spokesman Sean McCormick, who at a May 19 press briefing was asked by James Rosen of Fox News the following:
QUESTION: On Iran, are you aware or is the Department aware of published reports stating that the Iranian parliament this week passed a measure that would require non-Muslims to wear badges that identify them as such?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have seen the news reports. These have, I think, recycled over time. There is -- as I understand it, there is a -- some law currently in the parliament, the exact nature of which is unclear, so I’m not going to try to delve into giving a definitive comment or a detailed comment about something about which I don't have all the facts.
That said, if you did have such an occurrence, whether it was in Iran or elsewhere, it would certainly be despicable.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up for a second on it?
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You said that it’s been something that, to your understanding, has been recycled over time. How long has the Department been following it or did you just become aware of these reports today for the first time?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I've seen various news -- similar news reports and I can’t give you the exact dates, you know months ago, and they seem to be coming up again, based on the progression of -- well, I guess, for lack of a better term -- law through the Iranian parliament. The exact nature of that law is a little bit unclear and the exact motivations behind that are a little unclear. So I can’t offer, like I said, a detailed comment about it.
QUESTION: Two more questions, if I might. What is the -- what kinds of means does the Department have at its disposal for verifying the passage of laws in the Iranian parliament?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, certainly we have access to open source material and we also talk frequently with other countries who have diplomatic representation in Iran.
QUESTION: And is there an effort underway right now to ascertain more about this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: And why would it be despicable, if it were true?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it has clear echoes, James, of Germany in the -- under Hitler, so I think that that’s pretty clear. But again, you know, I don’t want to delve too deeply into that because we don’t have the facts.
Does anybody else smell the soggy sheets of embedded journalism here? The Canadian paper was retracting the sensationalistic story even as McCormick spoke. There is in fact discussion in the Iranian Majlis about a law specifying Islamic dress. There’ve been laws about appropriate dress in Iran for better or worse since the inception of the Islamic Republic, so this is nothing new. But badges? The disinformationists may have cooked that up recalling an effort by Afghanistan’s Taliban in 2001 to require Hindus to wear yellow badges. Or maybe they were thinking about their own press badges.
I can just imagine some brainstorming session between the Office of Iranian Affairs guys and some Judith Miller-types.
“So what else can we do to equate Ahmadinejad to Hitler?”
“How about the dress code law?”
“Well, that’s an Islamic thing, like the dress code in Saudi Arabia.”
“We could say, badges.”
“You know, like Star of David badges in Nazi Germany.”
“Do they really plan badges?”
“No, but remember the Taliban, how they put yellow badges on Hindus in 2001?”
“Yeah, in Afghanistan.”
“People will buy it. They won’t distinguish Afghanistan and Iran.”
“Yeah, and if the Afghans could do it, the Iranians could.”
“And the Germans.”
“Yeah, that works. Let’s try it.”
“The administration will comment on a press report. We’ll cover our ass and say we don’t have all the facts. But if it’s true, it’s awful.”
“Follow-up question will prompt the reference to the Nazis.”
“Yeah, that’s good. Let’s get on it.”
In the coming weeks I’d expect a rash of false reports emanating from the duplicitous fear-mongering apparatus straddling the press and the Bush administration as the western alliance heatedly debates Cheney’s plans to attack Iran, as Israel intensifies its campaign to encourage such an attack, and as U.S. efforts to legitimatize the use of force through the UN Security Council run their course. Jorge Hirsch makes a good case for the possibility that the administration will accuse Iran of spreading bird flu into the west. Yes, it’s nuts. (Just as nuts as the reports by Martin Arostegui in Insight Magazine after 9-11 suggesting “evidence pointing to [Fidel] Castro’s involvement with the introduction of West Nile virus into the U.S. via migratory birds.” John Bolton and Pat Robertson have used such material to build a case for regime change in Cuba.)
Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com dissects a report in Israel’s most popular newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth to the effect that the Lebanese Shiite party Hizbollah, aligned with Iran, plans a terrorist attack on the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany. Here’s another story to watch warily. The Europeans only last year, reluctantly and under U.S. pressure, added Hizbollah to their list of international terrorist organizations. But demonizing Hizbollah is key to the U.S. and Israeli policy of effecting regime change in Syria and Lebanon. The still mysterious assassination last February of Rafiq Hariri was immediately attributed by U.S. officials to Hizbollah’s patron Syria. Iran is an even more important Hizbollah supporter.
There was a real attack by some Arabs on a sports event in Munich, Germany in 1972. Palestinian terrorists seized the Israeli athletes’ quarters and killed eleven. Maybe some are thinking, “What if something like that happened again? People would be so outraged! And if we could blame Iran -- well, enough said!”
The strategy is clear. Define a target as evil. Find some kind of connection with weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, nuclear -- or just to low-tech “terrorism,” draw some sort of Hitler parallel and get strategically placed press people on board. Plant the stories, then cite them as though they were troubling news to you. Then cite “intelligence” -- this mystical reservoir of wisdom restricted to the elite (rather like the gnosis of ancient mystery religions) -- trusting that the foolish masses will accept it on faith, at least until the job’s all done and the noble lies are inevitably exposed. You can always scapegoat the intelligence community for any errors. It can’t, by its very nature, resist that scapegoating.
And maybe, just maybe, the neocon-led administration will stage something in Germany or elsewhere that could serve as another 9-11. In his Universal Fascism (1995), prominent neocon Michael Ledeen (widely accused of involvement in the Niger uranium forgery) wrote, “In order to achieve the most noble accomplishments, the leader may have to ‘enter into evil.’ This is the chilling insight that has made Machiavelli so feared, admired and challenging... [W]e [ordinary people] are rotten.... It’s true that we can achieve greatness if, and only if, we are properly led.”
What I’d call “proper leadership” at this point is calling for regime change in this country, through impeachment or more radical methods. There is a race for time, a battle to create public opinion, lopsided given the mainstream press’s abject deference to the neocon project. There is no emotion stronger than fear, and the Bush administration so clumsy about everything else deploys this weapon with extraordinary deftness. In opposition the antiwar movement at its best wields critical reason, humanism, truth. However powerful the lies, that truth will ultimately out. Sooner better than later.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 19:46
SOURCE: dissidentvoice.org (5-29-06)
Jim Lobe and Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com have both posted columns about the latest episode in the neocons’ relentless Iran disinformation campaign. A Canadian paper, the National Post, published an article on May 19 by Iranian-American journalist Amir Taheri reporting that on May 15, the Iranian Parliament had passed a law establishing “separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public. The new codes would enable Muslims to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus becoming najis (unclean).”
The story was picked up by UPI and reproduced in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, the Jerusalem Post, and elsewhere, and represented as fact by U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “Despicable,” declared McCormack, adding that Iran was just like “Germany under Hitler.” “This is reminiscent of the Holocaust,” echoed Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. “Iran is moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis.”
The National Post pulled the story within hours, as it became apparent that no such law had been passed or even discussed. On May 19, the day after the story had appeared, the newspaper published a piece challenging it. But like malicious slanders that linger in the air even after being disproved, the mental image of Iranian religious minorities, badged, marching off to their doom, will remain in the public mind. So this was a success for the disinfo apparatus.
And there’ve been other successes. The masses have been indoctrinated with the conviction that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, is defying the “international community” and international law, and is plotting the destruction of Israel. The latter charge is bolstered by the report that President Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be wiped off the map. But he never actually said that. He quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini, who died 17 years ago, as stating that the occupation of Jerusalem would be erased from the page of history, which is a rather different statement. No matter. The Washington line is that Iran wants to use nukes to annihilate the Jews.
Preparing to attack Iraq, the Bush administration argued that Saddam (“a new Hitler”) might turn over weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda terrorists who could then produce a mushroom cloud over New York. It was all nonsense, subsequently debunked, but in the interim the lies accomplished their purpose: to generate fear. The neocon disinformation specialists are at it again, confident they can fool the masses twice or three times as they pursue their project for a Southwest Asian empire. And maybe they’re right. They must take comfort in poll results that show most Americans would favor military strikes against Iran if it proceeds with its (imagined) nuclear weapons program. They know most Americans can’t find Iran on the map, and don’t know that it’s bordered on either side by U.S.-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, surrounded by U.S. bases in those countries as well as Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait, that it is bordered by the oil-rich Caspian Sea to the north and the Persian Gulf to the south. They know that most Americans have short historical memories, do not realize that Iran hasn’t attacked any country in its modern history or that the last time the U.S. successfully intervened in Iran it deposed a democratic regime, empowered the vicious Shah, and set the stage for the massive anti-Shah popular uprising of 1979. They know that most Americans are clueless when it comes to the nature of nuclear technology, and that the mushroom-cloud image is the most potent fear weapon they can deploy as they set Iran up.
Their embarrassments and setbacks notwithstanding, the warmongers continue to dish out the bullshit, the psy-ops directed at the American people -- who to the extent that they wise up, constitute their real and natural enemy.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 19:32
SOURCE: Easily Distracted (blog) (5-17-06)
Are you interested in defending academic standards?
Let me tell you what I consider to be a few important academic standards. These apply across the disciplines. 1. Careful collection of evidence. 2. Constraining claims or arguments to the evidence available. 3. Proportionality of argument or analysis, especially in making demands for action or changes in practice. 4. Careful definition of key terms, concepts and methodologies used in scholarly analysis. 5. Respect for expertise and caution about making claims when you are well outside your areas of specialized knowledge.
Is ACTA interested in defending academic standards? Not judging from their lamely titled report, “How Many Ward Churchills?”.
What’s the method of the report? It’s just as bad as I feared: a casual, lazy, cherrypicking survey of whatever materials the author(s) were able to access on the web. There’s almost nothing beyond that in terms of evidence, except for citing other reports by people who are already well inside the echo chamber of the preordained argument, some of which offer exactly the same kind of “let’s take a quick run through the online catalog” evidence for their claims.
What kind of definitions of politicized content does it offer? Well, to some extent, all you have to do is be teaching about “race, class, gender, sexuality, ‘the social construction of identity’, globalization, capitalism, and US hegemony” (p. 7) to qualify as possessing “remarkable uniformity of political stance and pedagogical approach”. A syllabus that includes work that critiques or interrogates the status quo qualifies you for potential inclusion on the list of “politicized” faculty, as evidence of “remarkable homogeneity”. Having a course which has a point-of-view or argument may do so (as long as it fits ACTA’s ideological predefinition of politicization.)
There’s so much wrong here that it’s hard to know where to begin....
CLICK ON THE SOURCE LINK ABOVE TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE.
Posted on: Friday, May 26, 2006 - 17:22
SOURCE: NYT (5-25-06)
IT is easy to label Iran's quest for nuclear energy a dangerous adventure with grave regional and international repercussions. It is also comforting to heap scorn on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his earlier denial of the Holocaust and his odious call for the obliteration of the state of Israel. The rambling intransigence expressed in his recent letter to President Bush offers ample insight into this twisted mindset. Yet there is something deeper in Iran's story than the extremist utterances of a messianic president and the calculated maneuvering of the hard-line clerical leadership that stands behind him.
We tend to forget that Iran's insistence on its sovereign right to develop nuclear power is in effect a national pursuit for empowerment, a pursuit informed by at least two centuries of military aggression, domestic meddling, skullduggery and, not least, technological denial by the West. Every schoolchild in Iran knows about the C.I.A.-sponsored 1953 coup that toppled Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Even an Iranian with little interest in his or her past is conscious of how Iran throughout the 19th and 20th centuries served as a playground for the Great Game.
Iranians also know that, hard as it may be for latter-day Americans and Europeans to believe, from the 1870's to the 1920's Russia and Britain deprived Iran of even basic technology like the railroad, which was then a key to economic development. At various times, both powers jealously opposed a trans-Iranian railroad because they thought it would threaten their ever-expanding imperial frontiers. When it was finally built, the British, Russian (and American) occupying forces during the Second World War made full use of it (free of charge), calling Iran a "bridge of victory" over Nazi Germany. They did so, of course, after Winston Churchill forced the man who built the railroad, Reza Shah Pahlavi, to abdicate and unceremoniously kicked him out of the country.
Not long after, a similar Western denial of Iran's economic sovereignty resulted in a dramatic showdown that had fatal consequences for the country's fragile democracy and left lasting scars on its national consciousness. The oil nationalization movement of 1951 to 1953 under Mossadegh was opposed by Britain, and eventually by its partner in profit, the United States, with the same self-righteousness that today colors their views of the Iranian yearning for nuclear energy. ...
Posted on: Thursday, May 25, 2006 - 22:20
SOURCE: WSJ (5-24-06)
Are American universities now in their golden age? Many rank as the leading research institutions in the world. A college education is within reach for more Americans than ever before. Applications continue to rise as colleges attract the best and the brightest from the U.S. and from overseas. And yet it is hard not to get the feeling that there is something amiss at American schools.
Recent headlines certainly suggest troubles at individual universities--Duke with its lacrosse scandal, Yale with its admission of a former Taliban member, Harvard with its routing of president Lawrence Summers. But Harry Lewis, a former dean at Harvard who still teaches computer science there, thinks the problem is deeper than a handful of alarming anecdotes might suggest. In "Excellence Without a Soul," Mr. Lewis decries the "hollowness of undergraduate education."...
He takes Harvard as his case study, but many of his conclusions apply to the rest of American higher education. Mr. Lewis finds American universities "soulless" and argues that they rarely speak as "proponents of high ideals for future American leaders." He bluntly states that Harvard "has lost, indeed willingly surrendered, its moral authority to shape the souls of its students. . . . Harvard articulates no ideals of what it means to be a good person."
Arguing that American universities are soulless did not originate with Mr. Lewis, of course. In fact, it is one of the main themes of Allan Bloom's classic (and more entertaining) "The Closing of the American Mind," a book to which Mr. Lewis strangely never refers. Still, "Excellence Without a Soul" has some fresh arguments and a few pleasantly maverick views. Mr. Lewis defends the benefits of college athletics, for instance: Far from being an overcommercialized distraction, they are a "source of joy" and embody an "ethos of self-sacrifice, perseverance, drive [and] endurance." The much-lamented dangers of date rape, he suggests, result in part from a combustible campus mix of alcohol and sexual liberation. Mr. Lewis even includes a game, if unconvincing, defense of grade inflation: Students are better, he says; teaching is better; and more small courses push up grades deservedly "because students and faculty get to know each other better."
The core of this book, though, is a defense of the idea that universities should be about something. What makes an educated person? Unfortunately, too many professors and administrators, if they ever bother to think about it, would have difficulty answering the question beyond the pabulum found in most university brochures.
So how does Harvard define an educated person? A Harvard education, the university states, "must provide a broad introduction to the knowledge needed in an increasingly global and connected, yet simultaneously diverse and fragmented world." Mr. Lewis, rightfully dismissive, notes that the school never actually says what kind of knowledge is "needed." The words are meaningless blather, he says, proving that "Harvard no longer knows what a good education is."
Such institutional incoherence has consequences. In his sharpest criticism, Mr. Lewis charges that Harvard now ceases to think of itself as an American institution with any obligation to educate students about liberal democratic ideals. As the school increasingly focuses on "global competency," the U.S. is "rarely mentioned in anything written recently about Harvard's plans for undergraduate education." In the absence of agreement on common values or a core curriculum, anything goes. Echoing Allan Bloom's critique of relativism, Mr. Lewis writes that at Harvard "all knowledge is equally valued as long as a Harvard professor is teaching it."
Posted on: Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 19:52
SOURCE: Nation (5-23-06)
"It is high time to strategize," one person said. "There is no way to oppose it," another responded. This heated discussion went on for several minutes until people began settling down on the mats and pillows adorning the concrete floor.
The meeting's organizer, a coordinator from the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, asked our hosts to speak. One after another, the Bedouin men stood up to relate their personal stories. They all told of the state-sanctioned abuse carried out against their community. Injustice followed injustice to produce a merciless tale of expulsion, violence, repression and deception.
Ali Abu Sheita recounted how his parents had been torn from their tribal land and transferred to a barren region where for years they had had to walk fifteen kilometers with their camels and donkeys just to bring water to the village. Yet in the Jewish village nearby, Abu Sheita continued, pipes delivered water directly to every sink. Halil al-Aseiby pointed to the high-voltage electric poles just outside the shack, emphasizing the regulation that forbids "unrecognized Bedouins" from connecting their homes to the power grid. "Even people who need to keep life-saving medicine refrigerated do not receive an exception," he said. Another man suddenly waved a demolition order that was pasted on his "illegal" shack on April 25. "Any day now," he said, "the bulldozers might arrive."
These Bedouins are Israeli citizens just as I am; their only crime is that they are not Jewish.
Bedouins are the indigenous people of Israel's arid Negev Desert. Before the establishment of the State of Israel, approximately 60,000 Bedouins lived in the area, but following the 1948 war only 11,000 or so remained; the rest fled or were expelled to Jordan and Egypt. Under the directives of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, those who remained in Israel were uprooted from the lands they had inhabited and were concentrated in the northeastern part of the Negev, a mostly barren area known as the "enclosure zone," while the more fertile western part of the Negev was reserved for Jewish settlement.
Throughout the 1950s and until the mid-1960s, a considerable portion of their ancestral lands was confiscated and registered as state land. In the 1970s about half of the Bedouin population was moved once again by the Israeli government, this time into seven townships. The idea was to concentrate the Bedouin population within a small area that makes up only a very small percentage of their original tribal lands, the land from which they had been expelled. These Bedouins had to give up all claims to their ancestral land in order to be granted the dubious privilege of living in these overcrowded townships.
The remaining half of the Bedouin population, which today totals about 75,000 people, were unwilling to give up their property rights and are now scattered across the Negev in forty-five villages that have never been recognized by the state.
I visited one of these villages recently with the Negev Coexistence Forum. No more than twenty-five minutes from my small but nice air-conditioned apartment are a series of Bedouin shantytowns. None of the homes in these unrecognized villages are connected to electricity grids, running water, a sewer network or telephone lines. There are no paved roads leading to the villages, and as a result, emergency services cannot reach them quickly, while access to other basic services--health, education and welfare--is difficult and limited.
These Bedouins are currently represented by the unrecognized regional council of the unrecognized villages (since the villages have not been recognized by the Israeli government, the Israeli government has also been unwilling to recognize the Bedouins' elected council). During our visit, council head Hsein al-Refaya pointed out that the unrecognized population suffers from an extremely high unemployment rate: approximately 60 percent for men and 85 percent for women. The population endures grinding poverty, a high rate of infant mortality, a shortage of skilled laborers and a high crime rate. Moreover, approximately 40 percent of the unrecognized Bedouin children drop out of school before graduating.
For years, these Bedouins have been struggling for their basic right to be recognized and to receive the same services that every other Israeli citizen is given by virtue of being a citizen. Their representatives have met with scores of government officials, testified in front of numerous committees and submitted a seemingly endless number of petitions to the Israeli courts. They have often been met with sympathy, but they have never encountered justice.
This is where the "Wine Route" comes in. The Israeli government is currently carrying out a land-use scheme that further violates the land rights of the Bedouins and intensifies their alienation from Israeli society. The "Wine Route" plan authorizes the construction of thirty private farms, which are supposed to cater to Israeli tourists. Some of these farms have already been built and are located on the same land that the Bedouins consider their own; all of the farms--built and planned--will receive the services that the Bedouins have been denied for several decades: running water, electricity and paved roads.
The "Wine Route" plan exposes the lie informing Israel's treatment of the unrecognized Bedouins. For years, Israeli officials have emphasized the need to concentrate the 75,000 Bedouins in large townships, stating that their forty-five villages are too small and scattered along a fairly large area, making it very difficult to provide them with infrastructure. This served to justify the policy of not recognizing them. And yet now, the very same officials are handing out permits to scores of scattered farms, which stretch across thousands of dunams (a dunam is approximately a quarter of an acre), each one home to a single family.
But the "Wine Route" does much more than expose Israel's lie. The farms, explains Ariel Dloomy of the Negev Coexistence Forum, insure that only Jewish citizens have access to large segments of the Negev; in this way they undermine the Bedouins' attempt to reclaim their ancestral land. One government document clearly states: "The reasons for initiating [these farms] is for protecting state land...and offering solutions for demographic issues." Incidentally, Dloomy adds, one farm was given to a Bedouin to serve as a fig leaf covering Israel's blatant discrimination against them.
Professor Oren Yiftachel, a political geographer from Ben-Gurion University whose work focuses on the relation between space and ethnicity, adds that the "Wine Route" initiative "draws a link between, on the one hand, Israel's longstanding efforts to restrict and circumscribe the space which its non-Jewish citizens are permitted to occupy and, on the other hand, new entrepreneurship projects. The state, in other words, is using entrepreneurs to advance its discriminatory practices, adopting, as it were, a new mechanism to prevent the Negev's Bedouin inhabitants from returning to their ancestral lands. Thus, in addition to demolishing their homes and spraying their crops with poison, now the government is building farms on their land."
"How," Abu Sheita asked the members of the Negev Coexistence Forum, "will you help us counter this initiative?"
"Our friends don't have access to the corridors of power, and we can't expect them to stop the longstanding discrimination of all past Israeli governments," the person next to him immediately answered.
"Perhaps not," Abu Sheita continued, "but we can expect them to try." And after a short silence he added: "The discrimination against the Bedouins is like a big boulder; a pickax can never break it with one fell swoop, but if you continue hitting for many years, it will eventually shatter."
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 18:34
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (5-24-06)
Let's get one thing straight about the Great New York Cellphone War: It's not about "safety." It's about anxiety.
Last month, New York officials stepped up their efforts to bar students from carrying cellphones into public schools. In a stubborn defense of the policy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed that the phones promote gang activity. Parents responded with outrage and promises of civil disobedience, arguing that their kids need cellphones to contact them in case of an emergency.
They're both right, up to a point. Yes, some kids have used cellphones to arrange drug deals and gang rumbles; others have used the phones to call Mom or Dad when they feel unwell, lost, or just plain scared. But spend five minutes listening to teenagers mumble with their parents on the phone, and you'll notice one very obvious point: The kids aren't scared - their parents are.
"Yeah, Mom, I'm fine. Really."
"Dad, just chill, OK? I'll be home soon."
As a parent of someone who is about to turn 13, I can well understand the impulse to "stay connected" with our kids - and to keep them safe.
But as a historian and an educator, I'm deeply troubled by it. By tethering our children to us, I worry, we're not letting them grow up on their own. And we're foisting our worries on them, in ways that will haunt them well into adulthood.
For the past 100 years, of course, parents have fretted about their teenagers. Reports of automobile "make-out" parties shocked readers in the 1920s, when middle-class youths first gained access to cars. In the 1950s, comic books and rock 'n' roll sparked new anxieties about juvenile delinquency and promiscuity. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed the rise of adolescent drug culture, while the 1980s brought AIDS. More recent fears have focused upon youth violence and its glorification in rap music.
Until the past few years, however, we let our children navigate these dangers by themselves. We didn't have a choice. "Going out" meant going away - away from the purview of Mom and Dad, at least for a few hours.
We always had to know where you were going, of course; and if something went wrong, you were supposed to call. But you weren't leashed to us, 24/7, in a wireless web of parental surveillance.
And make no mistake: Cellphones are a mechanism of surveillance. That's why several carriers are now offering phones with a built-in global positioning system, which lets parents track their kids' exact location until they get home.
Why do we need all of this electronic scrutiny and hand-holding? Ask an American mother, and she'll tell you that it's a jungle out there:
There are drugs, there's sex, there's crime. But we've always had those dangers, and many of them - especially drugs and crime - were more acute when Mom herself was growing up. But somehow, she managed to make it through.
How will our own children do the same thing, when we're perched over them like frightened vultures? When they're little, we schedule "play dates" for them; it's too "dangerous," too unstructured, to send them off to a park or ballfield by themselves. As they get older, they rarely walk or bicycle anywhere; they might get hit by a car, and did you hear about that kid who was abducted last week? And when they're finally teenagers, old enough to go out on their own, we equip them with cellphones so they can call us at any time - and relieve our own anxieties.
No wonder so many young people are getting anxious themselves. At college counseling centers, anxiety has now overtaken relationship issues as the major reason students seek help. According to the University of Michigan Depression Center, 15 percent of America's undergraduates suffer from an anxiety-related disorder.
We can't blame that on cellphones, of course. The blame could lie, at least in part, with worried parents who use their cellphones to visit their own worries on their kids. In a famous study of babies with high-strung temperaments, the Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan found that the kids were normal by age 2 if their parents let them find comfort on their own. But if the parents hovered, responding to every whimper and cry, the children remained highly anxious.
So maybe it's time for all of us - New York's mayor, the schools, and most of all the parents - to back off a bit. Of course the kids should be allowed to carry cellphones; at this late hour, there's really no way we can stop them. But we can and should stop calling them, at all hours, simply to make sure they're alive. Just chill, Mom and Dad, OK?
They'll be home soon.
Posted on: Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 18:07
SOURCE: Informed Comment (blog) (5-23-06)
The relatively small number of US fighting troops that the US has in Iraq, some 60,000 to 70,000, cannot possibly hope to provide security to a country of 26 million under such conditions of ethnic and political civil war. The much smaller British presence in Basra appears not to have been effective in halting that city's spiral down into insecurity, with tribal and militia grudge fights and assassinations having become common.
The inauguration of a new Iraqi government was marred by the enormous amount of time it took to form it (5 months!), by open US imperial intervention in the choice of prime minister and in other negotiations, by the walk-out of over two dozen parliamentarians from both the Shiite (Virtue Party) and Sunni (National Dialogue Front and Iraqi Accord Front) parties, and by the failure of the new prime minister to name three key cabinet ministers central to the country's security-- Defense, Interior, and National Security. The Iraqi government is among the more corrupt in the world, working by bribes and a party spoils system.
The new parliament is virtually hung, and Prime Minister al-Maliki governs as a minority prime minister, being able to count on less than 115 MPs from his own party, in a parliament with 275 members. He is therefore hostage to the Kurds, who want to move Iraq in the direction of having a very weak central government, a degree of provincial auto nomy unknown in any other country in the world, and who want to unilaterally annex a fourth province, oil-rich Kirkuk, to their regional confederacy, despite the violent opposition of Kirkuk's Turkmen and Arab populations to being Kurdicized.
The Bush administration reconstruction project in Iraq has largely failed. In part, it was foiled by sophisticated guerrilla sabotage, so that billions have had to be diverted from actual reconstruction to security. And nor has security been achieved. In part, it was foiled by a degree of corruption, cupidity, embezzlement, lawlessness and fraud that is unparalleled in US history since the Gilded Age. And in part is has been foiled by a US insistence on making most often unqualified US corporations the immediate recipient and major beneficiary of funds, so that Iraqi concerns get much less lucrative sub-contracts and relatively little of the money benefitted the Iraqi economy directly.
Military engagements between Sunni Ar ab guerrillas and US troops of some seriousness have been fought at Ramadi in the past week, though little noticed by the mainstream US press. Fallujah is dangerous again. Neighborhoods of the capital, Baghdad are blown up every day. A nighttime hot civil war produces some number of corpses daily, sometimes dozens, to the extent that morning corpse patrol has become a central duty of Iraqi police. A lot of us suspect that some units of the police themselves are involved in these kidnappings and killings, so that often they know just where to look for the corpses.
The main US military tactic still appears to be search and destroy, a way of proceeding guaranteed to extend the scope and popularity of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement. The guerrillas appear more well-organized, determined, and effective than ever, and no lasting and effective progress appears to have been made in counter-insurgency anywhere in the Sunni Arab heartland. The human toll of the war has been d eeply depressing. The number of Iraqi dead in the war and its aftermath (killed in political violence by any side) cannot be estimated, but certainly is over 100,000 and could easily be more. The 30,000 figure often cited comes from counts of reports of deaths in Western wire services, which are demonstrably a fraction of the true total. None of the nearly 1,000 Iraqis assassinated in Basra during the past month, possibly with police involvement, appears in such statistics. The US has lost over 2400 troops dead, and the number of wounded in action is over 17,000, some significant proportion of them seriously wounded, with long-term disabilities. Some Iraq War vets are suffering mental problems and were discharged because of them under circumstances that make it difficult for them to get VA care. Some Iraq War vets are shoing up homeless in US cities already. Meanwhile, Halliburton is back from the brink of bankruptcy.
There is no evidence of the new Iraqi army and sec urity forces proving themselves effective against the guerrillas. The security forces with the possible exception of the new army are heavily infiltrated by partisan militias. A recent news article quoted an approving US officer as saying that Iraqi troops in Baqubah fought a guerrilla attack right down to the point where the troops ran out of ammunition. These were almost certainly Shiite and/or Kurdish troops fighting Sunni guerrillas, so this was actually another battle in the Civil War. No wonder they fought to the bitter end. But what I take away from this anecdote is that the guerrillas have more ammunition than do the poor s.o.b.'s in the Iraqi army, and I don't see that as a good sign. A unified military is almost impossible to achieve in conditions of civil war, in any case. Lebanon had an army when the civil war broke out there in the mid-1970s, but President Elias Sarkis was unable to commit it, for fear it would split along ethnic lines. The same problems now exi st in Iraq, and are unlikely to be resolved for some years, if ever.
Iraq cannot be stabilized without the active help of Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the neighboring countries. But the Bush administration has actively attempted to alienate Iran and Syria, threatening them with regime change or military attack, and guaranteeing that they would be hostile to US success and continued presence in Iraq. The US has also alienated Turkey by allowing the violent leftist Kurdish guerrilla movement, the PKK, to base itself in northern Iraq and to attack Turkey and Iran from that safe haven. The US has alienated Saudi Arabia in a whole host of ways, from insinuations that the Wahhabi form of Islam is in an unqualified way a source of terrorism, to US insensitivity to Saudi fears of the rise of a Shiite Crescent.
Bush administration ineptitude, ignorance, and often stupidity is matched by some regional players. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud El Faisa l came to the US in fall of 2005 and castigated the US for allowing Iraq to fall into the hands of the Iranians (i.e. pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiites), provoking a severe diplomatic tiff between Baghdad and Riyadh. Instead of being helpful to a fellow Arab country, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt alienated the Shiite south of Iraq by saying that Arab Shiites are more loyal to Iran than to their own countries. After these incidents, which enraged the Iraqi Shiites, the prospect for a fruitful role in Iraq for the Arab League have receded substantially, since Shiite Iraqis cannot see it as an honest broker.
The Bush Administration trumpets that a defeat of "al-Qaeda" in Iraq would be decisive for defeating terrorism in the world at large. But Bush and his policies led to there being anything like an effective Islamic radical terrorism in Iraq in the first place. The tiny Ansar al-Islam group that operated in the north before 2003 had been hunted by the Baath security and onl y survived because of the US no-fly zone that prevented Iraqi armor from being deployed against it. Bush has not shown any particular ability to put this genie, which he unleashed, back in the bottle. His war in Iraq has been an enormous boon to the international Salafi Jihadi movement, encouraging angry youths from all over the world to join it to fight to the US. Bush by his aggressive and inept policies is creating the phenomenon he says he is fighting, and so can never defeat it.
The prospect lies before us of years, perhaps decades of instability in the Gulf and eastern reaches of the Middle East. There is a danger of it doubling and tripling our gasoline prices. There is a danger of it forming a matrix and a school for anti-US terrorism for years to come. Are people in Fallujah, Tal Afar and Ramadi really ever going to forgive us? And there is no guarantee of the Shiites remaining US allies for very long, either. Many, of course, already have conceived a new hat red of America as a result of over-reaction of green National Guardsmen, who often have killed innocent civilians in the south, and as a result of iron fist policies when US troops were fighting the Mahdi Army.
The Bush administration has pushed us all out onto a tightrope in Iraq, 60 feet up and without a net.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - 20:03
SOURCE: Informed Comment (blog) (5-23-06)
The warmongers are undeterred.
Taylor Marsh has more on the bogus story from the National Post that Iran was about to make Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians wear identifying badges.
Marsh says that Iranian journalist Amir Taheri says he is standing by his column, which set off the furor, and that the law has been passed and is awaiting implementation. The laws passed by the Iranian parliament are available on the web and in Iranian newspapers, and certainly a law like this would have been written about and published. Could Mr. Taheri provide us please with a URL to the Persian text? If he does not, we have no reason ever again to believe anything he says.
Taheri's standards of reasoning and evidence have recently been slipping. In a recent article on Iraq, he gave as good news the stability of the Iraqi dinar. But in fact the dinar is artificially pegged to the dollar. Its"stability" is the same"stability" that the Egyptian guinea used to have in the 1960s and 1970s when the government just arbitrarily set its exchange rate. When you do that, you get some apparent stability, but you also create a black market and a preference in the country for other currencies. If the Iraqi dinar was allowed to float, it would not be worth very much.
So we have now a non-existent Iranian law and a non-existent Iraqi currency stability. Hmmm. How many more non-existents must we believe before breakfast?
Well, here is another. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, is reported to have warned that 'Iran was"months rather than years away" from acquiring the capability to make nuclear weapons."Time is running out. . ." '
I am typing while rolling around on the floor laughing uncontrollably at this blatant falsehood and hypocrisy. The International Atomic Energy Agency just a little over a week ago said it can find no evidence that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program, as opposed to a civilian energy research program. Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei gave a fatwa in which he forbade nuclear weapons, and the Iranian government denies that it is seeking a bomb. The US National Intelligence Estimate says that if Iran were trying hard to get a bomb and the international circumstances were favorable to all the needed imports, it would still take ten years. And, neither of those"ifs" is in evidence.
Moreover, it is Mr. Gillerman's government that introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East and that has actually threatened to use them. The Likud government menaced Baghdad with the Bomb in the run-up to the March 2003 War that they helped get up by supplying unreliable intelligence to Washington. It was their way of warning Saddam against trying to hit them with chemical warheads. But, would that have been a proportionate response. Iran doesn't have a bomb, has signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and hasn't invaded another country since the 19th century. Israel has hudnreds of bombs, had refused to sign the NPT, and has threatened first use of nukes.
This is just demagoguery and lying.
Mr. Gillerman is, however, occasionally capable of telling the truth. Reuters reports,
"Ambassador Dan Gillerman, addressing a New York meeting of B'nai B'rith International, a Jewish humanitarian organization, heaped praise on U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, jokingly describing him at one point as 'a secret member of Israel's own team at the United Nations.' Noting that just five diplomats worked in the busy Israeli UN Mission, he told the group:"Today the secret is out. We really are not just five diplomats. We are at least six including John Bolton."
Bolton was put at the UN by Bush to get up a war against Iran, though for whom is not entirely clear. He is a notorious liar, who tried to peddle a ridiculous story about a supposed Cuban biological weapons program. He may well be the source of a flight of Judy Millerism that the Iranians had sent evil biologists to Havana to help with a supposed Cuban biological weapons program. Ooooooh. Those Marxist Ayatollah molecular biologist evil scientists are the absolute worst!
Imaginary laws. Imaginary bombs. Imaginary germs. Lies, lies intended to make a war.
If the Iranians were smart, they would dump that buffoon Ahmadinejad and get themselves a less inflammatory president. Ahmadinejad's antics are giving the warmongers in the West all kinds of pretexts to talk war on Tehran. They should take a lesson from what has been done to the Iraqis.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - 19:48
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (2-6-04)
NOTE: The following essay was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2004.--Editors
President Bush heralded his recent proposal for sweeping reform of American immigration policy as "a new temporary-worker program." Indeed, in his State of the Union address, he went out of the way to distance himself from previous immigration programs. "I oppose amnesty," he insisted -- while carefully avoiding any discussion of past "amnesties." Historians who study immigration history know better: The president's plan actually mimics a long line of past policies. Some perspective seems called for if we are going to have informed debate about immigration.
The president laid down four basic goals for immigration policy: to help control the borders; to serve the nation's economic needs; to avoid giving "unfair rewards" to illegal immigrants in the citizenship process; and, most crucially, to "provide incentives for temporary foreign workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the United States has expired." Like most of its predecessors, the president's plan was drawn up with the needs of Southwestern agricultural interests and other low-wage sectors in mind.
The ideal of the retractable immigrant worker is an old one, covering often elastic definitions of who is worthy of admission, when, and why. For example, Hubert Howe Bancroft, the pioneering historian of California and a confirmed racist, explained bluntly in his 1912 memoirs that Westerners want Mexicans "for our low-grade work and when it is finished we want [them] to go home and stay there until we want [them] again." Ninety-two years later, not much has changed.
During World War I, the federal government, facing labor shortages, authorized "the admission and return of otherwise inadmissible aliens applying for temporary admission." The program brought in some 250,000 Mexicans, who were registered and photographed. Perhaps an equal number came informally. Loose as the arrangements were, some officials wished them even less formal. Among the regulations Herbert C. Hoover, then war-food administrator, wanted lifted in 1918, for example, was one that called for two photographs of each immigrant. Part of Hoover's stated rationale was that "the Mexican has a primitive suspicion of the camera."
Those Mexicans worked chiefly on farms but also on railroads, in mines, and in manufacturing plants. Some went as far north as Chicago and were among the pioneers of the now substantial Mexican American community there. We don't know how many such "temporary" workers returned to Mexico, but it is clear that large numbers did stay in the United States and that others, who returned "home," also came back. Retractibility could not always be depended upon.
The quota acts of 1921 and 1924 virtually eliminated immigration from East and South Asia and greatly limited European immigration, but placed no numerical limits on immigrants from the Western Hemisphere -- in major part at the insistence of Western growers. One often unnoted aspect of the 1924 act, the requirement of a visa for entry as an immigrant, however, gave the government a way to limit legal Mexican immigration of people who wished to stay.
In 1924, Congress also created the Border Patrol. As today, lawmakers thought of the Mexican border as a line that could be defended, but ignored the reality that it was, and is, a collection of binational communities, interdependent economic units within which thousands of people cross the border daily in each direction to work, shop, and play. Then, as now, control of our borders was an illusive, and ill-understood, goal.
That Mexican immigrants had become some 11 percent of legal immigrants in the 1920s did not go unnoticed. Both the Coolidge and Hoover administrations reduced legal immigration from Mexico by fiat rather than statute. In new instructions to American consuls in 1930, the State Department made it clear why: "If the consular officer believes that the applicant may probably be a public charge at any time, even during a considerable period subsequent to his arrival, he must refuse the visa."
Once the Great Depression had set in, the Hoover administration silently assented to "voluntary" programs to send workers back to Mexico. Sponsored by states, counties, and even corporations, those programs often ignored workers' immigration status and in some cases their citizenship. Years later, a Mexican American worker remembered being told by a steel-company official in northern Indiana that his family would starve on the $7 or $8 per payday he made. But, the official added, "You have an alternative ... go to Mexico. We have a train available."
During World War II, the Bracero Program again brought Mexicans north. Beginning in 1942, temporary agricultural workers were recruited with the approval of Mexico City and with guarantees about wages and working conditions (which would not be strictly enforced). In 1943, Congress extended the program to cover West Indians and Bahamians, who toiled largely in Eastern agriculture. Some 225,000 agricultural workers were imported during the war years, nearly three-quarters from Mexico. A separate wartime Bracero Program provided about 50,000 maintenance workers for Western railroads. As in World War I, perhaps as many came without being officially in the program. Unlike the World War I program, however, the Bracero Program continued until 1964 and officially imported nearly five million temporary agricultural workers, more than four million of them from Mexico. Although many came more than once, surely millions of individuals were involved. After the end of the program in 1964, special authorization to import agricultural workers could be obtained from the Labor Department.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, illegal-immigrant agricultural workers, many of whom had been initially imported under a government program, continued to do much of the agricultural harvest not just in the Southwest, but throughout the country. After years of Congressional stalemates and the appointment of two presidential commissions, Congress finally passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Signing it, President Reagan predicted: "Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people -- American citizenship." The act, of course, did no such thing, but it did refresh the supply of agricultural labor spectacularly.
The legislation is complicated, but one aspect is crucial to evaluating President Bush's current plan. Although popularly called "amnesty," a provision in the statute spoke of "adjustment of status," a phrase normally used to describe the process by which an alien legally in the United States changes from one status to another. Most politicians, then and now, seem to believe that "amnesty" smacks of weakness and permissiveness. But it was an amnesty: The 1986 law provided ways for persons here illegally to gain a legal status and begin the process toward citizenship.
There had been two such processes in the past. "Registry" began in 1929. It provided that anyone who had resided in the United States continuously since January 1, 1921, and was of good moral character, could adjust to permanent resident-alien status and thus be eligible for citizenship. The cut-off date now stands at January 1, 1972. The second, and more limited, process was the so-called Chinese Confession Program, which operated between the late 1950s and early 1970s. Illegal Chinese residents who had entered fraudulently might be able to regularize their status if they confessed and implicated other family members who had used the same fraudulent process. More than 10,000 persons confessed, implicating thousands of relatives, many of whom were deported. The justification for this nonstatutory program was national security: It seems that most of those expelled were leftists who supported Red China.
Over all, the 1986 law provided for two kinds of amnesty. The original program was aimed at illegal aliens who had been in the United States continuously since January 1, 1982. Some 1.7 million persons were legalized under this program, which did not increase the supply of agricultural labor. Legislators who catered to Southwestern agricultural interests insisted, for the price of their votes, on amnesty for "special agricultural workers" who had worked in American agriculture for as much as 90 days between May 1983 and May 1986. Qualification did not require continuous residence, allowing many workers to go back and forth between Mexico and the United States. Described as a minor add-on -- the Congressional Budget Office had guessed that 250,000 people would apply the provision eventually led to the acceptance of some 1.3 million, making a total of three million immigrants who were granted amnesty under the 1986 law.
Since 1986, there have been no new programs involving permanent changes of status for persons illegally in this country, but the Immigration Act of 1990 created "temporary protected status," which provides short-term renewable immunity from deportation for persons of a given nationality, if conditions in their homeland pose a danger to personal safety. Every president since 1990 -- that is, both Bushes and Clinton -- has renewed and extended that provision. It is more of a stay of execution than an amnesty, but it still permits hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and continue to work.
Thus, rather than a new departure, George W. Bush's proposal is fully consonant with much past immigration policy. As we listen to the debate in Congress in coming months, it would behoove us to remember this: In general, that policy promised what it failed to deliver, and delivered, in many instances, the opposite of what its advocates promised.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - 19:37
SOURCE: NY Sun (5-23-06)
Middle Eastern issues will likely play a role of unprecedented importance in the American mid-term elections less than a half-year away. Three topics head the agenda: the course of the Iraq war, the proper response to Iran's nuclear ambitions, and the soaring price of fuel.
Despite their prominence, these are momentary issues, where voters will make decisions based on transient circumstances and without clearly defined differences between two major parties; what is the Democratic position on Iraq, anyway, or the Republican one on Iran? A fourth Middle Eastern issue, the Arab-Israeli conflict, though less high profile this year, has deeper electoral significance. It is a perennial topic that helps define the two parties.
The U.S.-Israel bond is the most special"special relationship" in the world today as well as the family relationship of international politics. In many areas – foreign policy, strategic cooperation, economic ties, intellectual connections, religious bonds, and intervention in one another's domestic politics – the two countries have unusual if not unique relations. This reaches down even to local politics; as a 1994 New Yorker article put it, at times,"it seems that the Middle East – or, at any rate, Israel – is a division" of New York.
In addition, a significant number of Americans (Jews, Evangelicals, Arabs, Muslims, anti-Semites, leftists) vote according to Israel policies.
Since Israel came into existence in 1948, Democrats and Republicans have changed places in their attitudes toward Israel. In the first era, 1948-70, Democrats sympathized more with the Jewish state and Republicans distinctly less so. Whereas Democrats emphasized spiritual bonds, Republicans tended to see Israel as a weak state and as a liability in the Cold War.
The second era began in about 1970 and lasted for 20 years. In the aftermath of Israel's extraordinary victory in the Six Day War, President Richard Nixon, a Republican, came to see Israel as a military powerhouse and useful ally. This new regard rendered Republicans as positive toward Israel as the Democrats. Noting this reality, I concluded in a 1985 research piece"Liberals and conservatives support Israel versus the Arabs in similar proportions."
As the Cold War ended in 1990, the third era began. Democrats cooled to Israel and Republicans further warmed to it. The left made the Palestinian Arab cause a centerpiece of its worldview (think of the Durban conference in 2001), while the right deepened its religious and political alignment with Israel.
This trend has become increasingly evident. In 2000, survey research commissioned by the left-wing, anti-Israel activist James Zogby found"a significant partisan split" on the Arab-Israeli conflict, with Republicans significantly more pro-Israel than Democrats. For example, asked the question,"With regard to the Middle East, how do you feel the next president should relate to the region?" 22% of Republicans and only 7% of Democrats said he should be pro-Israel.
Recent research by the Gallup Poll finds that 72% of Republicans and 47% of Democrats sympathize more with the Israelis than Palestinian Arabs. A detailed look at this same data finds more dramatic results, with conservative Republicans over five times more sympathetic to Israel than liberal Democrats.
The Democratic coolness toward Israel fits into a larger pattern of conspiracy theories about neo-conservatives and anti-Jewish outbursts by such party luminaries as Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, Cynthia McKinney, and James Moran. One observer, Sher Zieve, concludes that among Democrats,"anti-Semitism is and has been on the rise" for some time.
The current trend appears to be growing, with an attendant sorting out of Jews and Arabs/Muslims in American politics. This leads me to expect that Muslims, Arabs, and others hostile to Israel will increasingly vote Democratic, even as Jews and those friendly to the Jewish state increasingly vote Republican. In this light, it bears noting that American Muslims see themselves in direct competition with Jews; the Brookings Institute's Muqtedar Khan predicts that Muslims in the United States soon"will not only be able to out-vote, but also out-bid the Jewish and most other ethnic lobbies."
These developments have potentially profound implications for U.S.-Israel relations. The cross-party continuity of policy of the past will end, to be replaced by a major shift whenever the White House changes hands from one party to the other. As the political consensus breaks, Israel will be the loser.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - 19:17
In virtually every case, the use of the privilege leads to dismissal of the lawsuit and forecloses the opportunity for an injured party to seek judicial relief.
Most recently, a lawsuit brought by Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who alleged that he was kidnapped by the CIA and tortured over a five month period, was dismissed after the CIA invoked the "state secrets" privilege.
The dismissal was not based on a finding that the allegations against the CIA were false.
"It is in no way an adjudication of, or comment on, the merit or lack of merit of El-Masri's complaint," wrote Judge T.S. Ellis, III in a May 12 order.
In fact, "It is worth noting that ... if El-Masri's allegations are true or essentially true, then all fair-minded people... must also agree that El-Masri has suffered injuries as a result of our country's mistake and deserves a remedy," he wrote in the order dismissing the case.
"Yet, it is also clear from the result reached here that the only sources of that remedy must be the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch, not the Judicial Branch," he suggested.
But in this case the executive branch is the alleged perpetrator of the offense, and the legislative branch has no procedures for adjudicating allegations such as El-Masri's, even if it had an interest in doing so. That's what courts are for.
Terrorists can kill people and destroy property. But they cannot undermine the rule of law, or deny injured parties access to the courts. Only the U.S. government can do that.
The state secrets privilege has been invoked lately in a remarkable diversity of lawsuits. See this selection of case files from recent state secrets cases:
Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive reflected on the growing use of the state secrets privilege and how it relates to the larger climate of secrecy in "The lie behind the secrets," Los Angeles Times, May 21:
Recently introduced legislation would "provide protection from frivolous government claims of state secrets," the Project on Government Oversight noted:
Wired News today published documents pertaining to the alleged role of AT&T in NSA warrantless surveillance related to another lawsuit in which the state secrets privilege has been invoked. See:
Posted on: Monday, May 22, 2006 - 20:53
SOURCE: LAT (5-21-06)
There was, for instance, the FBI linguist who alleged corruption and malfeasance inside her translation unit. There was the African American CIA officer who reported racial discrimination inside the agency, and the Syrian Canadian who was "renditioned" to Syria for a little torture. In two of the cases, the government succeeded in having the case thrown out of court on grounds of secrecy.
The latest example came just last week in the case of Khaled Masri, a German citizen born in Kuwait who was detained while on vacation in 2003, flown to a prison in Afghanistan, held for five months and allegedly beaten, shackled and injected with drugs — only to be released in May 2004 as a case of mistaken identity.
Not surprisingly, Masri is suing the government. But the Justice Department, at the request of the CIA, last week urged the federal judge in the case to dismiss the lawsuit under what is known as the "state secrets privilege," saying that the government would not be able to confirm or deny Masri's claims without the disclosure of information that could be harmful to national security and relations with other countries. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III agreed and threw out the case.
Justice Department lawyers have taken the same position in a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of an AT&T technician who accused his employer of "hoovering" its customers' phone calls into government databases.
When the government claims the "state secrets privilege," the courts tend to look no further, and the cases are dismissed. It was invoked only four times in the first 23 years after the U.S. Supreme Court created the privilege in 1953, but now the government is claiming the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at a rate of more than three a year. The Justice Department describes this tactic as an "absolute privilege" — in effect, a neutron bomb that leaves no plaintiff standing.
But can we trust the government when it tells us that national security is at stake? Should the government's claim of secrecy result in an immediate, no-questions-asked dismissal? Probably not, given the government's track record. When it comes to classified documents, for example, at least half the time the government claims that something is secret for national security reasons, that official line is not the truth. I say "at least" because I believe the number is even bigger — 75% or more — but 50% is what the Bush administration has admitted.
The admission came during a 2004 congressional hearing chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who kept pressing one of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's deputies (in this case, the deputy undersecretary for counterintelligence) for her estimate of how much information was classified that did not deserve the secrecy stamp. Finally, she grudgingly admitted that overclassification was a "50-50" problem.
Others who should know say the classified document problem is even worse. The former governor of New Jersey, Tom Kean, after chairing the 9/11 commission that reviewed all of the most recent intelligence on Osama bin Laden and terrorism, told reporters that "three-quarters of what I read that was classified shouldn't have been."
President Reagan's executive secretary at the National Security Council, career Navy officer Rodney McDaniel, told a blue-ribbon commission looking at classification in 1997 that only 10% of the secrecy stamps were for "legitimate protection of secrets."
So we have it on good authority that from 50% to 90% of our government's secret documents should not actually be secret. So why is all this information in the black vaults?
Erwin Griswold, who as U.S. solicitor general prosecuted the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971, once explained the real motivation behind government secrecy — but only years later, when he recanted his prosecutorial passion.
Griswold persuaded three Supreme Court justices to vote for a prior restraint on the Times in the case. But in 1989, he confessed in a Washington Post Op-Ed article that there was no actual national security damage from the publication of the papers.
"It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another," he wrote.
Yet the courts still largely defer to government secrecy claims and throw whistle-blowers out. Judges say they lack the competence to assess national security claims and that they are bound by precedent....
Posted on: Monday, May 22, 2006 - 20:50
SOURCE: Boston Globe (5-21-06)
The vision Bayh and Warner offered is one being heard increasingly from a host of younger journalists and policy mavens-from newly formed groups like the Truman National Security Project and the Foreign Policy Leadership Council to New Republic editor-at-large Peter Beinart, the author of a much-discussed new manifesto. It's an approach that repudiates the Democrats' post-Vietnam reluctance to use military power. Yet it also views armed force as part of an arsenal of tools-including economic development, robust alliances, and international law and institutions-that the US, as the world's de facto leader, must be ready to employ.
Such a vision would seem quite appealing, especially in a global age when there's no drawbridge for America to pull up. Yet no sooner had reports of Bayh and Warner's remarks appeared than they-and their way of thinking-came under fire from the bloggers and pundits whose influence among party activists they were seeking to curb. Across the Web, the politicians and their ilk were slammed as ''warmongers," ''Vichy Democrats," and ''enablers" of a Republican regime. And such attacks are nothing new. For months the left has been belittling the thinking of the internationalists, scoffing at how many of them backed Bush's invasion of Iraq, with The Nation-the flagship magazine of the antiwar faction-refusing to support any Democratic office-seeker who won't seek a speedy pullout.
Beneath this internecine party warfare lies a fundamental, and possibly debilitating, ideological divide. Liberals, who tend to view terrorism as the chief foreign policy concern, have been trying to revive the philosophy of internationalism-the belief that US intervention abroad can be noble in intent and beneficial in its results. Leftists, on the other hand, viewing the Iraq War as the most urgent problem, more often subscribe to a philosophy that might be called anti-imperialism-the belief that US intervention abroad is typically avaricious in intent and malign in its results.
By the end of his presidency, Bill Clinton had come to be a champion of intervention, and internationalists-such as former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton, and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress-still dominated the Democratic party's foreign policy brain trust. But the anti-imperialist activists have conquered the blogosphere and, as the Iraq War drags on and hopes for a satisfying outcome fade, their arguments are winning converts among rank-and-file voters.
Consider: After Sept. 11, most Democrats agreed that defeating al Qaeda should be foreign policy goal No. 1. Now, while most Americans still share that goal, Democrats rate it 10th, according to a Security and Peace Initiative poll last year; withdrawal from Iraq is named first. Another survey, from MIT, showed that doubts about interventionism have spread beyond Iraq: As of November 2005, only 59 percent of the party-versus 94 percent of Republicans-still supported the invasion of Afghanistan.
The Democratic party's rift between liberal internationalists and radical anti-imperialists is, of course, decades old. And Beinart, in his deftly argued new book, ''The Good Fight: How Liberals-and Only Liberals-Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again" (HarperCollins), helpfully grounds the current debate in its oft-forgotten history. A proud internationalist, Beinart persuasively shows that calls by today's liberals for America to actively project its power abroad represent not a betrayal of principle but a return to what liberalism is really all about....
Posted on: Monday, May 22, 2006 - 20:06
SOURCE: Informed Comment (blog) (5-20-06)
The report was also denied on Montreal radio by Meir Javedanfar, Middle East Analyst and the Director for the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company.
The National Post is owned by Conrad Black and is not a repository of expertise about Iran. it is typical of black psychological operations campaigns that they begin with a plant in an obscure newspaper that is then picked up by the mainstream press. Once the Jerusalem Post picks it up, then reporters can source it there, even though the Post has done no original reporting and has just depended on the National Post article, which is extremely vague in its own sourcing (to"human rights groups").
The actual legislation passed by the Iranian parliament regulates women's fashion, and urges the establishment of a national fashion house that would make Islamically appropriate clothing. There is a vogue for"Islamic chic" among many middle class Iranian women that involves, for instance, wearing expensive boots that cover the legs and so, it is argued, are permitted under Iranian law. The scruffy, puritanical Ahmadinejad and his backers among the hardliners in parliament are waging a new and probably doomed struggle against the young Iranian fashionistas. (The Khomeinists give the phrase"fashion police" a whole new meaning).
There is nothing in this legislation that prescribes a dress code or badges for Iranian religious minorities, and Maurice Motamed was present during its drafting and says nothing like that was even discussed.
The whole thing is a steaming crock.
In fact, Iranian Jewish expatriates themselves have come out against a bombing campaign by the US or Israel against Iran. There are still tens of thousands of Jews in Iran, and expatriate Iranian Jews most often identify as Iranians and express Iranian patriotism. I was in Los Angeles when tens of thousands of Iranians immigrat ed, fleeing the Khomeini regime. I still remember Jewish Iranian families who suffered a year or two in what they thought of as the sterile social atmosphere of LA, and who shrugged and moved right back to Iran, where they said they felt more comfortable.
This affair is similar to the attribution to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the statement that"Israel must be wiped off the map." No such idiom exists in Persian, and Ahmadinejad actually just quoted an old speech of Khomeini in which he said"The occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time." Of course Ahamdinejad does wish Israel would disappear, but he is not commander of the armed forces and could not attack it even if he wanted to, which he denies.
I had a very disturbing short email correspondence with a reporter of a major national newspaper who used the inaccurate"wiped off the face of the map" quote. When challenged, he said it was" carried by the news wires and is we ll known" or words to that effect. I pointed out that the"quote" was attributed to a specific speech and that the statement was inaccurately translated. When challenged further he alleged that his trusted translator in Tehran affirmed that Ahmadinejad had said the phrase. When that was challenged, he reported that the translator said that anyway he had said something like it. When I pointed out that the translator was either lying or lazy, the reporter took offense that I had insulted a trusted colleague! I conclude that this reporter is attached to the phrase. He complained about being challenged by"bloggers" and said he was tempted to stop reading"blogs."
So this is how we got mire in the Iraq morass. Gullible and frankly lazy and very possibly highly biased reporters on the staffs of the newspapers in Washington DC and New York. And they criticize bloggers.
On how Iran is not actually any sort of military threat to Israel, see the op-ed at the Star Ledger by Thomas Lippman and myself. Lippman is a veteran Washington Post correspondent who covered the Iraq War.
Posted on: Saturday, May 20, 2006 - 11:16
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (5-16-06)
Recently, a number -- one billion -- in the New York Times stopped me in my tracks. According to a report commissioned by the foundation charged with building Reflecting Absence, the memorial to the dead in the attack on the World Trade Center, its projected cost is now estimated at about a billion dollars and still rising. According to Oliver Burkeman of the British Guardian,"Taking inflation into account, $1bn would be more than a quarter of the original cost of the twin towers that were destroyed in 2001."
For that billion, Reflecting Absence is to have two huge"reflecting pools" --"two voids that reside in the original footprints of the Twin Towers" -- fed by waterfalls"from all sides" and surrounded by a"forest" of oak trees; a visitor will then be able to descend 30 feet to galleries under the falls"inscribed with the names of those who died." There is to be an adjacent, 100,000 square-foot underground memorial museum to"retell the events of the day, display powerful artifacts, and celebrate the lives of those who died." All of this, as the website for the memorial states, will be meant to vividly convey"the enormity of the buildings and the enormity of the loss." Not surprisingly, the near billion-dollar figure does not even include $80 million for a planned visitor's center or the estimated $50-60 million annual cost of running such an elaborate memorial and museum.
So what is Reflecting Absence going to reflect? For one thing, it will mirror its gargantuan twin, the building that is to symbolically replace the World Trade Center -- the Freedom Tower. As the Memorial is to be driven deep into the scarred earth of Ground Zero, so the Freedom tower is to soar above it, scaling the imperial heights. To be precise, it is to reach exactly 1,776 feet into the heavens, a numerical tribute to the founding spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the nation which emerged from it; its spire will even emit light --"a new beacon of freedom" -- for all the world to see and admire. Its observation deck will rise a carefully planned 7 feet above that of the old World Trade Center; and with spire and antennae, it is meant to be the tallest office building on the planet (though the Burj Dubai Tower, whose builders are holding its future height a tightly guarded secret, may quickly surpass it).
The revelation of that staggering billion-dollar price tag for a memorial whose design, in recent years, has grown ever larger and more complex, caused consternation in my city, led Mayor Michael Bloomberg to suggest capping its cost at $500 million, caused the Times to editorialize,"The only thing a $1 billion memorial would memorialize is a complete collapse of political and private leadership in Lower Manhattan," and became a nationwide media story. Because the subject is such a touchy one, however, no one went further and explored the obvious: that, even in victimhood, Americans have in recent years exhibited an unseemly imperial hubris. Whether the price tag proves to be half a billion or a billion dollars, one thing can be predicted. The memorial will prove less a reminder of how many Americans happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on that September day, or how many -- firemen, policemen, bystanders who stayed to aid others -- sacrificed their lives, than of the terrible path this country ventured down in the wake of 9/11.
If the latest opinion polls are to be believed, Americans have grown desperately tired of that path and, as a result, the whole construction project at New York's Ground Zero is likely to become emotionally obsolete long before either Reflecting Absence or the Freedom Tower make it onto the scene.
Memorials Built and Unbuilt
Let me offer a few framing comparisons:
1. Sometime in the coming week or two, the number of American soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghan Wars will exceed the 2,752 people who died in or around the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 (including those on the two hijacked jets that rammed into the towers). With a combined death toll of 2,739, the war dead have already crept within 13 of that day's casualties in New York. Here's a question then: Who thinks that the United States will ever spend $500 million, no less $1 billion, on a memorial to the ever-growing numbers of war dead from those two wars?
2. Or consider the prospective 9/11 memorial in this context:
The Oklahoma City National Memorial (168 American dead): $29 million.
The 1915 USS Maine Mast Memorial at Arlington Cemetery (260 American dead): $56,147.94
The Holocaust Museum in Washington (approximately 6 million dead): $90 million for construction/$78 million for exhibitions
The WTC Memorial (2,752 dead): $494 million-$1 billion.
3. Or imagine a listing of global Ground Zeros that might go something like this:
Amount spent on a memorial for the Vietnamese dead of their Vietnam Wars (approximately 3 million): $0.
Amount spent on a memorial to the Afghan dead in the civil war between competing warlords over who would control the capital of Kabul in the mid-1990s (unknown numbers of dead, a city reduced to rubble): $0.
Amount spent on a memorial to the victims of the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific and Indian Oceans (at least 188,000 dead): $0.
Amount spent on a memorial to Iraqis confirmed dead, many with signs of execution and torture marks, just in the month of April in Baghdad alone (almost 1,100), or the Iraqis confirmed killed countrywide"in war-related violence" from January through April of this year (3,525) -- and both of these figures are certainly significant undercounts: $0.
The WTC Memorial (2,752 dead): $494 million-$1 billion.
The Victors are the Victims
The dead, those dear to us, our wives or husbands, brothers, sisters, parents, children, relatives, friends, those who acted for us or suffered in our place, should be remembered. This is an essential human task, almost a duty. What could be more powerful than the urge to hold onto those taken from us, especially when their deaths happen in an unexpected, untimely, and visibly unjust way (only emphasizing the deeper untimeliness and injustice of death itself). But where exactly do we remember the dead? The truth is: We remember them in our hearts, which makes a memorial a living thing only so long as the dead still live within us.
As an experiment, visit one of the old Civil War or World War I memorials that dot so many towns, undoubtedly yours included. You might (or might not) admire the fountain, or the elaborate statue of soldiers, or of a general, or of any other set of icons chosen to stand in for the hallowed dead and their sacrifices. I happen to like the Grand Army Plaza, designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and dedicated to the Union Army, that fronts on Central Park in New York City, my home town; but it is, in a sense, no longer a memorial. Decades ago, it turned back into a somewhat gaudy, golden decoration, a statue -- as all memorials, in the end, must. The odds are that few today visit it to remember what some specific individual did or how he died. To the extent that we remember, we remember first individually in our hearts in our own lifetimes -- and later, collectively, in our history books.
And, of course, for most human beings in most places, especially those who are not the victors in wars, or simply not the victors on this planet, no matter how unfairly or horrifically or bravely or fruitlessly their loved ones might be taken from them, there is only the heart. For those dying in Kabul or Baghdad, Chechnya, Darfur, the Congo, or Uzbekistan today, the emotions released may be no less strong, but in all likelihood there will be no statues, no reflecting pools, no sunken terraces, no walls with carefully etched names.
There has, in American journalism, been an unspoken calculus of the value of a life and a death on this planet in terms of newsworthiness (which is often, of course, a kind of memorializing, a kind of remembering). Crudely put, it would go something like: One kidnapped and murdered blond, white child in California equals 300 Egyptians drowning in a ferry accident, 3,000 Bangladeshis swept away in a monsoon flood, 300,000 Congolese killed in a bloodletting civil war.
Call that news reality in this country. It's also true, as the recent World War II memorial on the Washington Mall indicates, that Americans have gained something of a taste for Roman imperial-style memorialization (though, to my mind, that huge construction catches little of the modesty and stoicism of the WWII vets like my father who did not come home trumpeting what they had done).
Reflecting Absence and the Freedom Tower, however, go well beyond that. Their particular form of excess, of the gargantuan, in which money, elaborateness, and size stand in for memory is intimately connected not so much with September 11, 2001 as with the days, weeks, even year after that shock.
To grasp this, it's necessary to return to the now almost forgotten moments after 9/11, after the President had frozen in that elementary school classroom in Florida while reading The Pet Goat; after a panicky crew of his people had headed Air Force One in the wrong direction, away from Washington; after Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush (according to former counterterrorism tsar Richard Clarke) started rounding up the usual suspects -- i.e. Saddam Hussein -- on September 11th and 12th; after the President insisted,"I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass"; after he took that bullhorn at Ground Zero on September 14th and -- to chants of"USA! USA! USA!" -- promised the American public that"the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon"; after his associates promptly began to formulate the plans, the"intelligence," the lies and tall tales that would take us into Iraq.
It was in that unformed, but quickly forming, moment that, under the shock not just of the murder of almost 3,000 people, but of the apocalyptic images of those two towers crumbling in a near-mushroom cloud of white dust, that an American imperial culture of revenge and domination was briefly brought to full flower. It was a moment that reached its zenith when the President strutted across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 and, with that Mission Accomplished banner over his shoulder, declared"major combat operations" ended in Iraq.
The gargantuan Freedom Tower and the gargantuan sunken memorial to the dead of 9/11 are really monuments to that brief year and a half, each project now hardly less embattled in controversy, cost-overruns, and ineptitude than the war in Iraq or the post-Katrina rescue-and-reconstruction mission. Each project -- as yet unbuilt -- is already an increasingly controversial leftover from that extended moment when so many pundits pictured us proudly as a wounded Imperial Rome or the inheritor of the glories of the British Empire; while the administration, with its attendant neocon cheering squad in tow, all of them dazzled by our"hyperpower" (as other Americans were horrified by the hyperpower of al-Qaeda's imagery of destruction), gained confidence that this was their moment; the one that would take them over the top; the one that would make the United States a Republican-Party possession for years, if not generations, the Middle East an American gas station, the world an American military preserve, and a"unitary" commander-in-chief presidency the recipient of the kinds of untrammeled powers previously reserved for kings and emperors. These were, of course, dreams of gargantuan proportions, fantasies of power and planetary rule worthy of a tower at least 1,776 feet high, that would obliterate the memory of all other buildings anywhere, and of the largest, most expensive gravestone on Earth, one that would quite literally put the sufferings of all other victims in the shade.
As those two enormous reflecting pools were meant to mirror the soaring"beacon" of the Freedom Tower, so the American people, under the shock of loss, experiencing a sense of violation that can only come to the victors in this world, mirrored the administration's attitude. In a country where New York City had always been Sodom to Los Angeles' Gomorrah, everyone suddenly donned"I [Heart] New York" hats or t-shirts and became involved in a series of repetitive rites of mourning that in arenas nationwide, on every television screen, went on not for days or weeks but months on end.
From these ceremonies, a clear and simple message emerged. The United States was, in its suffering, the greatest victim, the greatest survivor, and the greatest dominator the globe had ever seen. Implicitly, the rest of the world's dead were, in the Pentagon's classic phrase," collateral damage." In those months, in our EveryAmerican version of the global drama, we swept up and repossessed all the emotional roles available -- with the sole exception of Greatest Evil One. That, then, was the phantasmagoric path to invasion, war, and disaster upon which the Bush administration, with a mighty helping hand from al-Qaeda, pulled back the curtain; that is the drama still being played out today at Ground Zero in New York City.
But those 2,752 dead can no longer stand in -- not even in the American mind -- for all the dead everywhere, not even for the American dead in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps it's time not just to cut back radically on that billion-dollar cost, but to do what we should have done -- and, if we had had another kind of leadership, might have done -- starting on September 12, 2001. Taken a breath and actually thought about ourselves and the world; taken another breath and actually approached the untimely dead -- our own as well as those of others around the world -- with some genuine humility.
I know that somehow this memorial will be built; that, for some, it will touch the heart. But I also know that someday, maybe even yesterday in a country that now wants to forget much of what occurred as it was railroaded into a never-ending war, whatever is built at Ground Zero will mainly memorialize a specific America that emerged from the rubble of 9/11. That was the America that had stopped being a nation and had become a"homeland," a country that should not have been using the numbers 1776 in any way.
Facing a building so tall, who has any need to approach a declaration of only 1,322 words, so tiny as to be able to fit on a single page, so iconic that just about no one bothers to pay attention to it any more. But perhaps, with that monumental invocation of its"spirit" in mind, it's worth quoting a few of the words those men wrote back in the year 1776 and remembering what the American dead of that time actually stood for. Here, then, from a great anti-imperial document, are some passages about another George's imperial hubris that you are less likely to remember than its classic beginning:
"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States… He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power… He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation… For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences... For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever."
Someday, those reflecting pools and that tower will mirror so much of the rise as well as the fall of the Bush administration -- not least of all its heck-of-a-job-Brownie incompetence and its inability to fulfill civil promises of any sort. After all, almost five years past the catastrophe of 9/11, after all the grandiose promises and the soaring costs, after all that"enormity," there is nothing 1,776 feet in the air, nor, as yet, any hint of a gravestone over the dead of the tragedy of that day.
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006 - 17:40
SOURCE: OAH Newsletter (5-19-06)
Except for the immigrants themselves, the current public discussion usually involves the usual suspects and is idiotically simple. It is about principles: secure borders and punishing lawbreakers on one side and economic justice and the rights to citizenship on the other. Or, alternatively, it is about economic calculations: immigrants do or do not help the economy. If these discussions were part of my family stories, they would be the blustering uncles, growing red in the face. Everyone else in the room would ignore them.
My being a historian earns me as much derision as respect from my family--"the professor" my mother calls me with both disdain and pride--but for all their differences, there is one place where family stories and academic history resemble each other. They both evoke a nuanced and complex world, and they both appeal to practice more than principles.
A public debate more informed by the complexity of family stories and actual practices of our past would be a better debate, but settling for that is a cliché. If I thought that the take home lesson for historians was that we should be presenting the public with the facts about past immigration laws and the experiences of past immigrants because this would lead to more informed and better decisions, then I would come perilously close to what I have come to think of as the Millard Fillmore fallacy. Whenever I hear someone complaining about Americans' ignorance of history, I think of Millard Fillmore. Would this be a better country if every American knew about Millard Fillmore? I may be going out on a limb here, but I don't think so.
But we might be a better country, and better citizens, if we spent less time thinking about easy principles and more time thinking about complicated practices. The best source of complicated practices is the past. History is a habit of mind and not a collection of facts. Most historians know that, just as their families know that families are not run on principles. The hard part is figuring out how to put this knowledge into collective public practice.
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006 - 16:05