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: Providence Journal (7-29-06)
LIKE MOST of my friends and colleagues, I'm outraged by President Bush's assault on basic civil liberties in the so-called War on Terror. We invoke Thomas Jefferson on the rights of man, James Madison on checks and balances, and, most of all, Benjamin Franklin on the dangers of compromising these values: "Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."
But here are two words that you'll never hear us say: Abraham Lincoln.
That's because Lincoln's wartime decisions raise the really tough issue that most Democrats continue to evade: When should we give up some liberties in the name of security? And unless we can frame an answer, we don't deserve to win Congress in November or the White House in 2008.
Consider Lincoln's predicament in April 1861, at the outset of the Civil War. Eleven slaveholding states had seceded; four "border states" -- Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware -- remained in the Union but all still practiced slavery.
To win the war, Lincoln had to make sure that these states did not also secede. Together, they would have added 45 percent to the white population of the Confederate States of America. Even more important, they would have nearly doubled the Confederacy's capacity to make guns, ammunition, and the other tools of war.
The most critical state was Maryland, of course, because it bounded the District of Columbia on three sides. On the fourth side lay Virginia, which had already left the Union. If Maryland seceded too, Lincoln would find his national capital surrounded by the enemy.
And he couldn't have that. There were clear pockets of secessionist sentiment in Maryland's biggest city, Baltimore, where many houses flew Confederate flags after the war began. So rather than risk losing the city -- and, quite possibly, the war -- Lincoln sent Army officials into Baltimore to arrest alleged secessionists and jail them at Fort McHenry. (The prisoners included a grandson of Francis Scott Key, who had written "The Star Spangled Banner" while the fort was under British fire, in 1814.)
A few months later, as the Maryland legislature was preparing to vote on secession, Lincoln had 31 of the lawmakers imprisoned on suspicion of Confederate sympathies. They stayed in jail until the next state election, to ensure that pro-Union candidates won.
No charges. No evidence. No trial.
Then, as now, the president's enemies mounted constitutional challenges to his actions. One of the people imprisoned in Baltimore, John Merryman, sued for his freedom in federal circuit court. The senior judge was none other than Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Marylander and author of the infamous Dred Scott decision. Taney ruled that Lincoln had no right to jail Merryman without cause, because the Constitution gave Congress -- not the president -- exclusive power to suspend basic liberties in times of war.
Lincoln's response? Go to hell. His primary job, he said, was to win the war, and he needed every possible weapon to do so. He refused to obey Taney's opinion, which would have freed hundreds of Confederate partisans. Who knows what they would have done if they'd been let loose?
That should sound familiar, too. Indeed, almost everything President Bush has done in the "War on Terror" echoes Lincoln's actions during the War Between the States. In the name of national security, the Bush administration has jailed suspected terrorists without showing cause. It has denied them the right to counsel and other basic liberties. It has conducted warrantless eavesdrops on phone calls and e-mails. And it has insisted that the White House -- not Congress -- has the right to do all of this, on its own.
As in the Civil War, meanwhile, the Supreme Court has sought to rein in the president. Most recently, it ruled that the White House could not establish secret military commissions without congressional authority. It's still not clear how the president -- or Congress -- will respond.
But here's what is clear: Benjamin Franklin was wrong. And Abraham Lincoln was right.
There are times when dangers are so immediate -- and so terrifying -- that we do need to sacrifice some freedoms to stop them. And the Civil War was one of those times.
Is the "War on Terror" another? Not yet. Whatever the threat of Islamic terrorism, it doesn't come close to the peril that the Confederates posed to the Union in 1861. Until President Bush can explain exactly why we need his extra-legal measures, we should all stand in opposition to them.
At the same time, though, liberals like myself need to start thinking -- and talking -- about when we, too, would give up some liberties to save the Union. A rash of suicide bombers striking several American cities at the same time? A "dirty bomb" or nuclear attack? A smallpox or anthrax attack?
You might reply that our liberties define our nation: If we abandon them, we give up on America itself. But Abraham Lincoln said otherwise, and lucky for us. By sacrificing a bit of freedom for suspected Confederate sympathizers, he helped win freedom for nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans.
I think it was worth it. And I bet you do, too.
Until we Democrats can specify when and how we'd take the same harsh measures that Lincoln did, we don't deserve to sit under his mantle. Or to run the country.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 11:13
SOURCE: NY Sun (8-1-06)
"There will be an international force [in Lebanon], because all the key players want it," an American official asserted recently. He appears to be right, as even the Israeli government has embraced the plan, announcing it"would agree to consider stationing a battle-tested force composed of soldiers from European Union member states."
The key players might"want it," but such a force will certainly fail, just as it did once before, in 1982-84.
That was when American, French, and Italian troops were deployed in Lebanon to buffer Israel from Lebanon's anarchy and terrorism. The"Multinational Force" collapsed back then when Hezbollah attacked MNF soldiers, embassies, and other installations, prompting the MNF's ignominious flight from Lebanon. The same pattern will no doubt recur. Back then, Americans and others did not regard Hezbollah as their enemy, and this remains the case today, notwithstanding the war on terror; in a recent Gallup poll, 65% of Americans said their government should not take sides in the current Israel-Hezbollah fighting.
Other, equally bad, ideas to end the anarchy in south Lebanon include:
- Deploying the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Lebanese state's official military. Hezbollah is within the government of Lebanon and would veto the LAF controlling the south. Also, Shiites sympathetic to Hezbollah make up half of the LAF. Finally, the LAF is too amateurish to confront Hezbollah.
- Deploying Syrian forces. Lebanese and Israelis both reject a Syrian occupation of south Lebanon.
- Deploying Israeli forces. After their experiences occupying Arab-majority lands in 1967 and 1982, Israelis have widely decided against a repetition.
Rather than travel down the road of predictable failure, something quite different needs to be tried. My suggestion? Shift attention to Syria from Lebanon and put Damascus on notice that it is responsible for Hezbollah violence. (Incidentally, this is in keeping with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1680, adopted May 17, 2006, calling on Syria to undertake"measures against movements of arms into Lebanese territory.")
Here's why: Israeli leaders have long failed to prevent attacks emanating from Lebanon. They stanched cross-border terrorism with other neighbors by making it too painful for their central governments to permit such attacks to continue. But when they made demands of the Lebanese government, they failed to get satisfaction. In Lebanon -- unlike in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria -- no strong central government enjoys a monopoly of force. Lebanon's state is permanently weak because its population directs its primary loyalties to one or another of the country's 18 religious-ethnic communities. As a result, militias, guerrillas, and terrorists wield more power than the government.
Israeli governments responded with an array of strategies over the past 40 years. In 1968, Israeli jets pounded Beirut's airport, to no effect. In the 1978 Litani operation, Israeli forces first entered Lebanon on a large scale, without success. In 1982, they seized a major part of the country, which proved untenable. Until 2000, they retained a security zone, but that ended in a sudden unilateral retreat. Evacuating every inch of Lebanese territory in 2000 also failed to prevent attacks.
At this point, the government of Bashar al-Assad should be told immediately to cease provisioning Hezbollah, and that future violence from south Lebanon will meet with what the Wall Street Journal calls an"offer that Syria cannot refuse" -- meaning military reprisal. As David Bedein explains in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin,"for every target hit by Syria's proxy, Israel will single out Syrian targets for attack." Such targets could include the terrorist, military, and governmental infrastructures.
This approach will work because Hezbollah's stature, strength, and skills depend on Syrian support, both direct and indirect. Given that Syrian territory is the only route by which Iranian aid reaches Hezbollah, focusing on Damascus has the major side benefit of restricting Iranian influence in the Levant.
This plan has its drawbacks and complications -- the recent Syrian-Iranian mutual defense treaty, or its giving Hezbollah the option to drag Syria into war -- but it has a better chance of success, I believe, than any alternative.
Recalling how a similar approach worked in 1998, when the Turkish government successfully pressured Damascus to stop hosting a terrorist leader, the Israeli strategist Efraim Inbar rightly suggests"the time has come to speak Turkish to the Syrians."
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 11:06