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: Speech and Q & A before the WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY (9-15-06)
But when you step back from this terrorist phenomenon, one thing that’s worth some perspective—you can’t pass without comment, even though we know it semiconsciously—is to observe the historically unprecedented nihilism and barbarity of these terrorists. There is simply no precedent for it. I remarked on the anarchists earlier. An anarchist of 1906 would regard the terrorist activities perpetrated by these groups—the beheadings on television so on—these are people who would plant dynamite in a public street and they would be appalled by the things that these groups are willing to do and countenance. Today’s groups both create and play to what I’m afraid I can only call a desensitized and debased public sensibility—a public so callous that it does not recoil anymore at the shocks that are being inflicted on them and the appalling contrast to civilization that these groups present. ...
Posted on: Saturday, September 30, 2006 - 20:18
SOURCE: Speech and Q & A before the WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY (9-15-06)
What would bind that coalition and help keep them together is a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed, that they see a common determination to sustain an active policy that tries to deal with the problems of Israel and the Palestinians. We don’t want this issue doesn’t have the real corrosive effects that it has, or the symbolic corrosive effects that it causes in undermining some of the friends we need friends to confront some of the serious dangers we must face together.
That’s kind of a broad overview of the points I wanted to make to help understand the administration’s approach to building security in the broader Middle East. It’s an extraordinary challenge. It’s the kind of challenge that America and its friends have lived through before in times that sometimes seem very dark. But it’s important to understand the breadth of the challenge we face and to try to work together sometimes across party lines, across some of our pettier divisions in dealing with them and forging a brighter future. ...
For various reasons, I believe the Europeans and the Arab moderates are central allies in the coalition we need to forge against our most dangerous enemies. Now, if you start with that as a premise then what you always need to do when you share power is you share a common mission with friends. You have to think about what they want and what they need too.
For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about. We can rail against that belief; we can find it completely justifiable, but it’s fact. That means an active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems.
I would take that even further. I would say that it is essential for the state of Israel because, in some ways, I do not believe that the Palestinian threat, per se, is the most dangerous threat to the future of the state of Israel. If Israel, for example, is especially worried about Iran and sees it as an existential threat, then it’s strongly in the interest of Israel to want the American-led coalition to work on an active policy that begins to normalize that situation. It’s an essential glue that binds a lot of these problems together. And so ironically, even if your primary concern is not the Palestinian danger, you have to give it primary attention while you’re looking at other problems as well.
In Lebanon, what we’ve seen is an important illustration that’s still underway. It is a test of whether of the viability of different kinds of solutions to a security problem, and clearly some mix of unilateral military action and military deterrence combined with agile diplomacy is going to be part of that, which is one reason why I think it’s so important that our efforts in Lebanon succeed and one reason why it would be a challenge for Iran and Hizballah and Syria to decide whether they want they want to be spoilers and, if so, be prepared to pay the cost they will be associated with being spoilers and make sure those costs are high. So then you see that if you want to—(audio break)—Israeli issues become very important. One other brief point, since you alluded to the possible formation of a National Unity government. I want to reiterate that, from the United States point of view, a National Unity government cannot succeed if it doesn’t meet the Quartet conditions. From the view of our policy, the quartet conditions are an essential prerequisite not only to obtaining the international assistance that the government will be seeking, but in fact, to obtain the kind of assistance from the state of Israel that will be indispensable for the viability of any Palestinian budget or economy.
Posted on: Saturday, September 30, 2006 - 19:50
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (9-28-06)
Recently, in one of many speeches melding his Global War on Terror and his war in Iraq, George W. Bush said,"Victory in Iraq will be difficult and it will require more sacrifice. The fighting there can be as fierce as it was at Omaha Beach or Guadalcanal. And victory is as important as it was in those earlier battles. Victory in Iraq will result in a democracy that is a friend of America and an ally in the war on terror. Victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our enemies, who have staked so much on the battle there. Victory in Iraq will honor the sacrifice of the brave Americans who have given their lives. And victory in Iraq would be a powerful triumph in the ideological struggle of the 21st century."
Over three years after the 2003 invasion, it's not unreasonable to speak of George Bush's Iraq. The President himself likes to refer to that country as the" central front [or theater] in our fight against terrorism" and a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), part of which was recently leaked to the press and part then released by the President, confirms that Iraq is now indeed just that -- a literal motor for the creation of terrorism. As the document puts it,"The Iraq conflict has become the ?cause célèbre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world, and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." A study by a British Ministry of Defense think tank seconds this point, describing Iraq as"a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world"
So what exactly does"victory" in George Bush's Iraq look like 1,288 days after the invasion of that country began with a"shock-and-awe" attack on downtown Baghdad? A surprising amount of information related to this has appeared in the press in recent weeks, but in purely scattershot form. Here, it's all brought together in 21 questions (and answers) that add up to a grim but realistic snapshot of Bush's Iraq. The attempt to reclaim the capital, dipped in a sea of blood in recent months -- or the"battle of Baghdad," as the administration likes to term it -- is now the center of administration military strategy and operations. So let's start with this question:
How many freelance militias are there in Baghdad?
The answer is"23" according to a"senior [U.S.] military official" in Baghdad -- so write Richard A. Oppel, Jr. and Hosham Hussein in the New York Times; but, according to National Public Radio, the answer is"at least 23." Antonio Castaneda of the Associated Press says that there are 23"known" militias. However you figure it, that's a staggering number of militias, mainly Shiite but some Sunni, for one large city.
How many civilians are dying in the Iraqi capital, due to those militias, numerous (often government-linked death squads), the Sunni insurgency, and al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia-style terrorism?
5,106 people in July and August, according to a recently released United Nations report. The previous, still staggering but significantly lower figure of 3,391 offered for those months relied on body counts only from the city morgue. The UN report also includes deaths at the city's overtaxed hospitals. With the Bush administration bringing thousands of extra U.S. and Iraqi soldiers into the capital in August, death tolls went down somewhat for a few weeks, but began rising again towards month's end. August figures on civilian wounded -- 4,309 -- rose 14% over July's figures and, by late September, suicide bombings were at their highest level since the invasion.
How many Iraqis are being tortured in Baghdad at present?
Precise numbers are obviously in short supply on this one, but large numbers of bodies are found in and around the capital every single day, a result of the roiling civil war already underway there. These bodies, as Oppel of the Times describes them, commonly display a variety of signs of torture including:"gouged-out eyeballs? wounds? in the head and genitals, broken bones of legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns? acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin? missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails." The UN's chief anti-torture expert, Manfred Nowak, believes that torture in Iraq is now not only"totally out of hand," but"worse" than under Saddam Hussein.
How many Iraqi civilians are being killed countrywide?
The UN Report offers figures on this: 1,493 dead, over and above the dead of Baghdad. However, these figures are surely undercounts. Oppel points out, for instance, that officials in al-Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency"and one of the deadliest regions in Iraq, reported no deaths in July." Meanwhile, in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, deaths not only seem to be on the rise, but higher than previously estimated. The intrepid British journalist Patrick Cockburn recently visited the province. It's not a place, he comments parenthetically,"to make a mistake in map reading." (Enter the wrong area or neighborhood and you're dead.) Diyala, he reports, is now largely under the control of Sunni insurgents who are" close to establishing a ?Taliban republic' in the region." On casualties, he writes:"Going by the accounts of police and government officials in the province, the death toll outside Baghdad may be far higher than previously reported." The head of Diyala's Provincial Council (who has so far escaped two assassination attempts) told Cockburn that he believed"on average, 100 people are being killed in Diyala every week." ("Many of those who die disappear forever, thrown into the Diyala River or buried in date palm groves and fruit orchards.") Even at the death counts in the UN report, we're talking about close to 40,000 Iraqi deaths a year. We have no way of knowing how much higher the real figure is.
How many American and Iraqi troops and police are now trying to regain control of the capital and suppress the raging violence there?
15,000 U.S. troops, 9,000 Iraqi army soldiers, 12,000 Iraqi national police and 22,000 local police, according to the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. James Thurman -- and yet the mayhem in that city has barely been checked at all.
How many Iraqi soldiers are missing from the American campaign in Baghdad?
Six Iraqi battalions or 3,000 troops, again according to General Thurman, who requested them from the Iraqi government. These turn out to be Shiite troops from other provinces who have refused orders to be transferred from their home areas to Baghdad. In the capital itself, American troops are reported to be deeply dissatisfied with their Iraqi allies. ("Some U.S. soldiers say the Iraqis serving alongside them are among the worst they've ever seen -- seeming more loyal to militias than the government.")
How many Sunni Arabs support the insurgency?
75% of them, according to a Pentagon survey. In 2003, when the Pentagon first began surveying Iraqi public opinion, 14% of Sunnis supported the insurgency (then just beginning) against American occupation.
How many Iraqis want the United States to withdraw its forces from their country?
Except in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, strong majorities of Iraqis across the country, Shiite and Sunni, want an immediate U.S. withdrawal, according to a U.S. State Department survey"based on 1,870 face-to-face interviews conducted from late June to early July." In Baghdad, nearly 75% of residents polled claimed that they would"feel safer" after a U.S. withdrawal, and 65% favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces. A recent Program on International Policy Attitudes or PIPA poll found 71% of all Iraqis favor the withdrawal of all foreign troops on a year's timetable. (Polling for Americans is a dangerous business in Iraq. As one anonymous pollster put it to the Washington Post,"If someone out there believes the client is the U.S. government, the persons doing the polling could get killed.")
How many Iraqis think the Bush administration will withdraw at some point?
According to the PIPA poll, 77% of Iraqis are convinced that the United States is intent on keeping permanent bases in their country. As if confirming such fears, this week Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish president of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government ensconced in the capital's well-fortified Green Zone, called for Iraqis to keep two such permanent bases, possibly in the Kurdish areas of the country. He was roundly criticized by other politicians for this.
How many terrorists are being killed in Iraq (and elsewhere) in the President's Global War on Terror?
Less than are being generated by the war in Iraq, according to the just leaked National Intelligence Estimate. As Karen De Young of the Washington Post has written:"The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded." It's worth remembering, as retired Lt. Gen. William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, told a group of House Democrats this week, that Al Qaeda recruiting efforts actually declined in 2002, only spiking after the invasion of Iraq. Carl Conetta of the Project for Defense Alternatives sums the situation up this way:"The rate of terrorism fatalities for the 59 month period following 11 September 2001 is 250% that of the 44.5 month period preceding and including the 9/11 attacks."
How many Islamic extremist websites have sprung up on the Internet to aid such acts of terror?
5,000, according to the same NIE.
How many Iraqis are estimated to have fled their homes this year, due to the low-level civil war and the ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods?
300,000, according to journalist Patrick Cockburn.
How much of Bush's Iraq can now be covered by Western journalists?
Approximately 2%, according to New York Times journalist Dexter Filkins, now back from Baghdad on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. Filkins claims that"98 percent of Iraq, and even most of Baghdad, has now become ?off-limits' for Western journalists." There are, he says, many situations in Iraq"even too dangerous for Iraqi reporters to report on." (Such journalists, working for Western news outlets,"live in constant fear of their association with the newspaper being exposed, which could cost them their lives. ?Most of the Iraqis who work for us don't even tell their families that they work for us,' said Filkins.")
How many journalists and"media support workers" have died in Iraq this year?
20 journalists and 6 media support workers. The first to die in 2006 was Mahmoud Za'al, a thirty-five year old correspondent for Baghdad TV, covering an assault by Sunni insurgents on two U.S.-held buildings in Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar Province on January 25. He was reportedly first wounded in both legs and then, according to eyewitnesses, killed in a U.S. air strike. (The U.S. denied launching an air strike in Ramadi that day.) The most recent death was Ahmed Riyadh al-Karbouli, also of Baghdad TV, also in Ramadi, who was assassinated by insurgents on September 18. The latest death of a"media support worker" occurred on August 27:"A guard employed by the state-run daily newspaper Al-Sabah was killed when an explosive-packed car detonated in the building's garage." In all 80, journalists and 28 media support workers have died since the invasion of 2003. Compare these figures to journalistic deaths in other American wars: World War II (68), Korea (17), Vietnam (71).
How many U.S. troops are in Iraq today?
Approximately 147,000, according to General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, significantly more than were in-country just after Baghdad was taken in April 2003 when the occupation began. Abizaid does not expect these figures to fall before"next spring" (which is the equivalent of"forever" in Bush administration parlance). He does not rule out sending in even more troops."If it's necessary to do that because the military situation on the ground requires that, we'll do it." Finding those troops is another matter entirely.
How is the Pentagon keeping troop strength up in Iraq?
4,000 troops from the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, operating near Ramadi and nearing the end of their year-long tours of duty, have just been informed that they will be held in Iraq at least 6 more weeks. This is not an isolated incident, according to Robert Burns of the Associated Press. Units are also being sent to Iraq ahead of schedule. Army policy has been to give soldiers two years at home between combat tours. This year alone, the time between tours has shrunk from 18 to 14 months."In the case of the 3rd Infantry," writes Burns,"it appears at least one brigade will get only about 12 months because it is heading for Iraq to replace the extended brigade of the 1st Armored." And this may increasingly prove the norm. According to Senior Rand Corporation analyst Lynn Davis, main author of"Stretched Thin," a report on Army deployments,"soldiers in today's armored, mechanized and Stryker brigades, which are most in demand, can expect to be away from home for ?a little over 45 percent of their career.'"
The Army has also maintained its strength in through a heavy reliance on the Army Reserves and the National Guard as well as on involuntary deployments of the Individual Ready Reserve. Thom Shanker and Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times recently reported that the Pentagon was once again considering activating substantial numbers of Reserves and the National Guard for duty in Iraq. This, despite, as reporter Jim Lobe has written,"previous Bush administration pledges to limit overseas deployments for the Guard." (Such an unpopular decision will surely not be announced before the mid-term elections.)
As of now, write Shanker and Gordon,"so many [U.S. troops] are deployed or only recently returned from combat duty that only two or three combat brigades -- perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 troops -- are fully ready to respond in case of unexpected crises, according to a senior Army general."
How many active duty Army troops have been deployed in Iraq?
Approximately 400,000 troops out of an active-duty force of 504,000 have already served one tour of duty in Iraq, according to Peter Spiegel of the Los Angeles Times. More than one-third of them have already been deployed twice.
How is Iraq affecting the Army's equipment?
By the spring of 2005, the Army had already"rotated 40% of its equipment through Iraq and Afghanistan." Marine Corps mid-2005 estimates were that 40% percent of its ground equipment and 20% of its air assets were being used to support current operations," according to analyst Carl Conetta in"Fighting on Borrowed Time." In the harsh climate of Iraq, the wear and tear on equipment has been enormous. Conetta estimates that whenever the Iraq and Afghan wars end, the post-war repair bill for Army and Marine equipment will be in the range of $25-40 billion.
How many extra dollars does a desperately overstretched Army claim to need in the coming Defense budget, mainly because of wear and tear in Iraq?
$25 billion above budget limits set by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld this year; over $40 billion above last year's budget. The amount the Army claims it now needs simply to tread water represents a 41% increase over its current share of the Pentagon budget. As a"protest," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker chose not even to submit a required budget to Rumsfeld in August. The general, according to the LA Times' Spiegel,"has told congressional appropriators that he will need $17.1 billion next year for repairs, nearly double this year's appropriation -- and more than quadruple the cost two years ago." This is vivid evidence of the literal wear-and-tear the ongoing war (and civil war) in Iraq is causing.
How is Iraqi reconstruction going?
Over three years after the invasion, the national electricity grid can only deliver electricity to the capital, on average, one out of every four hours (and that's evidently on a good day). At the beginning of September, Iraq's oil minister spoke hopefully of raising the country's oil output to 3 million barrels a day by year's end. That optimistic goal would just bring oil production back to where it was more or less at the moment the Bush administration, planning to pay for the occupation of Iraq with that country's "sea" of oil, invaded. According to a Pentagon study,"Measuring security and stability in Iraq," released in August, inflation in that country now stands at 52.5%. (Damien Cave of the New York Times suggests that it's closer to 70%, with fuel and electricity up 270% from the previous year); the same Pentagon study estimates that"about 25.9% of Iraqi children examined were stunted in their physical growth" due to chronic malnutrition which is on the rise across Iraq.
How many speeches has George W. Bush made in the last month extolling his War on Terror and its Iraqi" central front"?
6 so far, not including press conferences, comments made while greeting foreign leaders, and the like: to the American Legion National Convention on August 31, in a radio address to the American people on September 2, in a speech on his Global War on Terror to the Military Officers Association on September 5, in a speech on"progress" in the Global War on Terror before the Georgia Public Policy Foundation on September 7, in a TV address to the nation memorializing September 11, and in a speech to the UN on September 19.
This week, the count of American war dead in Iraq passed 2,700. The Iraqi dead are literally uncountable. Iraq is the tragedy of our times, an event that has brought out, and will continue to bring out, the worst in us all. It is carnage incarnate. Every time the President mentions"victory" these days, the word "loss" should come to our minds. A few more victories like this one and the world will be an unimaginable place. Back in 2004, the head of the Arab League, Amr Mussa, warned,"The gates of hell are open in Iraq." Then it was just an image. Remarkably enough, it has taken barely two more years for us to arrive at those gates on which, it is said, is inscribed the phrase,"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
[Note to readers: Among the many sites I found helpful in compiling this piece, I particularly want to recommend (as I so often do) Juan Cole's Informed Comment, Antiwar.com, and the War in Context. All three do invaluable work. ]
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Friday, September 29, 2006 - 01:08
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (9-28-06)
More than two decades ago, I graduated from college and joined the Peace Corps. I was sent to Nepal, where I would do the only thing I knew how to do: teach.
In truth, though, I had no idea what I was doing. Neither did most members of my volunteer group. There were 15 of us, and exactly one had trained and worked as a teacher.
I thought of the Peace Corps as I read the latest report about teacher preparation in the United States, which was released last week by the Education Schools Project. The report is full of bad news that we've all heard many times before: low admission standards, Mickey-Mouse courses, and limited practice-teaching experience. And when we compare ourselves to other countries, we look even worse.
Consider two 17-year-olds, one in Germany and one in America, who both hope to become teachers one day. First the German must pass a series of rigorous examinations administered after high school. Then she can enter the university, where she'll study two disciplines in detail. She will have to pass an examination in both subjects, which can include up to three four-hour written tests and a one-hour oral one.
Then it's on to a two-year teacher-training program, combining rigorous seminars with classroom experience. Our future teacher will observe and teach in multiple schools over this span. She'll also be evaluated up to 25 times by a supervisor from the university.
At the end, she must pass a second exam. It requires her to teach a series of lessons on a given topic and to submit a report about them, which can run 100 pages. She'll also have to undergo another oral test, focused on methods of teaching in her two disciplines.
Compare that to your typical future teacher in the United States. No matter how poorly she fares in high school, she'll inevitably find a college that will take her. As the new Education Schools Project report confirms, admissions standards in most teacher-preparation programs remain distressingly low."We are not producing any Einsteins," one college official quipped. Others described their teacher-training programs as" cash cows" to generate tuition dollars.
Many of our so-called methods courses lack intellectual substance, as any education student could tell you. Nor do the students receive sufficient training in the field. More than three-quarters of education students practice-teach for a semester or less, even though most of them say that's not enough.
Thanks to new state and federal standards, the students now have to take more classes in the academic disciplines they plan to teach. That's exactly as it should be, of course, but many students report that their academic and methods classes remain largely unconnected. And once they graduate, they might not teach"their" subject at all. For example, just half of the math teachers in America actually majored in math.
So what's going on here? As a professor at an education school, I freely admit that institutions like my own bear a big part of the blame. But as a historian, I also know that the problem has much deeper roots. The American public - that means you - simply doesn't value teaching enough to improve it.
And the best way to see that is to study Americans who have gone abroad. Starting in the early 1900s, schools in Asia and Africa turned away missionaries who had taught in the United States - but lacked sufficient credentials to teach anywhere else."I myself am bored by all this advanced degree business," wrote one mission official in 1932,"but our workers are under educational systems which they cannot control, and sometimes they have to have these degrees."
In the 1960s, likewise, several new African nations rejected Peace Corps teachers for lack of qualifications. The African countries required teachers to possess either two years of experience or a state certificate; in most cases, Peace Corps volunteers had neither.
So when I got to a tiny Nepali village, in 1983, the local teachers were shocked to discover that they often had more training and experience than I did."You come from such a rich country," one teacher told me."Why is your education so poor?"
That's a huge question, for every single one of us. As a society, we possess the wealth and human capital to place a highly skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced teacher in every American classroom. We just don't have the will to do it. The fault, dear American, is not simply in our teacher-preparation programs. It's in ourselves.
Posted on: Friday, September 29, 2006 - 00:29
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (9-27-06)
I want to make 4 basic points about this controversy, and also provide the declassified text in HTML at the end.
1) The real scandal is that the NIE was classified at all. This is the best judgment of the 16 intelligence units of the US government. Even senators and congressmen had been denied access to it by the secrecy-obsessed Bush administration. How can our democratic system work if the legislature cannot get access to such key documents? And, why shouldn't the whole public have seen this estimate? Doesn't terrorism affect us all?
Larry Johnson and Ray Close, retired CIA officers, make these points.
In fact, it is not enough that the key judgments have been declassified. They should do the whole thing.
2) The NIE clearly says that the Iraq War is now the main generator of terrorism against the US and its allies. It certainly caused the Madrid train bombings of March, 2004 and the London subway bombings of July 2005. The reaction against the US attack on and occupation of a major Arab Muslim country like Iraq has been anger throughout the Muslim world.
You can see the rise of anti-US sentiments under Bush most starkly in non-Arab countries such as Turkey and Indonesia which used to like us, believe it or not. In 2002, 52 percent of Turks had a favorable view of the US. In 2006, 12 percent of Turks have a favorable view of the US. In 2000, 75 percent of Indonesians had a favorable view of the US. In 2006, 30 percent of Indonesians have a favorable view of the US.
Even in major European countries such as France, Germany, Spain and the UK, Bush has cut the approval rating for the US in half or nearly so. Isn't that a bad sign, when the publics in our NATO allies rethink their view of us so radically? Won't we need the support of those publics at some point?
Bush by his Iraq misadventure has made us hated in much of the world, and especially in the Muslim world. Communist China is now widely viewed as mush less dangerous than the democratic United States. Don't you think that might turn into actual consequences?
3) Critics have pointed out that although the NIE said that Bush's Iraq War has generated more terror against the US and its allies, not less, it also does not urge an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Indeed, the text says hopefully that defeating the terrorists in Iraq would have a good effect in discouraging the movement worldwide.
But the NIE does not in fact urge"staying the course" as Bush and others imply. It says that the Salafi Jihadis in Iraq should ideally be defeated. Bush is not defeating them with his current policies. The Pentagon's polling has revealed that between 2003 and summer 2006 the percentage of Sunni Arabs in Iraq who support attacks on US forces has gone from 14 percent to 70 percent. Bush's policies are making things worse, not better. There is no early prospect that his imposition of search and destroy tactics on 5 million Sunni Arabs will reduce the amount of terrorism.
But the other thing to say is that if the NIE is implying that the foreign jihadi volunteers constitute the leading edge of the Iraq"insurgency," then it is just wrong. The death of Zarqawi, which has been followed by continued bombings and killings, demonstrates that Zarqawi and his followers are just not generating most of the violence.
It is mostly local Iraqis fighting for the end of the foreign military occupation of their country. That isn't international terrorism and it is highly unlikely to spill over on the US mainland in the short term. If the US went on doing what it is doing in Ramadi for several years, however, I am afraid that eventually the guerrillas will decide to try to pull off an operation against the US itself.
4) Bush repeated at the news conference his statement that the US was not in Iraq in the 1990s when the US embassies in Africa and the USS Cole were hit by al-Qaeda or in 2001 when al-Qaeda hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
This meme is so stupid and even Bush should be ashamed for trotting it out. First of all, al-Qaeda had other grievances at that time, including the US military presence in Saudi Arabia and the Israeli occupation of the Muslim holy city of Jerusalem and its mistreatment of Muslim Palestinians. They were also angry about the US propping up the governments they were trying to overthrow, including Egypt and Algeria.
But that al-Qaeda had these grievances does not mean that Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq cannot now generate more terrorism. If a few thousand Muslims were upset about the al-Qaeda grievances of 1996 through 2001, many millions of Muslims are upset about US actions in Iraq.
But the other thing to say is that the US was in fact"in Iraq" in the 1990s in some ways. The US had the presence in Saudi Arabia in part to fly surveillance and sometimes bombing raids on Iraq. And the US had gotten the UN to impose a n economic boycott on Iraq that excluded many medicines from the country. For a while they could not get chlorine for water purification. It is estimated that the US/UN sanctions killed 500,000 Iraqi children. This was something that radical Muslim terrorists of the late 1990s were definitely exercised about. They have revealed this in their interrogations.
So it isn't true that the US wasn't in Iraq during the earlier terror attacks nor is the implication true, that it doesn't matter what the US does, the same number of terrorists will always be out their trying to cause the US harm. In fact, the number of those who want to do us harm fluctuates over time. If Bush hadn't invaded Iraq, the number would have shrunk drastically after 2001. Instead, Bush has arranged for the number to expand considerably.
Larry Johnson writes,
' # 2004 marked the single, largest increase in terrorist activity ever recorded since the CIA started keeping records dating back to 1968.
# The four fold increase in significant terrorist incidents (attacks in which people were killed and wounded) was a direct consequence of the war in Iraq. All you have to do is look at the attacks recorded and the people killed and wounded in those attacks. Iraq and India were the big targets in 2004. '
I don't like pdf format for most Web purposes, so I downloaded the declassified text and saved it as text. The result may have some punctuation and formatting problems, but I think it is readable enough.
'Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate"Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States" dated April 2006
United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that al-Qa’ida will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad by a single terrorist organization. We also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al- Qa’ida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.
• Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.
• If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.
• Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on al-Qa’ida, could erode support for the jihadists.
We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti- American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.
• We assess that the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance to US counterterrorism efforts, particularly abroad but also in the Homeland.
• The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings.
We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
• The Iraq conflict has become the cause celebre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate.
• Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq jihad; (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims, all of which jihadists exploit.
Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement. They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists. radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation, and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.
• The jihadists. greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution.an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari.a-based governance spanning the Muslim world.is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims. Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists. propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.
• Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.
• Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.
If democratic reform efforts in Muslim majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives. Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.
Al-Qa’ida, now merged with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.
• The loss of key leaders, particularly Usama Bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups. Although like-minded individuals would endeavor to carry on the mission, the loss of these key leaders would exacerbate strains and disagreements. We assess that the resulting splinter groups would, at least for a time, pose a less serious threat to US interests than does al-Qa.ida.
• Should al-Zarqawi continue to evade capture and scale back attacks against Muslims, we assess he could broaden his popular appeal and present a global threat.
• The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qa.ida in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations. Other affiliated Sunni extremist organizations, such as Jemaah Islamiya, Ansar al- Sunnah, and several North African groups, unless countered, are likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation.
• We assess that such groups pose less of a danger to the Homeland than does al- Qa.ida but will pose varying degrees of threat to our allies and to US interests abroad. The focus of their attacks is likely to ebb and flow between local regime targets and regional or global ones.
• We judge that most jihadist groups, both well-known and newly formed, will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.
• CBRN capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups, While Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, remain the most active state sponsors of terrorism, many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists.
• Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.
• We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support. '
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006 - 00:19
SOURCE: Altercation (Blog) (9-27-06)
Following the Cole bombing, Clinton counterterrorism forces started working on an aggressive plan to retaliate against al Qaeda. Their plan to strike back reached then national security advisor Sandy Berger and other top officials on December 20, 2000. But with less than a month remaining in office and the Bush team about to take over, they decided it would be wrong to take an action that would tie the incoming administration's hands. Instead they took their case to the new administration in the hopes that some version of the plan might be enacted before it was too late. CIA director George Tenet termed al Qaeda a "tremendous threat" as well as an "immediate" one, while Berger warned Rice, "You're going to spend more time during your four years on terrorism generally and al Qaeda specifically than any other issue."
Clarke, who headed the counterterrorism office, then offered up a complete Power Point presentation to Rice, promising, "We would make a major error if we underestimated the challenge al Qaeda poses." Featuring a complete set of proposals to "roll back" al Qaeda, Clarke's plan envisaged the "breakup" of al Qaeda cells and their arrest and imprisonment. He also called for an attack on the financial network that supported the terrorists, freezing its assets, exposing its phony charities, and arresting its personnel. The United States would offer help to such disparate nations as Uzbekistan, the Philippines, and Yemen to combat the al Qaeda forces in their respective midsts. And finally, Clarke's proposal suggested a significant increase in U.S. covert action in Afghanistan with the goal of "eliminat[ing] the sanctuary" where the Taliban and bin Laden were operating in tandem. The plan recommended a considerable increase in American support for the Northern Alliance in their fight to overthrow the Taliban's repressive regime, thereby keeping the terrorists preoccupied with protecting their gains, rather than seeking new victories elsewhere. Simultaneously American military forces would begin planning for special operations inside Afghanistan and bombing strikes against terrorist-training camps.
It was an enormous undertaking, and Newsweek quoted one official as costing out the plan at "several hundreds of millions." Instead of acting on it, however, the Bush administration decided -- as it did with the Hart-Rudman recommendations -- to lay it aside and conduct its own review. Rice did not even bother to set up a high-level meeting to discuss the issue, but instead effectively demoted Clarke through a reorganization of the NSC structure.
As power in any strong hierarchy flows downward, the rest of the Bush team was hardly more concerned about meeting a potential terrorist threat.
All through the governmental system, the issue was moved, in the words of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton, "farther to the back burner."
Posted on: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 18:12
SOURCE: NY Sun (9-26-06)
The violence by Muslims responding to comments by the pope fit a pattern that has been building and accelerating since 1989. Six times since then, Westerners did or said something that triggered death threats and violence in the Muslim world. Looking at them in the aggregate offers useful insights.
1989 – Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses prompted Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a death edict against him and his publishers, on the grounds that the book"is against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran." Subsequent rioting led to over 20 deaths, mostly in India.
1997 – The U.S. Supreme Court refused to remove a 1930s frieze showing Muhammad as lawgiver that decorates the main court chamber; the Council on American-Islamic Relations made an issue of this, leading to riots and injuries in India.
2005 – An incorrect story in Newsweek, reporting that American interrogators at Guantánamo Bay,"in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet," is picked up by the famous Pakistani cricketer, Imran Khan, and prompts protests around the Muslim world, leading to at least 15 deaths..
February 2006 – The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten publishes twelve cartoons of Muhammad, spurring a Palestinian Arab imam in Copenhagen, Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Laban, to excite Muslim opinion against the Danish government. He succeeds so well, hundreds die, mostly in Nigeria.
September 2006 – Pope Benedict XVI quotes a Byzantine emperor's views that what is new in Islam is"evil and inhuman," prompting the firebombing of churches and the murder of several Christians.
These six rounds show a near-doubling in frequency: 8 years between the first and second rounds, then 5, then 3, 1, and ½.
The first instance – Ayatollah Khomeini's edict against Mr. Rushdie – came as a complete shock, for no one had hitherto imagined that a Muslim dictator could tell a British citizen living in London what he could not write about. Seventeen years later, calls for the execution of the pope (including one at the Westminster Cathedral in London) had acquired a too-familiar quality. The outrageous had become routine, almost predictable. As Muslim sensibilities grew more excited, Western ones became more phlegmatic.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - 18:24
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (9-22-06)
This August, a site of shame, shared by Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush, was emptied. Abu Ghraib prison is the place where Saddam's functionaries tortured (and sometimes killed) many enemies of his regime, and where Bush's functionaries, as a series of notorious digital photos revealed, committed what the U.S. press still likes to refer to as"prisoner abuse." Now, there are no prisoners to abuse and the prison itself is to be turned over to the Iraqi government, perhaps to become a museum, perhaps to remain a jail for another regime whose handling of prisoners is grim indeed. The emptying was clearly meant as a redemptive moment or, as Nancy A. Youssef of the McClatchy Newspapers put it,"a milestone" for the huge structure. After all the bad media and the hit American"prestige" took around the world, Abu Ghraib was finally over.
Of course, its prisoners who remained generally uncharged and without access to Iraqi courts, weren't just released to the winds. Quite the opposite, over 3,000 of them were redistributed to two other U.S. prisons, Camp Bucca in Iraq's south and Camp Cropper at the huge U.S. base adjoining Baghdad International Airport, once dedicated to the holding of"high-value" detainees like Saddam Hussein and top officials of his regime.
Camp Cropper itself turns out to be an interesting story, but one with a problem: While the emptying of Abu Ghraib made the news everywhere, the filling of Camp Cropper made no news at all. And yet it turns out that Camp Cropper, which started out as a bunch of tents, has now become a $60 million"state-of-the-art" prison. The upgrade, on the drawing boards since 2004, was just completed and hardly a word has been written about it. We really have no idea what it consists of or what it looks like, even though it's in one of the few places in Iraq that an American reporter could safely visit, being on a vast American military base constructed, like the prison, with taxpayer dollars.
Had anyone paid the slightest attention -- other than the Pentagon, the Bush administration, and whatever company or companies had the contract to construct the facility -- it would still have been taken for granted that Camp Cropper wasn't the business of ordinary Americans (or even their representatives in Congress). Despite the fact that the $60 million dollars, which made the camp"state of the art," was surely ours, no one in the United States debated or discussed the upgrade and there was no serious consideration of it in Congress before the money was anted up -- any more than Congress or the American people are in any way involved in the constant upgrading of our military bases in Iraq.
While Iraq and future Iraq policy are constantly in the news, almost all the American facts-on-the-ground in that country -- of which Camp Bucca is one -- have come into being without consultation with the American people or, in any serious way, Congress (or testing in the courts).
Camp Bucca is a story you can't read anywhere -- and yet it may, in a sense, be the most important American story in Iraq right now. While arguments spin endlessly here at home about the nature of withdrawal"timetables," and who's cutting and running from what, and how many troops we will or won't have in-country in 2007, 2008, or 2009, on the ground a process continues that makes mockery of the debate in Washington and in the country. While the"reconstruction" of Iraq has come to look ever more like the deconstruction of Iraq, the construction of an ever more permanent-looking American landscape in that country has proceeded apace and with reasonable efficiency.
First, we had those huge military bases that officials were careful never to label"permanent." (For a while, they were given the charming name of"enduring camps" by the Pentagon.) Just about no one in the mainstream bothered to write about them for a couple of years as quite literally billions of dollars were poured into them and they morphed into the size of American towns with their own bus routes, sports facilities, Pizza Huts, Subways, Burger Kings, and mini-golf courses. Huge as they now are, elaborate as they now are, they are still continually being upgraded. Now, it seems that on one of them we have $60 million worth of the first"permanent U.S. prison" in Iraq. Meanwhile, in the heart of Baghdad, the Bush administration is building what's probably the largest, best fortified"embassy" in the solar system with its own elaborate apartment complexes and entertainment facilities, meant for a staff of 3,500.
If, for a moment, you stop listening to the arguments about, or even the news about, Iraq here at home and just concentrate on the ignored reality of those facts-on-the-ground, you're likely to assess our world somewhat differently. After all, those facts being made on the ground -- essentially policy-put-into-action without the trappings of debate, democracy, media coverage, or checks and balances of any sort -- are unlikely to be altered or halted in any foreseeable future by debate or opinion polls in our country. All that is likely to alter them is other facts on the ground -- a growing insurgency, the deaths of Americans and Iraqis in ever greater numbers, a region increasingly thrown into turmoil, and maybe, one of these days, a full-scale, in-the-streets reaction by the Shiites of Iraq to the occupation of their country by a foreign power intent on going nowhere anytime soon.
A Bermuda Triangle of Injustice
Recently, speaking of the Bush administration's urge to publicly redefine and so abrogate the Geneva Conventions, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said:"If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions, whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we're following our own high standards."
It's a comment not atypical of the present debate in Washington and possibly of feelings in the country. The media plays up the courageous stands of Republican Senators McCain, Graham, and Warner in bringing us back to those"high standards." In the process, the details of how much of what we can use in questioning whomever and what modest protections prisoners might or might not receive in our offshore prison system are hashed out. But no matter what is decided on any of these matters, in the real, on-the-ground world our"high standards" are quite beside the point -- the point being the globally outsourced penal system being created.
For example, the President recently announced that the United States was emptying other prisons as well -- previously officially unacknowledged"secret prisons" around the globe -- of 14"high value" al-Qaeda detainees."There are now no terrorists in the CIA program," he said, though that is unlikely to be the actual case.
Looked at another way, however, that secret CIA detention system, which seems to consist of makeshift or shared or borrowed facilities around the world, sits in place, ever ready for use. It's not going anywhere and in the most basic sense it probably cannot be shut down. Nor it seems are the almost 14,000 prisoners we hold in Iraq, the 500 (or more) in Afghanistan, and the nearly 500 in Guantanamo going anywhere. Even with Abu Ghraib empty and the secret prison system officially emptied, nearly 15,000 prisoners are being held by the U.S. essentially incommunicado, most beyond the eyes of any system of justice, beyond the reach of any judges or juries. In many cases, as in the case of Bilal Hussein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Iraqi photojournalist, who has been held, probably at Camp Cropper, without charge or trial"on suspicion of collaborating with insurgents" for the last five months, even that most basic right -- to know exactly why you are being held, what the charges are against you -- is lacking.
Whatever arguments may be going on in Washington over which"tools" or"interrogation techniques" the CIA is to be allowed to use or over exactly how the 14 al-Qaeda detainees just transferred to Guantanamo will be tried, this set of facts-on-the-ground adds up to our own global Bermuda Triangle of Injustice into which untold numbers of human beings can simply disappear. The" crown jewel" of our mini-gulag is, of course, Guantanamo. And again, whatever the fierce arguments here may be about Guantanamo"methods" or what kinds of commissions or tribunals (if any) may finally be chosen for the run-of-the-mill prisoners there, one fact-on-the-ground points us toward the actual lay of the land. A little publicized $30-million maximum-security wing at Guantanamo is now being completed by the U.S. Navy, just as at the American prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, there has been an upgrade.
In all-too-real worlds beyond our reach, everything tends toward permanency. Whatever the discussion may be, whatever issues may seem to be gripping Washington or the nation, whatever you're watching on TV or reading in the papers, elsewhere the continual constructing, enlarging, expanding, entrenching of a new global system of imprisonment, which bears no relation to any system of imprisonment Americans have previously imagined, continues non-stop, unchecked and unbalanced by Congress or the courts, unaffected by the Republic, but very distinctly under the flag"for which it stands."
Contractors and Mercenaries
And don't imagine that this is an anomaly, applicable only to imprisonment abroad. Almost anywhere you look, the facts on the ground tell a story at odds with what's important, what's real as we Americans imagine it. Let's take, for instance, what's now referred to as the Intelligence Community or IC, a collection of at least 16 agencies, ranging from the Central Intelligence Agency and the NSA to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Consider then just one recent piece about the IC by Greg Miller of the Los Angeles Times, headlined Spy Agencies Outsourcing to Fill Key Jobs.
As Miller points out, the overall intelligence budget has gone up about $10 billion a year in recent years and for that we've got an upgrading (or at least upsizing) of almost every one of those 16 agencies plus a whole new, sprawling layer of intelligence bureaucracy headed by John Negroponte, our intelligence tsar, who runs the new Office of the Director of National Intelligence (not even included in the count above). Miller reports another interesting fact-on-the-ground as well: Enormous numbers of private contractors are flooding into the IC.
"At the National Counterterrorism Center -- the agency created two years ago to prevent another attack like Sept. 11 -- more than half of the employees are not U.S. government analysts or terrorism experts. Instead, they are outside contractors. At CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., senior officials say it is routine for career officers to look around the table during meetings on secret operations and be surrounded by so-called green-badgers -- nonagency employees who carry special-colored IDs."
At some clandestine CIA overseas posts like Islamabad and Baghdad, Miller reports, private contractors can make up as many as three-quarters of the employees, while at home private contractors at the CIA, now also outnumber its estimated 17,500 employees. He concludes:
"Senior U.S. intelligence officials said that the reliance on contractors was so deep that agencies couldn't function without them. ?If you took away the contractor support, they'd have to put yellow tape around the building and close it down,' said a former senior CIA official who was responsible for overseeing contracts before leaving the agency earlier this year."
The same could, of course, be said of the military which is quite literally incapable of existing today without its private contractors like Halliburton's KBR, nor could its wars be carried on without the proliferation of hired guns -- mercenaries -- that are now a given in any such situation. This transformation of the military into first an all-volunteer, then an increasingly privatized as well as outsourced, and now an increasingly mercenary institution is another fact-on-the-ground, another building block to our future.
A Reality Built on Fear
Around all such"facts," of course, ever more entrenched and ever more expansive sets of interests arise: companies to organize the private contractees, or to deal with the outsourcing, or to handle contracts and construction work, not to speak of whole worlds of consultants, specialists, and lobbyists. This is a reality which no future administration, nor any better empowered Congress, would be likely to reverse, no less erase any time soon. No matter how the details of the argument about NSA spying turn out, for example, it's essentially a given that the National Security Agency will continue to grow and make itself ever more available in ever more ingenious ways, trolling ever more extensively in communications of every sort. These are the facts being established on the ground, while in Washington they argue over the (sometimes significant) details and the media focuses its main attention on all of this as the essence of the news of the day.
Take for example the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), yet another sprawling, ill-organized, inefficient bureaucracy established after 9/11 and not likely to do anything but grow in our lifetimes. Around it has sprung into existence an anti-terrorism homeland-security industry (thank you, Osama bin Laden!) of staggering proportions."Seven years ago," writes Paul Harris of the British Guardian,"there were nine companies with federal homeland security contracts. By 2003 it was 3,512. Now there are 33,890."
Think about that. They are there to divide a terrorism/security pie that has, since 2000, resulted in about $130 billion in contracts and now, according to USA Today, is a $59 billion a year business globally -- one based on that surefire bestseller, fear, whose single major customer is, of course, the DHS.
Not surprisingly, around those 33,000 companies, has sprung up a whole network of Washington-based lobbyists (including the lobbying firm of our previous attorney general, the Ashcroft Group), a plethora of security conferences and trade magazines; in short, the full panoply of a thriving business world. Already at least 90 officials have left the Homeland Security Department to become lobbyists or consultants in the business that surrounds it, including Tom Ridge, the first head of the department. After only five years, the homeland-security business, according to USA Today, has already eclipsed"mature enterprises like movie-making and the music industry in annual revenue."
These are truly facts on the ground and no discussion in Washington of homeland security is likely to shake them much. An industry tracker, Homeland Security Research, points the way to one possible future on which Americans are never likely to vote."A major attack in the United States, Europe or Japan could increase the global market in 2015 to $730 billion, more than a twelvefold increase."
Or consider the Pentagon's Northcom -- United States Northern Command, now responsible for"the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and the surrounding water out to approximately 500 nautical miles," including the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida. Before October 1, 2002, there was no Northern Command. Less than four short years later, it's not only up and running but has multiple missions. It's preparing for the next hurricane (since we already know FEMA can't do the job), deploying forces to battle wildfires in the west, and getting ready for an avian flu pandemic. And don't think for a moment that where an institution springs up (especially one with a budget like the Pentagon's behind it), a world of on-the-ground realities doesn't arise as well. Just as it will when, in the near future, the Pentagon redivides its imperial domains by creating a new Africacom or United States Africa Command, supposedly to"anchor US forces on the African continent" -- a decision that will be sold around town based on"terrorism security threats," but will essentially be about energy flows and oil. Each new structure like this, each decision, will result in new facts on the ground, new flows of money, and new sets of private contractors.
These are increasingly the crucial realities of our world -- and it's not the world of a republic. It's not a world of checks and balances. It's not a world where even a change of ownership in one or both houses of Congress in November would prove a determining factor. It's not a world where people out there are just"starting to question whether we're following our own high standards." It's distinctly not the world as we Americans like to imagine it, but it is the world we are, regrettably enough, lost in. It's the world created not just by a commander-in-chief presidency, but by a Pentagon-in-chief-dominated government, and by a corporation-in-chief style of imperial rule.
It is a world striving for permanence, which doesn't faintly mean that it's permanent -- not in Iraq and not here. But it might be helpful if we began to register more fully not just the latest flurry of whatever passes for news, but the facts-on-the-ground that are, every minute, every hour, every day, transforming our lives and our planet.
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The Last Days of Publishing, a novel, and in the fall, Mission Unaccomplished (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Friday, September 22, 2006 - 15:39
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (9-22-06)
Bush himself opened the way for these sorts of comments with his 2002 State of the Union address, where he mysteriously allowed the Neoconservative lightweight David Frum to put into his mouth the phrase "the axis of evil" in referring to Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Critics at the time complained that they weren't an axis.
But the real problem is that "evil" is not a political term, it is a theological one. The president of a civil republic has no business trafficking in the rhetoric of evil. Besides, the best ethical theory sees evil as an attribute of acts, not of persons or countries. "Iran" is not "evil." Iran's governing officials may occasionally do evil things, but they are actions, not essences. If you call a person or a country "evil" you are demonizing them.
Having made Iran a demon, Bush refused to talk to it. At the time he put Iran in the axis of evil, reform President Mohammad Khatami had presided over candlelight vigils in Iran for the United States in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda attacks, and had called for people to people diplomacy and a "dialogue of civilizations." President Khatami has his flaws, but he was not and is not "evil."
So, having theologized international relations and turned them into moral absolutes, it is natural that Bush is subsequently paralyzed.
Bush started it. He started talking about other countries and leaders as "evil." He bears the responsibility for this importation of the absolute into our political discourse.
And having set up these theological absolutes, Bush became bound by them. He had to invade "evil" Iraq, because it was . . . evil. Bush keeps saying that Saddam Hussein was "dangerous" even if he did not have weapons of mass destruction. Apparently he was "dangerous" because he is "evil." His dangerousness was not related to actual capability to accomplish anything (which was low). He was intrinsically evil and dangerous.
Contrast Bush's theological crusade against "evil" to the speech of then president John Quincy Adams:
' America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. '
Bush, having identified other countries as "monsters" had to go in search of them to destroy them. Hence the quagmire in Iraq.
And it was predictable that once he began calling others "evil," someone in the global south would respond by calling George W. Bush "evil" himself.
So now in Bushworld we have all these "evil" politicians and regimes in the world, with whom we won't talk and whom we wish we could just overthrow.
Bush and Chavez aren't qualified to decide that others are evil.
And the whole point of the United Nations was to foster dialogue and understanding. We had enough demonization of people after 1933. Bush's rhetoric has impeded that dialogue, and seems likely to go on doing so.
Posted on: Friday, September 22, 2006 - 14:50
SOURCE: Philadelphia City Paper (9-21-06)
I saw a bumper sticker recently that read: Iraq is Arabic fo Vietnam
It is easy enough to make the analogy between the tragic folly in Vietnam and the chaotic disaster unfolding now in Iraq. Both were wars of choice, not of national necessity, and both were begun under a cloak of deception and misinformation. And in the future, both will serve as the dictionary definition of the word "quagmire."
The Vietnam analogy, however, only goes so far. By the time the war had escalated, the North Vietnamese had already established a working government in Hanoi, and their goal to consolidate the country enjoyed considerable support among the populace. When American forces were finally defeated, Vietnam experienced a mostly uneventful transition to peacetime and certainly didn't spiral into civil war.
By contrast, in Iraq right now, American troops are not fighting a single national organization or even organized rebel group, but dozens of factions. Nor in Iraq is there any group that commands enough widespread public legitimacy to be able to govern once American forces leave.
Historical analogies should never be drawn too tightly, but as Iraq descends further into fratricidal violence, it may be Cambodia, rather than Vietnam, that Iraq will come to resemble. And the Cambodian experience should make us feel even more grim about the mess we have made in Iraq.
Cambodia's fragile neutrality began to unravel in 1969 when President Nixon ordered secret — and almost surely illegal — bombing raids on Cambodia in his effort to chase North Vietnamese troops hiding across the border. For nearly three years, Cambodia became a theater in the Vietnam War. In 1973 alone, American bombers dropped more explosives on Cambodia than had been dropped on Japan in WWII, and after that stopped, Cambodia degenerated into a vicious civil war. In 1975, at virtually the same moment Americans left Vietnam, Khmer Rouge forces entered Phnom Penh triumphant.
The Khmer Rouge, under its leader Pol Pot, flew into a systematic, prolonged, genocidal rage, as it took its revenge against former opponents, imagined enemies and ordinary Cambodians for no reason at all. By the time the nightmare was over, perhaps as many as three million Cambodians were dead. Thirty years later, Iraq begins to look like Cambodia in several disturbing ways. Cambodia was, in the words of one journalist, a "sideshow" to the Vietnam conflict and to the struggle against Communism. Likewise, Iraq should never have been more than a sideshow in the so-called war on terror.
And both invasions have had the effect of strengthening the position of our purported enemies. By rescuing Cambodia from Pol Pot, Vietnam, the country we fought bitterly for more than decade, wound up exercising control over Cambodia for a generation. In the absence of a legitimate, widely supported government in Iraq, it doesn't take too much imagination to see Iran, the major menace in the Middle East, marching in overtly or covertly to provide the stability and order in Iraq that Americans clearly can't....
Posted on: Friday, September 22, 2006 - 14:02
SOURCE: Guardian (9-20-06)
In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a dialogue with the Islamic world. "I approach you not with arms, but with words," he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his book, "not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with love." Yet his treatise was entitled Summary of the Whole Heresy of the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens and segued repeatedly into spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated the "bestial cruelty" of Islam, which, he claimed, had established itself by the sword. Was Muhammad a true prophet? "I shall be worse than a donkey if I agree," he expostulated, "worse than cattle if I assent!"
Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the Muslims he approached with such "love" might be offended by his remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, without qualification and with apparent approval, the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The Vatican seemed bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope's words, claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam".
But the Pope's good intentions seem far from obvious. Hatred of Islam is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn. Neither the Danish cartoonists, who published the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last February, nor the Christian fundamentalists who have called him a paedophile and a terrorist, would ordinarily make common cause with the Pope; yet on the subject of Islam they are in full agreement.
Our Islamophobia dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is entwined with our chronic anti-semitism. Some of the first Crusaders began their journey to the Holy Land by massacring the Jewish communities along the Rhine valley; the Crusaders ended their campaign in 1099 by slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem. It is always difficult to forgive people we know we have wronged. Thenceforth Jews and Muslims became the shadow-self of Christendom, the mirror image of everything that we hoped we were not - or feared that we were.
The fearful fantasies created by Europeans at this time endured for centuries and reveal a buried anxiety about Christian identity and behaviour. When the popes called for a Crusade to the Holy Land, Christians often persecuted the local Jewish communities: why march 3,000 miles to Palestine to liberate the tomb of Christ, and leave unscathed the people who had - or so the Crusaders mistakenly assumed - actually killed Jesus. Jews were believed to kill little children and mix their blood with the leavened bread of Passover: this "blood libel" regularly inspired pogroms in Europe, and the image of the Jew as the child slayer laid bare an almost Oedipal terror of the parent faith....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - 13:23
SOURCE: Sandstorm, the blog of Martin Kramer (9-20-06)
On Tuesday of last week, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) entered the fray over the Bush Administration's description of the enemy as"Islamic fascism." (Bush first used the phrase on August 7, and other top officials have followed suit.) Feingold:
I call on the President to stop using the phrase"Islamic Fascists," a label that doesn't make any sense, and certainly doesn't help our effort to fight terrorism. Fascist ideology doesn't have anything to do with the way global terrorist networks think or operate, and it doesn't have anything to do with the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world who practice the peaceful teachings of Islam.At the White House press briefing last Wednesday, Tony Snow came to the defense of the President, after a journalist read him a dictionary definition of fascism."It doesn't quite seem to fit what we're talking about," said the journalist."Well, it actually does fit," replied Snow.
I haven't used the phrase myself, and I generally prefer Islamism or jihadism, depending on the context. But I can't rise up against the use of Islamic fascism with the righteous indignation mustered by, say, Michigan professor Juan Cole, who's denounced the"lazy conflation of Muslim fundamentalist movements with fascism." My reason is that this conflation, or comparison, has had some rigorous champions within Middle Eastern studies over the years. It didn't originate in the Bush White House; it has a long pedigree including some pioneering social scientists. These scholars, who knew rather more than Senator Feingold about both Islamism and fascism, did think the comparison made sense. I'll let them explain why.
Any student of my generation first would have encountered the comparison in the work of the late Manfred Halpern, who spent nearly forty years as a politics professor at Princeton. Halpern grew up with fascism: born in Germany in 1924, he and his parents fled the Nazis in 1937 for America. He joined the war against the Nazis as a battalion scout in the 28th Infantry Division, and saw action in Battle of the Bulge and elsewhere. After Germany's surrender, he worked in U.S. Counterintelligence, tracking down former Nazis. In 1948 he joined the State Department, where he worked on the Middle East, and in 1958 he came to Princeton, where he did the same.
In 1963, Princeton published his Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa. For years, this book was the basic text in the field, and included the only academic treatment of Islamism, which no one much cared about at the time. Halpern labeled it"neo-Islamic totalitarianism," and this is how he described it:
The neo-Islamic totalitarian movements are essentially fascist movements. They concentrate on mobilizing passion and violence to enlarge the power of their charismatic leader and the solidarity of the movement. They view material progress primarily as a means for accumulating strength for political expansion, and entirely deny individual and social freedom. They champion the values and emotions of a heroic past, but repress all free critical analysis of either past roots or present problems.Halpern continued:
Like fascism, neo-Islamic totalitarianism represents the institutionalization of struggle, tension, and violence. Unable to solve the basic public issues of modern life—intellectual and technological progress, the reconciliation of freedom and security, and peaceful relations among rival sovereignties—the movement is forced by its own logic and dynamics to pursue its vision through nihilistic terror, cunning, and passion. An efficient state administration is seen only as an additional powerful tool for controlling the community. The locus of power and the focus of devotion rest in the movement itself. Like fascist movements elsewhere, the movement is so organized as to make neo-Islamic totalitarianism the whole life of its members.At the time, Halpern was a central figure in Middle Eastern studies, and his book—reprinted six times—appeared in every syllabus for the next fifteen years. His critical analysis of Islamism very much cut against the grain, at a time when Cold War strategists ardently wooed Islamists as allies against communism. In the 1970s, he walked away from the field, and his reputation within it slipped. But his rigorous treatment of Islamism stands up well, and his comparison of it with fascism was a serious proposition, made by someone who had seen fascism up close.
The comparison of Islamism with fascism also made sense to the late Maxime Rodinson, the preeminent French scholar of Islam, who pioneered the application of sociological method to the Middle East. As a French Jew born in 1915, Rodinson also learned about fascism from direct experience. He moved to Syria in 1940, but the Vichy regime deported his parents to Auschwitz, where they perished. Rodinson was a man of the left—in his early years, militantly so—but he took his thinking from no one.
In 1978, during Iran's revolution, enthusiasm for Islamism began to spread among his colleagues on the French left, who romanticized it as the vibrant, new anti-West. The French philosopher Michel Foucault become famously enamored of Ayatollah Khomeini. Rodinson decided to set things straight, in a long front-page article in Le Monde, targeted at those who" come fresh to the problem in an idealistic frame of mind." Rodinson admitted that trends in Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood were"hard to ascertain."
But the dominant trend is a certain type of archaic fascism (type de fascisme archaïque). By this I mean a wish to establish an authoritarian and totalitarian state whose political police would brutally enforce the moral and social order. It would at the same time impose conformity to religious tradition as interpreted in the most conservative light.By"archaic," Rodinson referred to the religious component of the ideology, largely absent from European fascism.
I'm not sure whether Rodinson ever repeated this precise phrase, but putting it once on the front page of Le Monde was enough. He had accused his colleagues on the left of celebrating a form of fascism, from his perch at the pinnacle of Islamic scholarship. This especially rigorous critic of Eurocentric distortions of Islam didn't shy from the comparison of Islamism with fascism, at a moment as politically charged as the present one.
In 1984, Said Amir Arjomand, a prominent Iranian-American sociologist at SUNY-Stony Brook, picked up the comparison and ran with it. With a nod to Halpern, Arjomand pointed to"some striking sociological similarities between the contemporary Islamic movements and the European fascism and the American radical right.... It is above all the strength of the monistic impulse and the pronounced political moralism of the Islamic traditionalist and fundamentalist movements which makes them akin to fascism and the radical right alike."
In 1986, he took took the comparison even further, in an influential article for the journal World Politics entitled"Iran's Islamic Revolution in Comparative Perspective." Arjomand entertained a number of comparisons, but in the end settled on fascism as the best of them. Islamism (he called it"revolutionary traditionalism") and fascism"share a number of essential features," including"an identical transposition of the theme of exploitation" and a"distinct constitutive core."
Like fascism, the Islamic revolutionary movement has offered a new synthesis of the political creeds it has violently attacked. And, like the fascists, the Islamic militants are against democracy because they consider liberal democracy a foreign model that provides avenues for free expression of alien influences and ideas. (Also like the fascists, however, the Islamic militants would not necessarily accept the label of"antidemocratic.")Arjomand's conclusion:"The emergence of an Islamic revolutionary ideology has been in the cards since the fascist era." (For much more of the comparison, go here. Arjomand later repeated the argument almost verbatim in his 1989 bookThe Turban for the Crown, Oxford.)
Latest word is that the State Department has persuaded the White House to stop talking about"Islamic fascism." That should make it easier for academics to revisit the comparison as a serious analytical proposition. It's necessary because self-styled campus progressives are repeating Foucault's mistake. It started in earnest last spring, when Noam Chomsky made a pilgrimage to the the lair of Hezbollah's maximum leader, Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, and came out praising him for defying America. Over the summer, Hamid Dabashi, keeper of Edward Said's flame at Columbia, offered this:"Both Hamas and Hizbullah, becoming even more integral to the Palestinian and Lebanese national liberation movements, will one day succeed in helping establish a free, democratic, and cosmopolitan republic in their respective countries." Then earlier this month, celebrity philosopher and queer theorist Judith Butler told a Berkeley audience that Hamas and Hezbollah are"social movements that are part of the global left."
It's too much to expect the mandarins of Middle Eastern studies, at this advanced stage of decadence, to revisit the Islamism-fascism comparison. The Middle East Studies Association is led by Juan Cole, who thinks such a" conflation" is"lazy," but who's quite capable of offering this more energetic one:"Saudi Arabia is an extremely conservative society; going to Saudi Arabia is kind of like going to Amish country in the United States." (The State Department presently warns Americans who go to Saudi Arabia to stay only in hotels and compounds that"apply stringent security measures including, but not limited to, the presence of an armed guard force, inspection of all vehicles, and a hardened security perimeter to prevent unauthorized vehicles from approaching the facility." Like in Amish country.)
It's these conflations of Hamas with the"global left" or Wahhabis with the Amish that are truly lazy. In contrast, the Islamism-fascism comparison has ample and even distinguished academic precedents. Younger scholars and students should seize the moment to explore it further, with intellectual rigor and without fear.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - 12:48
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (9-19-06)
The Minutemen, once caricatured in the press as gun-toting clowns, are now haughty celebrities of grassroots conservatism, dominating AM hate radio as well as the even more hysterical ether of the right-wing blogosphere. In heartland as well as in border states, Republican candidates vie desperately for their endorsement. With the electorate alienated by the dual catastrophes of Baghdad and New Orleans, the Brown Peril has suddenly become the Republican deus ex machina for retaining control of Congress in the November elections.
A faltering GOP hegemony, too long sustained by the scraps of 9/11 and the imaginary weaponry of Saddam Hussein, now has a new urgency in its appeal to the suburbs. Not since Kofi Annan conspired to send his black helicopters to terrorize Wyoming, has such a clear-and-present danger threatened the Republic as the sinister armies of would-be busboys and gardeners gathered at the Rio Grande.
To listen to some of these demagogues, one would assume that the Twin Towers had been blown up by followers of the Virgin of Guadalupe or that Spanish had recently been decreed the official language of Connecticut. Having failed to scourge the world of evil by invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Republicans, supported by some Democrats, now propose that we invade ourselves: sending the Marines and Green Berets, along with the National Guard, into the hostile deserts of California and New Mexico where national sovereignty is supposedly under siege.
As in the past, nativism today is bigotry as surreal caricature, reality stood on its head. The ultimate irony, however, is that there really is something that might be called a "border invasion," but the Minutemen's billboards are on the wrong side of the freeway.
The Baby-Boomers Head South
What few people -- at least, outside of Mexico -- have bothered to notice is that while all the nannies, cooks, and maids have been heading north to tend the luxury lifestyles of irate Republicans, the Gringo hordes have been rushing south to enjoy glorious budget retirements and affordable second homes under the Mexican sun.
Yes, in former California Governor Pete Wilson's immortal words, "They just keep coming." Over the last decade, the U.S. State Department estimates that the number of Americans living in Mexico has soared from 200,000 to 1 million (or one-quarter of all U.S. expatriates). Remittances from the United States to Mexico have risen dramatically from $9 billion to $14.5 billion in just two years. Though initially interpreted as representing a huge spike in illegal workers (who send parts of their salaries across the border to family), it turns out to be mainly money sent by Americans to themselves in order to finance Mexican homes and retirements.
Although some of them are certainly naturalized U.S. citizens returning to towns and villages of their birth after lifetimes of toil al otro lado, the director-general of FONATUR, the official agency for tourism development in Mexico, recently characterized the typical investors in that country's real estate as American "baby boomers who have paid off in good part their initial mortgage and are coming into inheritance money."
Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, "The land rush is occurring at the beginning of a demographic tidal wave. With more than 70 million American baby boomers expected to retire in the next two decades… some experts predict a vast migration to warmer -- and cheaper -- climates. Often such buyers purchase a property 10 to 15 years before retirement, use it as a vacation home, and then eventually move there for most of the year. Developers increasingly are taking advantage of the trend, building gated communities, condominiums, and golf courses."
The extraordinary rise in U.S. Sunbelt property values gives gringos immense economic leverage. Shrewd baby-boomers are not simply feathering nests for eventual retirement, but also increasingly speculating in Mexican resort property, sending up property values to the detriment of locals whose children are consequently driven into slums or forced to emigrate north, only increasing the "invasion" charges. As in Galway, Corsica, or, for that matter, Montana, the global second-home boom is making life in beautiful, natural settings unaffordable for their traditional residents.
Some expatriates are experimenting with exotic places such as the Riviera Maya in Yucatan or Tulum in Quintana Roo, but more prefer such well-established havens as San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta. Here the norteamericanos make themselves at home in more ways than one.
An English-language paper in Puerto Vallarta, for instance, recently applauded the imminent arrival of a new shopping mall that will include Hooters, Burger King, Subway, Chili's and Starbucks. Only Dunkin' Donuts (con salsa?), the paper complained, was still missing.
The gringo footprint is largest (and brings the most significant geopolitical consequences) in Baja California, the 1,000-mile long desert appendage to the gridlocked state-nation governed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Indeed, Baja real-estate websites ooze almost as much hyperbole as those devoted to stalking the phantom menace of illegal immigrants -- just in a far more upbeat tone when it comes to the question of immigrant invasions.
In essence, Alta (Upper) California is beginning to overflow into Baja, an epochal process that, if unchecked, will produce intolerable social marginalization and ecological devastation in Mexico's last true frontier region. All the contradictions of post-industrial California -- runaway land inflation in the coastal zone, sprawling suburban development in interior valleys and deserts, freeway congestion and lack of mass transit, and the astronomical growth of motorized recreation -- dictate the invasion of the gorgeous "empty" peninsula to the south. To use a term from a bad but not irrelevant past, Baja is Anglo California's Lebenstraum.
Indeed, the first two stages of informal annexation have already occurred. Under the banner of NAFTA, Southern California has exported hundreds of its sweatshops and toxic industries to the maquiladora zones of Tijuana and Mexicali. The Pacific Maritime Association, representing the West Coast's major shipping companies, has joined forces with Korean and Japanese corporations to explore the construction of a vast new container port at Punta Colonel, 150 miles south of Tijuana, which would undercut the power of longshore unionism in San Pedro and San Francisco.
Secondly, tens of thousands of gringo retirees and winter-residents are now clustered at both ends of the peninsula. Along the northwest coast from Tijuana to Ensenada, a recent advertisement for a real-estate conference at UCLA boasts that "there are presently over 57 real-estate developments… with over 11,000 homes/condos with an inventory value of over $3 billion… all of them geared for the U.S. market."
Meanwhile, at the tropical end of Baja, a gilded gringo enclave has emerged in the twenty-mile strip between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose de Cabo. Los Cabos is part of that global archipelago of real-estate hot spots where continuous double-digit increases in property values suck in speculative capital from all over the world. Ordinary gringos can participate in this glamorous Los Cabos real-estate casino through the purchase and resale of fractional time-shares in condominiums and beach homes.
Although Western Canadian and Arizona speculators have taken large bites out of Baja's southern cape, Los Cabos -- at least judging from the registration of private planes at the local airport -- has essentially become a resort suburb of Orange County, the home of the most vehement Minutemen chapters. (Many wealthy Southern Californians evidently see no contradiction between fuming over the "alien invasion" with one's conservative friends at the Newport Marina one day, and flying down to Cabos the next for some sea-kayaking or celebrity golf.)
Manifest Destiny, the Sequel?
The next step in the late-colonization of Baja is the "Escalera Nautica," a $3 billion "ladder" of marinas and coastal resorts being developed by FONATUR that will open up pristine sections of both Mexican coasts to the yacht club set.
Meanwhile, The Truman Show has arrived in the picturesque little city of Loreto on the Gulf side of the peninsula. There, FONATUR has joined forces with an Arizona company and "New Urbanist" architects from Florida to develop the Villages of Loreto Bay: 6,000 homes for expatriates in colonial-Mexico motif on the Sea of Cortez.
The $3 billion Loreto project boasts that it will be the last word in Green design, exploiting solar power and restricting automobile usage. Yet, at the same time, it will balloon Loreto's population from its current 15,000 to more than 100,000 in a decade, with the social and environmental consequences of a sort that can already be seen in the slum peripheries of Cancun and other mega-resorts.
One of the irresistible attractions of Baja is that it has preserved a primordial wildness that has disappeared elsewhere in the West. Local residents, including a very eloquent indigenous environmental movement, cherish this incomparable landscape as they do the survival of an egalitarian ethos in the peninsula's small towns and fishing villages.
Thanks to the silent invasion of the baby-boomers from the north, however, much of the natural history and frontier culture of Baja could be swept away in the next generation. One of the world's most magnificent wild coastlines could be turned into generic tourist sprawl, waiting for Dunkin' Donuts to open. Locals, accordingly, have every reason to fear that today's mega-resorts and mock-colonial suburbs, like FONATUR's entire tourism-centered strategy of regional development, are merely the latest Trojan horses of Manifest Destiny.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - 21:34
SOURCE: Journal of American History (9-1-06)
... Do the terrorist attacks on symbols of American power on September 11, 2001, represent a greater sea change than the end of the Cold War? Or were they merely the catalyst that led America to implement a foreign policy that had been in the making since the early 1990s? If the second scenario is true, and it seems likely that it is, then America's current foreign policy is clearly a response to its position as the single hegemon in a unipolar world, intent on safeguarding that position.
The origin of that policy was a Defense Planning Guidance document drafted in 1992 by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul D. Wolfowitz at the behest of then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, entitled "The New American Century." In 1997 a group of neo-conservative foreign-policy analysts coalesced around the Project for a New American Century and founded a think tank under that name. Their thinking hardened around a view that American foreign policy should center on military strength. In the current George W. Bush administration, those neoconservatives are now in a position to implement their views. Throughout the 1990s national rituals such as the Super Bowl increasingly blended mass spectator sports with displays of military prowess and martial vigor that paralleled the gestation of the new foreign policy views. That trend may herald a militarization of the American public spirit, propagated through the mass media. To some, the displays are eerily reminiscent of earlier such public spectacles, such as those at the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany. Those militarized rituals may have readied the American public for the later curtailment of democratic rights through the 2001 Patriot Act and the emergence of a national security state under the current Bush administration. In a recent article, the American philosopher Richard Rorty warned Europeans that institutional changes made in the name of the war on terrorism could bring the end of the rule of law in both the United States and Europe. Remarkably, he forgot to mention that many of those changes had already come to the United States, without much public debate or resistance.3
As much as the entire world may have changed in the wake of the Cold War, my focus shall be on the particular ways those changes have affected Europe and the United States, internally as well as in their transatlantic relationship. An important trend to notice is the way Europeans and Americans have begun to redefine each other, in response to a creeping alienation that has affected public opinion and discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. If each side increasingly sees the other as "other," more alien than at any point during the Cold War, then the construction of this perspective is not entirely new. It draws on older repertoires of anti-Americanism in Europe and of anti-Europeanism in the United States, as illustrated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's snide reference to "old Europe."4 Yet there may be a new and more ominous ring to those revived repertoires because they may strike responsive chords among people who previously thought they were free of such adversarial sentiments....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - 21:15
SOURCE: NY Sun (9-19-06)
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
These words, expressed six centuries ago by a Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, in dialogue with an Iranian scholar, spur three reflections.
Pope Benedict XVI
But did he have other purposes? The head of the Benedictine order, Abbot Notker Wolf, understood the pope's quote as"a blatant allusion to [Iran's President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad." Vatican insiders told the London Sunday Times that Benedict"was trying to pre-empt an aggressive letter aimed at the papacy by the president of Iran, which was why he cited the debate involving a Persian."
First reflection: Benedict has offered elusive comments, brief statements, and now this delphic quotation, but he has not provided a much-needed major statement on this vital topic of Islam. One hopes it is in the offing.
Whatever the pope's purpose, he prompted the near-predictable furor in the Muslim world. Religious and political authorities widely condemned the speech, with some calling for violence.
- In Britain, while leading a rally outside Westminster Cathedral, Anjem Choudary of Al-Ghurabaa called for the pope"to be subject to capital punishment."
- In Iraq, the Mujahideen's Army threatened to"smash the crosses in the house of the dog from Rome" and other groups made blood-curdling threats.
- In Kuwait, an important website called for violent retribution against Catholics.
- In Somalia, the religious leader Abubukar Hassan Malin urged Muslims to"hunt down" the pope and kill him"on the spot."
- In India, a leading imam, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, called on Muslims to"respond in a manner which forces the pope to apologise."
- A top Al-Qaeda figure announced that"the infidelity and tyranny of the pope will only be stopped by a major attack."
The Vatican responded by establishing an extraordinary and unprecedented security cordon around the pope. Further away, the incitement spurred some violence, with more likely on the way. Seven churches were attacked in the West Bank and Gaza, one in Basra, Iraq (prompting this ironic headline at the"RedState" blog:"Pope implies Islam a violent religion ... Muslims bomb churches"). The murder of an Italian nun in Somalia and two Assyrians in Iraq also appear connected.
Second reflection: this new round of Muslim outrage, violence, and murder has a by-now routine quality. Earlier versions occurred in 1989 (in response to Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses), 1997 (when the U.S. Supreme Court did not take down a representation of Muhammad), 2002 (when Jerry Falwell called Muhammad a terrorist), 2005 (the fraudulent Koran-flushing episode), and February 2006 (the Danish cartoon incident).
Vatican leaders tried to defuse the pope's quote, as well as his condemnation of jihad (holy war). The papal spokesman, Federico Lombardi, S.J., said Benedict did not intend to give"an interpretation of Islam as violent; inside Islam there are many different positions and there are many positions that are not violent." Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, indicated that the pope"sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful."
Then, in what may be an unprecedented step by a pope, Benedict himself proffered the sort of semi-apology often favored by those feeling the heat."I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address," reads the official Vatican translation into English,"which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought."
Third reflection: the Muslim uproar has a goal: to prohibit criticism of Islam by Christians and thereby to impose Shariah norms on the West. Should Westerners accept this central tenet of Islamic law, others will surely follow. Retaining free speech about Islam, therefore, represents a critical defense against the imposition of an Islamic order.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - 16:27
For all those reasons, it is regrettable that in the midst of a well worked out (of course) formal speech at Regensburg, his old academic turf, the pope lapsed for a moment and did what we tenured folk sometimes do -- and remember, the pope has lifetime tenure: We come up with an allusion that gets us in trouble, let a side point take center stage, or fail to count the cost of a remark. So it was that almost inexplicably the pope began his talk in Regensburg with inflaming words from an obscure fourteenth-century Byzantine emperor to show that jihad as holy war is bad. That emperor through this pope said that what Muhammad brought to the world was "only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Like Christians often did? The pope did not mention that.
His Holiness must have underestimated how useful such words would be to extreme fight-picking Muslim clerics and right-wing American talk show folk. His people now stress that he did not intend to offend Muslims, but his plea for "genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today" will be set back and out-shouted by those clerics and rightists. What sounds at least half appropriate in a history-and-theology classroom sounds different when spread to a billion Christians and a billion Muslims, as words such as these will be. The only thing that will be remembered from the pope's new call for reason and dialogue is the unreasonable and monological citation that Muhammad contributed only "evil and inhuman" speech and action in human history.
I know I'll get hit for suggesting "equivalencies" here, though I am always clear in stating that there is no equivalency between today's radical and extreme Muslims and today's ordinary Christians. But it must also be said that Christians, from the fourth to the eighteenth century, can match the Muslims one-for-one when it comes to having spread the faith with the sword. Read the history of the Christianization of Europe and you have to go hunting for that minority of the faithful who spread the faith without the sword, merely by witness and works.
We live today not in the time of Christian Crusades and Inquisitions, but in a time when the pope is needed as a bridge-builder, a link-maker. Having quoted claims seven centuries old that only "evil and inhuman" things were new in the program of the Prophet and in the name of Islam, it will be harder for the pope to have dialogue with the Muslims who do good and human things. Some on the Muslim and American right seem to be craving a war of civilizations, a war about which we know only one thing: Both sides (or the many sides) would lose.
Rather than point to the "evil and inhuman" nature of Islam's, Judaism's, Christianity's, Hinduism's, Buddhism's, and other holy wars, the pope will serve better if he can still find dialogue partners in search of the good and human. All is not lost. Yet.
Posted on: Monday, September 18, 2006 - 20:50
SOURCE: American Prospect (10-3-06)
Sounds utopian, doesn’t it? Well, clean-money elections already exist in Maine and Arizona, states too small to challenge the nation’s political culture. But public financing of state elections and initiatives this fall just might expand to California, a state so large and influential that every major policy decision tends to influence the rest of the nation.
Efforts at clean-money legislation have recently failed in California because elected officials were already too committed to corporations, insurance companies, unions, and wealthy donors. But within only six weeks, the California Nurses Association gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot as an initiative.
As a result, on Election Day, Californians will vote on Proposition 89, the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, which would encourage candidates to choose public financing, penalize those who use private funding, and strictly limit campaign contributions by special interests who might expect favors in return.
What would happen if public-financed campaigns replaced special interests? State Assembly Member Loni Hancock, who authored the original legislation, points out that “clean money [is] the reform that makes all other reforms possible. So it’s interesting that after five years of clean money elections, the state of Maine enacted universal health care last year.”
In Maine and Arizona, voter-owned elections have helped eliminate the corrupting influence of special-interest money on public policy. Arizona’s governor, Janet Napolitano, has repeatedly described her new freedom to address public health, preschool education, health care and the protection of the environment. In Maine, they will tell you that “clean legislators” have voted twice as often for environmental legislation. Arizona Representative Leah Landrum Taylor, an African American woman, says that now more women and minorities run for -- and win -- public office. In those states, too, public-financed campaigns have reduced the advantage of incumbency; increased voter turnout; and forced legislators and statewide officials to be accountable to the people who elected them.
Now the battle in California begins. On one side the measure is supported by the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, the League of Women Voters of California, Common Cause, and other nonprofit and community organizations.
On the other side is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who as a candidate in 2003 promised to end “pay-to-play” politics, but whose tireless fund raising has made his predecessors look like amateurs at a bodybuilding contest. ...
Posted on: Monday, September 18, 2006 - 20:33
SOURCE: Washington Spectator (9-15-06)
Although attention largely focused on the solemn ceremonies, the most remarkable feature of the events marking the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks may have been the 9/11 Commission's reversion to its repressed partisanship.
The precipitating factor was the seal of approval Thomas Kean bestowed on a controversial ABC miniseries that tended to ascribe a larger portion of the blame for 9/11 to the Clinton administration (although, in truth, the Bush administration did not go unscathed). Kean, a Republican former governor who chaired the commission, had been instrumental in keeping the panel on a more or less bipartisan page. But the price of unity had always been that everyone within sight was described as in some way to blame, which is another way of finding that no one was. The docudrama strove to accomplish the opposite. Thus, Kean's endorsement of The Path to 9/11 as "true to the spirit" of what had happened was tantamount to tearing up an agreed-upon script, a provocative thing to do just weeks before a national election. Some of his former Democratic colleagues responded in kind.
Generating an aura of political bipartisanship had never been easy. In April 2004, during the public-hearings phase of its investigation, the panel gave every sign of becoming unhinged, with the sessions in Washington coming to resemble an intensely combative congressional investigation. Democratic members sought to pin the lion's share of responsibility for 9/11 onto the Bush administration because it had ostensibly disregarded an ample warning. Republicans countered by depicting a Clinton administration that had vacillated after U.S. embassies and the USS Cole burned.
Under increasing criticism, the commission managed to close ranks, and in July 2004 it delivered a report that was an instant and widely praised best-seller. The government's subsequent, and massive, reorganization of the intelligence community, instigated in part by the report, also burnished the commission's image.
THE BLAME GAME—In the two years since the report's publication, some of the sheen has worn off, as it has become apparent that to achieve unanimity the commission took a bipartisan dive. The report is compelling when the subject is Al Qaeda and its plot. But whenever the issue is how Washington let that plot be carried out, the historical analysis is underwhelming. The narrative reads like "an elephant rolling a pea," as a review by Loch Johnson, a University of Georgia political scientist, put it. "Especially disturbing [was] the inability of the commission—or, more likely . . . its unwillingness—to assign any blame among intelligence managers or policymakers." The only thing worse than this lack of accountability, as previously reported in these pages, was the commission's decision to deny the public access to the information it had assiduously collected from government files. This barring of access insures that the panel's non-interpretation will reign supreme until at least January 2009.
The authors of the 9/11 report tried to mask this deficit with a catchy theme: 9/11 happened, first and foremost, they maintained, because of a "failure of imagination" in two successive administrations. Problem is, the facts the commission presented not only failed to support this idea, they eviscerated it. If there truly was a failure of imagination, how was it that CIA director George Tenet declared war on Al Qaeda in 1998? Similarly, on August 29, 2001, an FBI agent (identified only as "Steve" in the report) e-mailed an FBI analyst (named "Jane") and demonstrated a very lucid conception of the stakes. "Steve" angrily wrote that "someday [Americans] will die [and] the public will not understand why we were not more effective" in tracking down Khalid al Mihdhar. Thirteen days later, al Mihdhar helped crash American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
There was no failure of imagination. But there was a failure of will and implementation, an inability to come to grips with a lethal, implacable threat. What the ABC docudrama managed to do was reopen a political divide that the 9/11 commissioners had so scrupulously sought to paper over.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES ABOUND—Another notable feature of the fifth anniversary is the rise of conspiracy theories about what happened on September 11. According to recent polls, about 36 percent of Americans now believe that the U.S. government had an as-yet-undisclosed hand in the catastrophic events.
This development, in one sense, was entirely predictable five years ago, and nothing can be done about it. Nearly 65 years after the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, there still exists a hard-core group who believe Franklin Roosevelt knew about the exact coordinates of the surprise attack, but let it proceed because he was hellbent on entering the war.
The "paranoid style," as historian Richard Hofstadter dubbed it in 1964, has always been a feature of American politics. Still, there is something unsettling when, two years after release of the 9/11 report, the doubters total more than one-third of those polled. The reason for this may be the report's failure to satisfy Americans' thirst for a coherent explanation for the calamity. Here, the aftermath of the 1941 assault on Pearl Harbor provides some insights.
After the surprise attack on the base, Roosevelt appointed the so-called Roberts Commission, headed by Justice Owen Roberts of the Supreme Court, to investigate why the United States was caught unawares. As with any such inquiry, the selection of who would do the investigating was of paramount importance. That would turn out to be the panel's Achilles' heel, in addition to the brevity of its probe and lack of access to critical information. Roberts, a Republican, was chosen because he had made his mark investigating the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s. The four other panel members were military men, two handpicked by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, and two by Secretary of War Henry Stimson. What made this odd was that Knox and Stimson headed the very departments that were the subjects of investigation. One of the generals selected by Stimson, moreover, was a close personal friend of thirty years' standing.
Critics rightly pointed to these built-in conflicts when they charged the panel with having a hopeless bias against the U.S. commanders in Hawaii, while de-emphasizing, if not ignoring, equal or greater mistakes that had been made in Washington. Ultimately, the Roberts Commission did not put questions about the attack to rest; its performance generated controversy and spawned conspiracy theories.
Something of the same phenomenon may be happening with the 9/11 panel, and for similar reasons. It would have been more appropriate for Jamie Gorelick, who served for three years as Clinton's deputy attorney general, to appear before the panel solely as a sworn witness; instead she was one of the most active of the ten commissioners who shaped the report.
Likewise, historians will one day ponder why Philip Zelikow was selected as the commission's executive director. A friend of Condoleezza Rice's since their days together on the National Security Council under George H.W. Bush, Zelikow was a key member of Rice's transition team in 2000 and 2001 and was instrumental in the pivotal decision to demote counter-terrorism "czar" Richard Clarke. After 9/11, Zelikow remained an outside adviser to Rice, helping to draft the administration's 2002 national security blueprint for unilateral, pre-emptive military action—the framework for the invasion of Iraq. Without Precedent is the title of Kean's recently co-authored memoir about the commission's work, an apt choice considering that the panel featured a staff director who had to oversee the investigation, testify, and recuse himself simultaneously.
Since February 2005, Zelikow has been counselor to now Secretary of State Rice. It's a textbook case of what Ralph Nader calls Washington's "deferred bribe syndrome." (Disclosure: From 1999 to 2003, this author worked at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs while Zelikow was its director.)
ILL-CONCEIVED SPEECHES—The fifth anniversary of 9/11 also afforded George Bush a natural opportunity to deploy a president's ultimate asset, an address to the nation from the Oval Office. And once again, Bush used the occasion to promote his foreign policy of crackpot Wilsonianism.
Bush's cleverness (and presumably Karl Rove's) rests on his dressing up an untenable, insolvent policy with words that tug at the heart and mind of nearly every citizen. What American would declare him- or herself squarely opposed to democracy? Or against freedom?
Immediately after 9/11, the administration faced a choice: to address, via politico-military means, the threat posed by Al Qaeda, or to exploit the occasion to smite all of America's real or presumed enemies. The president has repeatedly assured Americans that what he is doing is only the contemporary version of FDR's call to arms to defeat fascism, or Harry Truman's policy of containing communism. Ten years from now, Condoleezza Rice has claimed, the Bush era will be seen as the flowering of a new golden age of U.S. power and diplomacy, akin to the period when the Marshall Plan and the formation of NATO laid the groundwork for a prosperous and democratic Western Europe.
The only thing more astounding than the administration's staggering hubris is the smugness of its ignorance. Bush has not reinvented a contemporary version of containment but rather is engaged in a twenty-first-century version of rollback, an aggressive policy of combating communism that had been discredited by the mid-1950s.
Bush's latest mantra is that the world is a better place with Saddam Hussein stripped of power. Who would deny that? It's also true that the world would have been a better place in 1950 if Joseph Stalin had been deposed. But presidents from Truman to Bush's own father moved cautiously against the citadels of communist power, avoiding war until the Soviet empire imploded because of its own internal weakness. Bush and Rice would have Americans believe that the same nation that contained the Soviet empire for forty-five years was incapable of keeping Saddam Hussein in check.
By invading Iraq pre-emptively and under a false premise, Bush opened a second front before defeating Al Qaeda, giving it another theater of operations, a powerful recruiting tool, and training grounds. Meanwhile, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan. Widening the war to include Iraq also squandered much international goodwill toward the U.S. in the wake of 9/11. World opinion, although intangible, always matters, but seldom as much as it does here.
Judging from the president's fifth-anniversary address, he remains bent on exaggerating Al Qaeda's deadly but limited menace into a polarizing, world-historical clash. His analysis threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the ideology of jihad has been, if anything, spreading. Five years into what Bush initially termed a crusade, there is a growing mismatch between the president's aim of remaking the world and America's not unlimited means.
If this isn't crackpot Wilsonianism, then it's a simpleton's view of history from a president who has watched one too many John Wayne movies.
Posted on: Monday, September 18, 2006 - 10:00
SOURCE: London Review of Books (9-21-06)
It wasn’t always so. On 26 October 1988, the New York Times carried a full-page advertisement for liberalism. Headed ‘A Reaffirmation of Principle’, it openly rebuked Ronald Reagan for deriding ‘the dreaded L-word’ and treating ‘liberals’ and ‘liberalism’ as terms of opprobrium. Liberal principles, the text affirmed, are ‘timeless. Extremists of the right and of the left have long attacked liberalism as their greatest enemy. In our own time liberal democracies have been crushed by such extremists. Against any encouragement of this tendency in our own country, intentional or not, we feel obliged to speak out.’
The advertisement was signed by 63 prominent intellectuals, writers and businessmen: among them Daniel Bell, J.K. Galbraith, Felix Rohatyn, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Irving Howe and Eudora Welty. These and other signatories – the economist Kenneth Arrow, the poet Robert Penn Warren – were the critical intellectual core, the steady moral centre of American public life. But who, now, would sign such a protest? Liberalism in the United States today is the politics that dares not speak its name. And those who style themselves ‘liberal intellectuals’ are otherwise engaged. As befits the new Gilded Age, in which the pay ratio of an American CEO to that of a skilled worker is 412:1 and a corrupted Congress is awash in lobbies and favours, the place of the liberal intellectual has been largely taken over by an admirable cohort of ‘muck-raking’ investigative journalists – Seymour Hersh, Michael Massing and Mark Danner, writing in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.
The collapse of liberal self-confidence in the contemporary US can be variously explained. In part it is a backwash from the lost illusions of the 1960s generation, a retreat from the radical nostrums of youth into the all-consuming business of material accumulation and personal security. The signatories of the New York Times advertisement were born in most cases many years earlier, their political opinions shaped by the 1930s above all. Their commitments were the product of experience and adversity and made of sterner stuff. The disappearance of the liberal centre in American politics is also a direct outcome of the deliquescence of the Democratic Party. In domestic politics liberals once believed in the provision of welfare, good government and social justice. In foreign affairs they had a longstanding commitment to international law, negotiation, and the importance of moral example. Today, a spreading me-first consensus has replaced vigorous public debate in both arenas. And like their political counterparts, the critical intelligentsia once so prominent in American cultural life has fallen silent.
This process was well underway before 11 September 2001, and in domestic affairs at least, Bill Clinton and his calculated policy ‘triangulations’ must carry some responsibility for the evisceration of liberal politics. But since then the moral and intellectual arteries of the American body politic have hardened further. Magazines and newspapers of the traditional liberal centre – the New Yorker, the New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Times itself – fell over themselves in the hurry to align their editorial stance with that of a Republican president bent on exemplary war. A fearful conformism gripped the mainstream media. And America’s liberal intellectuals found at last a new cause.
Or, rather, an old cause in a new guise. For what distinguishes the worldview of Bush’s liberal supporters from that of his neo-conservative allies is that they don’t look on the ‘War on Terror’, or the war in Iraq, or the war in Lebanon and eventually Iran, as mere serial exercises in the re-establishment of American martial dominance. They see them as skirmishes in a new global confrontation: a Good Fight, reassuringly comparable to their grandparents’ war against Fascism and their Cold War liberal parents’ stance against international Communism. Once again, they assert, things are clear. The world is ideologically divided; and – as before – we must take our stand on the issue of the age. Long nostalgic for the comforting verities of a simpler time, today’s liberal intellectuals have at last discovered a sense of purpose: they are at war with ‘Islamo-fascism’....
Posted on: Friday, September 15, 2006 - 18:34
SOURCE: Tabsir (blog) (9-15-06)
The recently installed Pope Benedict gave a speech on Tuesday in his native Germany. Even though the Vatican has ruled that the pope as the prime representative of Christ on earth is as close to being infallible as anyone, such dogma has long since ceased to be newsworthy. Individuals designated as Catholics and Protestants have found other things to fight over (or even to agree with against a common secular enemy) and the thousands upon thousands of victims in Europe’s religious wars are more or less relegated to a historical footnote. Last Tuesday this doctrine of ex cathedra truth rose from the dead of church history and crashed through the gate of ecumenical tolerance.
There are Muslims protests around the world today over comments by Pope Benedict that seemingly villify the Prophet Muhammad. A resolution condemning the pope for making “derogatory” aspersions on Muhammad was passed today in Pakistan. Even the prime minister of Lebanon, Fuad Saniora, asked his ambassador to the Vatican to seek clarification on what the remarks mean. The Vatican has been quick to clarify that Pope Benedict was quoting someone else (who happened to be a Christian emperor talking with a Muslim), but the question is why he would use such a potentially misunderstandable example. Does Benedict give credence to the idea that Muslims have tended to be irrational while Christians were on the side of reason, as his examples suggest?
Perhaps Benedict’s problem is that he is too interested in history. In remembering academic life in his old university he cited a dialogue from about 1391 C.E. (and I do not mean Christian Era) between “the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.” Here is the passage that has caused the uproar:
In the seventh conversation [text unclear] edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”.
According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war.
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.
The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably … is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.
In a quick reading, the kind most people would do (especially in translation), it could be assumed that Benedict agrees with his medieval eastern counterpart’s portrayal of Muhammad as only spreading things “evil and inhuman.” To be fair, he is quoting an emperor under Ottoman siege and one who lived six centuries ago. But the real damage comes in the moral lesson drawn from the anything-but-tolerant statement by the earlier Christian luminary:
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident.
But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn [Hazm] went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
Beyond the obvious problem that a revered pope repeated this “self-evident” commentary in the current world climate of tension over “Muslim” terrorists, it would be bull no matter who was giving the lecture. Islamic doctrine nowhere teaches that Allah can contradict his own words or divine principles of justice. To say that Muslims worship a God so fickle as to contradict the Quran and force people to worship idols is, to borrow a phrase, beyond belief. It is much closer to “Can God create a boulder so large He could not move it?” If I were that Persian interlocutor six centuries ago, I would want the self-righteous Byzantine emperor to explain how he could believe in a God who would allow his own son to be killed or insist on splitting the one supreme God into three persons of equal divinity. For the record, however, doctrinal debates are poor vehicles for talking about the role of reason.
The irony here is that Pope Benedict is appealing to reason as a necessary balance to faith by using Islam as a foil and ignoring the appalling violent history of the church he leads. All religions are spread by the sword at some point, some more than others. Throughout its long history Christianity has been coerced on people by the sword perhaps more than any other religion. Read Bartholomé de las Casas on the Christian conquistadores who enslaved and butchered hundreds of thousands of native peoples of the Americas. Read the bloody history of Europe itself, where the cross was often used to bludgeon anyone branded a heretic. There have been many violent Muslim rulers as well, so there is little point in weighing which faith has caused the least number of deaths.
The problem with Benedict’s lecture is that it perpetuates two problematic themes: the first is that Islam is a more violent religion than Christianity and the second is that religious dogma must always trump scientific reason. His talk is not really about Islam but about the need for reasonable people not to rule out the role of faith. This is a fine platitude, but the critical issue is how to reconcile dogma that asserts its own truth with the reasonable findings of modern science. The Catholic church has absorbed the teaching of evolutionary theory as a method but still gives its faithful the dogmatic right to say that God created a literal Adam out of the mud and Eve from his rib in a real place called Eden. Just as disturbing is the wording of the infallibility plank that makes Pope’s Benedicts remarks more than those of an old man returning to his academic home to give a nostalgic university address. Once again for the record, here is what the church approved over a century ago:
We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.
So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.
[from Pastor Aeternus, First Vatican Council, 1870]
Until such thinking is anathema, there can be no appeal to reason.
Posted on: Friday, September 15, 2006 - 17:43