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: Nation (10-2-06)
Here at home another network, ABC, and its parent, Disney, broadcast a prime-time, commercial-free miniseries, The Path to 9/11, also devoted to a deliberately dishonest rendering of history designed to flatter our current rulers.
How did Disney's decision differ from Hezbollah's? It's hard to say. The various statements coming from Disney and ABC executives have been so contradictory--both internally and when compared with known facts--it's nearly impossible to figure out what they intended to accomplish. After all, it's not every day that a global media corporation spends tens of millions to make a film to give away without commercials and offer free on iTunes, and bases it all on lies. It is particularly odd when it turns out to be the very same corporation that decided to forgo hundreds of millions of dollars when it refused to distribute another movie, Fahrenheit 9-11, that took a differing view of this same historical event because, as one of its executives explained, "it's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle."
The network initially trumpeted the program in full-page ads as "based on the 9/11 Commission Report." But it explicitly contradicts the findings of almost every part of that report, in order to cast blame on the Clinton Administration--inventing scenes, characters and dialogue along the way. To take just one of many examples, as Editor & Publisher reported, the film "explores the terrorist threat starting with the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, and there is little question that President Clinton is dealt with severely, almost mockingly, with the Lewinsky scandal closely tied to his failure to cripple al-Qaeda." The commission concluded exactly the opposite. Clinton instructed his staff to ignore his domestic troubles and, as the report explains, "All his aides testified to us that they based their advice solely on national security considerations. We have found no reason to question their statements."
Former National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism Roger Cressey has added in a Washington Times op-ed that Clinton "approved every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against bin Laden and al Qaeda." Recall that most Republicans and many in the media were themselves obsessed with the President's penis at the time and accused Clinton of playing "wag the dog" with every attempt to take action against Al Qaeda.
In what might otherwise be considered a comedy of errors, New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley--who has earned what must be the largest collection of corrections on staff despite having the job only of watching television--repeated this lie, about Clinton's supposed focus on Lewinsky at the expense of the hunt for bin Laden, in the Paper of Record. Stanley's faulty rendering of history, although corrected in the Times, demonstrates the danger presented by ABC's irresponsibility. If a Times reporter and her editors can't tell the facts from the fiction, how in the world can Mr. and Mrs. American--or Mr. and Mrs. Foreigner--be expected to?
ABC News, which might have taken a stand on behalf of what its own staffers know to be the truth, took a collective pass on the problem. Its amazingly comprehensive daily digest The Note all but ignored it. This Week host George Stephanopoulos made no effort to defend either historical truth or his former colleagues in the Clinton Administration. ABC News correspondent and blogger Jake Tapper went so far as to imply that those who cared enough to protest ABC's lies were giving aid and comfort to the enemy. "I wonder," he wrote, sounding much like Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney, "what would bin Laden prefer us to focus on? A TV show, or improving this country's defenses?" (As Media Matters's Jamison Foser pointed out about Tapper's challenge: "This from a guy who, just two days earlier, had devoted a post to Dancing With the Stars appearances by country music singer Sara Evans and [Tucker] Carlson, whom Tapper described as 'my personal favorite contestant' and 'my pal.'")
Just why was the network willing to humiliate its news division, costing its stockholders tens of millions in order to slander public servants with a story it knows to be a tissue of lies? Why did it ignore the protestations of its own consultants, including FBI agent Thomas Nicoletti, who quit after less than a month, calling parts of the program "total fiction"? And why did it ignore protests from many members of the 9/11 Commission? President Clinton's lawyers and Cabinet members? A group of distinguished historians (in whose company I was honored to be included)? All Americans who hold the history of that horrible day as something to be honored, not trampled upon?
ABC execs offered up one Mickey Mouse excuse after another. One day they defended their depiction as true; the next they claimed it was a "dramatization, not a documentary." But as Max Blumenthal reports on the Huffington Post and TheNation.com, the program is part of a plan hatched by a group of right-wing extremists dedicated, in the words of the organization founded by the film's director, David Cunningham, "to a Godly transformation and revolution TO and THROUGH the Film and Television industry." The scriptwriter, a young friend of Rush Limbaugh's named Cyrus Nowrasteh, was a featured speaker at the Liberty Film Festival, an annual event founded to promote right-wing films, which calls itself "A Program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center." ABC also passed along hundreds of advance screeners to right-wing taste-makers like Limbaugh but refused to allow even the ex-President to have an early look.
Repeat after me: "What liberal media?"
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Thursday, September 14, 2006 - 22:04
SOURCE: Dissident Voice (9-11-06)
The caption of the angus-reid.com report was"Some Americans Still Link Hussein to 9/11." Some, indeed. As of September 2006, 46% of Americans asked, "Do you think there is a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorist attacks?" said yes. 50% said no, and 4% said they weren't sure in a poll with a 3.2% margin of error. In other words, fully half of us link Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. (The poll was taken Sept. 1-5, 2006.)
Of course, it's all in the wording of these questions. There might have been a different result had the pollsters asked, "Do you still think there is a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorist attacks?" or "Given the fact that no expert has been able to establish any evidence for an operative relationship between al-Qaeda and Saddam, and that only people who never pay attention to the news think that anymore, do you think personally still think there is a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorist attacks?" (Don't laugh at the tendentiousness built into my rewritten questions. The online polls conducted by the cable networks are often just as skewed.)
Anyway, the just published Angus-Reid poll asked a second question: Do you think former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks?
This is a significantly different question. I can see why lots of people would believe there some link between Saddam and 9-11. I think about how students process information in history classes as they prepare for exams. (A has something to do with B. If I remember that, it will help me guess right.) Any historical synopsis of the five years following 9-11 will have to note that soon after the al-Qaeda attacks the Bush administration started preparing to invade Iraq, and that the U.S. president repeatedly linked 9-11 and the Iraqi president. So in that sense, yes, there is a link, and any college freshman memorizing for a U.S. history test some 50 years from now will have reason to link, in some way, 9-11 and Saddam.
But this second question implicitly asks about responsibility, about blame. It is depressing to note that 43% of Americans polled answered in the affirmative, a narrow majority of 52% saying no. (Poll taken Aug. 29-Sept. 2, 2006.) After all the facts that have come to light, all the exposure that's been done! You can just hear the neocons' sigh of relief at this extraordinary statement of manipulable ignorance. The power of Fox News!
I do find cause for optimism, though, in the response to the third question: Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
Here the pollsters remind the respondent of the details of the 9-11 attacks. Just eight words of elaboration which, since most of us were thinking adults at the time, shouldn't really affect the response much. But they do. When you add these pithy historical details suddenly the American people -- those polled anyway -- say, "Wait, nah, that doesn't make sense. He wasn't personally involved in those attacks!"
Just 31% say "yes" to the slightly elaborated proposition, and 60% say "no"! (Poll taken Aug. 17-21, before the most recent Senate Intelligence report that again indicates what those paying attention have believed and argued for a long time -- that these "links" have been disinformation.) That 31% remains far too high, a testimony to the power of the (continuing) power of the Cheney-Rumsfeld neocon cabal hell-bent on regime change in Iran and Syria and well practiced at the art of deception to make it happen. It's testimony to the power of the religious right, the AIPAC lobby, the politically influential neocon press and the mainstream press that refuses to really pursue the story of how Bush lied the country into war. Testimony to the solidarity between the two parties who continue to uphold the attack on Iraq as a good decent thing -- if maybe justified initially by some "intelligence mistakes," or mishandled.
The different responses to the three Angus-Reid show how easily it is to manipulate people, words and information. The Straussian neocons planning the next couple imperialist wars know how easy it is. You can insist upon a link, to set up a target for attack, and if the press is on your side (as they've been pretty much so far) you can repeat it again and again so that enough people buy it. Half of the people still see a Saddam-9/11 leak! Lesson is, lying works. And on the other hand, serious researchers and analysts can blow away the disinformation, gradually getting their point across in the generally reactionary, always tardy corporate media. But the lies (for example, the plainly planted psy-ops story about Iraqi troops killing prematurely born Kuwaiti babies in 1990) tend to get exposed long after they've served their purpose.
The Bush administration apparently is banking on that buttheaded 30 percent to endorse the next stages in the Terror War chief architect Dick Cheney has declared will continue way beyond his lifetime. A war against various nations in the Muslim world (and maybe elsewhere) that George W. Bush has (fortunately, to general skepticism and ridicule, but still receiving support from the genuinely fascist-prone right) pronounced a war against an "Islamofascism" as threatening and coherent as Hitler's fascism or Marxism-Leninism. The conflation of Nazism and communism, stupid enough, has been around for ages. The conflation of these two plus Syrian Baathism, Iranian mullocracy, Hizbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda and anything especially in the Muslim world Bush doesn't like is a real leap. It is as though the liars in power want to test just how ignorant people can be, how deeply their fears bigotries and faith in an apocalyptic future can be exploited as they proceed with their agenda.
I'd rather bank on the 60% to wise up further, and act upon their knowledge (and disillusionment) to thwart that agenda, including any military strike against Iran. World Can't Wait has called for nationwide actions against the Bush regime on October 5. A strong showing of opposition to the regime -- reflecting and spreading, in the face of all the lies, truth about the recent past and present -- could help transform the political climate.
Posted on: Thursday, September 14, 2006 - 11:03
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (9-13-06)
The other concerns remarks by Jay Rockefeller that seemed to say it would have been better to leave Saddam in power.
With regard to the second controversy, I have a suggestion for war opponents in this debate. It is to make war the issue. The question is not whether the Saddam regime should have been neutralized. The question is the best method to achieve that goal without destabilizing the Middle East. War was clearly a mistake. It was too blunt an instrument, and it sent Iraq into shock, making the United States inevitably less secure since as an oil-dependent superpower it is negatively affected by instability in the Persian Gulf.
Should Saddam have been defanged and if possible removed? Yes. But it is now obvious that he had been defanged. The weapons inspection regime and the sanctions had destroyed his weapons' programs and thrown the Iraqi economy down to fourth world status. In fact, it is clear in retrospect that the economic sanctions were too stringent (even after the ban on chlorine was lifted, allowing water purification). Saddam was being attacked, constrained, and ever increasingly diminished as a threat, by sanctions and inspections, which needed to be extended and turned into smart sanctions.
War as a tactic was the wrong tactic for Iraq. It is not that any of us in retrospect wish Saddam had not been overthrown. It is a fool's errand to compare Iraq in 2002 and Iraq now. The question is war. War was not the answer. It has not produced stability or security.
As for Bush, his speech was in fact a shameless appropriation of the tragedy of September 11 for partisan political purposes. But what was really strange was the key contradiction it contained. He maintained that the Iraq War had made Americans more secure. But then he said that if they lose the battle in Iraq, "the terrorists" will come after them.
But we never had a beef with the people of Ramadi, ever in our history. If Bush is saying that he has induced a feud between the US and the people of Ramadi so vicious that if we don't spend the rest of the century keeping that city behind barbed wire, they will find a way to blow up something on the US mainland-- if that is what he is saying, then the only logical conclusion is that by invading Iraq, Bush has made us less secure and has created enemies for us where none existed before.
But in fact, the US in the Sunni Arab heartland of Iraq is not fighting "terrorists" mostly. Bush has started to believe his own propaganda. The US is fighting Iraqi nationalists and nativists, secular, tribal or religious. If the Iraqi Sunni nationalists could take over their own territory, they would not put up with the few hundred foreign volunteers blowing things up, and would send them away or slit their throats.
This is Washington's classical Vietnam error. They thought they were fighting international communism in Vietnam, when they were actually fighting Vietnamese nationalists with a leftist cast. Not so long after the end of the war, the Vietnamese were fighting with Communist China. That makes no sense if they were international communists. It makes perfect sense if they were nationalists.
Just as there was no grand global domino effect from our losing the Vietnam War, so there would be no grand terror effect if we left Ramadi. We left Saudi Arabia, which some might see as an enormous concession to al-Qaeda, and nothing bad happened to us. Al-Qaeda cannot control Sunni Iraq because there are too many Iraqi claimants on power and authority, whether Sunni or other. Nor would Turkey and Jordan put up with an al-Qaeda state on their borders, and both have proved that they can intervene effectively if they want to.
Ramadi is not going to follow the US troops back to Ft. Bragg if they leave. Ramadi will celebrate and then go about its business.
As for al-Qaeda, we cannot make policy on the basis of what it thinks of us. Al-Qaeda is stalking America. It is tiny and disrupted, but still dangerous. But an American withdrawal from Iraq would not change a key fact: Al-Qaeda wants to hit us, whether we are in Iraq or not. On the other hand, our being in Iraq is enraging the Muslim world and making it easier for al-Qaeda to recruit and plot against us. If we leave, all that will immediately settle down. When the French left Algeria in 1962, within a year the Franco-Algerian struggle was completely gone from the newspapers of both countries. The French Right kept saying that France could not leave Algeria. But it could, and did, and everything was all right. It will be all right if we get our ground troops out of Ramadi. They aren't winning there, and the occupation is causing more trouble than it is worth. As for who takes over Ramadi when we leave, well, the Iraqis can work that out among themselves. We don't care who runs Rangoon. Why should we care who runs Ramadi?
Posted on: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 21:36
SOURCE: Sandstorm, the blog of Martin Kramer (9-13-06)
Who won the summer war between Israel and Hizbullah?
Right after the ceasefire, Hizbullah and its Iranian patrons declared the war a "divine victory," and the Economist concurred, running this headline across its cover: "Nasrallah Wins the War." Israel sank into a funk of self-recrimination.
But a few weeks later, Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah admitted that if he had it to do again, he would have avoided provoking Israel in the first place. Now it was the turn of Israel’s government to claim victory. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer chimed in, claiming that Hizbullah "was seriously set back by the war," and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called it a "devastating defeat"—for Hizbullah.
The question of who got the upper hand will remain contested. But the debate over who won and who lost obscures the deeper significance of the summer war. It marks the beginning of the third stage in the conflict over Israel.
An evolving conflict
In the first stage, from Israel’s creation in 1948 through 1973, rejection of Israel dressed itself as pan-Arab nationalism. In the classic Arab-Israeli conflict, Arab states formed alliances in the name of Arab unity, with the aim of isolating Israel and building an Arab coalition that could wage war on two or more fronts.
The fatal flaw of this strategy lay in the weakness of pan-Arabism itself. The failure to coordinate led Arab states to humiliating defeats in the multi-front Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated Arab assault on Israel, with partial success. But Egypt then opted out of the Arab collective by reaching a separate peace with Israel in 1979, and the Arab-Israeli conflict came to an end.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict took its place. In this second stage, the Palestine Liberation Organization used a mix of politics and "armed struggle" to open up new fronts against Israel—in Jordan and Lebanon in the heyday of the fedayeen, in the West Bank and Gaza in the first intifada, and in Israel proper in the second.
But the Palestinian struggle also stalled as the PLO grew sclerotic, inefficient, and corrupt. Its transformation into the ramshackle Palestinian Authority only amplified its weaknesses. The death of its leader Yasir Arafat in 2004 effectively marked the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the third and present stage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been superseded by the Israeli-Islamist conflict.
There had always been an Islamist component to the "resistance" against Israel, but it had traditionally played a supporting role, first to the Arab states, and then to the PLO. It was Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamist revolution in Iran, who pioneered an entirely different vision of the role Islamism should play opposite Israel.
Khomeini rejected the view that Israel had become a fait accompli and thereby entitled a place in the region. He believed that Islam had the power to call forth the sacrifice and discipline needed to deny legitimacy to Israel and ultimately defeat it.
To achieve that goal, Islamists could not rest content with a supporting role; they had to push their way to the front. By establishing Hizbullah as an armed vanguard in Lebanon, Khomeini sought to open a new Islamist front against Israel, independent of weak Arab states and the ineffective PLO.
In the 1990s, Islamist movements gained ground across the Middle East. A Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, filled the vacuum left by the PLO’s incompetence. Hizbullah waged a successful campaign to end the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. But while Islamists rejected peace with Israel and called for "resistance," they could not challenge the prerogative of the Arab states and the PLO to make grand strategy toward Israel.
That is, until this past year.
The Islamist moment
Two developments have put the Islamists in the driver’s seat. First, Palestinian elections last winter carried Hamas to power in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas has regarded the elections as a mandate not merely to substitute good government for PLO corruption, but to bend Palestinian strategy to the Islamist vision of gradual attrition of Israel.
Second, Iran’s nuclear drive under President Ahmadinejad has revitalized the idea that Israel can be confronted on the external front.
The possible combination of Iranian nukes, Hizbullah rockets, and Hamas "resistance" has electrified the Arab-Muslim world. Might the forces of Islamism, acting in concert, achieve the victory that eluded Arab states and the PLO? Might they make it possible, once more, to wage a multi-front offensive against Israel? Might an Islamist coalition achieve greater success, by tapping the self-sacrificial spirit of Islam?
This summer brought the Islamist coalition into play against Israel in a multi-front war for the first time. It was not the war Iran would have chosen: Iranian strategy would have deployed the coalition at a moment of Iran’s own choosing, perhaps closer to the make-or-break point in Tehran’s nuclear plans. But Israel preferred to meet the challenge early, launching a preemptive war against Hizbullah’s missiles, rockets, and infrastructure.
Paradoxically, Israel was not fully prepared for the war it launched; Hizbullah, surprised by the outbreak of war, was nevertheless ready for it. The media then hyped those analysts who drew extravagant conclusions from Israel’s hesitant performance. Viewers of one American network could hear a gushing consultant declare: "Hizbullah is a powerhouse… Hizbullah delivers the goods… Hizbullah has proven its muscles… Israel is a paper tiger after all… The rules of the Arab-Israeli conflict will have changed for good." Of course, it would be easy to make the opposite case, beginning with the new rules in Lebanon that constrain Hizbullah.
Strengths and weaknesses
The verdict is still out—this has been the cautious refrain of the most serious analysts. But the war does offer some glimpse into the possible character of the Israeli-Islamist conflict, by showing the intrinsic strengths and weaknesses of the Islamist coalition.
The Islamist coalition is strong in areas of ideological discipline and leadership authority. The ideology purports to be "authentic," and efficiently mobilizes pent-up resentments against Israel and the West. The leaders personify a spirit of defiance that is overvalued in their societies, and they command nearly total obedience. Training is exacting; everyone follows orders; no one surrenders.
The Islamist coalition also brings together a flexible mix of assets, comprised as it is of a state actor (Iran), a quasi-state actor (Hamas), and a sub-state actor (Hizbullah). They have developed innovative weapons systems, from suicide bombings to rockets, which go around and under Israel’s conventional military strengths.
And if Iran were to acquire missile-launched nuclear weapons, they would transform Israel’s small size from an advantage (short lines of defense and supply) into a liability (total vulnerability to one strike). An Iranian nuclear weapon could transform the Israeli-Islamist conflict into a much more dangerous game, in which periodic nuclear-alert crises could bring about the economic, political, and demographic attrition of Israel.
But the Islamist coalition also has weaknesses. First, its backbone is Shiite. Some Sunnis, including Islamists, see the coalition as a threat to traditional Sunni primacy, as much as it is a threat to Israel. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has mobilized against the Iranian-led coalition, which makes it more difficult for the coalition to keep Sunni Islamists in its orbit. And while the coordination between Iran and Hizbullah is total, Hamas has its own strategy, which reflects its own predicament and the constraints imposed by its Arab patrons.
The other major weakness of the Islamist coalition is its lack of direct access to Israel’s borders. The unmarked turf between Israel and the West Bank has been closed off by Israel’s separation barrier to the detriment of Hamas. In the summer war, Hizbullah lost its exclusive control of Lebanon’s border with Israel, arguably the most significant strategic outcome of the war. Without access to Israel’s borders, the Islamist coalition cannot conduct a sustained war of attrition against Israel. Moreover, if the coalition uses its rocket arsenal (its remaining offensive capability), it effectively licenses Israel to retaliate with devastating force.
Absent nuclear weapons, the Islamist coalition is thus likely to remain blocked, unless and until it includes an Arab state that neighbors Israel. Syria is an obvious candidate for that role, but its present leadership acts as an ally of the coalition, and not a full-fledged member in it. There are Islamist political movements in Egypt and Jordan that would eagerly join the coalition, but they are presently kept at bay by moderate regimes.
Given these limitations, the Israeli-Islamist conflict is still far from defining the "new Middle East." But it could come to define it, if the United States allows the Islamist coalition to gain more military and political power. If the United States stops Iran’s nuclear drive, and bolsters moderate Arab rulers against their Islamist opponents, the summer of 2006 may be remembered as the first Israeli-Islamist war—and the last. If not, more wars will almost certainly follow.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 11:36
SOURCE: In These Times (9-12-06)
While the fighting in Lebanon was still raging, many analysts claimed that Hezbollah’s modern weaponry and use of civilian spaces for military purposes distinguished the war from any other.
“Never before in history has a terrorist organization had such state-of-the-art military equipment, ” an Israeli general was quoted as saying in the New York Times. And yet, “Hezbollah has no armor or easily visible storehouses or logistic lines,” the Times continued, “and its members live among the civilian population of southern Lebanon, storing their weaponry in civilian buildings.”
Article after article mentioned the homes used as repositories for missiles, how the missiles were launched from village centers, and the way Hezbollah guerrillas, after firing the missiles, immediately blended back into the civilian population. What struck me about these descriptions was that there was really nothing new about them; in fact, most guerilla warfare has been carried out in a similar manner. Even the pre-state Jewish paramilitary groups that attempted to drive the Brits out of Mandatory Palestine operated in comparable ways. In other words, what the newspapers described as a new phenomenon was actually old, and what in reality was truly new was totally elided.
The Lebanon war was, in effect, a war within a war, and the other warthe war within which it took place and which continues to wreak havocis unique.
Senior military planners at the Pentagon readily accepted the war-within-a-war thesis. According to the New York Times, they cast the conflict “as a localized example of America’s broader campaign against global terrorism,” but noted that “any faltering by Israel could harm the American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
But what, one might ask, is so unique about the war on terrorism?
In May 2004, Paul Hoffman, the Chair of the International Executive Committee of Amnesty International, prepared a paper for UNESCO’s World Forum on Human Rights, in which he eloquently explains this new war’s distinctive characteristics. Shortly before the conference, Hoffman was informed that he would not be delivering the keynote address as had originally been planned, and that his remarks would not be distributed or published because they displeased the United States delegation.
It is unclear which part of Hoffman’s academic paper the Bush administration considered so threatening, but one passage did stand out as quite frightening. In it, Hoffman underscores that “the war on terrorism exists in a parallel legal universe in which compliance with legal norms is a matter of executive grace. … The concept of ‘terrorism’ put forward is any act perceived as a threat by those waging the war against it. The battlefield is the entire planet, regardless of borders and sovereignty. The war on terrorism might continue in perpetuity, and it is unclear who is authorized to declare it over. Human rights protections,” he concludes, “simply do not exist when they conflict with the imperatives of the war on terrorism.”
Although Hoffman goes on to discuss the “human rights free zones” engendered by this war, places like Abu Ghraib, these features are by no means unique. Rather, the war on terrorism is historically distinctive, as Hoffman himself suggests, because its political, temporal, and geographic borders are unbound and unknown, and it is fought against an enemy whose identity is ill-defined and therefore fluid. This is not a minor issue, and it should be remembered when analyzing the different wars being waged these days, not least the one that just took place in Lebanon.
While Israel is certainly responsible for crimes perpetrated in Lebanon, the anti-war movement should really direct most of its energies towards replacing the leadership of the two countries that started the global war on terrorismthe United States and Britainand concentrate less on the countries carrying out the proxy wars.
After all, it was not due to Israel’s warmongering, Hezbollah’s violent provocations or even al-Qaeda’s horrific attacks that the human species sharing this planet have passed a threshold where there is no horizon beyond war. It was President Bush and his friend on 10 Downing Street who have produced this apocalyptic reality and it is against them that our rage must be channeled. We must challenge and deride them through our letters and articles, drawings and paintings. We must voice our dissent at protests and strikes. We must do all this and more until they, as well as their friends and supporters, are forced out of office.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 00:23
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (9-10-06)
Yes, it changed everything -- not September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers collapsed, but November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and left the U.S. at sea, drifting without an enemy in a strange new world.
Through four decades of the Cold War, Americans had been able to feel reasonably united in their determination to fight evil. And everyone, even children, knew the name of the evildoers:"the commies." Within two years after the Wall fell, the Soviet Union had simply disappeared. In the U.S., nobody really knew how to fight evil now, or even who the evildoers were. The world's sole remaining superpower was"running out of demons," as Colin Powell complained.
Amid the great anguish of September 11, 2001, it was hard to sense the paradoxical but very real feeling of relief that flooded across the country. After a decade adrift with no foes to oppose, Americans could sink back into a comfortingly black-and-white world, neatly divided into the good guys and the bad guys, the innocent and the guilty. In the hands of the Bush administration,"terrorists," modest as their numbers might have been, turned out to be remarkably able stand-ins for a whole empire-plus of" commies." They became our all-purpose symbol for the evil that fills our waking nightmares.
Today the very word"terrorist" conjures up anxiety-ridden images worthy of the Cold War era -- images of an unpredictable world always threatening to spin out of control. As then, so now, sinister evil is said to lurk everywhere -- even right next door -- always ready to spring upon unsuspecting victims.
Historians, considering the last decades of our history, are well aware that millions of Americans didn't need the attacks of 9/11 to fear that their world was spinning out of control. As the Cold War waned, profound differences on"values" issues (previously largely kept under wraps) came out of the closet. Societal anxiety rose. Many wondered how long a nation could endure if it had no consensus on"moral matters" and no obvious authority figures to turn to. Many feared they would lose their moral anchor in an increasingly confusing and challenging world.
This was the real terror that the Bush administration played upon when the Twin Towers fell. It took no time at all for the President to be right on Manichaean message:"We've seen that evil is real.""It is enough to know that evil, like goodness, exists." He did not have to say the rest explicitly, because (with a sigh of relief and endless rites of ceremonial mourning) Americans understood it: Goodness exists here in the good old USA. How do we know? Because evil itself attacked us and we are so firmly committed to fighting it.
Such circular logic fed public discourse from the springs of a deeply buried unconscious longing for power, clarity, and innocence. Once again we could stand tall in the world, the dazzling hyperpower of hyperpowers. As long as we were fighting evil, we had to be the good guys. If we weren't so good, why would we be so determined to fight the supposedly new evil of global terrorism?
Of course, it worked the other way around, too: The only way to prove that we were good was by hunting out and fighting evil. If we were to keep on feeling certain that we were the good guys, a steady supply of bad guys was a necessity -- and the post-Cold War decade just hadn't done its job providing them. So it could easily seem more appealing to launch a generational Global War on Terror that would keep the"terrorists" around permanently. What better way to keep on proving our virtue than by combating and containing them forever?
The New Normalcy
The neoconservatives understand all this perfectly well -- and well before September 11, 2001. For years, they had dreamed of preserving American virtue (and American global dominance) by flaunting American military might. They just needed an ongoing series of excuses to do the flaunting. The attacks of 9/11 gave them their chance.
Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice (all products of the Cold War era) said it clearly in the weeks following the attack. Their new war would not be a straightforward World War II-style march to victory. It would be more like? well, the war they knew, the Cold War, with its endless string of conflicts, crises, containments, and battles in the frontier lands of what used to be called the Third World. And it would be forever.
As Cheney put it,"There's not going to be an end date when we're going to say, ?There, it's all over with.'" And he classically summed things up this way:"Many of the steps we have now been forced to take will become permanent in American life. ? I think of it as the new normalcy.'' The neocons were glad to see the war on terrorism revive memories of the days when -- they imagine -- we contained the commies, learned to stop worrying, and loved the bomb (despite all its terror).
It was a strange love that they remembered so fondly. Polls made it clear that we never really stopped worrying then -- and polls make it clear that we still haven't now. Now, as then, we just bury the terror ever deeper and console ourselves as best we can with the mercilessness of our enemies and the relative safety of our own neck of the woods.
A recent poll tells us that only 14% of Americans feel safer now than they did five years ago. Seventy-nine percent expect another attack on U.S. soil within the next year, and 60% think it's likely in the next few months. Four out of five say that"we will always have to live with the threat of terrorism," though only one in five admits to being"personally very concerned about an attack" in his or her own area. A Florida woman captured the prevailing mood when she told a reporter:"When I stop to think about it, I don't feel very safe. But then again, on a day-to-day basis, I feel fine." As Rep. Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, put it:"It's like we live in two parallel existences."
Those words should sound awfully familiar to anyone who lived through the Cold War years. The war on terrorism has revived the Cold War mindset, in which we are all citizens of a national insecurity state. The terror of impending annihilation from a vast, conspiratorial, and evil enemy has again become the vague backdrop of everyday life. To assure ourselves of our absolute goodness, we must see the enemy as absolute evil; not a collection of human beings bent on harming us, but a network of monsters bent on -- and capable of -- destroying us utterly. In other words, Cheney's"new normalcy" is but a version of an older, deeper apocalyptic terror. Every loss -- of a diplomatic conflict or an economic tussle or a pair of skyscrapers -- is once again framed as a portent of looming doom for the nation. Any successful attack upon us, we are told, could bring down the curtain of Armageddon.
Here's the irony. Unlike the nuclear-armed Soviet Union in the Cold War years, terrorists cannot actually threaten to obliterate our country or destroy the planet. But each apocalyptic warning of war to the death by the Bush administration only hastens another kind of loss -- the loss of the American imperial power they so prize.
Even if actual extinction doesn't threaten, when it seems to, a nation, like an animal, is tempted to fight back with no holds barred. That's the attitude Bush and the neocons have tried to inculcate since 9/11. It's the only attitude, they insist, that can save America's military might and moral fiber. Indeed, for hard-core neocons, the main point of their global-war-on-terror policies is to revive this very Cold War mentality.
Yet those policies have obviously backfired terribly. The war on terrorism was supposed to build a new American century -- a unipolar world in which the U.S. would reign supreme. But every day it looks more and more like the 21st century will be the multipolar century, with any number of powerful nations and regional groupings successfully challenging U.S. economic, diplomatic, and military preeminence.
Bush and his neocon advisors certainly don't bear all the blame for an American imperial decline. But their utter misreading of the nature of U.S. military power and their lack of interest in economic and diplomatic realities has certainly hastened along a process that, in some fashion, was bound to happen anyway.
The United States reached the peak of its power in the late 1940s. The meat-grinder of World War II had chewed up all the other great powers and their colonial empires, too. In the ensuing decades, as the others recovered and once-dominated nations like China and India broke free and gained traction, the world moved inevitably toward a multipolar future.
Cold war presidents from Truman to Reagan hastened the process by building up U.S. allies like Germany and Japan in order to stave off the evil empire. And they sometimes even heeded the call of those allies to refrain from using military force (or too much of it anyway), lest a global war be triggered. Empowering our allies, while keeping them militarily subservient, actually helped them grab a bigger slice of the global economic pie, encouraging the rise of multipolarism. Big mistake, the neocons declared as, after 9/11, they set the Bush administration on an aggressive course of unilateralism, aiming at their dream of a New-Rome-style unipolarism.
Looking back, it's easy to see what a big mistake they made -- even in their own terms. Their unilateralism and militarism accelerated to near warp speed the decline of U.S. power and influence around the world. Every military blow or threatened blow only multiplied American enemies; every shock-and-awe action only created more opposition, even from increasingly standoffish allies. In the years to come, for an economically weakened"last superpower," there will be more and more occasions, on more and more fronts, when the U.S. will meet its match and have to back down. None of these will spell doom for us. But in context of the national insecurity state, they're likely to be framed as apocalyptic defeats, harbingers of the end time itself, and, above all, good reason to fight back blindly with all our might.
This is the vicious circle from Hell. The Bush administration's aggressive policies weaken U.S. power. Then its officials try to frighten the public into supporting the very same aggressive policies. We were stuck in a similar cycle, only half-recognized, throughout the Cold War years, and there's no end in sight. So far, it looks like not much has changed at all since 9/11.
But we don't have to stay stuck. There's nothing inevitable about history. Some 160 years after the French Revolution, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai was asked how that event had changed the world."It's too soon to tell," Zhou replied impishly. Five short years after 9/11, it's way too soon to tell if the attacks of that day actually" changed everything," or if they changed much of anything at all.
Already, there is a growing awareness that the Bush Global War on Terror is doing more harm than good. Even from the foreign policy elite we can hear (though still often faintly) voices saying it's time to call it off. For now, the talk is narrowly focused on our imperial well-being -- the weakening of U.S. power and interests around the world.
Perhaps, as losses mount, Americans will eventually see the more important truth: Simplistic moralism and a pervasive fear of apocalyptic disaster weaken our society here at home. They make every step toward positive change look like a looming danger and that plays right into the hands of conservatives who are dedicated to preventing the change we need so badly. If the failed war on terror eventually teaches us this lesson, 9/11 will turn out to be the day that did indeed change everything.
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 12, 2006 - 18:21
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (9-12-06)
You've heard the President and Vice President say it over and over in various ways: There was a connection between the events of September 11, 2001 and Iraq. Let's take this seriously and consider some of the links between the two.
Numbers and comparisons
*At least 3,438 Iraqis died by violent means during July (roughly similar numbers died in June and August), significantly more than the 2,973 people who died in the attacks of September 11, 2001.
*1,536 Iraqis died in Baghdad alone in August, according to revised figures from the Baghdad morgue. That's over half the 9/11 casualties in one city in one increasingly typical month. According to the Washington Post, this figure does not include suicide-bombing victims and others taken to the city's hospitals, nor does it include deaths in towns near the capital.
*By the beginning of September, 2,974 U.S. military service members had died in Iraq and in the Bush administration's Global War on Terror, more than died in the attacks of 9/11. (Twenty-two more American soldiers died in Iraq in the first 9 days of September; at least 3 in Afghanistan.)
*Five years later, according to Emily Gosden and David Randall of the British newspaper, the Independent, the Bush administration's Global War on Terror has resulted in, at a minimum, 20 times the deaths of 9/11; at a maximum, 60 times. It has "directly killed a minimum of 62,006 people, created 4.5 million refugees and cost the US more than the sum needed to pay off the debts of every poor nation on earth. If estimates of other, unquantified, deaths -- of insurgents, the Iraq military during the 2003 invasion, those not recorded individually by Western media, and those dying from wounds -- are included, then the toll could reach as high as 180,000." According to Australian journalist Paul McGeough, Iraqi officials (and others) estimate that that country's death toll since 2003 "stands at 50,000 or more -- the proportional equivalent of about 570,000 Americans."
*Last week, the U.S. Senate agreed to appropriate another $63 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where costs have been averaging $10 billion a month so far this year. This brings the (taxpayer) cost for Bush's wars so far to about $469 billion and climbing. That's the equivalent of 469 Ground Zero memorials at full cost-overrun estimates, double that if the memorial comes in at the recently revised budget of $500 million. (Keep in mind that the estimated cost of these two wars doesn't include various perfectly real future payouts like those for the care of veterans and could rise into the trillions.)
*In 2003, with its invasion of Iraq over, the Bush administration had about 150,000 troops in Iraq. Just under three and a half years later, almost as long as it took to win World War II in the Pacific, and despite much media coverage about coming force "draw-downs," U.S. troop levels are actually rising -- by 15,000 in the last month. They now stand at 145,000, just 5,000 short of the initial occupation figure. (Pre-invasion, top administration officials like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz took it for granted that American troop levels would be drawn down to the 30,000 range within three months of the taking of Baghdad.)
While Americans are planning to remember 9/11 with four vast towers and a huge, extremely costly memorial sunk into Manhattan's Ground Zero, Baghdadis have been thinking a bit more practically. They are putting scarce funds into constructing two new branch morgues (with refrigeration units) in the capital for what's now most plentiful in their country: dead bodies. They plan to raise the city's morgue capacity to 250 bodies a day. If fully used, that would be about 7,500 bodies a month. Think of it as a hedge against ever more probable futures.
While the various New York memorial constructions can't get off (or into) the ground, due to disputes and cost estimate overruns, what could be thought of as the real American memorial to Ground Zero is going up in the very heart of Baghdad; and unlike the prospective structures in Manhattan or seemingly just about any other construction project in Iraq, it's on schedule. According to Paul McGeough, the $787 million "embassy," a 21-building, heavily fortified complex (not reliant on the capital's hopeless electricity or water systems) will pack significant bang for the bucks -- its own built-in surface-to-air missile emplacements as well as Starbucks and Krispy Kreme outlets, a beauty parlor, a swimming pool, and a sports center. As essentially a "suburb of Washington," with a predicted modest staff of 3,500, it is a project that says, with all the hubris the Bush administration can muster: We're not leaving. Never.
*Roadside bombs (or IEDs), "the leading killer of U.S. troops," rose to record numbers this summer -- 1,200 in August, quadrupling the January 2004 figures according to the Washington Post, while bomb and attack tips from Iraqi citizens fell drastically. They plummeted from 5,900 in April to 3,700 in July. ("It will improve once it's not so darn lethal to go out on the street," was the optimistic observation of retired Army Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.)
*According to a recently released quarterly assessment the Pentagon is mandated to do for Congress, Iraqi casualties have soared by a record 51% in recent months, quadrupling in just two years.
*From the same report, monthly attacks on U.S. and allied Iraqi forces rose to about 800, doubling since early 2004. In Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency (where a "very pessimistic" secret Marine Corps assessment indicates that "we haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost…"), attacks averaged 30 a day.
*A sideline record in the War on Terror: Afghanistan's already sizeable opium crop is projected to increase by at least 50% this year and would then make up a startling 92% of the global supply. According to Antonio Maria Costa, the global executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, those supplies would exceed global consumption by 30% -- so other records loom. (Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, the investigation into the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden has hit a record low. His trail has gone "stone cold… U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years.")
The Iraqi Condition
Along with civil war, the ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods, the still-strengthening insurgency, and the security situation from hell, Iraqis are also experiencing soaring inflation, possibly reaching 70% this year (which would more than double last year's 32% rise); stagnant salaries (where they even exist); an "inert" banking system; gas and electricity prices up in a year by 270%; massive corruption ("An audit sponsored by the United Nations last week found hundreds of millions of dollars of Iraq's oil revenue had been wrongly tallied last year or had gone missing altogether"); lack of adequate electricity or potable water supplies; tenaciously high unemployment, ranging -- depending upon the estimate -- from 15-50/60% (the recent Pentagon report to Congress offers Iraqi government figures of 18% unemployment and 34% underemployment); acute shortages of gasoline, kerosene, and cooking gas in the country with the planet's third largest oil reserves, forcing the Iraqi government to devote $800 million in scarce funds to importing refined oil products from neighboring countries and making endless gas lines and overnight waits the essence of normal life ("Filling up now requires several days' pay, monastic patience or both…"); an oil industry, already ragged at the time of the invasion, which has since gone steadily downhill (its three main oil refineries are now functioning at half-capacity and processing only half the number of barrels of oil as before the invasion, while the biggest refinery in Baiji sometimes operates at as little as 7.5% of capacity); government gas subsidies severely cut (at the urging of the International Monetary Fund); malnutrition on the rise and, according to that Pentagon report to Congress, 25.9% of Iraqi children are stunted in their growth.
In other words, economically speaking, Iraq has essentially been deconstructed.
Diving into Iraq
On December 9, 2001, Vice President Cheney began publicly arguing on Meet the Press that there were Iraqi connections to the 9/11 attacks. It was "pretty well confirmed," he told Tim Russert, that Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, had met the previous April in Prague with a "senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service." On September 8, 2002, he returned to the program and reaffirmed this supposed fact even more strongly. ("[Atta] did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center.") All of this -- and there was much more of it from Cheney, the President, and other top officials, always leaving Iraq and 9/11, or Saddam and al-Qaeda, or Saddam and Zarqawi in the same rhetorical neighborhood with the final linking usually left to the listener -- was quite literally so much Bushwa.
These were claims debunked within the intelligence community and elsewhere before, during, and after the invasion of Iraq. We learned only the other day from a belated partial report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that U.S. intelligence analysts were strongly disputing the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda while senior Bush administration officials were publicly asserting those links to justify invading Iraq. We learned as well that our intelligence people knew Saddam Hussein had actually tried to capture Zarqawi and that the claim that Zarqawi and he were somehow in cahoots was utterly repudiated last fall by the CIA. None of this stopped the Vice President or President -- who as late as this August 21 insisted that Saddam "had relations with Zarqawi" -- from continuing to make such implicit or explicit linkages even as they also backtracked from the claims.
As is often the case, under such lies and manipulations lurks a deeper truth. In this case, let's call it the truth of wish fulfillment. The link between 9/11 and Iraq is unfortunately all too real. The Bush administration made it so in the heat of the post-9/11 shock.
Think of that link this way: In the immediate wake of 9/11, our President and Vice President hijacked our country, using the low-tech rhetorical equivalents of box cutters and mace; then, with most passengers on board and not quite enough of the spirit of United Flight 93 to spare, after a brief Afghan overflight, they crashed the plane of state directly into Iraq, causing the equivalent of a Katrina that never ends and turning that country -- from Basra in the south to the border of Kurdistan -- into the global equivalent of Ground Zero.
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: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 17:56
SOURCE: Independent Institute (9-8-06)
[Paul Sullivan is a Professor of Economics at the National Defense University and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. All opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent those of the National Defense University or of any other entity of the U.S. Government.]
The “war on terror” reads like a “war on Islam” in the Muslim world. Why do Muslims have this perception? Perhaps because the U.S. is attacking Muslim countries and the U.S. media routinely link the term “terrorism” with the word “Islam.” Muslims worldwide can easily see this phenomenon on American news programs beamed into their countries via satellite TV.
When violent acts are perpetrated by non–Islamic groups, their religions are not mentioned. Has any political leader affixed the term “fascist” to any other religion lately? Surf the worldwide web for the terms “Islam” and “fascism” or “fascist,” and you will be regaled with millions of hits, many less than kind to this great religion. Then there are the fallback recruitment tools for the extremists: Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The repeated, nearly real–time footage of Muslims being rounded up, questioned, and sent off to prison to be held indefinitely and tortured make the situation even worse. The fact that most American Muslims are well educated, well–off, patriotic, and committed to their country and families seems to be lost in the derogatory drama of the moment.
Which religious book is sometimes attacked whenever the media wants to discuss terrorist acts? The Koran. When our religious and political leaders make public statements on Islam, those statements are often not complimentary.
Our use of terminology is profoundly counterproductive. How often do Muslims hear the talking heads of the small screen refer to jihadists as threats? To be sure, those distorters of Islam who execute wanton and indiscriminate attacks on innocent people are a serious threat. But are they jihadists? By calling these persons jihadists—essentially, one who gives forth effort in the way of God—one not only gives religious cover for those who support or might support them, one also insults Islam and Muslims. Nothing in Islam’s laws of war allows indiscriminate murder. To say that the Koran supports such activities is a grave insult to Muslims. The correct terms for these transgressors in Islamic terminology might be erhabeen (terrorists), mufsidoon (evil ones), and the like. One of these persons is not a mujihad, but a qatil ’l amd, a murderer—plain and simple. Before one states something about a complex part of the world, one should at least get one’s terms of reference correct. Calling them jihadists is like calling Che Guevara and Carlos the Jackal “freedom fighters.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 15:06
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (9-11-06)
The war with the organization itself largely succeeded by 2003 and no further progress seems to have been made since that time. Some 600 al-Qaeda operatives were captured in Pakistan, many of them through a sting arranged inside the Karachi Western Union office, according to Ron Susskind. The original al-Qaeda has been badly disrupted as to command and control.
It is not, however, dead. Every evidence is that the London subway bombings of a little over a year ago had a strong connection to Ayman al-Zawahiri. He appears to have worked wit h a Pakistani terrorist group such as Jaish-i Muhammad or Lashkar-i Tayyibah or whatever they are calling themselves these days to recruit the young Britons that carried out the attack. Al-Zawahiri had in his possession their suicide tapes, and broadcast them on Aljazeera. It is urgent that Usamah Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri be captured. Declan Walsh explains why this is is difficult.
It may well be that the Egyptian Islamic Jihad offshoot operating in the Sinai, which conducted the Sharm El Shaikh and Taba bombings of tourist hotels, has a link to Zawahiri.
Al-Qaeda's popularity is declining in some quarters. A Pew poll in 2005 found that significantly fewer numbers of Moroccans, Turks and Indonesians were confident in Bin Laden that year than the two previous years. On the other hand, a majority of Jordanians and Pakistanis continued to have a high regard for his competency.
The Madrid train bombings show the severe challenge posed by local copycat groups that do not have a direct connection to al-Qaeda, but take up one of its calls to action and learn techniques from the internet. If a group has at least some email connections to a known terror group or individual already under surveillance, at least there is a chance of cracking the plot. If they are all "newskins," that makes them invisible.
US cooperation with Middle Eastern governments is at a high level, from all accounts. The operation against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi appears to have been very significantly a Jordanian operation. Egypt and the US conduct joint military exercises. I have a sense that the relationship with Morocco has deepened. Algeria's government fought a decade-long civil war against Islamist political forces, some of them very violent, and has reason to cooperate.
On the negative side, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq appear eve r increasingly to be organized by radical Muslim fundamentalist forces of various sorts. This population of some 5 million had been among the bulwarks of secular Arab nationalism in the past, but those days are long gone.
The Islamic Action Council in Pakistan, some members of which sympathize with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, continues to rule the Northwest Frontier Province. The central government, however, which is more secular, has stopped it from implementing Islamic law and hisbah (measures that give anyone standing in enforcing morality on others). Parliament has even moved to rewrite Pakistan's flawed rape law, which is based on Gen. Zia ul-Haq's Islamization measures and is so poorly framed that it often ends up allowing the victims to be punished!
Four MPs from the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan went to mourn Zarqawi's death with his family, triggerin g sanctions against them. The incident raised questions about how much distance there is between the Salafi Jihadis, the violent revivalists, and the conservative religious parties that seem to eschew violence and pursue ordinary politics.
The US pressured Egypt to open up its parliamentary elections last fall, and the Mubarak regime took revenge by letting 88 Muslim Brother delegates be seated in a chanber with a little over 400 members. These supported Hizbullah in the recent Israel-Lebanon War and have demanded that the Camp David Accords be revoked.
Hamas won the elections in the Palestine Authority. The Israelis have taken many of the elected Hamas representatives and officials into custody, however, and have repeatedly bombed the Interior Ministry in Gaza. These developments have added to the popularity of Hamas and radical fundamentalism while making a mockery of the Bush administration's stated commitment to democratization.
Hizbullah itsel f achieved enormous popularity, and enhanced the prestige of radical Muslim fundamentalism, by its ability to make a stand before the Israeli military machine. This development will ripple through the region, to the disadvantage of more secular, moderate forces.
The evidence with regard to hearts and minds is mixed. The Pew Global Attitudes Project reports on Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, with a population of 224 mn. In 2000, 70 percent of Indonesians viewed the United States favorably. (Such numbers were typical for US Muslim allies in areas not consumed by the Arab-Israeli conflict). In 2002 as a result of the Afghanistan war, the number fell to 60 percent. Then in 2003 after Bush invaded Iraq, it fell to 15 percent. After Bush sent the US Navy to help Indonesia in the aftermath of the tsunami, the numbers rebounded in 2005 to 38 percent. In 2006 they have fal len again, down to 30 percent.
So since 2000, we have fallen from 70 percent approval in Indonesia to only 30 percent, and at some points we were way down. This story contains a caution and also some encouraging news. The caution is that we are losing the Indonesia public because of this Iraq occupation. It is true in Turkey, as well, and lots of other places. The good news is that it is not irreversible. Do some nice things for someone, and the numbers go up. (The numbers also went up in Pakistan after we diverted some military helicopters to help the victims of the Kashmir earthquake). If we ended our Iraq presence, there is a chance we could repair these relationships with some munificent gestures.
In Turkey, the favorability rating of the US in 2002 was 52 percent. It is now 15 percent. That is a scary plummet! I suspect it is all about Iraq, and particularly the feeling that the US is letting the Iraqi Kurds harbor the PKK terrorists, who are blowing thing s up in Turkey.
The only really good news in the Pew findings is that the US has grown in popularity in Morocco, to nearly 50%, and is especially popular with youth and women. Moroccans have said they are worried about terrorism and about too much influence of religion in politics. I don't entirely understand what is driving the Morocco numbers, since they were pretty upset about Iraq, but the change should be studied for what it can tell us about doing things right. One thing that helps is that Morocco is a long way from the Arab-Israeli conflict, and, in fact, has good behind the scenes relations with Israel.
The Arab world mostly just dislikes US policy, mainly because of kneejerk support for Israeli depredations against Palestinians. The dislike doesn't change that much, though we reached a nadir in 2003-2004. In 2002 76 percent of the Egyptian public disapproved of us. In 2004 that rose to 98 percent. It has fallen down to 86 percent in 2006. Very f ew Egyptians approve of US foreign policy. They don't even like US intervention to open up the Egyptian political system.
To the extent that small terrorist groups benefit in their recruitment and in motivating recruits from deeply negative attitudes to the United States, these polling numbers are extremely disturbing. The main things driving a polarization between Muslim publics and the US are not al-Qaeda or terrorism, however. They are Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. It is the policy. The policy can provoke anger and engender threat, and that is why it had better be a damn good policy. It can also make for friendships, which is what we should be aiming at.
It wouldn't take much now to settle the Israel-Palestine thing, and the time is ripe to have Israel give back the Golan to Syria and the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon in return for a genuine peace process. The Israelis are not made more secure by crowding into the West Bank or bombing Gaza daily. South Lebanon ha s demonstrated the dangers of ever more sophisticated microwars over rugged territory. It is time for Israel, and for the United States, to do the right thing and rescue the Palestinians from the curse of statelessness, the slavery of the 21st century. In one fell swoop, the US would have solved 80 percent of its problems with the Muslim world and vastly reduced the threat of terrorism.
But of all the things this administration has done badly, it has been worst of all at making friends in the region. That could end up hurting us most of all, and playing into Bin Laden's incresingly ghostly hands.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 14:58
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (9-1-06)
Empires, more than nation-states, are the principal actors in the history of world events. Much of what we call history consists of the deeds of the 50 to 70 empires that once ruled multiple peoples across large chunks of the globe. Yet, as time has passed, the life span of empires has tended to decline. Compared with their ancient and early modern predecessors, the empires of the last century were remarkably short lived. This phenomenon of reduced imperial life expectancy has profound implications for our own time.
Officially, there are no empires now, only 190-plus nation-states. Yet the ghosts of empires past continue to stalk the Earth. Regional conflicts from Central Africa to the Middle East, and from Central America to the Far East, are easily—and often glibly—explained in terms of earlier imperial sins: an arbitrary border here, a strategy of divide-and-rule there.
Moreover, many of today’s most important states are still recognizably the progeny of empires. Look at the Russian Federation, where less than 80 percent of the population is Russian, or Britain, which is, for all intents and purposes, an English empire. Modern-day Italy and Germany are the products not of nationalism but of Piedmontese and Prussian expansion. Imperial inheritance is even more apparent outside of Europe. India is the heir of the Mughal Empire and, even more manifestly, the British Raj. (An Indian Army officer once told me, “The Indian Army today is more British than the British Army.” Driving with him through the huge barracks at Madras, I saw his point, as hundreds of khaki-clad infantrymen leapt to attention and saluted.) China is the direct descendant of the Middle Kingdom. In the Americas, the imperial legacy is apparent from Canada in the north to Argentina in the south. The Canadian head of state is the British monarch; the Falkland Islands remain a British possession.
Today’s world, in short, is as much a world of ex-empires and ex-colonies as it is a world of nation-states. Even those institutions that were supposed to reorder the world after 1945 have a distinctly imperial bent. For what else are the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council if not a cozy club of past empires? And what is “humanitarian intervention,” if not a more politically correct-sounding version of the Western empires’ old “civilizing mission”? ...
Posted on: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 14:16
SOURCE: NY Sun (9-12-06)
Five years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it is clear how terrorism has set back the cause of radical Islam.
The horrors of 9/11 alarmed Americans and fouled the quiet but deadly efforts of lawful Islamists working to subvert the country from within. They no longer can replicate their pre-9/11 successes. This fits an ironic pattern whereby terrorism usually (but not always) obstructs the advance of radical Islam. For an illustration of this change, consider an example from radical Islam's halcyon days in the late 1990s – how a prominent Islamist organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, easily humiliated the giant manufacturer of athletic gear, Nike, Inc.
Nike had introduced its "Air" line of basketball shoes in 1996 with a stylized, flame-like logo of the word Air on the shoe's backside and sole. When the elders at CAIR nonsensically declared that this logo could "be in terpreted" as the Arabic-script spelling of Allah, Nike initially protested its innocence. But by June 1997, it had accepted multiple measures to ingratiate itself with the council. It:
- "apologized to the Islamic community for any unintentional offense to their sensibilities";
- "implemented a global recall" of certain samples;
- "diverted shipments of the commercial products in question from ‘sensitive' markets";
- "discontinued all models with the offending logo";
- "implemented organizational changes to their design department to tighten scrutiny of logo design";
- promised to work with CAIR "to identify Muslim design resources for future reference";
- took "measures to raise their internal understanding of Islamic issues";
- donated $50,000 for a playground at an Islamic school;
- recalled about 38,000 shoes and had the offending logo sanded off.
The offending Nike shoe logo, where "Air" supposedly looks like "Allah" in Arabic script.
Giving up all pretense of dignity, the company reported that "CAIR is satisfied that no deliberate offense to the Islamic community was intended" by the logo.
The executive director of CAIR, Nihad Awad, arrogantly responded that, had a settlement not been reached, his organization would have called for a global boycott of Nike products. A spokesman for the group, Ibrahim Hooper, crowed about the settlement: "We see it as a victory. It shows that the Muslim community is growing and becoming stronger in the United States. It shows that our voices are being heard."
Emboldened by this success, Mr. Awad traveled to the headquarters of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, a Wahhabi organization in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, one year later to announce that Nike had not lived up to its commitment. He flayed the firm for not recalling the full run of more than 800,000 pairs of shoes and for covering the Air logo with only a thin patch and red paint, rather than removing it completely. "The patch can easily be worn out with regular use of the shoe," he complained. Turning up the pressure, Mr. Awad proclaimed a campaign "against Nike products worldwide."
Nike again capitulated, announcing an agreement in November 1998 on "the method used to remove the design and the continued appearance of shoes in stores worldwide." It coughed up more funding for sports facilities at five Islamic schools and for sponsorship of Muslim community events, and donated Nike products to Islamic charitable groups. The trade press also suggested a financial contribution to CAIR.
Today, all this is distant history. CAIR still can bully major corporations, as it did in 2005 with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, but it can no longer shake them down for cash, nor can it ride a bogus issue like Air = Allah. The public is somewhat more skeptical (though not always enough so).
Successes like the Nike capitulation inspired an Islamist triumphalism pre-9/11. One apologist, Richard H. Curtiss, captured its flavor in September 1999, when he called a decision by Burger King to shut a franchised restaurant in a Jewish town on the West Bank, Ma'aleh Adumim, "the battle of Burger King." He hyperbolically compared it "to the battle of Badr in 624 A.D., which was the first victory of the vastly outnumbered Islamic community."
Portraying a trivial lobbying success as similar to a world-shaking battlefield victory provides an insight into Islamist confidence pre-9/11. No less suggestively, Mr. Curtiss wrongly predicted that American Muslims would, "within the next 5 or 10 years," go on to win more such battles. Instead, terrorists seized the initiative, relegating lawful Islamists mostly to fighting defensive skirmishes. Thus did mass violence, paradoxically, seriously impede the Islamist agenda in America.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 14:03
SOURCE: Frog in a Well (blog) (9-11-06)
I really did try to have class that morning. It was my Modern Japan class, and I tried — oh, how I tried — to talk coherently about terrorism in Japanese history. Nothing wrong with current events, if you can relate it to the course material, right? I talked about the bakumatsu assassination campaigns, about the right-wing assasinations and coup attempts of the ’30s; I honestly don’t remember if I got the Great Treason Incident in there or not, what with text messages and sharing what little we knew, and all. I do remember running out of things to say and dismissing them early, and being grateful when the president of the college cancelled classes for the remainder of the day. I went back to my office, called the college chaplain to see what was going on with regard to our small but noticeable Muslim student population (Everyone was fine: Cedar Rapids has the oldest mosque west of the Mississippi river and the local Muslim community is quite well integrated and respected), and went home to my pregnant wife.
It was a shocking event, to be sure. But it wasn’t quite such a surprise. It wasn’t all that long after I’d read Tom Clancy’s excreable Debt of Honor a book whose only redeeming feature (I’ve read quite a bit of Clancy’s work, and I find it wildly inconsistent in quality, which is why there’s always hope about a new one) was the ending — yeah, I’m gonna give it away — in which a businessman/pilot steals a jetliner, talks his way into the DC air traffic patterns, and obliterates a Joint Session of Congress, Tokkotai-style. (If you want to know how the immortal Jack Ryan solves the problem, you have to read Executive Orders, which is considerably more exciting and interesting and plausible….) Obviously, anyone teaching Japanese history has had to wrestle a bit with the issue of suicide attacks — human bullets, shattered jewels, divine winds, etc. — and they had been increasingly common in the Middle East of late.
Being Jewish, I have that slightly-greater-than-average-American-interest in Middle Eastern affairs, and that slightly-greater-than-average-paranoia about violent, hostile forces. Not only wasn’t the 9/11 attack not the first large domestic terror attack, it wasn’t even the first large, Islamist, domestic terror attack on the World Trade Center. The Taliban had long since destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas (nothing like destruction of cultural property to get an historian’s attention), not to mention imposing strictures on Afghani women that would make Draco blanch. US interests had been attacked overseas, the bombing of the Jewish center in Argentina proved the reach of anti-semitic violence (recently revealed to be al-Qaeda related, even) outside of the Middle East.
What changed for me, five years ago? As an historian, very little. The market for Asianists got a bit tighter, as the market for MidEast and Islamic specialists got better. I stopped having to work so hard to explain the terror of the Cold War, the potential of sudden death and the existence of ideologically and politically hostile entities on a world-wide scale. Changes in Japan since then have been subtle, and mostly not at all linked to our own national trauma. Hardly anyone, still, has made any substantial links between Japan’s history of suicide attacks and terrorism with our current situation, but I don’t see there being all that much to say about it except to suggest that people would be less surprised if they paid attention. I remain convinced that paying attention to historical evolution and forces is one of the best ways to anticipate problems and sometimes even to find solutions. Airport security changes have rarely affected us — though our 7-month-old got randomly selected for special screening, and they really did pat him down.
Historians really don’t do anniversaries (though we try to remember our spouses and parents as appropriate). The press does, because it’s easy to count by years, or fives, or tens, or twenty-fives, or hundreds, and then they come talk to us or to people who were directly involved [via], and we get an odd sort of retrospective and update. Historians don’t care about even numbers: for us, the “Sixties” ended with the Vietnam War, and both the 18th and 19th centuries were “long” ones; every “20th century” course I’ve ever taken started in 1890. But outside of the journalistic need for a “hook” to look back, there’s nothing special about five years.
There’s nothing all that special about 9/11, either…. yet. What meaning 9/11/01 will have, its historical import, is still up in the air, no matter how much anyone claims that it must mean this or that, that things have or haven’t changed as a result. 9/11 was the largest act of terror to strike the United States, just as the Holocaust was the largest anti-semitic genocidal event, but neither of them stands alone and to focus all our attention on those events of such distinctive scale to the exclusion of myriad “smaller events” before or since is historically stunted, or dishonest. That so many people were so shocked by the event, and have yet to put it in anything like proper context or perspective, suggests to me that historians — not alone among scholars, but perhaps uniquely — have a long way to go in inculcating (recovering) our long-term vision, our sense of complexity of the world, our experience — indirect but nonetheless real — with cultural and ideological and technological change and conflict.
Posted on: Monday, September 11, 2006 - 16:30
For the last six months, I have been involved in a series of discussions about how to re-engage African-American and Latino youth with the educational system , and give them an alternative discourse and moral framework to contest the worldview they are immersed in through commercial hip hop and popular media.
It would be comforting to think that educational reforms such as reduced class size, smaller schools, and more regular testing to insure acquisition of basic skills would help narrow the gap between middle class and poor students, and between African American and Latino youth and their white and Asian counterparts, but so far, the school reform movement has registered few noticeable gains in achieving either of those educational objectives.
Making the school environment both more demanding and more supportive for children from poor families is certainly an important first step in reducing the test score gap, but cognitive and moral development take place in family and community settings at least as much as they do in school, and if children go back to stress filled, violent and cognitively and linguistically constricted enviroments when school is done, the gains schools can make, even with the most inspired leadership and teaching staff may be limited
It's time to take a harsh, realistic look at what children's lives are like in wounded families and communities. The words and images in gangsta rap that justly appall so many people were not invented by the rappers or the corporations that profit from their music- they echo the language many people in poor communities use in dealing with one another, and unfortunately, in communicating with their own children.
In a economy where the vast majority of decent paying jobs require communication skills more than physical strength, children who are cursed, yelled at, hit, threatened and called"N. . . r" and"B . . h" by the people closest to them, who are never read to or engaged in convesation, who are never taken to museums, stores and cultural events outside their neighborhood will find it very hard to compete with with children from middle class families when it comes time to seek employment or get into selective schools. In some cases, they may find it difficult to stay in school long enough to graduate from high school, or keep any job for more than a few weeks.
If truth be told, the brutality and cynicism in gangsta rap is no greater, and far less damaging, than the brutality and cynicism that pervades daily interactions in many poor communities. A two year old girl told by her mother's boyfriend"Shut the f..k up, you little b. . .h," when she cries, is going to bear scars that will dwarf anything inflicted by the most misogynistic and violent hip hop lyrics.While it would probably be healthier if popular music tried to uplift our wounded youth, rather than echo and reinforce the sources of their pain, in no way, shape or form should music be seen as the main cause of their misery.
So what should we do? We need to supplement school reform with the most intenstive afterschool and weekend programs than emphasize mentoring and cognitive development.
From the age of six, children should be drawn into small groups, with consistent adult leadership, where they will feel safe and protected, and given experiences that most middle class children take for granted. The first of those is CONVERSATION. Children should have the experience of being spoken to by adults, and speaking to one another, in complete sentences, without insults, cursing, or terms of abuse. Giving children the time and space to use their imagination in describing the world around them is a valuable experience for youngsters whose family lives are often characterized by constant stress and high levels of conflict. Schools don't have the time to do this. Mentoring programs which have 6 children at a time do. The second of these is READING. Children need to be read to on a regular basis in a relaxed environment. In many households in poor neighborhoods, the noise and crowding levels, as well as the stress levels many of the adults labor under, make this impossible. Mentoring programs that involve reading, both by adults and children, will make books seem like a source of comfort, inspiration and adventure rather than just a prerequisite for passing tests. A third element is HANDS ON EXPERIENCES IN SCIENCE AND THE ARTS. From the time they are two years old ( and sometimes earlier) middle class children are deluged with toys which give them a chance to develop congitive skills through hands on activities. Children in poor neighborhoods rarely have these experiences and mentoring programs have to offer them.
They should be given the leisure to draw things, make things, create new sounds, mix and match colors and chapes, conduct simple scientific experiments with water and light, and experience the physical word as a source of mystery and adventure in a relaxed setting.
Having the time to try different approaches, to make mistakes and correct them, to invent new approaches without adults yelling at them or other kids making fun of them or knocking down their equipment is a very important developmental experience many kids in troubled families simply don't have. TRIPS TO CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS Taking children to museums, concerts, or cutural festivals downtown, in a small group setting where they can be both guided and reassured, will give them the opportunity to see first hand what the world outside their neighborhood is like and will halp them develop the social skills they will need to go to school, or seek employment, in middle class communities. The more sophistication and broad exposure to different neigborhoods children have, the less likely they will grow up feeling trapped in the communities they lived in
Nothing less that what I have outlined above, which should begin for children at age 6, is capable of addressing the cultural and cognitive deficits that traps many of our young people in dangerous neighborhoods, and sharply narrows their choices when they have become adolescents or adults.
This is just my first effort to speak to a very difficult and complex issue. I welcome comments, criticism, and suggestions of more effective stragegies.
Posted on: Friday, September 8, 2006 - 16:21
SOURCE: Time (8-3-06)
Nineteen terrorists. Four hijacked aircraft. Nearly 3,000 victims. It all happened in little more than an hour, between a quarter to nine and 10 in the morning on Sept. 11, 2001. But the war that started that day was destined to last years, many years.
At first they called it the Global War on Terrorism. In time, historians rebranded it the Great War for Democracy.
It was a conflict that changed forever the face of the Middle East. It was a war that fundamentally altered the international balance of power. But it was far from clear that those shifts were favorable to the U.S. Some pessimists, with the benefit of hindsight, suggested that the years after 9/11 marked the beginning of the end of the American Century. But others maintained that it was the beginning of a different kind of American Century.
No question, 9/11 was an act of war. But was the U.S. reaction to it the right one? In 2006, five years after 9/11, the answer to that query still seemed unresolved. According to a TIME/Discovery Channel poll taken on the eve of the anniversary, nearly 70% of Americans believed the war against terrorism would not be won within 10 years. But looked at from the vantage point of 2031--three decades after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington--the debate is over. Thirty years later, the Great War for Democracy has been won. And not many people in 2006 would have predicted the winner.
I THE WAR FOR DEMOCRACY
The significance of a traumatic event like 9/11 changes with the passage of time. On the fifth anniversary of the attacks, memories were still fresh; to those who lived through that day, it was unfathomable that three decades later many Americans would have no memory at all of what happened back in 2001. As a 67-year-old writing in the year 2031--at an age that used to qualify me as a senior citizen before that term was banned as ageist, and before the standard retirement age was raised to 80--I can still remember 9/11 pretty clearly. But today 1 in every 3 Americans is under age 30. And so I had better explain why I think the attacks constituted the first battle in a War for Democracy.
It was a new-style democratic war from the very outset because the enemy chose as its targets not masses of troops or military installations, as in traditional war, but U.S. civiliansordinary people going about their business on planes, in tower blocks, in government offices. And it was democratic because the perpetrators took advantage of the very freedoms inherent in democracy to lay their murderous plans.
It was democratic too in the sense that the U.S. was able to wage a war of retaliation with minimal coercion of its own citizens. There was no draft, no censorship of the press and--a first--no economic squeeze to pay for the war. On the contrary, Americans were told it was their patriotic duty to carry on consuming.
"We're an empire now," a senior White House aide declared in 2004. But the U.S. doggedly remained a republic, to the disappointment of a few hawkish commentators and the relief of everyone else. Elections happened as usual. When torture was used against suspected terrorists, for example, the press howled. When suspects were detained without charge, the courts intervened. As Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor put it, "A state of war isn't a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens." To many Americans, indeed, the whole point of the war was to preserve their country's democratic institutions. And unlike its fighting partners in World War II, when the Soviet despot Joseph Stalin was a confederate, America's key allies in the Global War on Terrorism were also democracies.
Most significant, the war that began on Sept. 11, 2001, was democratic in a strategic sense, since the democratization of the greater Middle East became one of America's principal war aims. It was an aim inspired by the democratic-peace theory, which stated that democracies were less likely to go to war with one another than were other kinds of states and that therefore a world with more democracies would be a more peaceful world. That became President George W. Bush's central argument for the post-9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush summed up the strategy in his second Inaugural Address, in 2005: "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."...
Posted on: Friday, September 8, 2006 - 15:45
SOURCE: Salon (9-8-06)
The ongoing ethnic cleansing and piecemeal partition of Iraq most often takes place along ethnic and sectarian lines. Kurds fight Arabs, Sunnis fight Shiites, and so on. The recent battles in Diwaniyah, Karbala and Basra, however, raise the specter of Shiite-on-Shiite violence, and on a level that may pull in coalition troops and further imperil the U.S. mission in Iraq.
The provincial elections of January 2005 brought Shiite religious parties to power in 11 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Nine of those provinces are dominated by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI was formed in Iran in the early 1980s by Iraqi Shiite expatriates who had fled the repression of Saddam Hussein. Its paramilitary wing, the Badr Corps, was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Its leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, remains close to the hardliners in Iran, who were his generous hosts for more than two decades. He is dedicated to the creation of a huge, nine-province regional confederacy in the Shiite south, a super-province on the model of Kurdistan in the north.
But since the elections, the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr has spread like wildfire throughout the south. The appeal of the beefy, strident young Shiite cleric is mysterious to most Americans. In Iraqi terms, however, he has staked out a clear position as a champion of the poor and a nationalist. He urges that local neighborhoods organize branches of his Mahdi army for self-protection from the depredations of the Sunni guerrilla movement. He has expanded from his initial base in the vast slums of east Baghdad, which were renamed Sadr City after the U.S. invasion in honor of his sainted father, into the small towns of the southern Shiite heartland.
A conflict is therefore brewing between SCIRI, which controls the provincial governments (including that of Baghdad itself), and the Sadr movement, which increasingly represents the current thinking of the electorate. It is widely thought in Iraq that when new provincial elections are held, and they are already overdue, the Sadrists may sweep to power in the southern provinces. That would be a clear political loss for the United States. SCIRI is cosmopolitan, willing to cooperate with the United States and close to Iran. The Sadr movement is nativist, denouncing Iranian influence in Iraqi life, and it demands that the United States and other foreign troops leave on a specific timetable. SCIRI represents the great merchants, landowners and clerics of the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala, who have dollar signs in their eyes at the prospect of the billions of dollars that the Iranian pilgrimage trade will bring in. The Sadrists represent the little people, who wonder where their next meal is coming from and who suffer from lack of fuel, electricity and services. SCIRI represents the Shiites who can afford their own generators....
Posted on: Friday, September 8, 2006 - 14:46
Nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran and North Korea mean it is only a matter of time before there are nuclear weapons in the hands of international terrorist organizations. North Korea needs money. Iran has brazenly stated its aim as the destruction of Israel, and both its actions and its rhetoric suggest aims that extend even beyond a second Holocaust.
Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
This is not just another in the long history of military threats. The Soviet Union, despite its massive nuclear arsenal, could be deterred by our own nuclear arsenal. But suicide bombers cannot be deterred. Fanatics filled with hate cannot be either deterred or bought off, whether Hezbollah, Hamas or the government of Iran.
The endlessly futile efforts to bring peace to the Middle East with concessions fundamentally misconceive the forces at work. Hate and humiliation are key forces that cannot be bought off by "trading land for peace," by a "Palestinian homeland" or other such concessions that might have worked in other times and places.
Humiliation and hate go together. Why humiliation? Because a once-proud, dynamic culture in the forefront of world civilizations, and still carrying a message of their own superiority to "infidels" today, is painfully visible to the whole world as ruling a poverty-stricken and backward region, lagging far behind in virtually every field of human endeavor. There is no way they can catch up in a hundred years, even if the rest of the world stands still. And they won't wait a hundred years to vent their resentments and frustrations at their humiliating position.
Israel's very existence as a modern, prosperous Western nation in their midst is a daily slap across the face. Nothing is easier for demagogues than to blame Israel, the United States, or Western civilization in general for their own lagging position.
Adolf Hitler was able to rouse similar resentments and fanaticism in Germany under conditions not nearly as dire as those in most Middle East countries today. The proof of similar demagogic success in the Middle East is all around.
What kind of people provide a market for videotaped beheadings of innocent hostages? What kind of people would throw an old man in a wheelchair off a cruise liner into the sea, simply because he was Jewish? Or would fly planes into buildings to vent their hate at the cost of their own lives? These are the kinds of people we are talking about getting nuclear weapons. And what of ourselves?
Do we understand that the world will never be the same after hate-filled fanatics are able to wipe whole American cities off the face of the Earth? Do we still imagine they can be bought off, as Israel was urged to buy them off with "land for peace" -- a peace that has proved to be wholly illusory?...
Posted on: Friday, September 8, 2006 - 11:48
SOURCE: NY Sun (8-29-06)
Two days after British authorities broke up an alleged plot to blow up multiple aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean, the "moderate" Muslim establishment in Britain published an aggressive open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It suggested that Mr. Blair could better fight terrorism if he recognized that the current British government policy, especially on "the debacle of Iraq," provides "ammunition to extremists." The letter writers demanded that the prime minister change his foreign policy to "make us all safer." One prominent signatory, the Labour member of Parliament Sadiq Khan, added that Mr. Blair's reluctance to criticize Israel increased the pool of people whom terrorists can recruit.
In other words, Islamists working within the system exploited the thwarted Islamist terror plot to pressure the British government to implement their joint wishes and reverse British policy in the Middle East. Lawful Islamists shamelessly leveraged the near death of thousands to forward their agenda.
Despite its reported fears of Muslim street unrest, the Blair government heatedly rejected the letter. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett called it "the gravest possible error." The Foreign Office minister Kim Howells dismissed it as "facile." Home Secretary John Reid deemed it a "dreadful misjudgment" to think that the "foreign policy of this country should be shaped in part, or in whole, under the threat of terrorism activity." Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander rejected the letter as "dangerous and foolish."
Undaunted, the "moderate" Muslim establishment pushed even harder on the domestic front. In an August 14 meeting with high government representatives, including the deputy prime minister, it made two further demands: that a pair of Islamic religious festivals become official holidays and that Islamic laws pertaining to marriage and family life be applied in Britain. A Muslim present at the meeting later warned the government against any plans to profile airport passengers, lest this step radicalize Muslim youths further.
Why these ultimata and why at this time? According to the Daily Mail, the leader of the August 14 Muslim delegation, Syed Aziz Pasha, explained his group's logic: "if you give us religious rights, we will be in a better position to convince young people that they are being treated equally along with other citizens." More ominously, Mr. Pasha threatened the government leaders. "We are willing to cooperate, but there should be a partnership. They should understand our problems. Then we will understand their problems."
The press reacted furiously to these demands. The Guardian's Polly Toynbee condemned the open letter as "perilously close to suggesting the government had it coming." The Daily Mirror's Sue Carroll portrayed Mr. Pasha's position as "perilously close to blackmail."
This was not the first such attempt by "moderate" British Muslim leaders at political jujitsu, to translate Islamist violence into political clout. The same happened, if less aggressively, in the aftermath of the July 2005 London bombings, when they piggybacked on the death of 52 innocents to demand that British forces leave Iraq.
That pressure did succeed, and in two major ways. First, the Home Office subsequently issued a report produced by "moderate" Muslims, "Preventing Extremism Together," that formally accepted this appeasing approach. As Dean Godson of Policy Exchange summarizes the document, Islamist terror "provided a wonderful, unexpected opportunity for these moderates to demand more power and money from the State."
Second, 72% of British subjects now accept the Islamist view that Mr. Blair's "backing for action in Iraq and Afghanistan" has made Britain more of a target for terrorists, while a negligible 1% say the policies have improved the country's safety, according to a recent poll. The public solidly backs the Islamists, not the prime minister.
I have argued that terrorism generally obstructs the progress of radical Islam in the West by stimulating hostility to Muslims and bringing Islamic organizations under unwanted scrutiny. I must admit, however, that the evidence from Britain – where the July 7 terrorism inspired more self-recrimination than it did fury against jihad – suggests that violence can also strengthen lawful Islamism.
And here's another reconsideration: While I maintain that the future of Europe – whether continuing in its historic Christian identity or becoming an adjunct of Muslim North Africa – is still an open question, the behavior of the British public, that weakest link in the Western chain, suggests that it, at least, may be too confused to resist its Londonistan destiny.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Friday, September 8, 2006 - 11:41
SOURCE: Popmatters.com (8-29-06)
Under the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Superdome -- the "crown jewel of the New Orleans skyline" -- quickly became a cesspool of waste, sewage, and most lurid of all, death. The city's poor who flocked there for relief had no food, running water or air conditioning. The ill-equipped emergency shelter, like the nearby Convention Center, became a symbol of the storm's devastation -- and the Bush administration's failure to aid the people suffering in the drowned city.
News programs scurried to broadcast the lurid tales of mayhem amid the flooded ruins. The plight of disadvantaged African Americans left behind to virtually fend for themselves in the wake elicited a national outcry. Millions of viewers sat spellbound as the news filtered out of the city. Rapper Kanye West summed up the private thoughts many dared not speak publicly, proclaiming that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on a nationally televised hurricane-relief program. Clearly Katrina put race back on the national agenda.
Unfortunately, under ordinary circumstances, many Americans are quick to dismiss racism as simply a defective character trait or a sign of overt stupidity. But it runs deeper, straight to the heart of the country's national fabric. As historian John Hope Franklin recently told the Associated Press, "The New Orleans tragedy speaks in a loud but eloquent voice that racial inequities in the United States persist. As far as race in America is concerned, Katrina was just another example of the failure of the people of the United States to come to terms with a centuries-old problem…and make a forthright effort to solve it." Huffington Post columnist Rev. Byron Williams notes that "the Katrina response, or lack thereof, was in part society's inability to see the humanity of those stuck in the quagmire of the social underside." Simply being born an American, a person is infused with race and the legacy of slavery, and America's continued inability to solve the race issue is its most crippling defect and exacerbates most, if not all, societal ills.
The chaos in New Orleans revealed the depths of racism that exists in the United States, but many hoped the catastrophe would touch off a renewed national dialogue on racism and possibly eliminate it once and for all in the post-Katrina America. However, after the disaster triage and governmental finger-pointing devolved into a post-storm bureaucratic nightmare of red tape, and the sensationalist images and stories disappeared, so did the discussions of racism. It may be that Americans are so ashamed of the heritage of slavery and the current state of those living in poverty that they can only examine race if it comes from the mouths of cartoon characters (think of Token Black, the African American on South Park), standup comics like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, or rap musicians. But though West's audacious claim touched off an initial media frenzy, the frank dialogue never materialized, and today, America is no closer to solving its race problem.
Looking back, the failure of this dialogue to materialize seems to prove West's point yet again. Race slipped from the national agenda in part because George W. Bush did not keep the issue at the forefront. Of course, politicians going back to the Founding Fathers have failed to adequately address the race issue. Still, rather than initiate a national dialogue on race, Bush instead chose to make a feeble play for black voters, choosing, finally, to speak before the NAACP in late July, after declining its invitation the last five years. Bush gave a masterful performance in front of an unfriendly audience, taking the anger out of the room with witty self-deprecation, a nod to black history, and just enough owning up to past Republican errors to appease his auditors.
In this speech Bush summed up his thoughts on race in America: "In the century since the NAACP was founded, our nation has grown more prosperous and more powerful. It's also grown more equal and just. Yet this work is not finished. The history of America is one of constant renewal. And each generation has a responsibility to write a new chapter in the unfinished story of freedom." But has his presidency has taken up the challenge of assuming this responsibility? The answer is a resounding no.
Although the president is criticized for routinely flubbing multisyllabic words, he is a master of modern American corporate speak, in which a CEO is applauded for focusing on looking to the future without ever acknowledging current or past errors. For example, the president played up his post-Katrina discussions with NAACP CEO Bruce Gordon without conceding any slip-ups on the part of his administration: "We talked about the challenges facing the African American community after that storm. We talked about the response of the federal government. And most importantly, we talked about the way forward. We talked about what we can do working together to move forward."
At another point in the speech, he revealed the real reasons he finally addressed the organization: "You must understand I understand that racism still lingers in America. It's a lot easier to change a law than to change a human heart. And I understand that many African Americans distrust my political party. I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historic ties with the African American community. For too long my party wrote off the African American vote, and many African Americans wrote off the Republican Party."
As striking as the language is, especially coming from Bush, the key word in his statement is vote. The Republican Party probably sees little difference between its success at winning over former Democratic voters in strongholds like Western Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio and capturing the black vote. Republicans see an opportunity to win back black voters, which political strategists assert could be critical in the 2006 midterm elections and the 2008 presidential race. So the speech wasn't about healing wounds deep within the national fabric, the appearance was to win the African American vote.
Despite his lip service and political pandering in this speech, Bush has done little to help African Americans. According to NAACP statistics, blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to whites, significantly less likely to own homes (75 percent for whites compared to 48 percent for blacks), and have an average median net worth of $10,000 versus $81,700 for whites. This didn't stop Bush from using his NAACP address to call for the repeal of the estate tax. The president invoked the name of his "friend" Bob Johnson, the billionaire founder of BET and owner of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats franchise, saying "He believes strongly, for example, that the death tax will prevent future African-American entrepreneurs from being able to pass their assets from one generation to the next. He and I also understand that the investor class shouldn't be just confined to the old definition of the investor class." Curiously, progressive economists have shown that only 59 African Americans (of approximately 38 million) will pay the estate tax this year.
A president who cares about African-Americans would look out on the nation and be disgusted by what is happening in black communities. He would place race on the national agenda. If the weight of the office can push terrorism and security to the top of the agenda, then it can do the same for racism. Though the Bush administration has czars for everything from cyberterrorism to AIDS, there's no czar for racism, no money behind completing the "unfinished story of freedom." The National Priorities Project estimates that the war in Iraq has cost more than $300 billion, yet poverty-stricken Americans at home slip further into despair.
But as easy as it is to blame the president for the current state of racism in America, the lack of leadership within the African American community must be cited as well. The fact that West -- a musician -- was the most significant black political figure to emerge from the devastation in New Orleans reveals the paucity of leadership among blacks. No black leader today wields enough influence to rise above the political fray and put racism on the national agenda. Leaders who immediately come to mind, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have put too much faith in the political process. Like the American labor movement, African Americans since the 1960s have been co-opted by the Democrats, virtually handing over power to an organization that is more concerned with winning office than standing up for ideals. There is merit in sustained voter registration drives and raising money for candidates, but these tactics have not brought the urgent need to confront racism to the forefront.
Because politicians are predominantly concerned with getting elected rather than defending principles, it seems unlikely that the leadership needed in today's conditions will come from an African American senator or congressperson, even the wildly popular Barack Obama. Is it pollyannaish to wonder when the next Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X will appear? Neither held political office or aligned too closely with a political party. They drew from religious backgrounds and followings but were able to bring their causes to the national stage. Ultimately, racism is more than a political issue that can be fixed through party affiliation.
For the good of the nation, racism must be quashed. The most important lesson lost after Katrina -- and repeatedly brought to light in Spike Lee's recent When the Levees Broke documentary -- is that building a better world means retaining our humanity. In today's polarized society, this may seem out of reach, but it is an attainable aspiration.
Posted on: Friday, September 8, 2006 - 11:29
SOURCE: Tabsir (blog) (9-1-06)
In a speech yesterday before the annual convention of the American Legion, President Bush launched yet another premptive strike against anyone who dares to question the strategic logic and moral worth of his failed policies in the Middle East. Near the end of his self-congratulatory talk, patriotic fervor was appealed to with a reference to Thomas Jefferson: “In the early years of our republic, Thomas Jefferson said that we cannot expect to move ‘from despotism to liberty in a featherbed.’ That’s been true in every time and place.” Jefferson was a prolific author, and there are a number of other quotes that Bush’s speech writer chose judiciously not to cite. For example, “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” The problem with the President’s speech is that it confuses the tyranny of his self-righteous refusal to admit mistakes with the diversity of opinions liberty necessitates. Of course despots do not get replaced easily. But the reason “liberty” is no featherbed is precisely because it can never be forced. The United States will never be able to liberate Iraq, just side with the victors after the bombs stop getting thrown on a daily basis.
Reading Bush’s speech is like watching a blind man crossing a busy street corner. The pith of his argument can be found in the following paragraph:
“The war we fight today is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. (Applause.) On one side are those who believe in the values of freedom and moderation — the right of all people to speak, and worship, and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism — the right of a self-appointed few to impose their fanatical views on all the rest. As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They’re successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be: This war will be difficult; this war will be long; and this war will end in the defeat of the terrorists and totalitarians, and a victory for the cause of freedom and liberty. (Applause.)”
There are a number of presumptions here that bear unveiling. First, all war is more than military conflict; those who wage war do so from ideological bully pulpits. Even if the bottom line is “I want what you have” (more applicable to the U.S. occupation of Iraq than anything Bin Laden or his like have advocated), there is always some nobler sentiment paraded to motivate men to risk their lives and put the lives of others at risk. To say that the September 11 bombing, despicable as it was, is iconic of the “decisive ideological struggle” of this century is sheer partisan hubris. There are no Muslim hordes thirsting to charge out of Third World steppes and ravage the dens of Western iniquity. Even Bin Laden, if his words are read for what they actually say, is fundamentally concerned about Western interference in the heartland of the Islamic Middle East.
Second, the simplistic division of the entire world into those (the good guys in Cowboy white hats) who tout freedom and moderation vs. those (with Muslim names only it would seem) that value tyranny and extremism has no basis in reality. The Saudi regime does not value freedom (certainly not for women) and is anything but moderate about non-Muslims, yet the Bush administration views their oilarchy as a stuanch ally. Saddam Hussein was indeed a tyrant, a brutal dictator, but not in the least an “extremist” in the sense of those now strapping suicide bombs around their waists or setting off car bombs in Baghdad. Unlike the old Western serials in which the good guys were always distinguishable from the bad guys, such a black-and-white mentality is the wrong ending to a bad movie scenario.
Third, the Bush speech lets slip the mantra that has led our country down the wrong path in his there-but-for-the-grace-of-a-recount presidency. Fascists to Nazis to Commies to Muslim fanatics, as though this was a linear evolution beginning and ending with apes. If anyone is a fascist, it has been Saddam Hussein; the major Nazi sympathizers I see today are white supremicists in our country; the Commies have ceased being “evil” except in nuclear-familiar Korea. The battle currently raging in Iraq is not a resurgence of Ba’ath totalitarian rule (which no doubt would be a relief to this administration, if it did happen), but the anarchic theater of groups long suppressed. Many of the so-called extremists are little more than hooligans, not an unlikely scenario for a country in which five years have passed with no significant security for the bulk of the population.
The crowning error in the speech is one that garnered applause, but has so little merit that the author of the speech must have checked his conscience in his baggage before writing it. It is worth repeating only so it will not go on being repeated:
“Still, there are some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere and they’re patriotic, but they could be — they could not be more wrong. If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable — and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies — Saddam’s former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban. They would have a new sanctuary to recruit and train terrorists at the heart of the Middle East, with huge oil riches to fund their ambitions. And we know exactly where those ambitions lead. If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.”
This paragraph falls out of the featherbed and applies a logic I can best describe as feather-headed. The results thus far in Iraq are already absolutely disastrous, as they will continue to be for the thousands yet to die in this conflict as it grinds on with no enforceable end in sight. Surely the speech writer is not citing intelligence reports if he believes that the enemy is a formidable coalition of “Saddam’s former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world.” If this is the enemy then the best strategy is to get out tomorrow, because they are on record hating each other to such an extent that the individual power of any one group will be destroyed by the others. If these constitute a single enemy, it is one unified by the presence of American and British troops. And it is silly in the extreme to suggest that leaving Baghdad for the Iraqis to duke (rather than nuke) it out would lead to these victors bringing their terror to our streets. “They” (meaning just about everyone except those who have cast their lot with the coalition forces) want “us” out because we are the occupiers. This is why Hamas and Hizbillah have attacked Israel, which to their minds is an occupying force oppressing the indigenous people. We are not dealing with world-conquering facist or Nazi ideology, but groups who define themselves (rightly or wrongly) as liberators.
Yet in all of this President Bush still insists that Iraq must become an American-style democracy (albeit one that would probably not have a confusing electoral college to match our own). In this perhaps it is worth quoting Thomas Jefferson one more time, especially given the domineering swagger of the Republicans in control of our government:
“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
Welcome to mob rule on a featherbed.
Posted on: Friday, September 8, 2006 - 10:51
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (9-5-06)
Nothing else worked that day. The President was flying haplessly around the country looking distinctly unpresidential; the Vice President was in a bunkered panic. The military couldn't scramble armed jets and anything else that could go wrong did. But one thing worked, and it worked splendidly -- the New York City, as well as federal, public-health system.
While the World Trade Center was burning fiercely and about to become a vast cloud of toxic smoke and ash, public health officials were already mobilizing. Within hours, hospitals had readied themselves to receive the injured; hundreds of ambulances were lined up along the West Side Highway awaiting word to race to the scene; the city's public health department had opened its headquarters to receive hundreds of people stricken by smoke inhalation, heart attacks, or just pure terror; the Department of Health had already begun providing gas masks and other protective equipment to doctors, evacuation personnel, and first responders of all sorts. From bandages and surgical tools to antibiotics and radiation-detection equipment, the federal Centers for Disease Control readied immense plane-loads of emergency supplies, ferrying them up to New York's LaGuardia Airport aboard some of the few planes allowed to fly in the days after September 11th.
Despite the general panic and the staggering levels of destruction, even seemingly inconsequential or long-range potential health problems were attended to: Restaurants were broken into to empty thousands of pounds of rotting food from electricity-less refrigerators, counters tops, and refrigeration rooms; vermin infestations were averted; puddles were treated to stop mosquitoes from breeding so that West Nile virus would not affect the thousands of police, fire, and other search-and-rescue personnel working at Ground Zero.
In the face of a great and unexpected catastrophe, this is the way it was supposed to be -- and (for those who care to be nostalgic) after 5 years of the Bush administration's Global War on Terror, not the way it's ever likely to be again. One of the great ironies of 9/11 will pass unnoticed in the various memorials and remembrances now descending upon us: In the wake of the attacks, as the Bush administration claimed it was gearing up to protect us against any further such moments by pouring money into the Pentagon and the new Department of Homeland Security, its officials were also reorienting, privatizing, militarizing, and beginning to functionally dismantle the very public health system that made the catastrophe of 9/11 so much less disastrous than it might have been.
It took no time at all for the administration to start systematically undercutting the efforts of experienced health administrators in New York and at the national Centers for Disease Control. By pressing them to return the city to "normal" and feeding them doctored information about dust levels -- ignoring scientific uncertainties about the dangers that lingered in the air -- the administration lied to support a national policy of denial.
Putting in place a dysfunctional bureaucracy would soon undermine the public's trust in the whole health system in downtown Manhattan. In the process, it also effectively crippled systems already in existence to protect workers, local residents, and children attending school in the area. As a result, what promised to be an extraordinary example of a government bureaucracy actually working turned into a disaster and later became the de facto model for the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
Here's how it worked: First, Karl Rove and George Bush saw an opportunity -- mounting the pile of World Trade Center rubble -- for a public-relations coup in devastated Manhattan that could instantly reverse the President's distinctly unpresidential day on 9/11 and his administration's previously weak polling numbers. Second, Washington pushed New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani and local officials to get with the program and re-open Wall Street (which the 9/11 attacks had shut down) faster than was advisable. Third, city officials were told by administration emissaries that, despite the pall hanging over Ground Zero, all was well with the air and water in lower Manhattan and normal life should resume.
Finally, although nearly the entire city could, for months to come, smell the rancid co-mingling of burning plastics, asbestos, lead, chromium, mercury, vinyl chloride, benzene, and scores of other toxic materials as well as decaying human flesh, Bush's appointees in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continually bombarded city officials with reports claiming that the air was certifiably "safe" to breathe. As EPA Administrator Christy Whitman put it, "There's no need for the general public to be concerned." To this day we do not know the extent of contamination or level of exposure to which residents, workers, and students in the area were (and are still being) subjected.
Everyone got on the band wagon: the President mounted the pile of rubble without respiratory protection, signaling to firemen, policemen, and volunteers that he-men shouldn't worry about the towers having become a toxic waste-pile the likes of which the developed world hadn't seen since Chernobyl. Under the goading of EPA officials, even the venerable New York City Department of Health (despite internal dissention) began proclaiming lower Manhattan safe for the return of residents. (At that time, Lower Manhattan's congressional representative Jerrold Nadler was arguing that it was still dangerously toxic.) The Board of Education, feeling the heat from the Giuliani administration -- in turn, reacting to pressure from Washington -- ordered schools just a few blocks from Ground Zero reopened and thousands of students were sent back to the neighborhood.
New Yorkers, complaining of stinging and watery eyes, knew this was not, in any conventional sense, a "safe" area. Karl Rove and the President, however, were focused on solidifying the Republican Party's hold on the nation. In that context, the possible effects on the lives and lungs of a few hundred thousand New Yorkers was a minor matter.
The policy worked like a charm -- at least initially. The clearing of the pile was accomplished with miraculous speed. City authorities had estimated it would take two to three years, but thousands of city employees, undocumented workers, and volunteers labored feverishly and often without protection, in part inspired by the patriotic fervor that gripped Americans. The 1.8 million tons of debris was gone in a mere eight and a half months. And, miraculously, the President's poll numbers, down in the toxic dumps just weeks before the 9/11 attacks, rose dramatically.
Residents of the area, at first wary that their apartments had been polluted, began to accept official reassurances and soon streamed back to the co-ops of Battery Park City and the lofts north and south of the Trade Center site. Despite their fears, parents, clinging to the consoling pronouncements that poured from the EPA, the city administration, and even the Department of Health, sent their children back into what some were calling a "war-zone."
The Bush administration's triumph in bringing "normalcy" back to the area around Ground Zero would, however, turn out to be a victory of style over substance -- of a sort that would become far more familiar to Americans in the years ahead. Just as the challenging questions and assessments of intelligence analysts and State Department experts would be ignored or drowned out by administration pronouncements on supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as well as Saddam Hussein's alleged links to al-Qaeda, so, in those first weeks, the EPA's official pronouncements of safety trumped the skepticism of scientists at Mt. Sinai and other area medical schools, reporters like Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News and even local residents and politicians all of whom knew something was wrong. "The mayor's office is under pressure" to reopen lower Manhattan, reported one official who worried that the city's own Department of Environmental Protection felt the air was not suitable to breathe.
Before long, parents of children in the neighborhood were engaged in screaming matches with local officials who had the hapless task of carrying out policies they didn't necessarily support. As it happened, they were all correct in their fears. Class action lawsuits from over 7,000 residents and workers subsequently led to the discovery of documents showing how intense pressure from Mayor Giuliani had indeed led the Department of Health to certify areas in lower Manhattan safe so that they could be reopened for residents and businesses.
Style over Substance
What began with the dismantling of an effective public-health response at Ground Zero later spread to the entire national and local public-health systems. From September 12th, 2001 on, public-health professionals called ever more vigorously for resources to revamp a sagging health infrastructure of hospitals, emergency services, disease-reporting systems, and preventive health care -- in essence, the country's first line of defense against all sorts of health catastrophes, whether caused by terrorism or not.
As state after state faced fiscal crises, what public health departments got was "yo-yo funding," up one year, down the next. What they did not get from the Bush administration were adequate resources to face a more dangerous world -- to make sure we knew when a strange disease pattern was emerging or where increased reports of peculiar symptoms might indicate a terrorist plot. The public-health community never got sufficient equipment to detect higher than expected levels of radiation emanating from a container at some port, nor sufficient lab facilities and trained epidemiologists to track local outbreaks of disease. Instead, it got funding for a high-profile, showcase, mass smallpox-inoculation campaign for a disease that may not even exist on the planet, and ineffective, color-coded public-warning systems that made everyone cynical about any alert that might come from public officials.
In general, administration officials worked doggedly in the public health arena to create great media images that drew attention away from real, if sometimes humdrum, reforms that might have cost money. In the meantime, such public-health basics as laboratories, well-baby clinic care, and inoculation campaigns were quietly drained of money badly needed for a war-gone-wrong in Iraq. Administration cronies with no particular skills or experience in emergency management were put in charge of FEMA and on scientific panels at the Centers for Disease Control. As in other areas, administration officials evidently hoped that nothing revealing would happen on their watch and that they could slide away into history before anyone realized the public's health was in danger.
Then Hurricane Katrina blew into town, allowing the world to see just how unprepared they were. From a public health point of view, Katrina was the dark underside of the 9/11 experience. From lack of emergency-power supplies for hospitals to an inability to collect dead bodies (in some cases for months), administration-managed public health services proved hopeless and helpless in New Orleans -- which increasingly meant anywhere in the U.S. If that was what Katrina could do, what would happen if terrorists actually released a dirty bomb in the middle of Atlanta, Los Angeles, or Houston? Would the public-health community even have the crucial equipment available to detect the nature of such an attack, much less respond quickly? Would anyone be lining up the ambulances, passing out the medications, checking those restaurants and puddles this time around, no less organizing an orderly evacuation of residents?
In the wake of September 11th, the public health community saw its sanest initiatives stifled and its priorities distorted. While money is now less available for the inoculation of babies from the real threats of rubella, mumps, and measles, as hoped-for funds to prevent as many as 350,000 children from getting lead poisoning are no longer on anyone's agenda, as federal funds to support health education have been rescinded, and as (unbelievably enough) money needed to protect U.S. ports from dirty bombs or bioterrorism have all-but-vanished, Katrina victims still wander the nation wondering whether they will be able to see a physician.
For the next 9/11, when it comes to public health, don't think New York, Ground Zero, 2001; think New Orleans, August 29, 2005. Think: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job..." Then sit back amid the disaster and wait for the private charities to appear, wait for FEMA to send in the mobile homes.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Thursday, September 7, 2006 - 20:24