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: New Republic (11-29-06)
By any meaningful definition, a similar process is now underway in Iraq. According to the unofficial Iraq Body Count, more than 47,000 civilians have been reported killed since the U.S. invasion; on the basis of household surveys, however, the Lancet recently estimated deaths due to violence at 600,000. A rising proportion of this violence is sectarian in character. There were ten times as many sectarian attacks in July as in January.
The cycle of sectarian violence is already well-established in the capital, despite recent U.S. efforts to "clear and hold" trouble spots. In the last two months, however, the killing has spread centrifugally into neighboring provinces, leading to bloodbaths in places like Duluiyah, a predominantly Sunni town north of Baghdad, and Balad, a neighboring Shia enclave. There also has been an upsurge of violence between Kurds and Arabs in Kirkuk. American dreams of devolving responsibility for security to the country's own army and police forces are becoming nightmares. Elements in these same forces are among the most flagrant perpetrators of ethnic cleansing.
History strongly suggests that, once such internecine warfare gets underway, it is extremely hard to stop without external intervention. Violence begets more violence. Vendettas poison relations between neighbors. Though low-intensity conflict can continue inconclusively for decades (think of Sri Lanka), it is also possible for the killing to increase exponentially (Bosnia, Rwanda) until large-scale ethnic cleansing has created homogeneous statelets.
Quite apart from the economic effects of this crisis--higher oil prices, slower growth--the international political consequences are bad and getting worse. The deterioration of Iraq may well be increasing the risk of terrorist attacks on the United States itself, according to leaked details of the latest National Intelligence Estimate. At the same time, this screwup has brought the United States into greater international disrepute than at any time in its history, reducing its ability to deal with other threats and crises.
This is a truly calamitous state of affairs. The big problem is that few, if any, of the options reportedly being considered by the Baker-Hamilton Commission offer credible solutions. Any timetable for U.S. withdrawal will merely reward the men of violence. Any political decentralization will merely accelerate the country's bloody disintegration. Most attention therefore has focused on Baker's anticipated "realism" with respect to third parties, specifically Syria and Iran. Dialogue with these former pariahs, he has hinted, may help to stabilize Iraq. But, if this is the best he can come up with, he should have stuck to dimpled chads. From a truly realist perspective, both of those notorious sponsors of terrorism have a clear interest in exploiting America's weakness. Opening channels to Damascus and Tehran will bring little joy to Washington--and much humiliation.
So, are there any other options? Or must we brace ourselves for helicopters airlifting the last Americans from the Green Zone and the bloody breakup of Iraq? I can think of only three possibilities. The first is simply to start paying Iraqis to disarm and seek peaceful employment. It has become conventional wisdom that the U.S. presence in Iraq is disastrously expensive. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist, forecasts a total cost of between $1 and $2 trillion, depending on whether the U.S. presence in Iraq ends in 2010 or 2015. Such numbers sound terrifying-- although, as an annual expenditure in relation to gross domestic product (1.1 percent at most), this still remains a comparatively cheap war. The real problem has been twofold. First, a large fraction of the money spent has gone to supplying U.S. troops. Second, far too much of the money earmarked for economic reconstruction has been pocketed by poorly monitored contractors. The result has been a kind of reverse Marshall Plan, in which U.S. money has gone to ... Americans. As a result, instead of economic recovery helping to embed democracy, economic stagnation has fueled civil war. Yet, with a fraction of the money that goes to our boys' cheeseburgers, you could buy and decommission all the AK-47s in Iraq.
Step two would be to implement what might be called a British-style strategy, in the spirit of Gertrude Bell. Leave Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki be. Concentrate instead on buying the support of tribal sheiks. Point to the most prosperous Arab countries in the region--all of which are monarchies--and ask the sheiks how much richer and happier they all would be if the Hashemites had not been overthrown in 1958.
Step three is the most important: Ignore the Syrians and the Iranians and focus instead on (a) the permanent members of the Security Council, (b) the Germans, and (c) the Japanese. All--with the exception of Russia--stand to lose economically if Iraq spirals into the abyss. True, the internationalization of conflict zones cannot turn sows' ears into silk purses. But Sarajevo today is better than Sarajevo ten years ago....
Posted on: Thursday, November 30, 2006 - 23:23
SOURCE: NYT (11-30-06)
... Simple realism — totting up the Congressional votes the president can count on to back or oppose him — suggests that a turning point has been reached in Iraq. Getting in is over, and getting out is about to begin. I am reminded of a similar moment 41 years ago, when Lyndon Johnson was facing the bleak but imminent prospect of his South Vietnamese allies’ collapse in Saigon. The year was 1965, and Johnson had just been overwhelmingly re-elected president over Senator Barry Goldwater on the oft-repeated campaign pledge not to send American boys thousands of miles away to fight a war that Asian boys ought to fight.
Johnson’s advisers put it to him straight: Saigon was going to lose, Hanoi was going to win, and there wasn’t much time to waste. The choice was clear: lose the war or expand the war, find a formula of words to mask failure or send more troops and increase the bet on the table. Johnson chose to expand the war.
Raising the bet was already a pattern. Just two years earlier, President John F. Kennedy had faced a similarly stark choice. The government of Ngo Dinh Diem, installed and sustained by the United States, was locked in a destructive battle with Buddhists in its own country, and though it was fighting the war erratically and ineffectively, it seemed impervious to American counsel. Even worse, from Washington’s point of view, the Diem government had entered into secret conversations with the Communists. Some American officials thought a deal was in the works.
At the end of a long period of crisis, Kennedy’s government backed a coup by Vietnamese generals who were being advised by a French-born C.I.A. operative named Lucien Conein. The Diem government was quickly removed and replaced, but in the process Diem and his brother were brutally murdered. The war went better for a while, and then didn’t, in a pattern that repeated itself many times.
About 20 years ago, a friend and I were picking up a takeout dinner from a Vietnamese restaurant in Washington run by Tran Van Don, one of the generals who organized the 1963 coup. Tran pointed out a portly, white-haired man at a table overlooking the room, dining alone: it was his old friend, Lucien Conein. In a sense, they were both exiles. I often think about the conversations they must have had. The war that followed their coup killed 57,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese....
The verdict of the elections was clear. The public wants to let Iraqis handle their own troubles from here on out, while we start bringing our soldiers home. But that’s not what President Bush has said he wants, so there will very likely be a series of fights over Iraq that will extend to the president’s last day in office. Robert Gates is smart, quiet, dogged and loyal: a well-considered choice for defense secretary by a president determined to bring home that “coonskin on the wall,” to borrow a phrase made memorable by an earlier president in a similar fix, Lyndon Johnson.
Posted on: Thursday, November 30, 2006 - 13:53
SOURCE: WSJ (11-29-06)
Our current crisis is not yet a catastrophe, but a real loss of confidence of the spirit. The hard-won effort of the Western Enlightenment of some 2,500 years that, along with Judeo-Christian benevolence, is the foundation of our material progress, common decency, and scientific excellence, is at risk in this new millennium.
But our newest foes of Reason are not the enraged Athenian democrats who tried and executed Socrates. And they are not the Christian zealots of the medieval church who persecuted philosophers of heliocentricity. Nor are they Nazis who burned books and turned Western science against its own to murder millions en masse.
No, the culprits are now more often us. In the most affluent, and leisured age in the history of Western civilization--never more powerful in its military reach, never more prosperous in our material bounty--we have become complacent, and then scared of the most recent face of barbarism from the primordial extremists of the Middle East.
What would a beleaguered Socrates, a Galileo, a Descartes, or Locke believe, for example, of the moral paralysis in Europe? Was all their bold and courageous thinking--won at such a great personal cost--to allow their successors a cheap surrender to religious fanaticism and the megaphones of state-sponsored fascism?
Just imagine in our present year, 2006: plan an opera in today's Germany, and then shut it down. Again, this surrender was not done last month by the Nazis, the Communists, or kings, but by the producers themselves in simple fear of Islamic fanatics who objected to purported bad taste. Or write a novel deemed unflattering to the Prophet Mohammed. That is what did Salman Rushdie did, and for his daring, he faced years of solitude, ostracism, and death threats--and in the heart of Europe no less. Or compose a documentary film, as did the often obnoxious Theo Van Gogh, and you may well have your throat cut in "liberal" Holland. Or better yet, sketch a simple cartoon in postmodern Denmark of legendary easy tolerance, and then go into hiding to save yourself from the gruesome fate of a Van Gogh. Or quote an ancient treatise, as did Pope Benedict, and then learn that all of Christendom may come under assault, and even the magnificent stones of the Vatican may offer no refuge--although their costumed Swiss Guard would prove a better bulwark than the European police. Or write a book critical of Islam, and then go into hiding in fear of your life, as did French philosophy teacher Robert Redeker.
And we need not only speak of threats to free speech, but also the tangible rewards from a terrified West to the agents of such repression. Note the recent honorary degree given to former Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, whose regime has killed and silenced so many, and who himself is under investigation by the Argentine government for his role in sponsoring Hezbollah killers to murder dozens of Jewish innocents in Buenos Aires....
History gives evidence of no civilization that survived long as purely secular and without a god, that put its trust in reason alone, and believed human nature was subject to radical improvement given enough capital and learning invested in the endeavor. The failure of our elites to amplify their traditions they received, and to believe them to be not merely different but far better than the alternatives, is also a symptom of crisis in all societies of the past, whether Demosthenes' Athens, late imperial Rome, 18th-century France, or Western Europe of the 1920s. Nothing is worse that an elite that demands egalitarianism for others but ensures privilege for itself. And rarely, we know, are civilization's suicides a result of the influence of too many of the poor rather than of the wealthy.
But can I end on an optimistic note in tonight's tribute to Winston Churchill, who endured more and was more alone than we of the present age? After the horror of September 11, we in our sleep were also given a jolt of sorts, presented with enemies from the Dark Ages, the Islamic fascists who were our near exact opposites, who hated the Western tradition, and, more importantly, were honest and without apology in conveying that hatred of our liberal tolerance and forbearance. They arose not from anything we did or any Western animosity that might have led to real grievances, but from self-acknowledged weakness, self-induced failure, and, of course, those perennial engines of war, age-old envy and lost honor--always amplified and instructed by dissident Western intellectuals whose unhappiness with their own culture proved a feast for the scavenging Al-Qaedists.
By past definitions of relative power, al-Qaeda and its epigones were weak and could not defeat the West militarily. But their genius was knowing of our own self-loathing, of our inability to determine their evil from our good, of our mistaken belief that Islamists were confused about, rather than intent to destroy, the West, and most of all, of our own terror that we might lose, if even for a brief moment, the enjoyment of our good life to defeat the terrorists. In learning what the Islamists are, many of us, and for the first time, are also learning what we are not. And in fighting these fascists, we are to learn whether our freedom can prove stronger than their suicide belts and improvised explosive devices.
So we have been given a reprieve of sorts with this war, to regroup; and, in our enemies, to see our own past failings and present challenges; and to rediscover our strengths and remember our origins. We can relearn that we are not fighting for George Bush or Wal-Mart alone, but also for the very notion of the Enlightenment--and, yes, in the Christian sense for the good souls of those among us who have forgotten all that as they censor cartoons and compare American soldiers to Nazis.
So let me quote Winston Churchill of old about the gift of our present ordeal:
"These are not dark days: these are great days--the greatest days our country has ever lived."
Never more true than today.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 21:51
SOURCE: New Republic (11-29-06)
In the days after the 2004 election, the same CNN exit poll was on every pundit's lips: Asked about their most important issue, a plurality of voters cited "moral values." Eighty percent of that plurality voted for George W. Bush--no matter that cooler heads soon demonstrated these findings to be statistically meaningless. For "most of the last 100 years, politics has been defined by economic interests," Bill Clinton's former press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, pronounced on MSNBC. "That's no longer true." And so, a refrain developed: Without making significant inroads among churchgoing Southerners, Democrats could never hope to win a governing majority.
But this month's election yielded data that, unlike CNN's exit poll, was irrefutable: For the first time since 1953, the party that dominates the South is the minority party in Congress. November 7, 2006, may well go down in history as the day the modern Republican Party became a mere Southern faction. There's only one problem: No one's talking about it on TV. Instead, Heath Shuler became the cable news bookers' new favorite guest, as if the election of a pro-life Democrat from North Carolina was the election's most important trend: As Bob Schieffer announced, "These Democrats that were elected last night are conservative Democrats." Meanwhile, the one man whose book predicted the election's actual revelation--that the South and its conservative ways were irrelevant to the Democrats' victory--has been shut out. "I managed to squeeze onto Chris Matthews once," says Thomas F. Schaller, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, "but we didn't even talk about the book."
Schaller's book is Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South. Published this October, it argues, "The South is likely to become more Republican in the decades ahead," that Democrats can make and keep the Republicans a mere regional party, and that the best shot at a Democratic majority "in the immediate term is to consolidate electoral control over the Northeast and Pacific Coast blue states, expand the party's Midwestern margins, and cultivate the new-growth areas of the interior West." That's exactly how it went down November 7. The last prognosticator of structural shifts in American politics this accurate--Kevin Phillips, in his 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority--became a household name. But, because he is a friend, it pains me to have to make a prognostication of my own: Tom Schaller will never become a household name. The reasons are ideological.
The people who have paid most attention to Schaller have been hysterics. Former Representative Glen Browder, a founder of the Blue Dog Democrats, was asked in the Anniston Star what he thought of Whistling Past Dixie. Browder, also a Ph.D. in political science, replied that Schaller was spouting "foolishness," but that "fortunately, most national leaders today understand that the road to the magic 218 number inevitably runs through this region." He said this oblivious to the fact that Schaller's "foolishness" had, in fact, just come true.
Still, Browder will always have an easier time winning a seat alongside Schieffer on Face the Nation than Schaller. TV punditry is not a meritocracy. Points aren't awarded for being right. (If they were, how many talking heads who saw only rosy things ahead in Iraq would still be on air?) It is an ideological system, with perverse ideological rules. And Browder has just honored one of them: Glorify what the French call l'Amerique profunde--the "heartland," of which the South is the sacred center.
Schaller speaks ill of the South. The very heart of his argument is a taboo notion: that the South votes Republican because the Republicans have perfected their appeal to Southern racism, and that Democrats simply can't (and shouldn't) compete.
But, among scholars, this is hardly news. Schaller builds this conclusion on one of the most impressive papers in recent political science, "Old Times There Are Not Forgotten: Race and Partisan Realignment in the Contemporary South," by Nicholas Valentino and David Sears. ...
Posted on: Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 18:15
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (11-28-06)
Relevant historical examples do not support the notion that hundreds of thousands more troops are needed to improve security in Iraq. A study of post-conflict operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and elsewhere conducted by Ambassador James Dobbins showed that success in those operations--characterized by severe ethnic and sectarian violence--required force ratios of 1 soldier per 100 inhabitants. Iraq poses challenges that are in some respects more severe, at the moment, but it also offers its own rules-of-thumb. Successful clear-and-hold operations in Tal Afar required a force ratio of around 1 soldier (counting both U.S. and Iraqi troops) for every 40 inhabitants. On the other hand, in 2004 Major General Peter Chiarelli suppressed a widespread uprising in Sadr City (an area inhabited by about 2.5 million Shiites) with fewer than 20,000 U.S. soldiers--a ratio of about 1 to 125.
Then there's the question of the size of the population to be pacified. Most of Iraq is relatively calm. Instances of violence in the Kurdish north and the Shia south are rare. No responsible analyst advocates sending large numbers of troops into either area--they are not needed and would not be welcomed. Disarming the Shia militias is a process that must be undertaken only after the Sunni Arab insurgency is under control, and it cannot be undertaken primarily by American forces directly confronting the Shiite population. Using all of Iraq's 27 million people as a baseline for estimating force ratios is, therefore, an invalid approach.
The U.S. command repeatedly and correctly points out that about 80 percent of the violence in Iraq occurs within a 35-mile radius of Baghdad, among a population of perhaps 10 million. Baghdad itself has roughly 6.5 million inhabitants, including the 2.5 million Shiites in Sadr City. These figures provide the basis for a more realistic estimate of the force levels needed. Applying the high-end ratio used in Tal Afar over the entire metropolitan Baghdad area would generate a requirement of 250,000 troops--both U.S. and Iraqi. There are currently about 100,000 Iraqi army troops that the U.S. command considers trained and ready. There are almost 150,000 American troops in Iraq now, including perhaps 70,000 combat troops. Conducting Tal Afar-type operations across the entire capital region all at once would require concentrating all available forces in the area and a "surge" of about 80,000 U.S. soldiers--a large number, to be sure, but very far from the "hundreds of thousands" or even "millions" generated by the use of specious historical examples.
But the situation is not even this dire. Not all areas of the capital region require such an intensive deployment. Indeed, previous successful operations even in Baghdad did not require such high force ratios. What's more, skillful military planners conduct operations in phases, and that is exactly how this one should be prepared and executed. The recent unsuccessful effort to secure Baghdad, Operation Together Forward II, was broken into a series of phases. U.S. and Iraqi troops working together succeeded in clearing the neighborhoods they entered one after the other. But that is not why the operation failed. The problem, according to much anecdotal evidence and the recent testimony of the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, General Michael D. Maples, is that the U.S. military command did not leave American forces behind in the areas that had been cleared. That mistake allowed insurgents to reinfiltrate those neighborhoods and begin the cycle of violence again.
There is every reason to believe that a reformulated operation, proceeding in phases to clear Baghdad neighborhood by neighborhood, but with sufficient force levels to leave significant American troops behind in the cleared areas, would be much more successful. It is impossible to estimate precisely how many more U.S. troops would be needed in the capital area, or in Iraq, without proposing a detailed military plan. But since the high end of estimates for doing the whole area at once produced the requirement for a surge of 80,000 or so, it is very likely that a surge of 50,000 American troops would be sufficient to stabilize the capital. Subsequent phases of the operation would then move on to stabilizing al Anbar and other restive areas of the country, although we must keep in mind how much the situation in Iraq would be transformed for the better if violence in the capital were brought under control.
This approach is not just a matter of throwing more troops at the problem. It involves a fundamental change in U.S. military strategy in Iraq. The U.S. military has never set itself the goal of establishing and maintaining security. It has always prioritized training Iraqi forces and allowing them to undertake such operations on their own. This strategy might have had some merit when the principal problem in Iraq was the Sunni Arab insurgency (although it was dubious even then). It has little or no merit today, when sectarian violence is the most important challenge. More resources are needed to support a changed strategy, but changing the strategy is essential.
Establishing security in Iraq should be our primary objective, with training Iraqi forces a close second. The U.S. military, partnered with Iraqi army units capable of assisting, needs to clear and hold troubled neighborhoods in order to bring the sectarian conflict under control. At the same time, the coalition must reinvigorate its efforts to reconstruct cleared areas, bringing jobs, food, and water to the Iraqi people along with safety. Only in this context will it be possible to recruit an effective Iraqi police force or more Iraqi soldiers and to develop effective Iraqi institutions of central, regional, and local government. And only in this context will the Iraqi government be able to disarm militias that now derive their primary justification from the ongoing attacks on their communities.
Many who oppose the idea of sending more troops to Iraq have abandoned the argument that more troops wouldn't help and retreated to what they believe is a more defensible position: that there are simply no more troops available to send. This view, supported to some degree by the testimony of CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid, is wrong.
To begin with, the Defense Department has just announced plans to deploy over 50,000 troops to Iraq this spring, including more than 20,000 combat troops, as part of a rotational plan to relieve forces currently in the theater. If, instead of bringing those forces home, we extended their tours, we would immediately have generated a surge of 20,000 combat troops.
In truth, we could send more. As of October 1, there were approximately 81,000 active Army soldiers in Iraq, 21,500 active duty Marines, 15,600 Army National Guard, and a little more than 7,000 Army and Marine Reserves--in all about 125,000 troops (13,000 sailors and airmen and a number of other reserves brought the total up to 139,500). Since then, another 8,000-9,000 soldiers and Marines, mostly active duty, have also been committed to the theater. There are another 24,000 members of all services now in Afghanistan as well.
Looking just at basic numbers, it would seem obvious that there are many more troops to send. The active Army numbers about 500,000 soldiers, the Marines 150,000, and the Army National Guard 346,000. That's a pool of almost one million ground forces to draw from. This kind of argument may seem simplistic, but it is supported by no less a personage than the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, who declared this spring: "We have just over 200,000 U.S. service members in the [Persian] Gulf region right now. We have 2.4 million U.S. service members available to the country--active, Guard, and reserve. So you've got about 2 million U.S. service members who are not currently involved directly in the Gulf region. . . . We have sufficient personnel, weapons, equipment--you name it--to handle any adversary that might come along." Including, presumably, a surge of 50,000 troops into Iraq.
It's important to parse these numbers more closely, since soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen are not interchangeable parts. The active Army today has about 350,000 deployable combat troops, including combat and support (logistics) troops. The combat troops are organized into about 43 brigades, numbering around 170,000 soldiers. Marine combat forces usable in Iraq are organized into nine active and three reserve regiments (the Marine equivalent of the Army's brigades) totaling around 36,000 troops. The Army National Guard, currently undergoing a significant reorganization, has a combat force of 60,000-80,000 soldiers. In sum, counting only deployable units, there are at least 64 combat brigades available in the ground forces, of which around 15 are now in Iraq and another 3 in Afghanistan. Adding a further 10 brigades (40,000 combat troops with perhaps another 10,000 logistical troops) is definitely a realistic undertaking.
Sophisticated critics will argue that the devil is in the details. Almost all of the Army units not deployed or deploying to Iraq are rated not-combat ready. They would have to be trained before deploying. Many would have to be sent to Iraq less than a year after leaving the combat zone, violating the Army's current policy of requiring at least a year between deployments. Soldiers now in Iraq would have to stay there--many for considerably more than their expected one-year deployment. And the National Guard would have to be used more heavily than current plans call for. All of these facts would lead, it is asserted, to a significant fall in morale in the ground forces and to recruiting and retention problems. Such a "surge" would break up the planned rotational schedule for these forces, making it impossible to relieve them in a year if the situation still required a large-scale ground forces presence in Iraq. It is, some senior officers say (usually off the record), an unsustainable plan and would impose too much pain on the military....
There are, indeed, certain mysteries about why the military is having such a hard time managing the current deployment anyway. A force of 15 combat brigades requires, in principle, a base of 45 brigades to sustain a one-year-in-three deployment cycle. The Army is now using a one-in-two cycle, which should require only 30 combat brigades. Going up to a 25-brigade deployment should require a base of only 50 or 75 deployable brigades, depending on the frequency of deployment. Even counting the ground forces elements in Afghanistan, the necessary base shouldn't climb higher than 60 or 80 brigades at the most. There are more than 50 brigades in the active Army and Marines right now, not counting the National Guard and Reserves. It would be worth examining what impediments are preventing us from making full use of currently available resources. That might be a worthy first challenge for the new secretary of defense.
This brief examination shows two things. First, that a surge of on the order of 50,000 soldiers into Iraq is highly likely to be meaningful if it supports a changed strategy. Second, that such a surge is doable with the forces currently available. There is risk in any military operation, and it might prove to be the case that securing Baghdad or Iraq is impossible or would require more force than this. It is also true that deploying more forces to Iraq would require accepting greater risk elsewhere. These concerns are worth discussing. Any surge, moreover, should be accompanied with a massive effort at reconstruction, political undertakings, possibly even regional negotiations. Risks and costs of all kinds must be weighed before a decision is made. I have argued elsewhere that the situation in Iraq today both requires and justifies taking such risks and accepting such costs, but that is not the point here. The point is that a surge of forces accompanying a change in strategy is possible and offers the promise of being very helpful. The ultimate decision must be taken on the basis of that reality.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - 22:01
SOURCE: Independent Institute (11-26-06)
I recall all too well the war weariness of the late 1960s and early 1970s. By 1968, most Americans had come to understand that no good outcome lay in store for them in Vietnam. The war was unwinnable in any meaningful sense. Yet its daily horrors ground on interminably: more bombing, more shelling, more close-contact combat in the jungles and rice paddies. Each year, thousands of young Americans were killed and wounded, many of them draftees sucked into the maelstrom as de facto military slaves, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and other Asians were slaughtered. Each horrible day was followed by another horrible day, each horrible month by another horrible month, each horrible year by another horrible year until, weighted down by despair, one wondered whether the madness would ever end.
By major U.S. neo-imperialist wars, I mean, so far, those in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. Long before them, in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, the American people had a foretaste of neo-imperialist wars to come, but the Philippine war never reached a great enough magnitude or affected the general public deeply enough to become a large factor in the public’s outlook on national affairs. Then as now, some people actually approved of the war from start to finish. In those days, racism was more flagrant and redder in tooth and claw than it is now, which helps to explain why so many Americans supported a totally inexcusable imperialist venture.
In Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, the U.S. experience was different. In each case, the war moved through four stages: I, upper-echelon plotting; II, outbreak and early combat; III, sustained combat and strategic stalemate; and IV, cessation of combat and workable resolution.
The stages may vary in length and form. Stage I, in which U.S. leaders and their official and unofficial advisers concoct their war plans, may go on for years, as it did for the Iraq war, or it may go on for only a short while, as it did for the Korean War, when diplomatic blunders and unanticipated events provoked the North Korean invasion and triggered U.S. engagement in the fighting. Stage II may occupy weeks or months, whereas Stage III always drags on for years. Stage IV may take different forms. The tense, heavily armed truce in Korea bore no resemblance to the hasty, unceremonious, and humiliating U.S. exodus from Vietnam, yet each outcome served the same purpose?to silence the guns.
Each stage elicits or corresponds to a particular public mood....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - 21:43
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (11-27-06)
At what point will the people of Ramadi wake up in the morning and say, 'We've changed our minds. We like the new government dominated by Shiite ayatollahs and Kurdish warlords. We're happy to host Western Occupation troops on our soil. We don't care if those troops are allied with the Israeli military, which is daily bombing our brethren in Gaza and killing them and keeping them down. We're changed persons. We're not going to bother to set any IEDs tonight and we've put away our sniping rifles.' (You could substitute Tikrit, Samarra', Baquba, and other Sunni Arab cities for Ramadi).
It is not going to happen. In fall, 2003, 14 percent of Sunni Arabs thought it was legitimate to attack US personnel in Iraq. Now over 70 percent do. Isn't it going toward 100 percent? How would more or less keeping the people of Ramadi in a cage help things in that regard, especially if they perceive us to be doing it on behalf of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran) and the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Israeli army?
(Despite the denials of Bush administration officials such as Condi Rice, the Arab and Islamic opposition to US presence in Iraq has at least something to do with local perceptions that the US invaded Iraq on behalf of Israel, and Iraqis often refer to US troops as "al-Yahud," "the Jews." This is conspiracy theory thinking and wrong-headed, but it is the reality on the ground. Even the notorious attack on the four mercenaries in Falluja was done in the name of the murdered Palestinian leader Sheikh Yassin. The deeply unpopular US support for Israel's depredations against the Palestinians was one of the things that foredoomed a US military occupation of a major Arab country.)
The idea that al-Anbar tribal forces will pull the US fat from the fire is a non-starter. Some of the tribes are openly agitating on behalf of Saddam Hussein. Any who are fighting the Salafis or Muslim fundamentalists are doing it as a grudge match. Tribes are notoriously factionalized among themselves and seldom unite for very long. The rural tribes just aren't a big center of power in Iraq any more-- it is largely urban and the power centers are urban political parties an d their paramilitaries. Those urban forces have vast hinterlands of practical and monetary support in the region-- Iran for the Shiites, the Oil Gulf and small-town Jordan and Syria for the Sunni Arabs. They are not going to decline in importance.
What are we to think when we see an item like this one, which says that the elected Iraqi PM, Nuri al-Maliki, was pelted by stones by his own constituency in Shiite Sadr City; that 21 villagers were captured by guerrillas in Diyala; or that 25 bodies (7 of them little girls) were found in Baquba, the capital of that province; or that (as al-Zaman reports in Arabic) Sunni Arab guerrillas fought a pitched battle with police in the city of Buhriz near Baquba, defeated them, chased them out of the HQ and set it on fire, and completely took over the city? What about the reports in al-Zaman of car bombings in al-Huswah and in al-Hilla, killin a dozen? When you hear these things, ask yourself 'What is the mission? When and how could it reasonably be expected to be accomplished?'
Syria and Iran are not responsible for the resistance in Ramadi or Baquba and probably can't do anything about it. Therefore negotiating with them is not a silver bullet, though it might be useful in its own right.
What is the military mission? I can't see a practical one. And if there is not a military mission that can reasonably be accomplished in a specified period of time, then keeping US troops in al-Anbar is a sort of murder. Because you know when they go out on patrol, a few of them each week are going to get blown up or shot down. Reliably. Each week. Steadily. It is monstrous to force them to play Russian roulette every day unless there is a clear mission that could thereby be accomplished. There is not. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - 21:41
SOURCE: NYT (11-28-06)
IN January 1968, Americans turned on their televisions to find scenes of chaos and carnage as Vietnamese communists unleashed their surprise Tet offensive. It would go down in history as the greatest American battlefield defeat of the cold war.
Twenty-five years later, in December 1992, the United States began a humanitarian intervention in Somalia that would be viewed as the most striking failure of the post-cold-war era. Then, in March 2003, American tanks charged across the dunes into Iraq, beginning, in the eyes of many Americans, the worst foreign policy debacle of the post-9/11 world. Tet, Somalia and Iraq: the three great post-World War II American defeats.
Except that, remarkably, Tet and Somalia were not defeats. They were successes perceived as failures. Such stark divergence between perception and reality is common in wartime, when people’s beliefs about which side wins and which loses are often driven by psychological factors that have nothing to do with events on the battlefield. Tet and Somalia may, therefore, hold important lessons for Iraq.
The Tet offensive was an unmitigated disaster for the communists. Despite the advantages of surprise, the South Vietnamese insurgents, the Vietcong, failed to hold on to a single target in South Vietnam and suffered staggering losses. Of the 80,000 attackers, as many as half were killed in the first month alone, and the Vietcong never recovered. The United States had clearly won this round of the war.
Yet most Americans saw the Tet offensive as a failure for the United States. Approval of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s handling of the war slipped to a low of 26 percent. Before Tet, 58 percent of Americans described themselves as “hawks” who wanted to step up American military involvement in the war, while 26 percent described themselves as “doves” seeking to reduce it. Two months after Tet, doves narrowly outnumbered hawks.
How did perceptions become so detached from reality? A key factor was overblown expectations. In the months before Tet, Johnson had begun a “progress campaign” to convince Americans that victory in Vietnam was just around the corner. Reams of statistics showed that infiltration rates were down and enemy casualties were up. And it worked. Public confidence ticked upwards. But after Johnson’s bullish rhetoric, Tet looked like a disaster. The scale and surprise of the offensive sent a shock wave through the American psyche. As Johnson’s former aide, Robert Koner, later recalled, “Boom, 40 towns get attacked, and they didn’t believe us anymore.”...
Perceptions of success and failure can change the course of history. Reeling from the supposed disaster at Tet, the United States began to withdraw. Memories of “failure” in Somalia were a major reason — perhaps the major reason — that the United States did nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. If Iraq is perceived as a failure, it is only a matter of time before America pulls out, leaving who-knows-what behind. With the stakes so high, Americans must be certain that their perception of failure in Iraq is not a mirage.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - 21:22
SOURCE: Email circulating on the Internet (11-27-06)
When Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Guinean immigrant, was struck down by 41 bullets in a Bronx vestibule six years ago, I had hoped that outrage that followed would insure that no incident like this would ever happen in New York City again. Though the 4 police officers who killed Diallo were acquitted of any crime, I thought that the NYPD would change its training and deployment procedures enough so that Black citizens of New York could walk the streets without worrying that they would be gunned down in a panic by fearful police officers
Apparently, I was wrong. This weekend, an unarmed Black man, and his two friends, leaving a bachelor party at a Queens strip club the day before he was to be married,
were the targets of a barrage of 50 bullets leveled at them by undercover police officers
Even if the police officers thought they were under attack, there is something terribly wrong with this scenario. There is nothing in any police manual which justifies the discharge of 50 bullets into a moving vehicle when officers are not under fire. This was not only a case of mistaken identity, it was a case of rage and panic overwhelming professionalism, and as a result, a young man is dead on the eve of his wedding and his two friends lie in a Queens Hospital in critical condition.
As I grapple to understand this tragedy, I keep returning to the subject of race. It is no accident that the victim of this explosion of police outrage, like Amadou Diallo, or for that matter Rodney King, was a young black man. In a nation with a troubled racial history, where every popular medium propogates images of black men as dangerous, police patrolling black neighborhoods are carrying the same poisonous brew of racial fantasiess, fears and stereotypes that led Michael Richards to unleash a racial tirade at black hecklers in a comedy club.. Subliminal racial rage is ugly enough when it explodes verbally; but when it leads to the uncontrolled discharge of weapons against unarmed citizens, it is a deadly threat to our social contract.
We may find that these particular police officers may have no past history of racist behavior. Some of them may even be Latino or Black. But that only makes their actions
all the more frightening. If racialized images of Black men as dangerous are so powerful and pervasive that they can trigger uncontrollable explosions or rage -whether verbal or physical- in normally decent people, then we as a society are in deep trouble.
The NYPD needs to discipline the officers involved and put sharp controls on it's elite units, but all of us need to take an honest look at our own feelings about race and our
own complicity in this terrible tragedy.
When it comes to healing the legacy of racism, we still have a lot of work to do. Our laws may be color blind, but our psyches most certainly are not.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - 21:01
SOURCE: http://www.thetranscript.com (MA) (11-20-06)
After World War II, the United States sponsored the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild war-torn Europe. Food aid, medicine and reconstruction efforts vastly improved the lives of the children on that continent.
Today, the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program carries on the U.S. tradition of helping the world's children. This program, named for former senators George McGovern and Bob Dole, provides school lunches to children in impoverished countries. Millions of children have benefited from these school lunches, but many millions more go without.
Like the Marshall Plan of the late 1940s, the McGovern-Dole program is in need of adequate funding to truly maximize its potential. In 2007, the new Congress will have an opportunity to strengthen and grow this program.
How McGovern-Dole works is quite simple. A daily lunch is provided to every child who attends school in a participating country. For many children this is the only meal they receive the entire day. The benefits of having this school lunch are therefore enormous.
A child who eats will be healthier and better able to concentrate on school lessons. Parents in poverty-stricken countries will be more
likely to send their children to school with the promise of food aid. In some cases, take-home rations will bolster this food aid incentive.
The benefits to America's image are also substantial. Take for instance school feeding programs in Afghanistan, a country that is in the front line of the war on terrorism. McGovern-Dole supports school lunch initiatives in Afghanistan such as the one operated by the charity World Vision. This program boosts school attendance of Afghan children and helps improve their education.
The McGovern-Dole program is an investment in the future of underprivileged countries. School lunches help fuel the education and future of children in these nations. But without increased and steady funding, millions of children will not be nourished.
Congress has a choice. It can vote to make certain that school feeding programs in Afghanistan and around the globe are strengthened and expanded. Or Congress can (decide) school feeding (is not) a priority and leave millions of children worldwide with one less ray of hope.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - 17:37
"God Gap Narrows as Democrats Take Majority of Catholic Vote" is Joe Feuerherd's headline in the liberal National Catholic Reporter (November 17). "Republican hopes that socially conservative church-going Catholics would help forestall an electoral catastrophe in the 2006 midterm elections were not simply dashed. They were obliterated, a real thumping." The NCR editors had had little to cheer about on the Catholic vote front in recent years. They and we had been told by many pundits that Roman Catholics were securely relocating themselves as blocs or in slots that would help make up a permanent Republican hegemony.
Now, however, "The Public Shakes Things Up." This is the headline for the post-election column by editor Tom Roberts. Blaming or crediting the war in Iraq most of all for the change, he pointed to the victory of progressive Kathleen Sebelius for governor in "redder than red" Kansas, among many other indicators. He reported that Republican strategists had "hoped the so-called God gap" would continue to work in their favor. But in exit polls, for whatever they're worth, 55 percent of Catholics said they voted Democratic. Reliable analyst John Green, who watches these things for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, observed: "More telling ... is that white Catholics -- considered the most swinging of swing voters -- gave a majority (50 percent) of their vote to Democratic candidates" -- a surprise.
Malfeasance, the Foley-Haggard-Katrina cluster of events, and issues of corruption and competence (more than philosophy and theology) were major determinants. Opposition to abortion and gay marriage always galvanizes many, but this time not enough. Referendums on such issues offered mixed news. Green noted that if those two issues were not still prominent, ever more Catholics and Evangelicals would fold into the Democratic Party. "Catholics care more about right and wrong than right and left," said Alexia Kelly of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Jeff Carr of the evangelical Sojourners group said that the "big losers" were "the secular left and the religious right."
The postscript editorial page in NCR judged the whole election "A Move Away from Extremism." "The unilateral projection of U.S. power abroad and a domestic program that put individualism in hyper mode, and wrapped it all in a religiosity owing to the most extreme and conservative brand of Christianity" did not hold the place it had for several years.
While the returns gave liberal Catholics an occasion to cheer, the public at large may well welcome the shifting attitudes within the Catholic fold. It is possible to make too much of one election as a turning point, but among other things it did lead editorialists to pay attention to more kinds of religious voters than those in the Christian Right, which they had seen as almost all-powerful.
Week after week we keep noting James Madison's observation that the security of rights in a republic depends on the diversity of interests, sects, and the like. We can be sure that those weary of polarization will be working to energize the non-extremists, whose commitments are yet hard to assess.
The National Catholic Reporter can be accessed online at: http://ncronline.org/.
Joe Feuerherd's article can be found at: http://ncronline.org/.
Tom Roberts's article can be found at: http://ncronline.org/NCR_Online/.
The editorial"A Move Away from Extremism" can be found at: http://ncronline.org/.
Posted on: Monday, November 27, 2006 - 14:15
SOURCE: Newsday (11-26-06)
In his rigidity, Bush sounds eerily like President Lyndon Johnson, who could not acknowledge until too late his Vietnam policy was in shambles. But in the aftermath of the midterm elections, the calls for "phased withdrawal" - coming out of Congress, the Pentagon and the leaky Iraq Study Group - evoke errors of the Nixon years.
By 1968, the Tet offensive persuaded most Americans the United States could not win the war. Although Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops had sustained enormous casualties, they displayed an uncanny ability to withdraw and rebuild. Meanwhile, the army of South Vietnam demonstrated neither advanced weapons nor years of American "advice" would motivate them to stand up.
In the face of these realities, U.S. officials might have opted to cut losses and bring the troops home. Despite an electoral mandate for peace in the 1968 election, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger embarked on a gradual withdrawal, which took four years and allowed them to continue the attack. While they tarried, another 20,000 Americans were killed and 100,000 wounded, three Asian nations were devastated and some 1 million to 2 million people perished. For all the ink spilled on the subject of Vietnam, our society has never come to terms with this latter phase of the war. How could we allow so many people to die?
There is no single answer. For any nation, defeat is bitter. There was a belligerent commander-in-chief, a national security adviser whose need for power trumped common sense, a covey of bureaucrats too timid to tell us what they knew, an overblown military incapable of renouncing war, a Congress afraid to cut funds, a distractible public easily tricked.
Nobody was held responsible for the needless killings. Indeed Kissinger, that blundering national security adviser, remains a "realist" icon, whose insights are avidly sought in our present crisis. With Nixon, this was a man who left our soldiers dying in rice paddies and fighting suicidal battles on fortified hills while he pursued a fantasy of North Vietnamese surrender.
How odd that in our political culture, an official willing to sacrifice lives for a doomed project is deemed more "realistic" than one who objects. George McGovern, former senator and presidential candidate, is rarely asked for advice.
In the recent elections, the voters expressed their intense opposition to the Iraq war. But we can discern how those hopes are being betrayed. From the Pentagon, we're hearing about a "surge" in troop numbers before reductions can occur, and critics who style themselves as "realists" speak of a "phased withdrawal." But, as happened in Vietnam, this can translate into a prolonged military presence in which a futile battle continues. During three years of occupation, the situation in Iraq has continued to roll downhill. If 140,000 U.S. troops have failed to defeat the insurgents, halt sectarian violence or create an Iraqi military able to restore security, what reason is there to suppose some smaller number will achieve these ends?
Senate Democrats are moving with a vague plan to pull back some unspecified cohort of U.S. troops in four to six months. Their rationale, as articulated by new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, is the looming departure of that first increment will jolt the Iraqi government into effectiveness. But evidence suggests the Iraqi government is paralyzed by factions and has no greater ability to implement an American agenda than Americans. And this approach does not address the ways U.S. activities have antagonized the populace, deepened divisions and damaged the economy.
Sensible people recognize it will take time to remove U.S. troops and put in place mechanisms that might minimize violence. One impediment is determination in Washington to impose ideas on a foreign nation. This month, voters delivered their verdict on a stubborn president who cannot acknowledge this war is lost. But we need to beware of "realists" who will keep other people's children dying for a middle ground that cannot be found.
Posted on: Sunday, November 26, 2006 - 20:11
SOURCE: Austin-American Statesman (11-23-06)
This Thanksgiving, let us be thankful that we live in a democracy. Let us work at reviving and nurturing the principles of free and open exchange of ideas. Let us work at respecting the rights and beliefs of our fellow citizens and immigrants to our country, legal or illegal.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my good friend at the University of Texas at Austin, Paul Woodruff. Paul is a kind of Socrates, a tireless champion of the public examination of ideas. He has written two Socratic books, Reverence and First Democracy. They ask us to think about what democracy is. Democracy is messy, often frustrating, but worth the effort. In fact democracy is the only form of government worth the effort of all citizens, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, educated and uneducated.
We need to remember this constantly and with vigilance. How easily we can lose our way.
Take, for example, the recent selection of a new house majority leader in Congress. Speaker of the House-elect Nancy Pelosi backed John Murtha. She believed his strong views on the Iraqi war needed to be in the forefront of national consideration. There was open debate. As you know, the other candidate, Rep. Steny Hoyer, won the vote 149-86. Analysts said that Pelosi "lost, she lost publicly . . . she lost big." They said her public support for Murtha was "politically stupid."
This mentality is stupid. Solid bloc political decision-making, not standing publicly for what you believe, using a narrow majority as a mandate to push forward an extreme political agenda, all those things are stupid and detrimental to our nation.
Fortunately, we have clear examples of how democracy should work and how big must be our sense of humanity, our sense of humility, our sense of true sympathy for those who are different from us. Two shining examples have been in the public eye recently.
I am thankful this Thanksgiving that Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy cared enough about our country to give their lives for it. Ground was broken recently in Washington, D.C., for a memorial to King. A movie about Kennedy just opened.
Take time this Thanksgiving weekend to gather your families and loved ones. Read or listen together to the speech that King gave on April 3, 1968, the eve of his assassination, and the speech that Kennedy gave the next day, telling the people of Indianapolis that King had been fatally shot.
Kennedy reminded his audience that he felt in his heart what they felt about the murder of King. His own brother had been killed by a white man. He spoke honestly about the anger, the righteous desire for vengeance, the hatred and bitterness black people could feel about King's assassination. He spoke of the polarization that giving way to these justifiable emotions would cause. He then called for blacks and whites to "make an effort, as Martin Luther King did . . . an effort to understand with compassion and love."
King had spoken the night before at a church in Memphis.
His speech is glorious. He begins by talking about what he would do if God Almighty gave him the chance to live at any time in human history. He surveys the great moments of the past, Egypt, the Israelites in the Promised Land, the philosophers and playwrights of ancient Athens, the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, the American people during the Great Depression believing their president that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."
King then speaks words that empowered all his listeners. He would, he declares, "turn to the Almighty and say, 'If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.'"
He acknowledged, "[T]hat's a strange statement to make because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around." But he stressed to his audience that courageous, nonviolent expression of their beliefs about freedom and justice, while not without tremendous human cost, would eventually prevail. Their actions would persuade all Americans to think and feel democratically.
With two such great examples of direct and honest speech about life-and-death issues of human justice readily available to us, we should believe, too, that no problem is insurmountable. As King told the people of Memphis, "Only when it is dark enough can you see stars." We can talk about our problems and settle our differences even by starlight.
Posted on: Sunday, November 26, 2006 - 19:23
SOURCE: Andrew Meyer at the blog Madman of Chu (11-25-06)
As US leaders cast about for ideas on how to pull the Iraq conflict out of the jaws of catastrophe one notion that has become very vogue is the partition of Iraq. Louis Gelb, Peter Galbraith, and Senator Joseph Biden have all asserted in various forums that the road out of the Iraq quagmire lies in some form of tripartite division. Though this idea is often dressed in euphemisms like "federalism" or "confederation" (Biden writes of giving each region "breathing space" to manage its own affairs), it invariably reduces to division of Iraq into three independent states: one Kurd, one Sunni, one Shi'ite. This notion is superficially appealing for obvious reasons. Iraq right now is a portrait of sectarian strife. What better resolution to the problem than allowing the "sects" to go their separate ways? Unfortunately, as seductive as such a notion appears while one focuses on the current moment, it evaporates like a desert mirage as soon as one contemplates the history of Iraq and the larger region.
The greatest problem with any partition scheme centers on the Kurds. Unlike the Arabic Iraqi splinter groups the Kurds genuinely do desire their own independent and sovereign nation. The Kurdish nation is a dream deferred, Kurds still nurse lingering bitterness over Allied promises of "self-determination" in the immediate aftermath of WWI that have never been made good. US leaders seem to take for granted that Iraq's Kurds will blithely accept any "federalist" plan that is dictated to them. Yet nationalist passions run deep, and any steps toward greater Kurdish independence could easily snowball into a secessionist movmement, a development that would surely portend both deepening civil war in Iraq and a widening regional conflict. The natural boundaries of Kurdistan are not confined to Iraqi territory, Kurds are also a majority in parts of Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Those nations would go to war to prevent the emergence of a sovereign Kurdistan so as to staunch secessionist aspirations among their own Kurds. Moreover, the grant of any degree of sovereignty to Iraqi Kurds would cause enormous anger and resentment throughout the Arab world. The reduction of an Arab state to create a Kurdish nation would undoubtedly be compared to the international community's failure to reduce the Jewish state to create an Arab nation in Palestine. This would play directly to the rhetoric of groups like Hamas and Al Qaeda and would undermine US efforts throughout the Middle East.
As problematic as the situation of the Kurds is for any "federalist" plan, the condition of Iraq's Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs is little better. Neither community possesses the requisite coherence for functional nationhood. The Sunni minority would be left in control of a rump territory alienated from its economic and social centers of gravity. As the Sunnis were for years the proprietors of the Iraqi state that community's chief assets are concentrated in the "alpha city" of Baghdad, which would surely not be incorporated into the new "Sunni republic" and is in any case highly ethnically mixed. Such a scheme would be akin to asking the outer boroughs of New York City to carry on without any economic or political ties to Manhattan.
Iraq's Shi'ites, on the other hand, appear quite cohesive while the US occupation casts into sharp relief their differences with the Sunnis. But the Shi'ite community is impacted by historical forces that subvert its potential for functional political autonomy in the long term. The collective identity of Iraqi Shi'ites resides in their participation in a confessional community that crosses national and ethnic boundaries. Though divisions between Iraqis and Iranians, Arabs and Persians, are minimized by the current conditions of sectarian strife, those distinctions have historically been sources of profound friction. Very soon after the establishment of an Iraqi "Shi'ite republic" conflict will break out between those figures whose roots in the Shi'ite clerical establishment incline them toward closer ties with Iran and those individuals whose deep-seated feelings of Arab nationalism make the prospect of "Persion domination" anathema. The ultimate result would be a "republic" at war with both the Sunni community and itself.
"Iraq" as it exists today is obviously a terrain riven by social and cultural forces that make any degree of political coherence highly problematic. This does not indicate, however, that further fragmentation would be constructive. In historical terms one could argue that Iraq has arrived at its current impasse through hyper-fragmentation rather than the reverse. In the immediate aftermath of WWI Arab leaders who lobbied for independent nationhood on Wilsonian principles of "self determination" envisioned the Arab Middle East divided into far fewer nations than currently exist. Current political divisions express the colonial ambitions of Britain and France more than any intrinsic national consciousness of the peoples of the Middle East. The larger independent "Mesopotamia" envisioned by Arab leaders in the early 20th century would have had a more even admixture of Sunni and Shi'ite citizens, and might have been less susceptible to sectarian suspicion and violence.
In any case US plans for further partitioning of Iraq are deeply ill advised. The Biden-Gelb Plan, for example, calls for Iraqi "federalism," but such principles are already written into the Iraqi constitution. What, therefore, is new in this plan? The answer lies in provision 1: "Form regional governments -- Kurd, Sunni and Shiite -- responsible for administering their own regions." In other words, because the national government established by the US occupation is not working, the US should establish regional governments to rule in its stead. But if the US could not succeed in setting up a functioning national government why should it have any better luck setting up regional governments? According to the plan the central government would remain in order to oversee "truly common interests...like oil production and revenue," but a government that lacks the power to maintain the peace can hardly be expected to have the power to enforce a division of oil revenues, especially when its authority has been further eroded through the creation of three regional sub-governments with which it is forced to compete. If there is dire strife now in the absence of three regional governments it will only grow worse once those governments exist and are set to squabbling with one-another over oil revenues. The Biden-Gelb plan is effectively a recipe for replacing one dysfunctional government with three even more deeply dysfunctional governments, thus trading a slow-burning civil conflict for an all-out interregional civil war.
The lesson the US should take from its experience in Iraq thus far is this: Iraqi society is impelled by forces over which the US has little or no control, thus US meddling will most likely do more harm than good. If the government the US has assisted in creating does not operate as well as we like the answer is not to subvert it by creating new institutions that diminish its authority. Iraq may well be moving in the direction of some kind of functional partition, but the US should not imagine that it can "catch that wave" by way of retaining some residual influence over Iraqi politics. History dictates that within its current territorial boundaries (which for geopolitical reasons are unlikely to change in the near future) Iraqi society requires some form of central authority to function at all. Having planted the seeds of a central government the US would be very unwise to "change horses in mid stream," if only because this would undermine the already slim chances of the Baghdad government upon which the hope of any positive outcome rides. Ultimately the US must step back and let the Iraqis negotiate a modus vivendi between and among themselves, rooted in institutions of their own design and creation. The resulting outcome may not be entirely pleasing to the people or leaders of the US and its allies, but it is certain to be more constructive than what will result from further attempts by the US to compel a resolution of its own devising.
Posted on: Saturday, November 25, 2006 - 13:25
SOURCE: New York Sun (11-21-06)
As the Baker/Hamilton club considers our options in the Middle East, its members would do well to study the classic works on counterinsurgency. The first comes from a French lieutenant colonel, David Galula, who was a commander in Algeria in the 1950s. He later studied in America and for a short time consulted to the RAND Corporation. His classic work, "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice," has become required reading for the more thoughtful members of the military community.
Originally published in 1964, it has been reissued this year with a dandy introduction by an American Army lieutenant colonel, John Nagl, who also has written a fine book on the same subject, "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam." Galula formulated five basic laws for fighting insurgencies:
(1) The population is the basic target, and all other basic principles flow from this one. Whichever side wins over the population will win the war. "Destruction of the rebel forces and occupation of the geographic terrain led us nowhere so long as we did not control and get the support of the population," Galula wrote about the Algerian conflict in a 1963 RAND report, "Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958," which was reissued this year.
(2) Support from the population can only be obtained through the efforts of the minority among the population that favors the counterinsurgent.
(3) This minority will emerge — and eventually become the majority — only if the counterinsurgent is seen as the ultimate victor. For us to win, the original minority will have to take risks, and it will only do that if we are known, respected, and seen to be winning. Above all, we must be able to protect them.
(4) The superiority of the counterinsurgent will almost never be so overwhelming that he can simply dominate the whole territory. The counterinsurgent has to concentrate his efforts area by area, and demonstrate staying power and resolve.
This is what we nowadays call the "inkblot strategy," or the "clear and hold" strategy. We have done well at "clearing," but all too often we have left the cleared areas, relying on Iraqis to hold them, instead of constantly maintaining small operational groups in and around the cleared areas and initiating combat with terrorists who try to move back in. When we fail to do that, the crucial "minority that favors the counterinsurgent" gets killed.
(5) At a certain point, the war itself becomes the central issue. The population's attitude is dictated not by the intrinsic merits of the contending causes, but by their conviction about winners and losers. Whoever is judged the likely winner will gain popular support, and most likely win the war. Being seen as the eventual winner eventually determines the winner, short of creating a military dictatorship that simply executes anyone on the other side.
It's pure Vince Lombardi: Winning is the only thing. You need popular support, and you'll only get it if two conditions are met: You must have good personal relationships with lots of people, and the people must think you're the winner. If they do, they'll help you win by taking you into their families and tribes, providing you with information, and helping you track down the insurgents. If they don't, they'll either avoid you or support the enemy. Karen Hughes, please take note. You need to convince the peoples of the Middle East that we are winners, not that we are lovable, gentle, and tolerant....
Posted on: Friday, November 24, 2006 - 19:14
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (11-23-06)
The crisis is a further testament to the bankruptcy of George W. Bush's Middle East policy. Under the dishonest rhetoric of 'democratization,' what Bush has really been about is creating pro-American winners and anti-American losers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. Bush's vision is not democratic because he always installs a tyranny of the majority. The vanquished are to be crushed and ridiculed, the victors to exult in their triumph. It is like a Leni Riefenstahl film.
The problem is that when you crush the Pushtuns of Afghanistan, who traditionally ruled the country, they have means of hitting back (ask the Canadia n troops in Qandahar). When you crush the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, who had traditionally ruled Iraq, they have ways of organizing a guerrilla movement and acting as spoilers of Bush's new Kurdish-Shiite axis in Baghdad. When you crush Hamas even after they won the elections in early 2006, they have means of continuing to struggle.
In Lebanon, Bush egged on the pro-Hariri movement against the Syrians and their allies. Then he egged on Israel to bomb the Shiites of southern Lebanon (and, mysteriously, the rest of Lebanon, too). So he tried to create the March 14th alliance around Hariri as the winners who take all in Lebanon.
So obviously there will be trouble about this. Everything Bush touches turns to ashes, bombings, assassinations. He doesn't know how to compromise and he doesn't know how to influence his neo-colonial possessions so that they can compromise.
Lebanon for the past two years has been caught between several outside forces. The Hariris repres ent Saudi interests. Hizbullah and Amal, the Shiite parties, are aligned with Syria. The Gemayels have an old, longstanding behind the scenes alliance with Israel and the United States.
As I read the record, Syria provoked the initial crisis in fall, 2004, by overplaying its hand and making the Lebanese accept its choice for president, Gen. Emile Lahoud, for a further 3-year term. PM Rafiq al-Hariri resigned over this heavy-handed interference and looked set to challenge Damascus in the spring, 2005 elections. He was then assassinated in February, 2005. The assassin was himself a Sunni fundamentalist, but the operation may have been encouraged by Syrian or pro-Syrian actors.
The assassination of Hariri touched off a mass protest demanding that Syrian troops finally leave Lebanon (a peacekeeping force came in in 1976 with a US green light, during the civil war). The Syrians were supported by the Shiite Hizbullah, which staged demonstrations nearly as big as thos e of the pro-Hariri forces. Hariri was a Sunni, but the coalition put together after his death included Christians and Druze, as well.
Syria did withdraw. At that point, Lebanese politics became less polarized, and elections produced a national unity government that Hizbullah also joined.
But then in summer of 2006, Israel launched its long-planned war on little Lebanon, wreaking vast destruction on south Lebanon and on the southern slums of Beirut where Hizbullah was based. Israeli policy was in part to attempt to divide and conquer the Lebanese by making the reform government of Fuad Seniora attempt to disarm Hizbullah, which maintains a small paramilitary force of 3,000 to 5,000. The Lebanese government is too weak to take on Hizbullah, but members of the March 14th reform movement did lay the blame for the war at its feet.
As a result, Hizbullah has pulled out of the government. With Gemayel's assassination, the government will fall if it loses even one more cabinet minister. Worse, the society has now been economically devastated by Israeli bombing raids and is increasingly polarized. The Olmert government's plan for the second Lebanese civil war seems increasingly plausible. Syria has stupidly played into Israel's hands in this regard. The positive achievements of the national unity government of summer-fall 2005 have been undone. Lebanon is on the brink.
Can the Middle East withstand another unconventional war, alongside those in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, without unravelling altogether? And if it unravels, will it still produce petroleum for US automobiles? Will Israel be held harmless?
Posted on: Thursday, November 23, 2006 - 18:22
SOURCE: Counterpunch (11-21-06)
Are we the eagle nation
Or have we but the talons and the maw,
And for the abject likeness of our heart,
Shall some less lordly bird be set apart?
Some gorger in the sun? Some prowler with the bat?
-William Vaughn Moody, An Ode in Time of Hesitation
As Moody posed his birds, America was in the throes of imperial disillusion. President William McKinley having been reliably advised by God and Republican cronies to "take the Philippines" as booty of the 1898 Spanish-American War, the U.S. faced a fiery insurgency in the islands and at home raging debate about the loss of America's anti-colonial innocence. In the end, the Senate annexed by only a single vote, poorly armed Philippine nationalists were put down at brutal cost, and America moved on blithely to world power-albeit with the poet's question increasingly begged.
The issue roils a century later as a public urge to exit disaster in Iraq lifts Democrats in the 2006 elections to slim if ruling Congressional majorities. While U.S. motives and acts abroad may no longer inspire florid poetry, there is no shortage of prose on the debacle that is George W. Bush's less-than-excellent adventure in Mesopotamia. More than a dozen books track the folly in, matched only by the now warned-of folly out. Much as in 1898, America is told it cannot stay in its conquest without chaos, cannot leave without more. It recalls Churchill's richly Tory remark about Lenin with a Stalinist succession: Russia's worst tragedy his birth, next worse his death.
As Moody and McKinley suggest, however, there is rather more to these entrances and exits than people, circumstances, tactics of the moment. Deeper forces are at work in the American plight-and the world's at its mercy-that cannot be resolved by plebiscite. Far beyond Iraq, three timeless books-two classics and a third in the running-capture larger meaning.
True to its title, which more narrowly describes the Pentagon's 2003 dash to Baghdad, Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly places the calamity in indispensable wider context. Across thirty centuries, from the fall of Troy to the fallacies of Vietnam, from Renaissance Popes provoking the Reformation to the British blindly alienating their American colonies, one of our preeminent historians (certainly its most readable writer in the genre) extracts the Ariadne's thread of preconception, arrogance and deception, including self-deception, that mark governments bent on policies at odds with their own interests-all indulged in what Tuchman calls "wooden-headedness" despite known, available alternatives. Iraq has it all: rulers and ministers obsessed, bureaucrats overbearing and feeble, intelligence confused, confusing and in any case misnamed, generals as blundering as the politicians they later blame, oversight so abdicated by legislature, journalism and the public as to make them all complicit.
Contrary to the prevailing Democratic demonology, itself dangerously self-deceptive, the bleak history reminds us that Mr. Bush & Co. are hardly unique, and that profoundly institutionalized penchants for folly will not somehow magically vanish from Washington with their own departure from power. Not least, Tuchman warns us that exits are seldom what they seem. Lyndon Johnson driven from office in 1968 by antiwar protests, Richard Nixon elected on his "plan" to disengage from Vietnam, it would be four full savage years before America's war actually ended, making that long black wall of the dead in Washington twice as lengthy as it was when an election seemed to put the exit at hand.
Of foreign policy, as the Maréchal de Saxe said of war, the starting point, essence and ending is the human heart, and Edward Said's Orientalism takes us into its darker regions of cant and bigotry. It was a revolutionary book when it appeared in the late 1970s, and like many intellectual revolutions, gave literary form to the politically denied yet obvious. One of the leading literary critics of the twentieth century and a tireless champion of civilized discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, Said did nothing less than expose the cultural scandal in Western approaches to the Islamic world: the rotten alliance of enlightenment and colonialism in which academics and novelists, clerks and clerics, soldiers and tourists all confected our own accommodating Muslim Orient, exotic, stagnant, weak yet threatening, prone to despotism yet susceptible to liberation, and above all, relentlessly different, inferior. Deep in the canon of American prejudice, from Woodrow Wilson to Dick Chaney, no bond of ignorance, fear and habit has been more powerful in Washington, save perhaps the intimately related post-Holocaust laissez passer granted Israel, though even that is fading as the Orientalism Express barrels on.
Thus Washington's petty scapegoating of retreat as Mr. Bush's neo-conservative mentors now regret their underestimation of Iraqi "barbarism" and "depravity."...
Posted on: Wednesday, November 22, 2006 - 14:01
SOURCE: Migration Policy Institute (11-1-06)
In their everyday life, most Americans seem to agree with Henry Ford who once said, "History is more or less bunk... We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today." Certainly a great — but now also deadlocked — debate on immigration figures prominently in the history being made today in the United States and around the world.
What is surprising is how often the debaters evoke the past through references to "history." Some insist that the United States has always been a nation of immigrants. Others respond by insisting that today's immigration problems — illegal entry, globalization of labor, and threats to national security — are unprecedented.
Assertions of continuity, of change, or of deep rupture between past and present are all temporal claims, familiar to specialists in my home discipline — commonly called "history." As an historian, I'm fascinated by Americans' sudden interest in the past. What do debaters seek from the past when they argue policy alternatives? Does history, as a discipline, have special authority in interpreting the past or is "every man his own historian," as Carl Becker, himself an historian, once insisted? ...
Concerned with time, historians find it interesting to ask when scholars began to study immigration. The timing of scholarly interest in migration tells us much about how policy debates have shaped our understanding of immigration as an influence on American life.
Sociologists typically cite Harvard's Oscar Handlin (author of the 1951 book The Uprooted), as the first immigration historian, but contemporary immigration historians like Jon Gjerde more often trace their field to Midwesterners George Stephenson, Theodore Blegen, and Marcus Hansen. These men began writing in the 1920s and 1930s; they were contemporaries of the sociologists studying immigration, who formed the influential "Chicago School" at the University of Chicago.
In both history and sociology, scholarly work on immigration was sparked by the great debates of the 1920s, as Americans argued over which immigrants to include and which to exclude from the American nation. The result of that particular great debate was the exclusion of Asians as racially undesirable and the restriction of immigration from southern and eastern Europe through discriminatory national origins quotas. In both cases, scholars responded to political decisions to exclude and to restrict with positive interpretations of immigration and of immigrants.
Reacting to the debates of their time, sociologists and historians nevertheless developed different central themes. While Chicago School sociologists focused on immigrant adaptation to the American mainstream, historians were more likely to describe immigrants engaged in building the American nation or its regional sub-cultures.
Historians studied the immigrants of the past, (which in the 1920s meant the 18th and 19th centuries), usually in the context of nation-building and settlement of the western United States, while sociologists focused on the immigrant urban workers of their own times — that is, the early decades of the 20th century.
Sociologists' description of assimilation as an almost natural sequence of interactions resulting in the absorption, modernization, and Americanization of foreigners reassured Americans that their country would survive the recent arrival of immigrants whom longtime Americans perceived as radically different.
Historians insisted instead that the immigrants of the past had actually been the "makers of America;" they had forged the mainstream to which new immigrants adapted.
Both groups of scholars posited change over time. For sociologists, however, it was immigrants who changed and assimilated over the course of three generations. For historians, it was the American nation that changed and evolved.
In the 1920s and 1930s, neither historians nor sociologists of immigration used the term "nation of immigrants." First used by a former missionary in 1882, picked up occasionally in the 1910s and 1920s by a mixed group of businessmen, critics of immigration restriction, and the occasional scholar, the idea of the United States as a "nation of immigrants" did not really capture the American imagination until the early 1950s, when immigration had waned to its nadir and when the scholarly study of immigration by historians and sociologists had practically ceased.
The popularity of this phrase — still heard in contemporary debates — was the product of another great debate about immigration. In his efforts to prevent Congress from including in the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act the discriminatory national origins quotas introduced in the 1920s, Harry S. Truman began asserting that the United States was and always had been a nation of immigrants. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 - 23:18
SOURCE: American Prospect (12-1-06)
To assess the situation in Iraq, it is helpful to understand how a civil war differs from an inter-state, cross-border war. There are three principal defining aspects of a civil war, each with numerous subsidiary requirements. The basic formula is simple: the violence must be "civil," it must be "war," and its aim must be either the exercise or the acquisition of national authority.
The "civil" part of the definition means the struggle must be conducted within a national territory, and that it must be carried on largely by the people of that territory, fighting between themselves. It must also involve a significant degree of popular participation.
A civil war also has to be a war—what the dictionary calls a "hostile contention by means of armed forces." Does this definition require formal battles and campaigns? Or does factional or regional struggle suffice? For us the baseline is a minimum degree of organisation, formality and identifiability of the combatants. The battles do not have to be organised, in other words, but the people do. A civil war requires leaders who say what they are fighting for and why, and a public that understands what it is all about—the divisions, the people and the goals.
The third principal condition, authority, is just as important. The point of the violence must be sovereign rule: combatants must be trying either to seize national power or to maintain it. This is the difference between, for example, the Russian civil war and the tribal rebellions now taking place in 14 of India's 28 states, or the late 1990s insurgency of Subcomandante Marcos in Mexico. Revenge, struggles for rights, mass criminality and positioning for economic gain are not sufficient, individually or severally. The opponents must be fighting to rule.
To pass the test of posterity and achieve historical status as a civil war is extremely rare. We can think of only five clear-cut cases: the English (1642-49), the American (1861-65), the Russian (1918-21), the Spanish (1936-39) and the Lebanese (1975-90). There are, of course, thousands of other violent internal struggles in history. But few are remembered as civil wars. Some of those that are so remembered have been misnamed, at least according to our criteria. (The Irish civil war is a borderline case and depends on the extent to which the free-staters are judged to have been running the state.)
When did civil war, as opposed to mere faction fighting between rivals for power, first make an appearance? The English wars of the roses of the 15th century are a possible starting point. These conflicts, however, were largely carried on by landed warriors, allied by family connection to one or other of the principals. The common people did not take part, and indeed were actively deterred from doing so. The wars of the roses thus were not civil wars but violent power struggles. They were brought to an end by the death in battle of the King of England, Richard III, at the hand of his rival, Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII.
But the wars of the roses did have one important ingredient of civil war: the principle of legitimacy. Henry Tudor fought with the determination he did because he believed he had a right in law to the throne of England and because, with reason, he regarded Richard III as a usurper. He nevertheless succeeded by right of conquest alone, and his dynasty kept the throne in subsequent reigns by military force.
The succession passed from the last of the Tudors, the childless Elizabeth, to the Stuarts, whose misrule was challenged on grounds of legitimacy by the parliamentary faction, eventually led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell invoked legitimacy to justify his usurpation but it was legitimacy in a new form: ideological rather than hereditary. Cromwell believed that the crown of England could be worn only by a king who was approved by parliament. Charles Stuart's rejection of that view led to the English civil war.
This first civil war reveals all the marks of a classic: claims to legitimacy by both sides, based partly on inheritance and partly on ideology, with the aim of ruling over the whole; the involvement of the common people; the taking of sides by a divided political class; formal military engagements; and the use of violence against the defeated ruler. There was an element of revolution, too, as the victors attempted to institutionalise their victory by bringing about social as well as political changes. The aim was a "new" England, represented by true believers who inherited control of key institutions with the object of changing the country's belief system. Important changes of lasting effect were brought about by the English civil war, though many of these were reversed when divisions within parliament led to the restoration of the Stuarts in 1660.
The war had the effect of inoculating the English against going to war ever again in the name of politics. We might have invented civil war, but we have seen nothing like it since. In that sense, the English civil war was deeply important and highly successful.
Many of those who took part in the American civil war regarded it as being conducted in the spirit of the English civil war (the notion of the "cavalier" was especially alluring to the gentleman soldiers of the confederacy, epitomised by the dashing cavalry chief JEB Stuart). The American conflict, like its predecessor, was fought over an issue of political authority but with an undeclared purpose of social transformation, in this case the abolition of chattel slavery. It was truly a civil war in that common people were hugely involved. In its intensity and totality, it anticipated the big civil wars that were to follow in the 20th century. It was distinguished from them, however, by the spirit of magnanimity that for the most part characterised the conduct of the victors.
By contrast, the Spanish civil war of 1936-39, fought over deep divisions in Spanish society, was characterised by extreme brutality and then savage revenge exacted by the victors. Beginning as a military revolt against the government, in protest at its hostility to certain traditional features of Spanish society, particularly the Catholic church, the conflict was deliberately prolonged by General Franco, the leader of the revolt, so as to inflict as many casualties as possible. Thus it was at terrible cost to Spanish society that the war achieved its objects. It exhibited one feature that was to become common in later civil conflicts: the attraction of foreign fighters sympathetic to the ideas of one side or the other.
The Russian civil war of 1918-21 was an outright ideological struggle, inaugurated by the Bolsheviks to establish communist rule throughout the former czarist empire. It was characterised by brutality on both sides, the intervention of outsiders, and the taking of revenge. Leaders were executed and terror was used against civilians on both sides. It was territorial, it was domestic and it involved large numbers of the common people fighting for both sides. It was ideological and about legitimacy, and led to revolution.
Apart from attacks on the US-led coalition, the current violence in Iraq shows two signs of civil war: it is taking place within the national boundaries of a single country, and it primarily involves local people killing local people. It is civil, in other words. But is it war? And what about the question of authority?
There are three major categories of player in Iraq's domestic violence, each of which has important internal divisions. The Sunni insurgency dominated the violence until spring of this year, when its bombing of the mosque at Samarra finally delivered the long-standing goal of goading Shias into large-scale reprisals. The Sunni violence is composed of two principal parts, one motivated by hardcore Wahhabist and Salafist Islam, and the other by the secular outlook of Baathism.
The second main category is the Shia militias. The most dangerous and active of these is the Mahdi army associated with Muqtada al-Sadr, a fractious and nebulous phenomenon that includes many groups whose connection to the movement is nominal. The older and less active—though better organised—Shia militia is the Badr Organisation, formed during the Shia struggle against Saddam, and originally trained and based in Iran. Badr belongs to Sciri, one of Iraq's two main Iranian-backed political parties and is almost always at odds with the al-Sadr movement, which derives its popularity from Iraqi nationalism.
The third major player in the Iraqi civil killing is the tendency that fights on behalf of the Iraqi state against the sectarian agendas of the Sunni insurgency and the Shia militias. The Iraqi police, police commandos and other ministry of interior forces have been heavily infiltrated by the militias, especially the Mahdi army. The Iraqi army is far more independent. With almost 500,000 Iraqis serving with the police or army, it seems safe to say well over 100,000 Iraqis are fighting for the state against the militias and the insurgents. They represent a major armed faction whose agenda is the preservation of a unified, secular and pluralistic state.
The most striking feature of the civil violence in Iraq is that it is for the most part decidedly unmilitary. Despite the names of the two Shia militias, only the third group, the state forces, exhibits the military characteristics of the principal actors in the five conflicts that we recognise as civil wars: uniforms, clear chains of command, acknowledged leadership, and official, public war aims.
There are no, or almost no, battles in Iraq's domestic killing. Civilians are the principal targets. The looser definition of the "war" part of civil war nonetheless acknowledges that if factions or regions are killing enough people for enough time, it can be petty not to recognise the conflict as something very like a war. Iraq meets this standard only partly: the non-state players for the most part lack anything like the public character of players in civil wars to date. In other words, it is not so much that Iraq is a conflict without uniforms and fighting that prevents it from being a civil war, but rather that it is violence in which no player except the state and al Qaeda, which is a minor player, says what it wants, or indeed says that it wants anything other than the continuation of the country's elected government. (One Sunni Islamist group has recently called for a separate Sunni state.)
An important feature of the conflict in Iraq is the lack of public rhetoric against the enemy by popular leaders. All of Iraq's leaders call constantly for unity, tolerance and an end to the violence. This was far from the case with Lenin, Franco, Cromwell or even Lincoln. To the extent that Iraq's violence involves separatist and regional tendencies, the lack of any public aspect to the factional desires extends to an absence of explicit territorial ambitions. (The Kurds do not feature much in Iraq's civil war scenario. They are essentially separate from the Arab Iraqi state, and should they move to formalise this status, no Arab Iraqi player will be strong enough to stop them.)
Could Iraq be the first civil war ever without battles, generals, explicit war aims, the use of partisan public rhetoric by civilian leaders, mass public participation and targets of a predominantly military nature? Even if Iraq today possessed these characteristics, it would still lack something even more important: the struggle for authority. In Iraq, the state actors are fighting for authority. But the others are not, which is probably why we do not hear from them. The Shia militias are the armed wings of the two biggest parties in parliament, and their people own the top ministries. Neither Badr nor the al-Sadr movement is big enough or strong enough to own the state itself. They balance each other while the Sunnis, whose violent actors are far smaller, provide the final guarantee against a full grab for power by either. It is no coincidence that the only player, apart from the state, that acknowledges war aims is the only player whose war aims constitute the traditional aspiration of exclusive control: the religious element of the Sunni insurgency. The aspiration to a new Baghdad caliphate frees the Wahhabis and Salafists from the pragmatic calculations of al-Sadr or the Baathists, and lets them dream of control, and talk about it on their websites.
Objectively, it must be concluded that the disorders in Iraq do not constitute a civil war but are nearer to a politico-military struggle for power. Such struggles in Muslim countries defy resolution because Islam is irreconcilably divided over the issue of the succession to Muhammad. It might be said that Islam is in a permanent state of civil war (at least where there is a significant minority of the opposing sect) and that authority in Muslim lands can be sustained only by repression if the state takes on a religious cast, since neither Shia nor Sunni communities can concede legitimacy to their opponents.
The Lebanese civil war of 1975-90 offers perhaps the closest example of the sort of outcome towards which Iraq might be heading. An Iraqi civil war, with seven main factions (pro-Iranian Shias, nationalist Shias, Islamist Sunnis, Baathist Sunnis, pro-state secularist forces, and two major Kurdish mini-governments), would very likely offer the confused and confusing array of shifting allegiances and foggy front lines that characterised much of the Lebanese conflict. Without the clarity of blue versus grey, red versus white, or roundheads versus cavaliers, and no one faction capable of winning, the Lebanese civil war went on for 15 years and ended with a broad negotiated settlement. The factions were fighting for authority, for the most part, especially the Christian Phalange, and the others for smaller nationalist projects. Ultimately the country settled into the uneasy equilibrium touched by an endless succession of flare-ups that we know today.
Full democracies are the states least prone to violent civil disorder; autocracies are the second most orderly. It is intermediate democracies and transitional states that are the least orderly. Iraq, of course, is both a transitional and an intermediate democracy. Even without the peculiarly violent character that has been endemic to Mesopotamia since history began there 6,000 years ago, Iraq would still be in the sweet spot for chaos. Yet apart from the Salafists, the state forces are the only player in the current phase of Iraq's domestic violence that aspires to replace the current constitutional arrangement with its own sole rule. These forces, of course, are the only ones that can have that aspiration, for they are the only players who combine the various sectarian identities, and thus the only ones who possess a theory of rule that might work. The individual sectarian tendencies are too weak to replace the current constitutional order in any foreseeable scenario. So what are they fighting for? Revenge, criminality, ideology and political advantage, but not sole authority over the state.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 - 21:36
SOURCE: Special to HNN (11-18-06)
To a significant degree the fate of liberty and peace in the 21st century will depend on the successful development of the largest world democracy. For it is in India that the autocratic development model is truly challenged. That is the reason it is so disheartening to find that much of the Indian (very leftist) elite is so dismissive of the country and so virulently opposed to its recent economic development.
Last Saturday night I went to see “the Most Successful Stage Show in Goa for the last 26 years,” Jadugar Anand’s magic show. I know this because prior to the beginning of the show, I, along with the few other foreigners in attendance, was handed an information flyer addressed to “Dear Guest.” It began thus:
We are performing in India now. We wish to share a few points with you. Firstly, you must remember that this show is basically meant for Indian spectators, implying that the Presentation is keeping in mind the taste of Indian Spectators. A very good chance for you to see for yourself what Indians like to watch.
I did. I found that in addition to the usual tricks of appearing elephants, disappearing doves and dogs, women being cut to pieces and people walking in and out of televisions screens, Indians also like to watch their country being put down. At the very least, they tolerate it. For Jadugar has been doing it for years. In a sequence called “Beauty and the Beast” he begins by showing how corruption turns a beautiful young girl into a snarling black beast. Then, he goes on to turn the beautiful 1947 Mother India into 2006 Devil India. Jadugar has a graduate degree in English and considers such wholesale denigration of his country evidence of his social conscience. Not a peep of protest could be heard.
Similarly, while introducing Pakistani jurist and diplomat, Dr. Farooq Hassan, to a group of academicians, the head of the Political Science Department at Goa University, remarked that Indian politicians are so detached from the populace that its democratic system of government should not be considered superior to that of Pakistan’s military regime. Perhaps, he was trying merely to be gracious though Dr. Hassan strongly begged to differ. Indians, he asserted, do not know how lucky they are to have had only one short brush with tyrannical rule (during the reign of Indira Ghandi). It is true that democratic intellectuals rarely appreciate their own freedom but the vigorous defense the Indians mounted for Saddam following his death sentence was extreme even when compared to the Arabs. So obvious is the press disdain for democracy that the keynote speaker for “National Press Day” in Goa, Journalism professor Sudhir Gavhane, thought it useful to remind his audience of the interdependence between journalism and democracy. “Free journalism depends on Democratic institutions just like democracy depends on vigorous journalism,” he said pointedly.
Yes, there is a national Press Day as there is a national Children’s Day and many such other Days, all used to focus attention on some social problem or another. Indeed, I have never been in a country more imbued with social activism or came across a country more responsive to it. It probably reflects the lasting legacy of Ghandi and Nehru. India was lucky in its founders. The problem is that laws are relatively easy to pass in a parliamentary system. Consequently, both the federal government and the state governments pass a myriad of worthy but difficult to implement legislation.
For example, recently the government passed a children’s rights legislation which outlawed child labor. The Goan government ran a three-week long training seminar for social workers whose job will be enforce it. Unfortunately, the state is inundated with poor migrants who need the meager income their children may earn. So, everybody knows the battle to eradicate child labor is far from over. Similarly, India passed a Freedom of Information law but a group of activist journalists used the official National Press day celebrations to demonstrate against the failure of the government to implement it. “It is worse than ever,” one of the demonstrators told me. “They simply refuse to give us any information.” A government official speaking ex cathedra agreed. He even told of a bureaucrat (in another state, of course) who set fire to his records to prevent journalists from examining them.
Goa is the richest Indian state. Mention Goa to an Indian and his/her eyes light up. New train and air connections are turning the state into a year round primary Indian as well as foreign tourist destination. There is almost no indigenous illiteracy. Educational institutions are flourishing and hi-tech job fairs abound. There are hardly any beggars in Goa and the few that are, originate from neighboring states. Indeed, everything Europeans say about North Africans and Americans about Mexicans is being said by Goans about Indian migrants to their state (it takes 15 years to become a Goa resident). As could be expected, these developments led to a major real estate boom and plenty of foul play. But Indians do not take corruption lying down. Thus, when the council members of the village of Kundaim allotted to their relatives land supposed to be distributed to poor villagers, the villagers demonstrated and succeeded in forcing them out. How different from the story of the Chinese peasants whose failed protests reached 87,000 last year. Indeed, Transparency International found that the country is improving. It move up 18 places in the last year. That still means number 70. But centrality of the issue in Indian politics it should continue to improve.
Of course, at times this activism boomerangs. One cannot spend more than an hour in Goa before noticing the large number of thin, listless hounds roaming the streets. Apparently, animal rights enthusiasts succeeded in ending their culling. They demanded that the government control the stray dog population by capturing and neutering them. It is a much too costly and time-consuming procedure to implement. So the dog population is booming unmolested. The law school has two dogs sleeping in its hallways. Luckily, they behave like Indian cows, water buffalos and even wild boars, stoically. They rarely bark or pester anyone as if they know they are dependent of the tolerance of strangers.
Goa is the most easy-going developing region I have ever seen. The grocery stores do not open until 9am and they close for siesta. Indians consider Goans hopelessly lazy. And, yet, on November 6, the Times of India ran an article entitled “The End of Goa.” The subtitle read: “The ugliness of urban India is not infesting a paradise. Manu Joseph reports from Goa on a dementia called development.” In addition to bemoaning the disappearance “singing boatman” with “glistening black buttocks,” he derided the Goans newfound pride:
A Bihari servant brings beer to consecrate the hospitality of Miranda. “Can’t find a Goan servants. Goans don’t want to work as servants. Too much pride. They want other avenues. Easy money. But a lot of poets now. I have to listen to their poems, he says, chuckling.”
Why the anti-democratic anti-development bile? Perhaps, it is because the people do not share the values of their leftist intellectuals. They love the new opportunities and are determined to take full advantage of them. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the failure of the attempts to tilt the educational scale against English in favor of local languages. In Goa, the student body at government schools is shrinking. People send their kids to private Catholic schools where English is taught from earlier age. Government schools used to start teaching it only at sixth grade. To attract more students, the government schools agreed to start teaching English in second grade. They also provide every student with free educational materials, midday meals, a bicycle and a raincoat. It helped very little. The poor know what is good for them. English is good. Development is good. Nothing empowers the poor more than the globalizing free market. Leftist Intellectuals know this and hate it. In an article entitled “Why Dalits (Untouchables) want English, ” Gail Omverdt writes:
Why English? Not because it is sacred or somehow holy, but because it is the language of access and power, a key to the world stock of knowledge and wealth and success that depends on this. “English the Dalit godess is a world power today,” claims Prasad; it is about emancipation; it is a mass movement against caste order. . . . “
Dalits are, of course, not the only ones to seek the entry to a world heritage that English knowledge provides, street kids, intellectuals are discovering, are enthusiastic about learning English. Maharashtra state began English from first standard (grade) because of political pressure: Rural people want the language for their children, and even look to English medium school when they can afford them. . . .
Intellectuals like Mandy have expressed concern about the mother tongue. In fact, most Dalits might like the mother tongue to become English, as it has become the mother tongue of African Americans, who have mastered it so well that the creation of spontaneous poetry (rap) is their art form, and who give birth to most of the new worlds (slang) coming into the language. “
Democracy means that the people get to choose and India’s intellectuals bitterly disapprove of their choices. Communists continue to win the elections to university-run bodies or as a local TV station said, the Indian campuses are still red. In the confusing India of today, there are fewer poor people than ever before. Still, those supposedly dedicated to ending poverty are fighting a determined rear guard battle to slow down the very changes proven to reduce it. Denigrating Indian democracy and Indian development is one of the strategies they use to do so. It is a small wonder that they still fume against BJP’s national election slogan, “India Shining.” The truth is India is shining for more people than ever before and that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a very good thing. It is high time that the Indian opinion makers stopped making their own people feel guilty about it. They do not deserve it. If anything, the opposite is true.
Posted on: Saturday, November 18, 2006 - 14:36