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: WSJ (11-16-06)
"Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone." With these words, Lyndon B. Johnson greeted Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban at the White House on May 26, 1967. The Middle East was in the throes of an escalating crisis. Gamal Abdul Nasser had evicted U.N. peacekeepers from Egypt's border with Israel, blockaded the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and called on the Arab world to "throw the Jews into the sea." Israel had no intention of waiting to see if Nasser would carry out his pledge, or of keeping its troops on the permanent state of alert that was bankrupting the country. And so the Israeli government sent its foreign minister to seek Johnson's approval for mounting a pre-emptive strike. But LBJ only disappointed Eban. Though hostile to Nasser and firmly supportive of Israel, the president was hamstrung by America's imbroglio in Vietnam and by the drop in his domestic support. The most he offered the Israelis was Washington's help in mobilizing international action against Egypt. Beyond that, there was only that repeated, cryptic phrase, "Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone."
Perhaps a similar message was imparted by George W. Bush in his meeting earlier this week with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Much like 1967, Israel faces a Middle Eastern leader who has repeatedly sworn to wipe it off the map, and to that end is assiduously trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Like Nasser, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can cripple Israel economically by keeping it in a state of alert, driving away foreign investment and tourism. In the absence of international commitment to thwart Iran's nuclear plans, Israel has no choice but to consider striking pre-emptively. Doing so, however, requires explicit U.S. support, or at the very least, an indication that the U.S. will not oppose such action. Like Eban 40 years earlier, Mr. Olmert came to Washington in search of a green light.
But the U.S. is hardly in the position to sanction an Israeli attack. Bogged down in Iraq and hemorrhaging political capital at home, Mr. Bush resembles Johnson in his inability to approve risky military initiatives. As inimical to Mr. Ahmadinejad as his predecessor was to Nasser, and at least as sympathetic to the Jewish state, Mr. Bush is nevertheless unable to undertake a unilateral attack against Iran or even to endorse an Israeli one.
This was bad news for Mr. Olmert. The Israeli prime minister hoped to secure a hard-and-fast timetable for interdicting Iran's nuclear program first by diplomacy and then, if that failed, by force. Instead, he heard that the U.S. would only support measures to isolate Iran economically and balked at the use of bombs. Though he and his administration have routinely stated a determination to prevent Iran from obtaining strategic capabilities, Mr. Bush, in the aftermath of his party's electoral defeats, avoided all public mention of armed power as a means of achieving that goal.
The only option for the U.S., then, is international sanctions. These, however, have proven singularly inadequate in quashing the nuclear aspirations of North Korea -- a country far more financially fragile than Iran -- and lack the vital support of Russia, China and France. Iran has also threatened to retaliate for sanctions by cutting back oil production and increasing its support for terror.
Back in 1967, Johnson also tried to apply international pressure on Egypt. He planned to issue a multilateral declaration condemning the closure of Tiran and to create a convoy of ships from 26 nations to physically challenge the blockade. But fearing for their oil supplies, European countries refused to cooperate with Johnson's démarche, while Egypt threatened violence against any attempt to reopen the straits. In the end, only four countries were willing to sign the declaration and only two volunteered ships for the convoy.
Mr. Bush is unlikely to be more successful than Johnson in marshalling international strictures against a defiant Middle Eastern regime....
Posted on: Thursday, November 16, 2006 - 21:54
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-16-06)
Things are always complicated. In the Washington Post, for instance, James Mann, author of Rise of the Vulcans recently suggested that it was far"too simplistic" to claim"the appointment of Robert M. Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld [represents] the triumph of Bush the Father's administration over Bush the Son's."
Still, I prefer the analysis of Washington Post reporter (and author of Fiasco) Thomas Ricks. When asked by the Post's media columnist Howard Kurtz whether a Newsweek headline,"Father knows best," was just"an easy, cheap Oedipal way for the press to characterize what's going on," Ricks replied:"Well, just because it's easy and cheap doesn't mean it's wrong."
At a moment when every version of the dramatic arrival of James A. Baker III and Robert Gates on the scene -- and the scuttling of Rumsfeld's Titanic -- is at least suspect, it's still worth considering the bare bones of what can be seen and known -- and then asking what we have.
Sooner or later, failure has a way of stripping most of us of our dreams and pretensions. So let's start with a tiny history of failure. George W. Bush's life trajectory of failing upward has had a rhythm to it -- and a rubric, " crony capitalism." Daddy's friends and contacts helped him into and -- after he failed -- out of the oil business, into and out of the baseball business, into and now, it seems, out of the failed game of global politics. His is, as the Boston Globe's Michael Kranish and John Aloysius Farrell put it back in 2002,"the story of a man who struck out numerous times before being bailed out by big hitters who often were family members, friends, or supporters of his father."
It's appropriate, then, that the man who bailed him out in Florida when he essentially lost the presidency in 2000, Bush family consigliere James A. Baker III, would reappear six years later, in the wake of another failed election, to bail him out again now that he's screwed up the oil heartlands of the planet. Daddy -- we're talking here about former President George H.W. Bush -- has three adopted boys: His former National Security Advisor (and alter ego) Brent Scowcroft, who went into opposition to the younger Bush's Iraq policy even before the invasion of 2003 and now lurks quietly in the wings; his former CIA Director Robert Gates; and Baker.
Like Daddy, Gates was deeply involved in, but never indicted for his dealings in the scurrilous Iran-Contra affair; was later involved in the tilt toward and arming of Saddam's Iraq against Khomeini's Iran, pioneered fertile territory in the late 1980s in terms of manipulating intelligence in the debate over the nature of Gorbachev's Soviet Union, had a hand in the first Gulf War, and most recently held the presidency of Texas A&M, where he was the keeper of the flame for Daddy's library. Could you ask for a better insider CV for taking over the Pentagon from one of Bush elder's rivals in the Gerald Ford era, Donald Rumsfeld.
We don't know how all this happened, but a little speculation never hurt anyone. Congress mandated the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to come up with some new recommendations for Iraq policy last March. Baker and co-chair Lee Hamilton began work in April. Iraq has been in an ever more horrific and bloodthirsty spiral downward ever since. Yet the ISG has still delivered nothing but promises of recommendations -- which Baker and others continue to swear will be no "magic" or"silver" bullet -- sometime in December or even January. Back in March, Baker insisted on getting the President, who initially seemed reluctant, to sign on personally. But the question is: What happened over the last 8 months as Iraq boiled? I think we have to assume -- and a cover piece in Time seems to confirm this -- that Baker, a distinctly hard-nosed guy, never intended to present a bunch of suggestions that Donald Rumsfeld could simply shoot out of the skies and so was stalling until his departure. (Time quotes a"Gates aide" as saying,"Baker wasn't going to let his report come out, so that Rummy could stomp all over it.")
Assumedly, he knew that, if his group took long enough, Rumsfeld would be gone and a secretary of defense more to his liking in place. Hence, the distant date for delivering"solutions." It's been, in essence, a stall. Everyone involved has claimed, of course, that Father Bush had nothing directly to do with all this and that Baker didn't even know, until the last second, that Rumsfeld was about to fall like a brick. I'd be surprised if that story lasted out the month.
In fact, what we're seeing undoubtedly adds up to something more than Iraq policy recommendations -- possibly even a genuine purge of most of the remaining neocons and their allies (who are also in the process of, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern has written, eating their own). At the Pentagon, rumor has it, the leftover neocons, many of them allies of Vice President Cheney, are just waiting for their pink slips when Gates steps aboard. All this seems aimed at leaving the Vice President's office increasingly isolated and Cheney himself sidelined.
Someday, when the full story is in, we're bound to be riveted. After all, Baker has managed in these months to gather in the wings something like an alternative State Department/National Security Council/CIA-in-waiting in the shell of the Iraq Study Group, which is filled with old movers and shakers going back to the Reagan administration. (He's even begun to conduct something akin to his own foreign policy, meeting with the Syrian foreign minister and Iran's ambassador to the UN, both no-nos for this administration.) The ten key ISG members, in fact, are largely not military strategists or geopolitical thinkers of a sort who might be expected to offer Iraq solutions. They are instead a who's who of establishmentarianism, extending back to the Reagan era.
Is this a major shift in Washington? You bet. How big remains to be seen. But here's the real question: Can the new crowd -- even if the President bows down to Daddy's Boys, which is hardly a given -- get us out of Iraq? Do they even want to? At a moment of such flux, with a new Democratic Congress and growing public pressure for a genuine Iraq exit strategy, what kind of gates will the Gates nomination actually open?
When Is an"Exit" Not the Way Out?
Let's start with one sure side effect of the Gates nomination and the extended delivery schedule of the Iraq Study Group. It buys time from election-driven pressure for whatever administration is in formation. We now have to wait for the Gates confirmation hearings; the ISG recommendations (and possibly those from an alternate White House version of the same); endless consideration of them; and, barring an unlikely flat turn-down from an increasingly cornered administration, the time to implement those policies and check out the results (which are guaranteed to be deeply disappointing, if not disastrous). Six months to a year could easily pass before it becomes obvious to Americans that we're not really heading out those Iraqi gates.
If you happen to have lived through the Vietnam era, then think of this as the beginning of the season of non-withdrawal withdrawal gestures. The key word right now is"redeployment," something Senator Carl Levin, who will soon take over the Armed Services Committee, is pushing hard. His modest drawdown plan, however, is not even meant to begin for another four to six months and offers no timetable or any particular end in sight. Levin does, however, make it clear that redeployment and departure are two different creatures. In the form of some kind of military advisory group (not to speak of our massive new embassy in the heart of Baghdad and a few of the massive bases we've built), he expects us to be in Iraq into the distant future.
We don't, of course, know exactly what plan the Iraq Study Group will offer, but all reports on its deliberations suggest that, while public expectations are soaring, the actual recommendations"may sound familiar." Actually, they may sound that way because the proposals the group seems to be considering are indeed remarkably familiar. These range from a bulking up of U.S. troop strength by 10,000-40,000 more soldiers to a far more likely scenario described by Neil King Jr., Yochi Dreazen, and Greg Jaffe in the Wall Street Journal just two days after the election. This would involve a long-term drawdown of American forces to the 50,000 level -- still 20,000 more than Rumsfeld and pals hoped to leave in-country only months after the taking of Baghdad. Assumedly, these would largely be pulled back into those permanent bases we've built.
"The new defense secretary is more likely to oversee a shift of the U.S. effort away from providing security in urban areas such as Baghdad to a more advisory role? In such a scenario, the Pentagon would turn big U.S. units into quick reaction forces to bail out Iraqi soldiers and advisers who get overrun. Teams of American advisers who live and work with Iraqi units would increase in number."
Recently, Julian Borger of the British Guardian summed up what's known this way:"[The ISG] is also looking at various types of troop deployment. Most probably it will suggest pulling US forces out of the urban patrolling that causes most of the casualties and regrouping in bases in Iraq or in neighbouring countries."
Along with this would go various forms of pressure on the Iraqi government to step up ("benchmarks," but not perhaps the dreaded"timetable" for withdrawal that the President opposes so vigorously). In addition, a regional conference of neighboring states, the Europeans, and the U.S. would be convened whose task would evidently be to draft Iran and Syria into the process of"stabilizing" Iraq. (Having played a high-stakes game of chicken with the Bush administration based on an assessment of American power and seemingly won, the Iranians, in particular, are unlikely to settle now for what little the Bush administration might offer in return for their help.)
Yes, the presidential idea of"victory" or"success" will be nowhere in sight, nor will an emphasis on fostering"democracy" in Iraq -- and further coup rumors may proliferate. But all of this, however palatable it may seem in Washington, will only add up to a series of tactical, not strategic readjustments -- most of which (minus that conference) have already been tried in Iraq and have only been so many benchmarks on the road to catastrophe.
Before the election, an upsurge in violence in Iraq was compared to the Tet Offensive"turning point" moment in Vietnam. In fact, the last weeks bear no particular relationship to that nationwide Vietnamese campaign that saw bitter fighting all over the country, even inside the American embassy compound in Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital. But let's remember another, more telling aspect of Tet. As a"turning point" in that conflict, it was still followed by another seven years of war. Almost as many Americans, and probably more Vietnamese, died in the period after Tet as before.
In the post-Tet period, we had to live through a Senator-Levin-style near complete withdrawal of American ground troops from Vietnam under the pressure of a disintegrating army and rising antiwar feeling at home, only to see the use of U.S. air power escalate dramatically to fill the power gap. Expect some modified, scaled-down version of this Nixon-era"Vietnamization" program in Iraq. As early as November 2005, Nixon's Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who claims full credit for the strategy (and still thinks it was a successful way to win the Vietnam War in the face of increasing public opposition at home), proposed a similar Iraqification plan in Foreign Affairs magazine. Now, its moment may be arriving.
Like almost all strategies floating around Washington at the moment, this is but another way to try to hang on to some truncated but permanent imperial presence at the heart of the oil lands of the planet -- and as such it is doomed to fail. Unfortunately, to make much sense of what an Iraqification policy might actually mean, you need to be able to assess two key aspects of our Iraqi venture that the mainstream media essentially have not cared to cover.
Permanent Facts on the Ground
As the New York Times revealed in a front-page piece by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt on April 19, 2003, just after Baghdad fell, the Pentagon arrived in the Iraqi capital with plans already on the drawing board to build four massive military bases (that no official, then or now, will ever call"permanent"). Today, according to our former Secretary of Defense, we have 55 bases of every size in Iraq (down from over 100); five or six of these, including Balad Airbase, north of Baghdad, the huge base first named Camp Victory adjacent to Baghdad International Airport, and al-Asad Airbase in western Anbar province, are enormous -- big enough to be reasonable-sized American towns with multiple bus routes, neighborhoods, a range of fast-food restaurants, multiple PX's, pools, mini-golf courses and the like.
Though among the safest places in Iraq for American reporters, these bases have, with rare exceptions, gone completely undescribed and undiscussed in our press (or on the television news). From an engineering journal, we know that before the end of 2003, several billion dollars had already been sunk into them. We know that in early 2006, the major ones, already mega-structures, were still being built up into a state of advanced permanency. Balad, for instance, already handled the levels of daily air traffic you would normally see at Chicago's ultra-busy O'Hare and in February its facilities were still being ramped up. We know, from the reliable Ed Harriman, in the latest of his devastating accounts of corruption in Iraq in the London Review of Books, that, as you read, the four mega-bases always imagined as our permanent jumping-off spots in what Bush administration officials once liked to call"the arc of instability" were still undergoing improvement.
Without taking the fate of those monstrous, always-meant-to-be-permanent bases into account -- and they are, after all, just about the only uniformly successfully construction projects in that country -- no American plans for Iraq, whatever label they go by, will make much sense. And yet months go by without any reporting on them appearing. In fact, these last months have gone by with only a single peep (that I've found) from any mainstream publication on the subject.
The sole bit of base news I've noticed anywhere made an obscure mid-October appearance in a Turkish paper, which reported that the U.S. was now building a"military airport" in Kurdistan. A few days later, a UPI report picked up by the Washington Times had this:"Following hints U.S. troops may remain in Iraq for years, the United States is reportedly building a massive military base at Arbil, in Kurdish northern Iraq."
Kurdistan has always been a logical fallback position for U.S. forces"withdrawing" from a failed Iraq. But so far nothing more substantial has been written on the subject.
There is, however, another symbol of American"permanency" in Iraq that has gotten just slightly more attention in the U.S. press in recent months -- the new U.S. embassy now going up inside Baghdad's well-fortified Green Zone and nicknamed by Baghdadis (in a sly reference to Saddam Hussein's enormous, self-important edifices)"George W's Palace." It's almost the size of Vatican City, will have its own apartment buildings (six of them) for its bulked-up"staff" of literally thousands and its own electricity, well-water, and waste-treatment facilities to guarantee"100 percent independence from city utilities," not to speak of a"swimming pool, gym, commissary, food court and American Club, all housed in a recreation building" and it's own anti-missile system. Ed Harriman tells us that it's a billion dollar-plus project -- and unlike just about every other construction project in the country, it's going up efficiently and on schedule. It will be the most imperial embassy on the planet, not exactly the perfect signal of a sovereign Iraqi future.
Again, few have had much to say about the embassy project here, a rare exception being an August Dallas Morning News editorial,"Fortress America: New Embassy Sends Wrong Message to Iraqis," that denounced the project:"America certainly needs a decent, well-defended embassy in Baghdad. But not as much as ordinary Iraqis need electricity and water. That our government doesn't seem to understand that reality could explain a lot about why the U.S. mission is in such trouble."
Of course, as we learned in Vietnam, even the most permanent facilities can turn out to be impermanent indeed and even the best defended imperial embassy can, in the end, prove little more than a handy spot for planning an evacuation. But if the Iraq Study Group doesn't directly confront these facts-on-the-ground (as it surely won't), whatever acceptable compromises it may forge in Washington between an embedded administration and a new Congress, things will only go from truly bad to distinctly worse in Iraq.
The Uncovered War
Here's another mystery of Iraq (and Afghani) coverage: The essential American way of war -- air power -- has long been completely MIA, except at websites like this one. There has been not a single mainstream piece of any significance on the air war these last years, with the single exception of journalist Seymour Hersh's remarkable December 2005 report,"Up in the Air," in the New Yorker. ("A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units.") It is, of course, an irony that the only American reporter to look up and notice all those planes, helicopters, and drones overhead has never been to Iraq.
Such modest coverage of the air war in Iraq as exists in our press generally comes in the form of infrequent paragraphs buried in wire service round-ups as in a November 14th Associated Press piece headlined,"U.S. General Confronts Iraqi Leader on Security":
"On Monday night, U.S. forces raided the homes of some Sadr followers, and U.S. jets fired rockets on Shula, their northwest Baghdad neighborhood, residents said. Police said five residents were killed, although a senior Sadr aide put the death toll at nine. The U.S. military said it had no comment.
This incident assumedly took place somewhere in the vast Baghdad slum of Sadr city. In other words, we're talking about American planes regularly sending rockets or bombs into relatively heavily populated urban areas. All you have to do is imagine such a thing happening in an American city to grasp the barbarism involved. And yet, over these years in which such targeting has been commonplace and, in larger campaigns, parts of cities like Najaf and Falluja have been destroyed from the air, hardly a single reporter has gone to an air base like Balad and simply spent time with American pilots.
Not surprisingly, this remains a non-issue in this country. How could Americans react, when there's no news to react to, when there's next to no information to be had -- which doesn't mean that information on our ongoing air campaigns is unavailable. In fact, the Air Force is proud as punch of the job it's doing; so any reporter, not to speak of any citizen, can go to the Air Force website and look at daily reports of air missions over both Iraq and Afghanistan. The report of November 15th, for instance, offers the following:
"In Iraq, U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18s conducted a strike against anti-Iraqi forces near Ramadi. The F/A-18s expended guided bomb unit-31s on enemy targets. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Forward Operating Base McHenry and Baqubah. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Baghdad.
"In total, coalition aircraft flew 32 close air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities."
This was a pretty typical day's work in recent months; there were 34 strikes on November 14th, 32 on the 13th, and 35 on the 12th -- and note that each of the strikes mentioned was"near" a major city. These reports can be hard to parse, but they certainly give a sense, day by day, that the air war in Iraq is no less ongoing for being unreported.
Here's the crucial thing: American troop levels simply cannot be slowly drawn-down in Iraq without -- as in Vietnam -- some increase in the use of air power. And yet, you can look far and wide and find no indication of any public discussion of this at the White House, in Congress, or in what we know of the deliberations of the Iraq Study Group. And yet, as the Iraqi chaos and strife grows while the American public increasingly backs off, air power will be one answer. You can count on that. And air power -- especially in or"near" cities -- simply means civilian carnage. It will be called" collateral damage" (if anyone bothers to call it anything at all), but -- make no mistake -- it will be at the heart of any new strategy that calls for"redeployment" but does not mean to get us out of Iraq.
"A True Disaster for the Iraqi People"
On ABC's Sunday political talk show,"This Week," White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten had this to say:"I don't think we're going to be receptive to the notion there's a fixed timetable at which we automatically pull out, because that could be a true disaster for the Iraqi people."
With hundreds of thousands of dead and more following daily, it makes you wonder exactly what it's been so far for the Iraqi people, as Bolten sees it. But perhaps he's right; perhaps the disaster behind us will be nothing compared to the disaster ahead, especially if Daddy's Boys, the Iraq Study Group, other Democratic and Republican movers and shakers, and all those generals and former generals floating around our world decide that this isn't the moment to rediscover a Colin Powell-style"exit strategy," but "one last chance" to succeed by any definition in Iraq. Then, god help us -- and the Iraqis. Sooner or later, we'll undoubtedly be gone from a land so determinedly hostile to being occupied by us, but that end moment could still be a long, long time in coming.
Here, for instance, is Robert Gates' thinking eighteen months ago in a seminar at the Panetta Institute at California State University in Monterey on"phased troop withdrawals" from Iraq:
"But Mr. Gates qualified his comments, noting it sometimes takes time to accomplish your goals. Sixty years after the end of the Second World War, ?there are still American troops in Germany,' he noted. ?We've had troops in Korea for over 50 years. The British have had troops in Cyprus for 40 years? If you want to change history, you have to be prepared to stay as long as it takes to do the job."
So hold onto your hats. Tragedy and more tragedy seems almost guaranteed, and the Pentagon has just submitted to Congress a staggering $160 billion supplemental appropriation request in order to continue its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So far, what have the American invasion and occupation of Iraq led to -- other than a staggering bloodbath, killing fields galore, and a secret landscape of detention centers and torture chambers? As a start, an already badly battered Iraqi economy was turned into a looting ground for Bush administration crony corporations and thoroughly wrecked. (Tall Afar, for instance, is considered an American"success" story when it comes to security, though part of the city is now a"ghost town" of rubble and unemployment there is estimated at almost 70%.) The Iraqi education system is in tatters; the medical system in ruins; basic social and urban services almost undeliverable; oil production barely up to pathetic prewar levels (if present-day figures are even real, which is in doubt); the position of women now disastrous; child malnutrition on the rise; and well over a million Iraqis have fled their homes in a country of only 26 million people.
In addition, national sovereignty has been destroyed; the national police system is on its last legs, its ranks well-stocked with men loyal to various murderous Shiite militias; a Sunni insurgency rages ever more violently; a Kurdish form of independence seems ever more likely (though inconceivable to neighboring states); corruption is rampant; and a central government, whose sway doesn't reach most streets in its capital, is now considered"the least accountable and least transparent regime in the Middle East." (The Interior Ministry alone"reportedly employs at least a thousand ghost employees, whose wages amount to more than $1 million a month.")
Throw in the fact that the Iraqi Army the Bush administration has been so intent on"standing up" is largely a Shiite one (as the fine Knight-Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter discovered back in October 2005 and New York Times correspondent Richard A. Oppel found only last week in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad). So if the plan is to bulk it up further to create a modicum of"stability" before departure, forget it. By it's nature, such a training program, even if successful, is but a plan to generate an even more murderous civil war.
Now, add in endless months or years of non-withdrawal withdrawal plans, keep in mind the likelihood that American air power will be ratcheted up, and you have a formula for further carnage, collapses and disintegrations of every sort, coups, assassinations, civil war, and god knows what else.
In the Vietnam era, President Richard M. Nixon went on a well-armed, years-long hunt for something he called"peace with honor." Today, the catchword is finding an"exit strategy" that can"salvage U.S. prestige." What we want, it seems, is peace with"dignity." In Vietnam, there was no honor left, only horror. There is no American dignity to be found in Iraq either, only horror. In a Washington of suddenly lowered expectations, dignity is defined as hanging in there until an Iraqi government that can't even control its own Interior Ministry or the police in the capital gains"stability," until the Sunni insurgency becomes a mild irritation, and until that American embassy, that eighth wonder of the world of security and comfort, becomes an eye-catching landmark on the capital's skyline.
Imagine. That's all we want. That's our dignity. And for that dignity and the imagined imperial stability of the world, our top movers and shakers will proceed to monkey around for months creating and implementing plans that will only ensure further catastrophe (which, in turn, will but breed more rage, more terrorism that spreads disaster to the Middle East and actually lessens American power around the world).
Now, the dreamers, the greatest gamblers in our history, are departing official Washington and the"realists" have hit the corridors of power that they always thought they owned. It wouldn't hurt if they opened their eyes. Even imperial defenders should face reality. Someday, it's something we'll all have to do. In the meantime, call in the Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drones.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Thursday, November 16, 2006 - 16:14
SOURCE: Japan Focus (11-16-06)
The election for Governor of Okinawa on 19 November is unique among prefectural elections in Japan in its national, regional and even global implications. The Japanese state has been struggling for more than a decade to secure the compliance of Okinawan people with an agenda whose core is priority to the US alliance over the constitution and priority to military (songun) over civil or democratic principle, something that it abhors when practiced by North Korea.
Struggling to resist, the Okinawan people tire and grow old, while the state continually rejuvenates, as most recently under the Abe Shinzo government. If their resistance is defeated now, the nation-wide processes of constitutional revision and military reorganization will gain momentum. If they are victorious, the deals done under Bush and Koizumi will have to be renegotiated.
Throughout the postwar era, Okinawa has been the quintessential child of the US-Japan relationship. In it, the nature of both is best revealed. As the rest of Japan faces the implications of US pressure to become a fully-fledged ally, the “Great Britain of the Far East,” and as forces associated with the Liberal Democratic Party relish and seek to advance this prospect, Okinawa presents a frame within which possible national futures are contested: in the one, Japan’s “war state” and “peace state,” sundered since 1945, would be rejoined with Okinawa leading the country along the path of militarized dependence on the United States, alienation from Asia, priority of military over civil affairs, and retreat from constitutional democracy; in the other, Japan’s civil society and its committed democrats would assert constitutional sovereignty and regain the initiative in determining state policy from the United States and its servants in Tokyo, with important consequences for Japan’s role within an emerging Asian community. The November 19 election will not determine the outcome of this process, but it will certainly modify its outcome. It will also constitute a major test of whether the Rumsfeld doctrine of military reorganization will survive the firing of its leader. ...
Posted on: Thursday, November 16, 2006 - 15:41
One week before UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's visit to Japan this February, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi declared it crucial for Japan to show the United States what a"trustworthy ally" it was. After all, he commented, if ever Japan were to come under attack, it would be the U.S., not the UN or any other country that would come to its aid. No further elaboration of his reference to a possible attack was needed. All Japanese knew that he was referring to North Korea. When Japan declared support for the US-led war on Iraq in March 2003, and when Japanese forces were sent to southern Iraq to aid in the occupation the following January, it was not the Sunnis or Shiites of Iraq who were in Japanese sights but North Korea, a country on which its national fears and hatred had in recent years been sharply focused.
Given its continuing psychological distance from its continental neighbors, Koizumi's Japan sees no option but to cling to the now sixty year-old American embrace, a stance that only emboldens the U.S. to squeeze harder, further blocking it from reconciliation and cooperation with Asia."I believe President Bush is right and he is a good man," Koizumi told the Diet on November 25, 2003. Because he is one of a handful of world leaders for whom George Bush displays personal warmth, he seems especially vulnerable to"friendly" requests. Although Japan's economy is roughly equal to those of Germany, France, and Britain combined, the prime minister would never risk offending Washington by taking a"French" or"German" stance on major issues. It may even be true to say that nowhere in the world does the Bush administration have a more faithful follower than the Japanese Prime Minister.
After the attacks of September 11th, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage bluntly advised Japan to pull its head out of the sand and make sure the Rising Sun flag was visible in the Afghanistan war, advice Koizumi promptly took to heart. Despite being a country with a pacifist constitution and no prior involvement in any Middle Eastern conflict, Japan sent a substantial part of its Maritime Self Defense Forces (aka: its navy), including an Aegis-class destroyer, to the Indian Ocean to aid and refuel the allied forces.
Then, in March 2003, on the eve of war, Koizumi promised his"unconditional" support for the invasion of Iraq. Pressed to translate that support into"boots on the ground," Koizumi subsequently agreed to supply troops as well. In January 2004, the advance guard of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) flew off.
For the first time in 60 years, Japan had committed itself, albeit in a subordinate and officially"non-combat" role, to an illegal and aggressive war. Few recent votes have been taken in Japan's Diet under such controversial circumstances. As the Diet convened at the end of January to ratify the dispatching of troops to Iraq, the opposition boycotted the vote en masse, insisting it was unconstitutional, and even several heavyweights from the prime minister's own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) absented themselves. One former conservative minister took the government to court to have its actions declared unconstitutional, and a senior Japanese ambassador was recalled and sacked for questioning Koizumi's policies. When David Kay, head of the American Iraq Survey Group searching that country for weapons of mass destruction, concluded before a U.S. congressional committee that it was"highly unlikely" any such weapons existed, Koizumi never faltered. For him,"trustworthiness" to Washington seemed to outweigh Japan's constitution, the law, or morality.
The constraint on Japan's possession or use of armed force, the famed Article 9 in the country's postwar constitution, written during the American occupation of the country, is now given short shrift in the West. In Asian capitals, however, it is seen as a key element in the post-war regional security system. The domestic mood of hostility and fear towards North Korea, and the U.S. pressure for"boots on the ground" in Iraq combined to present Koizumi with the perfect opportunity to set aside half a century of constitutional principle and transform the SDF into a regular army.
Although his decision to send the SDF to Iraq was taken in the teeth of strong popular opposition, within a matter of months he was able to release a flood of patriotic sentiment that would overwhelm constitutional qualms and turn public opinion around. Where opposition to any dispatch of troops in early to mid-2003 was running at 70 to 80 per cent, by early 2004 a small majority (53 per cent) was in favor. Koizumi's gamble had paid off, at least in the short run. His task was made that much easier by the way it was reported in the United States and to some extent in Europe as well: Japan was being"realistic,""assuming its global responsibilities," shedding its"hypocritical moralism," behaving as a"true partner" of the U.S. Koizumi found himself basking in domestic and international approval.
Posted on: Thursday, November 16, 2006 - 15:40
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (11-16-06)
To quote President Bush, the Republican Party received a good old-fashioned thumpin' in last week's elections. But so did many American liberals, who love to rail about the naivety, ignorance, and general stupidity of the American electorate.
Call it Radical Pique. Way back in 1970, Tom Wolfe coined the term "Radical Chic" to mock the white-liberal romance with the Black Panthers, striking grape-pickers and other fringe protest groups. But Radical Pique is different, and much more insidious. Instead of proclaiming "Power to the People," it presumes that the people are simply too stupid to understand or obtain power.
Well, they're smarter than you think. And maybe, just maybe, they're smarter than you.
You know who you are. Reading about the war in Iraq or the massive federal tax cuts, you put down your newspaper and ask incredulously, "How can the voters be so dumb?" You imagine the American citizenry as a herd of gullible sheep, led happily to the slaughter by the likes of Ken Mehlman and Karl Rove. And you sign your e-mails with a quote from the Nazi henchman Hermann Goering, who has enjoyed a bizarre burst of popularity in Radical-Pique circles over the past several years.
"Of course the people don't want war," Mr. Goering told a psychologist, midway through his war-crimes trial at Nuremberg. "But, after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger."
Goering's quote has quite literally saturated the blogosphere; a recent Google search identified roughly 115,000 hits for it. The quote also appears in numerous antiwar tracts and movies, most notably the documentary film "Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear, and Selling the American Empire."
Coproduced by Sut Jhally, a respected communication professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the film begins with Goering's words, in bold block text. And we hear echoes of the same from Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Norman Mailer, and the other talking heads whom Mr. Jhally interviews.
But do they actually believe it? If the people are simply pawns in the hands of a war state, after all, why make a movie that tries to wean them off the war? Perhaps Jhally, Mr. Chomsky, and friends don't actually subscribe to the Goering theory of history; instead, they trot out the quote in the hopes that the people will prove otherwise. Or maybe they really do regard the American citizenry as passive putty for the Fox News spin machine. Either way, they're pretty cynical.
And, most of all, they're also wrong. As last week's elections demonstrated, the American people were fully capable of detecting - and rejecting - White House distortions about Iraq and much else. And they also dealt a strong blow to Radical Pique, which insults their decency along with their intelligence. "March without the people," Ralph Waldo Emerson taught us, "and you march into the night." Thanks to the wisdom of the American people, we just woke up to a new dawn.
Posted on: Thursday, November 16, 2006 - 14:22
SOURCE: Guardian (11-15-06)
The recent explosion of indigenous protest in Latin America, culminating in the election this year of Evo Morales, an Aymara indian, as president of Bolivia, has highlighted the precarious position of the white-settler elite that has dominated the continent for so many centuries. Although the term "white settler" is familiar in the history of most European colonies, and comes with a pejorative ring, the whites in Latin America (as in the US) are not usually described in this way, and never use the expression themselves. No Spanish or Portuguese word exists that can adequately translate the English term.
Latin America is traditionally seen as a continent set apart from colonial projects elsewhere, the outcome of its long experience of settlement since the 16th century. Yet it truly belongs in the history of the global expansion of white-settler populations from Europe in the more recent period. Today's elites are largely the product of the immigrant European culture that has developed during the two centuries since independence.
The characteristics of the European empires' white-settler states in the 19th and 20th centuries are well known. The settlers expropriated the land and evicted or exterminated the existing population; they exploited the surviving indigenous labour force on the land; they secured for themselves a European standard of living; and they treated the surviving indigenous peoples with extreme prejudice, drafting laws to ensure they remained largely without rights, as second- or third-class citizens.
Latin America shares these characteristics of "settler colonialism", an evocative term used in discussions about the British empire. Together with the Caribbean and the US, it has a further characteristic not shared by Europe's colonies elsewhere: the legacy of a non-indigenous slave class. Although slavery had been abolished in much of the world by the 1830s, the practice continued in Latin America (and the US) for several decades. The white settlers were unique in oppressing two different groups, seizing the land of the indigenous peoples and appropriating the labour of their imported slaves.
A feature of all "settler colonialist" societies has been the ingrained racist fear and hatred of the settlers, who are permanently alarmed by the presence of an expropriated underclass. Yet the race hatred of Latin America's settlers has only had a minor part in our customary understanding of the continent's history and society. Even politicians and historians on the left have preferred to discuss class rather than race.
In Venezuela, elections in December will produce another win for Hugo Chávez, a man of black and Indian origin. Much of the virulent dislike shown towards him by the opposition has been clearly motivated by race hatred, and similar hatred was aroused the 1970s towards Salvador Allende in Chile and Juan Perón in Argentina. Allende's unforgivable crime, in the eyes of the white-settler elite, was to mobilise the rotos, the "broken ones" - the patronising and derisory name given to the vast Chilean underclass. The indigenous origins of the rotos were obvious at Allende's political demonstrations. Dressed in Indian clothes, their affinity with their indigenous neighbours would have been apparent. The same could be said of the cabezas negras - "black heads" - who came out to support Perón....
Recent election results have been described, with some truth, as a move to the left, since several new governments have revived progressive themes from the 1960s. Yet from a longer perspective these developments look more like a repudiation of Latin America's white-settler culture, and a revival of that radical tradition of inclusion attempted two centuries ago. The outline of a fresh struggle, with a final settling of accounts, can now be discerned.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 - 18:46
SOURCE: History News Service (11-15-06)
The confetti has begun to settle after the latest election. The Democrats have congratulated themselves, the Republicans have pointed fingers, and the pundits have tried to convince us that they knew all along that this was precisely what would happen.
One of the preferred approaches of conservative pundits has been to whistle past the graveyard by asserting that the Democratic victories of Nov. 7 represent little more than the typical tilting of a midterm election toward the party out of power. But with apologies to Tolstoy, what we have instead learned is that while happy electorates are all alike, every unhappy electorate is unhappy in its own way.
The last time American voters had a chance to exercise their "six year itch" came in 1998. With President Clinton knee-deep in the Lewinsky scandal and entering his lame duck phase, Republicans expected what they believed to be the customary gains of the sixth-year midterm election. Instead they got stasis in the Senate: Three incumbent Democrats lost their seats, but so too did three incumbent Republicans. The Democrats actually gained five seats in the House of Representatives.
By contrast, in 1986, during Ronald Reagan's last term in office, the Democrats gained a whopping eight seats in the Senate to retake control of the upper chamber, but they gained only five seats in the House. The 1986 election marked the first time since World War II that the Senate had changed hands after a second-term midterm.
These elections -- 1986, 1998 and 2006 -- mark the only three times in nearly a half century in which midterm elections took place in the second term of a full two-term presidency. The wide variation in results hardly reveals any noteworthy trends, never mind that similarly situated past elections should have led us to expect such a dramatic shift in the political landscape.
The reality is that the electorate has spoken loudly, delivering the Republicans what President Bush rightly called a thumping because of his party's setback. The president's last two years are likely to be characterized either by partisan rancor or by delicate maneuverings.
In a nationwide election involving 435 House seats and 33 in the Senate, it would be silly to say that any one issue determined the direction of the vote. Nonetheless, high on the list of issues that helped to sway independent voters, to draw some reluctant Democrats to the polls, and to change the minds of (or dissuade from voting) discontented conservatives, would have to be the mismanagement of the war in Iraq, the perceived arrogance of the administration and the politicization of terrorism. Other Americans would surely point to fiscal irresponsibility, high gas prices and ongoing displeasure with the cultural wars waged by the GOP right. Conservatives may dispute the validity of the charges against them, but it would be foolhardy for them to assert that voter discontentment came down to something as facile as historical inevitability.
Democrats, on the other hand, would be wise not to take the recent election outcome as a clear mandate that Americans support an aggressive liberal agenda. A vote against the handling of the war is not necessarily a vote for immediate withdrawal. A vote against the administration's arrogance is not a vote to replace that arrogance with hubris from the left.
If some Republicans are drawing the wrong historical lessons from the election, Democrats could learn a true one from the last seismic midterm shift, the one that came with the Republican takeover of Congress after the 1994 elections. In the wake of that overwhelming victory, Republican leaders mistook the mood of the population for one calling for a "Republican revolution." But Americans rarely desire revolution. As a consequence the Republicans quickly overstepped their bounds and this led to Democratic gains of eight seats in the House in 1996 and eventually to the modest Democratic gains in the 1998 elections.
In sum, hiding behind false historical parallels may allow Republicans to put a brave face on their recent repudiation. But an unhappy electorate is unhappy in its own way. Now it's up to the Democrats to see if they can draw the right lessons from American expressions of their current unhappiness.
This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 - 17:51
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-12-06)
Election statistics are like pies. You can slice them up any way you want. And the way you slice them depends on the tool you use. My favorite tool is a nugget of wisdom from Democratic political guru Stanley Greenberg: "A narrative is the key to everything." The party that tells the best story wins. And the recipe for a winning story is simple: Take a few handfuls of fact, throw in a large dollop of fiction, and stir.
But the story of the 2006 election isn't over yet. It's like one of those movies on DVD with several alternative endings. You get to choose the one you want.
Greenberg said "a narrative is the key" right after the election of 2004. Back then, he credited the Republicans with "a much more coherent attack and narrative that motivated their voters." Though the media gave us a story about a new breed of "values voters," Karl Rove knew that was mostly fiction. It was the "war on terror" story that put George W. Bush back in the White House.
This year, Rove told Republicans to count on the same story to keep control of Congress. It went this way: Republicans, who are real Americans, have the backbone to fight against evil and do whatever it takes to win. Cowardly Democrats just want to cut and run.
By early October, it was clear that Rove's Scheherazade strategy -- keep spinning ever wilder stories to avoid certain death -- wasn't faring well. Nevertheless, Bush was out on the campaign trail right up to Election Day, sticking to the same old script. As he put it at a "victory rally" in Georgia:
"The Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses. … The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq. We will not run from thugs and assassins."
Of course it was all fiction, just as the administration's Iraq policy has been based on fiction, from start to finish. Even the pathetic attempt at a "November surprise," the death sentence pronounced on Saddam Hussein on the eve of the election, was filled with fiction. The mainstream press gave us images of the "good guys" -- the Shi'ites -- celebrating with us, while the "bad guys" -- the pro-Saddam Sunnis -- threatened revenge. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Bush administration was busy wooing those very Sunnis to our side to fend off the rise of pro-Iranian Shi'ite rule. But that reality had to be ignored to make the fiction work.
The Media Chooses Its Story
On Election Day, though, all of Karl Rove's storytelling couldn't stave off the verdict the voters pronounced on the GOP. Then the media had its chance to slice up those polling and voting numbers and turn them into its own version of a good narrative. The result, as in 2004, was a mix of fact and fiction.
This year, the "values voters" were scarcely given a walk-on part. In fact, they were largely written off before the voting even happened. In most pre-election polls, when voters were asked what issue would influence them most, hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage were not even offered as an option. As it turned out, according to the exit polls on the House of Representatives, almost 30% of white evangelicals voted Democratic. So the old story of 2004 just wouldn't play.
Of course, the story that did play, right up on the marquee in bright shining letters, was: IRAQ.
But the polling data didn't demand that narrative. In most pre-election polling, less than a third of respondents said that Iraq was, to them, the most important issue in the election -- and the economy often ran a close second. In the House exit polls, only 36% of voters claimed they voted mainly to show opposition to George W. Bush and his policies. Nearly 40% said that local issues mattered most to them. However, 67% said that Iraq was "extremely" or "very" important in deciding their vote. But 74% said the same thing about corruption, while 82% said it about the economy. And all these groups voted pro-Democratic in nearly the same numbers. Moreover, there was a direct correlation between income and voting: The richer they were, the more likely voters were to go Republican.
So the media could easily have told us that the electorate had no clear focus. But their job -- no less than Karl Rove's -- is to tell coherent (news) stories that seem to make sense of it all. They could just as easily have spun a tale about the middle class repudiating an administration run by and for the rich who corrupt our government. But that is certainly not the story of choice for the corporate elite who own the media.
On the other hand many among the elite, and many editors and reporters in their pay, do want us to change the course in Iraq. So they took up Karl Rove's election-season invitation to focus on Iraq, but stood his story on its head. The president lent credibility to their new narrative by promptly linking the electoral "thumpin" to Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. He seemed to confirm the media's story of the election as a negative verdict on "staying the course" in Iraq.
Of course, that narrative does have a good dose of truth in it. Most Americans do now oppose Bush's Iraq policy and particularly its implementation. But the Democratic win does not mean that voters simply saw through the administration's lies and now demand the true story. They just want a new story.
Us and Them
In fact, truth didn't play much of a role in this year's elections at all. The airwaves were filled with negative ads concocted largely of fictional distortions of every wild sort. No matter how much we say we hate such ads, they work, because they reach deep into the heart of darkness of the political landscape. That's where Rove's narrative was supposed to do its magic, creating a simple moral drama of good versus evil that would send enough of the public to the polls reassured that there is an enduring moral order amid the chaotic tides of change that always seem to threaten our lives.
All that chaos makes it hard to hold onto any enduring sense of identity. If you can't say precisely what you stand for, it's a relief, at least, to know what you stand against. That's why so many of us are eager to have an enemy. We get a sense of certainty and clarity when we define ourselves in opposition to others. "I may not know exactly what I am," is what we, in effect, say to ourselves, "but I sure as hell know I'm not one of them."
That psychological trick works best when, as in the negative campaign ads, we create outsized fictional images of what we are not. By exaggerating the evil of the enemy, we assure ourselves that we are on the side of absolute goodness. It may be more than coincidence that a campaign season with a record number of negative ads, filled with exaggeration, brought out more voters than any non-presidential election in 24 years. Some of them voted for the candidate they liked. But most voted against the candidate -- and thus the story -- they disliked.
If our political life, like our identity, works by saying who and what we are against, what did the voters really say they are against? Exceedingly modest numbers of them are against war itself. More are against this war -- and have been from the beginning. But when the war started -- despite what was the largest prewar antiwar movement in our history -- it had broad public support. Even now, no great wave of moral revulsion against the war seems to be sweeping across the land. As far as can be told, not many of those voters who switched from the Republican to Democratic column were expressing outrage at the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died since we invaded their country. In fact, few seemed to care, or notice, when the media quickly disappeared the most recent, rigorous Johns Hopkins study (published in The Lancet, the prestigious British scientific journal) that confirmed the shocking magnitude of death in Iraq.
Most Americans seem content enough to see the U.S. use its immense military force no matter how many of "them" died -- but only as long as we win. We know what it means to be an American as long as we face an enemy who is not just an evildoer, but a loser. To see our side losing, however, just doesn't fit our national story.
For once, you don't have to be a conservative to agree with George F. Will: "Republicans sank beneath the weight of Iraq, the lesson of which is patent [to most Americans]: Wars of choice should be won swiftly rather than lost protractedly." As another major reason for the GOP defeat, Will added that the Bush administration was guilty of "nation-building grandiosity pursued incompetently."
Across the political spectrum, an incompetent, losing war effort creates cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, the United States, by definition, is supposed to be Number One -- as in, for instance, a phrase you hear a lot less of lately: "the world's sole remaining superpower." On the other hand, just about every American knows, deep down, that the U.S. is screwing up in Iraq. Most of us no longer believe that we can win, or even know what winning would mean. But there is no place in the dominant narrative of this country for a bumbling unsuccessful war. It's like trying to put a square story peg into a round narrative hole. Just ask the ghost of Lyndon B. Johnson as it nightly stalks the halls of the Bush White House.
Apple Pie, Mom, and a New Tale for a Lost War
It is a rare day when I agree with neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer. Yet he was right on target when he said: "The election will be a referendum of sorts on Iraq. But it will be registering nothing more than uneasiness and discontent. Had the Democrats offered a coherent alternative to the current policy, one could draw lessons as to what course the country should take."
A number of Democrats, like Congressman John Murtha, have spelled out their own plans for getting us out of the Iraq fiasco. But the Democrats as a party have not yet come close to agreeing on a single, clear alternative policy -- no less a story to tell about it. They've merely played on our cognitive dissonance about the Bush administration's losing war by telling us what they are against. So a midterm vote against the administration could not have been in favor of any specific Iraq policy.
That means it's now up to us to decide whether Krauthammer's conclusion proves true: "If either friends or enemies interpret the results as a mandate for giving up, they will be mistaken."
That's certainly what the Bush administration wants us to believe. And advance reports suggest that the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (of which Robert Gates was a member until he was nominated to be the new Secretary of Defense) will probably agree. But the election results hint at a public hungry for a new story about the war. And George Bush's day-after response -- sacking Rumsfeld -- shows that, however reluctantly, he will change his story in response to voter disaffection. The public may be able to force policy change too, but only if there is a compelling new story that demands a new policy.
This is a job for the peace movement, whose role has always been to articulate alternatives. Now is the time to offer a new narrative using an alternative recipe, the same one that the peace movement has always used: Take big dollops of truth and moral compassion in equal measure and stir.
But there's another ingredient as well, one that peace activists should borrow from Rove's recipe, despite its recent failure: To succeed, the "new" story must contain elements of an old, familiar morality tale about good against evil. It must offer reassurance that there is still some ethical clarity amid growing war-bred dissonance, and some permanence amid all the change. That means it should be built on time-honored, bedrock principles from the mainstream of American political discourse.
Here are a few that those who would like to begin telling a tale of a lost war might consider picking up:
* Pragmatic Yankee ingenuity: If one approach isn't working, we Americans don't let our pride get in the way of simply trying something else.
* The innate goodness of American motives: As a people, we are not by nature imperialists; it's not in our cultural DNA to send troops to occupy the lands of people who don't want us there.
* Self-determination: We started the ball rolling in 1776 and it wasn't just for us either; it was for every individual and every nation; it's as American as apple pie and Mom that we keep our noses out of other people's business.
* The sacredness of life: Every human life is precious -- and what American can't get behind that?
* It's the American way to give citizens a fair chance to have their opinions heard and respected or we wouldn't have had a Bill of Rights: The humblest guy or gal might have the best idea for fixing things -- and the American people might have the best ones of all.
* We Americans trust that most people, deep down, are reasonable: Eventually, they can see that compromise is better than killing.
* And, most American of all, we apply all our principles not only here at home but in every land -- including Iraq.
There isn't an American principle in this list that the Bush administration hasn't tried its best to trash. That's why a new narrative built on any or all of them is bound to confound the President and his advisors. It also offers hope of building real pressure for a new policy that would actually get our troops out of Iraq, removing the main irritant that keeps the violence there going.
But the Democrats who now control Congress won't embrace a new story (or a genuinely new policy) unless they feel some pressure. Lobbyists are already descending on the new majority in droves. Now is the time for the peace movement to push its way to the head of the line.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 - 22:41
SOURCE: LAT (11-12-06)
PITY BEN BERNANKE. As chairman of the Federal Reserve, his every utterance (or cough or sneeze) is analyzed for clues as to the future direction of interest rates. The weight of the American economy is laid on his shoulders by pundits and much of the public. And he labors in the shadow of Alan Greenspan, the legendary Fed chief who became the icon of American prosperity during the glory days of the 1990s. It's like following Elvis onstage.
But matters could be worse. Trying as Bernanke's job as the nation's head banker might sometimes be, it is nothing like the task his more distant predecessors faced. The modern Fed was born nearly a century ago of a grand compromise that terminated one of the longest-running and most bitter struggles in American political history: the fight over the money question.
From the 1780s until 1913, the money question roiled American public life — spawning political parties and candidates, sparking legislative fisticuffs and convention brawls, prompting boardroom conspiracies and White House scandals. It fell into two parts. What constituted money? And who controlled it? Was money gold, silver, paper currency or bank notes? Should the private sector control the money supply, the way it controlled the supply of wheat, corn and steel? Or should the public sector, which typically controlled water supplies and police services? In other words, should money be primarily the province of capitalism or of democracy?
The money question wasn't unique in testing the boundaries between the private and public sectors; most major issues had crossover aspects — and many still do. But the money question engaged the passions of Americans more than any other.
It provided the first battleground between Alexander Hamilton's Federalists and Thomas Jefferson's Republicans, with Hamilton urging creation of a federally chartered but privately controlled bank to oversee and manage the American money supply, and Jefferson opposing Hamilton's bank as unconstitutional and elitist.
Hamilton won, and Congress created the Bank of the United States; but Jefferson's heirs had their revenge when they refused to renew the bank's 20-year charter in 1811.
The War of 1812, however, convinced even the Republicans that the country needed a central bank, and a second Bank of the United States was established in 1816. This version lasted long enough to arouse the ire of Andrew Jackson, who objected to it on Jeffersonian constitutional grounds, on populist suspicion of banks and bankers generally and on a visceral distrust of Nicholas Biddle, the second bank's director. Biddle had collaborated with Jackson's enemies in Congress and manipulated the money supply to embarrass the president. Old Hickory thereupon declared war on the bank, vetoing its recharter bill and withdrawing the federal government's deposits. The "bank war" escalated as Biddle deliberately engineered a financial panic, proving Jackson's point that money was too vital to the people's welfare to be left to the bankers. Jackson won the war — but lost the peace when the nation's financial system melted down in the panic of 1837, confirming Biddle's contention that money was too complex to be left to the politicians.
The California Gold Rush of 1849 injected a flood of yellow liquidity into the American money supply, but at the cost of driving silver out of circulation. The Gold Rush also aggravated the crisis between North and South, and after the country descended into civil war in 1861, the opposing governments — Union and Confederate — resorted to paper currency to sustain their war efforts. Union paper helped defeat the Confederacy, but it presented an irresistible temptation to speculators, who bet on the rise and fall of the greenback against gold (and often found themselves hoping for Union defeats on the battlefield). In the aftermath of the war, a cabal of speculators led by Jay Gould and Jim Fisk attempted to corner the gold market, bribing officials of the Grant administration and nearly wrecking the financial system in the Black Friday debacle of Sept. 24, 1869.
From then until the second decade of the 20th century, the United States suffered a series of booms and busts. The panic of 1873 burst a bubble of railroad speculation; the panic of 1893 produced a run on the Treasury's gold reserves that threatened to bankrupt the federal government. President Cleveland was forced to call in the country's arch-capitalist, J.P. Morgan, who arranged a private bailout of the public sector — and then refused to tell Congress how much money he made on the deal. Morgan was every populist's image of a bloated banker, and his performance helped persuade the Democrats (and the Populist Party, separately) to nominate William Jennings Bryan for president in 1896 on a platform pledging to return silver to circulation (thereby drastically expanding the money supply) and curb the power of the bankers.
Bryan lost to the gold-hugging William McKinley, but the money question persisted into the new century. Another panic, in 1907, required another rescue by Morgan, which triggered another congressional investigation, in which Morgan again refused to open his account books or reveal the secrets of his wealth and power. But by this time, the Progressive tide was rising, and in 1913, Congress, determined to answer the money question once and for all, approved the Federal Reserve Act, the most important of the reforms of the Progressive era and one of the handful of most consequential measures in American history.
The act established the Federal Reserve system, which represented a compromise between the private sector and the public sector — between the demands of the bankers and holdover Hamiltonians for capitalist control of the money system, and of the Populists, Progressives and remnant Jeffersonians for democratic control. The dozen Federal Reserve banks were privately capitalized but were directed by a board of governors appointed by the White House. Otherwise, the Federal Reserve system was designed to be institutionally independent of both the business and the political classes.
By comparison with what went before, the Fed proved remarkably successful in managing the American money supply. The Great Depression of the 1930s was a stumble, but it was hardly the fault of the Fed alone, being global in scope and decades in the making. And from World War II to the present, the Fed has sustained steady, long-term growth while sparing the American people the financial panics that wracked the country with sunspot frequency during the 19th century.
The secret of the Federal Reserve Act — and of the subsequent success of the Fed — was the willingness, born of exhaustion, of the two opposing camps to turn the money question over to a partly capitalist, partly democratic agency — and thereafter to keep their hands off. It's a model that works and that might be applied to other vexing problems. The healthcare and pension questions, for example, have defied solution in much the way the money question did during the 19th century. On healthcare and pensions, both the private and public sectors have strong interests in the outcome — so strong as to prevent, thus far, any outcome besides a muddled extension of the status quo.
Reviewing the compromise that produced the Federal Reserve, modern reformers might well find the key to similarly happy, or at any rate acceptable, solutions. Details, naturally, would have to reflect the distinctive facets of healthcare and pensions, but the principle of a public-private compromise, followed by insulation from both the political and corporate spheres, would allow decisions to be made that can't be made in the current setting.
Whether the resulting agencies would achieve the success of the Fed is something only time would reveal. But, at the least, Ben Bernanke would have company.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 - 22:29
SOURCE: New York Sun (11-14-06)
Mark Steyn, political columnist and cultural critic, has written a remarkable book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (Regnery). He combines several virtues uncommonly found together – humor, accurate reportage, and deep thinking – then applies these to what is arguably the most consequential issue of our time: the Islamist threat to the West.
Mr. Steyn offers a devastating thesis but presents it in bits and pieces, so I shall pull it together here.
He begins with the legacy of two totalitarianisms. Traumatized by the electoral appeal of fascism, post-World War II European states were constructed in a top-down manner "so as to insulate almost entirely the political class from populist pressures." As a result, the establishment has "come to regard the electorate as children."
Second, the Soviet menace during the cold war prompted American leaders, impatient with Europe's (and Canada's) weak responses, effectively to take over their defense. This benign and far-sighted policy led to victory by 1991, but it also had the unintended and less salutary side-effect of freeing up Europe's funds to build a welfare state. This welfare state had several malign implications.
The nanny state infantilized Europeans, making them worry about such pseudo-issues as climate change, while feminizing the males.
It also neutered them, annexing "most of the core functions of adulthood," starting with the instinct to breed. From about 1980, birth rates plummeted, leaving an inadequate base for today's workers to receive their pensions.
Structured on a pay-as-you-go basis, it amounted to an inter-generational Ponzi scheme, where today's workers depend on their children for their pensions.
The demographic collapse meant that the indigenous peoples of countries like Russia, Italy, and Spain are at the start of a population death spiral.
It led to a collapse of confidence that in turn bred "civilizational exhaustion," leaving Europeans unprepared to fight for their ways.
To keep the economic machine running meant accepting foreign workers. Rather than execute a long-term plan to prepare for the many millions of immigrants needed, Europe's elites punted, welcoming almost anyone who turned up. By virtue of geographic proximity, demographic overdrive, and a crisis-prone environment, "Islam is now the principal supplier of new Europeans," Mr. Steyn writes.
Arriving at a time of demographic, political, and cultural weakness, Muslims are profoundly changing Europe. "Islam has youth and will, Europe has age and welfare." Put differently, "Pre-modern Islam beats post-modern Christianity." Much of the Western world, Mr. Steyn flat-out predicts, "will not survive the twenty-first century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most European countries." With even more drama, he adds that "it's the end of the world as we know it."
(In contrast, I believe that Europe still has time to avoid this fate.)
America Alone deals at length with what Mr. Steyn calls "the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia." Europe's successor population is already in place and "the only question is how bloody the transfer of real estate will be." He interprets the Madrid and London bombings, as well as the murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, as opening shots in Europe's civil war and states, "Europe is the colony now."
The title America Alone refers to Mr. Steyn's expectation that the United States – with its "relatively healthy demographic profile" – will emerge as the lonely survivor of this crucible. "Europe is dying and America isn't." Therefore, "the Continent is up for grabs in a way that America isn't." Mr. Steyn's target audience is primarily American: watch out, he is saying, or the same will happen to you.
Pared to its essentials, he counsels two things: First, avoid the "bloated European welfare systems," declare them no less than a national security threat, shrink the state, and emphasize the virtues of self-reliance and individual innovation. Second, avoid "imperial understretch," don't "hunker down in Fortress America" but destroy the ideology of radical Islam, help reform Islam, and expand Western civilization to new places. Only if Americans "can summon the will to shape at least part of the emerging world" will they have enough company to soldier on. Failing that, expect a "new Dark Ages … a planet on which much of the map is re-primitivized."
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 - 20:15
SOURCE: Open Democracy (11-14-06)
The world will long wonder what took the American people so long to realise that George W Bush, the swaggering, macho, faux rancher from Texas, was an incompetent and dangerous man who threatened the democratic foundations and moral credibility of the United States.
The answer, I believe, can be summed up in one word: fear.
After 11 September 2001, Bush successfully employed a politics of fear which resulted in widespread indifference to his domestic and foreign-policy agenda. Urged to be terrified by terrorism, Americans became blinded by fear. If a policy was part of the "war against terror", most Americans figured it was probably worthwhile. As a result, they ignored the administration's "tax relief" to the wealthy, its lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, its zealous campaign to promote the religious right's vision of a Christian nation, and its determination to privatise anything and everything, including security in Iraq.
As long as they thought they had a strong masculine president who would protect them, Americans seemed willing to give up all kinds of constitutional liberties and rights. As long as they felt comforted by the illusion of safety, Americans also seemed willing to tolerate Bush's arrogant attitude toward the rest of the world.
But such hubris almost always ends in tragedy. Eventually, people began to notice that the emperor wore no clothes. When hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans, Bush's incompetence and lack of compassion could no longer be hidden behind a strutting swagger. As people drowned, he dined. As people died, he ignored their plight. Widespread corruption and sexual scandals among conservative Republicans further undermined the illusion that Bush - the man who believed God wanted him to be president - had anyone righteous on his side.
Finally, the daily news reports of death and devastation in Iraq made Bush's daily mantra of "staying the course" seem more pathetic than protective. "Is this man capable of safeguarding my family?" Americans asked themselves. At the polls, they cast their votes and decisively answered "no".
As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd put it: "This will be known as the year macho politics failed - mainly because it was macho politics by marshmallow men. Voters were sick of phony swaggering, blustering and bellicosity, absent competency and accountability."
And so they turned to the Mommy party. Victories by fifty Democratic women in the House of Representatives helped their party gain control of both houses of Congress and catapulted Nancy Pelosi, a feminist liberal from San Francisco, to assume leadership as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives, second in line to the presidency.
Not everyone turned to the Mommy party, of course. But women gave Democrats an important edge; 55% of them voted for Democrats, but only 43% voted for Republicans. Exit polls reveal that both white men and women split their votes fairly evenly between the two parties. The female vote that really made a difference came from women who were young, poor, and from ethnic and racial minority populations. Democrats also enjoyed even larger margins from both men and women among the young, between 18 and 29 years of age (22%); low-income workers who earn less than $15,000 (37%); African Americans (79%); Latinos (39%) and the highly educated (17%).
The real "family values"
Although she won't become speaker of the House until January 2007, Nancy Pelosi has hit the ground running. During her first 100 hours as speaker, she has promised to introduce legislation that raises the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour, requires all cargo shipped into the US to be screened, cuts student-loan interest rates in half, allows the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients, and broadens the types of stem-cell research allowed with federal funds.
Pelosi has also demonstrated bold leadership by backing John Murtha in the race for majority leader in the House. One year ago, Murtha - a hawkish Democrat from Pennsylvania, and a decorated Vietnam veteran - stunned colleagues when he called for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Defying the president, Murtha argued that many troops were demoralised and poorly equipped and that after more than two years of war, they were impeding Iraq's progress toward stability and self-governance.
On 13 November 2006, Pelosi wrote to all elected representatives, saluting Murtha's outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq and endorsing him as Democratic majority leader. At a time when Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton still hasn't opposed the war, Pelosi has staked out a strong anti-war position by promoting Murtha to such a position of leadership.
Liberal women have been celebrating this election for many reasons, including the potential return of the nation's attention to actual "family values". Throughout the election, Pelosi, a self-described "mother of five children and grandmother of five", emphasised the necessity of health care, education, energy independence, and a dignified retirement.
Pelosi's promises have already raised expectations among women's rights advocates. Just days after the election, author Judith Warner argued in a widely-discussed New York Times op-ed that Pelosi should expand her agenda and do even more to support America's working mothers and their families: "The American family", she wrote, "needs quality after-school programs, national standards for childcare, voucher programs and tax subsidies to help pay for that care, universal, voluntary public preschool, paid family leave and incentives for businesses to make part-time and flex-time work financially viable."
Not all these things will necessarily happen, but still (as a friend of mine recently commented) at the very least we now have politicians who will discuss these vital matters.
For those who have feared the end of legal abortion in the United States, the election means that the Democrats won't have to watch helplessly as the Bush administration packs the Supreme Court with rightwing conservatives. As a result, legal abortion seems protected - for now. Even in the conservative state of South Dakota, voters defeated an initiative that would have banned all abortion, except to save the life of a pregnant woman. In California and Oregon, they also beat back initiatives that would have limited women's reproductive choices.
As the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) notes: "the change in House leadership can only bring good things for reproductive health advocates..." In particular, the organisation expects "a marked decline in anti-choice, anti-family planning legislative attacks, including the freestanding anti-choice bills that have been a centerpiece of the social conservative agenda."
The election has raised hopes, but they will almost certainly be dampened by political reality. Still, there is a palpable sense of possibility in the air, a glimpse of a brighter future, a growing confidence that the constitution will not be eviscerated, that a theocracy won't govern this nation, and that Americans just might remember, as the Declaration of Independence proclaims, that Americans should pay "A decent respect to the opinions of mankind..."
One day after the election, my stepson - a properly cynical, but sensibly progressive young man with whom I've shared these years of bleakness and gloom - called me and said: "Today, I'm proud to be an American. We still live in a democracy." I couldn't remember the last time I heard anyone I respected utter those sweet and moving words.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 - 20:01
As a native New Orleanian, I have been appalled at the Bush administration’s treatment of that city since Hurricane Katrina struck last year. Its low-priority approach to the human suffering there was demonstrated in a recent article in the New York Times (“Slow Home Grants Stall Progress in New Orleans,” November 11, 2006) that detailed the literally impossible paperwork maze that many residents face in applying for aid.
While the administration justifies this in the name of preventing waste and fraud, its approach in actuality demonstrates its instinct to make policy decisions that are at the expense of those in need. The administration is infamous for hypocritically overlooking the dangers of waste and fraud when its friends benefit, but it takes a righteous tone about these dangers when it comes to aiding the dispossessed and vulnerable. More fundamentally, the administration’s approach is undergirded by the general worldview of right-wing conservatism, which sees evil tendencies as predominant in human nature and admonishes us to combat these tendencies at all turns. Thus, officials are so concerned to preclude fraud (particularly, it seems, when the disadvantaged are the aid recipients) that this abstract concern trumps any compassion they may have for the well-being of actual disaster victims. Relatedly, the right-wing conservative worldview provides a rationale for many citizens who do not care enough about the disadvantaged in the first place to use reason to understand social problems, who instead content themselves with simplistic notions about the evils of government “handouts.” Likewise, this rigid concept of human nature reinforces the cynical notion that we, as a people, are incapable of fashioning government programs that are effective in alleviating social problems—a view that allowed Bush officials, with a clear conscience, to appoint administrators seeking to curtail the mission of government agencies such as FEMA that had previously done good work for human welfare.
Conservatives in the moderate Burkean tradition such as Theodore Roosevelt would have found this view of human nature to be extremist. Indeed, I think TR would have identified such a viewpoint as, at least in part, a convenient rationale or cover for those with wealth whose greed more essentially underlies their resentment about paying taxes to help the needy.
Moderate conservatives and liberals generally agree that human nature has both negative and positive tendencies, and that reasonable checks should be built into government programs to prevent abuse. But current Republican leaders take this notion to the extreme in cases involving the well-being of the dispossessed and disadvantaged. Myself, I prefer the outlook expressed by Franklin Roosevelt who asserted that “Governments can err. . . .but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”
Posted on: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 - 19:19
SOURCE: WSJ (11-13-06)
On Dec. 20, 1983, Donald Rumsfeld, then Ronald Reagan's Middle East envoy, met Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. According to declassified documents, the Reagan administration sought to re-establish long-severed relations with Baghdad amid concern about growing Iranian influence. While U.S. intelligence had earlier confirmed Saddam's use of chemical weapons, Mr. Rumsfeld did not broach the subject. His handshake with Saddam, caught on film by Iraqi television, represented a triumph for diplomatic realism.
Iran and Iraq would fight for five more years, leaving hundreds of thousands dead on the battlefield. Then, two years after a ceasefire ended the war, Saddam invaded Kuwait. In subsequent years, he would subsidize waves of Palestinian suicide-bombers, effectively ending the Oslo peace process. Saddam's career is a model of realist blowback.
On Sept. 23, 2002, as Saddam defied international inspectors and U.N. sanctions crumbled under the greed of Paris, Moscow and Iraq's neighbors, Newsweek published a cover story, "How we Helped Create Saddam," that once again thrust the forgotten handshake into public consciousness. Across both the U.S. and Britain, the story provoked press outrage. NPR conducted interviews outlining how the Reagan administration allowed Saddam to acquire dual-use equipment. Mr. Rumsfeld "helped Iraq get chemical weapons," headlined London's Daily Mail. British columnist Robert Fisk concluded that the handshake was evidence of Mr. Rumsfeld's disdain for human rights, and Amy and David Goodman of "Democracy Now!" condemned Mr. Rumsfeld for enabling Saddam's "lethal shopping spree." While 20 years too late, progressives decried the cold, realist calculations that sent people across the third world to their graves in the cause of U.S. national interest.
What a difference a war makes. Today, progressives and liberals celebrate not only Mr. Rumsfeld's departure, but the resurrection of realists like Secretary of Defense-nominee Robert Gates and James Baker. Mr. Gates was the CIA's deputy director for intelligence at the time of Mr. Rumsfeld's infamous handshake, deputy director of Central Intelligence when Saddam gassed the Kurds, and deputy national security advisor when Saddam crushed the Shiite uprising. Mr. Baker was as central. He was White House chief of staff when Reagan dispatched Mr. Rumsfeld to Baghdad and, as secretary of state, ensured Saddam's grip on power after Iraqis heeded President George H.W. Bush's Feb. 15, 1991, call for "the Iraqi people \[to\] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside." In the months that followed, Saddam massacred tens of thousands of civilians.
While Mr. Rumsfeld worked to right past wrongs, Messrs. Gates and Baker winked at the Iraqi dictator's continuing grip on power. For progressives, this is irrelevant. Today, progressivism places personal vendetta above principle. Mr. Rumsfeld is bad, Mr. Baker is good, and consistency irrelevant.
***Progressive inconsistency will only increase with the unveiling of the Baker-Hamilton commission recommendations calling for reconciliation with both Syria and Iran. In effect, Mr. Baker's proposals are to have the White House replicate the Rumsfeld-Saddam handshake with both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad....
Both realism and progressivism have become misnomers. Realists deny reality, and embrace an ideology where talk is productive and governments are sincere. While 9/11 showed the consequences of chardonnay diplomacy, deal-cutting with dictators and a band-aid approach to national security, realists continue to discount the importance of adversaries' ideologies and the need for long-term strategies. And by embracing such realism, progressives sacrifice their core liberalism. Both may celebrate Mr. Rumsfeld's departure and the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, but at some point, it is fair to ask what are the lessons of history and what is the cost of abandoning principle.
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006 - 21:02
Were the polls accurate?
Mostly no. The key question polls ask before election day is the “generic ballot” about the House of Representatives: If the election were held today, would you vote for the Democrat or for the Republican in your district? Here are the last polls taken before the election:
|Dates||Rep%||Dem%||Unsure %||Dem |
|CBS/N.Y. Times||Oct 27-31||34||52||14||18|
On election day, it appears that about 53% of the electorate voted for Democratic candidates for the House, and about 45% voted for Republican candidates. The remaining 2% voted for third-party candidates.
Of the nine polls, six wildly overestimated the Democratic lead, predicting it to be 13 to 20 percentage points, rather than the 8 percentage points it turned out to be (53% to 45%).
One poll (Pew) underestimated by half, predicting the margin would be 4 percentage points rather than 8.
Only two of the nine polls were essentially accurate: USA Today/Gallup and ABC/Washington Post.
(For two reasons, the 53% and 45% figures are not yet precise. First, the counting is still going on, with absentee ballots, etc. Second, for 34 seats only one party put up a candidate, and the media did not report the votes that one candidate got, although in nearly all states those votes eventually will be officially recorded. To get a preliminary national number now requires estimating the votes in those 34 uncontested districts, based on what unopposed candidates have gotten in the past, and then adding those estimates to the preliminary vote numbers for the other 401 districts reported in the days after the election by CNN and the New York Times. Because no media outlet totals the numbers for those 401 districts, each district’s preliminary votes have to be fed into a spreadsheet. The final precise numbers will be available when each state announces its official vote count, which will be weeks from now in some instances. Next spring, the Clerk of the House will publish a report compiling those final, official numbers.)
2. Did the number of seats each party won in Congress accurately reflect that party’s percentages of the popular vote?
No. The Democrats were robbed in both the Senate and the House.
In the Senate, they have a one-vote majority but got nine million more votes in the elections that produced the 100 members of the new Senate (94 million Democrat to 85 million Republican votes, 2002-2006, one-third of the Senate being elected every two years). How can the Democrats get so many popular votes but have only a one-vote majority? Constitutionally, the Senate is exempt from Baker v. Carr (requiring legislative districts to be equal in population). Each state gets two senators, and a voter in tiny Wyoming (with two Republican senators) thus has over 20 times the power of a voter in New York (with two Democratic senators).
In the House, this week’s 53%-45% popular vote split would historically have produced 250 to 270 seats for the Democrats. They’ll end up only with 231 to 234, depending on how the recounts go in the close districts. That’s because Republican gerrymandering limited Democratic seats in states like Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina.
The Republicans were similarly robbed in 1994 (when they took over Congress) because of Democratic gerrymandering. Since 1994, with the aid of computers, Republicans have turned gerrymandering into such a precise art that in some states neighbors can end up in different districts because they are registered with different political parties.
3. Did the Democrats win a decisive victory?
Yes and no.
Yes: Obviously, the Democrats persuaded the public to give them control of Congress after 12 years of Republican control. That upends what’s been happening in Washington, and the next two years will be very different from recent history. (But you already knew all that.)
No: In the new Senate, the Democrats will have a bare majority of 51 out of 100 senators. From 1959 to 1981 and from 1987 to 1995, when the Democrats controlled the Senate, their average during those periods was 60 seats. That is a good benchmark for a decisive majority, especially because it takes 60 votes in the Senate to end a filibuster. In the new House, the Democrats won about 53% of the popular vote and will have 231 to 234 seats. During the 40 years from the 1954 election until the 1994 election, the Democrats never had fewer than 232 seats. In three of those Congresses, the Democrats had as many as 291, 292, and 295 House seats and got 56% to 58% of the popular House vote. In American politics, winning 58% of the national popular vote is a landslide. No president has ever won more than 61% of the popular vote. Fifty-three percent is not a landslide. It is just a victory.
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006 - 19:13
SOURCE: American Prospect (11-10-06)
Democrats have their majority in the House, and that's cause for celebration. But as of this writing several House races are still listed as "too close to call." The Senate has also changed hands -- after the Virginia race narrowly escaped a recount, and Republicans came close to challenging the results in Montana and Missouri. Whether Democrats possess enough of a congressional majority to truly put fear into Republicans, and add backbone to Democrats nervous about challenging the president, is still very much in the air.
Meanwhile, we are forced to reckon with an uncomfortable question. Republicans cheat. To what extend did their cheating on Election Day keep the will of the people from being fully registered? Just how close did it come to keeping the new majority from arriving? And what does the kind of cheating we saw Tuesday -- and its antecedents in the past and its likely echoes in the future -- portend for the project of turning liberalism once again into the dominant force in American politics?
Consider the robocalls. In the week before the election, voters in at least 50 different races began receiving calls in which recorded voices beckoned them by saying, "Hi, I'm calling with information about [insert Democratic candidate's name]…" The intention was obvious: get people thinking they were receiving a call from the Democratic Party. Maybe you didn't want to hear a message from the Democratic Party. Maybe you were in the middle of dinner. You hang up on the robot. But the robot called back -- a dozen, two dozen times. Those who listened all the way through were greeted with a litany of smears about the Democrat -- and then, at the very end, a legal disclaimer stating that the call came from the National Republican Campaign Committee. In Missouri, an email to radio host Diane Rehm related, every call "pound[ed] home the idea that one or the other Democratic candidate in Missouri … is in favor of killing babies."
In California's 50th District -- where Democrat Francine Busby had hoped to win a rematch against incumbent Brian Bilbray in Republican felon Duke Cunningham's former seat -- Busby staffers shut down their phone banks because they were reaching so many callers enraged at the "Hi-I'm-calling-with-information-about-Francine-Busby" deluge. The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported receiving a tearful call from someone in Ohio explaining that she could no longer keep an open phone line to the hospice where her mother was dying on account of the calls. As for the calls' political effect, a spokesman for Lois Murphy -- who ended up going down to a narrow defeat against GOP incumbent Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania's 6th District -- relayed, "Some of our biggest supporters have said, 'If you call me again, I'm not voting for Lois.'"
NRCC spokesman Ed Patrus offered the defense of scoundrels, not citizens: they'd checked with their lawyers; they weren't doing anything illegal....
Cheating is by now a constitutive part of Republican culture. Such false-flag harassment was a crucial part of "ratfucking" operations in Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign -- to take just one example, Nixon agents circulated fliers in the Milwaukee ghetto advertising a non-existent "free lunch" sponsored by the Democrats. The Watergate hearings in 1973 and 1974 were full of these kinds of revelations. It didn't shame Republicans into retreating. It just made them more careful practitioners -- more careful, yet at the same time more brazen: consider those NRCC spokesmen. They could have denied the hustle. Instead, they owned up to it.
From now on there should be no excuse: anticipating such inevitabilities has to be made an active part of Democratic strategizing. The proliferating archive of PDF's, MP3s, and Youtube smoking guns has to be hauled out every two years -- round about a week before each election. Like those scrambled eggs in the anti-drug ads, Democrats need commercials of their own: "This is your government on Republicanism." The narrative should teach even low-information voters to sniff out the signs of a dirty trick. (It's not as if these things are tough to recognize. The only thing that's changed over the decades is the technology -- robocalls now; fliers for fake free lunches then.) That way, the dirty trick boomerangs: "Oh, yes. That's what the Democrats mean when they say Republicans cheat. God, I distrust those Republicans. I don't want them back in power ever again."...
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006 - 17:54
SOURCE: New Republic (11-8-06)
The Democrats have won back the House. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), nearly tripped over himself on the way to the microphone to claim the credit. In fact, while the tidal wave in the House looks like a bit of strategic genius by Emanuel--and pundits are starting to call it that way (Howard Fineman on MSNBC noted that the Democrats even picked up a seat in Kentucky, where the 3rd District candidate was John Yarmuth--"Emanuel's fourth choice!" Fineman exclaimed, as if in awe of the power possessed by Emanuel's mere table scraps)--in race after race, it actually represents the apotheosis of forces Emanuel has doubted all long: the netroots.
In two competitive House races in the Bluegrass State, Emanuel's first choices lost by eleven and nine points. In the 2nd District it was Colonel Mike Weaver, the cofounder of Commonwealth Democrats, a group of conservative Democratic state legislators. In the 4th, it was Ken Lucas, a former congressman whom Robert Novak recently called "moderate conservative" in a column on Emanuel's "recruiting coup" in coaxing Lucas out of retirement. Both were the kind of candidates Emanuel has favored in his famous nationwide recruiting drive. Yarmuth, meanwhile, was founder of the state's first alternative newspaper, said things on the campaign trail things like "the No Child Left Behind Act ... is a plan deliberately constructed to create 'failing' schools," and called for "a universal health care system in which every citizen has health insurance independent of his or her employment."
It was a pattern repeated across the country. New Hampshire's 1st District delivered Carol Shea-Porter, a former social worker who got kicked out of a 2005 Presidential appearance for wearing a T-shirt that said turn your back on bush. That might have been her fifteen minutes of fame--if, last night, she hadn't defeated two-term Republican incumbent Jeb Bradley. For the chance to face him, however, she had to win a primary against the DCCC's preferred candidate, Jim Craig--whom Rahm Emanuel liked so much he made the unusual move of contributing $5000 to his primary campaign. Shea-Porter dominated Craig by 20 points--and then was shut out by the DCCC for general election funds....
Some of [the netroots'] chosen beneficiaries were hopeless and remained so. The bloggers say that's the risk you take when you're trying to build a party infrastructure for the long term. Others were hopeless, however, only until the netroots-types got their mitts on them. When Klein decided that all Larry Kissell needed was a boost, he remembered how radio guys used to use long gas lines as promotional opportunities. Together, they arrived at an idea: Kissell would subsidize the sale gas at a filling station in his North Carolina district at the price it sold for when the incumbent had entered office--$1.22 a gallon. A line of cars soon stretched down the thoroughfare. The unknown Democrat was suddenly all over TV, shaking hands and pitching a hard Democratic message. He started inching up in the polls.
By the end of October, he was doing so well that Emanuel, finally smelling the pickup opportunity, added Kissell to DCCC's "Red to Blue" fund-raising program. Emanuel had been too preoccupied to notice Kissell, Howie Klein complains: He already had a darling North Carolina candidate: Heath Shuler (who also won his election last night). But Shuler "won't even commit to voting for Pelosi," Klein groused. He "probably tossed a coin to decide if he was going to run as a Republican in Tennessee or a Democratic in North Carolina."
The bloggers, blunt as they may be, think they have a better plan for building a lasting Democratic majority. Last night's results suggest the rest of us should start taking it seriously.
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006 - 17:46
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (11-12-06)
In 2002, publishers of American history high school textbooks altered an image of Emanuel Leutze's famous painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware'' (1851) because the original painting depicted Washington's watch fob dangerously close to his crotch. Administrators feared that it would draw attention to his manhood. The altered image blurred the painting enough so the fob melted away.
It was not the first time educators had reacted negatively to the famous painting of the famous man. In 1999, teacher's aides in Georgia's Muscogee County school district were instructed to hand-paint 2,300 fifth-grade textbooks to erase the image. In Cobb County, they just tore the page from the book.
The controversy prompted some to ask: Have we, in our squeamishness about sex, become neo-Victorians?
We have not. In fact, judging by election-cycle waves of sex scandals, we now look a lot like the Founding Fathers' generation.
Former Congressman Mark Foley, evangelist Ted Haggard and former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey are only the latest in a long line of straying American public figures.
Like us, the Founding Fathers lived in an era that was more open about sexual matters than the 19th century Victorians. And they, too, embraced standards of morality for public men that often reflected ideals more than social realities.
The Founding Fathers also operated in a strikingly similar media climate - the 1790s was perhaps the last time the media poured forth so many sex scandals before a relative silence that would endure well into the mid-20th century. And the 1790s was not so unusual for the 18th century. Despite what you may have learned in school, people actually had sex in the colonial era -- and more importantly they talked and wrote about it. And not just about women. Sex was an important part of masculinity.
In the 18th century, much like today, men used sex scandals to smear political enemies -- and newspapers played a role. When a local tiff between two satirists arose in 18th century Massachusetts, for example, one used a scurrilous image and poem suggesting that the Freemasons with their all-male all-secret parties just might be up to no good, to set up his rival as the author of the harmful front-page item. In his defense, the man made to look like the author printed notices denying that it was his.
The shocking engraving -- a rarity in early American newspapers -- depicted one Freemason penetrating another with a wooden peg commonly used in ship-building. It enraged the Freemasons, who subsequently boycotted the newspaper and lobbied the government to punish the printer. ...
Our Founding Fathers era may well have emphasized a dominant ideal of marriage and family, but the reality is that individuals often lived in opposition to these standards. Even couples who did marry and have children tended to engage in premarital sex. At the time the nation was founded, one-third of all brides were pregnant on their wedding day.
Our Founding Fathers themselves also did not all hold to these sexual ideals, but for their transgressions had their names dragged through the mud in the muckraking media decades of the early United States.
Much of what we know about Benjamin Franklin (child out of wedlock), Alexander Hamilton (extra-marital affair), Thomas Jefferson (relationship and child with slave Sally Hemings), and Aaron Burr (multiple extra-marital conquests and relationships) comes down to us from that same early American media. For political manhood, it seems, the model of monogamy has changed little.
Given that contemporary sex scandals have a tendency to lump together abuses of power, pedophilia (sexual interest in pre-pubescent children), ephebophilia (attraction to adolescents), with adultery, consensual affairs and a host of other disparate but non-normative behaviors, some might ask if we have become overly puritanical about sex.
But we are not prudish neo-Victorians. Much like the culture of early America, a certain degree of openness and frankness about all things sexual pervades the culture of today. And much like the culture of the early United States, a certain desire for virtue exhibited by normative sexual desire and behavior is demanded of politicians -- despite the fact that many Americans when pressed on the question will acknowledge that politicians should be able to have private lives -- and that extra-marital affairs should have little bearing on political careers.
Posted on: Sunday, November 12, 2006 - 23:21
SOURCE: Montreal Gazette (11-9-06)
Twelve years ago, Republicans in Congress were given power - if they could keep it. On Tuesday, American voters passed judgment on their custody and demanded a change.
Back in 1994, when the Republicans seized control from the Democrats, the Democrats had dominated Congress since 1954, and the Senate since 1986. Congressional Democrats had grown corrupt, complacent, arrogant. They felt entitled to their power - and many resented the notion that mere voters would strip them of their prerogatives. "The voters," Democratic congressman Barney Frank sighed, "are no bargain."
The Republicans swept into power, gaining 54 seats in the House, and eight in the Senate, also exploiting frustrations with Bill Clinton's unsteadiness, both in his early days at the White House, and as a moral figure. Brandishing their Contract with America, led by the fiery Newt Gingrich, Republicans vowed to clean up government, to shrink the budget, and to avoid the culture of entitlement by imposing term-limits, either by law or by custom.
Someone should trace the story of this class of 1994. It is an all-American - or perhaps, more universal - tale showing how power and greed can corrupt in the capital city. It is an American tragedy, a story of individuals who strayed, betraying the ideals they were supposed to embody.
Bob Ney came from the heartland, representing the Midwestern straightforwardness of his Ohio district. He recently resigned from the House and faces as much as 10 years in the Big House, a federal penitentiary, for peddling his office to the shady lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Mark Foley came from the Florida Gold Coast, representing Palm Beach and the Sunbelt's emerging power. Today, he is in rehab, hiding behind alcoholism to explain the lecherous emails he sent to underage male pages, in what became this election season's signature scandal.
Meanwhile, House Republicans played the politics of payback, acting as arrogantly and unilaterally as the Democrats had when they were in power. Forgetting that politics is cyclical, they failed to model the kind of reasonable, nonpartisan behaviour that might have served them when they ended up in opposition. At the same time, they demonstrated an astonishing lack of discipline, especially on fiscal matters, creating a bloated deficit that they can no longer blame on the Democrats.
Posted on: Sunday, November 12, 2006 - 23:20
SOURCE: Slate (11-10-06)
Warren Buffett's announcement in June that he was giving $31 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was greeted with near universal acclaim. About 120 years ago, when Andrew Carnegie declared in his "Gospel of Wealth" essays that he was going to give away his entire fortune and asserted that it was the duty of other rich men to give away theirs, his announcement provoked as much criticism as praise. Labor leaders condemned Carnegie for giving away money that did not rightfully belong to him. Prominent churchmen, including Methodist Bishop Hugh Price Hughes, characterized him as "an anti-Christian phenomenon, a social monstrosity, and a grave political peril."
Hughes insisted that millionaires, even those who agreed to give away their fortunes, were "the unnatural product of artificial social regulations." He believed that Carnegie's accumulation of millions had come at the expense of his less fortunate countrymen. "Millionaires at one end of the scale involved paupers at the other end, and even so excellent a man as Mr. Carnegie is too dear at that price," he argued. His point was well-taken. One doesn't have to a Socialist—and Bishop Hughes certainly was not —to wonder whether a more equitable distribution of wealth might be better for society than the idiosyncrasies of large-scale philanthropy.
Questions about Carnegie's millions multiplied over the years, especially after the summer of 1892, when armed Pinkerton guards intervened to break a strike at his Homestead steel mill. Workingmen on both sides of the Atlantic questioned whether the Pittsburgh steelmaker's huge charitable donations would have been better spent on higher wages, improved working conditions, and an eight- rather than 12-hour workday. Carnegie responded in a speech in Pittsburgh that he kept wages low to remain competitive, and that even had it been possible for him to share some of his profits with his workers, it would have been neither "justifiable or wise" to do so. "Trifling sums given to each every week or month ... would be frittered away, nine times out of ten, in things which pertain to the body and not to the spirit; upon richer food and drink, better clothing, more extravagant living, which are beneficial neither to rich nor poor." The lower the costs of labor, the higher the profits. Far better, in his view, to squeeze money from workers' paychecks, aggregate it, and give back to the community in the form of public libraries and concert halls.
Yet by 1915, the outcry against the efforts of Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Russell Sage to protect and sanitize what many saw as their ill-gotten fortunes had swelled to the point where Congress and the executive branch agreed to organize a federal Commission on Industrial Relations. Its charge was to investigate whether self-perpetuating private foundations posed "a menace to the Republic's future." The private foundation, it was claimed, was a profoundly anti-democratic institution, one that concentrated too much wealth—and power—in the hands of trustees who were neither elected nor accountable to the public. Frank Walsh, the chairman of the commission, recalled the complaint of a Colorado coal miner about $250,000 of Rockefeller Foundation money that had been allocated for a retreat for migratory birds. That money, the miner insisted, had come from the labor of men like him who should have had a say in how it was spent. "He protested against this apportionment of the wealth to the migratory birds," Walsh remembered. "He said he wanted first to see established a safe retreat for his babies and his wife."...
Posted on: Sunday, November 12, 2006 - 14:14
SOURCE: National Interest (11-11-06)
It was right to pre-empt Saddam Hussein before he could oppress his Iraqi subjects further, invade another country, deploy more chemical weapons or build nuclear weapons. The world is a better place with this abominable thug in jail, not lording it in his "presidential palaces."
Alongside the easy and fast victory over Saddam Hussein, the Bush Administration made a critical conceptual mistake—raising short-term expectations too high. Nomenclature alone required Operation Iraqi Freedom to quickly produce a vibrant, healthy, open, calm Iraq, with anything less constituting failure. Talk of a "free and prosperous" Iraq serving as a regional model foisted ambitions on Iraqis that they—just emerging from a thirty-year totalitarian nightmare, saddled with extremist ideologies, deep ethnic divisions and predatory neighbors—could not fulfill.
As Iraqis failed to play their appointed role, frustration grew in Washington. Deepening the trap of its own making, the administration forwarded these ambitions by bogging itself down in such domestic Iraqi minutiae as resolving inter-tribal conflict, getting electricity and water grids to work and involving itself in constitution writing.
Had the U.S.-led coalition pitched its ambitions lower, aspiring only to a decent government and economy while working much more slowly toward democracy, Iraq's progress over the past four years would be more apparent. The occupying forces should have sponsored a democratically-minded strongman to secure the country and eventually move it toward an open political process; and this approach would have the benefit of keeping Islamists out of power at a moment of their maximal popular and electoral appeal.
The basic coalition message to Iraqis should have been: You are adults, here is your country back, good luck. Transfer some seed money and station coalition forces in the deserts with a clearly defined mandate—defend Iraq's international borders, ensure the security of oil and gas exports, search for Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, prevent large-scale atrocities.
These should-have-beens remain relevant as 2007 approaches. The administration can still frame the debate in terms of U.S. interests, not Iraqi ones. It can contrast Iraq today with yesteryear's totalitarian model rather than a potential ideal. It can distance itself from Iraq's fate by reminding the world that Iraqis are responsible for shaping their destiny.
But the administration shows no signs of gearing down its ambitions in Iraq along these proposed lines. Should it stick with its unrealistically high goals, I fear failure then looms. The implications of that failure, as in Vietnam, will primarily be domestic, with conservatives and liberals returning to their pre-Reagan battle stations and the United States reverting back to what Richard Nixon in 1970 dubbed its "pitiful, helpless giant" status.
Posted on: Saturday, November 11, 2006 - 16:50