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 (11-7-06)
If the party you prefer loses a string of elections, one response is to concede that it has the wrong policies or the wrong tactics. Another is to argue that the system itself is broken. Two new books take the second course and contend that American constitutional democracy is in deep trouble. Neither is written from what would be called a Red State perspective, which raises the question: Will a Democratic victory in today's election suddenly restore the integrity of America's political system and make the books less urgent for readers who have been feeling despair for the past couple of years?
In "Does American Democracy Still Work?" Alan Wolfe answers his own question with something equivalent to: if so, just barely and badly at that. For him, American democracy is in radical decline. Americans no longer get the information they need to make decisions properly, and politicians are no longer held accountable for the decisions they make in office. Emotional populist appeals, he believes, block out important facts. Meanwhile, "disinterested institutions," like the mainstream media and the courts, no longer do their jobs. The media feature "news items fashioned to public taste," and the courts, he argues, including the Supreme Court, are no longer nonpartisan, neutral arbiters for resolving disputes. As for the loss of accountability among elected officials, it stems from the uncompetitive nature of elections.
Such claims themselves have an unreliable, partisan feel. The rise of the Internet and of C-SPAN in recent years has generated more information than ever before--lightning-fast data on policies and their effects, on fund-raising sources, on voting records, and on the truth of campaign charges and countercharges. Emotional appeals and crude populist slogans still play a part in political debate, to be sure, but they are nothing today compared with the shrill and malicious campaign style of a half-century or century ago--and they wield less power now that Americans are better educated. That is one reason that class-warfare politics--a category particularly susceptible to demagoguery--is less potent than it was in the last century....
In "Our Undemocratic Constitution," Sanford Levinson locates the flaws of the system in America's founding document itself--the Constitution. His book is more compelling that Mr. Wolfe's because of Mr. Levinson's breadth of erudition and his willingness to propose solutions to the flaws he perceives. On discrete matters he can be especially persuasive: He is entirely correct, for instance, that the Constitution should be amended to permit the temporary appointment of members of the House in the event that a terrorist attack harms a substantial number of them. Otherwise Congress will lack a quorum, and the government will cease to function when it most needs to....
Posted on: Friday, November 10, 2006 - 20:37
SOURCE: New Republic (11-8-06)
The Democrats' big win was obviously a repudiation of Bush's war in Iraq and the hypocrisy, corruption, and ineptness of his allies in Congress. But the victors also may have taken a big step toward erasing an image that conservative Republicans pasted on them during the glory days of the Nixon administration and that has proved difficult to peel off: that of liberal elitists who are out of touch with the values and interests of ordinary Americans.
Of course, the charge was always a cynical half-truth, at best. But it seemed to fit the cultural style of such figures as John Lindsay and Ted Kennedy (at least in his younger days). And it also stuck to the likes of Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry--intelligent men who seemed more at home lecturing about policy (or going windsurfing) than empathizing with people who were afraid their hard work was not being rewarded or their families protected.
But some of yesterday's most notable Democratic winners struck populist chords with an authenticity that would have made Harry Truman proud. There was Sherrod Brown, militant champion of unions in the rustbelt, easily defeating the mild-mannered Mike DeWine for one of Ohio's Senate seats. There was Eliot Spitzer, who gained such renown bashing corporate criminals as New York's attorney general that he barely had to run a gubernatorial campaign in the state at all. And there was Jon Tester, the affable, crew-cutted farmer, who may very well unseat Montana Senator Conrad Burns, the dimwitted recipient of Jack Abramoff's largesse, in a closely contested race. All these men proved adept at turning the old charges of elitism against their opponents. In their campaigns, the Democrats seemed again to be the party the people.
And its candidates showed they were capable of challenging the GOP almost everywhere in the nation, something Republicans have been able to do since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Take, as just one example, the 3rd District of Nebraska, historically one of the most Republican bastions anywhere. The district stretches across some two-thirds of thestate. Only a few small towns break up the rural expanses that are home to prosperous hog farms, sugar beet growers, and high school football games on Friday night. A Democrat last won there in 1958. In 2004, George W. Bush carried it by a margin of three to one, and Congressman Tom Osborne, who retired this year, won it by 87 percent. Even if Osborne hadn't been a Republican, his earlier career as a football coach who won two national championships for the state university would have made him unbeatable....
Posted on: Friday, November 10, 2006 - 20:05
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (11-13-06)
The United States has two options in Iraq: stay and try to win, or cut, run, and lose. Attempts to chart a middle course--partial withdrawal or redeployment, accelerated hand-over to the Iraqis, political deals with Syria or Iran--ignore the realities of the military situation. The real choice we face is this: Is it better to accept defeat than to endure the pain of trying to succeed?
The U.S. military, under the stewardship of CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid, has worked hard from the outset to avoid creating an Iraqi military that is dependent upon the continued presence of U.S. forces. The fear of such dependency is one of the pillars that has supported U.S. strategy from the outset. In order to avoid it, the U.S. military has never fully committed to conducting coherent and comprehensive counterinsurgency operations on its own, preferring to wait until the Iraqis are able to undertake them. We are still waiting, and the insurgency is strengthening its organization and inciting chaos through mass murder and sectarian violence.
The Iraqi military, unfortunately, is still a work in progress. Although there are growing numbers of trained Iraqi soldiers formed into increasingly competent tactical units, those units remain highly dependent on American logistical support for food, shelter, ammunition, and transportation. This situation is not entirely the fault of the American military. It stems also from the failure of the Iraqi government to establish ministries capable of performing their assigned tasks--a failure abetted by woefully inadequate assistance from the nonmilitary agencies of the U.S. government. Abizaid and the U.S. military are right to feel let down in this regard by the rest of the government, but only partly. Their failure to establish reasonable security and safe working conditions in Iraq, particularly outside the Green Zone, where much of this effort would have to take place, is the principal cause for the lack of economic and political development.
Wherever the blame for this failure lies, there is no denying that it has occurred. The Iraqi military cannot function without a significant American logistical presence. It cannot continue to improve in quality without a significant American training presence, which includes a partnership between Iraqi combat units and coalition combat units conducting counterinsurgency operations. These facts make nonsense of any idea of significantly reducing the American presence as a way to "incentivize" the Iraqi military. Redeployment on any significant scale will not incentivize the Iraqi military. It will lead to its collapse....
The pullback of U.S. forces to their bases will not reduce the sectarian conflict, which their presence did not generate. It will increase it. Death squads on both sides will become more active. Large-scale ethnic and sectarian cleansing will begin as each side attempts to establish homogeneous enclaves where there are now mixed communities. Atrocities will mount, as they always do in ethnic cleansing operations. Iraqis who have cooperated with the Americans will be targeted by radicals on both sides. Some of them will try to flee with the American units. American troops will watch helplessly as death squads execute women and children. Pictures of this will play constantly on Al Jazeera. Prominent "collaborators," with whom our soldiers and leaders worked, will be publicly executed. Crowds of refugees could overwhelm not merely Iraq's neighbors but also the FOBs themselves. Soldiers will have to hold off fearful, tearful, and dangerous mobs. Again, endless photographs and video footage of all this will play constantly. Before long, it will probably prove necessary to remove the embedded U.S. troops from the Iraqi military units. The situation will become too dangerous; the Iraqis will increasingly resent the restraint the embeds place on their actions; and the U.S. military will become fearful of being implicated in death-squad activity. It is a matter of chance whether the embedded troops are pulled before any are kidnapped or taken prisoner by Iraqi military units turning bad or being infiltrated by radicals.
What will be the effect of all this on American soldiers? The result could be worse than what we suffered in Vietnam. There will be no "decent interval" here during which we withdraw in reasonably good order--the withdrawal itself is likely to occur in the midst of rising violence. Instead of pictures of Americans on the embassy roof in Saigon, we will see images of Iraqi death squads at work with U.S. troops staying on their bases nearby. And let us not forget that in the world of Al Jazeera, we will be accused of encouraging those death squads. The overall result will be searing and scarring. The damage to the morale of the military could be far greater than what will result from burdening soldiers with longer or more frequent tours of duty in a stepped-up effort to achieve vic tory. Those who are concerned about the well-being of the Army should fear defeat of this type more than anything.
The only question that matters is: Can we still do anything to improve the situation in Iraq? The answer is yes. We can and must restore basic security to Baghdad and to the key cities and towns of the Sunni Triangle. In the past, I have recommended beginning with the outlying areas along the upper Tigris, Euphrates, and Diyala river valleys, both because clearing and holding smaller towns is easier and in the hope that success upon success in the heart of the Sunni Arab areas would demoralize the remaining fighters in Baghdad. That approach is no longer feasible. The U.S. and Iraqi governments have made it clear that the war will be won or lost in Baghdad.
Operation Together Forward, the recent joint Iraqi-American operation to pacify the capital, failed for a number of reasons. First, for lack of resources, it proceeded too slowly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Second, again because of resource constraints, there were not enough American troops left behind in neighborhoods that had been cleared--with the result that insurgents slipped rapidly back into those areas and destabilized them again. The price for conducting the operation was high--forces had to be drawn from al Anbar province, the hotbed of the Sunni Arab insurgency, and the situation there has been deteriorating as a result.
The lessons of the U.S. military program in Iraq are reasonably clear by now. American forces, working with Iraqis, can clear areas dominated by terrorists and insurgents. The efforts to do so lead initially to an upsurge in violence as the insurgents resist, but then to greater calm. In places like Tal Afar, Al Qaim, and other small towns along the Upper Euphrates River valley, Sadr City in 2004, and even Falluja (in the second battle in 2004), clearing operations have succeeded. In many of these cases, however, the U.S. command left inadequate American forces behind to help the Iraqi troops hold the area, with the result that insurgents gradually infiltrated and began to destabilize these regions once again. The lack of any coherent plan to move from one cleared area to another, moreover, often meant that stabilized towns were islands in a tumultuous sea....
Posted on: Friday, November 10, 2006 - 15:27
SOURCE: American Prospect (11-9-06)
The president announced his pick to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense today: former CIA director Robert Gates. Bound to surface in the coming national scrutiny of Gates is his role in the Iran-Contra affair.
One of the great misconceptions of the Iran-Contra scandal is the widely-held belief that when then-Attorney General Meese called a press conference on November 25, 1986, to announce his discovery of the famous "diversion" of funds from the weapons sales to Iran to pay for weapons for the Nicaraguan contras, he was finally revealing the truth of what took place. As Oliver North pointed out in his memoir, the administration had much to gain by focusing on the diversion:
This particular detail was so dramatic, so sexy, that it might actually -- well, divert public attention from other, even more important aspects of the story, such as what else the President and his top advisers had known about and approved. And if it could be insinuated that this supposedly terrible deed was the exclusive responsibility of one mid-level staff assistant at the National Security council (and perhaps his immediate superior, the national security adviser), and that this staffer had acted on his own (however unlikely that might be), and that, now that you mention it, his activities might even be criminal -- if the pubic and the press focused on that, then maybe you didn't have another Watergate on your hands after all." 1
The story of the arms sales broke, originally, in al-Shiraa, on November 3, 1986. The Iranian Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, confirmed it in a speech to the Iranian Parliament the following day, adding the details about National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane's delivery of a Bible and a chocolate cake as thank-you gifts for the meeting. At this point, Chief of Staff Donald Regan told the president that the time had come to finally "go public" about the effort. But John Poindexter disagreed and carried the day. The president went forth to assure reporters it was a story that "came out of the Middle East and that, to us, has no foundation."2 Presidential Press Secretary Larry Speakes later admitted that Reagan "knew [this remark] was wrong at the time."3 Six days later, the president changed his story in a televised address to the nation, when he admitted to shipping some missiles to Iran; but he lied once again by insisting that, "taken together, [the missiles] could easily have fit into a single cargo plane." With the crisis continuing to build, Reagan went before the press eight days later, on November 19, and stuck to his incredible story. He perpetuated the falsehood that the United States "had nothing to do with other countries or their shipments of arms to Iran, including Israel."4 By this time, however, Poindexter had already briefed the press about the U.S. negotiations with Israel to provide the weapons, and so the falsity of Reagan's account was transparent to everyone but the president himself.
The pressure for a credible explanation of the affair continued to increase. Congress demanded testimony from CIA director William Casey and Poindexter. It was at this point that the two men joined with North -- and CIA deputy director Robert Gates -- to construct a false chronology of the "enterprise," in order to cover up their illegal deeds and protect their president.
In this document they perpetuated Reagan's earlier set of lies by arguing that no one in the CIA knew that anything but oil-drilling equipment had been delivered to Iran. North further tailored the chronology to suggest that no one in the entire U.S. government had been aware of the truth of the matter, when, in fact, George Shultz had contemporaneous notes proving that he, McFarlane, and Reagan were all fully briefed about the true nature of the shipments. Shultz then queried State Department legal adviser Abraham Sofaer regarding the extent of his legal responsibility to tell the truth about this, and Sofaer told him that yes, he was legally bound to do so. So informed, Shultz threatened to resign if the chronology was not corrected. Casey died of a brain hemorrhage before he could be asked about the false chronology, but both North and Poindexter later testified that he was aware that the chronologies were deliberately "inaccurate."5
In his own memoir, Gates later noted that "[t]he first ingredient in the Contra time bomb was an administration unwilling to make a major national political issue of Nicaragua and live with the results, yet so committed to the Contra cause that it would thwart the obvious will of Congress and, unprecedentedly, run a foreign covert action out of the White House funded by foreign governments and private citizens." True, but a second ingredient was a CIA willing to go along with it. Let's hope he's learned something about the value of institutional independence in the interim.
Posted on: Thursday, November 9, 2006 - 19:49
SOURCE: LAT (10-30-06)
But history certainly does suggest that a Democratic triumph is possible. President Bush's job approval rating is a miserable 37%. The last time a president was that unpopular on the eve of the midterms was when Harry Truman was in the White House. Public approval of Congress is even lower, at 26%. Two-thirds of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. These figures recall the oft-cited midterm elections of 1994, when it was the Democrats who lost control of the House to Newt Gingrich's rampant Republicans.
A better analogy may be 1958, when the Republicans lost 48 House seats (giving the Democrats an unassailable majority) during Dwight Eisenhower's second term.
The parallel is especially intriguing because it was a combination of security concerns and economic woes that did the damage then. There had been a severe recession in the winter of 1957-58. But it was foreign policy that was on many people's minds. The previous year, the Soviets had successfully launched their Sputnik satellite, causing consternation among Americans, who had assumed their country had a built-in technological advantage in both the Cold War and the space race. Civil war was raging in Cuba; Fidel Castro was just a few months from victory. And in July, a coup d'etat had overthrown King Faisal II of — guess where? — Iraq, the prelude to the Baathist takeover of power in that country in 1963. American troops had been dispatched to Lebanon in response.
Ring any bells?
What's more, as happened in 1958, the combination of foreign policy setbacks and economic disappointments could set the stage not merely for Democratic gains at the midterms but for a Democratic victory in the presidential election two years down the line. Intriguingly, there is already a John F. Kennedy figure on the scene who, he recently admitted, has "thought about the possibility" of a bid for the White House. Youthful, charismatic and the personification of the American dream, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has been this autumn's media sensation, his face on every talk show, his name in every column, his book rivaling Woodward's in the charts.
You think the U.S. is not ready for a black president? Well, back in 1958 you'd probably have said the same about an Irish Catholic. ...
Posted on: Thursday, November 9, 2006 - 19:18
SOURCE: Slate (11-8-06)
Whenever the party in power takes a hit in the midterms, it takes refuge in the past. Since the governing party almost always loses seats in off-year races, the president is said merely to have fallen prey to the ineluctable tides of history—much in the way that presidents who face economic depressions disown any blame by fingering the all-powerful "business cycle."
In particular, parties that incur setbacks in their presidents' second terms like to hide behind the "six-year itch," to use an ungainly term favored by political scientists. Typically a president's second-term off-year losses outstrip his first-term losses, and it's tempting to imagine some iron law of history at work—a structural force that has afflicted even popular presidents, such as Dwight Eisenhower in 1958 and Ronald Reagan in 1986. George Will, for one, made this argument on ABC last night.
But plans to invoke the six-year itch ought to be scratched. Politics has no iron laws: As circumstances change, so does political behavior. (Significantly, Bush in 2002 and Bill Clinton in 1998 both defied the trends, suggesting that gerrymandering, microtargeting, polarization, or other factors have scrambled historical patterns.) What's more, there have been too few sixth-year elections to be statistically meaningful. Most important, the variables in any given election—wars, recessions, scandals, social crises—matter more than tendencies built in to the system. On inspection, the six-year itch resembles less a chronic disease than a phantom illness on the order of chronic fatigue syndrome.
To be sure, certain structural forces do favor the nonpresidential party in the midterms. According to a theory of "surge and decline," presidents have coattails when they're elected, carrying into office their party-mates. But (to shift metaphors) when those legislators have to run a play without the president as their offensive line, many get thrown for a loss. Ronald Reagan's sixth-year setbacks fit this pattern: The Republicans gained control of the Senate in Reagan's 1980 landslide but lost it—despite the absence of scandal, recession, or other disaster—in 1986.
More provocatively, legal scholar Akhil Amar has suggested in America's Constitution: A Biography that the 22nd Amendment limiting presidents to two terms, ratified in 1951, has weakened second-term presidents. It's well-known that second-term presidents become embroiled in scandal: Nixon with Watergate, Reagan with Iran-Contra, Clinton with Lewinsky, Bush with faulty prewar intelligence (among other issues). One explanation is that re-elected presidents grow arrogant and reckless, as Nixon certainly did. But Amar suggests another reason: The 22nd Amendment effectively makes second-termers four-year lame ducks, unable to exact retribution upon antagonists on the Hill—thereby encouraging congressional investigations and commanding less party loyalty. By the same logic, the president is arguably now less able to pass legislation and otherwise work his will in his sixth year, thus deepening his midterm losses.
Nonetheless, in almost every case of a six-year itch, Occam's Razor suggests more direct reasons for a president's party's losses. In 1874, for example, the Democrats made big gains in Republican President Ulysses Grant's second term. Yet they plainly benefited from the financial panic of 1873, as well as from the Credit Mobilier scandal—considered the third-worst presidential scandal after Watergate and Teapot Dome.
In 1938, the six-year itch did seem to be at work in the defeats that the Democrats endured after scoring routs not only in 1932 and 1936 but also—bucking historical trends—in the off-year contests of 1934. Yet again, more proximate causes abound. Franklin Roosevelt blundered in 1937 when he proposed a massive overhaul of the Supreme Court to get it to uphold his New Deal legislation. Moreover, after much progress in reducing joblessness and reviving public confidence, he cut government spending to bring the budget into balance, thereby kicking the economy back into recession. By 1938, the unemployed had swelled from 5 million to 12 million, crippling the Democrats in November.
Even in 1958, when the widely beloved Eisenhower lost 48 House and 13 Senate seats, contemporary events, more than structural dynamics, were at fault. Most significantly, the severe economic downturn that year hit especially hard in the Midwest, depressing turnout among Eisenhower's most natural constituents. Besides, the Soviet Union had launched just Sputnik, spurring a panic about the state of American defense, education, and—most important—nerve and morale. This disillusionment with Ike's governance was an early expression of the now-canonical critique of his presidency—what the journalist William Shannon termed "The Great Postponement."
A similar disillusionment may have been in effect his year, as historian Niall Ferguson argued before the election. There's also a whiff of 1966 in the air, as I've noted elsewhere—1966 was another year in which voters rebelled (in a second-year, not a sixth-year, election) against one-party rule. This year, the discontent that exit polls found with what they labeled "corruption" should be more properly understood as a rebuke to the general arrogance of the unchecked Republican Party. Think of corruption in Lord Acton's sense.
In retrospect, though, the Republicans' losses seem most similar to those in three other midterm races: 1918, 1950 (not properly a sixth-year midterm, since Harry Truman entered the presidency in 1945 through accession, not election), and 1942 (technically a "10th-year" itch). All of those setbacks came amid wars. In 1950, Republicans painted the controversial adventure in Korea as a result of Truman's weakness. In 1942, Democrats suffered when World War II was going poorly in both the Pacific and European theaters. In 1918, the Allies were nearing victory in World War I, but there was much resentment in the land, especially after Woodrow Wilson, having promised to keep the United States out of war, now explicitly called on Americans to vote Democratic as a show of support for his policies.
Wars help presidents so long as the rally-round-the-flag effect holds up. The Iraq war did so for Bush in 2002 and even 2004 (though by then it was becoming uncertain whether the Iraq war was helping or hurting Bush). On the other hand, a conflict that has no clear end in sight vexes Americans of all political stripes, summoning up deep strains of both conservative isolationism and liberal anti-imperialism. As my Rutgers colleague Ross K. Baker, a congressional expert, wrote last spring, "Combat fatigue is not a condition found only on the battlefield; it is also an affliction that has often been diagnosed in the voting booth." If there's a history lesson to be drawn from this year's election results, that one would be closest to the mark.
Posted on: Thursday, November 9, 2006 - 19:12
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (11-8-06)
The Democrats have control of the House of Representatives as I write early Wednesday morning, with a gain of perhaps as much as 30 seats. They don't appear to have lost any seats. Indeed, Democratic incumbents won in other sorts of contests, as well-- governors, state legislators, etc. The mood of the electorate was not to punish incumbents. It was to throw out the rascals.
I think the Democrats will take the Senate. CNN is calling 2 Senate races too close to call, but Webb announced that he had won in Virginia, and his margin later that night went on up to 11,000. That might be enough to forestall a recount. Montana will determine the outcome.
Bill Bennett opined that the Democrats had actually not done that well, since the party out of power often picks up 35 seats in the second midterm of a two-term president. Bennett, as usual, is being dishonest. In fact, this was not an ordinary election but rather came at the end of 14 years of low blows and dirty tricks. The Republicans had tried very hard to have a permanent majority, using ruses such as state gerrymandering (e.g. Texas) and convincing Republican House members who were thinking of retiring to serve one more term so as not to risk having the open seat go to the Dems. Tom Delay's K-Street Project even envisioned depriving the Democrats forever of big lobbying money. The impeachment of Clinton was a cynical misuse of the Republican majority aimed at permanently wounding the Democrats. The Dems did not impeach Reagan for stealing Pentagon weapons, selling them to Khomeini, and using the black money to fund death squads in Central America! The deployment of a Republican Supreme Court to gain the White House in 2000 was typical of the new end run around popular sovereignty perfected by the party hacks in Washington. Given the giant berms the Republicans had built against any Democratic rebound, and the viciousness with which raptors like Delay, Weldon, Rove and Abramoff went for the soft underbelly of the democratic system, it is an irridescent miracle that the Democrats have taken the House.
In my view the real significance of the Democratic victory is four-fold.
First, it demonstrates once again that the American public simply will not put up with a return to the age of colonialism and does not want to occupy Asian countries militarily. Do you think that Abu Ghraib and American torture-pornography, the daily grind of violence, the stupid mistakes, have passed them by so that they didn't notice? They might swallow all this reluctantly but they want light at the end of the tunnel. There is not any in Iraq, as these pictures strongly suggest. They want it over with. It isn't. [Here's today's Iraq update.]
Second, Bush is not going to be able to put any more Scalia types on the Federal benches or the Supreme Court.
Third, a Bush administration war on Iran now seems highly unlikely. A major initiative of that sort would need funding, and I don't think Congress will grant it. The Democrats don't want an Iran with a nuclear weapon any more than the Republicans do. But they are more likely to recognize that there is no good evidence that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program, and have been chastened by Iraq enough to distrust purely military solutions to such crises.
Fourth, there will now finally be accountability. It is obvious to me that the Bush administration has been engaged in large-scale crimes and corruption, and has gotten away with it because the Republican heads of the relevant committees have refused to investigate these crimes. Democratic committee heads with subpoena power will finally be able to force the Pentagon and other institutions to fork over the smoking gun documents, and then will be in a position to prosecute.
Here is the sort of corruption, exemplified by Curt Weldon, that was going on in the Old Regime:
' Weldon himself was a key promoter of Finmeccanica for the Marine One contract, which has been widely reported as a payoff for Italy's support of Bush's Iraq policy. Italy provided what have now been proved to be forged documents that ostensibly showed Saddam Hussein attempted to acquire uranium ore from Niger -- a claim that President Bush leaned upon in his 2003 State of the Union address preparing for pre-emptive war. Italian defense groups have since become partners with the United States in the sale of American warfare technology to sensitive and controversial countries such as Israel, Libya, Iran and republics of the former Eastern Bloc.
During the months leading up to Finmeccanica's surprising capture of the Marine One contract, consulting money flowed to Cecelia "Cece" Grimes, Weldon's real estate agent who calls herself "a longtime family friend." According to disclosure records, Rep. Weldon's chief of staff made a $14,400 trip to Rome, Bari, Genoa and Milan with his wife. This and an $8,200 Italian trip by another Weldon staffer were covered by Fincantieri, an Italian ship maker fully owned by Finmeccanica. '
Note to John Dingell: Weldon's nexus of the Niger forgeries, Italian military intelligence, a sweet contract for the Italian military-industrial complex, and sinister contacts with shadowy figures from the Iran-contra scandal with a view toward getting up a war on Iran-- this deserves investigation as much as anything Bush and his cabinet have done.
The Democratic victory has enormous implications for US domestic politics. There will likely be an increase in the minimum wage, e.g. And the creeping tyranny of the evangelical far right has been slowed; even a lot of evangelicals seem uncomfortable with where that was going, and a lot of them deserted the Republicans in this election.
What are its implications for Iraq policy? Those are fewer, just because the executive makes foreign policy. Congress can only intervene decisively by cutting off money for foreign military adventures, which the Democrats have already pledged not to do. Moreover, the Iraq morass is a hopeless case and even if the legislature had more to say about policy there, it is not as if there are any good options.
One downside is that some Democrats campaigned on a platform of dividing Iraq into three ethnic provinces under a weak federal government, an idea they got from Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. I don't think they will be in a position to follow through on this (as if the US could dictate Iraq's future!), but one wouldn't want them to implement their rash promises in this regard.
What we can say is that the electoral outcome is a bellwether for the future of American involvement in Iraq. It will now gradually come to an end, barring a dramatic disaster, such as a guerrilla push to deprive our troops of fuel and then to surround and besiege them. More likely, the steady grind of bad news and further senseless death will force Bush's successor, whoever it, is, to get out of that country. One cannot imagine us staying in Afghanistan for the long haul, either. Bush's question in 2003 was, can we go back to the early 20th century and have a sort of Philippines-like colony with a major military investment? The answer is, "no." Iraqis are too politically and socially mobilized to be easily dominated in the way the old empires dominated isolated, illiterate peasants. The outcome of the Israel-Hizbullah war this summer further signalled that the peasants now have sharper staves that even penetrate state of the art tanks. The US can still easily win any wars it needs to win. It cannot any longer win long military occupations. The man who knew this most surely in the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, most egregiously gave in to the occupation route, and will end up the fall guy as the public mood turns increasingly ugly in both countries.
Posted on: Thursday, November 9, 2006 - 18:59
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-8-06)
The wave -- and make no mistake, it's a global one -- has just crashed on our shores, soaking our imperial masters. It's a sight for sore eyes.
It's been a long time since we've seen an election like midterm 2006. After all, it's a truism of our politics that Americans are almost never driven to the polls by foreign-policy issues, no less by a single one that dominates everything else, no less by a catastrophic war (and the presidential approval ratings that go with it). This strange phenomenon has been building since the moment, in May 2003, that George W. Bush stood under that White-House-prepared"Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared"major combat operations have ended."
That"Top Gun" stunt -- when a cocky President helped pilot an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto a carrier deck and emerged into the golden glow of "magic hour light" (as his handlers then called it) -- was meant to give him the necessary victory photos to launch his 2004 presidential reelection campaign. As it turned out, that moment was but the first"milestone" on the path to Iraqi, and finally electoral, hell. Within mere months, those photos would prove useless for anyone but liberal bloggers. By now, they seem like artifacts from another age. On the way to the present "precipice" (or are we already over the edge?), there have been other memorable"milestones" -- from the President's July 2003 petulant "bring ?em on" taunt to Iraq's then forming insurgency to the Vice President's June 2005 "last throes" gaffe. All such statements have, by now, turned to dust in American mouths.
In the context of the history of great imperial powers, how remarkably quickly this has happened. An American President, ruling the last superpower on this or any other planet, and his party have been driven willy-nilly into global and domestic retreat a mere three-plus years after launching the invasion of their dreams, the one that was meant to start them on the path to controlling the planet -- and by one of the more ragtag minority rebellions imaginable. I'm speaking here, of course, of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, of perhaps 15,000 relatively lightly armed rebels whose main weapons have been the roadside bomb and the sniper's bullet. What a grim, bizarre spectacle it's been.
The Fall of the New Rome
But let's back up a moment. After such an election, a bit of history, however quick and potted, is in order -- in this case of the post-Cold War era of U.S. supremacy, now seemingly winding down. In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, to be followed by the relatively violence-free collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a brief moment of conceptual paralysis among leadership elites in this country, none of whom had even imagined the loss of the"Evil Empire" (in President Ronald Reagan's famous Star Wars-ian phrase) until it suddenly, miraculously evaporated. In this forgotten moment, we even heard hopeful mutterings about a"peace dividend" that would take all the extra military money that obviously was no longer needed to defend against a missing superpower and use it to rebuild America.
A mighty country, soon to be termed a"hyperpower," straddling the globe alone and without obvious enemies -- that should have been a formula for declaring victory (as many Cold Warriors promptly did) and acting accordingly (which none of them did). It should have been the moment for the Long Peace.
But in an enemy-less world, there was a small problem called the Pentagon (and the vast military-industrial complex that had grown up around it). So, while the peace-dividend-that-never-was vanished in the post-Cold-War morning fog, some new, prefab enemies did make their appearances with startling speed. They essentially had to.
These new dangers to our country were termed"rogue states," an obvious step or two down from a single Evil Empire. They were, in fact, so relatively weak militarily that you needed to pile them up into a conceptual heap to get an enemy that would keep an empire and its global network of bases in military restocking mode. Not too many years down the line, the Bush administration would indeed pile three of them up in just this way into the gloriously labeled"axis of evil"; this was that old Evil Empire rejiggered for midget powers (or alternatively the Axis powers of World War II shrunk to Mini-Me standards).
Back in 1990, Saddam Hussein, our former ally in a Persian Gulf struggle with Iran for regional supremacy, invaded Kuwait and, voilà!, you had the first Gulf War. His military, already weakened by its eight-year bloodletting with Iran, was not exactly a goliath for a superpower to reckon with; but Americans took a tip from the dictator (who liked to see images of himself puffed to gigantic proportions everywhere in his land), blew his face was up to Hitlerian size, and stuck it on every magazine and in every TV news report in town ("Showdown with Saddam"). His genuinely evil-dictator face took the place of a whole nuclear-armed Evil Empire, while American troops slaughtered helpless Iraqi conscripts, burying them alive in their own trenches or wiping them out from the air on the aptly named"Highway of Death" out of Kuwait City.
Not so long after, in 1992, under the aegis of then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, a small group of unknown Defense Department staffers -- Paul Wolfowitz, I. Lewis Libby, and Zalmay Khalilzad ? unveiled a new draft Defense Planning Guidance, a document for developing military strategy and planning Pentagon budgets. It was the first such since the Cold War ended and, leaked to the New York Times, it was denounced as an extremist vision and buried. As the website Right Web describes it, the document" called for massive increases in defense spending, the assertion of lone superpower status, the prevention of the emergence of any regional competitors, the use of preventive -- or preemptive -- force, and the idea of forsaking multilateralism if it didn't suit U.S. interests."
Sound familiar? No wonder. It was the very imperial program for eternal American dominance and endless war against the planet's rogue states that George W. Bush's administration would officially adopt. By then, Wolfowitz was the number two man at the Pentagon; Libby, the Vice President's good right hand; and Khalilzad was the new, post-invasion U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
In a post-9/11 atmosphere of belligerent fear, their program went mainstream. Having been attacked not by a rogue state but by a squad of 19 terrorists pledging allegiance to a stateless terrorist organization, we were"at war" with evil itself. By 2002, the administration had conducted a"successful" war in Afghanistan; the Taliban had been crushed; Osama bin Laden was MIA; and the neocons were riding high. The rest of us found ourselves in a Global War on Terror, or the Long War, or World War III, or even World War IV or whatever our rulers chose to call it that week. (As we would learn in Iraq, counting was not one of their skills.)
Dazzled beyond any reasonable imperial sense by the power to dominant that they believed American military superiority gave them, top Bush administration officials essentially proclaimed the U.S. an empire by fiat, a superduperpower the likes of which the world had never seen. In their infamous 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States of America (essentially the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance document recycled), they swore that we would remain so forever and feed the Pentagon so much money that it would be bulked up into the distant future to suppress any potential superpower or bloc of powers that might emerge.
They insisted that we would go our own way, strike whomever we pleased, torture anyone we wished, and jail without recourse anyone we cared to sweep up or kidnap anywhere on Earth. The rest of the world could either approve or be damned, but it would be full speed ahead for us. Their acolytes in right-wing think tanks and lobbying outfits around Washington, along with Washington's assembled punditry (and some liberal tag-alongs) declared the world on the verge of a Pax Americana and this nation the globe's New Rome.
In the meantime, domestically, Karl Rove and his pals were working to ensure that the Republican Party would be dominant against all challengers for a generation or more. This was to be a domestic version of"full spectrum dominance." The two -- the global Pax Americana and the Party's Pax Republicana seemed joined at the hip back then, each reinforcing the unilateral, don't-tread-on-me, I'll-do-anything-I-wish dominance of the other. It was Rovian Abramoffism at home and Cheney-izing Wolfowitzism abroad.
How deeply they misunderstood the nature of power in our world, and how thoroughly they miscalculated the limited nature of the power of the New Rome! If you want to take the measure of how far we've come since then, consider the spectacle of this last election season. Take Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Like the President, deep into this September he was still excoriating the Democrats not just for their positions on the Iraq War, but for their"surrender" policies in the war on terror. As he put it in a PBS interview with Jim Lehrer on September 14th:
"I'd say, ?Wake up, Harry Reid. Wake up, Harry Reid?' I think that [the president] has got it right, that we're not going to do what Harry Reid wants to do, and that is surrender, to wave a white flag, to cut and run at a time when we're being threatened? as we all saw just three or four weeks ago, in a plot from Britain that was going to send 10 airplanes over here."
He then characterized the Democratic Party as a group"who basically belittle in many ways this war on terror, who do want to wave this white flag and surrender."
By late October, however, according to Washington Post reporters Peter Slevin and Michael Powell, Frist had fully grasped that the global and domestic programs of dominance no longer were working together. So he offered the following succinct advice -- a flip-flop of the first order -- to congressional candidates:"The challenge is to get Americans to focus on pocketbook issues, and not on the Iraq and terror issue."
Just another"milestone" on the path to? well, that's the question, isn't it?
After September 11, 2001, the President and his advisors were determined to run an invasion of, and war against, Iraq that would be the anti-Vietnam conflict of all time. From the draft to the body count, they were going to reverse all our Vietnam"mistakes." Above all, they were going to win quickly and decisively. The result? In no time at all, they had brought us deep into the Iraqi"big muddy" (as the Vietnam-era phrase went). Now, looming in the distance -- think of it as the dark at the end of this particular horror-fest of a tunnel -- is the worst Vietnam nightmare of all: defeat. Just check Juan Cole's Informed Comment website, for his "Top Ten Ways We Know We Have Lost in Iraq," if you don't believe me.
Unlike in Indochina, however, this time there's something essential at stake. Whatever we were doing in the largely peasant land of Vietnam, in terms of global wealth and resources, it was just what Henry Kissinger and other frustrated U.S. policy-makers of that era always called it, a third- or fourth-rate power of no real value to anyone (other, of course, than its own inhabitants).
In Iraq, where a continuing American presence only ensures a deeper plunge into chaos, mayhem, blood, and horror as well as fragmentation and potential dissolution, departure nonetheless remains largely inconceivable. After all, Iraq has something everyone desperately values: Oil. In quantity. A"sea" of oil in the words of former Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz. In a backhanded way, the President has finally acknowledged the obvious -- that his war in Iraq was, in significant part, an oil invasion, an oil occupation (remember it was only the Oil Ministry that we guarded in otherwise looted Baghdad), and so is also bound to be an oil defeat. As energy-obsessed Bush administration planners saw it, Iraq was to be the lynchpin -- hence those permanent bases that were on the drawing boards as American troops invaded -- of a Bush administration strategy for dominating the oil heartlands of the planet.
After Vietnam, the United States proved quite capable of putting itself back together (despite years of fierce culture wars). After Iraq -- and keep in mind that we undoubtedly have at least a couple of years of horror to go -- the question is whether the world will be similarly capable or whether the oil lands of the planet will lie in ruins along with the global economy.
Extremity on Display
So, just past the midterm election mark of 2006, what's left of the New Rome? You could say that George W. Bush's dark success story has involved bringing his version of the United States into line with the look of the"rogue" enemies and terrorist groups he set out to destroy. By the time Americans went to the polls on November 7th, 2006 to repudiate his policies, he had given our country the ultimate in makeovers, creating the look of an Outlaw Empire.
We now have our own killing fields in Iraq where, the latest casualty study tells us, somewhere between 400,000 and 900,000-plus"excess Iraqi deaths" have occurred since the 2003 invasion. And do you remember Saddam's"torture chambers" (which the President used to cite all the time)? Now, we are the possessors of our own global prison system, our own (rented, borrowed, or jerry-rigged) torture chambers, our own leased airline to transport kidnapped prisoners around the planet, and a Vice President who has openly lobbied Congress for a torture exemption for the CIA and spoke glibly on the radio about "dunking" people in water. And, thanks to a supine Congress, we have the laws to go with it all.
The administration went after the right to torture or treat captives any way its agents pleased in places not open to any kind of oversight remarkably quickly after the September 11th attacks. By late 2001, Donald Rumsfeld's office was instructing agents in the field in Afghanistan to"take the gloves off" with a captive. (Inside the CIA, as Ron Suskind has told us in his book The One Percent Doctrine, Director George Tenet was talking even more vividly about removing"the shackles" on the Agency.) Inside the White House Counsel's office and the Justice Department, administration lawyers were already hauling out their dictionaries to figure out how to redefine"torture" out of existence. But why such an emphasis on torture (which is largely useless in the field, as everyone knows)?
What administration officials grasped, I believe, is this: If you could manage to get the right to legally employ extreme (and normally repugnant) acts of torture, then you would have in your possession the right to do anything. Think of the urge to abuse as the initial extreme expression of this administration's secret obsession with the creation of a"wartime" commander-in-chief presidency which would leave Congress and the courts in the dust.
If you want to measure where this has taken Bush officialdom in five years, consider their latest legal defensive measure. According to the Washington Post, the administration has just gone to court to declare American"alternative interrogation techniques" -- which simply means"torture" -- as"among the nation's most sensitive national security secrets." It is trying to get a federal judge to bar"terrorism suspects held in secret CIA prisons" from even revealing to their own lawyers details about what was done to them by American interrogators. In other words, torture is now to be put in the secrecy vault like a national treasure. Next thing you know, we'll be sending it to the Smithsonian.
Reflected in this desperate maneuver, you can catch a glimpse of an administration driven to the extremity of going to courts it despised -- and thought it had cut out of the process of foreign imperial governance -- simply to bury its own extreme misdeeds. You can feel the fear of the docket (and perhaps of history) in such a stance.
Another example of the extremity into which this administration has driven itself and the rest of us lies in an editorial published in the four main (officially private) military magazines, the Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times, and Marine Corps Times, on the very eve of the midterm elections. It called for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation just after the President had given him his vote of confidence once again. Realistically speaking, this can only be seen as an extreme military intervention in the American electoral process.
In so many ways, the American Constitutional system has been shredded and this -- whether we are to be an outlaw empire (and a failing one at that) -- is what Americans were voting about this last Tuesday (though it was called"Iraq").
The history of recent American politics at the polls might be seen this way: Not so long after he declared the successful completion of his Iraqi dreams, George W. Bush found himself, to the surprise of his top advisors and supporters, hounded by Iraq's Sunni insurgency. He essentially raced not John Kerry (who recently offered yet another example of his special lack of dexterity on the campaign trail) but that insurgency to the finish line in November 2004. With a little help from his friends in Ohio and the Rove smear-and-turnout operation, he managed to squeak by. Then, in another of those milestone moments on the way to disaster, he declared that he had "political capital" to spare and would spend it.
The next summer, two storms hit the endlessly vacationing President in Crawford, Texas -- Hurricanes Cindy and Katrina. Cindy Sheehan tore away the bloodless look of casualty-lessness in Iraq (where body counts, body bags, and the return of the dead to these shores was being hidden away from both cameras and attention). She gave a mother's face to a son's death and to a nation's increasing frustration. Katrina revealed to many Americans that the Bush administration had been creating Iraq-like conditions in the"homeland." And that was more or less that. The President's approval rating plunged under 40% and has (a few momentary blips aside) bounced around between there and the low 30s ever since. By election 2006, presidential" capital" was a concept long consigned to the dustbin of history.
Imagine where that" capital" will be by 2008. Our President has been wedded to his war of choice in a way unimaginable since Lyndon Baines Johnson quit the presidential race after the Tet Offensive in 1968. Based on what's happened so far, there's every reason to believe that, in 2008, he will still be wedded to it (as would potential Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain) and his approval ratings may be bouncing in the 20%-30% range by then.
So what part of the 2001 dream team and its"vision" of the world are we left with? To answer this, you first have to realize that yesterday's electoral"wave" of repudiation is hardly an American phenomenon. It's global and, if anything, we were way late into the water. All you have to do is look at the latest polling figures (which are but extensions of previous, similar polls) to see that wave in country after country. The most recent international survey of opinion -- in Britain, Canada, Israel, and Mexico -- found that Bush's America is viewed as"a threat to world peace by its closest neighbors and allies." In Britain, the land of the"special relationship," only Osama bin Laden outranks our President as a global"danger to peace." While he comes in a dozen points behind bin Laden, he does manage to best Kim Jong Il, North Korea's grim leader, as well as those shining stars of the diplomatic firmament, the President of Iran and the leader of Hezbollah. And these are the countries most likely to have positive views of the U.S.
As hectorer-in-chief, George W. Bush has, hands down, used the word"must" more than any combination of presidents in our history. Only recently, he repeatedly told the North Koreans that they must not develop (and then test) nuclear weapons; he told the Iranians that they must halt their nuclear program; and his minions told the Nicaraguans that they must not vote for former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. The results: The North Koreans tested a weapon; the Iranians went right on enriching uranium; and the Nicaraguans, poverty-stricken and threatened with nothing short of economic ruin if their democratic vote went into the wrong column, simply ignored him.
All these decisions were based on assessments of the limits of power that had been revealed by the desperate acts of a failing empire stretched to its military and economic limits. If these are the"rogue" parts of the global wave, all you have to do is look at Russia's reassertion of interest and power in its old energy-rich Central Asian bailiwick (much coveted by the Bush administration); or the expansion of Chinese economic power in Southeast Asia and energy power in Africa to see other aspects of the global wave of reassessment under way.
In fact, the global part of the election was long over by November 7, 2006. For vast majorities abroad, the vision of the U.S. as an Outlaw Empire is nothing new at all. The wave here has perhaps only begun to rise, but here too those presidential"musts" (along with the President's designation of the Democrats as little short of"enemy noncombatants") have begun to lose their effect. Hence the presidential plebiscite of yesterday. No matter what else flows from it, the fact that it happened is of real significance. A majority of the American people -- those who voted anyway -- did not ratify Bush's Outlaw Empire. They took a modest step toward sanity. But what will follow?
Here, briefly, are five"benchmark" questions to ask when considering the possibilities of the final two years of the Bush administration's wrecking-ball regime:
Will Iraq Go Away? The political maneuvering in Washington and Baghdad over the chaos in Iraq was only awaiting election results to intensify. Desperate call-ups of more Reserves and National Guards will go out soon. Negotiations with Sunni rebels, coup rumors against the Maliki government, various plans from James Baker's Iraq Study Group and Congressional others will undoubtedly be swirling. Yesterday's plebiscite (and exit polls) held an Iraqi message. It can't simply be ignored. But nothing will matter, when it comes to changing the situation for the better in that country, without a genuine commitment to American withdrawal, which is not likely to be forthcoming from this President and his advisors any time soon. So expect Iraq to remain a horrifying, bloody, devolving fixture of the final two years of the Bush administration. It will not go away. Bush (and Rove) will surely try to enmesh Congressional Democrats in their disaster of a war. Imagine how bad it could be if -- with, potentially, years to go -- the argument over who"lost" Iraq has already begun.
Is an Attack on Iran on the Agenda? Despite all the alarums on the political Internet about a pre-election air assault on Iran, this was never in the cards. Even the hint of an attack on Iranian"nuclear facilities" (which would certainly turn into an attempt to"decapitate" the Iranian regime from the air) would send oil prices soaring. The Republicans were never going to run an election on oil selling at $120-$150 a barrel. This will be no less true of election year 2008. If Iran is to be a target, 2007 will be the year. So watch for the pressures to ratchet up on this one early in the New Year. This is madness, of course. Such an attack would almost certainly throw the Middle East into utter chaos, send oil prices through the roof, possibly wreck the global economy, cause serious damage in Iran, not fell the Iranian government, and put U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq in perilous danger. Given the administration record, however, all this is practically an argument for launching such an attack. (And don't count on the military to stop it, either. They're unlikely to do so.) Failing empires have certainly been known to lash out or, as neocon writer Robert Kagan put the matter recently in a Washington Post op-ed,"Indeed, the preferred European scenario [of a Democratic Congressional victory] -- 'Bush hobbled' -- is less likely than the alternative: ?Bush unbound.' Neither the president nor his vice president is running for office in 2008. That is what usually prevents high-stakes foreign policy moves in the last two years of a president's term." So when you think about Iran, think of Bush unbound.
Are the Democrats a Party? If Rovian plans for a Republican Party ensconced in Washington for eons to come now look to be in tatters, the Democrats have retaken the House (and possibly the Senate) largely as the not-GOP Party. The election may leave the Republicans with a dead presidency and a leading candidate for 2008 wedded to possibly the least popular war in our history; the Democrats may arrive victorious but without the genuine desire for a mandate to lead. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats in recent years were not, in any normal sense, a party at all. They were perhaps a coalition of four or five or six parties (some trailing hordes of pundits and consultants, but without a base). Now, with the recruitment of so many ex-Republicans and conservatives into their House and Senate ranks, they may be a coalition of six or seven parties. Who knows? They have a genuine mandate on Iraq and a mandate on oversight. What they will actually do -- what they are capable of doing (other than the normal money, career, and earmark-trading in Washington) -- remains to be seen. They will be weak, the surroundings fierce and strong.
Will We Be Ruled by the Facts on the Ground? In certain ways, it may hardly matter what happens to which party. By now -- and this perhaps represents another kind of triumph for the Bush administration -- the facts on the ground are so powerful that it would be hard for any party to know where to begin. Will we, for instance, ever be without a second Defense Department, the so-called Department of Homeland Security, now that a burgeoning $59 billion a year private"security" industry with all its interests and its herd of lobbyists in Washington has grown up around it? Not likely in any of our lifetimes. Will an ascendant Democratic Party dare put on a diet the ravenous Pentagon, which now feeds off two budgets -- its regular, near-half-trillion dollar Defense budget and a regularized series of multibillion dollar"emergency" supplemental appropriations, which are now part of life on the Hill. What this means is that the defense budget is not what we wage our wars on or pay for a variety of black operations (not to speak of earmarks galore) with. Don't bet your bottom dollar that this will get better any time soon either. In fact, I have my doubts that a Democratic Congress with a Democratic president in tow could even do something modestly small like shutting down Guantanamo, no less begin to deal with the empire of bases that undergirds our failing Outlaw Empire abroad. So, from time to time, take your eyes off what passes for politics and check out the facts on the ground. That way you'll have a better sense of where our world is actually heading.
What Will Happen When the Commander-in-Chief Presidency and the Unitary Executive Theory Meets What's Left of the Republic? The answer on this one is relatively uncomplicated and less than three months away from being in our faces; it's the Mother of All Constitutional Crises. But writing that now, and living with the reality then, are two quite different things. So when the new Congress arrives in January, buckle your seatbelts and wait for the first requests for oversight information from some investigative committee; wait for the first subpoenas to meet Cheney's men in some dark hallway. Wait for this crew to feel the"shackles" and react. Wait for this to hit the courts -- even a Supreme Court that, despite the President's best efforts, is probably still at least one justice short when it comes to unitary-executive-theory supporters. I wouldn't even want to offer a prediction on this one. But a year down the line, anything is possible.
So we've finally had our plebiscite, however covert, on the failing Outlaw Empire of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But what about their autocratic inclinations at home. How will that play out?
Will it be: All hail, Caesar, we who are about to dive back into prime-time programming.
Or will it be: All the political hail is about to pelt our junior caesars as we dive back into prime-time programming? Stay tuned.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - 21:10
SOURCE: NYT (11-7-06)
EVER since the Census Bureau released figures last month showing that married-couple households are now a minority, my phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from people asking: “How can we save marriage? How can we make Americans understand that marriage is the most significant emotional connection they will ever make, the one place to find social support and personal fulfillment?”
I think these are the wrong questions — indeed, such questions would have been almost unimaginable through most of history. It has only been in the last century that Americans have put all their emotional eggs in the basket of coupled love. Because of this change, many of us have found joys in marriage our great-great-grandparents never did. But we have also neglected our other relationships, placing too many burdens on a fragile institution and making social life poorer in the process.
A study released this year showed just how dependent we’ve become on marriage. Three sociologists at the University of Arizona and Duke University found that from 1985 to 2004 Americans reported a marked decline in the number of people with whom they discussed meaningful matters. People reported fewer close relationships with co-workers, extended family members, neighbors and friends. The only close relationship where more people said they discussed important matters in 2004 than in 1985 was marriage.
In fact, the number of people who depended totally on a spouse for important conversations, with no other person to turn to, almost doubled, to 9.4 percent from 5 percent. Not surprisingly, the number of people saying they didn’t have anyone in whom they confided nearly tripled.
The solution to this isolation is not to ramp up our emotional dependence on marriage. Until 100 years ago, most societies agreed that it was dangerously antisocial, even pathologically self-absorbed, to elevate marital affection and nuclear-family ties above commitments to neighbors, extended kin, civic duty and religion.
St. Paul complained that married men were more concerned with pleasing their wives than pleasing God. In John Adams’s view, a “passion for the public good” was “superior to all private passions.” In both England and America, moralists bewailed “excessive” married love, which encouraged “men and women to be always taken up with each other.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - 19:31
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (11-7-06)
' Bush's fantasies are even disturbing his fans. In a sit-down with wire-service reporters, Bush assured them that Rumsfeld, the most incompetent man on earth, would keep his job for two more years. Maybe in the last days of the Republican-dominated Congress, Bush can get him declared Defense Secretary for Life, sort of an American Raul Castro.
Gushing over Rummy and Dick Cheney, the two principal thugs who lied to get us into Iraq and designed the disaster, Bush claimed they"are doing a fantastic job and I strongly support them."
The remark prompted conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan to raise the question of Bush's mental fitness. Sullivan told CNN Bush is so delusional,"this is not an election anymore, it's an intervention."
Sullivan, long a cheerleader for the war in Iraq, said Bush is"so in denial" he simply can't come to grips with his failure:"It's unhinged. It suggests this man has lost his mind. No one objectively could look at the way this war has been conducted, whether you were for it, as I was, or against it, and say that is has been done well. It's a disaster."
Sullivan added,"For him to say it's a fantastic job suggests the president has lost it. I'm sorry, there is no other way to say it."
The president's nanny corps -- his mother, his wife, State Department hands Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes -- know he's unhinged, but are too loyal to share that disturbing truth with the world. Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner tried to shift responsibility for the Iraq disaster away from Rumsfeld. Boehner quickly filled the disgraced Tom DeLay's shoes as the most loathsome member of Congress.
Boehner told CNN,"Let's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld. But the fact is, the generals on the ground are in charge, and he works closely with them and the president." '
My own answer: Bush is not insane, he is just not very good at putting policy into effect. That is, he is a mediocre leader who has to cover up his horrible mistakes with optimistic slogans because his lack of leadership skills leaves him with no practical alternative. Give me an example of any positive and successful accomplishment of his presidency, unmarred by substantial failures. Afghanistan? Israel-Palestine? Lebanon? Iraq? Al-Qaeda? Domestically, he has, by cutting taxes on billionaires, run up the national debt by trillions, and boasts in that insane yet just mediocre way of his that the deficit is" coming down." He put the expense of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars off-budget, and somehow the business page journalists haven't managed to notice that the deficit is not actually less than $300 billion if you count the wars. Nor is adding even $290 billion a year to the national debt a positive accomplishment. We pay interest on that debt, folks.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - 19:12
SOURCE: NY Sun (11-7-06)
Has the United States ever engaged in a crusade against Islam? No, never. And, what's more, one of the country's earliest diplomatic documents rejects this very idea.
Exactly 210 years ago this week, toward the end of George Washington's second presidential administration, a document was signed with the first of two Barbary Pirate states. Awkwardly titled the"Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796 (3 Ramada I, A. H. 1211), and at Algiers January 3, 1797 (4 Rajab, A. H. 1211)," it contains an extraordinary statement of peaceful intent toward Islam.
The agreement's 11th article (out of twelve) reads: As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, - as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, - and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."
In June 1797, the Senate unanimously ratified this treaty, which President John Adams immediately signed into law, making it an authoritative expression of American policy.
In 2006, as voices increasingly present the"war on terror" as tantamount to a war on Islam or Muslims, it bears notice that several of the Founding Fathers publicly declared they had no enmity"against the laws, religion or tranquility" of Muslims. This antique treaty implicitly supports my argument that the United States is not fighting Islam the religion but radical Islam, a totalitarian ideology that did not even exist in 1796.
Beyond shaping relations with Muslims, the statement that"the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion" has for 210 years been used as a proof text by those who argue that, in the words of a 1995 article by Steven Morris,"The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians."
Joel Barlow (1754-1812), a U.S. diplomat, promised"harmony" between his country and Muslims.
There are just two problems with it.
First, as noted by David Hunter Miller (1875-1961), an expert on American treaties,"the Barlow translation is at best a poor attempt at a paraphrase or summary of the sense of the Arabic." Second, the great Dutch orientalist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), reviewed the Arabic text in 1930, retranslated it, and found no 11th article."The eleventh article of the Barlow translation has no equivalent whatever in the Arabic," he wrote. Rather, the Arabic text at this spot reprints a grandiloquent letter from the pasha of Algiers to the pasha of Tripoli.
Snouck Hurgronje dismisses this letter as"nonsensical." It"gives notice of the treaty of peace concluded with the Americans and recommends its observation. Three fourths of the letter consists of an introduction, drawn up by a stupid secretary who just knew a certain number of bombastic words and expressions occurring in solemn documents, but entirely failed to catch their real meaning."
These many years later, how such a major discrepancy came to be is cloaked in obscurity and it"seemingly must remain so," Hunter Miller wrote in 1931."Nothing in the diplomatic correspondence of the time throws any light whatever on the point."
But the textual anomaly does have symbolic significance. For 210 long years, the American government has bound itself to a friendly attitude toward Islam, without Muslims having signed on to reciprocate, or without their even being aware of this promise. The seeming agreement by both parties not to let any"pretext arising from religious opinions" to interrupt harmonious relations, it turns out, is a purely unilateral American commitment.
And this one-sided legacy continues to the present. The Bush administration responded to acts of unprovoked Muslim aggression not with hostility toward Islam but with offers of financial aid and attempts to build democracy in the Muslim world.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - 18:50
SOURCE: WSJ (11-6-06)
We are told by careful pollsters that half of the American people believe that American troops should be brought home from Iraq immediately. This news discourages supporters of our efforts there. Not me, though: I am relieved. Given press coverage of our efforts in Iraq, I am surprised that 90% of the public do not want us out right now.
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2005, nearly 1,400 stories appeared on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news. More than half focused on the costs and problems of the war, four times as many as those that discussed the successes. About 40% of the stories reported terrorist attacks; scarcely any reported the triumphs of American soldiers and Marines. The few positive stories about progress in Iraq were just a small fraction of all the broadcasts.
When the Center for Media and Public Affairs made a nonpartisan evaluation of network news broadcasts, it found that during the active war against Saddam Hussein, 51% of the reports about the conflict were negative. Six months after the land battle ended, 77% were negative; in the 2004 general election, 89% were negative; by the spring of 2006, 94% were negative. This decline in media support was much faster than during Korea or Vietnam....
Suppose the current media posture about American military and security activities had been in effect during World War II. It is easy to imagine that happening. In the 1930s, after all, the well-connected America First Committee had been arguing for years about the need for America to stay out of "Europe's wars." Aware of these popular views, the House extended the draft by only a one-vote margin in 1941. Women dressed in black crowded the entrance to the Senate, arguing against extending the draft. Several hundred students at Harvard and Yale, including future Yale leader Kingman Brewster and future American president Gerald Ford, signed statements saying that they would never go to war. Everything was in place for a media attack on the Second World War. Here is how it might have sounded if today's customs were in effect:
December 1941. Though the press supports America's going to war against Japan after Pearl Harbor, several editorials want to know why we didn't prevent the attack by selling Japan more oil. Others criticize us for going to war with two nations that had never attacked us, Germany and Italy.
October 1942. The New York Times runs an exclusive story about the British effort to decipher German messages at a hidden site at Bletchley Park in England. One op-ed writer criticizes this move, quoting Henry Stimson's statement that gentlemen do not read one another's mail. Because the Bletchley Park code-cracking helped us find German submarines before they attacked, successful U-boat attacks increased once the Germans, knowing of the program, changed their code....
Thankfully, though, the press did not cover World War II the way it covered Vietnam and has covered Iraq. What caused this profound change? Like many liberals and conservatives, I believe that our Vietnam experience created new media attitudes that have continued down to the present. During that war, some reporters began their coverage supportive of the struggle, but that view did not last long. Many people will recall the CBS television program, narrated by Morley Safer, about U.S. Marines using cigarette lighters to torch huts in Cam Ne in 1965. Many will remember the picture of a South Vietnamese officer shooting a captured Viet Cong through the head. Hardly anyone can forget the My Lai story that ran for about a year after a journalist reported that American troops had killed many residents of that village.
Undoubtedly, similar events occurred in World War II, but the press didn't cover them. In Vietnam, however, key reporters thought that the Cam Ne story was splendid. David Halberstam said that it "legitimized pessimistic reporting" and would show that "there was something terribly wrong going on out there." The film, he wrote, shattered American "innocence" and raised questions about "who we were."
The changes came to a head in January 1968, when Communist forces during the Tet holiday launched a major attack on South Vietnamese cities. According to virtually every competent observer, these forces met a sharp defeat, but American press accounts described Tet instead as a major communist victory. Washington Post reporter Peter Braestrup later published a book in which he explained the failure of the press to report the Tet offensive accurately. His summary: "Rarely has contemporary crisis-journalism turned out, in retrospect, to have veered so widely from reality."...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 7, 2006 - 13:53
SOURCE: Email sent to friends (11-6-06)
Now, it is a little late to begin the "blame game." Who was most responsible? Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Bush? Our most senior and experienced generals have blamed them. Of course, they are right. But that they are only the top of the pile. It is we who are ultimately responsible. Truman was wrong. The "buck" does not stop with the president in democracy. It stops with the citizens. We did not demand answers to even simple questions, accepted half-truths and lies at face value. The press let us down, as at least a part of it now admits, but we did not demand it do better. Congress totally ducked its responsibility, never calling to question those who were making the decisions, never trying to educate itself and certainly not the public with public hearings. Nothing comparable to what Senator Fulbright did during the Viet Nam war was even thought of in the Senate or House.
We just sat, fat and happy, in "the best of all possible worlds" until the roof fell in on us. It hasn't finished falling yet. And much that is ugly and illegal has yet to come out. Billions of dollars were stolen in Iraq. $9 billion right off the top during the "watch" of Paul Bremer. That was money turned over to him by the UN on the condition of accountability. It belonged to Iraq. It was never accounted for and has disappeared. Hundreds of millions of other dollars "were disappeared" as they say in another context. One I have just learned about is that when the two sons of Saddam were killed by our forces, they found nearly $100 million in their hideaway. That money vanished. Who could have taken it? The only people there were our men. Allegedly, throughout Iraq, where we were handing out American taxpayers money for a variety of purposes much -- certainly in the millions of dollars -- was stolen, more was paid in kickbacks and still more in questionable activities. And, as you have read in the last few days, a senator slipped a rider in a bill to abolish the post of inspector general. Better not to know. What a change for America. If you go back and listen to reports during the Viet Nam war, we all then believed that at least Americans were incorruptible. Our people may not have been the smartest but we were sure they were honest. Now we cannot be so sure. Does anyone care? Apparently not, but if we allow our own system to be corrupted, we are truly in mortal danger.
Posted on: Monday, November 6, 2006 - 22:49
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (10-30-06)
The toy's abusive messages ranged from the relatively mild "Slow down, dumbass!" to "Hey, hogneck, who taught you how to drive?"; "What the hell was that manoeuvre?"; "Are you freaking blind?" and "You're a goddam moron!" How they all laughed in the White House, if the Bush administration's renegade court historian, Bob Woodward, is to be believed.
Today, however, the joke is on them. For the Redneck Horn could now just as easily be used by ordinary Americans to express their frustration not merely with Mr Bush but with the entire Republican Party. With a little over a week remaining until the congressional mid-term elections on November 7, some opinion polls indicate that "You're a goddam moron!" is precisely the message voters intend to send the White House.
Certainly, "freaking blind" sums up the majority view of the administration's policy in Iraq. And, after the bewildering scandals that have ended the careers of three Republican congressmen in the space of six months, Americans have any number of reasons to ask their elected representatives: "What the hell was that manoeuvre?"
The latest USA Today / Gallup poll has the Democrats leading the Republicans by 53 to 38 per cent among registered voters, as large as any Democratic lead since 1982. Gallup analysts say there is a "significant probability" that the Democrats could win the 15 seats they need to take control of the House of Representatives. Some pessimistic Republicans fear they could lose as many as 30 seats. There are even those whose recurring nightmare is the loss of the Senate, too, though here the Democrats have a steeper hill to climb (a net gain of six seats, out of 33 that are being contested)....
[Editor: This is a long article. Click on the SOURCE link above to continue reading.]
Posted on: Friday, November 3, 2006 - 21:39
SOURCE: NY Review of Books (11-16-06)
Bush was a saved alcoholic—and here, too, he had no predecessor in the White House. Ulysses Grant conquered the bottle, but not with the help of Jesus. Other presidents were evangelicals. Three of them belonged to the Disciples of Christ—James Garfield, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. But none of the three— nor any of the other forty-two presidents preceding Bush (including his father)—would have answered a campaign debate question as he did. Asked who was his favorite philosopher, he said "Jesus Christ." And why? "Because he changed my heart." Over and over, when he said anything good about someone else—including Vladimir Putin—he said it was because "he has a good heart," which is evangelical-speak (as in "condoms cannot change your heart"). Bush talks evangelical talk as no other president has, including Jimmy Carter, who also talked the language of the secular Enlightenment culture that evangelists despise. Bush told various evangelical groups that he felt God had called him to run for president in 2000: "I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it."
Bush promised his evangelical followers faith-based social services, which he called "compassionate conservatism." He went beyond that to give them a faith-based war, faith-based law enforcement, faith-based education, faith-based medicine, and faith-based science. He could deliver on his promises because he stocked the agencies handling all these problems, in large degree, with born-again Christians of his own variety. The evangelicals had complained for years that they were not able to affect policy because liberals left over from previous administrations were in all the health and education and social service bureaus, at the operational level. They had specific people they objected to, and they had specific people with whom to replace them, and Karl Rove helped them do just that....
Posted on: Friday, November 3, 2006 - 21:32
SOURCE: Dissident Voice (11-2-06)
Editor: This is a long article. What follows is part of the conclusion.
... The Left -- or sectors of the Latin American Left -- has to face up to the fact that while US power has declined relative to the ‘Golden Age of Pillage’ during the 1990s, it has recovered and advanced since the mass rebellions and overthrow of client regimes of 2000-2002. The hopes that the Left had that the presidential victories of former center-left electoral parties in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, would augur a reversion of the neo-liberal policies of their predecessors have been demonstrably dashed. The attempt to redefine the conversion of the ex-leftist-turned-pragmatic neo-liberals into something progressive or as a ‘counter-weight’ to US power is ingenuous at best and at worst compounds the initial error. The Left’s lack of political clarity on the political changes has led it into a blind alley as damaging to its future growth as Washington’s failed efforts to recognize the new realities of the new millennia.
The only consistent and consequential allies and forces for change are found among the radical left. Tactical and selective alliances with sectors of the pragmatic left are necessary and important, but only if they are based on retaining organizational and political independence. For the Left there needs to be a critical analysis and vigorous debate on the disastrous consequences of subordinating their activities to the electoral campaigns of what are now dominant pragmatic neo-liberal regimes. A review of the strength of the social movements in toppling doctrinaire neo-liberal US client regimes is as necessary as a critical analysis of the incapacity of these same movements to block the re-emergence of new ‘pragmatic’ neo-liberals and above all their incapacity to develop a strategy for power.
While US power over Latin America has declined since the 1990s it has not been a linear process, a sharp fall has been followed by a partial recovery. The decline of the US has not been matched by a sustained rise in the power of the radical left. The real ‘gainers’ have been the pragmatic leftists and pragmatic neo-liberals that rode to power with the demise of the doctrinaire neo-liberals and the favorable expansive conjuncture in world market conditions. There are neither inherent long-term ‘laws of imperial decline’ as some Leftist historians claim, nor ‘an end of the revolutionary left’ as their neo-liberal counterparts claim. Rather a realistic analysis demonstrates that political interventions, class conflict and international markets play a major role in shaping US-Latin American relations and more particularly the ascent and decline of US imperial power, social revolutionary forces and the other political variants in between.
Posted on: Friday, November 3, 2006 - 19:44
SOURCE: WaPo (10-25-06)
It's been coming for a long time: the idea that fixing Iraq is the Iraqis' problem, not ours -- that we've done all we can and now it's up to them.
Such arguments have been latent in the Bush administration's Iraq strategy and explicit in Democratic critiques of that strategy for some time. Now Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has declared: "It's their country. . . . They're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later."
The implication of these arguments is clear: The United States should prepare to leave Iraq, after which the Iraqis will work out their own troubles -- or they won't. In any event, we can no longer help them. This notion is wrong and morally contemptible, and it endangers American security around the world....
Americans believe that all problems are soluble and therefore that people who aren't solving their problems must not be trying. They need to be "incentivized," either through promises or threats. Many on the left have long been advocating a withdrawal of U.S. forces, or the threat of it, as just such an incentive for the Iraqis. But what if even then Iraqis cannot accomplish the goals we have set for them? Can we then declare that, by establishing the Iraqi army and helping Iraq elect and establish its government, we have done all that honor requires?
No, we can't. Both honor and our vital national interest require establishing conditions in Iraq that will allow the government to consolidate and maintain civil peace and good governance. It doesn't matter how many "trained and ready" Iraqi soldiers there are, nor how many provinces are nominally under Iraqi control. If America withdraws its forces before setting the conditions for the success of the Iraqi government, we will have failed in our mission and been defeated in the eyes of our enemies. We will have dishonored ourselves.
Our enemies watched the debacle in Somalia and drew conclusions: America is weak, unable to stomach even the smallest level of casualties and willing to lose rather than fight. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq changed the equation. Al-Qaeda leaders did not expect us to attack, and they regarded their unanticipated defeat as a catastrophe. Iran's leaders and North Korea's Kim Jong Il saw the invasion of Iraq as the first phase of an attack on the "axis of evil" and were fearful. But the protracted insurgency and the apparent weakening of U.S. will are emboldening them once again.
In 1991 the United States encouraged rebellions against Saddam Hussein and then abandoned to his inhuman vengeance the Kurds and Shiites who answered the call. That abandonment, still fresh in the minds of many Iraqis, is one reason for the suspicion with which the United States was greeted in 2003. What will happen if we abandon the progressive forces of Iraq once again with the hypocritical declaration that the resultant failure is their own fault? What reasonable moderate in the Muslim world -- or anywhere -- will ever again rely on America?
The comparison is often made between Iraq and Vietnam. One implication is that just as it was possible to lose Vietnam and still win the Cold War, so it is acceptable to lose Iraq. But in the Cold War, Vietnam was a sideshow. Iraq is in the heart of the Muslim world and at the center of the struggle against radical Islamism.
It is also worth keeping in mind that as indirect consequences of America's defeat in Vietnam, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Sandinistas seized power in Nicaragua and Ayatollah Khomeini seized Tehran and American hostages. The "decent interval" between our withdrawal and the collapse of South Vietnam didn't help. Neither will the implausible deniability the Pentagon is now trying to establish in Iraq....
Posted on: Thursday, November 2, 2006 - 22:39
SOURCE: Newsday (10-29-06)
In the weeks before an election, pollsters ask the"generic ballot" question about the House of Representatives: If the election were held today, would you vote for the Democrat or for the Republican in your district?
The most recent polls report that 54 percent to 57 percent of the public would vote for Democratic House candidates and 37 percent to 41 percent would vote for Republicans. These are landslide numbers. Historically, a party with 54 percent of the popular vote can expect to win about 260 House seats, and a party with 57 percent wins 290 to 300 seats.
But nobody is predicting the Democrats will do anything like that now. Pundits are talking about the Democrats winning 215 to 220 seats, or, if they are very lucky, maybe a few more. (A House majority is 218 seats, and right now the Republicans have 230 seats.)
Who's right - the polls or the pundits? They both might be. Because of the dynamic in recent elections, the Democrats could take over the House by only a handful of seats while, paradoxically, winning the popular vote by a landslide. Or the Republicans could retain the House even if the Democrats get a strong popular vote majority, say 54 percent.
The reason is that the Republicans have been winning elections while losing or nearly losing the popular vote. Everybody knows that happened in the 2000 presidential election. But that wasn't the only time.
In 1998, Republicans lost the popular vote in the House races but still won a majority (223) of the seats - the only time that has happened since 1942.
In 1996 and 2000, the House popular vote was nearly a tie, the parties separated by less than half a percentage point, but both times Republicans won enough seats to keep governing (228 in 1996 and 221 in 2000).
The Republicans have been able to do this through relentless computer-aided gerrymandering. For example, in 2004 the Democratic popular vote grew by nearly 2 percentage points, and the Republican popular vote fell slightly. This should have translated into Democratic gains in the House. But instead, the Democrats lost seats because of the infamous Tom DeLay gerrymander in Texas. (Gerrymandering is drawing legislative district lines manipulatively to minimize the power of the other party's voters, either by concentrating them so they elect few legislators or by spreading them thinly over districts so they have little effect.)
The current Senate is made up of 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats. When that Senate considered Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, the power to confirm them was claimed by the Republicans to reflect the will of the people. But in the elections that produced the current 100 Senators, the Republicans got a total of 97,260,298 votes, and the Democrats got 99,657,929. The people thus voted for a Democratic Senate but got a Republican one.
In 2004, the Republicans gained four Senate seats and claimed victory. But in that year, the Democrats got more than 4 million more Senate votes than the Republicans did. This is possible because each state, regardless of size, elects two senators. And Republicans have an advantage, though not a commanding one, in small states. Wyoming and California, for example, are equally represented in the Senate, even though California's population is 69 times the size of Wyoming's. Wyoming's Republican Sen. Mike Enzi got 133,710 votes in his last election, while California's Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer got 6,955,728.
An even more startling thing happened in 1980, when the Republicans gained 12 seats in the Senate and took over that body, despite getting nearly 3 million fewer votes than the Democrats. The Republicans did that by winning an unusually large number of extremely close races.
Even looking only at the number of seats the Republicans have held in Congress, they have been governing with tiny majorities for the past 12 years. Since they took over Congress after the 1994 elections, the Republicans have not had more than 232 seats in the House. Never before in American history has a party controlled the House continually through six consecutive elections by such thin margins. In contrast, during the 40 years preceding the 1994 elections, the Democrats never had fewer than 232 seats and at times had more than 290. Senate patterns have been similar.
The only way we can ever know whether an election signifies a real shift in public sentiment is by looking at the total popular vote nationally. Since the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, we have gotten the idea that they have some sort of lock on the national legislature. But a significant amount of that has really been accomplished through smoke and mirrors.
Copyright (c) 2006, Newsday, Inc.
Posted on: Thursday, November 2, 2006 - 21:53
SOURCE: Washington Times (11-2-06)
I've never met Jane Fernandes. Nor do I know if she would have made an effective president at Gallaudet University, America's only liberal arts university for the deaf, which revoked her contract last weekend. But here's what I do know: The attacks on Mrs. Fernandes reflected one of the very worst trends in American life, extending far beyond the gates of Gallaudet. And it all starts with the term "culture."
Culture, it seems, defines us as human beings. Every person is born into one -- and just one -- culture. And culture imprints itself on each one of us, in exactly the same way.
Alas, some of us forsake our "real" culture for a fake or synthetic version. So the goal of social policy -- and, especially, of education -- should be to protect and defend colorful, authentic cultures from pale, inauthentic ones.
That's hogwash, of course. But it's hogwash that we live by. And last week, it got Jane Fernandes fired.
Although Mrs. Fernandes was born deaf, you see, she's not a true embodiment of "deaf culture." Why not? Because, her detractors say, she communicates mainly via oral methods rather than signs. Like most deaf children, she grew up reading lips and making sounds; she didn't even learn sign language until she was a young adult.
"Many of us don't see her as truly deaf," one Gallaudet sophomore told a reporter from Inside Higher Ed last spring, prefiguring the student protests that would bring down Mrs. Fernandes. "Even now she seems to prefer voice to sign."
Translated: there's only one way to be authentically deaf. And we know what it is.
True, there's a long and brutal history of repression against sign language among the hearing impaired. Most early institutions for the deaf punished or expelled children who spoke with their hands, insisting instead upon oral communication. But it hardly follows that every deaf person who prefers oral methods today -- or every parent who wants her child to have cochlear implants and other hearing aids -- is somehow in league with The Enemy.
By the same awful logic, Latinos who don't speak Spanish aren't "really" Hispanic; they're craven toadies to the Anglo oppressor. African-Americans who work hard in school aren't "really" black; they're just acting white. Homosexuals who want to get married aren't "really" gay; they're merely imitating straights.
Like the deaf, all of these groups have suffered for centuries at the hands of bigoted majorities who told them how to think and behave. Today, ironically, self-appointed policemen within these same groups try to impose their own codes of thought and behavior upon them. And they do so in the name of singular "cultures," which don't really exist.
That's right: cultures don't exist. There are millions of deaf people, in the United States and around the globe. But there is not and will never be a unitary "deaf culture," any more than there's a single black or Hispanic or gay one.
Once upon a time, white men pretended they owned a monopoly upon culture; by definition, everyone else lacked it. Then anthropologists and social activists brought forth a more democratic conception, insisting that every people had a culture -- and that no culture was better or worse than another.
This concept was one of 20th century America's greatest achievements, helping to spawn a far more just and tolerant society. It gave millions of repressed people a new sense of dignity and pride; even more, it taught many whites to accept and respect them. But today "culture" itself has become the problem, oppressing the same peoples whom it arose to defend. Deaf people don't need culture-cops to tell them how to act "really" deaf, any more than blacks or Hispanics do. Jane Fernandes is as deaf as any hearing impaired person on earth. Shame on her critics, for denying her the freedom to define this identity on her own.
Posted on: Thursday, November 2, 2006 - 20:50
SOURCE: Salon (10-30-06)
The most determined opponents of the creation of regional confederacies in Iraq are Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Turks fear that if there is an independent Kurdistan in Iraq's north, it will become a magnet for Turkey's own substantial and fractious minority of Kurds. Saudi Arabia, which adheres to the ultra-strict Wahhabi Sunni school of Islam, has poor relations with Shiite Iran, and traditionally had severe tensions even with its own Shiites, who form perhaps 10 percent of the Saudi population. It objects to a Shiite super-province right next door in Iraq's south.
It is likely in order not to ruffle Turkish and Saudi feathers that the Bush administration so firmly opposes all partition plans. Turkey, a NATO ally of Washington, has been even more vocal and critical than Saudi Arabia about the Iraq imbroglio. But Bush and Cheney are especially attentive to Saudi concerns. Like Riyadh, they would view an autonomous Shiite super-province, which could easily fall under the gravitational pull of Iran, as highly undesirable.
Within Congress, however, the temptation to indulge Iraq's warring factions in their desire to divide the country has grown. The most prominent proponent of carving Iraq into three major ethnically based provinces, with regions for the Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites under a weak federal umbrella, is Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware. The idea has now been adopted by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. She told the Texas press last week, "Yes, it would be hard to do, but it would be worth trying ... People say, 'Well, that would balkanize the country.' Well, things are pretty stable in the Balkans right now. It's looking better than Iraq."
The senators believe that as the conflict in Iraq continues and sectarian violence mounts, trying to make Iraq’s battling ethnic groups cooperate with one another in multiethnic provinces has begun to look like a mistake. But surely it is the souring of the U.S. electorate on the war and the need of election campaigns to sketch out distinctive positions and realistic solutions to the crisis that in some part impels U.S. politicians to turn to this desperate expedient.
Within Iraq, Biden and Hutchison are echoed by the Kurds and by Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). In a public sermon on Tuesday, al-Hakim, the head of the largest bloc in Parliament, advocated a Shiite provincial confederacy in the south that would unite eight or nine largely Shiite provinces into a federal region. He said that such loose federalism "does not spell partition." Addressing his followers at a mosque in Baghdad on the Eid al-Fitr, the celebration of the breaking of the Ramadan fast, al-Hakim said, "everyone should be reassured that we are supporters of the unity of Iraq and will stand against any plan for partition."
Al-Hakim went on, however, to condemn a strong central government as inherently tyrannical. He also pointed to history as support for his plan. He said that under the Ottoman Empire, Iraq had consisted of three big provinces, Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. What he did not say was that what is now Iraq was not a nation-state then but part of a large empire, and that even the Ottomans ruled Mosul and Basra through Baghdad. The three were not equal as provinces.
Al-Hakim’s scheme for a southern Iraqi super-province, which some have called "Sumer," after the ancient civilization of southern Iraq, is vehemently opposed by the Sunni Arab minority, the recruitment pool for the former ruling elite. Sunni Arabs lack much in the way of petroleum or gas in the areas where they predominate, and they fear that the Shiites will monopolize the vast Rumaylah oil field and other fields yet to be discovered if they have their own semiautonomous region.
The young nationalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also rejects this plan in favor of a relatively strong central government. The wily al-Hakim, however, outmaneuvered both al-Sadr and the Sunnis in early October and rammed through Parliament a law authorizing the formation of the southern regional government. He scraped together a coalition of members of his own party, weaker factions of other Shiite parties, independents and Kurds to gain a bare majority of 140 out of 275 votes.
The Kurds supported al-Hakim, presumably because the creation of a Shiite regional government modeled on their Kurdistan (which groups Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah) helps legitimate the idea of regional confederacies and protects Kurdish gains in greater self-determination. The Kurds have been a prime mover in Iraq’s march toward decentralization, and they probably would not mind much if the Sunnis and the Shiites did establish their own regions.
The biggest foreign backer of al-Hakim’s scheme, meanwhile, is the Iranian regime. A southern Shiite "Sumer" region with partial or complete autonomy would inevitably, Iranian leaders believe, fall into the orbit of Shiite Iran. And that prospect is particularly alarming to the Saudis and the United States.
Last year, the New York Times quoted Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, saying that ‘"the main worry of all the neighbors" was that the potential disintegration of Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states would "bring other countries in the region into the conflict." In particular, he worries about Iran. He told the Council on Foreign Relations last fall, "We fought a war together to keep Iran out of Iraq after Iraq was driven out of Kuwait. Now we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason." He was referring to the domination of Parliament and 11 of the country’s provinces by Shiite fundamentalist parties, especially the Iran-backed SCIRI....
Posted on: Thursday, November 2, 2006 - 01:35