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: Informed Comment (Blog) (3-28-07)
McCain, for instance, hailed that deployment of Iraqi brigades"at or above 75% of their programmed strength"! Put another way, a quarter of the Iraqi troops ordered to Baghdad technically speaking went AWOL instead! If a quarter of all US troops ordered to Iraq fled to Canada or refused to leave their home base, that would be a catastrophe. But McCain manages to deploy weasel words to make this incredible statistic seem a positive thing. Moreover, even his basic facts may be wrong. Last I knew, one of the Iraqi brigades ordered to Baghdad only came at half strength.
McCain alleged that only about 500 civilians were killed in political violence in Baghdad in February, down from December's toll.
But McCain is wrong to look only at Baghdad. Here is what I wrote on March 1:
An Iraqi official leaked government figures on Iraqi civilians killed in January and February, and tried to spin the US press by saying that there had been a significant drop in such casualties.
But this official reported deaths for 1-31 January and compared them for the toll 1-27 February. Uh, the per day total isn't that different, it is just that February is a short month and the figures were given through the day before it ended!
1990 divided by 31 is 64 per day.
1646 divided by 27 is 61 per day.
While human life is precious and a drop of 3 a day is welcome, I wouldn't call that drop significant.
That is, the Iraqi government statistics for deaths in February were not 500 but 1646. And, as I pointed out, the decline in daily deaths is so far small. In addition, it would not actually be good news that 500 innocent civilians were slaughtered in Baghdad alone in February. Baghdad is a fourth of Iraq by population-- that would be a monthly death rate of about 2000, some 24,000 a year (the Lancet study published last fall found that deaths from violence occur at a similar rate throughout the country). All the real numbers are much worse than the above discussion implies, since passive information- gathering is notoriously unreliable.
McCain ignores the incredible violence against Shiite pilgrims during Ashura, in which hundreds were massacred, mostly outside Baghdad. That is, concentrating on Baghdad is a fallacy. The indications are that the guerrillas are compensating for the higher cost of their operations in Baghdad by shifting some their activities to other cities, such as Baquba and Tal Afar. But they have by no means given up the fight in Baghdad itself, as anyone who followed violence there could tell you.
Then there is this sad exchange on CNN between Wolf Blitzer and McCain:
[Blitzer Clip]: Everything we hear if you leave the so-called Green Zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you’re in trouble if you’re an American.
[McCAIN CLIP]: That’s where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed humvee. I think you oughta catch up. You are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media. But I know for a fact that much of the success we’re experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts. Not all, we have a long, long way to go. We’ve only got two of the five brigades here to go into some neighborhoods in Baghdad in a secure fashion.
So then Wolf Blitzer asked Michael Ware, the intrepid CNN correspondent who is actually in Baghdad, about this comment. Ware replied:
Remember when, in summer of 2003, Donald Rumsfeld asserted that there was no guerrilla war in Iraq? Remember when he implied that the violence there was no worse than a little race riot in Benton Harbor, Michigan? McCain increasingly sounds like that.
WARE: Well, I’d certainly like to bring Sen. McCain up to speed if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now Wolf, that’s because of the helicopters circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing away just a few blocks down the road. Is Baghdad any safer? Sectarian violence, one particular type of violence, is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Sen. McCain’s confidence. I mean, Sen. McCain’s credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, is now being left out hanging to dry. To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Sen. McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.
And to think that Gen. David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed humvee? I mean, in the hour since Sen. McCain’s said this, I’ve spoken to military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly the general travels in a humvee. There’s multiple humvees around it, heavily armed. There’s attack helicopters, predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection. So, no, Sen. McCain is way off base on this one.
McCain has fallen ill with Rumsfeld's Disease in part because he is losing in the polls because the public doesn't like his gung ho stance on Iraq. If only, he thinks, he could convince the public that actually things are turning around there.
And in part he has succumbed to it because of frustration with his colleagues in the Senate, who just voted to get US troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. McCain thinks things have improved so much that his colleagues are basing their decisions on old information.
The greatest fallacy of all is in McCain's assumption that short-term changes in the Baghdad security environment, produced by deploying an extra US division there, can necessarily be translated into long-term gains. It is much more likely that guerrillas are just lying low and will come right back out when the Americans draw back down (the US can't keep an extra division in Iraq forever.)
McCain is typical of the hawks of his generation, which lost the Vietnam War. For many of them, a war on Iraq promised vindication and restoration of pride. It had all the delights of a Rambo movie, but the advantage of being real. The problem is that in both cases, Vietnam and Iraq, the US fought local nationalisms dressed up in universal ideologies (Communism, Islamism & Baathism). It is a losing proposition, for the most part. Local nationalisms mostly win out these days.
On Tuesday, AP reports that two massive truck bombings ripped through a market in the northern Turkmen city of Tal Afar, killing 63 persons and wounding dozens.
Al-Hayat, writing in Arabic, estimated the death toll from political violence in Iraq on Tuesday at 116. Truck bombers killed 17 and wound 32 in the Sunni Arab city of Ramadi north of Baghdad.
Reuters rounds up political violence in Iraq for Tuesday.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 - 10:10
SOURCE: http://www.agoracosmopolitan.com (3-27-07)
Much of what I am about to say would be unnecessary if Canada had a system of proportional representation like most countries claiming to be democracies. A proportional representation system would ensure that the percentage of seats allocated to each party in Parliament actually reflects the percentage of Canadians who voted for that party. Canada, however, like the United States and Great Britain, still uses the old "winner take all" system, in which only voters who support the most popular candidate in their riding are represented in Ottawa. Given Canada's geographical and cultural peculiarities, this virtually guarantees that even most so-called "majority" governments are elected by a minority of the population.
The present Harper minority government, for example, received only about 36 percent of the popular vote. Even with a minority, this government has already seriously damaged the social fabric of Canada and ruined our reputation abroad. Harper and his crew have scuttled child care, abandoned programs for women and the poor, renounced the Kelowna Accord and the Kyoto Protocol, and are busy dismantling the federal state as fast as they dare. They have also committed us to what is rapidly turning into a quagmire in Afghanistan, adopted a totally pro-Israel stance in the Middle East, and declared Canadian solidarity with American imperial intentions in numerous ways.
All of this in a single year, with only a minority. Imagine how much further they would go without the threat of another election always only a no-confidence vote away?
A Conservative majority government would change Canada beyond recognition. They would privatize everything they could get away with, potentially including the CBC, the Post Office, medicare and the Canada Pension Plan. The economic powers of the federal state would be gutted and we would be thoroughly integrated into the U.S. economy. Our foreign and military policies would be indistinguishable from the U.S. Civil liberties would be fiercely attacked, the courts politicized and the prison population greatly increased. An unfettered Conservative government could well provoke the secession of Quebec because there would be no incentive to remain part of Canada....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - 21:49
SOURCE: NYT (3-26-07)
... If Mr. Libby were to accept a traditional presidential pardon — a “full and unconditional” grant of clemency — he would be admitting that he was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted: obstructing justice, perjury and lying to the F.B.I. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but it is — no ifs, ands or buts about it. So, while many who have been pardoned like to claim they have been “exonerated,” that simply isn’t so.
The Supreme Court laid down the law in 1915 in a case that, paradoxically, grew out of a debate over the sanctity of a newspaperman’s sources. Six decades later, President Gerald Ford relied heavily on the court’s decision — in his own mind, though not publicly — in justifying his pardon of Richard Nixon. Ford would have preferred an open confession of guilt by Nixon instead of the grudging statement that confessed nothing, but Ford consoled himself with the doctrine that acceptance of a pardon is, legally and ethically, an admission of guilt.
The story behind the 1915 case is little known but very relevant today. It involved the city editor of The New York Tribune, George Burdick, who, unlike journalists in the Libby case, flatly refused to testify before a federal grand jury about his sources for an article on fraud in the United States Custom House in New York. He said he might incriminate himself in his testimony. The federal prosecutor saw a quick pardon as the answer to this problem, and President Woodrow Wilson agreed.
Wilson gave Burdick “a full and unconditional pardon for all offenses against the United States” he might have committed in connection with the article and for any other matter the grand jury might ask him about. That would seem to have let Burdick off the hook, but he still didn’t want to testify. He refused to accept the pardon, and was locked up for contempt.
The case went to the Supreme Court, which held that Burdick was within his rights and ordered him discharged. In doing so, the court embraced Chief Justice John Marshall’s 1833 definition of a pardon as “a private, though official” act of grace whose validity depended on its acceptance: “It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered; and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him.”
Marshall’s pronouncements, in United States v. Wilson, were pure dicta — nonbinding observations — but the courts treated them as gospel. In the Burdick case, the court likewise held that “a pardon, to be effective, must be accepted” because it “carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it.” This made Marshall’s view the law of the land.
The problem is that both Marshall’s definition and the court’s 1915 reinforcement of it were bad history and tortured logic. Acceptance of a pardon should not be a confession of guilt, especially if there is documentation of innocence. The “imputation of guilt” would disappear if acceptance of a pardon were not required. If one has no choice but to take a pardon, it would become like a grant of immunity, and thus would be noncommittal....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - 21:28
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (4-2-07)
Let's give congressional Democrats the benefit of the doubt: Assume some of them earnestly think they're doing the right thing to insist on adding to the supplemental appropriation for the Iraq war benchmarks and timetables for withdrawal. Still, their own arguments--taken at face value--don't hold up.
Democrats in Congress have made three superficially plausible claims: (1) Benchmarks and timetables will "incentivize" the Maliki government to take necessary steps it would prefer to avoid. (2) We can gradually withdraw over the next year so as to step out of sectarian conflict in Iraq while still remaining to fight al Qaeda. (3) Defeat in Iraq is inevitable, so our primary goal really has to be to get out of there. But the situation in Iraq is moving rapidly away from the assumptions underlying these propositions, and their falseness is easier to show with each passing day.
1. The Iraqi government will not act responsibly unless the imminent departure of American forces compels it to do so. Those who sincerely believe this argument were horrified by the president's decision in January to increase the American military presence in Iraq. It has now been more than ten weeks since that announcement--long enough to judge whether the Maliki government is more or less likely to behave well when U.S. support seems robust and reliable.
There can be no hope of defeating or controlling al Qaeda in Iraq without controlling the sectarian violence that it spawns and relies upon.
In fact, since January 11, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has permitted U.S. forces to sweep the major Shiite strongholds in Baghdad, including Sadr City, which he had ordered American troops away from during operations in 2006. He has allowed U.S. forces to capture and kill senior leaders of Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army--terrifying Sadr into fleeing to Iran. He fired the deputy health minister--one of Sadr's close allies--and turned a deaf ear to Sadr's complaints. He oversaw a clearing-out of the Interior Ministry, a Sadrist stronghold that was corrupting the Iraqi police. He has worked with coalition leaders to deploy all of the Iraqi Army units required by the Baghdad Security Plan. In perhaps the most dramatic move of all, Maliki visited Sunni sheikhs in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and formerly the base of al Qaeda fighters and other Sunni Arab insurgents against his government. The visit was made possible because Anbar's sheikhs have turned against al Qaeda and are now reaching out to the government they had been fighting. Maliki is reaching back. U.S. strength has given him the confidence to take all these important steps.
2. American forces would be able to fight al Qaeda at least as well, if not better, if they were not also engaged in a sectarian civil war in Iraq. The idea of separating the fight against al Qaeda from the sectarian fighting in Iraq is a delusion. Since early 2004, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has sought to plunge Iraq into sectarian civil war, so as to critically weaken the government, which is fighting it. AQI endeavors to clear Shiites out of mixed areas, terrorize local Sunnis into tolerating and supporting AQI, and thereby establish safe havens surrounded by innocent people it then dragoons into the struggle. Now, heartened by the U.S. commitment to stay, Sunni sheikhs in Anbar have turned on AQI. In response, AQI has begun to move toward Baghdad and mixed areas in Diyala, attempting to terrorize the locals and establish new bases in the resulting chaos. The enemy understands that chaos is al Qaeda's friend. The notion that we can pull our troops back into fortresses in a climate of chaos--but still move selectively against al Qaeda--is fanciful. There can be no hope of defeating or controlling al Qaeda in Iraq without controlling the sectarian violence that it spawns and relies upon.
3. Isn't it too late? Even if we now have the right strategy and the right general, can we prevail? If there were no hope left, if the Iraqis were determined to wage full-scale civil war, if the Maliki government were weak or dominated by violent extremists, if Iran really controlled the Shiites in Iraq--if these things were true, then the new strategy would have borne no fruit at all. Maliki would have resisted or remained limp as before. Sadr's forces would have attacked. Coalition casualties would be up, and so would sectarian killings. But none of these things has happened. Sectarian killings are lower. And despite dramatically increased operations in more exposed settings, so are American casualties. This does not look like hopelessness.
Hope is not victory, of course. The surge has just begun, our enemies are adapting, and fighting is likely to intensify as U.S. and Iraqi forces begin the main clear-and-hold phase. The Maliki government could falter. But it need not, if we do not. Unfortunately, four years of setbacks have conditioned Americans to believe that any progress must be ephemeral. If the Democrats get their way and Gen. Petraeus is undermined in Congress, the progress may indeed prove short-lived. But it's time to stop thinking so hard about how to lose, and to think instead about how to reinforce and exploit the success we have begun to achieve. The debate in Washington hasn't caught up to the realities in Baghdad. Until it does, a resolute president will need to prevent defeatists in Congress from losing a winnable war in Iraq.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - 20:50
SOURCE: Progressive (5-1-07)
That was suggested in a recent message from MoveOn, which polled its members on the Democrat proposal, saying that progressives in Congress, "like many of us, don't think the bill goes far enough, but see it as the first concrete step to ending the war."
Ironically, and shockingly, the same bill appropriates $124 billion in more funds to carry the war. It's as if, before the Civil War, abolitionists agreed to postpone the emancipation of the slaves for a year, or two years, or five years, and coupled this with an appropriation of funds to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.
When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.
We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress.
Timetables for withdrawal are not only morally reprehensible in the case of a brutal occupation (would you give a thug who invaded your house, smashed everything in sight, and terrorized your children a timetable for withdrawal?) but logically nonsensical. If our troops are preventing civil war, helping people, controlling violence, then why withdraw at all? If they are in fact doing the opposite - provoking civil war, hurting people, perpetuating violence - they should withdraw as quickly as ships and planes can carry them home.
It is four years since the United States invaded Iraq with a ferocious bombardment, with "shock and awe." That is enough time to decide if the presence of our troops is making the lives of the Iraqis better or worse. The evidence is overwhelming. Since the invasion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, and, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about two million Iraqis have left the country, and an almost equal number are internal refugees, forced out of their homes, seeking shelter elsewhere in the country....
I am reminded of the situation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, when the black delegation from Mississippi asked to be seated, to represent the 40 percent black population of that state. They were offered a "compromise" - two nonvoting seats. "This is the best we can get," some black leaders said. The Mississippians, led by Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, turned it down, and thus held on to their fighting spirit, which later brought them what they had asked for. That mantra - "the best we can get" - is a recipe for corruption.
It is not easy, in the corrupting atmosphere of Washington, D.C., to hold on firmly to the truth, to resist the temptation of capitulation that presents itself as compromise. A few manage to do so. I think of Barbara Lee, the one person in the House of Representatives who, in the hysterical atmosphere of the days following 9/11, voted against the resolution authorizing Bush to invade Afghanistan. Today, she is one of the few who refuse to fund the Iraq War, insist on a prompt end to the war, reject the dishonesty of a false compromise.
Except for the rare few, like Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, and John Lewis, our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be "realistic."
We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - 00:55
"Does discrimination against Catholics still exist in this country today?" was a recent question posed in "On Faith," a blog published by the Washington Post and Newsweek. The responses were extraordinarily revealing -- not about anti-Catholic discrimination, but about the profound American confusion between discrimination and disagreement.
Many panelists and readers expressed the opinion that not only Catholics but all people of devout faith -- especially Christians -- suffer from discrimination at the hands of "secular elites."
The Rev. William J. Byron, a former president of the Catholic University of America, described the discrimination he had encountered in academia as "typically grounded in skepticism and an unwillingness to accept the compatibility of faith and reason." Protestant fundamentalists saw discrimination in mockery of biblical literalism.
Skepticism and mockery, although they certainly cause hurt feelings, do not constitute discrimination. Discrimination is the systematic denial of political, economic, and human rights solely on the basis of race, sex, or religion. The Bill of Rights guarantees individual freedom of worship -- not the right to have your sacred beliefs treated as equally sacred by others.
Charles Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship, made the absurd argument in his "On Faith" column that Christians are victims of discrimination because they "make a truth claim." Only in America could a convicted felon, who has built a lucrative post-Watergate career on proselytizing for his brand of born-again Christianity, make such an assertion with a straight face.
The question is why so many Americans have the idea that others are bound to respect their "truth claims." On one level, this bogus notion of tolerance is a byproduct of the genuine and welcome diminution of religious prejudice in the United States since World War II and the Holocaust.
The flip side of the diminution of bigotry, however, is the stifling pretense that we are bound not only to respect one another as citizens but to respect one another's beliefs.
Novelist Philip Roth, in a speech delivered at Loyola University in 1962, spoke to this point regarding relations between Jews and Christians. "The fact is that if one is committed to being a Jew," Roth said, "he believes that on the most serious questions pertaining to man's survival -- understanding the past, imagining the future, discovering the relations between God and humanity -- that he is right and the Christians are wrong. As a believing Jew, he must certainly view the breakdown in this century of moral order and the erosion of spiritual values in terms of the inadequacy of Christianity as a sustaining force for the good. However, who would care to say such things to his neighbor?"
As an atheist, I believe that I am right and that those who adhere to a fundamentalist version of Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, or Islam are wrong. (I define a fundamentalist as one who believes in the literal truth of a holy book or in the inerrant authority of the book's clerical interpreters.)
I do not respect the belief that the Catholic pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals; that the universe was created in seven days; that homosexuality is sinful; that Mohammad's supposed words are sacred; or that it was a glorious day when Jehovah killed the Egyptian first-born. Insistence on the "truth claim" of such beliefs is dangerous to American democracy.
Americans have a naïve belief in the power of attaining "common ground" simply by "talking things out." If only we all just listened to one another, we would see that all beliefs really deserve the utmost respect. I would be happy that Colson's endeavors are subsidized by my tax dollars and he would be happy to have his tax dollars pay for a teenage pregnancy counseling center run by unapologetic secularists and atheists.
This vision of harmony and respect for conflicting "truth claims" would require all of us to dilute our core beliefs. Even Americans who say that they would never vote for an atheist are not practicing discrimination. If they truly think that morality can only be based on belief in a deity, they could hardly be expected to have confidence in an atheist in the nation's highest office. It is my task, which I take very seriously, to convince them that atheists do not have horns.
I would never vote for a fundamentalist of any faith -- and that does not constitute discrimination either. I believe that faith unleavened by a large dose of doubt and secular knowledge makes for bad public policy. I vote only for candidates rooted in what one of President George W. Bush's advisers once sneeringly called the "reality-based world."
Religious Americans who charge discrimination when confronted by disagreement generally do so because they have no confidence in their ability to persuade others by rational means.
The "On Faith" blog from the Washington Post and Newsweek can be accessed online at: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/.
Posted on: Sunday, March 25, 2007 - 19:01
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (3-25-07)
Excuse me if, at 62, and well into my second era of protest against yet another distant, disastrous, and disabling American war, I express a little confusion. Was it actually like this in Rome while the legions were off fighting on the German frontiers? Was this the way it felt in London while the imperial forces conducted their frontier wars in Afghanistan, or Paris when the Foreign Legion was holding down North Africa? Was this how it felt in Washington when Douglas MacArthur's father was suppressing the Filipinos and General Jacob Smith was turning the island of Samar into a "howling wilderness"? Is this the way it usually feels in the heartlands of great empires until the barbarians actually do come knocking at the gates?
I went marching against the President's Iraqi war of choice in my hometown last Sunday. I found myself in an older crowd, many visibly from the Vietnam era. It was relatively quiet, small-scale, and lacking in energy; all in all -- for me at least -- a modestly dispiriting experience, given the crisis at hand and the disillusioned state of public opinion here in the U.S.
I came home wondering whether some Bush-era version of the old Roman formula had indeed been working. Had bread and circuses become croissants and iPods, or Bud and American Idol, or Sony PlayStation 3 and 24? I couldn't help puzzling over the gap between public opinion on the President's war and public action, or between the conclusions opinion polls tell us so many Americans have reached and those generally reached in Washington as well as in the mainstream media.
I know I'm not alone in wondering about such things, so here's my provisional exploration of some of what's puzzled me most. I don't claim to have the answers, only perhaps some of the questions. Think of this, then, as a guided tour of a few of the trees on our landscape -- with the hope that you'll be able to spot the forest.
An Imperial Frame of Mind
For four years now, journalists have reported on Iraq; editorial pages have editorialized; and pundits -- that special breed of Ciceros -- have opined; while the retired generals who fought our last frontier wars have trooped onto FOX, MSNBC, and CNN to analyze this one; and experts and political figures of every expectable sort have appeared again and again on the Charlie Rose Show, Meet the Press, and their ilk, without our general fund of wisdom seeming to improve appreciably.
The same people who once thought Bush's war was a great idea, or a good idea, or at least an okay idea, or something we should all support no matter what, are still at it. Now, some of them claim the war was a lousy idea but, following Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule, are convinced that, since we"broke" Iraq, it's"ours" anyway. Some, like the Washington Post editorial page's editors, still think the invasion was a good idea, just somehow poorly -- the word you always see is"incompetently" -- carried out, making the mess the Iraqis are in still ours.
Of course, many of those who once praised the war have revised their opinions and judgments somewhat (and were usually exorbitantly praised for doing so). Still, just about all of them, not to speak of just about everyone in Washington who hasn't gone numb or mum, seems to agree on one thing. As the Washington Post put it in its fourth-anniversary-of-the-war lead editorial,"It's tempting to say that if it was wrong to go in, it must be wrong to stay in. But how Iraq evolves will fundamentally shape the region and deeply affect U.S. security. Walking away is likely to make a bad situation worse."
Under the many conflicts between George W. Bush and most of his opponents in the Democratic and Republican parties lies an area of agreement seldom challenged in the mainstream political or media world (or, when challenged, given remarkably little attention). On the deepest points, major politicians and the most influential parts of the media are actually in remarkable accord. In fact, you could say that, in the world of our media gatekeepers, there's just another version of the sort of accord that existed before the invasion of Iraq.
That country, it is said, is crucial to"American interests" --"vital national security interests in Iraq" was the way, for instance, Hillary Clinton put the matter recently. There is also agreement (as there was about such things in the Vietnam era) that if we were to leave Iraq totally or"precipitously," American credibility would take a terrible hit, that the terrorists would be" celebrating." It is similarly agreed that, while all sorts of partial withdrawals from Iraq might sooner or later be possible, actually withdrawing from the country is hard to imagine, even if staying seems hardly less so. This is why, as in the recently passed House legislation, withdrawal of all American forces has been replaced by the withdrawal of all, or most, American " combat troops" (or" combat brigades"), a technical term that actually accounts for less than half of American forces in Iraq.
The two categories are now so conveniently blurred that it would be pardonable if few Americans grasped the difference any more than did Charles Gibson, anchor of ABC's World News Tonight. On last Friday's news, he claimed the House had voted to get"all U.S. forces" out when his own White House correspondent used the correct phrase," combat forces."
Americans lived through endless similar non-withdrawal (or partial withdrawal)"withdrawal" plans back in the Vietnam years. Now, it seems, we must do so again. At that time, a crucial argument against full-scale withdrawal was the"bloodbath" sure to follow. It was common knowledge in Washington then that any American withdrawal would result in an unimaginable version of the bloodbath already long underway in that country. That it didn't, of course, hasn't stopped the Vietnam playbook from being pulled out again. Now, we have the"Iraqi bloodbath" to contend with.
It's not just that those"vital national security interests" would be endangered by a withdrawal from Iraq. On one predominant"fact," just about everyone who matters in Washington agrees. We cannot leave Iraq because only we protect the Iraqis from themselves; only we have any hope of"stabilizing" the country. Even the Pentagon has finally acknowledged that a brutal civil war is underway in areas of Iraq; nonetheless, if we were to up and depart, it is agreed, a near genocidal-level bloodletting would certainly be in the cards. We are, in other words, the only force standing between the Iraqis and the "gates of hell." Yes, we may have loosed all this on them in the first place; yes, our tactics in the field may only clear the way for greater bloodshed; yet our"presence" remains their sole remaining hope. This is considered a reality of our world, a clear, if understandable, limit on American policy-making, whether Republican or Democratic.
That this common Washingtonian wisdom is but a prediction about a future yet to be made is seldom noted; that it is being offered by people who often, however unconsciously, have a stake in its coming true is not commented upon either; that, for many of them, such a bloodbath might justify much that has gone wrong, conveniently highlighting the"depravity" of the Iraqis we tried to help, isn't a subject for discussion; that most of these seers have had uncommonly poor records when it comes to predicting any developments in Iraq over the last four-plus years is seldom brought up either.
There is also, of course, something grimly self-fulfilling about this particular prophesy. If a single conclusion can be drawn about the U.S. presence in Iraq, it's this: The longer we have been there, the worse it's gotten. We've now reached the point where, with Americans"protecting" Iraqis from themselves, nearly one in five of them have nonetheless either fled their country, been forced into internal exile, or died in the mayhem. If you were projecting into the future, it would be far more logical to assume that, with us present, this situation would only worsen. (Of course, by now, both predictions might prove accurate.)
Even the President's surge plan, a version of the old Vietnam-era"oil spot strategy," is but an attempt to extend the control of the American military and the dependent, largely Shiite Iraqi government from the citadel-microstate of the fortified Green Zone inside the Iraqi capital to most of Baghdad. It is aimed at turning our"Iraq," at best, into a full-scale city-state, while driving much of the internecine killing to the outskirts of the capital or surrounding provinces. How such a plan could possibly"stabilize" the situation there in any long-term way remains beyond serious explanation.
But perhaps this sort of deep agreement on the"realities" of our world should not surprise us. After all, we're talking about a literal" conspiracy" here -- in the original Latin sense of the word: to con-spire once essentially meant to breathe the same air. Indeed, our politicians and top media figures do breathe the same air and, in a way that wasn't true decades ago, cohabit in the same rarified class atmosphere.
Not surprisingly, then, they often agree on the basics, holding in common, above all else, an essentially imperial mindset. In this way, they are genuine representatives of what was -- before a ragtag minority insurgency fought the U.S. military to a stand-still -- hailed as the planet's"last superpower," its only"hyperpower," its"global sheriff," the ultimate inheritor of Western civilization, not to speak of the mantles of the Roman and British empires, and so on. This imperial mindset can, at its most kindly, be expressed in this way: In any situation where American"interests" are at stake, the United States can only be imagined as part of the solution, not part of the problem. In the present Iraqi situation, such thinking also represents an imaginative failure, your essential deck-of-the-Titanic strain of thinking.
So call all this the fog of imperial war and, if you want to see it in action, just turn on your TV and check out David Brooks, or Tom Friedman, or Richard Perle, or George Packer, or various of the New York Times or Washington Post reporters who regularly double as pundits, or retired General Jack Keane, or Senator Joe Biden, or countless others nattering on about our prospects in Iraq. Sometimes it seems as if all the major figures on our television landscape were simply in some hypnotic state, claustrophobically recycling the same stale air.
Oddly enough, as far as I can see, the only disqualification for being a pundit or expert in our TV world, when it comes to the President's Afghan and Iraq wars (or his prospective Iranian one), is having been right in the first place, having imagined from the start something of what actually did occur -- as, for instance, was the case with Nation columnist Jonathan Schell and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, or, for that matter, any of the millions of protestors who took to the streets in early 2003.
The Protesting Public: Erased from the Story
Among the missing-in-action of these last years are all those Americans who went out into the streets before the invasion of Iraq began, part of the largest global antiwar demonstrations ever mounted. Even a fine piece like Frank Rich's"The Ides of March 2003," his recent return to the countdown to war, leaves out that mass of people -- a distinct minority in the U.S., but already part of a global majority.
They carried a plethora of handmade signs, including "No blood for oil,""Contain Saddam -- and Bush,""Uproot Shrub,""Oil for Brains, We Don't Buy It, Liberate Florida,""The Bush administration is a material breach,""Pre-emptive war is terrorism,""W is not healthy for Iraqis and other living things,""Use our Might to Persuade, not Invade,""Give Peace a Chance, Give Inspections a Chance,""How did USA's oil get under Iraq's sand,""Peace is Patriotic," and thousands more. In their essential grasp of the situation, they were on target and they marched directly into the postwar period in vast numbers before seemingly disappearing from the scene and then being wiped from history.
It wasn't, as people now often claim, that almost everyone was gulled and manipulated into supporting this war by the Bush administration, that no one could have had any sense of what a disaster was in the making. Millions of Americans had a strong sense of what might be coming down the pike and many of them actively tried to stop it from happening. I certainly did and I found myself repeatedly in crowds of staggering size.
Women traced out pleas for peace naked on beaches, while in the Antarctic well bundled bodies formed similar peace signs in the snow. And almost everywhere on the planet hundreds of thousands, millions, marched. After the invasion was launched and we had broken Iraq like a Pottery Barn vase, Americans in startling numbers went to the effort of officially apologizing in photos at the Sorry Everyone website.
The demonstrations of that moment were impressive enough that my hometown paper, the New York Times, which loves to cover large demonstrations as if they were of no significance, had a fine front-page piece by Patrick Tyler claiming that we might be seeing the planet's other superpower out on the streets.
Here is a description I offered of an enormous demonstration in New York City four days after the shock-and-awe invasion was launched:
"Twenty to thirty minutes after the group I was with ended our march at Washington Square and dispersed, I called my son -- thanks to the glories of the cell phone -- and he told me he was stuck at the end of the march over 30 blocks north of us. And we hadn't even been near the front of the march. That's a lot of people and there were sizeable crowds of onlookers, cheering from the street side as well as people waving or offering V signs from windows all along the way. It was a remarkably upbeat experience. We were all, perhaps, stunned by the evidence of our existence. Many, many young people. Wonderful signs. Drums and music. Roaring waves of cheers at the end. I think we felt something like shock and awe -- of the genuine kind -- that we had not gone away, that we were not likely to go away."
And then, in a sense, we were gone. And yet, in another sense, we never left the scene.
At the time the invasion was launched, polls showed over 70% of Americans in support of the President's war (or in a state of terror about terror, should we not stop Saddam Hussein from nuking us). Now, here we are, four years later, and the pundits who were telling us that we should indeed do it are still familiar fixtures on our TVs, while the faces of the pundits who didn't, and of the Americans, in their millions, who arrived at similar conclusions and tried to stop possibly the maddest, most improvident war in our history, have been erased from memory.
And yet, to offer a little hope to those who believe that the mainstream media holds the idling brains of hundreds of millions of Americans helplessly in its thrall, that we are all merely the manipulated, let's consider something curious indeed: The general point of view of the minority represented in those giant prewar demonstrations took deep hold as time passed and has now been embraced by a striking majority.
Back in December 2006, when James Baker's Iraq Study Group released its report -- and was hailed in the press for finding genuine" common ground" on Iraq -- I argued that the American people, without much help from politicians or the media,"had formed their own Iraq Study Group and arrived at sanity well ahead of the elite and all the 'wise men' in Washington."
The Bush administration, of course, rejected the findings of the Iraq Study Group, while the Democrats, by and large, accepted them. But no one turned out to be particularly interested in the"Iraq Study Group" formed by ordinary Americans whose"findings" were expressed in that least active of all forms: the opinion poll (and later, the midterm election). Nonetheless, the numbers in those polls represent a modest miracle, if you think about it.
According to a poll released that December by the reliable Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), 58% of Americans wanted a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq on a timeline -- 18% within six months, 25% within a year, 15% within two years; 68% of Americans wanted us completely out of that country with no permanent bases left behind, including a majority of Republicans -- despite the fact, that you could search the American press, most of the time, in vain for any indication that the Bush administration had built a series of vast military bases, big enough to have multiple bus routes and capable of housing 20,000 or more American troops and contractors. In addition, according to PIPA, by the end of 2006, 60% of Americans had reached the conclusion that the U.S. military presence was"provoking more conflict than it is preventing"; while only 35% still thought it a"stabilizing force" in Iraq.
Too bad we don't have similar polls for politicians, opinion-makers, and media gatekeepers. They would surely bear little relation to PIPA's findings.
In 2007, if anything, such polling figures have only grown more emphatic. A recent Newsweek poll, for instance, offered the following figures: 69% of Americans disapprove of the President's"handling" of the Iraqi situation; 61% think the U.S. is losing ground in Iraq; 64% oppose the President's"surge" plan; 59% favor Congressional legislation requiring the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the fall of 2008.
In the most recent CNN poll, 61% of Americans feel the decision to launch the invasion of Iraq was"not worth it"; 54% think the U.S. will not win there; 58% believe we should either withdraw"now" or"in a year"; in the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 58% favor total withdrawal from Iraq either immediately or within 12 months. So it goes in poll after poll, while the President's approval ratings continue their slow slide into the low 30s.
Let's remember, by the way, that, unlike mainstream Democratic"withdrawal" plans, the American public is talking about actually leaving Iraq, as in that old, straightforward slogan of the Vietnam era: Out now! In other words, there is a hardly noted but growing gap -- call it, in Vietnam-era-speak, a" credibility gap" -- between the Washington consensus and what the American people believe should be done when it comes to Iraq.
Add in one more odd fact here: It's possible that American public opinion is now actually closer in its conclusions to its Iraqi equivalent than to the Washington consensus. A number of recent polls, in which Iraqis expressed grim feelings about what has happened to their country, have been released and, like the American polls, they seem to reflect a belief that American forces are anything but"stabilizing" and an urge simply to have the Americans out. A PIPA September 2006 poll found"that seven in ten Iraqis want U.S.-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year."
And yet the translation of all this sentiment, of these conclusions, into visible action, despite inspirational moments, has generally been less than overwhelming. Yes, in the years since the invasion, there have been a few enormous marches; and yes, there are groups that protest regularly, even heroically; and yes, in cities and towns across the country, protesters have gone out weekly with their signs, sometimes to freezing mid-winter street corners, simply to make a point. Nonetheless, given the extremity of the Bush administration and its acts, it's hard not to wonder why, most of the time, the levels of mobilization have been so relatively weak.
Those of us who can use the tumultuous mobilizations of the Vietnam era as a point of comparison -- there was even a group called The Mobe then -- are certainly aware that this time around nothing comparable has happened. It's crossed my mind that there might even be a silver lining in the disappearance of those large, boisterous prewar crowds, in the fact that, generally speaking, the country seems, in protest terms, strangely demobilized.
In the Vietnam era, though few realize this, antiwar sentiment was strongest at the bottom, in the blue-collar world. As Vietnam scholar Chris Appy has pointed out, for instance, a Gallup poll in January 1971"showed that the less formal education you had, the more likely you were to want the military out of [Vietnam]: 80% of Americans with grade school educations were in favor of a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam; 75% of high school graduates agreed; only among college graduates did the figure drop to 60%."
What largely neutralized the full development of antiwar sentiment among the majority of Americans in that era was, I believe, the strength of anti-antiwar-movement sentiment, the visceral reaction of many working-class Americans against the crowds of protestors, against the look of that far wilder moment (and a media that invariably focused its cameras and attention on the wildest-looking of the demonstrators, especially those carrying the flags of the enemy and chanting,"Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is going to win"). That visceral dislike for antiwar sentiment, as expressed in the streets, was strongest at the bottom. In other words, in those years, angry feelings about the disastrous war in Vietnam were offset by angry feelings about the most visible of those demonstrating against it.
Interesting enough, according to John Mueller of Ohio State University, an expert on the subject, the loss of support the Bush administration has experienced for its Iraqi adventure has followed the same arc as in the Vietnam era (and the Korean War era as well); but, in the Iraqi case, support has eroded far more"precipitously," based on far fewer American casualties and, Mueller wrote back in late 2005,"there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline."
On this he proved correct. If anything, the decline in support seems only to have intensified in recent months, leaping well ahead of equivalent figures for the Vietnam era. Only four years into the Iraqi catastrophe, polling figures match or exceed those for 1970 (perhaps seven years into the Vietnam conflict, depending on how you count) on questions like whether you favor the complete withdrawal of American forces. In 1970, for instance, 56% of Americans thought going into Vietnam had been a mistake, already way below figures for Iraq. In the latest ABC News/Washington Postpoll, for example, a record 64% of Americans say the war was"not worth fighting."
Given that, why were antiwar Americans so mobilized in the Vietnam era and why are they so relatively demobilized now? (And don't think, by the way, that the Vietnam-era mobilization in the streets, with all its wildness and excesses, made no difference. Seymour Hersh, for example, points out in The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House that President Nixon was considering a major escalation of the war in 1969 when vast crowds of demonstrators descended on the capital."Those Americans who marched in Washington on October 15 to protest the war," Hersh wrote,"had no idea of their impact; they were protesting the policies already adopted by the Nixon administration and not those under consideration. Nixon came out of the crisis convinced that the protesters had forced him to back down [from his secret plans to escalate the war]. The protestors thought the Moratorium had been largely a failure.")
The reason most often cited for the Vietnam-era mobilization is the draft. After all, we still had a citizen army then. Usually, the draft explanation is linked only to fear -- the fear, in particular, that middle-class kids had of going to Vietnam; and fear was certainly a factor that drove some young men into the streets. But it wasn't, to my mind, the predominant one. The draft had a more important effect. It reminded young men (and also young women, who couldn't be drafted) and their friends, relatives, and parents that the killing going on in Vietnam wasn't just some distant event, that it touched and affected them. The draft made the war, and anger about it, real in a mobilizing way as nothing has done today.
Here's a second difference of eras: The young in revolt in the 1960s, whether on campuses or in the military, even those who claimed they were out to change the"system" or bring down"the establishment," had grown up with a deeply embedded belief that this was a system that could be challenged, could be changed; that real democracy (or"participatory democracy" in the phrase of the moment) was actually possible; that each person could make a difference. We still retained -- whether we knew it or not -- a kind of faith in the American system and its ability to respond. We had hope.
Similarly -- and this is a third point seldom mentioned today -- the young in the streets, however frustrated by the moment, however unresponsive or even criminal they found their leaders, still believed that, at some level, they would be, and should be, listened to. And the fact is they were being listened to. When President Lyndon B. Johnson complained about"that horrible song" ("Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"), he was listening; when Richard Nixon went out of his awkward way to claim that he would be watching a Washington Redskins football game as demonstrators arrived in town, he was signaling that he knew they were coming.
Today, it crosses no young minds that the top officials in the White House might be listening. Many fewer young people, I suspect, have any remnant of that deep faith that our political system could be responsive to them or that anything they could do might change it. When they look to Washington, what they see is fraud, dysfunction, conspiracy, cronyism, cabal, influence-peddling, corruption, fear -- in short, a system, a world, beyond response, possibly beyond repair, and utterly alien to their lives. In such a situation, despair or apathy tends to replace anger and hope.
The Iraq demobilization, then, is certainly part of a larger demobilization, a deeper belief that, as Bill Moyers made vividly clear in a recent speech, your vote doesn't matter; that democracy is a-functional; that none of this has anything to do with you, or your ballot, or your feet, or your sign, or your shout.
Our world has changed radically since the Vietnam era. Today, an increasing part of what matters in public life (and work life) has been"privatized" and subcontracted out, or simply outsourced. The U.S. military has essentially been subcontracted out to small-town and immigrant or green-card America -- to, that is, the forgotten or ignored places in our land; as a result, for most people in draft-less America, the war is not part of our lives or that of our children. (The draft itself has been carefully kept off the table by the Bush administration, despite the desperation of a body-hungry, overstretched military.) In addition, war-fighting has been outsourced to private corporate contractors who deliver the mail and the fuel, do KP, wash the laundry, build the bases, and, in the case of tens of thousands of rent-a-cop mercenaries, do some of the guarding, fighting, and interrogating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And yes, the political system has increasingly been subcontracted out, with malice aforethought, to thieves, looters, cronies, and absolute dopes. Little wonder that Americans, living through the Age of Enron, scanning the horizon from Iraq to New Orleans to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and watching Halliburton head for Dubai, generally believe their system no longer works; that those high-school civics texts are a raging joke (that, in fact, fierce joking, à la Jon Stewart, is the only reasonable response to the extreme, roiling absurdity of this administration as well as our world); and that, if you took to the streets of the capital, no one in either party would be paying the slightest attention.
No wonder Americans have arrived at a series of striking conclusions on Iraq, but haven't done much about them.
In an interview with the President, Jim Lehrer recently inquired about why he hadn't asked the public (other than the military) to"sacrifice" more. Bush, who had urged Americans to show their post-9/11 mettle by heading for Disney World and intensifying their shopping behavior, fumbled around before replying this way:
"Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war."
Perhaps the formula wasn't so much bread and circuses as terror and consumerism. (Stop al-Qaeda, use more gas.) Same idea, though. This was, after all, an administration intent on terrifying and demobilizing most Americans (while mobilizing the foot-soldiers of the political right), all so that they could create a Pax Americana world and a Pax Republicana"homeland."
It was a mad dream, now in ruins. In response -- and this is just my own hunch -- Americans performed their own acts of privatization, even as they came to reject this administration, its war, and the way it was gambling with all our lives. That's not so surprising. After all, we really do all breathe the same air, live in the same world. And so, while they were at it, many Americans may have subcontracted out their war protest to others, to the pros maybe (even if those pros were actually dedicated amateurs, some of whom really were sacrificing something in their place). That, I think, is the forest I see.
Posted on: Sunday, March 25, 2007 - 17:55
SOURCE: NYT Book Review (3-25-07)
Postwar European history falls neatly into two periods. From 1945 to 1973, the countries of Western Europe recovered rapidly from the almost unimaginable devastation caused by World War II and then took off, growing faster than the United States and more than twice as fast as their own historical trends. From 1973 to the present, however, their economies have struggled with low growth and high unemployment, lagging behind both international competitors and their own earlier success.
As a result of this divided history, the so-called European model has both cheerleaders and naysayers. Social democrats and others on the left focus on the first period, applauding the continent’s ability to generate high living standards while cushioning individuals and societies from the ravages of unfettered markets. Right-wing critics and free marketeers focus on Europe’s contemporary problems, arguing that the continent’s generous welfare benefits and heavy regulation condemn it to continuing decline.
Both views contain some truth. But since the same conditions that led to success in one era have produced problems in the next, neither interpretation fully explains the story. In “The European Economy Since 1945,” Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley, presents not only a comprehensive account of Europe’s postwar economic experience but also an important analysis of capitalist development more generally.
Drawing on his credentials as both an economist and a political scientist, Eichengreen argues that the key to understanding Europe’s initial triumphs and later troubles lies in recognizing that the recipe for growth varies, depending on one’s position in the economic race. In the years after 1945, Europe needed to recover from the war and catch up with the United States. This involved what economists call “extensive growth” — essentially, increasing the number of workers doing familiar kinds of jobs. Extensive growth requires adopting existing technology, using labor more efficiently and generating high levels of investment. After the war, Europe developed a variety of institutions well suited to these tasks....
Posted on: Sunday, March 25, 2007 - 17:24
SOURCE: Newsday (3-23-07)
It is now confirmed that the Bush administration is adding 30,000 troops to the U.S. forces already in Iraq.
This might surprise voters, who in November clearly rejected the White House approach. But, while the president openly defies public opinion, the Democratic Congress is unwilling to exercise its constitutional right to stop him.
On Capitol Hill, the House is about to pass a bill, laden with conditions the administration must fulfill, to obtain the $93.4 billion it requested for Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill reached the House floor yesterday. With White House spokesmen denouncing the plan and the president threatening to veto, one might conclude that something meaningful is afoot.
But there is less here than meets the eye. The House bill gives the president all the money he wants while establishing conditions so porous that the White House can easily evade them. It laudably stipulates that no military units should be sent to Iraq unless they are fully trained, equipped and "mission capable," but it permits the president to waive that requirement.
It specifies "political and military benchmarks" the Iraqi government must meet if U.S. combat troops are to remain, but it leaves it to Bush to "certify" these achievements. There is a deadline for the removal of these troops, but it is 18 months down the road and does not include all military personnel.
The Senate version will almost certainly be weaker since its leaders prefer to talk about "goals" rather than deadlines.
Given such a strong electoral mandate, how is Congress' capitulation to be explained?
Now that Democratic leaders are in the majority, they face a genuine dilemma. If they heed their anti-war base and refuse all funding, they will be leaving troops in the field without supplies and equipment the Pentagon insists are needed.
There is, however, an obvious solution, one that surfaced during the Vietnam War. The bipartisan McGovern-Hatfield Amendment of 1970 provided funding for the war, but tied it to an early date for troop removal.
This amendment never passed but in successive incarnations received a great many votes. It also produced significant effects. With a congressional defeat constantly on the horizon, it forced President Richard Nixon to keep reducing the number of troops - staying, as he put it, "one step ahead of the sheriff." Moreover, the clarity of the legislation gave voters a way of identifying true anti-war lawmakers.
The Progressive Caucus in the House last week put forward a comparable measure. As presented by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), it calls for a "fully funded" safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. This approach has been dismissed by the House leadership, which has been unwilling to permit a vote on the House floor.
This is not some far-out "liberal idea," but reflects the outlook of the majority of Americans, who now see the Iraq war as a fiasco and want the troops home within the year....
In 1970, Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) urged colleagues to halt the carnage in Vietnam: "It does not take any courage at all for a congressman or a senator or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying, because it is not our blood that is being shed."
Today women as well as men are fighting in Iraq, but the obligation of Congress to behave responsibly is undiminished.
Posted on: Friday, March 23, 2007 - 18:40
SOURCE: New Republic (3-20-07)
Congress is on the verge of rare bi-partisanship: the administration's calculated decision to rid its ranks of "disloyal" U.S. attorneys, who did their duty to enforce the law without political fear or favor, has roiled the blood of Democrats and Republicans alike. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez's days appear numbered; at the very least, his authority is severely diminished. Karl Rove, the architect of many Democratic defeats and Harriet Miers (alas! Poor Harriet, destined once again to be a designated scapegoat) are also in sight, self-incriminated through the magic of their e-mails.
The blame game is on; the fault, however, lies in other directions. The Bush administration's dismissal of prosecutors flowed from a simple power-grab and an intrusion on the Senate's prerogatives--and all this with the acquiescence of a friendly, compliant, and uninterested Congress. Once again, Congress has abdicated its proper constitutional place as a separate, coordinate department; instead, it is an accomplice, an enabler, for the administration's assault on traditional separation of powers concepts.
The legislative history supporting the administration's wish to rid itself of allegedly "disloyal" or "poorly performing" U.S. attorneys is quite clear on congressional culpability. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), then riding high as chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, inserted a provision into new Patriot Act legislation, allowing the president to replace U.S. attorneys. The provision clearly allowed the administration to leapfrog the constitutional requirement for senatorial consent for new appointees.
Specter later sheepishly admitted he knew nothing about a provision that he sponsored until Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) informed him. "Who knew?," he said in seeming innocence; "know thyself," is the proper answer. Specter subsequently acknowledged that his aide had inserted the provision. And we eventually learned that the aide had been a Clarence Thomas law clerk, maybe foisted on the senator by the administration, anxious as he was to have the administration support his quest for the chairmanship. Or could it have been required payback for the president's support of Specter against a right-wing primary opponent? The aide, by the way, is now a U.S. attorney in Utah. He has declined any comment. Traditional civics lessons no longer apply. Congress passes bills; the president signs or vetoes them; if he vetoes, Congress may override. Now, complex, controversial bills often pass without debate in the dead of night. Congressmen once proudly had their names on bills; now we have in-your-face legislation such as the Defense of Marriage Act, written by religious lobbyists and approved conservative groups.
Legislation often originates in K Street lobbying offices, not those of the Members. The Richard M. Nixon Foundation hired Cassidy & Associates--a self-styled "leader in the government relations industry"--to provide legislation requiring the National Archives to transfer Nixon's papers and tapes to his own museum, where his Foundation and family, you can be sure, will maintain a watchful eye on their use. The legislation passed after midnight, with no debate. Find a Member who understood the bill's content--other than the putative sponsor, the college roommate of the president's son-in-law.
We have watched this administration invoke unknown, discredited, and dubious constitutional theories; in this case, it insured the abdication of a senatorial constitutional power. The "unitary executive" notions of David Addington, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, are perilously close to reality. Here they used the fearsome umbrella of the Patriot Act purely for its own aggrandizement. The Specter provision adds a new twist to the alarming usurpation and surrender of Congress's rightful powers. If Specter did not author it, and an aide inserted it, allegedly unbeknownst to the senator, then the administration has effectively infiltrated Congress. Such stealth tactics are staggering in their implications.
Forcing Gonzalez's resignation or subpoenaing Rove and Miers is not the remedy. Congress needs to take its legislative tasks more seriously, and cease being and the administration's handmaiden. To that end, the Senate by a 94-2 vote now has taken a first step and repudiated Senator Specter's passive "who knew?" position. The House should follow suit. Everyone loves to vote against scandal. Will we then have one of Bush's "signing statements"? His Imperial Presidency, one suspects, remains alive, although not too well at the moment.
Posted on: Thursday, March 22, 2007 - 17:39
SOURCE: New Republic (3-20-07)
In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most underappreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth.
In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.
Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution--all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.
At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man's rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, those ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous. They seem to demonize people in other times and places, license colonial conquest and other foreign adventures, and conceal the crimes of our own societies. The doctrine of the noble savage--the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions--pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset ("War is not an instinct but an invention"), Stephen Jay Gould ("Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species"), and Ashley Montagu ("Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood"). But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler....
[The author goes on to say that we should find out why. If there's cause and effect, it "would be nice to know what, exactly, it is."]
Posted on: Thursday, March 22, 2007 - 17:33
SOURCE: New Republic (3-22-07)
Faggot. Nigger. Bitch.
Please excuse the blunt language. From here forward, to avoid the ugly words, I'll refer to it as "FNB politics." With little to show the electorate in 2008--after six years of uninterrupted control--besides sub-standard care from a privatized workforce at Walter Reed Hospital, thrice-married "family values" presidential candidates, and a boom in home foreclosures, the conservative base's 2008 strategy has begun to emerge: Weaken the major Democratic opponents by making their image unpalatable to the public.
Ann Coulter might have been the one to use the precise word aloud. But the effort to discredit John Edwards as not really a man began soon after he came to national prominence as John Kerry's running mate. And the endeavor fits into a running conservative pattern--one Ann Coulter's most important patron, Roger Ailes of Fox News, knows perfectly well. In The Selling of the President, Joe McGinniss relates an episode where Richard Nixon's set dressers had the candidate in front of a turquoise curtain. Ailes, Nixon's detail-obsessed TV guru, had a conniption. "Nixon wouldn't look right unless he was carrying a pocketbook," he grumbled, ordering the curtains replaced by wood panels with "clean, solid, masculine lines."...
The genius of FNB politics is that it can make those who diagnose it sound like barking moonbats. Sometimes you have a case. Sometimes, you're just being paranoid (Matt Drudge says "Dems rumble in Hollywood jungle; Clinton-Obama throwdown"--Aha! Jungle!--and "Obama team takes a 'Lincoln Bedroom' shot"). And it's often only in retrospect that the game seems truly deliberate. In 1952, Nixon used the word "traitor" to describe Dean Acheson, Adlai Stevenson, and Harry Truman. Outrageous!, Democrats responded. Whatever do you mean?, Nixon said in wounded tones, claiming he'd been misunderstood; he only meant they were "traitors to the high principles in which many of the nation's Democrats believe." Today, it's obvious that he meant to suggest, you know, the crime of treason.
The bonus: His charge also revealed liberals as shrieking and hypersensitive. That's the problem with FNB politics, and Reagan showed it better than anyone. He used to make jokes: About Africans, "When they have a man for lunch, they really have him for lunch." So, when gubernatorial candidate Pat Brown distributed a pamphlet ("Ronald Reagan, Extremist Collaborator--An Exposé") of such quotations in 1966, it backfired. Reagan was making a joke! Why are these liberals so humorless?
Ann Coulter would probably call herself a Ronald Reagan conservative, and she is. FNB politics, in its gentler, embryonic form, was part of Reagan's conservatism. Now that everything noble in conservative has been travestied, it's all they have left.
Posted on: Thursday, March 22, 2007 - 17:27
SOURCE: Alternet (3-21-07)
So that if you are concerned about structural violence, if you're concerned about exploitation at the workplace, if you're concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, if you're concerned about organized hatred against peoples of color, if you're concerned about a subordination of women, that's not cheap PC chitchat; that is a calling that you're willing to fight against and try to understand the sources of that social misery at the structural and institutional level and at the existential and the personal level. That's what it means, in part, to be a leftist.
That's why we choose to be certain kinds of human beings. That's why it's a calling, not a career. It's a vocation, not a profession. That's why you see these veterans still here year after year after year, because they are convinced they don't want to live in a world and they don't want to be human in such a way that they don't exercise their intellectual and political and social and cultural resources in some way to leave the world just a little better than it was when they entered. That's, in part, what it means to be a leftist.
Now, what does that mean for me? It means for me in the United States -- and I go back now the 400 years to Jamestown. You all know this is the 400th anniversary of the first enduring English settlement in the new world. It was Roanoke before, but it didn't last. Jamestown last, right? And what do you have at Jamestown? The Virginia Club of London, an extension of the British Empire, makes its way over, the three boats whose names we need not go into at the moment. And what did they do? They interact with another empire, the Powhatan Empire, that's already in place, of indigenous peoples. You actually get the clash of empire. This is the age of empire.
But what are they here for? Looking for gold and silver and, secondarily, to civilize the natives. So already you get America as a corporation, before it's a country. Corporate greed is already sitting at the center in terms of what is pushing it. And corporate greed, as Marx understood it, capital as a social relation, an asymmetrical relation of power, with bosses and workers, with those at the top who will be able to live lives of luxury and those whose labor will be both indispensable, necessary, but also exploited in order to produce that wealth.
Then there's religion, to" civilize" the indigenous people. Now, you can't talk about the US experience -- and I think in many ways this is true for the new world experience -- without talking about the dominant role of religion as an ideology. And we also know one of the reasons why vast numbers of our fellow citizens today in the United States, one of the reasons why they're not leftists, is precisely because they have not been awakened from their sleepwalking. They have not been convinced that they ought to choose to live a life the way we have chosen, in part because we've been cast with the mark of the anti-religious or the naively secular, or what have you.
And that's 98 percent of fellow citizens. So no matter what kind of political organization Brother Stanley is talking about, he's going to get Gramscian about it. He's got to dip into the popular culture of the everyday people, and 98 percent them are talking about God. That's 97.5 percent of fellow Americans believe in God. Seventy-five percent believe Jesus Christ is the son of God. Sixty-two percent believe they speak on intimate terms with God at least twice a day. That's who we're dealing with in terms of our fellow citizens. You can't talk about organization that's sustained over time, unless you're talking in Gramscian terms of how do you tease out leftist sentiment, vision, analysis, in light of the legacy of these dominant ideologies -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and so forth and so on.
But then, what else happens? In 1619, you've got white slaves and you've got black slaves. You have the first representative assembly that takes place as modeled on the corporation, but it is attempt at democratic elections, the first representative assembly. They gathered July 30, 1619. They cancelled August 4, because it got too hot. And thirteen days later, here comes the boat with the first Africans. And at that time, slavery was not racialized. You had white slaves and you had black slaves.
But the white slaves, you look on the register, 1621, they had names like James Stewart and Charles McGregor. But you look on the right side and you see negro, negro, negro, negro. So even before slavery became a perpetual and inheritable structure of domination that would exploit the labor of Africans and devalue their sense of who they were and view their bodies as an abomination, you already had the black problematic of namelessness. White supremacy was already setting in as another dominant ideology to ensure that these working people do not come together.
And corporate greed would run amok in the midst of that kind of deep and profound division, which is not just a political division. It's a creation of different worlds, so that the de facto white supremacist segregation that would be part and parcel of the formation of the American Empire would constitute very different worlds and constitute a major challenge to what it means to be a leftist in America from 1776 up until 1963, given the overthrow of American apartheid, which took place in the '60s. And then, we now wrestle with the legacy, with the triumph of the Black Freedom Movement and all of the white and black -- I mean, the white and brown and yellow and Asian comrades who were part and parcel of that Black Freedom Movement that broke the back of American apartheid in the '60s.
What am I saying? I'm saying, in part, that at least for me to be a leftist these days, in the way in which -- and I take very seriously Antonio Gramsci's concern about the historical specificity of the emergeous sustenance and development and subsequent define of the American Empire. And when you actually look closely at that empire, it seems to me what we have to come to terms with is the fundamental role of corporate greed, religious ideologies, white supremacy, the fundamental rule of the popular culture, youth, and acknowledge that anytime you're talking about white supremacy, you're always already in some ways talking about the treatment of black women. And if you're concerned about the treatment of black women, you ought to be concerned about the treatment of women across the board. So the vicious ideologies, the patriarchy, come in. And the same thing would be true for the James Baldwins and the Audre Lordes, the gay brothers and the lesbian sisters.....
Posted on: Thursday, March 22, 2007 - 15:46
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (3-22-07)
Can a high school student display a banner that says "Bong Hits 4 Jesus"? That's the question the Supreme Court debated this week in a case pitting the free-speech rights of the student against the duty of his school to warn against the dangers of drugs.
But in this case, both sides are wrong. The banner was a foolish vulgarity, unworthy of court-affirmed protection for politically meaningful speech. Under the school's theory, meanwhile, educators could censor any speech that contradicted their goals or ideas. And that might be the scariest idea of all.
This strange saga began five years ago in Juneau, Alaska. The school let students leave the building to see the Olympic torch en route to the 2002 Winter Games. As the torch passed by, senior Joseph Frederick unfurled his banner. Principal Deborah Morse ordered Mr. Frederick to take it down; when he refused, she tore it down. Later, she suspended Frederick for 10 days. Frederick sued, citing the Supreme Court's 1969 warning – in Tinker v. Des Moines – that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
Technically, Frederick was outside the "schoolhouse gate." But no matter where he was, Frederick insists, he had the right to display his banner.
That's where he's wrong. In the Tinker case, a school tried to stop students from wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. Ruling in favor of the students, the Supreme Court took pains to distinguish their "pure speech" – that is, speech of a political nature – from other forms.
Only political speech merited protection, the court said, noting the special purpose of education in a democracy: to develop free and independent minds. Public schools "may not be enclaves of totalitarianism," the court admonished. Instead, schools should promote "a robust exchange of ideas."
So what "exchange of ideas" did Frederick aim to provoke?
None. As Frederick later testified, he chose his slogan "to be meaningless and funny" and "to get on television." He recently admitted that the phrase was irrelevant. "I wasn't trying to say anything about religion. I wasn't trying to say anything about drugs," Frederick said. "I was just trying to say something."
But students do not have the right to "say something" – or anything – just because they feel like it. That's why they're not allowed to shout obscenities in class. Such behavior doesn't add anything to a school's "robust exchange of ideas."
But under a theory put forth by the White House, which sides with Ms. Morse, the principal could have censored Frederick even if his speech did promote intellectual exchange. Under the 1994 Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, the Bush administration argues, schools receiving federal money must "convey a clear and consistent message" that illegal drug use is "wrong and harmful." So Fredericks's banner would have to go. But so would any student critique of drug policies.
Drugs are particularly controversial in Alaska, where adults may legally possess a small amount of marijuana. Under the White House theory, though, even a banner that said "Legalize Pot" – a clear political statement – might be censored.
Schools might even be allowed to muzzle student criticism of "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB), the Bush administration's signature education reform. In a brief written by Kenneth Starr, (yes, that Kenneth Starr), Morse argued that officials may censor any student speech that interferes with their "educational mission." For good or ill, NCLB now lies at the heart of every public school's mission. Under Mr. Starr's theory, then, students might be barred from speaking ill of it.
Yet both sides of this dispute have lost sight of schools' true educational purpose: to foster critical and independent thought....
Posted on: Thursday, March 22, 2007 - 13:58
SOURCE: Congressional Research Service (4-14-04)
Since the beginning of the federal government, Presidents have called upon executive branch officials to provide them with advice regarding matters of policy and administration. While Cabinet members were among the first to play such a role, the creation of the Executive Office of the President (EOP) in 1939 and the various agencies located within that structure resulted in a large increase the number and variety of presidential advisers. All senior staff members of the White House Office and the leaders of the various EOP agencies and instrumentalities could be said to serve as advisers to the President.
Occasionally, these executive branch officials playing a presidential advisory role have been called upon to testify before congressional committees and subcommittees. Sometimes, such invited appearances have been prompted by allegations of personal misconduct on the part of the official, but they have also included instances when accountability for policymaking and administrative or managerial actions have instigated the request for testimony. Because such appearances before congressional committees or subcommittees seemingly could result in demands for advice proffered to the President, or the disclosure — inadvertent or otherwise — of such advice, there has been resistance, from time to time, by the Chief Executive to allowing such testimony.
Congress has a constitutionally rooted right of access to the information it needs to perform its Article I legislative and oversight functions. Generally, a congressional committee with jurisdiction over the subject matter, which is conducting an authorized investigation for legislative or oversight purposes, has a right to information held by the executive branch in the absence of either a valid claim of constitutional privilege by the executive or a statutory provision whereby Congress has limited its constitutional right to information. A congressional committee may request (informally, or by a letter from the committee chair, perhaps co-signed by the ranking Member) or demand (pursuant to subpoena) the testimony of a presidential adviser. However, Congress may encounter legal and political problems in attempting to enforce a subpoena to a presidential adviser. Conflicts concerning congressional requests or demands for executive branch testimony or documents often involve extensive negotiations and may be resolved by some form of compromise as to, inter alia, the scope of the testimony or information to be provided to Congress.
[Click on the SOURCE link above to read the entire report.]
Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2007 - 15:16
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (3-20-07)
9. Declining to intervene in the collapsed economy or help put Iraqi state industries back on a good footing, on the grounds that the "market" would magically produce prosperity effortlessly.
8. Invading and destroying the Sunni Arab city of Fallujah in November, 2004, thus pushing the Sunni Arabs into the arms of the insurgency in protest and ensuring that they would boycott the January, 2005, parliamentary elections, a boycott that excluded them from power and from a significant voice in crafting the new constitution, which they then rejected.
7. Suddenly announcing that the US would "kill or capture" young nationalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in spring, 2004, throwing the country into massive turmoil for months.
6. Replying to Baathist guerrilla provocations with harsh search and destroy missions that humiliated and angered ever more Sunni Arab clans, driving them to support or join the budding guerrilla movement.
5. Putting vengeful Shiites in charge of a Debaathification Commission that fired tens of thousands of mostly Sunni Arab state employees simply for having belonged to the Baath Party, leaving large numbers of Sunnis penniless and without hope of employment.
4. Dissolving the Iraqi Army in May, 2003, and sending 400,000 men home, unemployed, resentful and heavily armed.
3. Allowing widespread looting after the fall of Saddam Hussein on April 9, 2003, on the grounds that "stuff happens," "democracy is messy," and "how many vases can they have?"-- and thus signalling that there would be no serious attempt to provide law and order in American Iraq.
2. Plotting to install corrupt financier, notorious liar, and shady operator Ahmad Chalabi as the soft dictator of Iraq, and refusing to plan for a post-war administration of the country because that might forestall Chalabi's coronation.
1. Invading Iraq.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - 17:02
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (3-18-07)
Is water a human right or a commodity to be marketed for profit? Should water be run by local governments or by distant corporations in order to make a profit? Why do we pay more for a six-pack of bottled water than for a gallon of gasoline?
These are some of the tough-minded questions Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman first asked in their provocative and memorable 2004 documentary, also titled "Thirst." In that film, they exposed how foreign corporations are privatizing water all over the world. Among the stories they recounted was the rebellion of Bolivian citizens against Bechtel, which privatized water and then raised its price. "Water for life, not for profit!" local residents chanted at demonstrations. Eventually, after riots and too many deaths, Bechtel was forced to leave.
In their new book, "Thirst: Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water," the authors focus on our own country and investigate how the growing "water business" is trying to privatize water systems in cities scattered across the United States.
For the past century, the quality of American water has been the envy of the world. But the infrastructure of both our sewer and water systems is crumbling and in urgent need of costly repairs. The federal government, however, has stopped providing block grants to cities and counties for such construction. As a result, local officials don't have enough funds to invest to repair this infrastructure.
Enter multinational corporations, many of which are based in Europe and extremely eager to fix the problem -- for a price. Even when local officials are not corrupt and don't take kickbacks from these corporations, these multinationals offer such huge investments because they expect a profit, money that almost always results in higher prices for water.
This is the cautionary tale the authors tell through their vivid descriptions of eight conflicts over water -- from Stockton to Atlanta, Ga. Like oil, there is a scarcity of water and the "water business" is growing rapidly. "Eager investors," write the authors, "are bidding up water industry stocks and lining up at industry-sponsored forums to get into the 'water business.' " Since local governments own most of the water services, corporations "ally with the financial industry, which also wants to open up the market." Corporations want to privatize "urban water systems, either by outright purchase or operating them under long-term contracts euphemistically called 'public-private partnerships.' The aim in both cases is to siphon profits from the flow."
If such corporations produced cleaner and better water, maybe privatization wouldn't be such a bad idea. But the authors make a convincing argument, drawn from these eight battlegrounds, that private water companies mainly seek a profit, not an improvement in service or in the quality of the water.
Water, they argue, should not be sold as a product for profit because it is necessary to survival. Why, they ask, should a corporation make a profit from what we all view as a basic necessity?
The reason is that for 25 years, we've been repeatedly told that government is the problem, not the solution. The irrational belief that markets can, and should, solve all our problems has made us forget that the profit motive does not always produce better results and that, moreover, there is still such a thing as a common good that should be protected from markets.
More often than not, local citizens don't even know their water is being sold to a distant corporation; the deal just goes through. But when people do know what's happening, as the authors show, they form powerful coalitions, fueled by indignation and outrage, and fight the local officials who are tempted to sell their water to a private company. In the process, citizens rediscover some of the basic principles of democracy, namely, that they should have a voice in their government.
Should we worry about these new water wars? Yes. Water is not only a limited resource; it is also necessary for biological survival.
"The current conflict between corporations and citizens movements to control this precious resource," they write, "will be decided in the years to come. Whether clean and safe water will remain accessible to all affordable and sustainable into the future, depends on all of us. The stakes could not be higher. The outcome of the conflict will surely be a measure of our democracy in the 21st Century."
They're right. See their film. Read this important book, which is an early warning to us all. Then decide if you agree that public control of water is essential for our health and the health of our democracy.
Posted on: Monday, March 19, 2007 - 19:35
SOURCE: Antiwar.com (3-17-07)
The United States has given Israel $51.3 billion in military grants since 1949, most of it after 1974 – more than any other country in the post-1945 era. Israel has also received $11.2 billion in loans for military equipment, plus $31 billion in economic grants, not to mention loan guarantees or joint military projects. But major conditions on these military grants have meant that 74 percent of it has remained in the U.S. to purchase American arms. Since it creates jobs and profits in many districts, Congress is more than ready to respond to the cajoling of the Israel lobby. This vast sum has both enabled and forced Israel to prepare to fight an American-style war. But the US since 1950 has failed to win any of its big wars.
In early 2005 the new chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, Dan Halutz, embarked on the most extensive reorganization in the history of IDF. Halutz is an Air Force general and enamored with the doctrines that justify the ultra-modern equipment the Americans showered upon the Israelis. Attack helicopters, unmanned aircraft, advanced long-range intelligence and communications, and the like were at the top of his agenda. His was merely a variation of Donald Rumsfeld’s "shock and awe" concepts.
The 34-day war in Lebanon, starting July 12 last year, was a disastrous turning point for Israel. Until the Eliyahu Winograd Commission, which Olmert set up in September 2006, delivers its interim report in late April – which will cover the first five days of the war only – and resolves these matters, we will not know precisely the orders sent to specific units or the timing of all of the actors, but there is already a consensus on far more important fundamentals. But the Israelis did not lose the war because of orders given or not given to various officers. It was a war of choice, and it was planned as an air war with very limited ground incursions in the expectation that Israeli casualties would be very low. Major General Herzl Sapir at the end of February said that "the war began at our initiative and we did not take advantage of the benefits granted to the initiator." Planning for the war began November 2005 but reached high gear by the following March before the expected kidnapping of two IDF soldiers – the nominal excuse for the war. There is no controversy over the fact that it was a digitized, networked war, the first in Israel’s experience, and conformed to Halutz’ – and American – theories of how war is fought in this high-tech era. The US fought identical wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and is in the process of losing both.
What were the Israeli objectives? – war aims, if you will. While the Winograd Commission report may clarify this question, at the very least a number of goals are known already. Halutz wanted to "shock and awe" the Hezbollah and their allies with Israeli power – all within a few days. There were lesser aims, such as moving the Hezbollah rockets well away from the borders or even getting its two kidnapped soldiers returned, but at the very least Halutz wanted to make a critical point.
Instead, he revealed Israel’s vulnerability based, in large part, on the fact the enemy was far better prepared, motivated, and equipped. It was the end of a crucial myth, the harbinger of yet more bloody, but equal, armed conflicts or a balance of power conducive to negotiations. Olmert and his generals very likely expected to have a great victory within five days, thereby increasing his popularity with the hawkish Jewish population that is a growing majority of the voters, to reverse his abysmally low poll ratings, thereby saving his political career – he received three percent popularity in a TV poll in early March.
There are many reasons the Israelis lost the war in Lebanon, but there is general agreement within Israel that the war ended in disaster and the deterrent value of the once unbeatable, super-armed IDF gravely diminished in the entire Arab world for the first time since 1947. But the Israelis were defeated for many of the same reasons that have caused the Americans to lose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and in Vietnam as well. Both their doctrine and equipment were ill suited for the realities they confronted. There was no centralized command structure to destroy but small groups, lightly armed, mobile, and decentralized, able to harass and ultimately prevail. The Hezbollah also had highly effective Russian anti-tank missiles, and the IDF admits that "several dozen" tanks were put out of commission, if not destroyed, including the Merkava Mark IV, which Israel claims in the best protected tank in the world – and which it seeks to export. They also fired around 4,000 rockets at Israeli population centers and the IDF could not stop this demoralizing harassment. Hezbollah bunkers and arsenals were largely immune to air attacks, which caused the Israelis to "stretch the target envelope" to attack densely populated areas, with over 1,000 civilian dead. "Israel lost the war in the first three days," an American military expert concluded, expressing a consensus shared by many US Air Force analysts. "If you have that kind of surprise and you have that kind of firepower you had better win. Otherwise, you’re in for the long haul."
The problem, though, was not merely a new Arab prowess, though changes in their morale and fighting organizations should not be minimized. Halutz’ drastic reorganization of the IDF since early 2005, one that was supposed to attain the promises of all its American-supplied equipment, "caused," in General Sapir’s words, "a terrible distortion." The IDF was an organizational mess, demoralized as never before, and on January 17, 2007 Halutz resigned, the first head of the IDF to voluntarily step down because of his leadership in war. Had he not resigned he would have been fired. His successor quickly annulled his reorganization of the IDF, which is now sorely disorganized. The American way of warfare had failed.
The Next War
The Lebanon War is only a harbinger of Israeli defeats to come. For the first time there is a rough equivalence in military power.
Technology everywhere is now moving far faster than the diplomatic and political resources or will to control its inevitable consequences. Hezbollah has far better and more rockets – over 10,000 short-range rockets is one figure given – than it had a few years ago, and Israel’s military intelligence believes it has more firepower than it had last spring, before it was attacked. Israel has failed to convince Russia not to sell or give their highly effective anti-tank missiles to nations or movements in the region. They fear that even Hamas will acquire them. Syria is procuring "thousands" of advanced anti-tank missiles from Russia, which can be fired from five kilometers away, as well as far better rockets that can hit Israeli cities.
If the challenges of producing a realistic concept of the world that confronts the mounting dangers and limits of military technology seriously are not resolved soon there is nothing more than wars to look forward to. The IDF intelligence branch does not think a war with Syria is likely in 2007; other Israeli military commentators think that any war with Syria would produce, at best, a bloody standoff – just like the war in Lebanon last summer. Israel has about 3,700 tanks and they are all now highly vulnerable. Its ultra-modern air arm, most of which the US has provided, only kills people but it cannot attain victory.
The New Israel – A 'Normal' Nation
In the past, wars produced victories and more territory for the Jews; now they will only produce disasters for everybody. The Lebanon War proved that.
Zionism was a concoction of Viennese coffee houses, Tolstoy’s idealization of labor, early ecological sentiment in the form of the wanderfogel that influenced Zionism but various fascistic movements as well, militarism, and varieties of socialism for parts of it, including bolshevism. Jews sought to go to Palestine not only because of the Holocaust but also the changes in American immigration laws in the first half of the 1920s. Without the vast sums the Diaspora provided, Zionism would never have come to fruition. Every nation has its distinctive personality reflecting its traditions, pretensions, and history’s caprices, and in this regard Israel is no different. It exists but it is becoming increasingly dangerous to world peace – and to itself.
Zionism always had a military ethos, imposed only in part by Arab hostility, and from the inception of Zionism’s history its political and military leaders were one and the same. Generals were heroes and they did well in politics. The logic of force merged with an essentially Western, colonialist bias. Its founders were Europeans, and it was an outpost of European culture until the globalization of values and products made these cultural distinctions increasingly irrelevant. It always has been a militarist society, proud of its fighters. And notwithstanding the Cold War and the increasing flow of arms from the US, which, merged with its élan, meant it won all its post-1947 wars until last summer, it still retains a strong element of hysteria about the world it faced. And it is often messianic – especially its politicians – because messianism is very much influential among a growing portion of the religious and traditional population.
Israel has ceased being "Zionist" in the original sense of that ideology. For the sake of ceremony it retains Zionism as a label, just as many actual or aspiring nations have various myths which justify their claims to a national identity. But it is a long way from the original premises, in large part because its war with its neighbors – especially the Arabs who live in its midst or nearby – made its military ethos dominant over everything else.
Israel today is well on its way to becoming a failed state. Were it not for the fact that this outpost of fewer than five million Jews is a critical factor of war and peace in a much larger and vital region it would not be important or at all unusual. But it is terribly confused and has a very mixed identity; the US has since the late 1960s protected it. World peace now depends on this place, its idiosyncrasies, personality, and growing contradictions.
Israel is a profoundly divided society and its politicians are venal cynics. Many nations – and surely the Palestinian leaders until Hamas, by default, took over – are no different. As Shlomo Ben-Ami, the former foreign minister, describes it, on one side there are economically disadvantaged Oriental Jews, Russian nationalists who were motivated above all by a desire to leave the USSR (an appreciable minority is not Jewish), and Orthodox Jews of every sort united only by their intense dislike of "assimilationists"; on the other hand we have secular Jews, some leftists and modernizers, more skilled and of East European parentage who were once crucial in the formation of Zionism. There are an increasing number of "Jerusalem-Jews," as Ben-Ami calls them, motivated to come primarily by economic incentives, and they are bringing the Right to power more and more often. They fear the Arabs who live in Israel. "Tel Aviv" Jews are assimilating to a global, modernizing culture, more akin to the "normal" existence the early Zionists preached, and they are also the emigrants out because they have high skills. Israel now has as many people leaving as immigrate to it, and North America alone is home to up to a million of them.
Some indications of these trends range from the banal to the tragic. There are all varieties of punks, gays, everything. As for the ultra-Orthodox, some have placed "curses" on those who advocate disengaging from any settlements in the West Bank or Gaza; they will be punished by heaven. One of four ultra-Orthodox Jews believes this is precisely why Sharon was struck with a coma. Martin van Creveld, professor of military history at the Hebrew University and friend of many IDF leaders, whose fame was made studying the role of morale in armies, thinks the morale of the conscripts in the IDF is "almost to the vanishing point; in some cases crybabies have taken the place of soldiers." "Feminism" in the armed forces has intensified the rot, but "social developments" have destroyed much of the army – as have officers "who stayed behind their computers" last summer.
Never before has Israel been wracked by so many demoralizing scandals. The president of Israel just resigned because of rape charges against him, Prime Minister Olmert is being investigated by the comptroller’s office on four charges of corruption, the new chief of police was once accused of accepting bribes and fraud and his appointment has created an uproar, and other sordid cases too numerous to cite. Israel is "stewing in its own rot," a Haaretz writer concluded; the police, retired judge Vardi Zeiler commented after heading a committee to investigate the state’s operation, were like Sicily and the state was on its way to becoming a mafia-style regime.
In this anarchy wars are motivated for political reasons but now they are lost because the society is disintegrating and – again to quote a Haaretz writer – the government "lacks both direction and a conscience." Worse yet, its leaders are incredibly stupid and Olmert can only be compared to Bush in political intelligence. There is a consensus among Israeli strategists that the Iraq War was a disaster for Israel, a geopolitical gift to Iran that will leave Israel in ever-greater danger long after the Americans go home. "Israel has nothing to gain from a continued American presence in Iraq," the director of the Institute for National Security Studies of Tel Aviv University stated last January. The US ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein from Iraq and created an overwhelming Iranian strategic domination. Its campaign for democracy has brought Hamas to power in Palestine. "It's a total misreading of reality," one Israeli expert is quoted when discussing America's role in the region. American policies have failed and Israel has given a carte blanche to a strategy that leaves it more isolated than ever.
Notwithstanding this consensus, on March 12th Olmert told the American Israel Public Affairs annual conference by video link "Those who are concerned for Israel’s security…should recognize the need for American success in Iraq and responsible exit." "Any outcome that will not help America’s strength…would…undercut America’s ability to deal effectively with the threat posed by the Iranian regime…." His foreign minister was even stronger. "Stay the hell out of it," a Haaretz writer concluded. No group is more antiwar than American Jews, Congress – in its own inept way – is trying to bring the war to an end, his own strategists think the Iraq War was a disaster – and Olmert endorses Bush’s folly.
The Syrian Option
It is in this context that the peace of the region will or will not evolve. Olmert will do what is best for his political position domestically, and retaining power will be his priority – no less than his predecessors and most politicians everywhere. It is not at all promising. But for technical, social, and morale reasons Israel will not win another war. At every level, it has become far weaker. It can inflict frightful damage on its enemies but it cannot change the fundamental balance of all forces that lead to victory.
Making peace with Syria would be a crucial first step for Israel, and although the Palestinian problem would remain it would nonetheless vastly improve Israel’s security – and disprove the Bush’s Administration’s contention until very recently that negotiations with Syria or Iran on any Middle East question involves conceding to evil. The Israeli press reported in great detail the secret 2004-05 Israel-Syria negotiations, which were very advanced and involved major Syrian concessions – especially on water and Syrian neutrality in a host of political controversies with the Palestinians and Iranians. It also reported that Washington followed these talks closely and that it – especially Cheney’s office – opposed bringing them to a successful conclusion. At the end of January many important members of Israel’s foreign policy establishment publicly urged reopening these talks.
Olmert dismissed Syria’s gestures categorically after they became public. "Don’t even think about it" was Secretary of State Rice’s view of a treaty when she saw Israeli officials in mid-February. But though Mossad supports the obdurate Rice-Olmert view, military intelligence argues that Syria’s offers are sincere and serious. Moreover, intelligence’s head warned that Syria is growing stronger and peace was very much to Israel’s interest. He was supported by most of the Foreign and Defense ministries, including Minister of Defense Amir Peretz. Olmert demanded, and got, their acquiescence.
A treaty could be finalized with Syria within four to six months, Alon Liel, former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry who negotiated with the Syrians, reported the Washington Times on March 7. Liel was asked to come to the US embassy in Tel Aviv about this time and tell the entire political staff of his talks. The reports in Haaretz, which included the draft treaty, were by then quite definitive. Then the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, invited Ibrahim Suleiman, Syria’s representative to the talks, to speak to the foreign affairs and defense committees. Such invitations are very rare, not least because Syria and Israel are legally in a state of war. But if the Syrians and Israelis go to war again, the normally hawkish Martin van Creveld concluded at this time, Israel "could wreak much destruction, but it could not force a decision." In three or four years the Syrians would be ready for a protracted war that would prove too much for Israel. After running through his bizarre alternatives, and the state of the IDF’s morale, van Creveld concluded that reaching a peace with Syria was very much to Israel’s interests – and that even the Americans were coming to the position that talking to Syria and Iran (as the Baker-Hamilton panel had recommended last December) was rational.
Syria has been attempting desperately to improve its relations with Washington, if only to forestall some mad act on the US’ part. When Israel attacked Lebanon last July, Elliott Abrams, in charge of the Middle East at the National Security Council, along with other neocons in Washington, urged it to expand the war to Syria. At the end of February Syria renewed its appeal to the US to discuss any and all Middle East issues with it in "a serious and profound dialogue." For over two years it has made similar attempts; Baker knew all about these. Talking to alleged adversaries is perhaps the most fundamental point of difference between Cheney, his neocon alliance, and Rice, and it covers North Korea, Iran, and many other places. The debate is less the nature and goals of American foreign policy but how to conduct it – by the application of material power and even the threat of war versus more traditional means, such as diplomacy.
In the past several weeks, taking her cue from the Republican Establishment in the Iraq Study Group last December, Rice has been winning points in this debate but her successes are fragile. Cheney is a powerful, determined and cunning man who knows how to succeed all too well with the president.
America’s overwhelming problem is Iraq and, above all, Iran, and apparently the Bush Administration has now decided that Syria can help it in the region. Ellen Sauerbrey, an Assistant Secretary of State, was in Damascus on March 12, nominally to discuss refugees but she heard from the Syrians "that all the questions are linked in the Arab region and that a comprehensive dialogue is needed on all these questions." Syria has also mobilized the European Union, which now favors a return of the Golan Heights to it. On March 13 the US ambassador to Israel publicly stated a bald lie that the Americans had never "expressed an opinion on what Israel should or should not do with regard to Syria."
It is now entirely in the hands of the Olmert government whether to negotiate with Syria.
Israel has ignored Washington on at least four very important issues, starting with the Sinai campaign in 1956, and acted in its own self-interest. The Americans were Olmert’s alibi but he can use them no more. There are other crucial issues, such as the Saudi plan for the resolution of the Palestine question, and never has Israel had a greater need for peace than at the present. Instead, like the US, its head of state may be the worst in its history, motivated by short-term political advantage and a consummate desire to retain power.
But the Syrian option is there for the taking. If there is war then the brain drain out will accelerate and migration in will fall; demography will take over. Israel will then become the only place in the world a Jew is in danger precisely because he or she is a Jew. If this opportunity is lost there will eventually be a mutually destructive war that no one will win – the Lebanon War proved that Israel must now confront the fact that its neighbors are becoming its military equals and US aid cannot save it.
Indeed, America’s free gifts enabled Israel to begin a war last July with illusions identical to those that also caused the Bush Administration to embark on its Iraq folly.
Posted on: Monday, March 19, 2007 - 14:33
SOURCE: Madman of Chu (Blog) (3-18-07)
Speaking in Sydney, Australia on Friday, February 23, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney asserted that a recent anti-satellite missile test and China's general military buildup are"not consistent with China's stated goal of a peaceful rise." At a press conference concluding the latest session of the National People's Congress, PRC Premier Wen Jiabao deflected questions about the missile test and China's decision to increase military spending by 18 percent, asserting,"China’s position on the peaceful utilization of outer space remains unchanged." Inquiring minds no doubt want to know which of these leaders has got the story straight.
The incommensurability of Wen's and Cheney's remarks exemplifies a deep-seated clash of perspectives. For the Chinese, expressions of concern over China's presence on the"final frontier" smack of racism and 19th century propaganda about the"Yellow Peril." For Europeans and Americans, Cheney's ideas enjoy a long pedigree extending back to Napoleon's famous injunction,"Let China sleep, for when she awakens, she will shake the world." The Chinese view is undoubtedly well-founded. The idea that technology already possessed by other powers (say, the US) poses a unique threat in Chinese hands is a paternalistic one at the very least, especially in the wake of events like the most recent Gulf War. On the other hand the proposition that any nation of more than one billion people, whatever their race or creed, poses a distinct challenge to the international"balance of power" is not ridiculous.
While this latter principle may be true, it does not provide an easy calculus by which development of China's military strength may be judged inimical to peace. Pundits will always fret over the"balance of power," but such concern is only useful if it is done in full acknowledgment of the fact that the international"balance of power" is an infinitely more complex phenomena now than it was in the age of Napoleon or Metternich. Dick Cheney (and others) presumably singled out China's anti-satellite missile test because it involves a technology which (according to their view) presupposes a conflict between China and another sovereign power. Only a nation-state can maintain militarily useful satellites, so goes this reasoning, so if China is developing weapons to destroy satellites it must anticipate a conflict with another sovereign power.
It takes little examination of the facts of the 21st-century world to realize that this line of thinking is erroneous. An increasing number of private groups and corporations deploy satellites in space, it is not inconceivable that a nation state might someday view a privately owned satellite as a threat. One does not have to imagine a James Bond scenario in which a mad scientist controls a laser in space. For example, if terrorists hacked into the computers of a company whose satellites could acquire images of important economic or military targets, a sovereign government pursuing an"all options" strategy might be very relieved to have such a system as China tested at its disposal.
In similar ways many of the fears about China's military power are rooted in antiquated or distorted notions of how the international balance of power works today. China's size is always cited as the root of international concern, but such thinking discounts the ways in which size is a liability as much as an asset. Pundits too often assume that a nation's ability to project force is uniform throughout its territorial domain, thus China's capacity to take military action against Vietnam is greater than the U.S.'s ability to project force against Cuba. China's logistical"home court" advantage only begins diminishing as one moves away from its sovereign borders, thus Vietnam is poised to bear the full force of Chinese military power.
Yet the history of China well demonstrates that the internal coherence of a state fluctuates in inverse proportion to its size. The further one moves from Beijing, the less firm CCP political control becomes. Thus when a PRC military unit penetrates one kilometer into Vietnam the CCP has not, in essence, projected force one kilometer. That distance must be measured between the operational zone of the unit in question and Beijing itself. At one kilometer into Vietnam, the CCP has thus projected force more than two thousand kilometers.
Moreover, most pundits vastly overestimate the importance of China's population to the calculation of its effect on the balance of power. Warfare has evolved over the course of the late 20th and early 21st century to give far greater prominence to technology than manpower. The US military is a mere fraction of the size to which it grew over the course of WWII, yet the entire military of that era could not match the combat power of a single brigade or carrier group of today. The most recent Gulf War provided the empirical proof of this principle. Despite having one of the world's largest standing armies, Iraq was defeated with lightning speed due to the vast technological superiority of the US military. Until China possesses technology to match that of the US, the size of its population or armed forces does not really figure into a calculation of the balance of power.
Then should not the world be concerned about China's acquisition of space-age technology? Concern may be warranted, but not paranoia. Most experts would agree that China is decades from developing military technology to match that of the US, and in the decades it would take to develop that technology the US will remain a moving target. Even if and when the day came that China and the US were on a technological par, war would not be inevitable or even likely. Until some technology is discovered that negates the threat of nuclear ballistic missiles the deterrence of"mutually assured destruction" will continue to restrain the strategic options of all powers.
Even if a war between superpowers is averted, would not a technologically advanced China be more prone to aggression against its neighbors? Here the realities of China's own internal political coherence are not the only facts to bear in mind. Though the speedy defeat of Saddam Hussein demonstrated the power that advanced technology affords, the subsequent aftermath of that conflict has been an object lesson in the limits of that power. The world is a very different place than it was when Napoleon spoke his sage advice. Nationalism, capitalism, industrialization, telecommunications, and economic globalization have created a world in which even a technological superpower faces discrete constraints upon its potential to project force beyond its borders.
Unless profound changes occur to stabilize China's internal political dynamic it is difficult to contemplate the circumstances in which the PRC would enjoy more success projecting force than the US has experienced in Iraq, space-age technology or no. Certainly China's political institutions as they currently exist could not withstand the kind of strain that the Iraq war has placed upon those of the US. One can never predict all the contingencies that might prompt a government to war, and it would be foolish to declare outright that China (or any other nation, including the US) poses no threat to peace. But where historically the Chinese are no less prone to conflict than anyone else, they are also certainly no more so. Whether China will ever pose a threat to peace is in this sense an imponderable, but in real terms one can predict that no matter how much China spends or what type of technology it comes to possess, the PRC will not pose a threat to the global balance of power any time in the near future.
Posted on: Monday, March 19, 2007 - 02:24
SOURCE: Talking Points Memo (blog) (3-8-07)
The deluge of commentary on Rudolph Giuliani’s presidential prospects has forced me finally to break my long silence about the man. Somebody’s gotta say it: He shouldn’t be president, not because he’s too “liberal” or “conservative,” or because his positions on social issues have been heterodox, or because he seems tone-deaf on race, or because his family life has been messy, or because he’s sometimes been as crass an opportunist as almost every other politician of note. Rudy Giuliani shouldn’t be president for reasons more profoundly troubling. Maybe you had to be with him at the start of his electoral career to see them clearly.
Throughout the fall, 1993 New York mayoral campaigns, I tried harder than any other columnist I know of to convince left-liberal friends and everyone else that Giuliani would win and probably should.
In the Daily News, the New Republic, and on cable and network TV, I insisted it had come to this because racial “Rainbow” and welfare-state politics were imploding nationwide, not just in New York and not only thanks to racists, Ronald Reagan, or robber barons. One didn’t have to share all of Giuliani’s “colorblind,” “law-and-order,” and free-market presumptions to want big shifts in liberal Democratic paradigms and to see that some of those shifts would require a political battering ram, not a scalpel.
I spent a lot of time with Giuliani during the 1993 campaign and his first year in City Hall, and while a dozen of my columns criticized him sharply for presuming far too much, I defended most of his record to the end of his tenure. He forced New York, that great capital of “root cause” explanations for every social problem, to get real about remedies that work, at least for now, in the world as we know it. I saw Al Sharpton blink as I told him in a debate that twice as many New Yorkers had been felled by police bullets during David Dinkins’ four-year mayoralty as during Giuliani’s then-seven years and that the drop in all murders meant that at least two thousand black and Hispanic New Yorkers who’d have been dead were up and walking around.
Giuliani’s successes ranged well beyond crime reduction. As late as July, 2001, when his personal and political blunders had eclipsed those gains and he had only a lame duck’s six months to go, I insisted in a New York Observer column that he’d facilitated housing, entrepreneurial, and employment gains for people whose loudest-mouthed advocates called him a racist reactionary. James Chapin, the late democratic socialist savant, considered Giuliani a “progressive conservative” like Teddy Roosevelt, who was a New York police commissioner before becoming Vice President and President.
Yet Giuliani’s methods and motives suggest he couldn’t carry his skills and experience to the White House without damaging this country. Two problems run deeper than the current likely “horse race” liabilities, such as his social views and family history.
The first serious problem is structural and political: A man who fought the inherent limits of his mayoral office as fanatically as Giuliani would construe presidential prerogatives so broadly he’d make George Bush’s notions of “unitary” executive power seem soft.
Even in the 1980s, as an assistant attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department and U.S. Attorney in New York, Giuliani was imperious and overreaching, He made the troubled daughter of a state judge, Hortense Gabel, testify against her mother and former Miss America Bess Meyerson in a failed prosecution charging, among other things, that Meyerson had hired the judge’s daughter to bribe help “expedite” a messy divorce case. The jury was so put off by Giuliani’s tactics that it acquitted all concerned, as the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus recalled ten years later in assessing Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s subpoena of Monica Lewinsky’s mother to testify against her daughter.
At least, as U.S. Attorney, Giuliani served at the pleasure of the President and had to defer to federal judges. Were he the President, U.S. Attorneys would serve at his pleasure -- a dangerous arrangement in the wrong hands, we’ve learned -- and he’d pick the judges to whom prosecutors defer.
As mayor, Giuliani fielded close aides like a fast and sometimes brutal hockey team, micro-managing and bludgeoning city agencies and even agencies that weren’t his, like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Board of Education. They deserved it richly enough to make his bravado thrilling to many of us, but it wasn’t very productive. And while this Savonarola disdained even would-be allies in other branches of government, he wasn’t above cutting indefensible deals with crony contractors and pandering shamelessly to some Hispanics, orthodox Jews, and other favored constituencies.
Even the credit he claimed for transportation, housing and safety improvements belongs partly and sometimes wholly to predecessors’ decisions and to economic good luck: As he left office the New York Times noted that on his first day as mayor in 1994, the Dow Jones had stood at 3754.09, while on his last day, Dec. 31, 2001, it opened at 10,136.99: “For most of his tenure, the city’s treasury gushed with revenues generated by Wall Street.” Dinkins had had to weather the huge crash of 1987.
Remarkable though Giuliani’s mayoral record remains, it’s complicated further by more than socio-economic circumstances and structural constraints. Ironically, his most heroic moments as mayor spotlighted a deep presidential liability. Fred Siegel, author of the Giuliani-touting Prince of the City, recognized the problem recently when he wondered why, after Giuliani’s 1997 mayoral reelection, with the city buoyed by its new safety and economic success, he wasn’t “able to turn his Churchillian political personality down a few notches."
I’ll tell you why: Giuliani’s 9/11 performance was sublime for the unnerving reason that he’d been rehearsing for it all his adult life and remains trapped in that stage role. When his oldest friend and deputy mayor Peter Powers told me in 1994 that 16-year-old Rudy had started an opera club at Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn, I didn’t have to connect too many of the dots I’d been seeing to begin noticing that Giuliani at times acted like an opera fanatic who’s living in a libretto as much as in the real world.
Posted on: Friday, March 16, 2007 - 20:27