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.
“Say professor,” he said, “could I ask you a question?” I looked at his serious face. His eyes were deep brown, his skin even darker. His smile was warm and appealing. “Sure,” I answered, knowing that I was early for a two-hour library class to teach my students how to do electronic research.
“Do you think this country is ready for a black or a woman?” He asked as if he really cared, so I took his question seriously. “I don’t really know,” I answered honestly, “because Americans tend to lie to pollsters in public and vote differently in private.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a black man could overcome all the terrible stereotypes about men in prison, violence men, and urban gangs? " “It sure would,” I said. “And I have been very impressed by Obama so far. It’s remarkable to see a white woman and a black man competethirty or more years after we struggled for basic civic rights.
“Yea,” he said. “But you know what?” I don’t think a woman should ever be president.” Looking down at the book he was reading, he told me how the bible insisted that a man should head his household. “So a man should rule the country.” Memories of working in the civil rights movement flooded me. “So I believe in racial equality,” I said, “but you don’t believe in gender equality?”
He hesitated and said, “Look I think it’s okay for women to do important things but men must rule the home and the country. They each have important but different things to do in this world. That’s what I learned from the bible.”
I paused, knowing that I needed to meet my students at the library computer lab. “Well,” I said, “do you realize you’re proposing a kind of “separate but equal” solution whichwas outlawed for blacks in the 1950’s? We discussed this a little more and then I said, “I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. We clasped our hands in friendship, rather than shaking them, I met my class, all of whom wondered why I had been talking so animatedly with the guy who checks your identification card. I told them about our conversation. And, it was at that moment that I understood what I have intuitively felt for a very, long time--that women of all races and ethnicities will probably have far more difficulty, in this nation, running for president than will black men.
Posted on: Friday, March 16, 2007 - 20:26
SOURCE: Financial Times (3-14-07)
Labour’s call will once more be “fair shares for all” if David Miliband has anything to do with it. The current climate crisis gives the Labour party – never comfortable with the politics of post- war affluence – the opportunity to return to the politics of austerity. The environment secretary’s plans to reduce carbon emissions by expanding existing carbon trading schemes and introducing an individual carbon trading scheme are both bold and old Labour. As any economist will tell you, carbon trading is carbon rationing by another name, as is Conservative leader David Cameron’s “green air miles allowance”.
Officials in George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth would applaud these latest examples of newspeak. Politicians do not think the electorate is ready to confront the harsh realities of reducing carbon emissions. If Britain is to move from being a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy by 2050, the government will have to do more than promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. It will need to reduce energy consumption too. Two policy instruments are available to achieve this: carbon taxes and carbon rations.
Carbon taxes alone will not work. Faced with the need to reduce civilian consumption of petrol after war broke out in 1939, Neville Chamberlain’s government introduced rationing. Planners had toyed with the idea of raising motoring taxes to force people off the roads, but rejected it because annual taxes would change behaviour too slowly and their effect on economic activity was unpredictable. They also feared businesses would pass on increased transport costs to customers with inflationary consequences. Chamberlain’s heir, David Cameron, recognises that taxes alone are not enough and proposes to issue us all with an annual allowance of green air miles.
A simple scheme of carbon taxation is also inequitable. While few would object to the taxation of “luxuries” such as gas-guzzling 4x4s, punitive taxes on “necessaries” such as petrol would cause an uproar far greater than the fuel protests in 2000. Any party advocating such policies would find itself unelectable.
An individual carbon trading scheme is more equitable and more effective than carbon taxation as it reduces consumption quickly and dramatically. The government would issue consumers with a fixed number of units annually to be spent on petrol, gas and other non-renewable fuels.
When purchasing a litre of petrol or paying the gas bill, consumers would pay for the energy in cash and units. Units would become a parallel currency allowing consumers to make some choices and the government to control total consumption of non-renewables. Consumers could gift or sell unused units, with socially progressive effects as people on low incomes could sell their surplus.
Shorn of its trading element, this scheme is identical to the clothes rationing scheme in operation from 1941 to 1949, but the trading element would be a major improvement, preventing the emergence of a black market in unwanted units. ...
Posted on: Friday, March 16, 2007 - 15:01
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (3-13-07)
Let me see if I've got this straight. Perhaps two years ago, an"informal" meeting of"veterans" of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal -- holding positions in the Bush administration -- was convened by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Discussed were the"lessons learned" from that labyrinthine, secret, and illegal arms-for-money-for-arms deal involving the Israelis, the Iranians, the Saudis, and the Contras of Nicaragua, among others -- and meant to evade the Boland Amendment, a congressionally passed attempt to outlaw Reagan administration assistance to the anti-communist Contras. In terms of getting around Congress, the Iran-Contra vets concluded, the complex operation had been a success -- and would have worked far better if the CIA and the military had been kept out of the loop and the whole thing had been run out of the Vice President's office.
Subsequently, some of those conspirators, once again with the financial support and help of the Saudis (and probably the Israelis and the Brits), began running a similar operation, aimed at avoiding congressional scrutiny or public accountability of any sort, out of Vice President Cheney's office. They dipped into"black pools of money," possibly stolen from the billions of Iraqi oil dollars that have never been accounted for since the American occupation began. Some of these funds, as well as Saudi ones, were evidently funneled through the embattled, Sunni-dominated Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the sort of Sunni jihadi groups ("some sympathetic to al-Qaeda") whose members might normally fear ending up in Guantanamo and to a group, or groups, associated with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.
All of this was being done as part of a"sea change" in the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policies aimed at rallying friendly Sunni regimes against Shiite Iran, as well as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Syrian government -- and launching secret operations to undermine, roll back, or destroy all of the above. Despite the fact that the Bush administration is officially at war with Sunni extremism in Iraq (and in the more general Global War on Terror), despite its support for the largely Shiite government, allied to Iran, that it has brought to power in Iraq, and despite its dislike for the Sunni-Shiite civil war in that country, some of its top officials may be covertly encouraging a far greater Sunni-Shiite rift in the region.
Imagine. All this and much more (including news of U.S. military border-crossings into Iran, new preparations that would allow George W. Bush to order a massive air attack on that land with only 24-hours notice, and a brief window this spring when the staggering power of four U.S. aircraft-carrier battle groups might be available to the President in the Persian Gulf) was revealed, often in remarkable detail, just over a week ago in "The Redirection," a Seymour Hersh piece in the New Yorker. Hersh, the man who first broke the My Lai story in the Vietnam era, has never been off his game since. In recent years, from the Abu Ghraib scandal on, he has consistently released explosive news about the plans and acts of the Bush administration.
Imagine, in addition, that Hersh went on Democracy Now!, Fresh Air, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer and actually elaborated on these claims and revelations, some of which, on the face of it, seem like potentially illegal and impeachable offenses, if they do indeed reach up to the Vice President or President.
Now imagine the response: Front-page headlines; editorials nationwide calling for answers, Congressional hearings, or even the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into some of the claims; a raft of op-ed page pieces by the nation's leading columnists asking questions, demanding answers, reminding us of the history of Iran-Contra; bold reporters from a recently freed media standing up in White House and Defense Department press briefings to demand more information on Hersh's various charges; calls in Congress for hearings and investigations into why the people's representatives were left so totally out of this loop.
All I can say is: If any of this happened, I haven't been able to discover it. As far as I can tell, no one in the mainstream even blinked on the Iran-Contra angle or the possibility that a vast, secret Middle Eastern operation is being run, possibly illegally and based on stolen funds and Saudi money, out of the Vice President's office. You can certainly find a few pieces on, or reports about,"The Redirection" -- all focused only on the possible build-up to a war with Iran -- and the odd wire-service mention of it; but nothing major, nothing Earth-shaking or eye-popping; not, in fact, a single obvious editorial or op-ed piece in the mainstream; no journalistic questions publicly asked of the administration; no Congressional cries of horror; no calls anywhere for investigations or hearings on any of Hersh's revelations, not even an expression of fear somewhere that we might be seeing Iran-Contra, the sequel, in our own moment.
This, it seems to me, adds up to a remarkable non-response to claims that, if true, should gravely concern Congress, the media, and the nation. Let's grant that Hersh's New Yorker pieces generally arrive unsourced and filled with anonymuous officials ("a former senior intelligence official,""a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel"). Nonetheless, Hersh has long mined his sources in the Intelligence Community and the military to striking effect. Undoubtedly, the lack of sourcing makes it harder for other reporters to follow-up, though when it comes to papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times, you would think that they might have Washington sources of their own to query on Hersh's claims. And, of course, editorial pages, columnists, op-ed editors, Congressional representatives, and reporters at administration news briefings don't need to do any footwork at all to raise these subjects. (Consider, for instance, the White House press briefing on April 10, 2006, where a reporter did indeed ask a question based on an earlier Hersh New Yorker piece.) As far as I can tell, there haven't even been denunciations of Hersh's report or suggestions anywhere that it was inaccurate or off-base. Just the equivalent of a giant, collective shrug of the media's rather scrawny shoulders.
Since the response to Hersh's remarkable piece has been so tepid in places where it should count, let me take up just a few of the many issues his report raises.
"Meddling" in Iran
For at least a month now, our press and TV news have been full to the brim with mile-high headlines and top-of-the-news stories recounting (and, more rarely, disputing) Bush administration claims of Iranian"interference" or"meddling" in Iraq (where U.S. military spokesmen regularly refer to the Iraqi insurgents they are fighting as"anti-Iraq forces"). Since Hersh published "Plan B" in the New Yorker in June 2004 in which he claimed that the Israelis were"running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria," he has been on the other side of this story.
In "The Coming Wars" in January of 2005, he first reported that the Bush administration, like the Israelis, had been" conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since" the summer of 2004. In April of 2006 in "The Iran Plans," he reported that the Bush administration was eager to put the"nuclear option" on the table in any future air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities (and that some in the Pentagon, fiercely opposed, had at least temporarily thwarted planning for the possible use of nuclear bunker-busters in Iran). He also reported that American combat units were"on the ground" in Iran, marking targets for any future air attack, and quoted an unnamed source as claiming that they were also"working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris, in the north, the Baluchis, in the southeast, and the Kurds, in the northeast. The troops ‘are studying the terrain, and giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes, and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds,' the consultant said. One goal is to get ‘eyes on the ground'… The broader aim, the consultant said, is to ‘encourage ethnic tensions' and undermine the regime."
In"The Redirection," he now claims that, in search of Iranian rollback and possible regime change,"American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the [Iranian] border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq." In his Democracy Now! radio interview, he added:"[W]e have been deeply involved with Azeris and Baluchis and Iranian Kurds in terror activities inside the country… and, of course, the Israelis have been involved in a lot of that through Kurdistan… Iran has been having sort of a series of backdoor fights, the Iranian government, because… they have a significant minority population. Not everybody there is a Persian. If you add up the Azeris and Baluchis and Kurds, you're really 30-some [%], maybe even 40% of the country."
In addition, he reported that"a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours," and that its"new assignment" was to identify not just nuclear facilities and possible regime-change targets, but"targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq."
Were there nothing else in Hersh's most recent piece, all of this would still have been significant news -- if we didn't happen to live on a one-way imperial planet in which Iranian"interference" in (American) Iraq is an outrage, but secret U.S. operations in, and military plans to devastate, Iran are your basic ho-hum issue. Our mainstream news purveyors don't generally consider the issue of our"interference" in Iran worthy of a great deal of reporting, nor do our pundits consider it a topic worthy of speculation or consideration; nor, in a Congress where leading Democrats have regularly outflanked the Bush administration in hawkish positions on Iran, is this likely to be much of an issue.
You can read abroad about rumored American operations out of Pakistan and Afghanistan aimed at unsettling Iranian minorities like the Baluchis and about possible operations to create strife among Arab minorities in southern Iran near the Iraqi border -- the Iranians seem to blame the British, whose troops are in southern Iraq, for some of this (a charge vociferously denied by the British embassy in Tehran) -- but it's not a topic of great interest here.
In recent months, in fact, several bombs have gone off in minority regions of Iran. These explosions have been reported here, but you would be hard-pressed to find out what the Iranians had to say about them, and the possibility that any of these might prove part of a U.S. (or Anglo-American) covert campaign to destabilize the Iranian fundamentalist regime basically doesn't concern the news mind here, even though past history says it should. After all, many of our present Middle Eastern problems can be indirectly traced back to the Anglo-American ur-moment in the Middle East, the successful CIA-British-intelligence plot in 1953 to oust Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (who had nationalized the Iranian oil industry) and install the young Shah in power.
After all, in the 1980s, in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, the CIA (with the eager connivance of the Pakistanis and the Saudis) helped organize, arm, and fund the Islamic extremists who would someday turn on us for terror campaigns on a major scale. As Steve Coll reported in his superb book Ghost Wars, for instance,"Under ISI [Pakistani intelligence] direction, the mujahedin received training and malleable explosives to mount car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks in Soviet-occupied cities, usually designed to kill Soviet soldiers and commanders. [CIA Director William] Casey endorsed these despite the qualms of some CIA career officers."
Similarly, in the early 1990s, the Iraq National Accord, an organization run by the CIA's Iraqi exile of choice, Iyad Allawi, evidently planted, under the Agency's direction, car bombs and explosive devices in Baghdad (including in a movie theater) in a fruitless attempt to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime. The New York Times reported this on its front page in June 2004 (to no effect whatsoever), when Allawi was the Prime Minister of American-occupied Iraq.
Who knows where the funding, training, and equipment for the bombings in Iran are coming from -- but, at a moment when charges that the Iranians are sending into Iraq advanced IEDs, or the means to produce them, are the rage, it seems a germane subject.
In this country, it's a no-brainer that the Iranians have no right whatsoever to put their people, overtly or covertly, into neighboring Iraq, a country which, back in the 1980s, invaded Iran and fought a bitter eight-year war with it, resulting in perhaps a million casualties; but it's just normal behavior for the Pentagon to have traveled halfway across the planet to dominate the Iraqi military, garrison Iraq with a string of vast permanent bases, build the largest embassy on the planet in Baghdad's Green Zone, and send special-operations teams (and undoubtedly CIA teams as well) across the Iranian border, or to insert them in Iran to do"reconnaissance" or even to foment unrest among its minorities. This is the definition of an imperial worldview.
Let's leave Iran now and briefly take up a couple of other matters highlighted in"The Redirection" that certainly should have raised the odd red flag and pushed the odd alarm button here at home far more than his Iranian news (which did at least get some attention):
1. Iran-Contra Redux: Does it raise no eyebrows that, under the leadership of Elliot Abrams (who in the Iran-Contra period pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawfully withholding information from Congress and was later pardoned), such a meeting was held? Does no one want to confirm that this happened? Does no one want to know who attended? Iran-Contra alumni in the Bush administration at one time or another included former Reagan National Security Advisor John Poindexter, Otto Reich, John Negroponte (who, Hersh claims, recently left his post as Director of National Intelligence in order to avoid the twenty-first century version of Iran-Contra --"No way. I'm not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. [National Security Council] running operations off the books, with no [presidential] finding."), Roger Noriega, and Robert Gates. Did the Vice President or President sit in? Was either of them informed about the"lessons drawn"? Were the Vice President's right-hand men, I. Lewis Libby and/or David Addington in any way involved? Who knows? In the Iran-Contra affair, the Reagan administration drew together the seediest collection of freelance arms dealers, intelligence agents, allies, and -- in the case of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian regime -- sworn enemies in what can only be called"amateur hour" at the White House. Now, it looks like the Bush administration is heading down a similar path and, given its previous"amateur hour" reputation in foreign policy, imagine what this is likely to mean.
2. Jihadis as Proxies: Using jihadis as American proxies in a struggle to rollback Iran -- with the help of the Saudis -- should have rung a few bells somewhere in American memory as another been-there, done-that moment. In the 1980s -- on the theory that my enemy's enemy is my friend -- the fundamentalist Catholic CIA Director William Casey came to believe that Islamic fundamentalists could prove tight and trustworthy allies in rolling back the Soviet Union. In Afghanistan, as a result, the CIA, backed by the Saudis royals, who themselves represented an extremist form of Sunni Islam, regularly favored and funded the most extreme of the mujahedeen ready to fight the Soviets. Who can forget the results? Today, according to Hersh, the Saudis are reassuring key figures in the administration that this time they have the jihadis to whom funds are flowing under control. No problem. If you believe that, you'll believe anything.
3. Congress in the Dark: Hersh claims that, with the help of Saudi National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan (buddy to the Bushes and Dick Cheney's close comrade-in-arms), the people running the black-ops programs out of Cheney's office have managed to run circles around any possibility of Congressional oversight, leaving the institution completely"in the dark," which is undoubtedly exactly where Congress wanted to be for the last six years. Is this still true? The non-reaction to the Hersh piece isn't exactly encouraging.
To summarize, if Hersh is to be believed -- and as a major journalistic figure for the last near-40 years he certainly deserves to be taken seriously -- the Bush administration seems to be repeating the worst mistakes of the Reagan administration and of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, which led inexorably to the greatest acts of blowback in our history. Given what we already know about the Bush administration, Americans should be up nights worrying about what all this means now as well as down the line. For Congress, the media, and Americans in general, this report should have been not just a wake-up call, but a shout for an all-nighter with NoDoz.
In my childhood, one of the Philadelphia papers regularly ran cartoon ads for itself in which some poor soul in a perilous situation -- say, clinging to the ledge of a tall building -- would be screaming for help, while passersby were so engrossed in the paper that they didn't even look up. Now, we have the opposite situation. A journalist essentially writing bloody murder in a giant media and governmental crowd. In this case, no one in the mainstream evidently cares -– not yet anyway -- to pay the slightest attention. It seems that there's a crime going on and no one gives a damn. Think Kitty Genovese on a giant scale.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 21:12
SOURCE: http://www.democracyjournal.org (3-13-07)
As Peter Bergen and Michael Lind ably demonstrate in their recent article ["A Matter of Pride," Issue #3], the notion that poverty causes terrorism–and that, absent poverty, terrorism would diminish radically–is a fallacy. Indeed, the "myth of deprivation" is so manifestly inadequate that it is worth asking whether its supporters actually believe it or whether, instead of confronting the complexities of terrorism’s causes and the difficulty of combating it, they prefer to mouth a platitudinous perspective that poverty causes all ills and that alleviating poverty (which will not happen soon) cures them. Bergen and Lind are also certainly correct that a sense of humiliation fuels terrorism. After all, the terrorist movements they discuss, as well as others, so often speak its wounded idiom and the associated, though analytically distinct, idioms of vengeance and justice for perceived wrongs.
Yet whatever the substantial virtues of Bergen and Lind’s analysis, they seek to replace one misguided and reductionist master explanation with another. The threat we face is not merely a humiliated Muslim populace that can be assuaged by putting an end to the putative humiliation. Rather, we are in a struggle with a powerful, highly aggressive, and dangerous political movement, Political Islam. This is distinct from the religion of Islam and its many non-Political Islamic adherents. Because of this, focusing on the "humiliation" that we are said to cause Muslims obscures the central issues regarding the real nature and magnitude of the current threat.
The problems with the humiliation perspective of Bergen and Lind partly mirror those of the poverty position. The authors take humiliation mainly as a given and thus fail to investigate why terrorists and their supporters feel so humiliated in the first place, especially while other peoples and groups subject to similar or greater indignities do not. For instance, while they note that many non—Middle Eastern countries have not given birth to terrorist movements, they fail to note that many of those countries have also suffered substantial exploitation, domination, and all manner of indignities by Western powers, which often exceeds anything experienced by Middle Eastern countries. But, even assuming that Bergen and Lind are correct, they still fail to explain what exactly humiliation is–because, far from being an objective characteristic, as they seem to propose, it is a subjective quality that manifests itself in different quantities and intensities in different places, even in response to similar stimuli. And unless we delve deeper to understand what makes some people more prone to humiliation, we avoid the central issue and set ourselves up for misguided policy decisions.
Nor do Bergen and Lind explain why humiliation in and of itself leads to such disproportional will to violence and slaughter. For example, they claim that humiliation is the master explanation for the rise of Adolf Hitler and the politics he, with the willing aid of so many Germans, pursued. Its historical absurdity aside, this argument actually highlights the reductionism and untenability of their claim. There is simply no way to explain how the "humiliation" of a lost war (World War I) and a perceived unjust peace (Versailles) led Germans to attempt the annihilation of an entire people (the Jews) who had nothing to do with either; exterminate the mentally ill of Germany and elsewhere; conquer the Eurasian continent; slaughter additional millions of so-called subhumans (Poles, Russians, and others); turn entire peoples into slave populations; create a vast concentration camp system with more than 10,000 installations; and seek to destroy Christianity–and that’s only a partial list of the Nazi regime’s assault on humanity and Western civilization. Such an apocalyptic and cataclysmic politics can come only from a mix of many other ideological and other factors, including eliminationist anti-Semitism, a profound racism that held the world to be composed of warring races in a struggle for dominance and survival, and a strategic vision and the opportunity to finally fulfill certain long-standing imperial aspirations. Much the same can be said of today’s Political Islamic terrorists who seek to destroy the West; of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who seeks a world "without the United States and without Zionism"; and of Hamas, whose leader, Khaled Meshal, would desire to "sit on the throne of the world." In each case, a grandiose, uncompromising, and apocalyptic vision of Islam is the motivating force. Humiliation has played, at most, a tertiary part in producing such hopes and plans....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 13, 2007 - 20:44
SOURCE: NYT (3-10-07)
THE six-party agreement signed with North Korea last month should certainly be applauded as a necessary first step in improving relations with the United States. While a good deal of the North Korean program is shrouded in mystery — just this week the United States again urged the North Koreans to disclose any uranium-enrichment activities — there are some things we do know, including the nature and status of the country’s reactors....
The provenance of the North Korean centrifuge program is a useful lesson in nuclear proliferation. One can trace it back to the spring of 1945, when the Russians were overrunning Germany. Along with the army came a cadre of atomic and nuclear physicists who were looking for both German physicists and metallic uranium.
The latter had been made in large quantities — tons — by the Auer company, a subsidiary of the Degussa chemical company, in part by using slave labor from the concentration camps. The Soviets were able to take home about 300 tons of processed uranium.
Thanks to espionage, the Soviets knew where to look and whom to look for. (The United States had a similar program, called Alsos, that competed for many of the same people.) The Soviets collected a talented inventor of electronic devices named Manfred von Ardenne. He had made a great deal of money and had a large estate outside Berlin. On it he had a laboratory with a nuclear program financed by the German Post Office.
In May 1945 the Soviets shipped Dr. von Ardenne east with some of his colleagues and equipment from his laboratory. By June he had set up a laboratory, Institute A, in Sukhumi on the Black Sea in Georgia. Nearby, another laboratory, Institute G, had been set up by Gustav Hertz, a German physicist of Jewish ancestry who had shared the 1925 Nobel Prize in Physics. Dr. Hertz had been working out of sight at the Siemens company during the Nazi period.
The Sukhumi scientists were ordered to find methods of separating uranium isotopes. Dr. Hertz chose to study gaseous diffusion. Uranium hexafluoride gas is forced through tiny pores in a membrane to separate out the lighter isotope, uranium 235, which is needed for weapons. Dr. von Ardenne tried separation by using electromagnetic fields, a technique also used in the American uranium separation program at Oak Ridge, Tenn.
A third group, headed by a physicist named Max Steenbeck, investigated the centrifuge. Dr. Steenbeck, who had been arrested by the Soviets and put in a concentration camp in Poland, had previously been in charge of research for the division of Siemens that dealt with aircraft. While in captivity he wrote a letter to the Soviet secret police, the N.K.V.D., explaining his scientific background; he also ended up in Sukhumi. Dr. Steenbeck began with a small group and some antiquated Soviet centrifuges that certainly could not have been used to separate uranium isotopes.
In the summer of 1946 they were joined by an Austrian physicist named Gernot Zippe. Dr. Zippe had been in the Luftwaffe during the war and, after having been taken prisoner in the summer of 1946, he went from a prison camp to the relative luxury of Sukhumi, thanks to the initiative of Dr. von Ardenne. Neither Dr. Zippe nor Dr. Steenbeck had ever worked on centrifuges, but within two years they created the best centrifuge in the world — although at the time they did not know it. (To give some idea of its capacity, a typical laboratory centrifuge makes a few thousand rotations a minute. The Zippe centrifuge — this is the common name, although Dr. Zippe himself refers to it as the “Russian centrifuge” — can do 90,000 rotations a minute.)
In 1956, Dr. Zippe was allowed to return to Germany. Although he was not permitted to take any documents with him, he was able to reconstruct his work, and began consulting for various companies interested in centrifuges, including Degussa.
The private German companies, including the part of Degussa that was doing centrifuges, became nationalized in 1964. But in 1970 these national companies became part of an international consortium called Urenco. The Dutch had a branch in Almelo and, in 1972, a Pakistani metallurgist named Abdul Qadeer Khan joined it. Fluent in both Dutch and German, he was given the job of translating the German centrifuge plans into Dutch. He became familiar with both the German and Dutch versions of the Zippe centrifuge.
In 1974, India successfully tested a nuclear device, and Pakistan’s president, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, put out a call to all the scientists in the Pakistani diaspora to return home and help make a bomb. Dr. Khan was one who answered and he brought with him the stolen plans for the Zippe centrifuge. ...
Posted on: Saturday, March 10, 2007 - 19:13
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (3-1-07)
The answer to the question of today’s talk, “Russia: toward democracy or dictatorship?” is “neither.” Russia is not a democracy, and it is not a dictatorship. Russia, like most countries of the world, has a ramshackle authoritarian system with some democratic trappings (some of which are meaningful). Russia is not in transition to or from anything. Russia is what it is.
Here in the U.S., it seems much harder than it should be to get good information on and insight into Russia. For instance, while the U.S. is the world’s number-one country in the number of immigrants it receives each year, Russia is second. Perhaps you knew that, but most likely you did not. “Immigrant nation” is not a way we in the U.S. talk about or understand today’s Russia. Most of the immigrants to Russia come from former Soviet republics, like Ukraine, Armenia, or Tajikistan, though some also come from North Korea and China. Today more than 500,000 and perhaps up to 1 million Muslims are thought to live in Moscow! At the same time, more than a quarter million Russians live in London. These migratory patterns represent major shifts. They are tied to the huge story of the Russian economy, which is transregional and global, but which we often hear about through a political lens.
American reportage on Russia generally obsesses about the Kremlin and the leader, Vladimir Putin. Putin dominates U.S. coverage of Russia far more than he dominates Russia. In the bargain, American media rarely quote Russians other than so-called talking heads distant from the high politics being obsessively covered. On policy matters there are almost no “senior Kremlin officials” quoted either by name or anonymously in American dispatches. Similarly, there are almost no heads of major businesses quoted. Court cases or tax cases do not cite law enforcement or state officials of any rank. Often not even agency spokesmen are quoted in the reporting. To be sure, some foreign reporters working in English on Russia do dig up facts, quote many sources close to events, and illuminate issues beyond the preoccupations of the U.S. government and bilateral relations. And there is hope that the circumstance of a semi-competitive or even simulated presidential election campaign will induce some Russian insiders to grant a degree of access to foreign media.
Access does not guarantee insight—as we know from Washington reportage—but most reports on Russia continue to be virtually unsourced. If pressed about access challenges and a conspicuous lack of good sources, American reporters covering Russia might blame the Russians’ penchant for secrecy. They would have a point. The hyper-secretive Russian government is a marketing nightmare, guaranteeing the country as a whole a far worse reputation than it merits. In what follows—which is based upon firsthand observation and discussions with Russian officialdom—I present some broad-brush comments on three dimensions of understanding Russia: first, the phenomenon of so-called Kremlin Inc., the now fashionable notion that the Putin regime is like a big, single state corporation; second, the uncannily stable nature of today’s Russian society, something we hear far less about; and third, Russia’s new assertiveness, which has taken many people by surprise and which is sometimes perceived as a new threat.
“Kremlin Inc.” is something that anyone can readily understand. It signifies that a KGB-dominated Putin group has taken over Russia and controls the country politically and economically. It’s a wonderfully simple story, now perhaps the dominate view among U.S. commentators on Russia. But Kremlin Inc. is one of those pernicious half truths.
The Russian political system lacks functioning political parties or other institutionalized mechanisms of elite recruitment. Instead it has an extremely personalistic system. Russian leaders appoint to positions of authority those people they went to school with, those from their home town, those from the places where they used to work. Vladimir Putin came from St. Petersburg. Moreover, he was at the top levels in Moscow for only a short period before he became president. To assert operative control over central state institutions and state-owned corporations, he seeks to appoint people who are loyal to him (sometimes he gets lucky and get both competence and loyalty, but often it’s just loyalty). Such people naturally will come from his hometown and former places of work, which happened to be the Leningrad KGB and the St. Petersburg city government.
(Note: There are two main public contenders to succeed Putin as president in 2008. One, Sergei Ivanov, comes from the Leningrad KGB, while the other, Dimitrii Medvedev, comes from the St. Petersburg city government. Most insiders suspect there will be a last-minute stealth candidate, in keeping with how Putin himself emerged and how he operates; others suspect that any Putin step-aside in 2008 will be more apparent than real. Only one person knows—if he in fact knows—whom he will be put forward as his successor.)
The popular idea of a KGB takeover of the Russian political system makes a certain amount of sense. The Soviet KGB was a huge institution, with massive personnel, and so, inevitably, a lot of today’s movers and shakers used to work there. But if Putin had worked in the defense ministry, the defense ministry would be “taking over” Russia. If he had worked in the gas industry, those who have made their careers in gas would be “taking over” Russia. It’s wrong to assume that because Putin comes from the KGB, and because that’s where his loyalists come from, the whole system is moving in the direction of a security regime by design. There is an element of that. Many of Putin’s colleagues sometimes do share a certain mentality—distrust of the West—but even more significantly, they belong to competing factions.
And that’s the key point. Whereas “Kremlin Inc.” implies a team, united in a collective enterprise, most high Russian officials despise each other. They’re rivals, in charge of competing fiefdoms with overlapping jurisdictions, and they’re trying to destroy each other. Dictatorship 101 teaches that a dictator needs officials to distrust each other, so that they’ll tattle to him about each other. The ruler will say “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him, he won’t bother you anymore.” Sometimes the ruler will impose a temporary truce. Often, though, the ruler will instigate still more conflict, pitting already antagonistic interests against each other, so that they’ll run to him for protection and become dependent on him.
Putin’s regime falls far short of being a dictatorship—in the chaotic conditions of the dysfunctional Russian state and of Russia’s relatively open society—but Putin’s ruling strategy comes straight out of Dictatorship 101. To outsiders, the strategy looks like centralization of all power in a disciplined pyramid, but on the inside the strategy looks like making sure that the ruling “team,” far from being united, is at each other’s throats. Thus, “Kremlin Inc.” is a political system of surface stability but turmoil underneath. Its members compete incessantly, and in Russian politics, offense is the best defense, so they proactively go after each other’s property and people (in a so-called naezd) before waiting for rivals to go after them.
What keeps this divided, turbulent, unstable, misnamed Kremlin Inc. from spinning violently out of control is dependence on Putin. Remove that one piece and pandemonium breaks loose in full view, rather than remaining mostly hidden. But Putin has promised, many times, that he will not seek a third consecutive term as president, which the 1993 Constitution prohibits. Putin has made this frequent promise even though he could have kept quiet. He has done it inside and outside the country, in public and in private. Many talking head commentators speculate that Putin is going to create a crisis and then use the crisis to remain in power. In truth, he doesn’t need a crisis. He has something like an 80 percent approval rating—as elected officials go across the world, that’s mind-blowing this deep into a governing cycle. Putin can essentially do whatever he wants. He doesn’t need to violate the constitution. If he wants, the Duma will change the constitution in a heartbeat and he can have his third term, with broad public support. But he keeps saying publicly that he doesn’t want a third term.
Putin’s insistence that he is stepping down has been frightening Russian business, international business, and even many international politicians. These people are sincerely afraid that the president is actually going to step aside in March 2008. If he does, the factions of the supposed Kremlin Inc.—a bunch of scorpions in a bottle—will go at each other publicly. Some of them will refuse to be subordinated to a new person. Some will want to be the new person. Many insiders want Putin to remain, to avoid the uncertainty of a struggle to establish a new primus inter pares, or leading figure. To be sure, far from everyone hopes the president will stay, but Putin has gotten an enormous swath of Russia’s population to pray, literally, that he engineers a smooth “transition.” Because Russia’s political system is so fractious and dependent on a single person, however, anything can happen in March 2008. Anything except democracy and rule of law.
From the point of view of many Russian insiders, the issue is, how does Putin manage a transition in which he has exacerbated animosities as a method of rule but, when he removes himself, does not allow those animosities to get out of hand? Posing the question this way should not be taken as an argument for Putin to remain in power or against Russia holding a genuine election. This is simply an observation about the state of play: the regime is unstable because all authoritarian regimes are ultimately unstable, and because the president keeps insisting publicly that he will abide by the Constitution and step down, thereby exposing the tremendous instability that lies at the heart of his outwardly stable regime.
Russia’s Mostly Stable Society
The part of Russia that is stable is the society. Russian society is enormously dynamic. According to professional studies by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, something like 20-25 percent of Russian society qualifies as solidly middle class. Other studies—similarly measuring everything from level of education, foreign language knowledge, travel and abroad to income, lifestyle and, most important, property ownership—confirm this general picture. But the Russian middle class is something we hear too little about (unlike the middle class in, say, China or India). Instead, we hear about “oligarchs.” The latter number in the dozens, while the middle class numbers in the dozens of millions.
Russia’s middle class is not limited to the capital, although it’s biggest there. You see it in all the regional centers that have a dynamic economy. You see it in western Siberia, in St. Petersburg and in the north around St. Petersburg, in pockets of central Russia, and in some border areas. That doesn’t mean that the society has no poverty, that there aren’t deep problems like an overall decline of the population at all ages -down to 142 million, and still shrinking, despite the immigration. But the country has a dynamic, stable society, and it owns property. We tend to assume that there cannot be property ownership without rule of law. But if that were true, Chinese society or Russian society would not exist. But they do exist. There is no rule of law. But there is widespread ownership of property. For all the deep social problems—from drug-resistant TB to persistent alcoholism—Russian society is simultaneously a source of dynamism and stability.
About half of the Russian middle class works for the state. They’re bureaucrats and functionaries, law enforcement officials and tax collectors, inspectors and education overseers. They work in the KGB successor, the FSB, and in the big state-owned gas, oil, automobile, or defense companies. There’s a gigantic private economy in Russia (Russia’s economy is more private than China’s). But even those who work in private companies usually work in very large corporations. A tiny fraction of the Russian middle class owns their own businesses, but by and large, Russia’s middle class is not independent, small- or medium-sized business owners. Whereas in the United States and Western Europe, 70 percent of employment is in small and medium-sized businesses, Russia doesn’t even approach 25 percent for such employment. Still, Russia has a stable, dynamic, growing, state and corporate middle class that has a tremendous stake in stability.
Putin deserves some credit for the current sense of and desire for continued social stability, and he gets such credit from middle class Russians and those aspiring to become so. Again, however, outsiders sometimes miss or misinterpret this point, because they are looking for democracy. American political science teaches that if a country gets a stable middle class, it is on the road to the rule of law and democracy. This is true except in all the cases where it’s not true, which is most of the world. The Russian middle class knows Europe firsthand from traveling there, and for the most part its members identify with the values and institutions of democratic Europe. But the Russian middle class is smart, and it knows that if it gets political, it could lose its property and status. Individuals respond to incentives very well (economists are not totally wrong), and for the most part Russia’s middle class is not ready to sacrifice its position to push for the rule of law and democracy; rather, it is interested in preserving its wealth, in privileged access for its children to educational institutions and to career paths. So there is no push in Russia for democracy either from the top or the middle, even though much of the middle identifies strongly with European values and institutions.
Consolidation of dictatorship is not happening either, and society is a factor in that as well. Russia has no ideology like communism to unify people around a strong dictator, the Russian state lacks the capacity to impose military-style discipline on itself, and Russia has a market economy that is extremely complex to subordinate in part because it’s globalized. Even though there is a strong current in Russian society appreciative of order, few people mistake order for dictatorship. In fact, in conversations there is quite a lot of criticism in Russia of Putin and of the country’s direction, especially from people who comprise the Russian state. Meanwhile, Russian society is transforming the country’s socioeconomic landscape with its hard work, entrepreneurialism, consumption patterns and tastes, demand for education, foreign travel, and networking both domestically and globally. Russia’s social transformation is a big story, hiding, once again, in plain view. It is enough to take in the commercial advertising throughout society and media, including on pro-Kremlin Russian television, to see that business interests are targeting something commentators are not: Russia’s middle class.
Stepping on the Rake
In the 1990s, NATO expansion should have been defended on the grounds that it would increase the strength and capacity of NATO. In the event, the expansion did no such thing. On the contrary, you could argue that expansion has weakened NATO because you have all these militaries that were brought into NATO that don’t meet NATO specifications and have little to contribute. One key argument against NATO expansion in the 1990s was “It will anger the Russians and make them really mad at us, and they’ll do some bad things. So placate the Russians and don’t expand NATO.” I found this argument to be wrongheaded. (I was against NATO expansion, but I was against it because I thought it was bad for NATO.) But that’s policy under the bridge, as they say. Still, today when people say “Now Russia is flexing its muscles, it’s again trying to be involved in all regions of the world, NATO shouldn’t have expanded,” my response is that had there been no NATO expansion, we would likely still have what we see now in Russia: a revived, assertive, resentful power.
This revived, assertive, resentful Russia is nothing to fear. Russia has state interests that are different from U.S. interests (or Japanese interests or Chinese interests). Russians are more assertive in pressing their perceived state interests, but are they effective in doing so? Have they persuaded Europe that they’re a partner in energy security by cutting off the gas to Ukraine, or are they using their energy muscle in a way that could be compared to stepping on a rake? When you step on a rake, you smack yourself in the forehead. That’s Russian foreign policy. They smack themselves in the forehead.
Energy supply looks like a point of tremendous leverage for Russia, except energy’s a market, which entails a kind of codependency relationship. Russian suppliers have to find customers, and those customers have to not find alternatives, either in somebody else’s hydrocarbons or alternative forms. Silly talk about a “gas OPEC”—Russia has refused to join the regular OPEC—is a diversion, usually failing to enumerate the various ways that a gas OPEC is an impossibility, and the ways that the idea, not dismissed by Putin, goes down well in Tehran. An even more fundamental point often missed is that Russia cannot be your old Soviet economy anymore. Russia can form as many big state companies as it wants, but if Russia’s state-owned companies fail to perform in market conditions, the market will eventually punish them. The old joke about the State Planning Commission, so-called Gosplan, was that if you put them in charge of the Sahara, there would be a shortage of sand. Well, Gazprom, the gas monopoly, is in charge of the gas in a country that has around 33 percent of world gas reserves, and Russia may be running out of gas. The problem with a market economy is that you actually have to run a company as a business, and if you do not, you will pay the price.
When the Russia government gets assertive, mostly rhetorically, there’s little cause to worry, or even to react. Sure, other countries need to try to understand what Russian state interests are, so that there can be productive state-to-state relations based on mutual interests. But this is no different from relations with China, India, or any major country that seeks a place in an international system that these major powers did not create but that cannot function without their inclusion. A new cold war does not happen simply because Russia is suddenly semi-assertive again. Russia’s military is a shambles. Russia’s territory is much reduced, it controls no empire or satellites, and it barely has a sphere of influence. It lacks meaningful alliances. Its current political-economic model does not appeal to developing countries. True, Russia’s GDP has been growing at a rapid pace for eight years, but this is a good thing. In the belated recognition that Russia is a petrostate, the degree of diversification of Russia’s economy (biotech, software, aerospace, military hardware, food processing) is often missed. That, not posturing, will be the basis of Russian power, or lack thereof.
The overall picture in Russia, therefore, is, first, a false stability in the regime but actual instability there. The 2008 problem (presidential elections) is one in which everyone sees Putin as a solution but he himself may actually upend their expectations. Second, Russia has a dynamic middle-class society that is stable, and mostly apolitical. The middle-class in Russia understands that for now being apolitical is a winning strategy, and so it is deeply apolitical, to the disappointment of human rights and democracy activists. Third, the world will have to get used to the newly assertive Russia. Russia is not what it was in the 1990s, when it was free-falling, in an ongoing post-Soviet collapse, but rather it is a strategic power in a very important location, with its own state interests, interests that are going to conflict with others’ interests sometimes. Still, there is no need to be alarmed. The problem with viewing Russia as a major threat is that the threat is mostly to itself, not to the outside world.
Russia is stepping on a rake in almost all foreign policy arenas. Russia is also remarkably friendless. The only true friend Russia has is U.S. foreign policy, which is enormously effective at increasing anti-Americanism. The anti-Americanism is there in the world already; U.S. foreign policy doesn’t create it. But the goal of American foreign policy should be to decrease anti-Americanism. Instead, Washington seems adept at increasing anti-Americanism. This is the basis of much of Russian diplomacy. Everywhere that anti-Americanism is increasing, Russia sees an opportunity for itself to push into the conversation and be involved in adjudicating global issues. So a policy of diminishing anti-Americanism is actually a policy of diminishing Russian influence in the world. Still, some considerable degree of Russian power—like Chinese or Indian or Japanese or German power—will continue to be felt.
Posted on: Thursday, March 8, 2007 - 19:29
SOURCE: New Republic (3-1-07)
War is always a risky enterprise for the political party or ideological faction that undertakes it. Like the Vietnam War, the Iraq War has broken the grip on national power of a dominant party that had been confidently reshaping American politics. Democracies want speedy victories, especially if they were promised one; a government that fails in war throws into doubt its whole view of the world. Even a party that leads a nation to victory in a war with overwhelming support may be punished at the polls afterward. Think of the defeat of Winston Churchill's Conservatives in 1945 and the reverses suffered by the Democrats after both world wars.
Since Vietnam, though, war has spelled particular trouble for liberals. Torn between competing values, liberals and the Democratic Party have been prone to divisions between hawks and doves and to ambivalence and uncertainty among their cross-pressured leaders. Liberals are dogged by charges from the right that they are unserious about national security; but they also worry that war endangers everything that they value and all that they want to accomplish domestically. The first argument claims that liberalism is unprepared to fight wars, while the second suggests that liberalism unravels in wartime. Either way, it seems, if war looms, liberalism loses.
It is not just about contemporary liberalism that such arguments have been made. The idea that constitutional government and liberal democracy are unsuited to the rigors of war has a long genealogy, and for a time the historical evidence was at least ambiguous. Classical liberalism had its heyday in the mid-1800s, when the conditions of world politics were relatively benign. Well into the twentieth century it seemed reasonable to suppose that, like a plant that grows only in bright sunshine, liberalism flourishes only in peace. Reflecting on his party's decline after World War I, David Lloyd George, Britain's last Liberal prime minister, wrote in his memoirs that "war has always been fatal to Liberalism."
Lloyd George may have been rationalizing his own failures as a party leader. If wars were generally fatal to liberalism, it could never have survived, given the frequency of war throughout modern history. If liberal governments under liberal leadership were incapable of seeing war through to a successful conclusion, the great struggles of the twentieth century against totalitarianism would have ended in catastrophe, and today we would live in a different world. Liberalism has turned out to be stronger and more effective in war than its adversaries have expected, and it has proved to be more resilient under the pressures of war than liberals themselves have feared. History does not prove that contemporary liberalism will have the same strength and the same resilience, and it certainly does not suggest that liberals should welcome war; but at a time when a conservative government has failed in war and thrown into doubt its whole view of the world, liberals would do well to remember a tradition that rightfully belongs to them and shows why they can do better in matters of both war and peace. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, March 6, 2007 - 22:35
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (3-6-07)
Let's start with the obvious waste. We know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives since the Bush administration invaded their country in March 2003, that almost two million may have fled to other countries, and that possibly millions more have been displaced from their homes in ethnic-cleansing campaigns. We also know that an estimated 4.5 million Iraqi children are now malnourished and that this is but"the tip of the iceberg" in a country where diets are generally deteriorating, while children are dying of preventable diseases in significant numbers; that the Iraqi economy is in ruins and its oil industry functioning at levels significantly below its worst moments in Saddam Hussein's day -- and that there is no end in sight for any of this.
We know that, while the new crew of American military officials in Baghdad are starting to tout the"successes" of the President's"surge" plan, they actually fear a collapse of support at home within the next half-year, believe they lack the forces necessary to carry out their own plan, and doubt its ultimate success. What a tragic waste.
We know that while the U.S. military focuses on the Iraqi capital and al-Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, taking casualties in both places, fleeing Iraqi refugees are claiming that jihadis have largely taken over the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, and renamed it"the Islamic Emirate of Samarra" -- a grim sign indeed. (Here's just one refugee's assessment:"that large areas of the farms around Samarra have been transformed into camps like those of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.")
We know that, as the U.S. military concentrates its limited forces and the minimal Iraqi units that fight with them, in a desperate battle to control the capital, for both Sunnis and Shia, the struggle simply spreads to less well-defended areas. We also know that the Sunni insurgents have been honing their tactics around Baghdad, their attacks growing deadlier on the ground and more accurate against the crucial helicopter support system which makes so much of the American occupation possible. Some of them have also begun to wield a new, potentially exceedingly deadly and indiscriminate weapon -- trucks filled with chlorine gas, essentially homemade chemical weapons on wheels which can be blown up at any moment.
In other words, before the Bush administration is done two of its bogus prewar claims -- that Saddam's Iraq was linked to the Islamic extremists who launched the 9/11 attacks and that it had weapons of mass destruction -- could indeed become realities. What a pathetic waste.
We know that, while Americans tend to talk about the"Iraq War," with a few exceptions like the fierce battle with Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in Najaf in 2004, it has actually been a remarkably unsuccessful pacification campaign against a Sunni insurgency alone; that is, a war against less than 20% of the Iraqi population (even if every Sunni supports some insurgent faction). We know that billions and billions of dollars have gone down the rat-hole of Iraqi"reconstruction" -- with multimillions more simply stolen or utterly unaccounted for by American financial overseers -- and that what reconstruction has been done is generally substandard and overpriced in the extreme. What a waste of resources.
We know, on the other hand, that a series of vast military bases have been built in Iraq of a permanency that is hard to grasp from thousands of miles away and that the largest embassy in the history of the universe has been going up on schedule on an almost Vatican-sized plot of land in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone to represent the United States to a government whose powers don't extend far beyond that zone. Talk about waste!
We know that we stand at the edge of a possible war with Iran. It could come about thanks to a Bush administration decision to launch a massive air attack on that country's nuclear facilities; or it could simply happen, thanks to ever more provocative U.S. acts and Iranian responses, leading to a conflict which would undoubtedly play havoc with the global energy supply, threaten a massive global recession or depression, and create untold dangers for the American military in Iraq, which might then have to face something closer to an 80% Iraqi insurgency. What a ridiculous waste.
We know that, since the moment President Bush stood under the"Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln in early May 2003 and declared"major combat operations in Iraq have ended," American deaths have risen from relatively few into the range of nearly 100 a month or more. We know that these deaths have also grown steadier on a day-to-day basis like a dripping faucet that can't be fixed. This February, for instance, there were only five days on which, according to the definitive Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, the Pentagon did not report at least one (and often multiple) American deaths.
It's finally national news that Americans wounded in Iraq come home"on the cheap" (as Tomdispatch's Judith Coburn reported back in April 2006). The crisis at the country's premier military hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is already proving to be another"Brownie-heck-of-a-job" privatization scandal (with the contract to run the place having gone to a company headed by two former Halliburton execs), and the nightly network news as well as major newspapers assure us that this is just"the tip of the iceberg."
According to a Congressional staffer quoted in human-rights lawyer Scott Horton's"No Comment" newsletter,"This is Hurricane Katrina all over again. Grossly incompetent management and sweetheart contracts given to contractors with tight GOP connections. There will be enough blame to go around, but the core of the problem is increasingly clear: it's political appointees near the center of power in the Pentagon who have spun the system for partisan and personal benefit. But they'll make a brigade of soldiers and officers walk the plank to try to throw us off the scent."
As Juan Cole pointed out recently,
"The privatization of patient care services is responsible for a lot of the problem here… The Bush-Cheney regime rewarded civilian firms with billions while they paid US GIs a pittance to risk their lives for their country. And then when they were wounded they were sent someplace with black mold on the walls. A full investigation into the full meaning of 'privatization' at the Pentagon for our troops would uncover epochal scandals."
What a needless waste!
We know that the U.S. military has been ground down; that the National Guard has been run ragged by its multiple Iraq call-ups and tour-of-duty extensions -- according to the Washington Post,"Nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated ‘not ready'" -- and can no longer be counted on to"surge" effectively in crises like Hurricane Katrina here at home; that the Reserves are in equally shaky shape; that troops are being shipped into Iraq without proper training or equipment; that the Army is offering increasing numbers of "moral waivers" for criminal activities just to fill its ranks; that the soldiers joining our all-volunteer military, however they come home, are increasingly from communities more likely to be in economic trouble -- rural and immigrant -- either forgotten or overlooked by most Americans; that these traditionally patriotic areas are now strikingly less supportive of administration policy; and that the death rate in Iraq and Afghanistan is 60% higher for soldiers from rural than suburban or urban areas. If all of this doesn't add up to a programmatic policy of waste and evasion of responsibility, what does?
We know that, on February 11th, the day Sen. Barack Obama, in his first speech as an avowed presidential candidate, said,"We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged, and to which we now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted," Sgt. Robert B. Thrasher, 23, of Folsom, California died in Baghdad of"small-arms fire," Sgt. Russell A. Kurtz, 22, of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania in Fallujah from an IED, and Spc. Dennis L. Sellen Jr., 20, of Newhall, California in Umm Qsar of"non-combat related injuries." We know that on February 28th, the day that Senator John McCain announced his candidacy for the presidency on the Late Show with David Letterman, saying,"Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be. We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, over there," Sgt. Chad M. Allen, 25, of Maple Lake, Minnesota and Pfc. Bufford K. Van Slyke, 22, of Bay City, Michigan died while" conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province."
We know that, while in the remote backlands along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan -- an area our President recently called"wilder than the Wild West" -- and in Afghanistan itself, the Taliban is resurgent and al-Qaeda has reorganized, Americans die in Iraq. We know that every Bush administration public explanation for the invasion and occupation of Iraq -- Saddam's links to the 9/11 attacks, his weapons of mass destruction and burgeoning nuclear program, the"liberation" of Iraqis, the bringing of"democracy" to Iraq -- has sunk beneath the same waves that took down the President's"victory" (a word, as late as November 2005, he used 15 times in a speech promoting his"strategy for victory in Iraq"). We know that the President's policies, from New Orleans to Afghanistan, have been characterized by massive waste, programmatic incompetence, misrepresentation, and outright lies.
We know that the real explanations for the invasion of Iraq -- involving the urge to nail down the energy heartlands of the planet and establish an eternal American dominance in the Middle East (and beyond) -- in part through a series of elaborate permanent bases in Iraq -- still can't be seriously discussed in the mainstream in this country. We know that the Bush administration has never hesitated to press hot-button emotional issues to get its way with the public and that, until perhaps 2005, the hot-button issue of choice was the President's Global War on Terror, which translated into the heightening of a post-9/11 American sense of insecurity and fear in the face of the world. We know as well that this worked with remarkable efficiency, even after the color-coded version of that insecurity and those fears was left in the dust. We know that in this al-Qaeda played a striking role -- from the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which a small number of fanatics were able to create the look of the apocalypse, to the release of an Osama bin Laden video just before the election of 2004. What a waste that such a tiny group of extremists was blown up to the size of Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia in the public imagination.
We know that there is only one hot-button issue left for this administration (short of a massive new terrorist attack on"the homeland") -- the American troops already in or going to Iraq or those who have already died there. We know that Senators Obama and McCain had to immediately backtrack and express"regrets" for in any way indicating that American deaths in Iraq might represent a"waste" of young lives; that, for their statements, Obama was promptly attacked by Fox News and right-wing bloggers, while McCain was set upon by the Democratic National Committee. So we also know that there is some kind of agreement across the board politically when it comes to those troops, which goes under the rubric of"supporting" them.
We know that both Senators' statements about a profligate invasion, a disastrous occupation, and a catastrophic pacification campaign, all based on a web of lies and false (or cleverly cherry-picked) intelligence, turning Iraq into a charnel house -- far more Iraqis have now died than were ever killed by Saddam Hussein -- and a center for extremist activity, were promptly pegged in the media as"slips" or"gaffes" that hurt each of the politicians involved. We also know that the American people in poll after poll now say that the Iraq War was not worth fighting and the invasion not worth launching; that similar majorities want the war to end quickly, preferably within a six-month to one-year time-frame for the withdrawal of all troops with no garrisons left in Iraq.
We know that congressional representatives are generally terrified of not seeming to"support the troops"; that somehow those troops themselves have been separated from the actual fighting in Iraq, even though, for better or worse, you can't separate the military from the mission; that, to some extent, you are (and are affected by) what you do; and that when the mission is a"waste" -- or, in this case, even worse than that because it has created conditions more dangerous than those it wiped away -- then any life lost in the process is, by definition, a waste of some sort as well. No matter what your brand of politics might be, this should be an obvious, if painful, fact -- that the loss of young people, who might have accomplished and experienced so much, in the pursuit of such waste is the definition of wasting a life. That this can hardly be said today is one of the stranger aspects of our moment and it has a strange little history to go with it.
How Our Soldiers Became Hostages
You would have to start any brief"support our troops" history with the dismal end of the Vietnam War and a consensus that the antiwar movement had been particularly self-destructive in not supporting the soldiers in Vietnam. (In fact, this is a far more complex subject, but we'll save that for another day.) In any war to come, it was clear that the charge of not supporting the troops was going to be met by an antiwar opposition determined to proclaim their support for the soldiers, no matter what. In fact, nowhere on the political spectrum was anyone going to be caught dead not supporting-the-troops-more-than-thou. This was one simplified lesson everyone seemed to carry away from defeat in Vietnam (despite the fact that in the latter years of the war, the heart of the antiwar movement was antiwar Vietnam veterans and that the Army in Vietnam itself was, until withdrawn, in a state of near revolt and collapse).
Add into this the history of the yellow ribbon. The yellow ribbon had long been a symbol of military men gone to war (and the women they left behind them), while captivity narratives had been among the earliest thrillers, you might say, of American history (though the captives were usually women). In 1973, Tony Orlando and Dawn released"Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree," a song about a convict returning from prison and wondering whether his wife or lover would welcome him home. It was a massive success as were a postwar spate of films about MIAs and imprisoned American soldiers in Vietnam. In the wake of defeat, the theme of the heroic soldier as mistreated captive and victim came front and center in the culture.
Now jump to 1979 and the Khomeini Revolution against the Shah of Iran. On November 4 of that year, Iranian students broke into the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the Americans inside hostage, holding them in captivity for 444 days."In December 1979, Penelope Laingen, wife of the most senior foreign service officer being held hostage, tied a yellow ribbon around a tree on the lawn of her Maryland home. The ribbon primarily symbolized the resolve of the American people to win the hostages' safe release, and it featured prominently in the celebrations of their return home in January 1981."
Throughout the 1980s, the yellow ribbon remained a symbol of support for unarmed Americans kidnapped in the Middle East. In 1990, however, at the time of the First Gulf War, something truly strange, if largely forgotten, happened. The yellow ribbon as a symbol migrated from captive American civilians to American volunteer troops simply sent into action. This was quite new. From the beginning of the First Gulf War, the administration of George H. W. Bush dealt with its troops in the Persian Gulf as if they were potential MIAs. Their situation was framed in a language previously reserved for hostagedom: They were an army of"kids" (as the President called them), essentially awaiting rescue (in victory, of course) and a quick return to American shores.
During that brief war -- which was largely a slaughter of Iraqi conscripts from the army Saddam Hussein had sent into Kuwait -- the most omnipresent patriotic symbol, along with the flag, was the yellow ribbon, tied to everything in sight and now a visible pledge to support our troops re-imagined as potential hostages. The yellow ribbon certainly emphasized the role of those troops as victims. (Because they were already imagined as captives, there was confusion about how to portray the small number of American military personnel actually captured by the Iraqis during hostilities, a few of whom were shown, battered-looking on Iraqi TV.)
The yellow ribbon reappeared for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, largely miniaturized as removable car magnets. It was by now the norm not just to imagine supporting our troops without regard to their mission, but to think of them, however unconsciously, as mass victims, captives of whatever situation they happened to be in once things went bad.
A Policy Built on the Backs of the Dead
With our soldiers transformed into warrior-victims and the objects of all sympathy, the stage was set for the President's latest explanation for his ongoing policy in Iraq. For some time now, he has implied, or simply stated, that his war must go on, if for no other reason than to make sure those Americans who already died in Iraq have not died in vain. This bizarre, self-sustaining formula has by now come to replace just about every other explanation of the administration's stake in Iraq. We are there and must remain there because we must support our soldiers, not just the living ones but the dead ones as well -- and this is the single emotional valence upon which everyone now seems to agree (or at least fears to disagree).
In January of last year, for instance, Bush said typically,"And, I, as the Commander-in-Chief, I am resolved to make sure that those who have died in combats' sacrifice are not in vain.…"; in October 2006, he commented that"[r]etreating from Iraq would dishonor the men and women who have given their lives in that country, and mean their sacrifice has been in vain."
In a strange way, this is but another version of the"waste" explanation set on its head. Now that"supporting the troops" has become not only the gold standard, but essentially the only standard, by which this administration can rally support for Bush's war, such presidential statements have become commonplace. No longer is Congress to fund the war in Iraq; it is to fund the troops, whatever any particular representative might think of administration policy.
Here, for instance, is how a White House response to the House of Representatives resolution criticizing the President's Iraq surge plan put it on February 16th:"Soon, Congress will have the opportunity to show its support for the troops in Iraq by funding the supplemental appropriations request the President has submitted, and which our men and women in combat are counting on." Or as the President stated the previous day:"Our troops are risking their lives. As they carry out the new strategy, they need our patience, and they need our support… Our men and women in uniform are counting on their elected leaders to provide them with the support they need to accomplish their mission. We have a responsibility, Republicans and Democrats have a responsibility to give our troops the resources they need to do their job and the flexibility they need to prevail." Or in a press conference the day before that:"Soon Congress is going to be able to vote on a piece of legislation that is binding, a bill providing emergency funding for our troops. Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C. to provide them with the support they need to do their mission."
Put another way, American troops in Iraq, or heading for Iraq, and the American dead from the Iraq War are now hostage to, and the only effective excuse for, Bush administration policy; and American politicians and the public are being held hostage by the idea that the troops must be supported (and funded) above all else, no matter how wasteful or repugnant or counterproductive or destructive or dangerous you may consider the war in Iraq.
The President expressed this particularly vividly in response to the following question at his recent news conference:
"[i]f you're one of those Americans that thinks you've made a terrible mistake [in Iraq], that it's destined to end badly, what do you do? If they speak out, are they by definition undermining the troops?"
Bush replied, in part:
"I said early in my comment… somebody who doesn't agree with my policy is just as patriotic a person as I am. Your question is valid. Can somebody say, we disagree with your tactics or strategy, but we support the military -- absolutely, sure. But what's going to be interesting is if they don't provide the flexibility and support for our troops that are there to enforce the strategy that David Petraeus, the general on the ground, thinks is necessary to accomplish the mission."
This is hot-button blackmail. Little could be more painful than a parent, any parent, outliving a child, or believing that a child had his or her life cut off at a young age and in vain. To use such natural parental emotions, as well as those that come from having your children (or siblings or wife or husband) away at war and in constant danger of injury or death, is the last refuge of a political scoundrel. It amounts to mobilizing the prestige of anxious or grieving parents in a program of national emotional blackmail. It effectively musters support for the President's ongoing Iraq policy by separating the military from the war it is fighting and by declaring non-support for the war taboo, if you act on it.
It indeed does turn the troops in a wasteful and wasted invasion and war, ordered by a wasteful, thoughtless administration of gamblers and schemers who had no hesitation about spilling other people's blood, into hostages. Realistically, for an administration that was, until now, unfazed by the crisis at Walter Reed, this is nothing but building your politics on the backs of the dead, the maimed, and the psychologically distraught or destroyed.
As the Iranians in 1979 took American diplomats hostage, so in 2007 the top officials of the Bush administration, including the President and Vice President, have taken our troops hostage and made them stand-ins and convenient excuses for failed policies for which they must continue to die. Someone should break out those yellow ribbons. Our troops need to be released, without a further cent of ransom being paid, and brought home as soon as possible.
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.
[Note: Though this subject has been on my mind for a while, this piece was inspired by Ira Chernus's recent post at this site,"Will We Suffer from the Iraq Syndrome"; for other takes on the issue of"supporting the troops," check out Tom Tomorrow's latest cartoon; and an editorial at Buzzflash.com (also based on the Chernus piece). The always thoughtful Paul Woodward at the War in Context website offered this comment which might be considered the last word on the subject for the moment:"There is something utterly self-serving about 'honoring' the 'sacrifice' made by soldiers who lost their lives or were maimed in a war that should never have been fought."]
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 6, 2007 - 22:11
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (3-4-07)
Congress has been weak even at its moments of relative strength, as with the War Powers Resolution of 1973; and ineffective when it has actually moved, as in the Boland Amendment's attempt to restrict the Reagan administration from funding and arming Nicaragua's Contra movement in the early 1980s, which resulted in the Iran-Contra Affair, a remarkably effective set of quasi-legal and utterly illegal evasions of Congress's funding and arming strictures -- until finally revealed in 1986. (And, of course, so many key figures in Iran-Contra returned to the Bush administration in 2001 in triumph and, as Seymour Hersh relates in his most recent New Yorker piece, two years ago they even convened a meeting, headed by Iran-Contra alumnus and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams, to consider the "lessons" of the Affair and essentially plot a new version of Iran-Contra to be run out of the Vice-President's office.)
The imperial presidency has regularly run circles around an ever weaker Congress. Now, once again, we find ourselves at a moment where the public seems increasingly eager for Congress to rein in an out-of-control White House and its increasingly catastrophic policies, this time in the Middle East. Below, David Swanson explores these questions: What might the new Democratic Congress be willing to do when it comes to Iraq? What is it actually capable of doing? If it does manage to act in any half-significant way, will the Bush White House simply ignore it?
[Click on the SOURCE link above to read Swanson's essay.]
Posted on: Tuesday, March 6, 2007 - 14:10
A peculiar conference, taking place on the West coast of Florida drew the attention of many observers of the War of ideas: The first Secular Islam Summit. Organized by the Center for Inquiry Transnational and activists, the meeting included two dozens of speakers and about two hundred participants from various backgrounds and nationalities. It took place at the Hilton of St Petersburg, just before and in conjunction with the Intelligence Summit taking place in the same location. But this meeting, unlike many other Muslim intellectual conferences in the West or even worldwide was aimed against Jihadism and for a secular and liberal expression within Islam. It wasn’t the first time Muslim authors and critics of the dominant religious and cultural order within their own community, spoke out, wrote about or debated the issues. The History of dissidence within the Muslim world, particularly in modern time is rich and diverse. It is also full of drama and violence, particularly against the dissidents themselves. Since the mid 1920s, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the last Caliphate and with the rise of Salafism, joined in the 1970s by Khomeinism, dozens of intellectuals experienced harsh conditions and met tragic destinies as they rose to oppose fundamentalism and press for reforms. That history has yet to be written thoroughly and taught in the mainstream educational systems. High profile authors and intellectuals have spoken against authoritarianism and Islamism from the sub Indian continent to the sub Saharian desert. Dozens of journalists and academics have called for a global debate on the developments of politics and ideologies within Muslim countries. And with the post 9/11 era, more questions have fused worldwide from Western and non-Western quarters: What went wrong (in the Muslim world) wrote Bernard Lewis? “Why do they hate us” titled the press after the 2001 attacks. And since, many among the public asked without convincing answers: but where are the moderates (within the Muslim world)?
The St Petersburg meeting is not the first meeting where Muslim intellectuals (and non-Muslims) met and attempted to answer these difficult questions. Back in 1994, a Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights met in New Jersey to address similar concerns. Dissidents have been meeting in many countries and cities in the last decades. High profile cases of theological and literary rebellion have illustrated the cultural conflict within Islam. In the 1980s, Salman Rushdie of India got his fatwa for the publication of the Satanic Verses. Since then, the dissident author lives in the underground. In the early 1990s, author Mustafa Jeha was assassinated in Beirut for publishing the Crisis of Mind in Islam (Mihnat al Aql fil Islam). Across the Mediterranean and on two continents, other Muslim “revolutionaries” (described as apostates) by their Jihadi enemies have challenged the dominant ideological paradigm. But till lately, they never decided to act collectively, and till the meeting in St Petersburg in Florida, haven’t decided to meet. Hence when a few among them (with well known names in the field of dissidence) decided finally to get together and face the world, they have knowingly or not, began to change the world. This was, as I saw it, a first small step in this direction.
The opening remarks were given by two famous Western-based Muslim dissidents. The first to speak was Ibn Warraq, the author of several volumes on Secular Islam. Elaborating on a long and sophisticated introduction to the “intellectual movement”, he laid out the philosophical basis of full separation between religion and state in the Muslim world. But Ibn Warraq said he already “left” Islam and his call was to reform the
“Relationship” between Muslim societies and religious laws. He advocated universal values and a global reform of education. On political grounds, he called for a regime change in many countries, including in Iran, the formation of Human Rights centers, and in an interesting and new twist he asked to “take Mullahs to courts for issuing fatwas.” His conclusion was simple: “they hate us because they were taught to do so.” The second to address the summit was the “refuznik” Irshad Manji. Born in Africa and raised in Canada, the best selling female author told the audience that the response to Jihad is Ijtihad. In short, reinterpretation of the religious texts (and the Koran), according to Manji would defy the Fundamentalists. Unlike Ibn Warraq, Irshad said she is still a Muslim and she will fight for her “Islam.” She argued that there are many verses in the texts that can help a new interpretation defeat the tight reading by the Islamists. In conclusion, Manji invited non-Muslims to take part in the debate along side with reformist Muslim: “If they tell you have no business in Muslim affairs, tell them they have no business meddling in non-Muslim affairs.”
The first panel included Tawfiq Hakim from Egypt who underlined that the roots of Terrorism are found in the ideology that pretends being a religious doctrine. Nibras Kazimi from Iraq elaborated on the “mind of the Jihadi generals.” Other intellectuals, such as Shahriar Kabir from Bengla Desh, Dr Shaker al Nabusli from Jordan and Dr Afshin Ellian a Dutch-based Iranian, addressed the relationship between traditions and Sharia laws. At the end of the first day the last panel, with Salamat Neemat from Jordan, Hasan Mahmoud from Bengla Desh and me discussed international law and politics and the Islamist movement. The following day, Nonie Darwish from Palestine, Wafa Sultan from Syria, Zeino Baran a Turkish American scholar, and Manda Zand Ervin from Iran will address secularism, women terrorism and Islamism.
Interestingly enough, and “before” the summit takes place, internet-based attacks were unleashed against the conference by pro-Wahabi, Salafi and Khomeinist web sites and bloggers. Al Jazeera sent a crew to interview the participants and also air “opposing views” from leaders of the local community in the area. In its afternoon shows, the network had a local representative of the advocacy group CAIR and Dr Nabulsi from the conference “cross fire” about the conference.
In my presentation I focused on the multiple areas of international relations where Jihadi concepts have to be addressed not only by the dissidents but also by so-called mainstream countries: Jihad, infidels, Caliphate and dar el Harb. These terms from early Islamic history may have been part of the norms of world politics and religious wars at the time, ie, 1300 years ago, but under this international system there is no place for Jihadism and its derivatives. Otherwise, this will reopen the way for a disintegration of international law. In this conference, I argued, and the global reform movement may not agree on all aspects of the crisis, but constitute a Muslim resistance to Jihad. I termed the latter concept so that Muslims, who can make the distinction between religious identity and a specific militant ideology, can initiate a debate and liberate themselves from Jihadism. I also argued that the West has abandoned the anti-Jihadist Muslims for decades and deplored the fact that Western Government and the US included have been advised by Jihadi apologists instead of liberal Muslims for decades.
In a sum, the Secular Islam Summit may have not been as large as the Wahabi or Khomeinist funded and supported conferences around the world but it certainly gave an example of what could occur if the United States, Europe and the international community would seriously consider supporting the Muslim intellectuals who seek Pluralism, human rights and democracy: a surge in the War of Ideas that could push the War on Terror to conclude faster, and with much better results.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 6, 2007 - 02:51
SOURCE: Tomdispatch.com (3-1-07)
The Iraq syndrome is headed our way. Perhaps it's already here.
A clear and growing majority of Americans now tell pollsters that that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake, that it's a bad idea to"surge" more troops into Baghdad, that we need a definite timeline for removing all our troops.
The nation seems to be remembering a lesson of the Vietnam War: We can't get security by sending military power abroad. Every time we try to control another country by force of arms, we only end up more troubled and less secure.
But the Iraq syndrome is a two-edged sword, and there is no telling which way it will cut in the end.
Remember the"Vietnam syndrome," which made its appearance soon after the actual war ended in defeat. It did restrain our appetite for military interventions overseas -- but only briefly. By the late 1970s, it had already begun to boomerang. Conservatives denounced the syndrome as evidence of a paralyzing, Vietnam-induced surrender to national weakness. Their cries of alarm stimulated broad public support for an endless military build-up and, of course, yet more imperial interventions.
The very idea of such a"syndrome" implied that what the Vietnam War had devastated was not so much the Vietnamese or their ruined land as the traumatized American psyche. As a concept, it served to mask, if not obliterate, many of the realities of the actual war. It also suggested that there was something pathological in a post-war fear of taking our arms and aims abroad, that America had indeed become (in Richard Nixon's famous phrase) a"pitiful, helpless giant," a basket case.
Ronald Reagan played all these notes skillfully enough to become president. The desire to" cure" the Vietnam syndrome became a springboard to unabashed, militant nationalism and a broad rightward turn in the nation's life.
Iraq -- both the war and the"syndrome" to come -- could easily evoke a similar set of urges: to evade a painful reality and ignore the lessons it should teach us. The thought that Americans are simply a collective neurotic head-case when it comes to the use of force could help sow similar seeds of insecurity that might -- after a pause -- again push our politics and culture back to a glorification of military power and imperial intervention as instruments of choice for seeking"security."
Ambivalence in the Land
In current polling data about the war in Iraq, there are obvious reasons for hope, but also less noticed warning signs. In a PIPA poll of December 2006, for instance, three-quarters of the public favored"withdrawing almost all U.S. troops by early 2008," and fully 62% of Republicans agreed. Even in the south, 64% of Americans now disapprove of Bush's"handling" of the war. A recent USA Today poll finds 60% against sending more troops to Iraq. But the exact same number wants Congress to fund those new troops they don't approve of dispatching Iraq-wards.
In that USA Today poll, a remarkable 63% of Americans favor"a time-table for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year," putting them way ahead of the Democratic Party Washington consensus on what to do. Yet in a Washington Post/ABC poll released this week, while 64% say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, only 45% want to set a deadline of all U.S. troops out within a year, and only the same minority number would move to reduce funding for the war. The latest CBS News poll reveals that over 70% of Americans believe the situation is now going"badly." But fully half say the U.S. is still"likely to succeed in Iraq," and 43% do not want U.S. troops in Iraq removed or even reduced now. A new AP/Ipsos poll asks people what words they'd use for their feelings about the war. While 81% are"worried," 51% remain"hopeful." (That poll also asks how many Iraqi civilians have died in nearly four years of war. The median"best guess" is a woefully uninformed 9,890.)
Beneath the ever shifting polling figures, the only constant is an ambivalence which haunts the land. Politicians, legendary for leading from the rear, are waiting to see which way any coming gale might blow. While many now follow their constituents and speak out against the war, most of them are carefully positioning themselves to go with the flow of a militaristic backlash, should it emerge.
And history tells us a backlash is a real possibility. Just as in the early stages of the Vietnam War, a large majority of Americans were not opposed to the Iraqi intervention or the occupation that followed. When Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown, some three-quarters of the U.S. public approved George W. Bush's war.
With Iraq, as with Vietnam, the nation did not go sour on the venture until it became frustratingly clear that the United States could not win -- and American deaths began to rise. Bush's ratings have fallen steadily not because he took us into war under false pretenses, but because he failed to deliver the expected triumph. Going to war without winning just doesn't fit our national self-image, what Tom Engelhardt has called our "victory culture."
Victory culture assumes that the United States is bound to win in the end -- that, in fact, we deserve to win because our motives are less self-interested than those of other nations. We may sometimes fight a war ineptly or incompetently, but we always mean well at heart. We want democracy, prosperity, peace, and stability -- not just for ourselves but for everyone.
And in victory culture, we kill only because others are out to ambush and kill us. We are by definition the victims, the innocents, never the perpetrators. That whitewashes our motives, whatever they may actually be.
To go on believing that we are virtuous, we must go on seeing ourselves as profoundly insecure, as beset by enemies, as invariably simply defending ourselves out there on the planetary frontiers of an aggressive, dangerous world; out there on what the President -- referring to remote regions of Pakistan -- called"wild country; this is wilder than the Wild West."
The stories the Bush administration has been spinning in these years to justify its war, and possibly a future assault on Iran as well, are built on the twin pillars of virtue and insecurity. While the war in Iraq itself is, by now, widely rejected, the basic plot outline embedded in the President's stories remains largely intact. In the mainstream media, and around the country, questions about Iraq are still framed within the narrative of a grand, though badly executed, project to bring democracy and stability to a benighted land (and of the Iraqis' inability to grasp our gift of democracy or an American naiveté in believing an Arab land could possibly be ready for such a gift). The news stories and political debate in Washington are still all about the U.S. somehow being responsible for protecting the Iraqis from chaos (even if it's chaos we've in fact created). They're about fulfilling a responsibility, finishing what we started, not to speak of the unquestioned need to go to distant places to protect our own homeland from the ever-present threat of terrorism.
Identity Crisis in a Losing War
By now, in the midst of policy and military disaster, victory culture has narrowed to"supporting our troops." Congress cannot defund the war because lawmakers fear the ultimate charge of betrayal, a Congressional"stab in the back" for failing to"support our troops." The obvious logical response --"The best way to support our troops is to bring them home to their loved ones" -- doesn't cut it in today's political climate. With not a shred of victory in sight,"our troops" have become the prime symbol of both American virtue and insecurity, the prime reason to stay in Iraq now that every other publicly ballyhooed reason has disappeared.
That's an old story. Ever since the Minutemen, soldiers have often been iconic emblems of everything that was imagined as pure, innocent, and vulnerable about America. There's even a history of portraying the American fighting man as a Christ-figure -- a staple of Vietnam movies from Sgt. Elias in Platoon to Rambo.
Now, who can deny that our"kids" in Iraq are, by and large, decent and well-meaning or that they face terrible risks daily? They are the constant heroes in stories of virtue, innocence, and insecurity that fill the media, stories usually detached from any political context, as if Iraq were merely a stage without much scenery and lacking all plot on which"our troops" continuously perform their heroic, sometimes almost mythic, deeds. And those media stories make the image of a virtuous, innocent, and insecure America eminently believable -- but only so long as our troops are deployed in harm's way.
For the broad center of the American public,"supporting our troops" also means supporting some version, however attenuated, of victory culture. By now, vast numbers of Americans realize that we'll surely win no real victory in Iraq. Who is even sure what winning there might mean? But whatever our stumbles, our war stories are supposed to have some kind of happy ending. Every generation sent to war is supposed to be"the greatest."
The ambivalence lurking in the polls suggests that many Americans want it both ways. The war should end quickly, but somehow with victory culture if not still burning brightly, at least flickering, as our birthright as Americans demands.
Awash in all this ambiguity, the broad political center is in a terrible bind when it comes to policy choices. A prompt phased withdrawal offers the promise of something like the formula that Richard Nixon offered in the 1968 election campaign (but never intended to deliver):"peace with honor" -- in other words, something, anything, that might be packaged as less than a defeat.
It would, however, be hard to avoid seeing any kind of withdrawal from Iraq as a retreat under fire, as a quitting of the field of battle, as an admission that the U.S. cannot always save faraway people in faraway places. That, too, would call into question all the traditional stories that are still so widely seen as the bulwark of American identity.
When a whole nation has to cope with an identity crisis, when it has to struggle to believe in narratives that were once self-evidently meaningful, there is no telling what might happen.
There's already a hot debate -- a blame game -- brewing about"who lost Iraq?" The public may well put the blame on the Bush administration, or even on the whole idea of aggressive war as the royal path to domestic security, especially since Iraq can't be easily written off as a one-time disaster. It is the second massive U.S. failure in war in a generation. And it's a lot harder to put two failures behind you. So there is real reason to hope that Americans won't be fooled again, that this fiasco will breed a deep and enduring resistance to the use of military force abroad.
On the other hand, the very fact that Iraq is a second humiliation may make it all the more urgent for many Americans to put it behind them, to deny the painful reality. The frustration over not getting the ending we deserve remains palpable. And it's only likely to rise as the situation worsens. So the public could in the post-war years just as easily put the blame where Ronald Reagan put it after Vietnam -- on"the purveyors of weakness" (oppositional, incompetent, or micromanaging politicians and bureaucrats, the media, the antiwar movement) -- and turn back to the Reaganite (and neoconservative) mantra of"peace and security through strength."
Then we'll be told that Iraq, too, was just an aberration, a well-intentioned war handled with a staggering level of incompetence that simply got out of control. Those who don't want to repeat the experience, who prefer to try other paths to global security, will be told they are infected with the Iraq syndrome. And the prescription for a cure will inevitably be military buildup, imperial war, and, of course, the possibility of both"kicking" the Iraq syndrome and welcoming our troops home in the sort of triumph they so richly deserve.
Put the history of the Vietnam syndrome together with the enduring appeal of America's victory culture, and it's easy to see how the Iraq syndrome could boomerang, too. Boomerangs can easily catch you unaware and give you quite a smack. When one might be coming up behind you, it pays to stay very alert.
Copyright 2007 Ira Chernus
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Thursday, March 1, 2007 - 21:22
SOURCE: National Interest (3-1-07)
Europe's long-term relations with its burgeoning Muslim minority, the continent's most critical issue, will follow one of three paths: harmonious integration, the expulsion of Muslims, or an Islamic takeover. Which of these scenarios will most likely play out?
Europe's future has vast importance not just for its residents. During a half-millennium, 1450-1950, this 7 percent of the world's landmass drove world history; its creativity and vigor invented modernity. The region may have already lost that critical position sixty years ago, but it remains vitally important in economic, political, and intellectual terms. Which direction it goes in, therefore, has huge implications for the rest of humanity, and especially for its daughter countries, such as the United States, which historically have looked to Europe as a source of ideas, people, and goods.
Here is an assessment about the likelihood of each scenario.
I. Muslims Rule
The late Oriana Fallaci observed that, with the passage of time,"Europe becomes more and more a province of Islam, a colony of Islam." The historian Bat Ye'or has dubbed this colony"Eurabia." Walter Laqueur predicts in his forthcoming Last Days of Europe that Europe as we know it is bound to change. Mark Steyn, in America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, goes further and argues that much of the Western world"will not survive the twenty-first century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most European countries." Three factors ? faith, demography, and a sense of heritage ? argue for Europe being Islamized.
Faith: An extreme secularism predominates in Europe, especially among its elites, to the point that believing Christians (such as George W. Bush) are seen as mentally unbalanced and unfit for public office. In 2005, Rocco Buttiliglione, a distinguished Italian politician and Catholic believer, was denied a position as Italy's European Union commissioner because of his views on such issues as homosexuality. Entrenched secularism also means empty churches: in London, researchers estimate, more Muslims attend mosques on Friday than do Christians churches on Sunday, although the city is home to roughly 7 times more born-Christians than born-Muslims. As Christianity fades, Islam beckons; Prince Charles exemplifies the fascination of many Europeans with Islam. Many conversions could be in Europe's future, for as the saying is ascribed to G.K. Chesterton,"When men stop believing in God they don't believe in nothing; they believe in anything."
Europe's secularism shapes its discourse in ways quite unfamiliar to Americans. Hugh Fitzgerald, formerly vice president of JihadWatch.org, illustrates one dimension of this difference:
The most memorable utterances of American presidents have almost always included recognizable Biblical phrases. ? This source of rhetorical strength was on display this past February  when the Columbia shuttle blew up. Had it not been an American but a French shuttle that had blown up, and were Jacques Chirac having to give such a speech, he might well have used the fact that there were seven astronauts, and evoked an image of the Pleiades first named in pagan antiquity. The American President, at a solemn national ceremony that began and ended with Biblical Hebrew, did things differently. He took his text from Isaiah 40:26, which led to a seamless transition from mingled wonder and awe at the heavenly hosts brought forth by the Creator, to consolation for the earthly loss of the crew.
The buoyant faith of Muslims, with its attendant jihadi sensibility and Islamic supremacism, could not differ more from that of lapsed European Christians. This contrast leads many Muslims to see Europe as a continent ripe for conversion and domination. Outrageous supremacist claims result, such as the statement of Omar Bakri Mohammed,"I want Britain to become an Islamic state. I want to see the flag of Islam raised in 10 Downing Street." Or the prediction of a Belgium-based imam:"Soon we will take power in this country. Those who criticize us now, will regret it. They will have to serve us. Prepare, for the hour is near."
Population: Demographic collapse also points to Europe being Islamized. The total fertility rate in Europe today averages about 1.4 per woman, whereas sustaining one's population requires just over two children per couple, or 2.1 children per woman. The existing rate is just two-thirds of what it needs to be; one-third of the requisite population is simply not being born.
To avoid a severe diminution of population, with all the woes that implies ? and specifically, an absence of workers to fund generous pension plans ? Europe needs immigrants ? lots of them. That imported third of the population tends to be Muslim, in part because Muslims are close by ? it's only thirteen kilometers from Morocco to Spain, only a couple of hundred to Italy from Albania or Libya; in part because colonial ties continue to bind South Asia to Britain or the Maghrib to France; and in part because of the violence, tyranny, and poverty so prevalent in the Muslim world today, which prompts wave after wave of emigration.
Likewise, the high fertility of Muslims complements the paucity of children among indigenous Christians. Although the Muslim fertility rate is falling, it remains significantly higher than that of Europe's indigenous population. No doubt, the high birth rates have something to do with the premodern circumstances in which many Muslim women of Europe find themselves. In Brussels,"Muhammad" has for some years been the most popular name given to infant boys, while Amsterdam and Rotterdam are on track to be, by about 2015, the first major European cities with majority Muslim populations. The French analyst Michel Gurfinkiel estimates an ethnic street war in France would find the children of indigènes and of immigrants in a roughly one-to-one ratio. Current predictions see a Muslim majority in Russia's army by 2015 and in the country as a whole by about 2050.
Sense of heritage: What often is depicted as Europe's political correctness reflects what I believe is a deeper phenomenon, namely, the alienation of many Europeans from their civilization, a sense that their historic culture is not worth fighting for or even saving. It's striking to note differences within Europe in this regard. Perhaps the country least prone to this alienation is France, where traditional nationalism still holds sway and the French take pride in their identity. Britain is the most alienated country, as symbolized by the plaintive government program,"ICONS - A Portrait of England," that lamely hopes to rekindle patriotism by connecting Britons to their"national treasures," such as Winnie-the-Pooh and the miniskirt.
This diffidence has had direct and adverse implications for Muslim immigrants, as Aatish Taseer explained in Prospect magazine.
Britishness is the most nominal aspect of identity to many young British Pakistanis. ? If you denigrate your own culture you face the risk of your newer arrivals looking for one elsewhere. So far afield in this case, that for many second-generation British Pakistanis, the desert culture of the Arabs held more appeal than either British or subcontinental culture. Three times removed from a durable sense of identity, the energised extra-national worldview of radical Islam became one available identity for second-generation Pakistanis.
Immigrant Muslims widely disdain Western civilization, and especially its sexuality (pornography, divorce, homosexuality). Nowhere in Europe are Muslims being assimilated, rarely does intermarriage take place. Here is one colorful example, from Canada: The mother of the notorious Khadr brood, known as the country's first family of terrorism, returned to Canada from Afghanistan and Pakistan in April 2004 with one of her sons. Despite her seeking refuge in Canada, she publicly insisted just a month earlier that Al-Qaeda-sponsored training camps were the best place for her children."Would you like me to raise my child in Canada to be, by the time he's 12 or 13 years old, to be on drugs or having some homosexual relationship? Is it better?"
(Ironically, in centuries past, as the historian Norman Daniel has documented, Christian Europeans looked down at Muslims with their multiple wives and harems as overly-sexualized, and therefore felt morally superior.)
To sum up: this first argument holds that Europe will be Islamized, quietly submitting to the dhimmi status or converting to Islam, because the yin of Europe and yang of Muslims fit so well: low and high religiosity, low and high fertility, low and high cultural confidence. Europe is an open door through which Muslims are walking.
II. Muslims Rejected
Or will the door be shut in their face? American columnist Ralph Peters dismisses the first scenario:"Far from enjoying the prospect of taking over Europe by having babies, Europe's Muslims are living on borrowed time. ? predictions of a Muslim takeover of Europe ? ignore history and Europe's ineradicable viciousness." Instead, depicting Europe as the place"that perfected genocide and ethnic cleansing," he predicts its Muslims"will be lucky just to be deported," and not killed. Claire Berlinski, in Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis Is America's, Too, implicitly agrees, pointing to the"ancient conflicts and patterns ? now shambling out of the mists of European history" which could well trigger violence.
This scenario has indigenous Europeans ? who do still constitute 95 percent of the continent's population ? waking up one day and asserting themselves."Basta!" they will say, and reclaim their historic order. This is not so remote; a chafing among Europeans, less among elites than the masses, loudly protests changes already underway. Illustrations of that resentment include the anti-hijab legislation in France, irritation over the restrictions of national flags and Christian symbols, and the insistence on serving wine at state dinners. A movement spontaneously developed in several French cities in early 2006 to serve pork soup to the poor, thus intentionally excluding Muslims.
These are minor issues, to be sure, but insurgent anti-immigrant parties have already emerged in many countries and are beginning to demand not just effective control of borders but the expulsion of illegal immigrants. A nativist movement throughout Europe is forming largely unnoticed beneath our eyes. However meager its record so far, it has huge potential. Parties opposed to immigration and Islam generally have neo-fascist backgrounds but are growing more respectable over time, shedding their antisemitic origins and their dubious economic theories, focusing instead on the questions of faith, demography, and identity, and learning about Islam and Muslims. The British National Party and Belgium's Vlaamse Belang offer two examples of such a move toward respectability, which may one day be followed by electability. The presidential race in France in 2002 came down to a contest between Jacques Chirac and the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Other parties have already tasted power. Jörg Haider and the Freiheits Partei Österreich were briefly in office. The Lega Nord in Italy was for years part of the ruling coalition. They will likely grow stronger because their anti-Islamist and often anti-Islamic messages resonate, and mainstream parties will partially adopt their messages. (Denmark's Conservative Party offers a model; after 72 years in the wilderness, it returned to power in 2001 due basically to anger concerning immigration.) These parties will likely benefit when immigration to Europe surges uncontrollably to ever-higher levels, including perhaps a mass exodus from Africa, as many indications suggest will happen.
Once in power, nationalist parties will reject multiculturalism and try to re-establish traditional values and mores. One can only speculate about their means and about the Muslim reaction. Peters dwells on the fascistic and violent aspects of some groups and expects an anti-Muslim backlash to take ominous forms. He even sketches a scenario in which"U.S. Navy ships are at anchor and U.S. Marines have gone ashore at Brest, Bremerhaven or Bari to guarantee the safe evacuation of Europe's Muslims."
For years, Muslims have worried about just such incarceration and brutalization, followed by expulsion or even massacres. Already in the late 1980s, the late Kalim Siddiqui, director of London's Muslim Institute, raised the specter of"Hitler-style gas chambers for Muslims." Shabbir Akhtar warned in his 1989 book, Be Careful With Muhammad that"the next time there are gas chambers in Europe, there is no doubt concerning who'll be inside them," meaning Muslims. A character in Hanif Kureishi's 1991 novel, The Buddha of Suburbia, prepares the guerilla war that he expects will follow after"the whites finally turned on the blacks and Asians and tried to force us into gas chambers."
But it is more likely that European efforts at reclamation will be initiated peaceably and legally, with Muslims ? in keeping with recent patterns of intimidation and terrorism ? being the ones to initiate violence. Multiple polls confirm that about 5 percent of British Muslims endorse the 7/7 bombings, suggesting a general readiness to resort to force.
However it happens, a European reassertion cannot be assumed to take place cooperatively.
III. Muslims Integrated
In the happiest scenario, autochthonous Europeans and Muslim immigrants find a modus vivendi and live together harmoniously. Perhaps the classic statement of this optimistic expectation was a 1991 study, La France, une chance pour l'Islam ("France, an Opportunity for Islam") by Jeanne-Hélène and Pierre Patrick Kaltenbach."For the first time in history," they wrote,"Islam is offered the chance to waken in a democratic, rich, laic, and peaceable country." That hopefulness lives on. AnEconomist leader from mid-2006 asserts that"for the moment at least, the prospect of Eurabia looks like scaremongering." Also at that time, Jocelyne Cesari, associate professor of Islamic studies at the Harvard Divinity School, claimed a balance exists: just as"Islam is changing Europe," she said,"Europe is changing Islam." She finds that"Muslims in Europe do not want to change the nature of European states" and expects them to adapt themselves into the European context.
Such optimism, unfortunately, has little foundation. Europeans could yet rediscover their Christian faith, have more babies, and cherish their own heritage. They could encourage non-Muslim immigration or acculturate the Muslims already among them. But such changes are not now underway, nor are their prospects good. Instead, Muslims are cultivating grievances and ambitions at odds with their indigenous neighbors. Worryingly, each generation appears more alienated than its predecessor. Canadian novelist Hugh MacLennan dubbed his country's English-French split the"Two Solitudes"; one sees something similar, but far more pronounced, developing in Europe. Those polls of British Muslims for example, find that a majority of them perceive a conflict between their British and Muslim identities and want Islamic law instituted.
The possibility of Muslims accepting the confines of historic Europe and smoothly integrating within it can virtually be dismissed from consideration. Even Bassam Tibi, professor at the University of Göttingen, who has often warned that"Either Islam gets Europeanized, or Europe gets Islamized," has personally given up on the continent. Recently, he announced that he is leaving Germany after 44 years' residence there, to move to Cornell University in the United States.
As the American columnist Dennis Prager sums them up,"It is difficult to imagine any other future scenario for Western Europe than its becoming Islamicized or having a civil war." Indeed, these two deeply unattractive alternative paths appear to define Europe's choices, with powerful forces pull in the contrary directions of Muslims taking over or Muslims rejected, Europe an extension of North Africa or in a state of quasi-civil war.
Which will it be? The decisive events that will resolve this question have yet to take place, so one cannot yet make the call. Decision-time is fast approaching, however. Within the next decade or so, today's flux will end, the Europe-Islam equation will harden, and the continent's future course should become apparent.
Correctly anticipating that course is the more difficult for being historically unprecedented. No large territory has ever shifted from one civilization to another by virtue of a collapsed population, faith, and identity; nor has a people risen on so grand a scale to reclaim its patrimony. The novelty and magnitude of Europe's predicament make it difficult to understand, tempting to overlook, and nearly impossible to predict. Europe marches us all into terra incognita.
Mr. Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and visiting professor at Pepperdine University. This article is adapted from a talk for a Woodrow Wilson Center conference on"Euro-Islam: The Dynamics of Effective Integration."
De Morgen, Oct. 5, 1994. Cited in Koenraad Elst,"The Rushdie Rules", Middle East Quarterly, June 1998.
 It's striking to note that in these three way, Europe and the United States were much more similar 25 years ago than today. This suggests that their bifurcation results less from historical patterns going back centuries and more from developments in the 1960s. However deeply that decade affected the United States, it had a far deeper impact on Europe.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes.
Posted on: Thursday, March 1, 2007 - 17:35