Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (4-30-07)
QUESTION: Because you remember Paul O'Neill, the first Treasury Secretary, where he wrote in his first book, The Price of Loyalty with Ron Suskind, and what Ron Suskind later wrote in his own book, The One Percent Solution, that the Bush Administration came in with a mindset to deal with what they called unfinished business with Saddam Hussein.
SECRETARY RICE: That is simply not true. The President came in looking at a variety of threats. We then had the September 11th events. The September 11th events led to a kind of reassessment of what the threats were. But in the entire period after the President became President, he was trying to put together an international coalition that could deal with Iraq, first by smart sanctions, smarter no-fly zones, then by challenging Saddam Hussein before the Security Council to meet the just demands of the Security Council, and ultimately by having to use military force. But this was an evolution of policy over a long period of time. Of course the President came in concerned about Iraq. President Clinton had used military force against Iraq in 1998. We had gone to war against Iraq in 1991. But the idea that the President had made up his mind when he came to office that he was going to go to war against Iraq is just flat wrong. '
But here is what Bush's ghost writer Mickey Herskowitz reports Bush saying during an interview when Bush was still governor of Texas in the late 1990s:
' “He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” '
So that was 1999.
Then we have this account from May, 2000, by journalist Osama Siblani, who met with Bush in Troy, Michigan when he was campaigning for the Republican nomination:
' OSAMA SIBLANI: I met with the President, and he wanted to go to Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction, and he considered the regime an imminent and gathering threat against the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: You met with the President of the United States?
OSAMA SIBLANI: Yes, when he was running for election in May of 2000 when he was a governor. He told me just straight to my face, among 12 or maybe 13 republicans at that time here in Michigan at the hotel. I think it was on May 17, 2000, even before he became the nominee for the Republicans. He told me that he was going to take him out, when we talked about Saddam Hussein in Iraq. . .
And then he said, ‘We have to talk about it later.’ But at that time he was not privy to any intelligence, and the democrats had occupied the White House for the previous eight years. So, he was not privy to any intelligence whatsoever. He was not the official nominee of the Republican Party, so he didn't know what kind of situation the weapons of mass destruction was at that time. '
Then let us come to January, 2001, when the Supreme Court had installed Bush in power. Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill wrote in his memoirs of the very first Bush cabinet meeting:
'"The hour almost up, Bush had assignments for everyone ... Rumsfeld and [Joint Chiefs chair Gen. H. Hugh] Shelton, he said, 'should examine our military options.' That included rebuilding the military coalition from the 1991 Gulf War, examining 'how it might look' to use U.S. ground forces in the north and the south of Iraq ... Ten days in, and it was about Iraq."
O'Neill specifically said that Bush instructed Rumsfeld to look at military options and how it might look to use US ground forces in the north and the south of Iraq.
How much clearer could it be that Tenet is absolutely right that there was never any serious debate about the merits of 'taking out Saddam' in Bush's inner circle?
For more evidence that the fix was in with regard to Bush and action against Iraq, see my"The Lies that Led to War" in Salon.com.
Posted on: Monday, April 30, 2007 - 17:55
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (4-23-07)
The new effort to establish security in Iraq has begun. At this early stage, the most important positive development is a rise in hostility to al Qaeda in the Sunni community. Al Qaeda has responded with its own "surge" in spectacular attacks, which so far has not revived support for the terrorists or reignited sectarian violence. The Coalition has also made unexpectedly rapid progress in reducing the power of Moktada al-Sadr, including killing or capturing more than 700 members of his Mahdi Army. At the same time, the rhetoric of the Iraqi government has changed dramatically, and there are early indications of an increased willingness to attempt reconciliation among Iraq's Arabs. Meanwhile, some challenges are intensifying. Diyala province in particular poses serious problems that do not admit of easy or rapid solutions. On balance, there is reason for wary optimism.
President Bush announced the new strategy on January 10, and shortly thereafter named General David Petraeus overall commander of Coalition military forces in Iraq. His mission: establishing security for the Iraqi people and only secondarily transitioning to full Iraqi control and responsibility. In January, five new Army brigade combat teams started reaching Iraq at the rate of one a month. An additional division headquarters to assist with command and control and an additional combat aviation brigade are also headed to Iraq, along with logistics, military police, and other enablers. No timeline for the increased American presence has been announced, although public comments suggest it will last at least through the fall and probably into early 2008. Activation warnings to National Guard brigades and the extension of the tours of Army brigades already in Iraq from 12 to 15 months, issued in April, would make such an extension possible.
The new strategy resulted from a combination of Iraqi proposals and discussions within the Bush administration and among American commanders. The collaborative nature of the plan led to the creation of dual chains of command: American forces report to Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I), and from him to Petraeus. Iraqi forces, both army and police, report through their own commanders to one of two division commanders (one on either side of the Tigris River, which divides Baghdad). Those commanders report to Lieutenant General Abboud Gambar, commander of Operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Enforcing the Law), the Iraqi name for what we call the Baghdad Security Plan. Gambar reports to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. This bifurcation of command poses significant challenges of coordination, but Generals Petraeus, Odierno, and Gambar have developed tactics that mitigate them.
The new plan pushes most U.S. forces out into the population. Americans and Iraqis are establishing Joint Security Stations and Joint Combat Outposts throughout Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers eat, sleep, and plan together in these outposts and then conduct mounted and dismounted patrols continually, day and night, throughout their assigned neighborhoods. In Joint Security Stations I visited in the Hurriya neighborhood, in the Shiite Khadimiya district, American and Iraqi soldiers sleep in nearly adjoining rooms with unlocked and unguarded doors between them. They receive and evaluate tips and intelligence together, plan and conduct operations together, and evaluate their results jointly. Wherever they go, they hand out cards with the telephone numbers and email addresses of local "tip lines" that people can call when they see danger in the neighborhood. Tips have gone up dramatically over the past two months, from both Sunnis and Shiites, asking for help and warning of IEDs and other attacks being prepared against American and Iraqi forces. People have also called the tip lines to say thanks when a dangerous individual was removed from the streets.
Most of the military operations of recent months have been laying the groundwork for clear-and-hold operations that will be the centerpiece of the new plan. Coalition and Iraqi forces have targeted al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent cells in Baghdad, in their bases around the capital, and in Anbar, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces. They have established positions throughout Baghdad and swept a number of neighborhoods in a preliminary fashion. They have begun placing concrete barriers around problematic neighborhoods to restrict access and change traffic flow to support future operations. Targeted raids have removed a number of key leaders from the Shiite militias as well, reducing the effectiveness of Sadr's organization, which was already harmed by his hasty departure for Iran early this year.
Over the past weeks as the enemy has responded, preparatory operations have shifted their focus. Generals Odierno and Petraeus sent reinforcements to the towns south of Baghdad to intensify efforts against al Qaeda bases there, and they sent more troops into Diyala province as the magnitude of the challenges there became clear. These adaptations are a normal part of military operations. They reflect a determination by the U.S. command not to allow the enemy to establish new safe havens when it has been driven out of old ones.
Major clear-and-hold operations are scheduled to begin in late May or June, and will take weeks to complete, area by area. After that, it may be many more weeks before their success at establishing security can be judged. General Petraeus has said he will offer an evaluation of progress in the fall. Even that evaluation, however, can only be preliminary. Changes in popular attitudes, insurgent capabilities, and the capacities of the Iraqi government and its armed forces take months, not weeks, to develop and manifest themselves. Premature judgments influenced by a week's headlines, whether positive or negative, are unwise.
Enemies and Spoilers
The United States and the government of Iraq are at war with a cluster of enemies: Al Qaeda in Iraq, affiliated Islamist groups, and determined Sunni insurgents who wish to overthrow the elected government. In addition, they face a number of "spoilers" who have played an extremely negative role so far and could derail progress if not properly managed: Shiite militias, criminal gangs, Iranian agents, and negative political forces within the Iraqi government. The distinction between enemies and spoilers is important. Enemies must be defeated; in the case of al Qaeda and other Islamists, that almost invariably means capturing or killing them. Spoilers must be managed. It is neither possible nor desirable to kill or capture all the members of the Mahdi Army or the Badr Corps. Dealing with those groups requires a combination of force and politics. Bad leaders and the facilitators of atrocities must be eliminated, but reducing popular support for these groups' extremism, coopting moderates within their ranks, and drawing some of their fighters off into more regular employment are political tasks. American and Iraqi leaders have been using both force and politics to manage these challenges.
Enemies and spoilers have responded to the Baghdad Security Plan in different ways. Al Qaeda and the other Islamist groups have increased their large-scale attacks, not only in Baghdad but also in Tal Afar, Mosul, Anbar, and Diyala. These groups rely on suicide bombings to attract international media attention and to create an exaggerated narrative of continuous violence throughout the country. They also hope to reignite the sectarian violence that raged through much of 2006. In this hope they have so far been disappointed. Within days of the bombing of the al-Askariya Mosque in February 2006, 33 mosques were attacked in retaliation, hundreds of civilians were murdered, and Baghdad suffered seven vehicle bombings; within a week, there were more than 21 peaceful protests of over 1,000 people each across the country. Reprisals for the recent spate of spectacular attacks have been much more modest.
Sectarian killings began to drop dramatically in January, and remain well below their December levels (although they are now somewhat higher than at the start of the current operations). The continuing terror campaign in Iraq is both tragic and worrisome, but it has not yet restarted the widespread sectarian conflict that was raging as recently as the end of last year.
The reasons for the drop in sectarian killings are important. First and foremost, after President Bush's announcement of the surge, both Moktada al Sadr and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its militia, the Badr Brigade, called upon their followers not to kill other Iraqis. Sadr has remained true to this appeal despite his recent renewal of his longstanding demand for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces. The fact that sectarian killings responded to the orders of Shiite leaders speaks volumes about the nature of those killings. Despite the oft-repeated myth that Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites have been killing each other for centuries, the drop in sectarian murders since January shows that last year's killing was motivated by politics rather than primordial hatred. It was organized and rational rather than emotional, and it is therefore susceptible to persuasion through force, politics, and reason. The idea that Iraq is trapped in a civil war that we can only allow to be fought out to its conclusion is so far unproven and is not a justification for withdrawal.
Second, sectarian killings have dropped because of dramatically increased partnership between the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army, and American forces. The Iraqi police were heavily implicated in the killings; the Iraqi army less so. U.S. forces do not tolerate such behavior. The partnership has helped American units identify individuals within the Iraqi police and army who have participated in atrocities. As these individuals are identified, U.S. and Iraqi leaders work to prepare evidence packets to support their arrest, detention, and conviction. As a result, the Baghdad Security Plan is supporting efforts to weed out the worst elements from the Iraqi Security Forces. In some cases, entire police units have been pulled off line, vetted, and "re-blued"--that is, retrained after the removal of known felons and militia infiltrators. In this way, the security plan is improving the quality of the Iraqi Security Forces, which is essential to giving these forces legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people. This can only occur through the close cooperation of American and Iraqi forces at all levels.
Some have complained that the Iraqi government's insistence on evidence packets rather than intelligence packets is excessively constraining, given the nature of the conflict. Evidence often requires confessions and/or formal witness statements, whereas intelligence may come from accusers whose identity is not revealed and who therefore remain safer from retaliation. In addition, information that could compromise sources or techniques cannot be presented to an Iraqi judge. But American forces have adapted to this requirement, and are working to acquire the evidence necessary under Iraqi law not merely to arrest and detain suspected individuals, but to ensure that they are convicted and duly sentenced. No doubt more suspects remain at large this way than would if forces could operate solely on the basis of intelligence. On the other hand, the Iraqi government has shown a remarkable willingness to arrest and prosecute or dismiss from their positions even senior Shiite leaders when presented with appropriate evidence of their crimes.
In sum, key potential spoilers have chosen to support the current plan rather than to undermine it. The Iraqi government is fully committed rhetorically, and has been supporting the plan practically both by sending all of the requested military and police units and by agreeing to raids on Sunni and Shiite targets, as well as to the arrest and detention of both Sunni and Shiite leaders. Sadr and Hakim continue to oppose violence, and the militias have dramatically reduced their killings in response to the orders of their leaders and to Coalition pressure. At the moment, the struggle against al Qaeda is far more central to the war in Iraq than sectarian violence--something that has not been true for many months.
Political Progress and Benchmarks
A final end to violence rests, of course, on bringing insurgents into the political fold in a way that the Shiites, including some Shiite radicals, can tolerate. It is too early to evaluate progress in this realm. Political compromise cannot take place in an atmosphere of high violence, and both sides need time to recover from the trauma of sectarian conflict before reconciliation will be possible.
There have been some developments worth mentioning, however. Prime Minister Maliki visited the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi in mid-March, reaching out to the Sunni community. The Iraqi government followed up by sending the defense and interior ministers and the national security adviser to Ramadi recently to meet with the local Provincial Council to discuss reconstruction in Anbar. This was a very important gesture. The next question is: Can the Iraqi government get funds to Anbar and actually begin projects there? It has had serious problems in such endeavors in the past, both because powerful Shiite elements resist spending money in Sunni areas and because the government is so inexperienced and under developed that it is unable to spend most of the money it has. Even here, though, there are positive signs. After more than a year of delays, the Iraqi government has finally gotten money to Tal Afar, and reconstruction is starting there. Fiscal follow-through in Anbar will be a significant test of the government's willingness and ability to rebuild Iraq in an impartial and nonsectarian way.
The withdrawal of Sadrist ministers from the government in mid-April offers another opportunity. Some of those ministers were obstacles to nonsectarian reconstruction and effective government. Their departure gives Maliki the opportunity to appoint people who are more competent and who can be more evenhanded. The resignations do reduce Sadr's stake in the government, however, and thereby increase his ability to court conflict with the Sunnis, with Maliki, or with the United States. Some argue that his departure to Iran was part of an effort to drum up increased Iranian support for his movement. If so, the withdrawal of his ministers might signal the start of a broader Sadrist counteroffensive. On the other hand, he has not withdrawn his members from the Council of Representatives or attempted to bring down the government by a vote of no confidence.
We would be wise to prepare for the worst and assume that Sadr will attempt to restore his crumbling position in Iraq. There is no question that Coalition and Iraqi forces can withstand such a counteroffensive if we and the Maliki government retain the will to weather the storm.
The threat of a Sadrist counteroffensive aside, the withdrawal of his ministers should make the task of reconciliation somewhat easier. But reconciliation in Iraq is likely to follow its own road. The U.S. political debate is increasingly fixated on political benchmarks, including narrowly defined legislation that "must" be passed by the Iraqi parliament to move Iraq along a path to reconciliation prescribed by us. We must resist the temptation to micromanage the political and emotional resolution of Iraq's internal conflicts. Sunni Arabs in Anbar, Salahaddin, and Diyala have all reached out to American forces and Iraqi leaders. The Maliki government has started to reach back. What matters is that the two sides clasp hands, not that they pass any given collection of laws, certainly not that they meet externally dictated timelines.
One of the things that struck me most on my visit to Iraq from April 3 to April 8 was the growing Iraqi desire to exercise sovereignty. The insistence on evidence rather than intelligence as the basis for arresting suspects reflects a larger desire to see the rule of law functioning in Iraq. So does the establishment of a chain of command under the control of the Iraqi prime minister. So does Maliki's appointment of subordinates in whom he has confidence, even when we would prefer others. This burgeoning sense of Iraq-ness can be seen even beyond the central government. Pictures of the Sadrist demonstration in Najaf in early April showed many people carrying Iraqi flags and few people carrying pictures of Sadr. At a minimum, the leaders of that movement clearly felt they needed to show they are Iraqis rather than followers of a particular leader.
The irony is that the more the Iraqi government feels its own strength--a very positive development from the standpoint of establishing a state that can survive on its own--the less it will be inclined to listen to our dictates about how to manage its internal affairs. Legislative or other benchmarks imposed as conditions of U.S. aid are likely to be seen increasingly as inappropriate interference and therefore not constructive. We have wanted Iraq to be independent from the outset, and we have worked hard to make Iraqi independence possible. We must accept the consequences, including the impossibility of dictating specific political solutions to Iraq's leaders.
Challenges and Dangers
Success in Iraq is not assured, and we face major challenges in some areas. Diyala province is a microcosm of almost all of Iraq's problems. Al Qaeda fighters driven out of Anbar and elsewhere have flowed into the province in the past few months and are now receiving Iranian aid. Sunnis driven out of Baghdad in 2006 moved to Diyala and drove many Shiites out of their homes. Shiites have retaliated with sectarian killings, sometimes with the support of provincial leaders. Kurdish forces have been pushing into the northern part of the province in support of historic claims to a greater Kurdish region within Iraq. All this unrest fuels, and has been fueled by, tribal conflict. And American forces are spread thin in the province (although Generals Odierno and Petraeus have sent reinforcements).
American and Iraqi forces are attacking some of these problems aggressively. They are setting up Joint Security Stations in Baqubah and elsewhere in imitation of those in Ramadi and Baghdad. The Iraqi leadership in Diyala is enthusiastically opposing al Qaeda, and Iraqi soldiers are engaged in that fight. In spite of the widespread violence, reconstruction efforts are underway throughout the province, even in Baqubah. The talented American commander in the area, Colonel David Sutherland, is working hard to calibrate kinetic and nonkinetic operations, to integrate American operations with Iraqis, and to get the violence under control. The challenges of Kurdish incursions, of increased Iranian involvement, and of the embattled Shiite minority in Diyala remain potent and will require prolonged and careful management. Diyala is likely to remain violent for many months to come.
In Baghdad, we have seen only the preliminary unfolding of a large and complex plan. Much of the city is still dangerous, violent, or out of control, and it remains to be seen how much the planned operations can reduce the violence and how long it will take. The enemy, of course, has a vote. If Sadr orders his soldiers to fight, the situation may deteriorate rapidly. No one knows how long al Qaeda can sustain the current level of violence, or whether it can increase it, or how patient the Shiites will be in the face of continued terrorist attacks. The probabilities are that Sadr will not seek a full-scale confrontation, that al Qaeda will not be able to sustain the current level of violence indefinitely, and that the Shiite leadership, sensing the chance for meaningful self-government, will restrain its people. But very little is certain in this war, or any war.
Early overtures toward reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites are not tantamount to success in that pursuit. The Sunni tribal leadership is just beginning to reconstitute itself after the decapitation of the Sunni Arab community in 2003. Current tribal leaders do not speak for all Sunni Arabs, and nationalist Sunni insurgents continue to fight American and Iraqi soldiers. Nor is it certain that this government, elected on the basis of national lists that favored extremists rather than moderates, can accommodate Sunni demands appropriately. Again, the trends and probabilities appear to be positive in both areas, but trends are not accomplishments, and there is a long and uncertain road ahead.
Can America succeed in Iraq? Definitely. Will we? It's too soon to say. The most that can be said now is that we seem to be turning a corner. In December 2006, we were losing, and most of the trends were bad. Today, many trends are positive, despite the daily toll of al Qaeda-sponsored death. That reversal resulted from our own actions, from enemy mistakes, and from positive decisions by potential spoilers. Our actions are proceeding in the right direction, as our forces work skillfully to establish order and support and assist reconstruction. The enemy is maintaining the same strategy that led to its difficulties in Anbar: ruthlessly attacking both Sunnis and Shiites in an effort to terrorize populations into tolerating its presence. And the key potential spoilers are holding to their vital decision to call for sectarian calm rather than sectarian war.
Americans have been subjected to too much hyperbole about this war from the outset. Excessively rosy scenarios have destroyed the credibility of the administration. The exaggerated certainty of leading war opponents that the conflict is already lost is every bit as misplaced. Too much optimism and too much pessimism have prevented Americans from accurately evaluating a complex and fluid situation. It is past time to abandon both and seek a clearheaded appraisal of reality in Iraq.
Today, victory is up for grabs, and the stakes for America are rising as the conflict between us and al Qaeda shifts to the fore. It is no hyperbole to recognize that a precipitous American withdrawal would undermine the current positive trends and increase the likelihood of mass killing and state collapse. Painful and uncertain as it is, the wisest course now is to support our commander and our soldiers and civilians, as they struggle to foster security in Iraq and to defeat the enemies who have sworn to destroy us.
Posted on: Monday, April 30, 2007 - 01:09
SOURCE: American Conservative (4-23-07)
When contemplating Iraq, Americans look into a murky crystal ball. History naturally presents itself as a tool to clarify the choices and possibilities that lie before us. But what history? Before the invasion, neoconservatives soaked the capital in the rhetoric of Winston Churchill and the “lessons” of the 1930s. Later, after Saddam was found to have no weapons of mass destruction, they sought to rebrand the Iraq War as a part of the long struggle against totalitarian “Islamofascism” and thus a successor to the Cold War. For many Americans, the natural comparison is the Vietnam War, which ended with evacuation choppers on the Saigon embassy’s roof and several more years of bloodshed in Indochina.
The French war in Algeria, never well known in the United Sates, has its own claims to stake. Before the Iraq War commenced, some Pentagon special operations officers attended a screening of Gillo Pontecorvo’s classic 1966 docudrama, “The Battle of Algiers.” More recently, reporters were told that George W. Bush was reading Alistair Horne’s exhaustive A Savage War of Peace—a book that, Horne stated in the preface to the recent paperback edition, was Ariel Sharon’s favorite bedtime reading. (Israeli dove Amos Elon remarked that Sharon must have completely misunderstood the work.)
What lessons might Americans draw from the Algerian war? They are not obvious. The brutal conflict, which gave rise to an extraordinary memoir literature in French, impinged on France’s national life far more than Iraq has yet touched America. But some common features are clear. The Algerian war was more or less part of our own historic era, influenced by international air travel and mass communications. A Western democracy was facing off against Arab Muslims; terrorism against civilians—first employed by the Arab guerrillas and later by the French far Right—was a central aspect of the war; and the use of torture to root out the terror networks produced a moral upheaval in France. Indeed, the war very nearly cost France its democracy.
In the end, it required the extraordinary political leadership of Charles de Gaulle, who turned against some of his most devoted supporters, to extricate France from the mess and move the country forward. Losing the war proved far more painful for the Algerians who had aligned themselves with France than for France itself. If one is looking for an example of a comparatively rich and technologically superior Christian country trying to dominate an Arab land against substantial local and international opposition, Algeria surely fits the template.
Still, different people will draw different conclusions about the conflict: The Weekly Standard’s Irwin Steltzer reports (with great satisfaction) that the lesson George W. Bush has apparently imbibed from Alistair Hornes’s book is that France didn’t stay long enough!...
[The article goes on to say that de Gaulle decided early after WW II that colonialism was dead. Once he came to power in 1958 he decided to end France's presence in Algeria even though the war was being won.]
Freed of its colony, France quickly began to modernize its own economy (which grew at an amazing 6.8 percent in 1962 after the armistice). Algeria remained full of French teachers, doctors, and technicians. The French constructed a flattering narrative for themselves: they had “given” Algeria its independence because they wanted to, thus providing for the world a model for decolonization and modernization.
To the surprise of few, a darkness descended on Algeria. The first victims were the harkis, those who had served in the French army. Perhaps as many 100,000 were slaughtered, often with great sadism, being made to swallow their French medals before execution. Then the revolution turned on itself: Ben Bella, the country’s first president, spent most of the 1960s in an Algerian prison, as he had spent much of the 1950s in a French one. But France was done with it.
So how could the Algerian war not speak to us? Its example has long resonated in Israel, and many even hoped that Sharon—a successful military man of the Right—could do what no liberal Israeli leader could accomplish and withdraw Israel from the West Bank.
But now its lessons are dear to America as well as we search the horizon for a leader who can explain to the country—especially to the military and to the Republican Party—that its destiny doesn’t lie in the long-term occupation of Arab lands. The rhetoric that justifies the Iraq War as part of colossal battle against “Islamofascism” could be lifted almost directly from the French colonial intellectual slogans of the 1950s—and is no less self-deluding. To leave Vietnam, America needed a man of the Right, Richard Nixon. Today, when we need our own de Gaulle to achieve a “victory over ourselves,” we don’t even have a Nixon.
Posted on: Sunday, April 29, 2007 - 18:26
SOURCE: http://www.american.com (March/April issue) (4-1-07)
If a no-nonsense Greek infantryman holding the pass at Thermopylae were to be told that, 2,500 years in the future, Western constitutional states would still be facing an apocalyptic struggle with a totalitarian government in Persia, he would hardly be surprised.
Persians, or Iranians as they’re called today, have been at odds with both the West and neighboring Asians since antiquity. In that sense, the bumper-sticker anti-Americanism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is nothing new. Neither was Ayatollah Khomeini’s virulent hatred of the Great Satan.
Darius I incorporated most of the Greeks of Ionia under the Persian Empire, and would have done the same in mainland Greece had the Athenians not stopped him at Marathon in 490 B.C. A decade later, his son Xerxes invaded Greece with a half million infantry and sailors, only to be ruined at Salamis and Plataia by the Athenian-Spartan alliance.
Westerners—including Xenophon’s Ten Thousand, the Spartan King Agesilaos, and Alexander the Great—sought payback against the imperial Achaemenids, who ruled over a Persian Empire that stretched from what is now Pakistan through Saudi Arabia to Egypt and north into Turkey. By Roman times, long after the fall of the Achaemenids, the Parthians—another Persian dynasty—continued the East-West struggle, destroying Crassus and nearly his entire Roman army at Carrhae. The subsequent Sassanid Persians fought the Byzantine Greeks constantly for control of Anatolia and the Levant, before themselves falling to the wave of Arab Islamic invaders.
Iran’s location explains much of this violent history. It is not only a bridge from the Orient to the West, but also a north-south clearinghouse between Russia and the Arab world. The Strait of Hormuz currently forms the bottleneck for global petroleum commerce, but even in the age of sail, the narrow sea passage always served as a means for Iranians to shut off all entry into the nearby Persian Gulf....
So is Western conflict with Ahmadinejad’s restive Iran inevitable?
Not exactly, since there have also been periods of realist engagement between Persians and Westerners. Just as historian Xenophon, in the fourth century B.C., believed that Cyrus the Younger was a pro-Western reformer who might bring Persia into the Hellenic world, so, too, the modernizing Shah Reza Pahlavi and the reformer Mosaddeq in contrasting ways both wanted Iran to incorporate ideas from the West.
Long after Ahmadinejad and the Iranian theocracy are gone, a powerful and proud Iran will still emulate and rival, still befriend and distrust Westerners—captive to a history that is as illustrious as it is volatile.
Posted on: Sunday, April 29, 2007 - 18:26
SOURCE: AEI Website and Weekly Standard (4-27-07)
As Congress prepares to vote on a supplemental defense appropriations bill that includes timelines for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the lines in the debate over Iraq strategy have become ever starker. The administration and other defenders of the present strategy insist that it be given the chance to succeed. Opponents, including the Democratic leadership in Congress, insist that it is time to begin winding down America's involvement in Iraq. Some of those opponents no doubt seek only to defeat the administration or appease their own constituents, but many honestly believe that rapid withdrawal is the best course of action. Their arguments generally come down to two points: success is already beyond our reach, and setting timelines is the best way to force the Iraqis to take the difficult steps required to achieve a political settlement to this conflict. There is an inherent contradiction in these positions that war opponents must work out before acting on them, but, more importantly, neither proposition is true.
The notion that the war is already lost, articulated most recently by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, rests on the belief that Iraq has descended into a spiral of sectarian violence from which it cannot recover. In this view, the traditional hatred between Sunni and Shia became ungovernable after al Qaeda's destruction of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in February 2006. The continuing violence in Iraq, which is still often referred to as "sectarian violence," is cited as evidence of this death-spiral. Many who hold this view believe that the government of Nuri Kamal al Maliki is committed to Shia domination and even repression of Iraq's Sunni minority and is unwilling to engage in any meaningful reconciliation process. Others argue that the Sunni remain determined to recover their lost preeminence in Iraq. Most advocates of withdrawal believe that the spiral of sectarian killing is unstoppable.
Such beliefs are incompatible with the notion that American-imposed deadlines or timetables would force the Iraqi government to make necessary compromises. If the war is lost, it is because the Maliki government is unwilling to make those compromises and, presumably, is willing to engage in mass killing, if necessary, to achieve its aims. Alternatively, Iraq's government might be too weak to control the violence, in which case the issue is not the pressure they face to make the right decisions, but their inability to do so. Either way, it is hard to see how using the threat of withdrawing American forces would help the situation.
So the real alternative buried in the idea behind deadlines is that the war is not, in fact, lost. The Iraqi government could make the right decisions if it chose and could enforce them on its people, given suitable incentives. Another implicit assumption in this view is that Sunnis might accept the limitation of their power in Iraq and enter the political process if the Shiite government reached out to them properly.
Congress must decide which view it wishes to embrace. If the war is truly lost, then timelines serve no useful purpose in Iraq except to delay the departure of American troops. To argue that deadlines are a constructive force in Iraqi politics is to argue that success is still possible.
The war is not yet lost, in fact, but timelines are much more likely to hinder our efforts than to help them. The idea behind timetables is to force a supposedly unwilling Maliki government to reach out to the Sunni community. But Maliki has already started to do so. He visited Ramadi himself, and the defense and interior ministers and the national security advisor followed a few weeks later to discuss reconstruction of the province with the local provincial council. These visits followed a widespread Sunni turn against al Qaeda in Anbar that is now spreading into Salahaddin and Diyala provinces, where both Sunnis and Shiites are fighting the terrorists.
In Baghdad, sectarian violence dropped considerably after President Bush announced the Baghdad Security Plan on January 10th, even before new U.S. forces had arrived. The leaders of the major Shiite militias ordered their followers to stop killing Sunnis and most obeyed--a fact that undermines the notion that sectarian violence in Iraq is primordial and beyond rational or political control. Since then, the Maliki government has permitted U.S. forces to conduct a series of attacks on the worst of the Shiite militias in their strongholds in Baghdad and even in the Shiite south. It is difficult to see in these events evidence that sectarian violence is beyond control, that the Maliki government is unwilling to work with Sunnis, or that the Sunnis are beyond reconciliation. Above all, Maliki has permitted operations against the militias because he believes that the larger plan to secure his capital will work. Declaring a premature end to that plan by setting timelines for withdrawal--and implicitly or explicitly declaring that it has failed--will remove the current incentives for Maliki to support attacks on the forces he will need if civil war follows our hasty withdrawal. Timelines are far more likely to undermine progress in Iraq than to advance it.
The current discussion is confused by a misunderstanding of the rise in violence that has occurred recently. The spate of car-bombs and suicide bombs, which the New York Times describes as "sectarian violence" and which many point to as evidence of the current strategy's failure, are very different from the sectarian strife we saw raging at the start of this year. Suicide bombs and car bombs are the copyright of al Qaeda and associated militant Islamist groups--Shiite militias prefer more precisely targeted killings when they kill and do not use such methods. Al Qaeda, a Sunni group, has conducted many of the recent attacks against fellow Sunnis in Anbar and elsewhere who have started to fight the terrorists. These attacks are not sectarian violence, but al Qaeda's attempts to regain its footing in its former strongholds or to establish bases in new areas. The current wave of violence is a surge by the one force fighting in Iraq that has declared its intention to destroy the United States. It is a surge in terrorist killing by the organization that almost every leading congressman believes America should be fighting. It is not evidence that sectarian violence is uncontrollable or that the Maliki government won't make concessions. It is evidence that our implacable foe is not ready to lose yet. Timelines for withdrawal can only encourage this enemy, which has always believed that killing enough people will drive the Americans away.
The immediate drop in violence after the Bush's speech resulted from the belief by many Iraqis that this operation would be different, that American forces would stay to finish the job, and that both the Iraqi government and people could rely on us to help them stop the violence. Setting timelines for withdrawal before we can possibly have solidified security in Baghdad tells the Iraqi people that we will abandon them once again and soon. Those who bet on the success of the current plan will try to hedge and adopt good fighting positions for the full-scale civil war to come. Successes in Iraq have occurred because Iraqis believe that we will help lay the foundation for them by establishing security, knowing that they cannot do so on their own. They will prove ephemeral if we declare our unwillingness to do so. And our most dangerous enemy will conclude once again that committing horrific atrocities and killing innocent people is an effective way to defeat the United States.
Posted on: Saturday, April 28, 2007 - 11:14
SOURCE: Guardian (4-24-07)
Sectarian killings began to drop significantly in January, and remain well below their December level (although they are now somewhat higher than at the start of current operations). The continuing terror campaign is tragic, but it has not yet reawoken the widespread sectarian conflict that was raging as recently as the end of last year.
One of the things that struck me on my visit to Iraq this month was a growing Iraqi desire to exercise sovereignty. The insistence on evidence rather than intelligence as the basis for arrests reflects a desire to see the rule of law functioning. So does the establishment of a chain of command under the control of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. So does his appointment of subordinates in whom he has confidence, even when we prefer others. This burgeoning sense of Iraqness can be seen beyond central government. Pictures of the recent Sadrist demonstration in Najaf showed many people carrying Iraqi flags and few carrying pictures of Sadr. The movement's strategists clearly felt a need to show they are Iraqis rather than followers of a particular leader.
Can America succeed in Iraq? Definitely. Will we? It's too soon to say. The most that can be said now is that we seem to be turning a corner. Last December most of the trends were bad. Today many are positive, despite the daily toll of al-Qaida-sponsored death. This reversal results from our own actions, from enemy mistakes, and from positive decisions by potential spoilers. Our actions are proceeding in the right direction, as our forces work skilfully to establish order and support reconstruction. The enemy is maintaining the strategy that led to its difficulties in Anbar province: ruthlessly attacking Sunnis and Shias in an effort to terrorise populations into tolerating its presence. And the key potential spoilers are holding to their vital decision to call for sectarian calm rather than sectarian war. ...
Posted on: Friday, April 27, 2007 - 20:10
SOURCE: New Republic (4-25-07)
He can begin to support our troops by a) apologizing to the family of Pat Tillman; 2) apologizing to Jessica Lynch and her family; and c) apologizing to the soldiers and their families who are going through the enormous burden of three tours of duty. He can then hold a photo-op at Walter Reed Hospital, pledge to rid the hospital of its rat-infestation, and then apologize to the wounded veterans and their families for his administration's lack of support.
The president likes to dismiss Congress--meaning Democrats who are not loyal to his war--for asserting its constitutional powers."Micro-Managers," he scoffs, in his best patronizing manner. He insists that we listen to our military leaders, and not Congress/Democrats. Well, he might remember that he removed Generals George Casey and John P. Abizaid precisely because he did not want to listen to them. They did not tell him what he wanted to hear. Unfortunately for Bush, he cannot so simply dismiss Congress.
Posted on: Friday, April 27, 2007 - 13:56
SOURCE: Prospect Magazine (5-1-07)
Why are middle east experts so unfailingly wrong? The lesson of history is that men never learn from history, but middle east experts, like the rest of us, should at least learn from their past mistakes. Instead, they just keep repeating them.
The first mistake is "five minutes to midnight" catastrophism. The late King Hussein of Jordan was the undisputed master of this genre. Wearing his gravest aspect, he would warn us that with patience finally exhausted the Arab-Israeli conflict was about to explode, that all past conflicts would be dwarfed by what was about to happen unless, unless… And then came the remedy—usually something rather tame when compared with the immense catastrophe predicted, such as resuming this or that stalled negotiation, or getting an American envoy to the scene to make the usual promises to the Palestinians and apply the usual pressures on Israel. We read versions of the standard King Hussein speech in countless newspaper columns, hear identical invocations in the grindingly repetitive radio and television appearances of the usual middle east experts, and are now faced with Hussein's son Abdullah periodically repeating his father's speech almost verbatim.
What actually happens at each of these "moments of truth"—and we may be approaching another one—is nothing much; only the same old cyclical conflict which always restarts when peace is about to break out, and always dampens down when the violence becomes intense enough. The ease of filming and reporting out of safe and comfortable Israeli hotels inflates the media coverage of every minor affray. But humanitarians should note that the dead from Jewish-Palestinian fighting since 1921 amount to fewer than 100,000—about as many as are killed in a season of conflict in Darfur.
Strategically, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been almost irrelevant since the end of the cold war. And as for the impact of the conflict on oil prices, it was powerful in 1973 when the Saudis declared embargoes and cut production, but that was the first and last time that the "oil weapon" was wielded. For decades now, the largest Arab oil producers have publicly foresworn any linkage between politics and pricing, and an embargo would be a disaster for their oil-revenue dependent economies. In any case, the relationship between turmoil in the middle east and oil prices is far from straightforward. As Philip Auerswald recently noted in the American Interest, between 1981 and 1999—a period when a fundamentalist regime consolidated power in Iran, Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war within view of oil and gas installations, the Gulf war came and went and the first Palestinian intifada raged—oil prices, adjusted for inflation, actually fell. And global dependence on middle eastern oil is declining: today the region produces under 30 per cent of the world's crude oil, compared to almost 40 per cent in 1974-75. In 2005 17 per cent of American oil imports came from the Gulf, compared to 28 per cent in 1975, and President Bush used his 2006 state of the union address to announce his intention of cutting US oil imports from the middle east by three quarters by 2025.
Yes, it would be nice if Israelis and Palestinians could settle their differences, but it would do little or nothing to calm the other conflicts in the middle east from Algeria to Iraq, or to stop Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan, Muslim-Igbo violence in Nigeria, Muslim-Muscovite violence in Chechnya, or the different varieties of inter-Muslim violence between traditionalists and Islamists, and between Sunnis and Shia, nor would it assuage the perfectly understandable hostility of convinced Islamists towards the transgressive west that relentlessly invades their minds, and sometimes their countries.
Arab-Israeli catastrophism is wrong twice over, first because the conflict is contained within rather narrow boundaries, and second because the Levant is just not that important any more....
We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts—excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the middle east is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the middle east (only about five per cent of the world's population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labour force at all. Not many of us would care to work if we were citizens of Abu Dhabi, with lots of oil money for very few citizens. But Saudi Arabia's 27m inhabitants also live largely off the oil revenues that trickle down to them, leaving most of the work to foreign technicians and labourers: even with high oil prices, Saudi Arabia's annual per capita income, at $14,000, is only about half that of oil-free Israel.
Saudi Arabia has a good excuse, for it was a land of oasis hand-farmers and Bedouin pastoralists who cannot be expected to become captains of industry in a mere 50 years. Much more striking is the oil parasitism of once much more accomplished Iran. It exports only 2.5m barrels a day as compared to Saudi Arabia's 8m, yet oil still accounts for 80 per cent of Iran's exports because its agriculture and industry have become so unproductive.
The middle east was once the world's most advanced region, but these days its biggest industries are extravagant consumption and the venting of resentment. According to the UN's 2004 Arab human development report, the region boasts the second lowest adult literacy rate in the world (after sub-Saharan Africa) at just 63 per cent. Its dependence on oil means that manufactured goods account for just 17 per cent of exports, compared to a global average of 78 per cent. Moreover, despite its oil wealth, the entire middle east generated under 4 per cent of global GDP in 2006—less than Germany.
Unless compelled by immediate danger, we should therefore focus on the old and new lands of creation in Europe and America, in India and east Asia—places where hard-working populations are looking ahead instead of dreaming of the past.
Posted on: Thursday, April 26, 2007 - 20:05
SOURCE: AEI (4-24-07)
Let us highlight the threats and their conse- quences with a few concrete examples, emphasiz- ing those that involve key strategic regions of the world such as the Persian Gulf and East Asia, or key potential threats to American security, such as the spread of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of the global Al Qaeda/jihadist movement. The Iranian government has rejected a series of international demands to halt its efforts at enriching uranium and submit to international inspections.
What will happen if the US—or Israeli—government becomes convinced that Tehran is on the verge of fielding a nuclear weapon? North Korea, of course, has already done so, and the ripple effects are beginning to spread. Japan’s recent election to supreme power of a leader who has promised to rewrite that country’s constitution to support increased armed forces—and, possibly, even nuclear weapons— may well alter the delicate balance of fear in Northeast Asia fundamentally and rapidly. Also, in the background, at least for now, Sino- Taiwanese tensions continue to flare, as do ten- sions between India and Pakistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Venezuela and the United States, and so on. Meanwhile, the world’s noninterven- tion in Darfur troubles consciences from Europe to America’s Bible Belt to its bastions of liberal- ism, yet with no serious international forces on offer, the bloodletting will probably, tragically, continue unabated. ....
Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 - 12:20
SOURCE: NY Sun (4-24-07)
This appears to be a marvelous idea, for New York and the country need native-born Arabic speakers. They have a role in the military, diplomacy, intelligence, the courts, the press, the academy, and many other institutions — and teaching languages to the young is the ideal route to polyglotism. As someone who spent years learning Arabic, I am enthusiastic in principle about the idea of this school, one of the first of its kind in the United States.
In practice, however, I strongly oppose the KGIA and predict that its establishment will generate serious problems. I say this because Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage. Some examples:
Franck Salameh taught Arabic at the most prestigious American language school, Middlebury College in Vermont. In an article for the Middle East Quarterly, he wrote:"even as students leave Middlebury with better Arabic, they also leave indoctrinated with a tendentious Arab nationalist reading of Middle Eastern history. Permeating lectures and carefully-designed grammatical drills, Middlebury instructors push the idea that Arab identity trumps local identities and that respect for minority ethnic and sectarian communities betrays Arabism."
For an example of such grammatical drills, see the just-published book by Shukri Abed,"Focus on Contemporary Arabic: Conversations with Native Speakers" (Yale University Press), one chapter of which is titled"The Question of Palestine." Its intensely politicized readings would be unimaginable in a book of French or Spanish conversations.
The Islamist dimension worries me as well. An organization that lobbies for Arabic instruction, the Arabic Language Institute Foundation, claims that knowledge of Islam's holy language can help the West recover from what its leader, Akhtar H. Emon, calls its"moral decay." In other words, Muslims tend to see non-Muslims learning Arabic as a step toward an eventual conversion to Islam, an expectation I encountered while studying Arabic in Cairo in the 1970s.
Also, learning Arabic in of itself promotes an Islamic outlook, as James Coffman showed in 1995, looking at evidence from Algeria. Comparing students taught in French and in Arabic, he found that"Arabized students show decidedly greater support for the Islamist movement and greater mistrust of the West." Those Arabized students, he notes, more readily believed in"the infiltration into Algeria of Israeli women spies infected with AIDS … the mass conversion to Islam by millions of Americans," and other Islamist nonsense.
Dhabah ("Debbie") Almontaser, principal-designate of the Khalil Gibran International Academy
Arabs or Muslims, Ms. Almontaser says, are innocent of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:"I don't recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims." Instead, she blames September 11 on Washington's foreign policies, saying they" can have been triggered by the way the USA breaks its promises with countries across the world, especially in the Middle East, and the fact that it has not been a fair mediator."
At a community meeting with the New York Police Department commissioner, she berated the NYPD for using"FBI tactics" when informants were used to prevent a subway bombing, thereby polarizing the Muslim community. For Ms. Almontaser, it appears, preventing terrorism counts less than soothing Muslim sensibilities.
She calls George W. Bush a"nightmare" who is"trying to destroy the United States."
Rewarding these views, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a foreign-funded front organization, in 2005 bestowed an honor on Ms. Almontaser for her"numerous contributions" to the protection of civil liberties.
Her intentions for the KGIA should raise alarms. An Associated Press report paraphrases her saying that"the school won't shy away from sensitive topics such as colonialism and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis," and she notes that the school will"incorporate the Arabic language and Islamic culture." Islamic culture? Not what was advertised — but imbuing pan-Arabism and anti-Zionism, proselytizing for Islam, and promoting Islamist sympathies will predictably make up the school's true curriculum.
To express your concerns about this planned Arabic school, please write the New York City chancellor, Joel Klein, at JKlein@schools.nyc.gov.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 - 00:28
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (4-24-07)
If you were asked to name the three most important initiatives that characterize American strategy toward the world today, what would they be? More likely than not, you would list: 1) The war on terror; 2) The goal of spreading democracy; and 3) The effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks on America, these have been our principal aims. Terror networks are to be rooted out, dictators driven from power in a series of “regime changes,” and nuclear proliferators dissuaded, or perhaps even confronted militarily.
So far, so clear, it seems. But what if I asked you a second question: When did these ideas first emerge? You might respond by saying that we got serious about a war on terror right after 9/11, about regime change with our invasion of Iraq in 2003, and about stopping rogue proliferators during our current confrontations with Iran and North Korea.
These plausible answers to the second question are all wrong. It turns out that Ronald Reagan began advancing important ideas about combating terror, spreading democracy, and making the world “less nuclear” almost 25 years ago. Yes, the president who was generally caricatured as an intellectual lightweight turns out to have been driven by ideas. Often very good ones, in my opinion. So good that they still drive our overall policy direction toward the world.
I’m not saying that Reagan “ran the table” in each of these areas — but he came pretty close. His greatest success was in using what he called an “information strategy” to encourage oppressed peoples to keep striving for their freedom. We remember him best standing there in Berlin, saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Well, many peoples were freed during his time in office, or shortly after. When he entered office there were about two dozen communist countries in the world. Soon after he left in 1989, the number was cut in half. By Christmas of 1991 it was down to four. When he entered office, Latin America was mostly run by dictators. By 1989 it was much freer. Today it is entirely democratic, save for Cuba (although Hugu Chavez in Venezuela seems to have gotten in touch with his “inner dictator” lately).
And the pattern begun by the Reagan Doctrine persisted around the world. Bill Clinton helped a lot by putting what he called “democratic enlargement” front and center in his foreign policy. But in recent years, we have been more willing to live with some dictators, like General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, because of his support for our war on terror.
As to this war, it too has roots in the Reagan years. In 1984, Reagan’s secretary of state George Shultz called a meeting of terrorism experts on a cool Saturday in Washington. By the end of the day, the group had convinced him that terrorism was becoming a grave threat, and that only an aggressive campaign to stamp it out would work.
Reagan eagerly accepted the group’s recommendations, and a week later signed a (still classified) directive authorizing a covert war on terror to be launched. But here the story takes a confusing turn. Caspar Weinberger, the secretary of defense, opposed the idea of using hit squads, deceptions, and other tricky tactics against the terrorists. Instead, he wanted to use conventional military force, but only when it could be justified by good intelligence.
President Reagan was torn between Shultz and Weinberger, and in this case acted more like a politician than a strategist. He opted to take a little bit from each of their plans. The results were an ineffective air raid on Tripoli in 1986 and a much more successful deception operation against the Abu Nidal Organization — the al-Qaeda of the time.
Still, the internecine fight between his trusted advisers — what William Safire called a battle for Reagan’s “strategic soul” — raged on, and hampered efforts to move decisively in pursuit of either initiative. The result was that neither achieved telling results, and terror networks, which could have been snuffed out 20 years ago, were allowed to metastasize.
In the area of nonproliferation, Reagan was far more successful once again. Largely in terms of ending the arms race with the Russians — a development for which Mikhail Gorbachev shares much of the credit. Even so, Reagan’s fierce opposition to nuclear weapons helped create what Jonathan Schell has called a “relative golden age of arms control.”
However, Reagan’s focus on reducing the Soviet nuclear arsenal led to a neglect of proliferation by Pakistan (ah, Pakistan again!). In this instance, Pakistan was supporting the mujahideen who were resisting the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, so Reagan didn’t apply enough pressure to prevent them from pursuing their own nuclear weapons capacity.
On balance, though, Reagan’s three major ideas about how America should engage the world generated great results. Both during his presidency, and in all the years since then. For those who think that democracies have a hard time following a consistent foreign policy over the years, just look at how these three ideas have remained in use.
In recent years, however, it seems that we have tried to spread democracy by emphasizing military means rather than by the Great Communicator’s “information strategy.” Our efforts against terror also seem a bit too focused on Weinberger’s notion of using conventional military force. And we still seem willing to live with one or two small regional powers acquiring nuclear weapons.
Yes, it seems that Reagan’s ideas still matter very much if you want to understand American foreign policy today. Both the good things that have occurred, and the problems that persist. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually improve on Reagan’s implementation of his ideas, instead of falling into the same ruts he did?
Posted on: Tuesday, April 24, 2007 - 23:49
executive strength but as a sign of weakness and insecurity,
according to a provocative new book on the subject.
"When the president lacks diplomatic or interpersonal skill, he
is likely to compensate by shielding his activities -- even
shielding his very self -- from the public, relying on secrecy
rather than diplomacy," write political scientists Robert M.
Pallitto and William G. Weaver in "Presidential Secrecy and the
The authors explore how the growth of executive branch secrecy
has transformed the institution of the presidency and the
character of American government.
Secrecy, they say, "has depoliticized the president's role in
governmental action. Where a president may do what is desired
in secret, there is no reason to withstand the ordeal of a
political battle to achieve the same ends."
"Increasingly, our governmental institutions are unable to hold
the president accountable for actions undertaken in secret in
the name of national security. In a subtle but sweeping way,
this failure is working detrimental changes in our federal
The authors review the landscape of national security secrecy
and the accumulation of unchecked executive authority and they
proceed to critique the performance of the legislative and
Legislative initiatives such as the War Powers Act and the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that were intended to
restrain the executive branch have consistently backfired, they
contend, serving instead to legitimize the presidential actions
that they were intended to restrict.
"As counterintuitive as it may seem, we conclude that
congressional efforts to control executive abuse in areas of
purported national security concerns are ill-advised. These
efforts insulate the president and establish a bureaucratic
machinery and process for engaging in precisely the kinds of
activity that were meant to be avoided."
"We argue that aggressive action to control executive branch
abuse of secrecy should not come from Congress but from the
courts, which are in a position to provide the scrutiny
necessary to discourage presidential abuse of secrecy powers."
For more information, see "Presidential Secrecy and the Law" by
Robert M. Pallitto and William G. Weaver, Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2007:
A White House obsession with secrecy should not be confused with a commitment to good security. Rep. Henry Waxman yesterday itemized several gross violations of classified information security policy in the Bush White House and called upon former White House chief of staff Andrew Card to explain security practices during his tenure.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 24, 2007 - 23:48
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (4-24-07)
... Look: I'm a dyed-in-the-wool civil libertarian who has publicly condemned the USA Patriot Act, the FBI, and the trumped-up "war on terror," and I've given half-a-dozen speeches (one the night of September 11, 2001) defending civil liberties in time of war. But I'm suggesting that we adopt campus versions of New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority slogan: If You See Something, Say Something.
Some years ago, in the bucolic little college town in Massachusetts where my wife and I raised our three children, some middle-schoolers boarded a school bus carrying a couple of pipe bombs in a shoebox. The wonder, of course, is that those sensitive devices survived the bumpy New England ride. But they did, and when the young engineers showed their handiwork to fellow students, someone reported the bombs to the assistant principal, who retrieved them (what was he thinking?), dismissed school, and called the bomb squad.
Within hours my kids knew the identities of the four students who had made the bombs, and I soon learned the names from them -- not from the school, which showed itself exceptionally attentive to the rights of the boys who had threatened the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of their fellow students. We never got a report, never had an investigative piece in the local newspaper, only learned in the most distant sort of way that first, the students had been disciplined, and then, that they were back at school. No apology from anyone. After all, they were just juveniles. (This was before the massacre at Columbine High School.)
I ruined dinner parties with rants about my neighbors' equanimity in the face of near disaster. It turns out that a group of kids had known for weeks, even months, that the bomb makers were practicing in their backyards. Didn't their parents have some responsibility for knowing what their children were up to? But the highly educated people in our college town did not want to talk about it. Now, I hope, we can begin a long-overdue public discussion about how we encourage and defend our students' civil liberties -- while doing a lot more to enhance their safety.
To start, we need to confront the problem that nearly all our students, like our children, believe that "ratting out" a friend or fellow student is a far worse offense than shutting up and allowing a couple of pipe bombs to ride to school on a bumpy school bus. I tried to talk to my kids' friends about that, as I did to my own students at the time. I was whistling into a nor'easter. There are more descriptive metaphors....
Posted on: Tuesday, April 24, 2007 - 13:13
SOURCE: American Interest (4-1-07)
... On May 9, 2003, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, known to associates as “Jerry”, lunched with President George W. Bush at the White House, just before a National Security Council meeting on his new mission to Iraq. An athletic man with a youthful appearance and quick grin, Bremer shared with Bush an enthusiasm for running, which excused their modest meal of pears and greens. He told the President that Iraq was “a marathon, not a sprint.”1 Bush agreed, but as Bremer soon discovered, that was not the policy.
Who was Jerry Bremer and how did he come to this job? Born in Hartford, Connecticut, his blue-blooded education included Phillips Academy, Yale and Harvard (MBA), rounded out by a Certificate of Political Studies from Sciences Po in Paris. Bremer made a Foreign Service career, eventually becoming Ambassador to the Netherlands and Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism. He had been in bureaucratic harm’s way at the Secretarial level, serving as Deputy Executive Secretary to Henry Kissinger and Executive Secretary to both Alexander M. Haig, Jr., and George Shultz. The job required tracking the Secretary’s schedule, recording and conveying decisions, ordering tasks and reporting results. To do this, Bremer used the “Secretary’s Book”, a volume listing daily meetings, replete with the necessary papers for the day and a presage of activities to come.
I came to know Jerry when I ran afoul of the “Book” during my service as Special Assistant and speechwriter to Haig. Bremer let me know that he expected a draft speech a full fortnight ahead of the occasion, a serious violation of my work ethic, which counts premature effort a cardinal vice. I had Haig’s confidence in the product, so Jerry and I soon reached a friendly modus vivendi: three days ahead of time, no more.
Bremer boasted a wall full of awards for his service. He had other attractive qualities, including a strong sense of duty, family and faith. Moreover, Bremer had sounded the public alarm on terrorism long before 9/11. On the awful day itself, his offices in the New York firm of Marsh & McLennan had been destroyed in the collapse of the south tower, killing several hundred of his colleagues. Finally, Bremer worked well with Republicans and was one himself, although not of the neoconservative persuasion. Bremer’s skills were therefore preeminently those of the Washington insider, and his selection as Special Presidential Envoy to Iraq by an Administration already shaken by internal quarrel suggested that some adult supervision was now at hand.
Unfortunately, Bremer knew damned little about Iraq. He had never served in the Middle East, spoke no Arabic, and his repertoire of political analogies was entirely European. Bremer therefore quickly tapped his network of “formers”, some of whom knew the region well, notably the late Ambassador Hume Horan. These men in their sixties, like Bremer, proved astonishingly resilient as they plunged themselves into 18- to 20-hour workdays amid considerable physical danger and away from their families.
Another thing Bremer did not know was counterinsurgency. Here too he had expert friends. One who declined to join the team was Ambassador James Dobbins, a veteran of the Bosnia and Kosovo projects. Shortly before Bremer met Bush, Dobbins handed him a RAND research report on counterinsurgency. The study found that all recorded successful strategies employed troop-to-population ratios that dictated 400,000–500,000 troops for a country the size of Iraq. Those who tried to make do with less not only failed; they failed with higher casualties. Bremer handed the RAND report to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and told Bush about it.
Contrary to the critics, there was a strategy for Iraq. As Secretary Rumsfeld explained in a February 14, 2003 speech called “Beyond Nation Building”, the United States could do more with less, thanks to the new technology of war and a revised notion of how to reconstruct states. If the technological revolution demanded the “transformation” of U.S. forces from their Cold War model to lighter, quicker and more lethal ones, then “nation-building” American style required a “light footprint.” Rumsfeld compared Bosnia and Kosovo, where U.S. and NATO forces had created a “culture of dependency”, to Afghanistan, where the United States had quickly transferred responsibility to an Afghan government. The result was a nearly functioning democracy without a large residual American presence. The new “light footprint” approach also intended to resolve a strategic conundrum: The post-9/11 era found the United States burdened by the commitments of the 1990s and new ones as well, yet with a military force half the size. George W. Bush had ten army divisions, his father 19. Rumsfeld was bent on proving that ten would be enough.
The President and his closest counselors calculated that Iraq was even more fertile ground to execute the “light footprint” plan than Afghanistan. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq’s bureaucracies appeared to function, its infrastructure seemed to work, and its oil reserves promised resources for any necessary reconstruction. There was an educated middle class thirsty for democracy, if only Saddam could be removed (all the Iraqi political exiles said so). Hence, a quick “shock and awe” operation that cut off the Saddamite head with minimal damage to the rest of the Iraqi body would facilitate a safe political transplant. Rumsfeld had therefore bullied the Pentagon’s original war plan, requiring 500,000 troops, down to a number that fit transformation and the “light footprint.” Cobra II would be a four-division coup d’étât, leaving the state intact. It would be liberation, not occupation.
It was a brilliant concept that did not survive contact with reality. Off went the head in the Coalition’s march to Baghdad, but down also came the body. The head, moreover, did not exactly die, for Saddam and his two deranged sons escaped. As for the body, looting destroyed the infrastructure, violence marred the streets, and Iraq’s functional ministries vanished. The new head, moreover, was a hydra of competing exiles bereft of consensus, ignorant of government and lacking popular support. The light footprint threatened to morph into the Frankenstein option.
American officials, thinking of Germany and Japan, had vastly overestimated the underlying solidity of the Iraqi state. In the transition from General Jay Garner and ORHA to Jerry Bremer and the CPA there seemed to be at least an inkling of this. Still, most Bush Administration principals back in Washington believed that the original strategy might still work if only it had more time, more money and a strong local hand. That hand was to be Jerry Bremer’s, and he used it.
Bremer’s effort to revive the body and ready the head transplant can be divided conveniently into two acts: in the first, May to October 2003, Bremer’s encounter with Iraqi reality disabused him of his Washington instructions, leading to the collapse of his political support in the Defense Department; the second act, beginning with a key series of meetings in Washington, witnessed an heroic effort to establish a political structure even amid a growing military crisis and ended on June 28, 2004....
[HNN Editor: The article goes on to contrast the US experience in Iraq under Bremer with the British experience in Egypt under Lord Cromer.]
Posted on: Monday, April 23, 2007 - 15:46
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (4-22-07)
It was predictable. Cho Seung-Hui was a taciturn, moody loner. Four of his professors expressed concerns about the content of his work or classroom conduct. After complaints by two female students, the campus police and a college counsellor tried to have him committed to a mental institution. But a doctor didn't agree with the judge that he presented a danger to others. And guns are easy to buy in America (though banned on Virginia campuses). As a result 33 people are dead.
Journalists' efforts to explain the Virginia Tech massacre perfectly illustrate one of the central points of an idiosyncratically brilliant new book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Penguin/Allen Lane). Having been completely caught out by some random event, we human beings are wonderfully good at retrospectively predicting it. In reality, however, Cho was what Taleb calls a "Black Swan".
Why a black swan? Taleb's starting point is what philosophers call the problem of induction. Suppose you have spent all your life in the northern hemisphere and have only ever seen white swans. You might very well conclude (inductively) that all swans are white. But take a trip to Australia, where swans are black, and your theory will collapse. A "Black Swan" is therefore anything that seems to us, on the basis of our limited experience, to be impossible.
Over 20 years of university teaching, I have seen my fair share of taciturn, moody young men. Many have had difficulties with girls. Some have needed counselling. A few have required psychiatric treatment. The risk that one of my depressive students might commit suicide is one I have often contemplated. But the risk that one might run amok and kill 32 people? Never.
Why, Taleb asks, do we tend to confuse improbability with impossibility? Partly, he suggests, it's because evolution did not favour complex probabilistic thinking. Honed by centuries of hunter-gathering, we are disposed to make snap decisions on the basis of minimal evidence and facile theories - presumably because those who glimpsed a lion and started running, on the crude assumption that all wild animals always eat humans, were more likely to survive than those who preferred to test this hypothesis experimentally. There are friendly lions, just as there are black swans, but better safe than sorry....
Posted on: Monday, April 23, 2007 - 15:16
SOURCE: Slate (4-20-07)
In the first round of the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama has, to some people's surprise, been drawing less enthusiasm from black voters than from upscale whites. (Black voters, despite some recent shifts, still prefer Hillary.) Efforts to explain this discrepancy have focused on the reaction of black voters to Obama; one hypothesis holds that Obama, as the son of a Kenyan, strikes many blacks as unrepresentative of them. But the flip side of the question hasn't really been asked: What explains Obama's robust showing with white liberals?
Some elements of the answer are obvious: his high-toned oratory, his promises of reconciliation in a divisive time, a background in community organizing that suggests both idealism and a talent for problem-solving. But another clue may lie in the presidential bid of a figure Obama's devotees love to invoke: John F. Kennedy.
When answering the charge that the Illinois senator lacks the record of achievement befitting a White House aspirant, Obama's backers often stack him next to JFK. Obama is 44, they note, older than JFK was when he ran. Skeptics derided JFK, as they now do Obama, as callow and ill-versed in substantive issues. And yet Obama, similar to JFK, manages to inspire people with sex appeal, cerebral cool, and a message of generational change. Like all historical analogies, this one has limits: JFK had logged 14 years in Congress when he became president, compared with the four Obama will have by 2008. For all these surface similarities, however, the most important aspect of Kennedy's campaign mirrored in Obama's may be the way that JFK handled his Catholicism. In the 1960 campaign, Kennedy turned his religion from a liability into an asset. Obama seems to be doing the same thing with his race.
When Kennedy began eyeing the presidency in the late 1950s, no Catholic had led a national ticket since 1928, when New York Gov. Al Smith was routed by Republican Herbert Hoover. Although the seven fat years that preceded that election sealed Hoover's win, anti-Catholic sentiment—latent and overt—hurt Smith. Even 32 years later, experts thought that many Protestants wouldn't pull the lever for a Catholic. Kennedy's aides debated what to do. Most wanted to dodge the issue and hope that the toleration that had prevailed in America since World War II would keep Kennedy's creed from deterring too many voters. Some advisers even feared that raising the religion issue would only fan it.
The alternate strategy was to deal with voters' concerns explicitly. Only a minority of Kennedy's aides preferred this approach. But one was Kennedy's influential pollster, Lou Harris, and Kennedy came to agree with his advice. They chose the West Virginia primary, a state that was just 5 percent Catholic, as the forum in which to take on the issue. Kennedy's rival was Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, a favorite of labor and of liberals—and a Protestant. Kennedy invested a fortune in the state, but as the May 10 primary neared, he found himself down 20 points. Previous primaries that year had trained media attention on Kennedy's religion, lowering his numbers in Appalachia.
To climb back, Kennedy staged a half-hour televised interview with Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. FDR's name was gold in the poor mining state whose residents remembered the New Deal with deep gratitude. For about one-third of the broadcast, JFK answered frank questions from FDR Jr. about his Catholicism. The candidate said that if elected president, he would take his oath to uphold the Constitution on a Bible—and thus if he broke that vow, he would not only deserve impeachment but would also be "sinning against God."
At one level, Kennedy seemed only to be pleading that his loyalty to country preceded his loyalty to any religious dictates—that he could be trusted. Indeed, Kennedy, of all politicians, had the best chance of defusing what anti-Catholic bigotry remained in America, since he didn't fit the negative, atavistic Catholic stereotypes that some people harbored. In words that evoke some recent unfortunate comments about Obama, David Halberstam noted that to voters in 1960, Kennedy looked "stylish and fresh and clean, his tailoring and his coiffing reeked of elegance and tradition, the first Irish Brahmin, the Irishman as Wasp." Hard-core haters would never back him, but to mildly intolerant Americans, "the sight of the young, slim, modern, attractive Kennedy, free as he seemed to be of restraints and prejudices of the past, erased their suspicions."
Beyond defensively reassuring the slightly prejudiced, however, Kennedy was also making a more ingenious, offensive play. Harris conceived a strategy of framing the Catholicism issue as one of voters' open-mindedness. As Theodore H. White wrote in The Making of the President, 1960:
Two Democratic candidates were appealing to the commonality of the Democratic Party; once the issue could be made one of tolerance or intolerance Hubert Humphrey was hung. No one could prove to his own conscience that by voting for Humphrey he was displaying tolerance. Yet any man, indecisive in mind on the Presidency, could prove that he was at least tolerant by voting for Jack Kennedy. The shape of the problem made it impossible for Humphrey, the most tolerant of men, to run in favor of tolerance. Only Kennedy could campaign on this point and still win in good taste and without unfairness.
After the TV interview with FDR, Harris' surveys showed a sharp switch, reflected in the pollster's own encounters with West Virginians. "I remember going back to one particular one the Monday before the election, after the TV speech on religion," Harris told White. "And she took me in and pulled down the blinds and said she was going to vote for Kennedy now. 'We have enough trouble in West Virginia, let alone to be called bigots, too.' "
Outplayed (and outspent), Humphrey lost badly. Late on the night of the primary, he withdrew his candidacy for the nomination. "I think," Kennedy said at a press conference, "we have now buried the religion issue once and for all." West Virginians hadn't exactly voted for Kennedy because he was Catholic. Indeed, he had needed to dispel their biases against Catholics simply to gain a hearing. But once he had gained that hearing, he flipped the issue on its head, and thereafter his religion subtly enhanced his other appealing qualities—including the message that as an emissary of a new generation, freed from the constraining assumptions of the past, he would offer new solutions to America's problems, including those of diversity and toleration.
In subsequent years, members of minority groups seeking high office have emulated this strategy. When Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman sought the vice presidency in 2000, the presence of a Jew on a ticket provoked much chatter, especially since Lieberman (unlike most American Jews) is Orthodox. Most of us had expected that the first Jew on a national ticket would be someone whose religion would go largely unnoticed, like Dianne Feinstein or Arlen Specter—picked because his or her Judaism didn't matter. Lieberman was picked because his Judaism did matter. It mattered, in part, because it tacitly invited voters to feel ennobled by voting for a visibly devout Jew—an invitation the candidate extended in a convention speech that declared, "Only in America." Although by 2000 few voters remained who were likely to be moved by anti-Semitism, Lieberman still turned his religion from a nonfactor into a net plus.
Similarly, few people support Obama solely, or mainly, because he's black. But if his strategists are thinking as Kennedy's did in 1960, they may be calculating that his race can subtly enhance his other attractive qualities. Having passed a threshold among most white voters, his race can implicitly encourage them to feel that a vote for Obama is a vote for tolerance, for a future free of the constricting prejudices of the past, and for a sense of hope that Jack Kennedy once evoked.
This piece first ran in Slate and is reprinted with permission of the author. Click here to see a list of his other History Lesson columns in Slate.
Posted on: Monday, April 23, 2007 - 00:00
SOURCE: Nation (4-18-07)
Intransigence and myopia. The flowering of these habits within the GOP is driving the Democratic Party to clarity. And the potential for serious consequences is real. It is not enough to suggest that a big Democratic win is possible in 2008. Something far more strategic is at work: large-scale party realignment with historic implications.
None of this seems apparent, of course. Indeed, for a number of hopeful partisans, such a possibility seems beyond reason itself. Politics is assumed to be modulated through the inherited customs of the two major parties. Complacency and sloganeering are settled habits among Republicans. Clarity, on the other hand, can scarcely be called an ingrained cultural habit among Democrats. In the face of corporate saber-rattling, a fair degree of communal Democratic wilting is highly probable. This traditional analysis, while time-tested and even accurate as far as it goes, is leading to inside-the-Beltway conclusions that are superficial and obsolete.
Actually, very strong countervailing pressures are at work. But Americans are no longer well instructed about how to see them. Real life contains two elements of democratic politics that are rarely discussed in tandem--engaged popular aspiration (unidentified people out there in America) and cooperating elites (identifiable in Washington). Such a range of citizens is not routinely analyzed together because, politically, they are not assumed to be together. Instead, people find the nominal institutions of democracy, such as the US Congress, limping along in a decayed condition, insufficiently independent of lobbyists. The outlying population is also found limping, assumed to be insufficiently informed to act with relevance. Since everyone is affected by the surrounding culture in which they have been raised and to which they remain attached, the same decayed condition besets the reporters who cover it, the scholars who brood over it, the consultants who try to make a living handling it and the politicians who seek passable footing through it. To find some footing for ourselves, we need to catch the connections on those rare occasions when popular and elite modes of politics function at the same time and have serious ideas in concert. It does not happen often in history. But it happens. When it does, expectation can begin to replace resignation.
It is, in fact, beginning to happen now. Activity among people "out there" surfaced soon after the 2006 elections, first as a new way to think about political possibility--verified by the arrival in Congress of new majority leaders and new committee chairs; verified yet again by the weak GOP sidestep, early on, of any Senate debate on Iraq and, not least, through the investigative horizons richly confirmed by the perjury trial of Scooter Libby. Apart from this, in climes far from comfortable lobbyists, activists have organized petitions for local environmental laws even as people in midsize towns stepped up pressure for living-wage ordinances as benchmarks for all city workers. Indeed, agitation for a revived push for an Equal Rights Amendment, visible at local levels soon after the November election and at state levels in December, has now gathered momentum in both the House and Senate. This kind of politics is not about the next election; it is about people coming up for air and getting something done that has a chance to get done. Nor is this effort a magic bullet to dispatch globalization. It is not instant and it does not begin large-scale but emerges from the interaction of popular aspirations and cooperating elites. It is out there in America now--much more vividly than before the November elections. It will be expanding.
There are stages here, reciprocal sequences. Unfamiliar rhythms are apparent in the attentive but very reserved popular responses to the bevy of presidential aspirants. Popular input is also visible on the ground in Iraq, on the floor of the House of Representatives and in the interplay of the two. It is no accident that the first officeholder to speak publicly about the resentment American troops in Iraq feel toward the crowds of contractors harvesting profit from the war is Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha. A savvy old hand from a working-class region hurt by globalization, Murtha does not fit the liberal-conservative mold that frames Beltway insiderism. An ex-Marine, Murtha saw for himself the conjunction of soldier competence and discontent on his most recent trip to Baghdad. His Democratic colleagues in the House will follow his lead in finding an expeditious way out of Iraq--as they began to do soon after he first publicly announced his opposition to Bush's policy. Like Murtha, the boots on the ground in Iraq are responding to the reality they see around them. What soldiers are telling the latest visitors reveals how desperate things are. Talking to a reporter for the McClatchy newspapers, a 19-year-old private explains, "We can go get into a firefight and empty our ammo, but it doesn't accomplish much. This isn't our war--we're just in the middle." An officer's take: "To be honest, it's going to be like this for a long time to come, no matter what we do."
The Iraq disaster undermines the Republicans but will not in itself bring party realignment. Rather, the energizing momentum is economic--and it is driven by abiding public anxiety here in America. Ahead in Washington are the sharpest kinds of party divisions over domestic policy. The signals are everywhere. The new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, began by mobilizing all 233 Democrats to co-sponsor the minimum-wage bill. On their first opportunity to decamp, eighty-two Republicans did so. The final tally--an early harbinger of the realigned future--was 315 to 116. After redistricting in response to the 2010 census, it does not seem out of line to envision something approaching a Democratic margin of 275 to 160. The path to these numbers travels through Social Security, the issue that, as Bush has already experienced, remains the third rail of American politics. Debate before the 2008 election should produce the first of many win-win options for the Democrats: Either enough GOP senators defect to protect themselves as well as Social Security, or they don't defect and boost their own vulnerability at the polls. Of forty-nine GOP-held Senate seats, twenty-one are up for grabs.
Beyond Social Security lies a decisive second issue: healthcare. A tangible start has already begun with the bill to end one of the greatest boondoggles in legislative history--the GOP ban on the government's right to negotiate prices with drug companies. It passed the House 255 to 170. With the drug lobby weighing in, Democratic partisans were pleased to see that all the no votes were cast by Republicans. More suggestive is the fact that a score of others broke ranks to support the Democrats--a move that reflects less an alteration of ideology than anxiety about surviving 2008. This will be a dicey time because by then Americans will know how much of their own family budgets and the nation's Treasury the Republican Party has brazenly transferred to pharmaceutical firms. Already put away in the House bank is the most important labor bill in a generation: the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to end the corporate reign of threats and job firings routinely visited upon all those trying to get a union at their workplace. The bill passed 241 to 185.
Meanwhile, the government has essentially been outsourced to corporate America. In a convenient bit of tidiness, most auditing tasks have been outsourced as well. Hired contractors guard the US Treasury by casting glances over ledgers provided by other contractors. This way of running the country carries arrogance to public levels never before seen. Meanwhile, the Libby verdict ground into the national psyche the entire structure of "lying America into war"--a venture that changed the way the world feels about Americans as a people. What more will surface by, say, June 2008? By November? Much fuel for realignment lurks here.
A comparative framework for the impending Democratic sweep can be found in the time in American history that most vividly corresponds to the present--a moment that materialized right after another Democratic breakthrough, seventy-seven years ago.
The time is 1930. Democrats have just found themselves in control of the House under conditions they did not create and could not have imagined even two years earlier. They have essentially been bystanders at the instant of their ascendancy. The decisive political fact is that something fundamental has gone terribly awry. The disaster has come upon the nation with great speed, the consequences have gotten more severe with every passing day and the President is doing nothing in response. Instead he makes pious speeches that depress people because they do not address reality. A testy minority has long seen him as a complacent man nursing a penchant for pomposity. To them, his posture comes across as disdain for the suffering of millions, not to mention the mounting anxiety of almost everybody else. He has begun to be hated by many people and is no longer trusted by most. The disaster that generates all this is called the Great Depression. The President who does not act but speaks in slogans is named Herbert Hoover. Though the Civil War had conferred great prestige on the Republican Party, suddenly, after many decades, grave peril looms.
The relationship between then and now is compelling. Every time Hoover extolled the curative powers of the free market, every time he wrapped himself in the red, white and blue of American prosperity, he verified the emptiness of his leadership. The American people had to endure a one-two punch: a self-undermining President, leaking support while trying to defend his immobility, and a docile party confined by its dazed need to be loyal to him. It took a while to play out publicly, but eventually the rhythm of an immobilized President and a party of straight men brought home to the population the depth of the trap they were in. But right after their breakthrough, Democrats could not by themselves drive home to a needy electorate the initiatives many hoped to enact. They did not yet have the aid of a cooperating President. Just as Iraq undermines George Bush in 2007, Hoover's inability to deal with reality in 1931 and '32 was seen by voters for what it was: clear failure. The result in 1932 made the breakthrough in 1930 seem petty. The House became Democratic, 310 to 117; and the Senate, 60 to 35.
Nevertheless, these numbers did not mean what they seemed--a landslide victory that ushered in the New Deal that followed. Herbert Hoover was out and Franklin Roosevelt was in, yet what "followed" for three more years was neither Social Security nor the Wagner Act but rather intense struggles at workplaces across the country. Striking for union recognition, workers mounted almost 4,000 job actions in 1933 and '34, most visibly a failed general strike of 200,000 that spread through Southern textile country and a second, more successful general strike on the San Francisco waterfront. Support for collective bargaining was strong in both Houses of Congress, but FDR, focused as he was on agriculture, blocked it. Finally, in the summer of 1935, after one of the anchors of New Deal legislation, the National Industrial Recovery Act, was declared unconstitutional, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Wagner Act, 63 to 12. FDR finally got on board just before the bill soared through the House and became law--along with Social Security.
The GOP response to all this remained grounded in the belief that the New Deal was destructive and socialist. The party's most vivid voice was a redbaiting, occasionally anti-Semitic lobby calling itself the Liberty League. But in the same way that the evening news from Iraq mocks the rigidity of Bush talk today, such hysteria about socialism could not substitute for reality in 1933 and '34 any more than Hoover talk could in 1931 and '32. Never at any point in the 1930s did the GOP develop a rhetorical match for Roosevelt. His fireside chats on nationwide radio became the most dramatic and effective connection between the American people and their President ever forged, before or since. "Taxes shall be levied according to the ability to pay," he said. "That is the only American principle." He effectively ridiculed the Republican Party as the home to "economic royalists" who, despite having "two perfectly good legs...never learned to walk forward."
For generations still to come, American historians will doubtless be comparing the period 1930-36 to that of 2006-12 as years of high political-economic crisis for capitalism. One crisis stemmed from a worldwide depression, triggered by the American depression of 1929, the other by an ambitious scheme of globalization benefiting the financial sectors of every country in the world advanced enough to have a financial sector. It also severely harmed workers in all the advanced democracies, placing their labor movements under unbearable pressure--and none more so than in America. The most important achievement of the Democratic Party in the earlier period rested on the vital educational function it served on an absolutely essential subject: the role of demand in facilitating a healthy economy. Though later scholars would label the Wagner Act "labor's Magna Carta," it was, in fact, the nation's economy that was set temporarily on the path to liberation--even if it took another decade or so for some of the nation's classical economists to begin to consider that the long-term welfare of the economy and the growth of organized labor were essentially linked.
In the wake of the realignment of 1932, Congressional Democrats found themselves on this issue, the analysis of demand, hemmed in at square one--not only with journalists and other opinion-makers but with their own President. Both FDR and Congress could share in the achievement of Social Security. But the Wagner Act belonged to Congress alone--and to the American people who backed their representatives. Today, with the Wagner Act long since gutted, globalization is well along the path of rotting the fabric of the economy from below.
It will take a sensible and dedicated President and a sensible and strong Congress to set a more democratic course for the realigned politics that is coming. But the table has been set for both. Relentless Congressional inquiries have begun--and are unstoppable--because the initial target is a regime whose capacity for sustained deceit and wholesale incompetence has reached a broad plateau of ethical corruption that is without precedent in American history. Bush lied the country into a foreign quagmire that destroyed the goodwill toward the country of populations residing on every continent. He politicized and humiliated his own Justice Department, falsely accusing honorable men and women of incompetence. To protect his closest adviser, he betrayed lesser advisers, weakening the country's rule of law.In power-grabbing acts of centralization, through the grossly mistitled Patriot Act, he has repeatedly shown contempt for the Bill of Rights. Through acts that were legal but grotesquely undemocratic in philosophy, he destroyed the structure of the balanced budget he inherited, undermining long-term demand and hastening the economic downturn that has begun. He has proved his indifference to the fate of one of America's great cities because of his indifference to most of the people who lived in it. He has degraded the nation. Though our plate of dismay and despair is full, we have more to learn, and Congress, with Karl Rove's blood everywhere, will see that we learn it.
The citizenry as a whole has been pushed far back by the authoritarianism of the Bush/Cheney team and the greed it has inspired, particularly in finance and corporate medicine. The country, including the media at large, has a distance to travel to get up to speed for the revelations to come.
Finally, though American life in 2007 does not resemble the numbing degradation of the Depression years, something else is eating its way through the fabric of the commonwealth--a reality we don't yet possess the political language to describe with poise. Woven deeply into the shared experience of Americans is a sense of people actually "getting somewhere," of being able through hard work to "move up in the world" and, when disaster occurs, to get a second job to hold family catastrophe at bay. Over time, generations of parents have passed on a belief in the nation's democratic experiment, a concept at once American and biblical--originally set down with romantic seventeenth-century flair as "a city upon a hill." It accounts for the peculiarly American sense of the possibility of dignity for everyone. It is this very sense of what we should be as a people that stokes modern anxiety, activated as it now is by downsizings across the country. Initially surfacing privately, inside families, it is now a part of life, a social blemish that has turned into a hardened scar as highly skilled mechanics in dozens of occupations become unemployed and women have no option but to become family breadwinners. These anomalies are driven by the very industrial facts people once believed they had under control. At a time when the value of the minimum wage has sunk by 20 percent in a single decade, the enormous leap in wealth by the top 1 percent fails to console the rest of us. We all have proof there is (currently) no promise of a city on a hill. In 2007, the quality most visible at the top of the hill is greed.
This sober reality explains why Americans are giving themselves permission, once again, to think broadly about democratic possibility. Though most people work for businesses, they have learned to be skeptical when the boss tells them what is good for the nation. The suffocating consistency of the Bush Administration's lies has expanded this skepticism exponentially. But in a corporate culture where conservative arrogance has been rubbed in people's faces at work and in politics, it takes a while for citizens to allow themselves to stand up.
To assist them, a measure of Democratic Party clarity would be very helpful. Since GOP incumbents cannot campaign effectively in 2008 by dealing seriously with issues that now bear down on the American people, much of Republican electioneering will consist of TV attacks on the character of their opponents. Democratic defenses will depend on the power of the agenda they have advanced. In 2004 the many-sided John Kerry was Swift-Boated into history's dustbin, while two years later in Tennessee, there appeared a Democratic candidate who managed to take the lead in a tight Senate race. He was a nice fellow, though prone to straddling issues of substance. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the bigger the issue, the wider his straddle. Detecting opportunity, GOP consultants served up a casually dressed Caucasian lass who, in a racist TV ad, coyly used the Democratic candidate's first name--as if to court him and degrade him all at once. The GOP aspirant, a man of modest talent, managed to pull out a narrow win in a Democratic year. When Democrats learn how to be clear on central issues, this kind of ignoble foolishness will no longer succeed. Party realignment will then happen and the country can start to work on its very real problems.
And not until then.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Sunday, April 22, 2007 - 17:02
SOURCE: NYT (4-22-07)
IT is easy to underestimate Jacques Chirac.
Today the French will begin to vote for a new president, and soon Mr. Chirac, the 74-year-old incumbent, will pass from the scene unmourned. Over a political career spanning nearly five decades, during which he was mayor of Paris, prime minister (twice) and president for 12 years, Mr. Chirac appears to have achieved little.
As mayor from 1977 to 1995, he oversaw a steady rise in political corruption and municipal graft (albeit both at insignificant levels by American big-city standards). As president, he abandoned his promises to resolve shortcomings in France’s employment laws and social services in the face of street protests. And he has done little to redress the grievances of France’s minorities or the anxieties of young people. On both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Chirac’s political obituary is being written in distinctly unflattering terms.
But is the French situation really so dire? From every quarter one hears calls for “reform” to bring France more in line with Anglo-American practices and policies. The dysfunctional French social model, we are frequently assured, has failed.
In that case there is much to be said for failure. French infants have a better chance of survival than American ones. The French live longer than Americans and they live healthier (at far lower cost). They are better educated and have first-rate public transportation. The gap between rich and poor is narrower than in the United States or Britain, and there are fewer poor people.
Yes, France has high youth unemployment, thanks to institutionalized impediments to job creation. But the comparison to American rates is misleading: our figures are artificially lowered because so many dark-skinned men aged 18 to 30 are in prison and thus off the unemployment rolls.
Meanwhile, recall what Jacques Chirac has done. In 1995 he became the first president to acknowledge openly France’s role in the Holocaust: “The occupier was assisted by the French, by the French state,” he said. “France accomplished the irreparable.” This was a phrase that would have stuck in the craw of his much-lauded predecessor, François Mitterrand, and, it must be said, of Charles de Gaulle himself.
However low his political fortunes, Mr. Chirac forbade his supporters to ally or compromise with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s racist and xenophobic National Front — again in contrast with Mr. Mitterrand, who cynically manipulated French election laws in 1986 to benefit Mr. Le Pen (and thus weaken the moderate right).
Conscious of Europe’s links to the Muslim world — and the cost of rebuffing and humiliating Islam’s only secular democracy — Mr. Chirac has steadfastly supported Turkish admission to the European Union, an unpopular stance among his conservative constituents. In 2004 he created the first French administrative agency with explicit powers to identify and fight discrimination....
Posted on: Sunday, April 22, 2007 - 15:39
SOURCE: Special to HNN (4-21-07)
A simple statement made by a national legislative leader in Washington this week indicates that a war is being lost, but it is not the war in Iraq. It is the defeat of the War of Ideas taking place nowadays in the US Congress.
One striking example is a declaration by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that "the United States had lost the war in Iraq", a conclusion he said he’d communicated to President Bush at a meeting last Wednesday. "This war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday", Mr. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said at a Capitol Hill press conference with anti-war state legislators.
To Senator Reid, his conclusion is very simple and to me, it is overly simplistic. Reid believes the war is lost because there is "extreme violence in Iraq." I contemplated this statement and was about to conclude sociologically that this irrational logic happens only in America, but I refrained from doing so because most Americans - when informed accurately and not dis-informed by their elite - think otherwise.
Under the pounding of a media that thrives on sound bites and not on calm analysis, if read quickly, the statement cut through. But then, if one reflects on what the highest figure in the US Senate has said, one would conclude that he and other like-minded politicians defy the implacable reality of logic. Consider this: how can the move towards victory in an ongoing war be measured by the mere existence of violence or by its intensity? While a war is taking place, it is - of course and of necessity - comprised of violent acts. Yet because the question raised by Senator Reid had been about whether we had been victorious in the war, he made an unnecessary and confused statement. Yes, the war is not yet over, America has neither won nor lost decisively, and it is precisely for that reason that one must expect to see the violence one sees in wartime. But in Mr. Reid's statement, he misguidedly concluded that the US-led coalition had utterly lost the war in Iraq, just because the enemy still attacks and counter-attacks.
Historians would certainly disapprove of Reid’s logic and examples abound. When the 101st division was counter-attacked inland after the Allied landing of Normandy in 1944 and the US took enormous casualties, America wasn't losing WWII, the Nazis were. One could have perceived that we were losing the war at that point, but the reality was entirely different. Mr. Reid and many other politicians, academics and commentators, in a gesture derived from farce, took it upon themselves to decide that progress towards victory in the war in Iraq will be measured only if no shots are heard and no car bombs explode. But if that were to occur, we would find ourselves at the end of the war, not in the middle of the war pursuing, and moving towards, victory which is where we are. Until the Iraqi state is up and running, the regimes threatening peace countered, and a strong anti-Jihadist movement leading the resistance against terrorism in the region, the enemy will of course be waging counter strikes relentlessly. Thus, measurement of our success in this war is about these factors, not about the mere evidence of violence which proves only that we are engaged in a war…and this we already know.
A more comprehensive and worthy analysis of the war in Iraq should factor in the direction of the global confrontation between the Democracy forces and the Jihadi-authoritarian camp in the region. Since 2003, a brutal regime - genocidal in essence - has been brought down in Iraq; the Kurds have reached a survival level; the Shiites were saved from the savage Baathist regime, and the liberal element among Sunnis has had a chance to emerge. Yes, and it should have been predicted, the Iranian regime is penetrating Iraq, Bashar Assad is sending the Jihadists through the borders and al Qaeda is attempting to seize the control of the Triangle. Therefore, one stage of the war was accomplished, the removal of Saddam; the other stage, the Syro-Iranian and Jihadi counter-offensive, is evolving. It doesn’t really take a Middle East expert to understand this.
If Senator Reid and his colleagues were to engage in a serious discussion to create more effective plans to enable the Iraqi forces decisively to defeat the terror forces, if Congress were to debate the best strategies to contain the Iranian and Syrian regimes, and if the legislators were to invite more Muslim dissidents instead of Islamist radicals to the Hill, then the road to victory in the war on terror would be paved with meaningful evidence. But, unfortunately instead of proposing a better map towards strategic victory, leading politicians - influenced by faulty expertise - are missing the whole logic of the War on Terror: its global dimension. And to add egregious insult to intellectual injury, a congressional panel recently voted to ban the use of the phrase, the “Global War on Terror.”
In this context, Mr. Reid’s statement needs to be understood differently. Indeed one war is being lost by America today; it is the War of Ideas, not the war in Iraq. Ironically, the former it is being lost by the very group of people elected to defend America, her citizens and her interests against her enemies: the US Congress.
Posted on: Saturday, April 21, 2007 - 22:10
SOURCE: Sandstorm (4-19-07)
Over the winter, I gave a short address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at a meeting in Jerusalem. I took the assignment seriously, and offered these thoughts, more to highlight problems than offer solutions. In this week between Holocaust Memorial Day and Israel's Independence Day, I share them for wider reflection.
The title of our panel is "Looking Back, Looking Ahead: The Geopolitical Situation of the Jewish People." This is a moving target: the geopolitical situation of the Jews hasn't ever been stable. As a people, our geopolitics are one part our preferences, and two parts historical forces. These forces never rest. Seventy years ago, the Jewish world was centered in Europe. Now we mostly just fly over it. The United States and Israel are today the poles of the Jewish world, because some Jews sensed tremors before the earthquake. When the earth opened up and Europe descended into the inferno, parts of the Jewish people already had a Plan B in place. We are living that Plan B.
Today the Jewish people is in an enviable geopolitical position. It has one foot planted in a Jewish sovereign state, and the other in the world's most open and powerful society. One is tempted to say that never in their long history has the geopolitical situation of the Jews been better. Jews did have sovereignty before, in antiquity, but they did not have a strategic alliance with the greatest power on earth. And since it is difficult to imagine a better geopolitical position, the Jewish people has become a status quo people. Once we were revolutionaries; now we don't need the world to change. Of course we would like an improvement in Israel's standing with some of its neighbors--what dreamers call "peace." But we are generally confident or complacent enough to prefer the status quo to the risks of changing it.
Yet as we all should know, history stops for no man, and for no people. I was trained as a historian, and while this gives me no powers of prophecy, I can assure you of one thing. What is, will not be. Balances of power will change. Identities will be recast. Eventually, too, the map of the Middle East will be redrawn.
When we worry, we tend to focus on apocalyptic scenarios. But I invite you to think for a moment about five long-term trends that could erode the status quo, but that fall short of a mushroom cloud. I will proceed from the far to the near, and I will focus on the Israeli side of the equation.
First, U.S. influence in the Middle East could wane. Perhaps you have read the article by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, entitled "The New Middle East." He wrote: "Less than twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the American era in the Middle East. . . has ended. . . . The second Iraq war... has precipitated its end." I think this is premature--America's era in the Middle East will end one day, but it hasn't ended yet, and it will take more than Iraq to end it. But Haass's statement is indicative of a spreading mood. Add this to technological change that could reduce American dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and it is possible that in twenty years' time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?
Second, Europe could be subtracted from the sum power of the West. The trends there, of low birth rates, Muslim immigration, multiculturalism--if they are not stopped or reversed, they could have the effect of de-Westernizing Europe. Europe, even without Jews, is part of a cultural and strategic continuum, linking Israel to America. Without that link, Israel would become still more encircled by Islam-inflected hostility. So what is our Plan B then?
Third, Iran could gain regional power status. In fact, the imperial ambition of Iran may be a long-term trend independent of the nature of its regime. Iran could become Israel's regional rival, even if it postpones its nuclear plans and drops Ahmadinejad. Iran is already using every ounce of its leverage to establish its dominance in Iraq and its influence elsewhere in the Persian Gulf. If Iran emerges as a power on par with Israel--a power intent on drawing Israel into a long cold war of attrition--what is our Plan B?
Fourth, the Arab states around us could succumb to the same sort of disease that is causing Iraq to hemorrhage internally. That disease is the lack of legitimacy. When you look at a map of the Middle East, you are looking at a gerrymandered hodgepodge, drawn a century ago to serve the interests of the long-defunct empires of Britain and France. If Iraq breaks up--and I believe it will--other states could begin to crumble. In some places, it might be Shiites against Sunnis; elsewhere, Islamists against nationalists. This could engulf states on Israel's borders, and Israel could find itself opposite not one Hezbollah but many. So what is our Plan B?
Fifth, and closest to home, there is the possibility that the two-state solution will become passé, because the Palestinians will fail as a nation. By failure I mean they will not have the cohesion necessary to translate their identity into nation-statehood. Many in Israel presently speak as if the creation of a Palestinian state is essential to Israel's own legitimacy and even survival. But what if such a state proves to be impossible? A binational state, Israeli-Palestinian, is anathema, so what is our Plan B?
Now one would have to be a grim pessimist to believe that all five of these trends could merge into a perfect storm. But one would have to be an incurable optimist to believe that that we won't be lashed by any of these storms. And what I am arguing is that we should anticipate conditions that will make storms more frequent than they have been in the last few decades.
We have had a remarkable run these last thirty years. Israel has flourished under the pax Americana. There has been no general Arab-Israeli war since 1973, and peace prevails on most of Israel's borders. The country's population has grown, foreign investment has poured in. Israel has expanding relations with the up-and-coming powers in the world. And American Jewry has gained stature and influence, in part by mediating for Israel. This has been a long and productive peace.
But when Herzl wrote The Jewish State, Europe was also thirty years into its long peace. He knew it would not last, that its foundations were weak. He planned accordingly. We should recognize that the status quo in the Middle East won't last indefinitely, and we have to plan accordingly. I haven't said what I think has to be done--what alliances to make, what targets to strike, what borders to redraw. But I do say that Israel will have to make alliances, strike targets, and redraw borders--and they won't necessarily be the familiar ones.
This is going to create stress in the world, and even within the Jewish people. So your tasks will multiply, and they will become more urgent. If you got into this business ten years ago, thinking it would be all gala dinners on the way to a new Middle East, I apologize on behalf of history. The man was on the mark who said that the trouble with our times is that the future just isn't what it used to be.
Posted on: Saturday, April 21, 2007 - 14:59