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: NYT (7-14-07)
On its face, the affirmative action case decided on June 28 by the Supreme Court turns on whether two school districts in Washington and Kentucky violated the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection guarantee when they assigned children to schools on the basis of race.
But the underlying issue is whether the court should be attentive to history and the societal consequences of its decision, or should turn a blind eye to those consequences and attend only to the principled protection of individual rights. The plurality opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, strongly affirms the latter position, citing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s declaration (in Metro Broadcasting Inc. v. F.C.C., 1990) that: “Our Constitution protects each citizen as an individual, not as a member of a group.”
From this it follows that while groups may suffer disadvantages in the course of history, race-conscious efforts to ameliorate those disadvantages sacrifice constitutional principles, which are timeless, to the achieving of a result that is considered good by the ephemeral standards of the time.
Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that the motives for race-conscious policies may seem benign, but he quoted Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s admonition (again in Metro Broadcasting) that “ ‘Benign’ carries with it no independent meaning, but reflects only ... the current generation’s conclusion that a politically accepted burden, imposed on particular citizens on the basis of race, is reasonable.” By “independent meaning,” Justice O’Connor meant a meaning independent of history.
In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens accused the majority of ignoring history and thereby obscuring what is at stake both now and when the 14th Amendment was passed. He is particularly incensed at Roberts’s invoking of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) in the concluding paragraph of his opinion. “Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and not go to school based on the color of their skin.” Now, the chief justice said, it’s happening again....
Posted on: Saturday, July 14, 2007 - 11:48
SOURCE: Informed Comment Global Affairs (Group Blog run by Juan Cole) (7-12-07)
Today I am in Istanbul in a hotel overlooking the Sea of Marmora. I am here for -- of all things -- a conference on the Durand Line. Of course it is about much more than the Line itself, demarcated by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893 as the limit of the dominion of the Amir of Afghanistan.
Today this line through a mountainous, arid, sparsely populated area is regarded by Pakistan, and most of the world, as the international border with Afghanistan, but Afghanistan has never formally recognized it as such. Above all, the people living around the line have never recognized it as a border. They were there before these states. They wonder who gave Durand or anyone in London, Kabul, Delhi, or Islamabad the right to divide them?
There is nowhere more different from the Durand Line than the Sea of Marmora. This morning I walked along the seafront, by a stone wall that once constituted the fortifications of the entry to the Golden Horn and the Strait of Bosporus. Yesterday from the terrace of my hotel, my colleagues and I saw an enormous container ship traveling from the Black Sea through the Strait and outward to the Mediterranean. Would it then cross the Suez canal and enter the Indian Ocean?
The ship was registered with the Maersk shipping line; I remembered seeing the same containers while driving from Kabul to Jalalabad in the spring of 2005 with Omar Zakhilwal, head of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency. The main road from Kabul to Sarobi was closed for construction, so we had to take the old road, over the Lataband Pass, the same route taken by the Army of the Indus when it retreated under fire from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1841. The Army of the Indus, however, had long since mutated into the Armed Forces of Pakistan, and today most of the traffic was in the other direction. Truck after truck lumbered with full loads of Maersk containers headed for Kabul from the port of Karachi via Peshawar and Jalalabad, carrying, what? -- Ukrainian airplane parts shipped from Odessa (where my great-grandfather was born) through the Strait of Bosporus and on through the Sea of Marmora?
So much for the unchanging Afghan frontier. Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, during whose reign (1880-1901) the Durand Line was demarcated, decided against building roads through the country's passes, as the same roads that facilitated trade facilitated conquest as well. Afghanistan's isolation protected both his rule -- and the British Empire in India. Britain, which subsidized the Amir's
government and army to assure that it could control the territory on the frontier, forbade Kabul to welcome any foreign legation but one from Delhi. The Amir depicted his realm as a just Islamic order under his command: But to the British this isolated Afghanistan state with a subsidized army fulfilled the function of a buffer state: keeping Russia far from their Empire. The British and Russian governments demarcated the rest of the country's borders and formalized their agreement in the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention on Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet.
This Treaty was an part of the same process that Usama Bin Laden evoked in his warning to the United States on October 7, 2001. Seated not far from the Durand Line before an outcropping of the mountains of Afghanistan, whose name and history he did not mention, the Amir of al-Qa'ida informed his global audience:
What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for tens of years. Our nation has been tasting this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years.
What was he talking about? He was talking about the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), in which"THE BRITISH EMPIRE, FRANCE, ITALY, JAPAN, GREECE, ROUMANIA and the SERB-CROAT-SLOVENE STATE, of the one part,and TURKEY,of the other part" agreed to the demarcation of today's Republic of Turkey.
Lausanne followed on the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which separated most of the Ottoman Empire from Anatolia. Together these treaties abolished the Islamic caliphate, which had been claimed for centuries by the Ottoman Sultan and recognized by most Sunni Muslims. The Treaty of Lausanne stipulated:
No power or jurisdiction in political, legislative or administrative matters shall be exercised outside Turkish territory by the Turkish Government or authorities, for any reason whatsoever, over the nationals of a territory placed under the sovereignty or protectorate of the other Powers signatory of the present Treaty, or over the nationals of a territory detached from Turkey.
It is understood that the spiritual attributions of the Moslem religious authorities are in no way infringed.
The division of the Islamic umma, the Muslim community, into nation states by the European colonial powers the better to dominate them and nullify the temporal power of the Islamic caliphate is at the heart of Bin Laden's grievances against the contemporary world order. Destruction of the caliphate based in Istanbul prepared the ground, in his view, for the catastrophe of the Palestinians, sanctions and war against Iraq, and the"occupation of the Land of Muhammad" by"infidel troops."
Though Bin Laden mentioned neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, al-Qaida respects the border dividing these two states no more than it does the State of Israel or the secular Republic of Turkey. All are equally products of aggression against the Muslims.
It is no coincidence that al-Qaida, though led and conceived by Arabs, was founded in these borderlands. To Westerners it may appear that Bin Laden is now trapped in an isolated region. But this region, never fully integrated into the modern system of states, provides an appropriate seat for this transnational insurgency against that very system.
And as the itinerary of the containers shows, that region is no longer the isolated backwater it remains in the National Geographic mind. While in the days of Abdul Rahman Khan only British India was permitted a legation in Kabul, today the capital of the Mughal Emperor Babur is a major outpost of the UN, NATO, the US Central Command, and the European Union, with enormous embassies of every major country under construction. The people whom Amir Abdul Rahman Khan informed about his rule with an illustrated map are now more likely to have traveled abroad than Americans, if not usually as tourists, and listen to far more international news in several languages.
Their country, which used to rely on subsistence farming, has become a commercial single-crop economy. Opium poppy -- like sugar cane in Cuba, rubber in Liberia, or tea in Sri Lanka -- encroaches further every year on land used for subsistence farming and traditional horticulture. Traffickers and traders from all major markets reserve their share of the Afghan product through futures markets. Every family includes migrants in Karachi, Iran, or the states of the Persian Gulf. The remittances sent by these workers finance many new houses and shops, while the workers, separated for years at a time from family, tribe, and village, seek refuge and meaning in mosques frequented by global preachers. Cash, once rare, reaches the remotest villages through this global trade and the omnipresent hawala system, which links Afghans to global electronic banking networks through mobile phones and itinerant traders.
It is common enough to observe that globalization has transformed sovereignty, transferring functions of states to larger organizations like the European Union and shattering the weak institutions of others. It is less commonly realized that Bin Laden's vision of the caliphate constitutes a revolutionary response to globalization. The states drawn by imperial powers on the territory of the Islamic umma have excluded the Palestinians from nationhood and placed one of Islam's holiest places under Israeli control. The zone from where Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawihiri now issue their pronouncements symbolizes how the same process of state making has divided and ill-served the Pashtuns.
The dialectic of terrorism and counter-terrorism has transformed the tribal areas. In 2003, when US pressure to search for the al-Qaida leadership led General Pervez Musharraf to send the Army of Pakistan (a direct descendant of the Army of the Indus) into the Momand Tribal Agency, elders awoke officials in Kabul with midnight calls -- Pakistan had invaded"Afghanistan." For in these elders' minds, while the Afghan state administration ended at the Durand Line, Afghanistan did not.
Islamabad's invocation of US pressure to fence and even mine that border has led elders to tell President Hamid Karzai that if he allows Pashtuns to be divided in this way, his name will be remembered with shame. The Afghan Army has responded by firing on the Pakistan Army, the same Pakistan Army that is fighting al-Qaida. The lives of the people need a soft border, but Washington's counter-terrorism needs a hard one.
In my Istanbul hotel room, as sea traffic traverses the Bosporus outside my window, al-Jazeera English broadcasts the news: the battle of the Red Mosque in Islamabad; demonstrations in Bajaur; the anniversary of the latest war in Lebanon; the ongoing massacres in Iraq and Sudan; more suicide bombers in Afghanistan. And on CNN and Bloomberg I see the growth of the US trade deficit, the fall of the dollar against other currencies, and the unstoppable growth of the US debt, as our government sells securities to China to cover the costs of the war in Iraq.
Amir Abdul Rahman Khan used the British subsidy to build his army; he used his army to build his revenues; he used his revenues to build a justice system; and the justice system enabled his people -- those he had not massacred or exiled -- to till their lands in peace. He died in his bed in 1901 bequeathing to his son both rulership and a surplus of 40 million rupees in the national treasury.
This Circle of Justice, first described in an Islamic text of the eighth century, has for centuries constituted the model of governance for the people of South and West Asia; today the Afghan Government uses it to describe the goals of its Afghanistan National Devleopment Strategy.
But in response to the challenge of Bin Laden, rather than building its army, the US has mobilized thousands of private contractors and exhausted its army in the fatal venture of Iraq. Rather than calling our people to fight and sacrifice, our government cut the taxes of those most able to afford to pay and financed its military ventures with subsidies, not from an imperial hegemon, but from financial markets that are far more arbitrary than Lord Curzon. To retain its monopoly on power in the face of failure, the ruling party has undermined the system of justice. We could have responded more wisely to Bin Laden's challenge, but we have drawn this circle of injustice around ourselves.
In 1919, Abdul Rahman's grandson, Amanullah Khan, made Afghanistan independent and renounced the British subsidy. Less than ten years later, he was overthrown. Amanullah had attempted a grand transformation for which he had no resources. His efforts to raise taxes and strengthen the state provoked a peasant uprising that brought a Tajik commander to power, ending the dynasty of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan. Soon Pashtun tribes from the same areas now hosting Bin Laden and Zawahiri descended on Kabul to loot it and install a new, much weakened king.
Neither Bin Laden nor the neo-Taliban of the tribal zone are Pashtun nationalists -- that ideology serves the interest of a state in Kabul and politicians in Peshawar and Quetta. But the ideology of the caliphate provides another vehicle for the grievances and ambitions of people whom the nation-state system always served poorly.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, the"international community," acting unilaterally, bilaterally, and multilaterally, is trying to shore up, strengthen, and create states to provide peace and stability. Some, even many, people of those areas long to become full citizens of states that protect their rights and provide services. But for many others, it is harder to imagine that they might one day be citizens of an effective accountable nation-state than that they might be joined with their fellow Muslims in a renewed caliphate. Somewhere in the mountains of the land its inhabitants call Pakhtunkhwa, Bin Laden is waiting.
Posted on: Saturday, July 14, 2007 - 11:25
SOURCE: LAT (7-12-07)
EVEN MANY Republicans today recognize Franklin D. Roosevelt as the greatest president of the last century. The anti-Franklin Roosevelt, however, is George W. Bush.
From his regressive tax codes and plan to privatize Social Security to his Supreme Court appointments, from his favoritism toward big business to his belief in preemptive war, Bush could hardly be more different in his political, economic and social philosophy from the architect of the New Deal.
The two presidents also differ in their leadership styles. Roosevelt believed in strong, collective leadership. His Cabinet was broad and inclusive. Relishing experimentation and the lively competition of ideas, he took talent where he could find it. His secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, and his secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, were progressive Republicans, and Frances Perkins, his secretary of Labor, was an Independent. His secretary of War, Henry Stimson, and his secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, were Republicans — he even chose Republican Harlan Fiske Stone as chief justice in 1941.
Recent presidencies have seen the Cabinet decline as a vehicle for collective leadership, but under Bush it has reached its nadir because the president prizes above all ideological uniformity. Cabinet meetings are reported to be brief and perfunctory with no deep discussions or exploration of alternative policies. Can you name more than two or three members of Bush's Cabinet?
If Bush doesn't draw upon the collective leadership of a talented, diverse Cabinet, with whom does he share the responsibilities of leadership?
The answer is a device that goes back to the days of Andrew Jackson — the "Kitchen Cabinet," which enabled presidents to work closely with a small group of advisors drawn from their formal Cabinet and from outside it. It can be a most useful tool if it is diverse in point of view and relatively public.
But Bush's Kitchen Cabinet is rather odd. It has only one member, Vice President Dick Cheney, backed up by hard-core conservative White House staffers, working in secrecy. With little question, Cheney is the most powerful vice president in our history. He controls a staff of true believers, issues his own ideological pronunciamentos and maintains his own alliances with key conservatives in Congress. White House watchers speculate that, behind the scenes, Cheney directs policy.
What are the implications of Cheney's enormous vice presidential power — and especially for the selection of future vice presidential candidates?
Historically, the second spot on the presidential ticket has had a dual function. First, it has been used as a peace-offering to the candidate and faction that lost the presidential nomination.
And second, it has been a pragmatic way to give balance to the ticket. FDR chose John Nance Garner as his vice president both as a sop to influential Southern Democrats who supported Garner and as a nod to the political center. In 1940, as World War II approached, he ran with Henry Wallace as a way to win the support of interventionist Republicans. And when Wallace proved too liberal for party centrists, FDR replaced him on the ticket in 1944 with the more moderate Harry S. Truman, who went on to defend Roosevelt's New Deal policies when he in turn ascended to the presidency. Other presidents — such as John F. Kennedy, who chose Lyndon B. Johnson to balance the ticket toward the South and the political center — have used similar strategies. Sometimes, however, this tradition can backfire. William McKinley's assassination catapulted into the White House that charismatic ticket balancer Theodore Roosevelt, who distanced himself from McKinley's policies and set the GOP on a new, radical course.
It is one thing to balance toward the party center, as FDR and JFK did. It is quite different for a staunch conservative like Bush to tilt the ticket toward an even more right-wing Republican. That creates acute imbalance, narrowing the party's electoral appeal and weakening its capacity to win support in Congress.
The Bush-Cheney presidency — shaped and led by ideologues who have rejected the creative, collective leadership that might be supplied by a vibrant, diverse Cabinet — has immobilized itself in its own narrowness and extremism. The test of leadership is not simply calling oneself "the decider." The test is whether leaders can mobilize followers who will sustain them in the tough decisions that lie ahead.
Posted on: Friday, July 13, 2007 - 17:31
SOURCE: Common-Place.org (7-1-07)
"The earth belongs in usufruct to the living; . . . [and] the dead have neither powers nor rights over it," proclaimed Thomas Jefferson in 1789. Jefferson's claim is a radical one: the wealth and power of past generations should not determine present and future ones. To maintain democratic equality across generations, Jefferson argued, private fortunes must be broken up by eliminating primogeniture and entails or what we today call trusts and foundations. Otherwise a few individuals or institutions would over time amass sufficient wealth to lord it over ordinary citizens.
Warren Buffett's recent decision to donate the bulk of his fortune, a whopping $30.7 billion, to the Gates Foundation (already the largest foundation in the world) asks us once again to consider Jefferson's claims. The press has lauded both Gates's and Buffett's philanthropy. But Jefferson is spokesman for a rival American tradition that is wary of foundations' potential to unduly influence democratic public life.
Given the combined wealth of Gates and Buffett, one can be confident that the Gates Foundation, governed by a small board of trustees, will have significant public influence. For those of us who support Gates's current goal of alleviating global poverty and improving American education, this is good. Yet its private control should give us pause. What if the Gates Foundation's trustees supported either ends or practices that we as a people find unethical or impolitic? Should such a powerful institution trump the public will?
Americans confronted these questions soon after the Revolution during the Dartmouth College controversy of 1816. While in monarchical England, incorporation had long been accepted as a legal privilege granted by the monarch to those who served the realm, following independence many Americans worried that corporations would enable the few to exercise monopolistic privileges not available to the many. In time, many Americans feared, corporations and trusts would become immortal private fiefdoms, the basis for a new aristocracy. Corporations, they concluded, must be made subordinate to the public will....
Posted on: Friday, July 13, 2007 - 13:04
SOURCE: The American (July/August 2007) (7-1-07)
Is “ho”—the rapper slang for the slur “whore”—a bad word? Always, sometimes, or just when an obnoxious white male like Don Imus says it? But not when the equally obnoxious Snoop Dogg serially employs it?
Is the Iraq war, as we are often told, the “greatest mistake” in our nation’s history?
Because Israel and the United States have a bomb, is it then O.K. for theocratic Iran to have one too?
Americans increasingly cannot seem to answer questions like these adequately because they are blissfully uneducated. They have not acquired a broad knowledge of language, literature, philosophy, and history.
Instead, our youth for a generation have been fed a “Studies” curriculum. Fill in the blanks: Women’s Studies, Gay Studies, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Chicano Studies, Film Studies, and so on. These courses aim to indoctrinate students about perceived pathologies in contemporary American culture—specifically, race, class, gender, and environmental oppression.
Such courses are by design deductive. The student is expected to arrive at the instructor’s own preconceived conclusions. The courses are also captives of the present—hostages of the contemporary media and popular culture from which they draw their information and earn their relevance.
The theme of all such therapeutic curricula is relativism. There are no eternal truths, only passing assertions that gain credence through power and authority. Once students understand how gender, race, and class distinctions are used to oppress others, they are then free to ignore absolute “truth,” since it is only a reflection of one’s own privilege.
By contrast, the aim of traditional education was to prepare a student in two very different ways. First, classes offered information drawn from the ages—the significance of Gettysburg, the characters in a Shakespeare play, or the nature of the subjunctive mood. Integral to this acquisition were key dates, facts, names, and terms by which students, in a focused manner in conversation and speech, could refer to the broad knowledge that they had gathered....
Posted on: Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - 15:26
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (7-9-07)
The first news stories about the most notorious massacre of the Vietnam War were picked up the morning after from an Army publicity release. These proved fairly typical for the war. On its front page, the New York Times labeled the operation in and around a village called My Lai 4 (or"Pinkville," as it was known to U.S. forces in the area) a significant success."American troops caught a North Vietnamese force in a pincer movement on the central coastal plain yesterday, killing 128 enemy soldiers in day-long fighting." United Press International termed what happened there an"impressive victory," and added a bit of patriotic color:"The Vietcong broke and ran for their hide-out tunnels. Six-and-a-half hours later, ‘Pink Village' had become ‘Red, White and Blue Village."
All these dispatches from the"front" were, of course, military fairy tales. (There were no reporters in the vicinity.) It took over a year for a former GI named Ronald Ridenhour, who had heard about the bloody massacre from participants, and a young former AP reporter named Seymour Hersh working in Washington for a news service no one had ever heard of, to break the story, revealing that"red, white, and blue village" had just been red village -- the red of Vietnamese peasant blood. Over 400 elderly men, women, children, and babies had been slaughtered there by Charlie Company of Task Force Barker in a nearly day-long rampage.
Things move somewhat faster these days -- after all, Vietnamese villagers and local officials didn't have access to cell phones to tell their side of the slaughter -- but from the military point of view, the stories these last years have all still seemed to start the same way. Whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, they have been presented by U.S. military spokesmen, or in military press releases, as straightforward successes. The newspaper stories that followed would regularly announce that 17, or 30, or 65"Taliban insurgents" or"suspected insurgents," or"al-Qaeda gunmen" had been killed in battle after"air strikes" were called in. These stories recorded daily military victories over a determined, battle-hardened enemy.
Most of the time, that was the beginning and end of the matter: Air strike; dead enemies; move on to the next day's bloody events. When it came to Iraq, such air-strike successes generally did not make it into the American press as stories at all, but as scattered, ho-hum paragraphs (based on military announcements) in round-ups of a given day's action focused on far more important matters -- IEDs, suicide car bombs, mortar attacks, sectarian killings. In many cases, air strikes in that country simply went unreported.
From time to time, however, another version of what happened when air strikes were called in on the rural areas of Afghanistan, or on heavily populated neighborhoods in Iraq's cities and towns, filtered out. In this story, noncombatants died, often in sizeable numbers. In the last few weeks"incidents" like this have been reported with enough regularity in Afghanistan to become a modest story in their own right.
In such news stories, a local caregiver or official or village elder is reached by phone in some distant, reporter-unfriendly spot and recounts a battle in which, by the time the planes arrive, the enemy has fled the scene, or had never been there, or was present but, as is generally the case in guerrilla wars, in close proximity to noncombatants going about their daily lives in their own homes and fields. Such accounts record a grim harvest of dead civilians -- and they almost invariably have a repeated tagline when it comes to those dead:"including women and children." In an increasing number of cases recently, reports on the carnage have taken not over a year, or weeks, or even days to exfiltrate the scene, but have actually beaten the military success story onto the news page.
In the past, when such civilian slaughters were reported, often days or even weeks after the initial military account of the battle, what followed also had a pattern to it. The first responses from the U.S. military would be outright denials (undoubtedly on the assumption that, without reporters present, the accounts of Afghan peasants or Iraqi slum dwellers would carry little weight). Normally, given the competing he says/she says frame for the reports and the inability of journalists to make it to the scene of the reputed slaughter, sooner or later the story would simply fade away.
If, against all odds, evidence of civilian deaths piled up, the military would, in strategic fashion, fall back from one heavily defended position to the next. The numbers of noncombatant dead or wounded would be questioned and lowered. Regrets would be offered. Explanations would be proffered. It was perhaps an"accident" (a missile missed its target or faulty local intelligence was responsible); or it wasn't an accident, because"the bad guys" meant it to happen as it did. (In their cowardly way, they had turned the civilian population into"human shields," thus causing the deaths in question when U.S. forces reacted in"self-defense.")
If the story nonetheless persisted, an"investigation" (by the military, of course) would be announced -- again, meant to fade away. In rare cases," consolation payments" and limited apologies would be offered. In extreme instances, when the killings of civilians were especially grotesque and the result of boots-on-the-ground -- as at Haditha -- lower-ranking soldiers might finally be brought up on charges. With the exception of a friendly fire incident in which two U.S. National Guard pilots killed four Canadian soldiers and injured six others on the ground in Afghanistan, air strikes were exempt from such charges, no matter what had happened. (In the Canadian case, the U.S. pilot, originally threatened with a court-martial on manslaughter charges, was found guilty of"dereliction of duty," reprimanded, and fined $5,600.)
American (and NATO) officials regularly make the point that the enemy's barbarism -- and from car-bombs to a six year-old boy sent to attack Afghan soldiers wearing a suicide vest, their acts have indeed been barbarous -- is always intentional; the killing of noncombatants by American planes is always an"inadvertent" incident, an"accident," and so, of course, the regrettable" collateral damage" of modern warfare.
Recently, however, in Afghanistan, such isolated incidents from U.S. or NATO (often still U.S.) air attacks have been occurring in startling numbers. They have, in fact, become so commonplace that, in the news, they begin to blur into what looks, more and more, like a single, ongoing airborne slaughter of civilians. Protest over the killings of noncombatants from the air, itself a modest story, is on the rise. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, dubbed"the mayor of Kabul," has bitterly and repeatedly complained about NATO and U.S. bombing policies. ACBAR, an umbrella organization for Afghan and international relief and human rights organizations, has received attention for claiming that marginally more civilians have died this year at the hands of the Western powers than the Taliban; and, most recently, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has made a"'strong' appeal to military commanders in Afghanistan to avoid civilian casualties."
In all of this, the weakening of the American and NATO position in Afghanistan, and of the American one in Iraq, continue to play crucial roles -- while these repeated air-power"incidents" lead into conceptual territory that is simply never touched upon in our mainstream media.
A Blur of Civilian Deaths
But first things first. Let's start with a partial list of recently reported air power"incidents" (dates approximate), all of which resulted in significant civilian casualties:
June 18: An"airstrike against a suspected al-Qaeda hideout" in the southeastern Afghan province of Paktika is ordered after"nefarious activities" have been observed at the site, which includes a mosque and a madrassa (religious school). Almost immediately, news arrives that seven children have been killed in the attack. The initial response:"Maj. Chris Belcher, spokesman for the coalition, said there had been no sign of children at the facility in the hours before the strike, and blamed al-Qaeda for trying to use a civilian facility as a shield." (According to another spokesman, Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch,"If we knew that there were children inside the building, there was no way that that air strike would have occurred.")
Later, up to 100 civilians are reported to have been killed in related fighting, though the figures vary with the news story. Subsequently, U.S. military officials admit that the air strike"likely missed its primary target," an al-Qaeda commander, and that" contrary to previous statements, the U.S. military knew there were children at the compound." Thinking they had a key al-Qaeda figure in their sights, they launched the attack anyway.
June 21: A U.S. air strike aimed at a"booby-trapped house" in the Iraqi city of Baquba misses its target and"accidentally" hits another house, wounding 11 civilians, according to the U.S. military. The incident is declared"under investigation."
In the larger Baquba incursion, Operation Arrowhead Ripper, part of the President's"surge plan" for the country, civilian casualties from the air (and ground) are evidently significantly more widespread than generally reported in the American media. A BBC report notes at least 12 civilian casualties, including three women, on the operation's first day and quotes the head of the city's emergency service as saying that there were" certainly more.... but ambulances were being prevented by U.S. troops from going in to evacuate them." (A Sunni political party in Prime Minister Maliki's government claims 350 dead civilians in Baquba, mainly due to helicopter attacks.)
Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post, reporting on the Baquba operation, quotes Iraqi refugee Amer Hussein Jasm, a refugee from a nearby town, saying:"The airplanes have been shooting all the houses and people are getting scared, so they ran away." Partlow also quotes an American lieutenant threatening Iraqis his unit has picked up:"Our planes can blow up this whole city. They have that capability. If we didn't care about you guys, we wouldn't place ourselves in danger walking around trying to separate the bad guys from the good guys. When you guys tell us where the bad guys are, you keep innocent people from being hurt."
June 21:"At least 25 civilians, including nine women, three infants and an elderly village mullah," are killed in" crossfire" in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan when U.S. air strikes are called in. ("'In choosing to conduct such attacks in this location at this time, the risk to civilians was probably deliberate,' [NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Mike] Smith said [of the Taliban]. 'It is this irresponsible action that may have led to casualties.'")
June 22: The U.S. military announces that it has killed"17 al-Qaeda gunmen" infiltrating an Iraqi village north of Baquba. ("Iraqi police were conducting security operations in and around the village when Coalition attack helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and ground forces from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, observed more than 15 armed men attempting to circumvent the IPs and infiltrate the village…. The attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen and destroyed the vehicle they were using.")
A BBC report later reveals that the dead are 11 village guards ("some of their bodies cut into small pieces by the munitions used against them"). They were assisting the Iraqi police in trying to protect their village from possible al-Qaeda attacks when rocketed and strafed by American helicopters.
June 22:"NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces killed 60 insurgents [in Afghanistan] near the border with Pakistan, in what was described as the largest insurgent formation crossing the region in six months, the military said Saturday." That was how the story was first presented, before news of civilian casualties started to trickle out. Later, more defensively, U.S. Commander Col. Martin P. Schweitzer would insist that his forces had only targeted"bad guys":"These individuals clearly had weapons and used them against our aircraft as well as shooting rockets against our positions," he said."This required their removal from the battle-space."
The first accounting of noncombatant dead, reportedly from a U.S. rocket, includes at least five men, three women, and one child, according to a Pakistani Army spokesman. These deaths occurred on the Pakistani side of the border. (According to the Pakistanis, civilians also died on the Afghan side of the border.) This figure is later raised to 12; the place hit identified as a"small hotel"; and the airpower identified as possibly B-52s and Apache helicopters. A report in the Egyptian paper al-Ahram adds:"Sources in Pakistan's tribal areas…. say 31 of the supposed slain ‘insurgents' were in fact Pakistan tribesmen and their families, including women and children."
June 30: In air strikes, again in Helmand province, munitions"slammed into civilian homes." At least 30 insurgents and civilians are initially reported to have been killed,"including women and children." These figures later rise precipitously. ("‘More than 100 people have been killed. But they weren't Taliban. The Taliban were far away from there,' said Wali Khan, a member of parliament who represents the area.") Other reports have 45 civilians and 62 insurgents dying. NATO spokesman later claim civilian deaths were"an order of magnitude less" and that Taliban fighters were firing from well-dug trenches and" continuing their tactic of using women and children as human shields in close combat."
Given the ongoing uproar over civilian casualties in Afghanistan, an investigation is launched. According to Haji Zahir,"a tribal elder who said he had been in touch with residents of bombed villages":"People tried to escape from the area with their cars, trucks and tractors, and the coalition airplanes bombed them because they thought they were the enemy fleeing. They told me that they had buried 170 bodies so far." Thirty-five villagers"fleeing in a tractor-trailer" were reportedly hit from the air -- with only two survivors, an old man and his severely wounded son. NATO (American) spokesmen beg to disagree:"The allies returned fire and called in air support, aimed at ‘clearly identified firing positions.'"
July 2: An intense mortar barrage aimed at a U.S. base near the largely Shiite city of Diwaniya leads to air strikes by two F-16s that reportedly kill 10 civilians along with Shia militiamen. Among them, it is said, are six children under the age of 12. ("'Coalition forces are reviewing the incident to ensure that appropriate and proportionate force was used in responding to the intense attack,' a U.S. statement said, without referring to any Iraqi casualties.")
New reports of deaths from air strikes in Afghanistan continue to arrive -- 108 noncombatants"including women and children" killed in Farah Province on July 6th and 33 killed in Kunar Province,"11 of them on Thursday [July 5th] during a bombardment, and 25 more on Friday as they attended a funeral for the deceased." American denials are issued and Taliban propaganda blamed. ("[A] US official said Taliban fighters are forcing villagers to say civilians died in fighting -- whether or not it is true.")
Air War: Afghanistan
Even from such a partial list -- undoubtedly lacking information from Iraq, where the air war has been notoriously overlooked by American reporters -- a pattern can be seen. But beyond the loss of innocent lives (always, when finally admitted, officially"regretted" by the U.S. military), why should any of this matter?
Let's start this way: Barring an unexpected change of policy, some version of this list of"errant" incidents, multiplied many times over, is likely to represent the future for both Afghanistan and Iraq. The obvious math of the military manpower situation in both countries tells us this is so -- as does history.
In Afghanistan this year, Taliban suicide attacks alone have increased by 230%, while Iraq-style roadside IEDs are also a growing threat. In eastern Afghanistan, where the U.S. leads NATO operations,"militant attacks" rose 250% compared to May 2006, according to the U.S. military. NATO and American troop levels, now somewhere in the range of 46,000-50,000 -- approximately 20,000 of whom are from European countries and Canada -- remain woefully inadequate for securing the country (if such a thing were even possible) and NATO casualties are on the rise.
Afghanistan, after all, is far larger than Iraq and is being garrisoned by a combined force less than a third the size of the occupying force in that country, which itself is universally considered inadequate to the task. It's a fair bet that the various European powers (and the Canadians) are wondering how they ended up in this distant war in a land that has historically been a graveyard for conquerors and occupiers. In Canada and various European countries, as casualties rise and success of any sort seems beyond reach, the Afghan deployments are becoming increasingly unpopular.
Don't expect reinforcements from NATO countries any time soon; while the U.S. Army and Marines, already stretched beyond capacity by the recent"surge" in Iraq, are probably incapable of reinforcing their Afghan contingent in any significant way. By elimination, this leaves one weapon in the American/NATO arsenal, air power, which is, in fact, ever more in use in response to a surge in Taliban ambushes and limited takeovers of villages (and even entire districts) in the Afghan south.
As the Europeans are well aware, air power -- given the civilian casualties that invariably follow in its wake -- is intensely counterproductive in a guerrilla war."Every civilian dead means five new Taliban," was the way a British officer just returned from Helmand Province put it recently.
However, an air-power strategy fits American predilections to a tee. As a Reuters piece aptly headlined the matter, the Americans in Afghanistan are"hooked on air power." Americans have long been so. After all, with the singular exception of various Central American proxy wars during the Reagan years, air war has essentially been the American way of war since World War II. The Bush administration fought its Afghan War of 2001 largely from the air in support of the well-paid-off ground forces of the Northern Alliance, aided by Special Forces troops and lots of CIA money in suitcases. (In Iraq, of course, the invasion of March 2003 started with a massive air attack meant to"decapitate" Saddam Hussein's regime -- it did no such thing -- while having the side benefit of shocking-and-awing hostile states in the region.)
Even after American ground forces moved in, Afghanistan has never ceased to be an Air Force war. B-1 bombers have been called in relatively regularly there (unlike in Iraq) and air strikes in the Afghan countryside have become a commonplace. By November 2006, David Cloud of the New York Times -- who flew on a B-1 mission over the country (and noted that a similar flight the week he went up had"dropped its entire payload of eight 2,000-pound bombs and six 500-pound bombs after ground units called for help") -- reported that the use of air power had risen sharply there. More than 2,000 air strikes had been called in during the previous six months, with a concomitant rise in civilian casualties. In addition, the Air Force's full contingent of B-1s had been"shifted over the summer from the British air base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to a Middle Eastern airfield closer to Afghanistan," cutting mission flight time by a critical two hours.
Though no post-November 2006 figures are available, the recent spate of reported"incidents" confirms that missions have risen again this year, along with noncombatant deaths. According to Laura King of the Los Angeles Times, in a piece typically headlined,"Errant Afghan Civilian Deaths Surge":"More than 500 Afghan civilians have been reported killed this year, and the rate has dramatically increased in the last month." Local dissatisfaction and bitterness are also noticeably on the rise.
The Karzai government remains weak, ineffective, and corrupt, while Taliban strength grows in southern Afghanistan and across the border in the Pakistani tribal areas. There, for instance, Jane Perlez and Ismail Khan of the New York Times reported that, according to a secret document from the Pakistani Interior Ministry,"the Taliban have recently begun bombing oil tank trucks that pass through the Khyber area near the border on their way to Afghanistan for United States and NATO forces. A convoy of 12 of the trucks was hit with grenades and gutted on Thursday night in the third such incident in a month."
To all of this, air power is the"NATO" answer for the present and the future, the only answer in sight, however counterproductive it may prove to be.
According to a report in the British press, American General Dan McNeill, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has already been dubbed"Bomber McNeill" (and it's not meant to be a compliment). Despite periodic"reviews of procedures," nor is his strategy -- call in the planes -- likely to change any time soon. The U.S. military (and NATO officials) have essentially confirmed this. Despite a growing chorus of criticism in Afghanistan (and among NATO allies), Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel has praised the"extensive procedures" in place"to avoid civilian casualties.""We think the procedures that we have in place are good -- they work," he told reporters. U.S. spokespeople have recently indicated that NATO is not about to" change its use of air power against the Taliban."
So, in Afghanistan, the future is already clear enough. More Taliban attacks mean more air strikes mean more dead noncombatants ("including women and children") mean more alienated, angry Afghanis in a spiral of devolution to which no end can yet be foreseen.
Air War: Iraq
Striking as this rise in civilian deaths may be for Afghanistan, it gains extra importance for what it signals about the future of Iraq. Afghanistan is, in a sense, the maimed, defeathered canary in the mine of American air-power.
In Iraq, as all now know, the U.S. military has reached its on-the-ground limits. With approximately 156,000 troops surged into place (and many tens of thousands of armed private security contractors, or mercenaries, surging into that country as well), the occupation forces have, it seems, reached their maximum numbers. By next spring at the latest, unless tours of duty in Iraq are lengthened from an already extended 15 months to 18 months -- a notoriously unpopular move for a notorious unpopular administration -- the President's"surge," like some tide, will have to recede.
Downsizing, if not withdrawal, will arrive whether anyone wants it to or not. In fact, as Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times has reported, U.S. commanders in Iraq already assume that such a downsizing is on the way; that, by fall, Congress will impose some kind of timetable for a partial withdrawal. They are adjusting their"surge" tactics accordingly.
With the President's approval ratings sinking into the mid-20% range, senior Republican senators, including Richard Lugar, George Voinovich, Pete Domenici, and possibly even John Warner are jumping the administration's Iraqi ship (or, at least, edging toward the rail). Pressure is building in Congress and within the Republican Party for a change of course. Bush himself has stopped promising Americans"victory," and is instead pathetically begging for "patience" on the home front until"the job is done."
The next stage of the war in Iraq is, in a sense, already in sight. While that might seem like mildly encouraging news to the ever-increasing numbers of Americans who want to see it all over, it should give pause to Iraqis, who are sure to be on the receiving end of what such a partial withdrawal will mean.
The Wall Street Journal's Jochi Dreazen and Greg Jaffe, for instance, recently reported on planning for an ongoing occupation of Iraq by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and"allies in the Bush administration" ("In Strategy Shift, Gates Envisions Iraq Troop Cuts"). The Secretary of Defense, they revealed, is"seeking to build bipartisan support for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq by moving toward withdrawing significant numbers of troops.... by the end of President Bush's term." He is in search of a new Washington Consensus --"a modern-day version of President Harry Truman's ‘Cold War consensus,'" as he puts it -- in which a far smaller U.S. force (possibly 30,000-40,000 troops) would"operate out of large bases far from Iraq's major cities" for years, even decades, to come.
There's nothing new in this, of course. Such a"Plan B" was, in fact,"Plan A" when the Bush administration first rumbled into Baghdad in April 2003. The administration's top officials always expected to draw-down U.S. forces quickly into the 30,000 range and garrison them in four or more enormous bases outside of Iraq's urban areas. This was the occupation they planned for, not the one they got. It now goes under the rubric of the "Korea model."
If such a plan were indeed put into operation in 2008-2009, it would surely mean one thing that is almost never mentioned in Washington, or even by critics of the war: a significant increase in the use of U.S. air power.
Actually, bombs are already being dropped in Iraq in 2007 at almost twice the rate of the previous year. In this sense, the Afghan model is available as an example of things to come, as is the historical model of the Vietnam War in the period in which President Richard Nixon was employing what might now be called the"Gates Plan." It was then called"Vietnamization." Nixon was intent on withdrawing all American ground combat troops, while leaving behind tens of thousands of American advisors, who were to continue training the South Vietnamese military, as well as sizeable numbers of troops to guard our enormous bases in that country. Not surprisingly, that period saw an unprecedented escalation of the air war over South Vietnam. It was a time of unparalleled (but under-reported) brutality, destruction, and carnage in the Vietnamese countryside.
Any similar"Iraqification" plan would surely have an equivalent effect, the gap in manpower being plugged by air power. And the Washington" consensus" Gates hopes for is already forming. The two leading Democratic candidates for President, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, adhere to it. Both call for"withdrawal" from Iraq, but define withdrawal (as Gates would) as the"redeployment" of U.S." combat brigades" (possibly less than half the American forces in that country at present).
In other words, we are almost guaranteed that, either this winter or in the spring of 2008 (as the presidential election looms), some kind of drawdown, surely to be headlined as a"withdrawal" plan, will begin and that significantly lower levels of troops will be supported by a rise in air strikes -- and in Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, this means the bombing not of peasant villages but of urban neighborhoods.
This, in turn, means that we should prepare ourselves for a rise in"incidents," in"mistakes," in the"inadvertent" or"errant" death of civilians in escalating numbers. Whether in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, the formula, with a guerrilla war, is simple and unavoidable: Air Power = Civilian Deaths. Or put another way,"Incidents" ‘R Us.
A History of Mistakes
Let's start with the nature of modern war. The very phrase" collateral damage" should be tossed onto the junk heap of history. For the last century, war has increasingly targeted civilians. Between World War I and the 1990s, according to Richard M. Garfield and Alfred I. Neugut in War and Public Health, civilian deaths as a percentage of all deaths rose from 14% to 90%. These figures are obviously approximate at best, but the trend line is clear. In a sense, in modern warfare, it's the military deaths that often are the" collateral damage"; civilian deaths --"including women and children" -- turn out to be central to the project. The Lancet study's figures for Iraq indicate as much.
If modern war has largely been war against noncombatant populations, then the airplane -- which, even more than artillery, represented war from a distance -- was its ultimate terror weapon. The invention of the atomic bomb, the culmination of the dreams of air power as an"ultimate weapon," signaled this in an unforgettable way. In the post-World War II years, the wars of the superpowers migrated to the"peripheries" where they could be fought with less fear of a nuclear holocaust, of, as American first-strike plans had it, the deaths of hundreds of millions of noncombatants across what was known as the"Communist bloc." Those wars began to be fought largely against low-tech forces, propelled by powerful allegiances often to national entities that did not yet exist. In those guerilla wars of"national liberation," the enemy combatants were invariably mixed in with civilian populations, which both provided support and a kind of protection. Air war against such forces, then, had to be a war against noncombatant populations."Mistakes" would be constant.
Of course, even in World War II, the deaths of civilians in London in the Blitz were no mistake; nor were the later deaths of the citizens of Hamburg or Dresden; or the inhabitants of Tokyo and 59 other fire-bombed Japanese cities as well as Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were atomized. The deaths of city dwellers in Pyongyang in the early 1950s were not a mistake; nor were the mass killings of peasants in South Vietnam; nor Laotian villagers on the Plain of Jars; nor the citizens of Hanoi over Christmas, 1972.
When, in 1970, after a conversation with President Nixon, Henry Kissinger passed on to White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig by phone the president's orders for"a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia," using"anything that flies on anything that moves," it was not a mistake (nor, undoubtedly, was the"unintelligible comment" on the transcript that"sounded like Haig laughing.")
Here's the simplest truth of air power, then or now. No matter how technologically"smart" our bombs or missiles, they will always be ordered into action by us dumb humans; and if, in addition, they are released into villages filled with civilians going about their lives, or heavily populated urban neighborhoods where insurgents mix with city dwellers (who may or may not support them), these weapons will, by the nature of things, by policy decision, kill noncombatants. If an AC-130 or an Apache helicopter strafes an urban block or a village street where people below are running, some carrying weapons and believed to be"suspected insurgents," it will kill civilians. The disadvantage of"distant war" is that you normally have no way of knowing why someone is running, or why they are carrying a weapon, or usually who they really are.
Once Americans find themselves engaged in a guerrilla war, the urge is naturally to bring to bear military strengths and limit casualties -- and the fear is always of sending American troops into an"urban jungle," or simply a jungle, where the surroundings will serve to equalize a disproportionate American advantage in the weaponry of high-tech destruction. In distant war, particularly wars where Americans alone control the skies and can fly in them with relative impunity, the trade-off is clear indeed: our soldiers for their civilian dead"including women and children."
This is not an aberrant side effect of air war but its heart and soul. The airplane is a weapon of war, but it is also a weapon of terror -- and it is meant to be. From the beginning, it was used not to"win over" enemy populations -- after all, how could that be done from the distant skies? -- but to crush or terrorize them into submission. (It has seldom worked that way.)
Then, there's another factor that has to be added in. What if you don't really care -- not all that much anyway -- who is running in the street below you?
Since 1945, American air power has regularly been used to police the imperial borders of the planet. It has, that is, been released against people of color, against what used to be called the Third World. (Serbia in 1999 was the sole exception to this rule.) As Afghan President Karzai put the matter in response to recent reports of civilian casualties in his country:"We want to cooperate with the international community. We are thankful for their help to Afghanistan, but that does not mean that Afghan lives have no value. Afghan life is not cheap and it should not be treated as such." (His bitter comment eerily reflects another from the Vietnam era, more than thirty years gone."The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient" -- so said former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam General William Westmoreland in 1974.)
It may be that American administrations would have been no less willing to release their bombs and missiles on white noncombatant populations (as was the case with Germany in World War II); but it can at least be said that, for the last half-century-plus, air power has functionally acted as an armed form of racism, that the sense of"their lives" as cheaper, even if seldom spoken aloud, has made it easier to use the helicopter, the bomber, the Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drone. The fact is that air war always cheapens human life. After all, from the heights, if seen at all, people must have something of the appearance of scurrying insects. It is the nature of such war, and an ingrained racism, seldom mentioned any more, only adds to it.
Not so long from now, by the way, we may not even be able to use the term"air power" without qualification. We may instead be talking about"distant war" via the air, for the nature of air power itself is beginning to blur. Artillery always represented a form of distant war, but the latest version of artillery, a new weapons system evidently in operation in Afghanistan, the High Mobility Artillery Rockets, or HIMARS, brings into play an artillery man's version of air war. This truck-mounted rocket system fires its weapons into the atmosphere, where they are"guided to the target by either GPS or lasers." According to the Washington Post's William Arkin, HIMARS" can be configured to shoot a wide array of rockets and missiles, from cluster bombs to a single missile system with a range up to 300 kilometers." One or more of these rockets may have been used in the Paktika attack that killed seven children and seems to have been used in the killing of Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah in mid-May.
Beyond all else, there is the American attitude towards air power itself -- and, beyond that, toward modern war when fought on the planetary"peripheries" (even if those peripheries turn out to be the oil heartlands of our world). From World War II, through Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq, our air wars have always visited death and destruction on civilians. In a future in which it is highly unlikely that American troops will ever fight Russians or Chinese or the soldiers of any other major power in set-piece battles, imperial war is likely to continue to take place in heavily populated civilian areas against guerrillas and insurgents of various sorts. Don't take my word for it. The Pentagon thinks so too and is engaged in extensive planning for such future wars -- involving weapons that leave its soldiers"at a distance" in the burgeoning urban slums of our planet.
So perhaps a modicum of honesty is in order. Iraq and Afghanistan are already charnel houses, zones of butchery for the innocent. In both lands, it's possible to make a simple prediction: As bad as things already are, if present trends continue, if the"Korea model" becomes the model, it's going to get worse. We have yet to see anything like the full release of American air power in Afghanistan, no less in Iraq, but don't count it out.
We in the U.S. recognize butchery when we see it -- the atrocity of the car bomb, the chlorine-gas truck bomb, the beheading. These acts are obviously barbaric in nature. But our favored way of war -- war from a distance -- has, for us, been pre-cleansed of barbarism. Or rather its essential barbarism has been turned into a set of"errant incidents," of"accidents," of"mistakes" repeatedly made over more than six decades. Air power is, in the military itself, little short of a religion of force, impermeable to reason, to history, to examples of what it does (and what it is incapable of doing). It is in our interest not to see air war as a -- possibly the -- modern form of barbarism.
Ours is, of course, a callous and dishonest way of thinking about war from the air (undoubtedly because it is the form of barbarism, unlike the car bomb or the beheading, that benefits us). It is time to be more honest. It is time for reporters to take the words"incident,""mistake,""accident,""inadvertent,""errant," and" collateral damage" out of their reportorial vocabularies when it comes to air power. At the level of policy, civilian deaths from the air should be seen as"advertent." They are not mistakes or they wouldn't happen so repeatedly. They are the very givens of this kind of warfare.
This is, or should be, obvious. If we want to"withdraw" from Iraq (or Afghanistan) via the Gates Plan, we should at least be clear about what that is likely to mean -- the slaughter of large numbers of civilians"including women and children." And it will not be due to a series of mistakes or incidents; it will not be errant or inadvertent. It will be policy itself. It will be the Washington -- and in the end the American -- consensus.
[Note to Tomdispatch readers: Air power has been perhaps the worst reported aspect of the Bush administration's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This website has, however, covered it as regularly, even doggedly, as possible. I've written about it since at least 2004. Independent reporter Dahr Jamail, sociologist Michael Schwartz, and Tomdispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse have all offered contributions on the subject. In addition, Seymour Hersh wrote a piece in the New Yorker,"Up in the Air," in 2005 that remains predictive on air power in Iraq and a must-read. Just recently, Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com dealt incisively with a single incident of civilian deaths from the air in Iraq and how our press covered it; while Ira Chernus at the Commondreams website, took up civilian deaths in Afghanistan with his usual acumen. I recommend both pieces. Someday, it will occur to mainstream reporters to do the same and then we'll know we've entered a different moment, a different world.]
Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 18:21
SOURCE: Dissident Voice (7-9-07)
"He is taking the entire month of August off! Well, who among us hasn’t needed 30 straight days off after working six whole months?"– Jay Leno, August 2001
I read somewhere that while George W. Bush was governor of Texas he was prone to leave his office in the early afternoon. He was not the most energetic governor and retains a well-known penchant for naps even when surrounded by troubling news.
If true that Texas story would jibe with other reports I’ve read. After graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where his main academic achievement seems to have been heading the cheerleader squad, he received his Bachelor of Arts in History from Yale with a C average in 1968.
Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard in May 1968, with a commitment to serve to May 1974. But there is no record of him performing any such service between May 1972 and October 1973. During that time he apparently refused to submit to a drug test, terminating his flier’s career. In September 1973, eight months before his service was supposed to end, he requested discharge in order to attend Harvard Business School.
Yoshi Tsurumi, one of Bush’s Harvard professors told CNN’s Phil Hirschkorn in 2004 that Bush as a graduate student was “Lazy. He didn’t come to my class prepared. He did very badly.” His performance may have been influenced by substance abuse; he was arrested for DUI in Maine near his family’s summer home in 1976 and had his license suspended.
After getting his Masters in Business Administration that year, Bush failed in several business ventures and in a bid for a House of Representatives seat in 1978. In 1994 his fortunes changed as advisors Karl Rove (“Bush’s Brain”) and Karen Hughes in a very sleazy campaign against the well-liked incumbent Democratic Governor Ann Richards engineered an upset. That allowed him to kick back with his cowboy boots on his desk and gleefully sign the execution orders of 152 death row prisoners (he was not much into pardons or commuting sentences then) while proclaiming June 10 “Jesus Day” in Texas.
As President of the United States, Dubya has accumulated more vacation credits than any of his recent predecessors. According to Dale McFeatters in a ScrippsNews editorial published last August, Bush “broke Ronald Reagan’s record of 335 days for America’s most vacationed president” on August 19, 2005, “and went on to take the longest presidential vacation in 36 years.” That was over 18% of Bush’s time since taking office (or about nine weeks in his average year) and there has been much vacation time since then for the wartime president. (For reference, the average vacation time in the U.S. is 12 days, Japan, 18; France, 25; Germany, 30.)
He says these breaks from the routine help him “clear his mind” and “get back in touch with real America.” The White House says “he’s earned it.”
It’s apparent to anyone watching a Bush news conference that he is intellectually uncurious, dogmatic, sometimes incoherent — in various ways mentally lazy. Recall how when asked who his favorite philosopher was he answered, rather like a Miss America pageant contestant caught off guard: “Jesus.” Or when asked in a press conference in April 2004 (one year into the Iraq War and on the eve of the Abu Ghraib torture revelations) if he could think of any mistakes he’d made, he responded: “I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here — and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.”
Recall how a top aide to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien called him a “moron” in 2002? How many U.S. presidents have ever been called morons by Canadian officials?
It’s been reported that Bush doesn’t read newspapers. When a sympathetic Washington Times journalist asked him why in 2004, he replied, “I like to have a clear outlook. It can be a frustrating experience to pay attention to somebody’s false opinion or somebody’s characterization which simply isn’t true.” I assume that Bush was taught in his Yale history classes that one should read widely to understand an issue and make some original contribution to resolving it. But here he implicitly insults critical thinking while expressing pure laidback solipsism. (Of course some among his largely anti-intellectual base will find such talk endearing, as they do his inevitable malapropisms — if they notice them. They nod their heads and think, “Yeah, why read those liberal newspapers when we have our free and balanced Fox News?”)
Intellectual activity can indeed be a frustrating experience because dealing with unclarity, contradictions, unresolved issues forces us to devote more mental time and effort to find legitimate answers. You can acquire a clear outlook by avoiding all that activity and just pointing to the Bible, the Flag, the Pledge of Allegiance (but not that “goddam piece of paper” as Bush has privately called the Constitution) and the papers Cheney puts on your desk as sources of your own true opinion. You can then clock out early mentally and head off to Crawford to clear brush and your outlook at the same time.
The people around Bush know his personality and abilities. We the masses see him on TV, sometimes strutting like a rooster, other times looking like a deer caught in the headlights, cocky or confused depending on the situation or question posed. But never real sharp. Some of those around Bush (Colin Powell in particular) are known to have winced at these public performances traditionally required of a president. Some might sit on the edges of their chairs genuinely fearing he will say something so bizarre it will send his poll numbers even under 20% or provoke some kind of upheaval — some comment revealing the cruelty, ignorance, hypocrisy, arrogance and basic sluggishness of the man.
I assume Cheney, the brighter and more sophisticated of the two Deciders, has accumulated his own unprecedented power as Vice President thinking that Dubya with his weaknesses requires the avuncular assistance that he, with his big oil, defense contractor and neocon ties, is best able to provide. It behooves him to encourage Bush to take his vacations (or choke on his pretzels) while he from his undisclosed location networks with these people who count. He’s even marched on CIA headquarters, sidekick Libby in toe, to browbeat the agents into saying what he wants said — for the president’s later attention.
(Think of that for a moment. Often top government officials fear the CIA because it has so much information about people. Not Cheney.)
Cheney has placed himself and his neocons’ version of reality on the indolent Commander-in-Chief’s desk, shaping the latter’s understanding of reality with the lazybones’ apparent approval. He wants a “clear outlook” and Cheney supplies that for sure.
Today Bush is in his Camp David retreat, surrounded by fresh air, tall oaks and pine trees, clearing his mind of all those frustrations that paying attention to other people’s false opinions and untrue characterizations can produce. I can’t find readily online who’s with him helping clarify that mind. Of course he might be in his own little world napping, slumbering like a baby while bombs fall on babies in Afghanistan and Iraq. And while Cheney and the neocons plot more bombing on Iran.
America needs to wake up from the bad dream of these two men. According to the results of an American Research Group poll announced yesterday, 54% of American adults want the US House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Cheney. 45% favor Bush’s impeachment, in a temporary statistical deadlock with the 46% still wiping the sleep from their eyes who oppose it. We need to force the politicians to get off their lazy asses and take action now.
Posted on: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 17:30
SOURCE: Alternet (7-10-07)
The World War II home front was the most important and broadly participatory green experiment in U.S. history. Is it a model we should use today?
Does this generation of Americans have the "right stuff" to meet the epic challenges of sustaining life on a rapidly warming planet? Sure, the mainstream media are full of talk about carbon credits, hybrid cars, and smart urbanism -- but even so, our environmental footprints are actually growing larger, not smaller.
The typical new U.S. home, for instance, is 40 percent larger than that of 25 years ago, even though the average household has fewer people. In that same period, dinosaur-like SUVs (now 50 percent of all private vehicles) have taken over the freeways, while the amount of retail space per capita (an indirect but reliable measure of consumption) has quadrupled.
Too many of us, in other words, talk green but lead supersized lifestyles -- giving fodder to the conservative cynics who write columns about Al Gore's electricity bills. Our culture appears hopelessly addicted to fossil fuels, shopping sprees, suburban sprawl, and beef-centered diets. Would Americans ever voluntarily give up their SUVs, McMansions, McDonald's, and lawns?
The surprisingly hopeful answer lies in living memory. In the 1940s, Americans simultaneously battled fascism overseas and waste at home. My parents, their neighbors, and millions of others left cars at home to ride bikes to work, tore up their front yards to plant cabbage, recycled toothpaste tubes and cooking grease, volunteered at daycare centers and USOs, shared their houses and dinners with strangers, and conscientiously attempted to reduce unnecessary consumption and waste.
The World War II home front was the most important and broadly participatory green experiment in U.S. history. Lessing Rosenwald, the chief of the Bureau of Industrial Conservation, called on Americans "to change from an economy of waste -- and this country has been notorious for waste -- to an economy of conservation." A majority of civilians, some reluctantly but many others enthusiastically, answered the call.
The most famous symbol of this wartime conservation ethos was the victory garden. Originally promoted by the Wilson administration to combat the food shortages of World War I, household and communal kitchen gardens had been revived by the early New Deal as a subsistence strategy for the unemployed. After Pearl Harbor, a groundswell of popular enthusiasm swept aside the skepticism of some Department of Agriculture officials and made the victory garden the centerpiece of the national "Food Fights for Freedom" campaign.
By 1943, beans and carrots were growing on the former White House lawn, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and nearly 20 million other victory gardeners were producing 30 to 40 percent of the nation's vegetables -- freeing the nation's farmers, in turn, to help feed Britain and Russia....
Posted on: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 15:39
SOURCE: Juan Cole's Informed Comment Global Affairs (Group Blog) (7-7-07)
Just a few weeks ago, General Pervez Musharraf's regime seemed in severe trouble. Chief Justice Chaudhry had strangely emerged as a popular hero inspiring the country after his summary dismissal by the Musharraf. Lawyers were rioting all across Pakistan's major cities. The state's crackdown on media had backfired. NYT, WaPo, WSJ had all put out editorials questioning Musharraf's rule and US support of it. The extensive electricity outages in Karachi and the lack of federal response to the heavy monsoon rains which caused hundreds of deaths in Sindh and Baluchistan had further deteriorated any remaining support for Musharraf. More and more, this General was resembling that old General Yahya and the end-game seemed in sight.
How quickly things change. The Lal Masjid seige/showdown is now front-page news everywhere. The photographs of Army helicopters hovering silently behind the mosque's great white dome surely caused frisson of excitement to those accustomed to the way the War on Terror is being fought across Iraq. After all, those burka-clad shaolin seminarians with their bamboo lathis and the young men with their faces wrapped and their automatics raised are all simple enough signifiers for the Great Islamic Threat ®. Soon enough the editorials will change their tone. The White House will stand and acclaim the tough job Musharraf is doing to curtail the Talibanization of Islamabad. Fareed Zakaria will declare some other inanity like"Pakistan is an army with a state in a box containing an angry mullah sitting on a nuke with the evil-but-ok-maybe-not Musharraf trying to hammer the box shut" and the intelligentsia will sigh in relief. The Pakistani TV programs that I watched yesterday were all filled with how this latest showdown is playing out in US and how will it affect policy - the panopticon of American neo-Imperialism is never far from the minds of Pakistani punditry. Even the print press, long critical of Musharraf's overreaches, is willing to forgive Musharraf's sins if he can save the country. As an aside, just let me point out that even this small fact, that the Press is proclaiming a dictator for standing up to radicalization of their society, upends the conventional wisdom that Pakistan teeters forever on the brink of an Islamic Revolution.
For those of us, who have long argued that Pakistan must immediately hold elections, that Musharraf cannot retain US support and that the only way to teach Democracy is to practice Democracy, these new developments are quite disheartening. The populist uprising against Musharraf may or may not survive now that the PR advantage is finally squarely with the General. One can even argue that this confrontation with Lal Masjid was deliberately provoked by the State for expressly changing the political landscape. But, before one can argue that, we need to cast a wider glance behind this Waco-abad.
Following, I will offer a brief overview of the history of Lal Masjid, a small timeline of the events leading up to the recent crisis and offer a few mitigating factors that can help contextualize Lal Masjid.
I hate to begin all stories with the Islamization policy of the last military dictator of Pakistan Zia ul Haq but, at least in this case, it is justified. One significant aspect of Zia's efforts was a reaction to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran and his fear that it will lead to Iranian aggression inside Pakistan. The building of close ideological and material ties to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the support of Jama'at-i Islami and its radical agenda of jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, the creation of counter-Sunni groups like Sipah-e Suhaba, the construction of madrasas across Pakistan [from 200-odd seminaries in 1947 to nearly 3000 by 1988] and the Majlis Ahl-e Shur'a were some of the steps implemented by Zia from 1978 to 1988. A significant part was also his material support for anti-Shi'a, pro-jihad firebrands like a certain Maulana Abdullah - the man in charge of one of Islamabad's central mosque, the Markazi Jamia Masjid (Lal Masjid) founded in 1966.
A Baluchi by birth, Abdullah was a devout adherent of the Deobandi school. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Zia's proclamations of impending Shari'ah across Pakistan were enough incentives for Maulana Abdullah to swing his support firmly for Zia and the Afghani cause. Lal Masjid received significant land grants from Zia in Islamabad and the mosque solidified with a large membership of civil society, military brass and state functionaries saying their obligated five prayers - including the Chief Martial Law Administrator, Zia ul Haq. It also incorporated an extensive pedagogic and civic relief agenda. Jami'a Faridia - a seminary for young men was present since the inception of the mosque. In 1984, it moved to the exclusive E-7 sector of Islamabad after a generous land grant by Zia ul Haq. Jami'a Hafsa was established for the girls in 1992. The curriculum for these seminaries was fairly traditional and modeled after Jami'a Ashrafiya in Lahore with Qur'an Studies, Hadi'th, Arabic, Law and, basic Sciences [I.T. was started in the late 90s]. There are currently about 6000 students in both the seminaries - no one is charged a fee for attendance. These students not only live and participate in seminary activities but are also responsible for the extensive food kitchens run by Lal Masjid and perform other civic duties across the region.
Throughout the 80s and 90s Lal Masjid and Maulana Abdullah remained on the fore-front of Afghani Jihad and, later, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Their support include supplying fighters from the seminary, teaching Afghan students and maintaining funds for the jihad effort. All of which did not detract Maulana Abdullah from his anti-Shi'a rhetoric. A consequence of which was that, in 1998, he was gunned down by unknown assailants - thought to be from rival Shi'a groups.
His death put his sons, Abdul Aziz and the younger Abdul Rashid, in charge of Lal Masjid and the two seminaries associated with it. Abdul Rashid Ghazi was a veteran of the Afghani front - as attested by his honorific of 'Ghazi' - and made clear his support for Talibans and Osama b. Laden. In September 2001, he led the efforts to prohibit Musharraf from siding with the US efforts in Afghanistan and send fighters against the US forces. Even as Musharraf sallied forth with his support, Lal Masjid attempted to sway the public opinion against him - largely to no avail, as the religious right never had a clear channel into Pakistani society. All this would have stood as it was - in that limbo necessary for the continuation of civil society - but things were no longer the same, anywhere.
Baluchistan erupted. The brothers belong to the Mazari tribe from Baluchistan and a large contingent of students in the two seminaries come from the region. It should come as no surprise then, that Abdul Aziz was at the forefront of protesting Musharraf's actions in Waziristan. In 2004, he issued a fatwa declaring non-Muslim burials for Pakistan Army members killed in Baluchistan and Waziristan. It was this action that put Musharraf and Lal Masjid on a collision course. This caused not only a split with the military but also within the religious elite in Pakistan - with Abdul Aziz breaking relationships with many leading ulemas - not surprisingly, another major beneficiary of Zia's largesse, Jama'at-i Islami remained steadfast with Lal Masjid.
In early 2007, a number of mosques were demolished around Islamabad by the CDA. The official rational was that these mosques were illegal settlements - often on prime development real estate - and had to be cleared out [even though this action was against religious law]. Jami'a Hafsa was institution involved in this illegal land grab - though the details are too convoluted even for me. In retaliation, the Shaolin Burqas of Jamia Hafsa occupied a Children's Library on Feb 22, 2007. As a response, the State agreed to re-construct one of the seven mosques. On March 27th, female seminarians kidnapped (and released after repentance) Auntie Shamim - a madame to some luminaries in Pakistan's political scene. Things escalated from this point. The seminarians kidnapped policemen in order to facilitate a prisoner exchange with the state. On March 31st, Abdul Aziz gave a deadline to impose Sharia in Pakistan. By early April, the government had shut down the website of Lal Masjid [www.lalmasjid.org and www.faridia.org] and revoked their radio broadcast license [Jami'a Hafsa still has an operational off-site].
The rest is all recent news.
The strengthening of miltant forces in Pakistan - and their inward gaze - has not come from any radicalization of Pakistani society but from the incomplete operation of US forces in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq drained away any plan for a viable and functioning Afghanistan. The defeated troops carried their tribal allegiances back across the border into the Northern and Western regions of Pakistan - and turned their attention onto Pakistani state. Musharraf, busy consolidating the military's dominion had no viable way of combating these tribes - he has no legitimacy. I could be writing an alternative version of this recent past, if democratic tendencies had actually been allowed to develop in Pakistan since 2001. You may call it 'paradoxical' but the only solution to de-Islamization of Pakistan is democracy - not the support of dictatorships.
Lal Masjid was an ally (and a pawn) in Zia's strategy in Afghanistan [and by that relationship, an ally of then United States foreign policy]. Soviets may have lost and that war may have ended for the United States but it continued on for the Pakistanis and the Afghanis. The immense influx of refugees and fighters into Pakistan during the 90s helped only strengthen the political and material basis for institutions such as Lal Masjid. While many western observers praise Musharraf's brave decision to side with the United States, the truth is that it was a no-brainer for him. The majority of Pakistan's population has long maintained a healthy distaste for the involvement of religious leaders into statecraft - taking perhaps as axiomatic Bulleh Shah's old verse: Mulla tay mashaalchi dohaan ikko chiz / Loukan karday chananan, aap anhairae vich [The Cleric and the Light Bearer are both the same / Trying to illuminate others, but in darkness themselves]. The outpouring of support for the Chief Justice is just one indication that the country is hungry for relief - note, please note, that Chaudhry Iftikhar is not some bearded mullah with any agenda for Shari'ah implementation in Pakistan. And yet, that old canard is forever being bandied about that if given democracy, the insane mullahs will control Pakistan. The choice has never been between Musharraf and the Mullah or the Mosque and the Ballot. The truth is that there never has been any choice. And the Pakistani public demand a choice. And they can be trusted to make the right decision just as much as any other citizen in any other democracy in any nation of this world [cf. 2000 and 2004, United States of America.]
Posted on: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 13:53
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) (7-10-07)
... Trained as a historian of American intellectual and religious history, I increasingly find myself also a student of the market. I work with spreadsheets that transform teaching and learning into quantifiable units, and with advertising strategies that try to brand what my university offers as distinctive, even as market pressures move us toward standardization of our product. I understand why consumers want the guarantees afforded by standardization. What my fellow service providers and I offer — a college degree — will be vital to individual economic well-being in the 21st century. Accountability matters.
Regulation of goods and services comes both from free trade and from government intervention, and in higher education these days, we are seeing both. For example, many for-profit universities are driving down the cost of instruction by outsourcing it to part-time workers, often with lesser qualifications than those of faculty members at more traditional four-year degree-granting institutions. In so doing, those universities are forcing a reconsideration everywhere of how to cut labor costs in order to compete. At the level of government intervention, my own state, Ohio, has developed an articulation-and-transfer policy for postsecondary institutions that guarantees the ability of credits for certain courses — for instance, U. S. history surveys — to transfer between institutions and apply directly to the major at any public postsecondary institution in the state.
Professor Smith's lecture on Jamestown and Professor Jones's module on the Industrial Revolution, no matter where in the state they are taught, may now be considered educationally equivalent within a standardized delivery system meant to ensure that consumers receive common value for their tuition dollar. Your course is now educational legal tender, whether you take it at a selective university or at a community college; whether it is taught by a research professor with 25 years of teaching experience or by a temporary, part-time faculty member with a newly minted master's degree and no teaching expertise; whether it is taken in a small seminar setting or through an online venue where participants never physically meet.
The history of consumerism and commodities further suggests that as a mass market develops for certain goods and services, a luxury market often develops alongside it. The well-to-do seek out and consume scarce goods and services with which status becomes associated, and as those goods enter the mass market, the elite move on to identify new status-oriented consumables. For example, in Europe, for much of the 17th century, when coffee became popular as an exotic beverage, it was the drink of the rich. After a time, what once was a luxury became a staple of the masses. As a "cuppa joe" replaced the refined "dish of coffee," the more well-to-do moved on to designer brews and beverages. In the United States today, whether you buy your coffee at McDonald's or your Sumatra-grown cappuccino at Starbucks speaks volumes about how you see yourself culturally.
Have we arrived at a point in higher education where we will see increasing divergence between degrees meant for the masses and those for the elites? How will a Wal-Mart-type degree ("Always low prices") differ from high-end products with status value à la Lord & Taylor ("The Signature of American Style") and those targeted, Macy's-like, to folks in the middle ("Way to Shop!")?...
Posted on: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 13:10
SOURCE: New York Sun (7-10-07)
Navigating the fractious currents of émigré politics is never easy, and especially for the Iranian opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq or the People's Mujahedeen of Iran. Simply put, the rogue oil state regime it opposes terrifies one half the West and tempts the other, and the MEK is itself accused of being a superannuated Marxist-Islamist terrorist cult.
These obstacles have not, however, prevented the MEK from trumpeting Islamism as the new global threat, providing important intelligence to the West – for example, about Iran's nuclear program – terrifying the regime in Tehran, and putting on major displays of anti-regime solidarity.
Participants at a Mujahedeen-e Khalq rally outside Paris on June 30 boisterously welcomed Maryam Rajavi.
The meeting inspired several observations. First, the slick production, with hints of an American political convention – balloons and chaff falling from the rafters, a televised sequence of the leader arriving in cavalcade – was aimed mostly at an audience outside the hall, especially in Iran.
Second, the event had two apparent goals: reminding Iranians that an alternative does exist to today's theocracy, plus pressuring the European Union to remove the MEK from its terror list. For Iranians, the music portion included pretty girls in (for them, daring) Western clothing. For Europeans, it pointedly included"Le chant des partisans," the anthem of the French Resistance during World War II.
Third, Rajavi's in-depth analysis mentioned neither the United States nor Israel, something extremely rare for a major speech about Middle Eastern politics. Nor did she even hint at conspiratorial thinking, a deeply welcome change for Iranian politics.
Young singers at the Mujahedeen-e Khalq rally outside Paris on June 30. Many participants wore vests inscribed with the slogan,"Notre choix, Maryam Rajavi," an allusion to the MEK leader.
These factors, combined with the mullah's near-phobic reaction toward the MEK, suggest that the organization presents a formidable tool for intimidating Tehran.
Alas, Westerners presently cannot work with the MEK, due to a 1997 decision by the Clinton administration, followed five years later by the European Union, to offer a sop to the mullahs and declare it a terrorist group, putting it officially on a par with the likes of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizbullah. A Portuguese member of the European parliament, Paulo Casaca, notes that"Officials on both sides of the Atlantic are on the record as saying that the only reason why the group was put on the U.S. terrorism list in the first place was to send a ‘goodwill gesture' to the Iranian regime."
But the MEK poses no danger to Americans or Europeans, and has not for decades. It does pose a danger to the malign, bellicose theocratic regime in Tehran. The MEK's utility to Western states is reflected in the inconsistent, even contradictory, U.S. government attitude toward it over the past decade. One amusing instance came in October 2003, when Colin Powell, the secretary of state, tartly wrote Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense, to remind him that the 3,800 MEK forces at Camp Ashraf in Iraq were supposed to be treated as captives, not as allies.
But there will be nothing amusing as the American presence in Iraq winds down and thousands of unarmed MEK members are left to the tender mercies of the pro-Tehran regime in Baghdad. Belatedly, the Bush administration needs to take three steps. First, let the MEK members leave Camp Ashraf in a humane and secure manner. Second, delist the organization from the terror rolls, unleashing it to challenge the Islamic Republic of Iran. Third, exploit that regime's inordinate fear of the MEK.
As Patrick Clawson and I suggested over four years ago,"To deter the mullahs from taking hostile steps (supporting terrorism against coalition troops in Iraq, building nuclear weapons), it could prove highly effective to threaten U.S. meetings with the MEK or providing help for its anti-regime publicity campaign."
That remains good advice, but there's not another four years to wait.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes. This article first appeared in the New York Sun.
Posted on: Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - 11:45
SOURCE: Haaretz (7-8-07)
In recent years a phenomenon called "post-Zionism" has developed in the political-intellectual discourse in Israel. Fundamentally, this is a radical criticism not just of Israel's policy; at its base is total denial of the Zionist project and of the very legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish nation-state.
The arguments called "post-Zionist" have various aspects - not only political but also cultural. They view Zionism as a colonial phenomenon, not as a national movement that is contending with another, Palestinian, national movement over its claim to the same territory. Some of those who are called "post-Zionists" go even further in their argument that the very existence of a Jewish people is a "narrative" that was invented in the 19th century, and that the Jews are at base a religious community. The attitude of Zionism, which has most of its roots in Europe, toward Jews from the Muslim countries is also perceived in the context of colonial exploitation.
This approach also wants to de- legitimize Zionism's conceptual world: Because some of the so-called "post-Zionist" arguments are drawn from the post-modernist discourse, their spokespersons understand that the terms they use have a force of their own. He who controls the terms controls the debate. Therefore they insist on referring in Hebrew to pre-1948 Eretz Israel as "Palestine;" Jews who come to live here, whom Zionist discourse calls "olim" (from the Hebrew root "to ascend"), are "immigrants," and so on.
At the same time, those who are careful not to accept the Zionist narrative sometimes accept the Palestinian narrative without question. To them it is clear that there is a Palestinian people, that what happened in 1948 is exactly what the Arabs say happened, and that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is, on the one hand, a Zionist "narrative," and on the other, "facts" that are precisely identical to the Palestinian narrative. This of course is absolute folly, and contradicts the principles of post-modernism itself. ...
Posted on: Monday, July 9, 2007 - 21:58
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (7-8-07)
Britain’s new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was a day early with his Independence Day celebrations.
Last Tuesday, on July 3, he made one of the most startling statements ever made by a newly installed premier before the House of Commons. Unless my ears mistook me, Mr Brown pledged to transform the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland into the United States of Britain.
Opinion polls such as the Pew Global Attitudes survey continue to testify to widespread anti-American feeling among British voters. Mr Brown himself has already hinted that he will pursue a less slavishly pro-American foreign policy than his predecessor Tony Blair.
Yet the “new British constitutional settlement” Mr Brown promised last week owes an unmistakable debt to the American system.
Even more remarkable, no one so much as grumbled. Indeed, the opposition parties’ sole complaint seemed to be that Mr Brown was not going far enough in the direction of Americanising Britain.
My question is: Has anyone in London been to Washington lately? On paper, no doubt, the American constitution looks great. It’s the real-life practice of American government that isn’t quite living up to the founding fathers’ lofty ideals.
Let’s take a closer look at Mr Brown’s speech, which contained no fewer than seven American-inspired initiatives:
1: “For centuries,” declared Mr Brown, the Prime Minister and the Executive “have exercised authority in the name of the monarchy without the people and their elected representatives being consulted”. His aim, by contrast, is to “entrust more power to Parliament and the British people”. Nota Bene: from royal authority to “We, the people”. Remind you of anything?
2: Mr Brown offered to delegate the power to declare war to the House of Commons, albeit on the basis of a resolution rather than a statute (unlike the power to ratify new international treaties, which will also be given to the Commons). Again, this imitates the United States, where (under Article I, Section VIII, of the Constitution) Congress alone has the power to declare war.
3: The Commons will be empowered to hold pre-appointment hearings for public officials such as the chief inspector of prisons, the civil service commissioner and members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. This is a straight American import....
Posted on: Monday, July 9, 2007 - 21:52
SOURCE: NYT (7-9-07)
TWENTY years ago this week, Lt. Col. Oliver North testified for six days before a special joint House and Senate investigating committee. Permitted by the Democratic majority to appear in his bemedaled Marine uniform, and disastrously granted immunity, Colonel North freely admitted that he had shredded documents, lied to Congress and falsified official records....
A number of House Republicans on the committee cheered Colonel North on. One who led the way was Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who praised Colonel North as “the most effective and impressive witness certainly this committee has heard.”
Mr. Cheney the congressman believed that Congress had usurped executive prerogatives. He saw the Iran-contra investigation not as an effort to get to the bottom of possible abuses of power but as a power play by Congressional Democrats to seize duties and responsibilities that constitutionally belonged to the president.
At the conclusion of the hearings, a dissenting minority report codified these views. The report’s chief author was a former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael J. Malbin, who was chosen by Mr. Cheney as a member of the committee’s minority staff. Another member of the minority’s legal staff, David S. Addington, is now the vice president’s chief of staff.
The minority report stressed the charge that the inquiry was a sham, calling the majority report’s allegations of serious White House abuses of power “hysterical.” The minority admitted that mistakes were made in the Iran-contra affair but laid the blame for them chiefly on a Congress that failed to give consistent aid to the Nicaraguan contras and then overstepped its bounds by trying to restrain the White House.
The Reagan administration, according to the report, had erred by failing to offer a stronger, principled defense of what Mr. Cheney and others considered its full constitutional powers. Not only did the report defend lawbreaking by White House officials; it condemned Congress for having passed the laws in the first place....
In truth, as Mr. Cheney has also remarked, the struggle for him began much earlier, during the Nixon administration. A business partner says that Mr. Cheney told him that Watergate was merely “a political ploy by the president’s enemies.” For Mr. Cheney, the scandal was not Richard Nixon’s design for an imperial presidency but the Democrats’ drive for an imperial Congress....
Posted on: Monday, July 9, 2007 - 19:30
SOURCE: Legal History (Blog) (7-5-07)
Ken Mack, Harvard Law School, who is writing a greatly anticipated history of civil rights lawyers, had this to say in the Los Angeles Timeson Wednesday:
AS THE Supreme Court wrestled with race-conscious school assignments in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., last week, the justices drew historical figures into the debate. In the most heated bits from the various opinions, each side accused the other of contradicting the objectives of the individuals who laid the groundwork for Brown vs. Board of Education.
In his opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. quoted Robert L. Carter — the black plaintiffs' attorney in Brown — to support the proposition that the Constitution prohibits school districts from taking race into account in student assignment. Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer, on the other hand, argued that the principles of racial integration expressed in Brown required the high court to uphold the school districts' use of race.
Roberts' argument carried the day. But the justices' disagreement illustrates a problem well known to generations of law school students: When trying to decide a hard case, you can find two valid, established legal principles that will lead to two diametrically opposing conclusions. This observation was first articulated by an early 20th century group of reformers called"legal realists." The hardest cases, they noted, are the products of long-standing, unresolved societal conflicts — so precedents often support both sides. As one phrased it, legal principles"are in the habit of hunting in pairs."
The same problem plagues historical interpretations. But that doesn't prevent supporters and opponents of race-consciousness from buttressing their stances with references to the principles held by famous civil rights figures."History will be heard," asserted Roberts. But if history speaks on this subject, it does so in two voices....
Mack uses Justice John Marshall Harlan, author of the famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, and Charles Hamilton Houston, the initial architect of the legal strategy leading to Brown as two examples. Then he continues:
Even Carter, invoked to great effect by Roberts, presents a similar historical problem. Carter, 90, is a federal judge in New York, and he recently published an autobiography. One cannot read it without concluding that he followed a set of lifelong moral principles that were utterly opposed to racial segregation. When Brown was wending its way through the courts, it was certainly possible to find him arguing that any use of race in school assignment is constitutionally suspect.
Yet Carter later admitted that his efforts in Brown were focused on overturning Plessy's separate-but-equal doctrine, not at formulating a legal rule to guide future attempts to create racial equality. Indeed, within a decade of the Brown decision, he confessed to having mixed feelings about the use of race-conscious remedies to achieve integration, though he eventually firmly endorsed them....
History has a lot to tell us, but it rarely provides a clear signpost. In hard cases, historical precedents, just like legal ones, are in the habit of hunting in pairs.
For the full op-ed (recommended) click here.
The implications of the review seem to be that the question of whether Justice Roberts got the history of Brown right is so wide open, that it is not possible to answer the question. While Mack is right that questions of historical interpretation are not straightforward, and, by implication, the invocation of history by courts and lawyers is problematic, I disagree with Mack about whether the history of Brown was so muddled back in 1954.
Robert Carter himself was very clear about it when interviewed about Roberts' use of his Brown oral argument, after the opinion was released. As the New York Timesreported, “All that race was used for at that point in time was to deny equal opportunity to black people,” Judge Carter said of the 1950s. “It’s to stand that argument on its head to use race the way they use is now.”
The difference between Mack's take on the issue and Carter's may not be a failure of memory, although it is the case that historical figures remember the past differently as time continues to unfold. Perhaps it is in part a question of focus: on the right, or on the remedy. Judge Carter and his colleagues worked for an interpretation of the right -- 14th amendment equality -- that would invalidate laws that were a product of a history of racial subordination. They worked to overturn a system of discrimination informed by an ideology that one race (whites) was superior to others. As an initial remedy, they sought to have the bar to African American enrollment in white schools come down. Even this remedy was postponed, for most students -- even named plaintiffs -- for many years.
There was always a difference of opinion within communities and among leaders about what the world might look like when enforced segregation was a thing of the past. It was W.E.B. DuBois, for example, who angered his NAACP colleagues in the 1930s when he argued that what African American children needed was not integrated schools, but a good education. These questions legitimately arise in contemporary school cases once the barriers to entry are abolished, but the impact of unconstitutional racial subordination must be remedied.
But Roberts' opinion was not about how best to remedy racial subordination. His opinion was about the substance of the 14th amendment right. He used Carter's words to support an argument that Carter did not make in Brown: that when School Boards consider racial balance as part of their educational policies, having the goal of improving the education of everyone, they are engaging in the kind of behavior Carter sought to eradicate in Brown.
The equivocation that Mack finds in Carter's past words is equivocation about remedies. When it came to the meaning of the right itself, I'll take my cue from the chorus of Brown's surviving participants. “The plaintiffs in Brown were concerned with the marginalization and subjugation of black people,” Jack Greenberg said. And from William T. Coleman: “to say that the people Brown was supposed to protect are the people it’s now not going to protect....It's dirty pool."
Shavar Jeffries at BlackProfoffers his take on the Brown opinion itself here.
Posted on: Monday, July 9, 2007 - 15:15
SOURCE: LAT (7-8-07)
HISTORY HAS been trotted out recently by both domestic defenders and international critics of Chinese Communist Party rule. But while both groups have stressed the value of looking back roughly 70 years, they have drawn sharply different conclusions from what they see.
When supporters of the regime have invoked the 1930s, they've tended to focus on the Nanjing massacre, the 70th anniversary of which will fall in December. They see that tragedy — the six-week-long orgy of death and destruction after the city fell to the Japanese in December 1937 — as symbolic of how much the Chinese suffered before the communist era as a result of Japan's imperialist aims and the weak Chinese state. The lesson they draw: Keep China strong, even if that requires forfeiting some individual freedom.
Meanwhile, foreign critics of today's China have adopted the Berlin Olympics of 1936 as their favorite historical analogy. They argue that was the year when the international community made the grave mistake — which they insist is about to be repeated with the 2008 Beijing Games — of helping to legitimize a brutal dictatorship. The lesson they draw: Don't ever make deals with repressive regimes.
I would argue that this kind of historical reductionism is not terribly useful, no matter which side is doing it. If one is truly interested in looking backward — not to help Beijing play the nationalism card or to bolster calls for a 2008 Olympic boycott, but simply to understand today's China — it is important to do so in a way that is not so simplistic.
It's true that the 1930s were a fascinating period in China, and one with interesting parallels to our own time.
China was governed in those days by an authoritarian party that had repudiated some key ideals of its first great leader — much as the Chinese Communist Party has today. At that time, the Nationalists had placed founding father Sun Yat-sen's anti-imperialist ideology on the back burner as Chiang Kai-shek made extermination of the communists his top priority. The contemporary parallel, of course, is the Communist Party's abandonment of Mao Tse-tung's anti-capitalist teachings.
Then, as now, this ideological shift did not mean that the regime stopped making symbolic use of its most famous former leader. Mao's giant portrait still looks down on Tiananmen Square; in the 1930s, Nationalist Party officials often bowed before Sun's image.
A Chinese consumer revolution was underway during that period, and new consumption patterns then, as now, took hold first and strongest in coastal cities such as Shanghai.
Another parallel is that in the 1930s, as today, there was a great deal of discontent in the Chinese countryside, which often manifested itself in outbreaks of violent protest. And in both periods, cynicism toward the ruling party was widespread, with many feeling that China's leaders were less concerned with the welfare of the people and the nation than with maintaining their own power.
In the 1930s, the regime invoked tradition in its struggle to appeal to a disaffected population. Specifically, the Nationalist Party invoked Confucian codes of behavior and used Confucian references to social harmony to show that their ideological about-faces didn't mean that they lacked a moral compass. Similarly, in China today, Confucius is once again celebrated as a great sage whose ancient wisdom has relevance for "New China."
Even though all these similarities are interesting and thought-provoking, they do not, unfortunately, provide a simple answer to the crucial questions of where China is heading and how the West should treat it. Despite the similarities, there are also many differences between the eras.
Today's Communist Party, for instance, has a much firmer grip on the country than the Nationalists ever had. Among other things, it does not face an organized opposition party, as the Nationalists did. What's more, the communist regime in China today has overseen years of dramatic economic growth that Chiang could only have dreamed of when he controlled the mainland.
Indeed, China's place in East Asia is now so completely different that something like Nanjing could never happen. Japan poses no military threat, and China is simply far less vulnerable than it was.
It is always tempting to invoke the past to convey a simple message — one that tells us how we should act in or think about the present or how we should prepare for the future — but the actual matchup between "then" and "now" is rarely neat enough to allow for this. (Remember the efforts to compare the 9/11 attacks to Pearl Harbor, even though 9/11 was not an act of war by a foreign government?) History is just too complicated, too nuanced and too contradictory to make any analogy a perfect guide to action.
Historians have to be constantly searching for lessons we can use today. If handled carefully, and not treated as providing a perfect blueprint, even imperfect analogies can be useful. This is because, while history seldom if ever repeats itself, as science fiction author Bruce Sterling noted in a 1998 speech, it does "rhyme" — meaning that old patterns often come around again, just with variations.
But the selective use of history by partisans is too often simplistic and misleading, and we must be on guard against it.
Posted on: Sunday, July 8, 2007 - 23:19
SOURCE: WaPo (7-4-07)
... We all know that the Declaration of Independence announced the United States' freedom from the British Empire. We all remember that it declared certain truths to be self-evident. But what you probably haven't heard is that the declaration also advanced an idea about war. The idea was that war ought to be governed by law.
In late June 1776, as the first detachments of what was to become a sizable British force were landing 90 miles away in New York, Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia drew up charges denouncing King George III to the world. The accusations were to serve as the core of the declaration. The climactic final charges, for which the rest were prologue, indicted the king for war crimes.
Britain's navy, wrote Jefferson and the Congress, had "plundered our Seas," while its armies had "ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People." ...
The declaration was the beginning of a remarkable but now little-remembered American tradition in the laws of war. In the 1780s, a treaty with Prussia committed the United States to follow European rules of warfare. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln published a code for the Union Army that serves to this day as the foundation for the law of war around the globe.
In the 20th century, Americans took a lead role in establishing the modern law of war. Franklin Roosevelt directed the creation of the Nuremberg tribunal for high-ranking German war criminals, and his aides wrote the U.N. charter's rules for the use of force. In this century we can see traces of Jefferson's charges in the law of naval warfare, in the distinction between combatants and civilians, in international law restricting the use of mercenaries and in the Third Geneva Convention's rules on prisoners of war.
Today, of course, much of the world thinks that the United States has traded places with George III's British Empire. We are the global hegemon, and since Sept. 11, 2001, we have become infamous the world over for eschewing the law of war in the name of patriotic self-defense. At Guantanamo, in shadowy secret CIA prisons, at Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, leaders in the White House, the Justice Department, and the intelligence agencies have disowned the laws of war as unacceptable constraints on the pursuit of national security....
Posted on: Friday, July 6, 2007 - 19:51
SOURCE: H-Diplo (7-6-07)
The debate over Iraq thus far has focused on whether the United States should withdraw, not on whether it dares to do so. Since our present dilemma arose in part from reliance on Miss Rosy Scenario, plus extraordinary ineptitude in high places, we need to examine worst case possibilities (while praying they not occur) if withdrawal is precipitate and full or further folly aggravates a dicey situation. The worst case is World War III. That is not scaremongering; it could happen, as The New York Times’s diplomatic correspondent noted some months ago on Washington Week in Review. The situation is aggravated because the American people understandably want out of this bloody mess, and so domestic politics is coming to dictate policy and strategy, which is scary. A primer is needed on the risks of our situation, for well-intended demonstrations for immediate withdrawal can create dangers.
As a student of twentieth century international politics who has read heavily on the modern Middle East though it is not my specialty, I strongly opposed the 2003 Iraq war, partly because a nasty aftermath was likely. After all, the British faced a considerable insurgency there in 1920 as Iraq was being created. But what matters is where we are now. Americans need to face a few basic realities which for some reason neither the press nor the commentariat has urged upon them. The actions of the American people have consequences, especially in the Congress, whose oratory and deeds also produce effects– and not just in Washington....
How would I withdraw from Iraq? Very slowly, very carefully, with as little linkage to domestic politics as possible (a tough one, that). With a great deal of basic, efficient economic aid (with maximum Iraqi input since, after all, it is their country) and massive job creation, including good jobs, not just garbage collection. Costly those, but cheap at the price. With intensive diplomacy in the entire region and as many steps from the Iraq Study Group’s report as possible. With a great deal of patience. Our president is too weak politically and probably too stubborn to proclaim a national emergency, though that is what we face. We need to pull together but are unlikely to do so. The goal is a regime in Iraq which can control and defend the country. Whether it is democratic is probably immaterial, since democracy is unlikely to long survive our departure. We probably cannot remove the democracy ourselves without damaging effects on the Iraqi people, but I confess to moments of wishing for the emergence of a reasonably benevolent strongman—perhaps on the order of King Faisal I.
What can we do? Recognize the gravity of the situation and that there are no good solutions. Do not confuse the “war on terror” with the war in Iraq, though we have allowed them to become entwined. Be patient, hard as that is. Accept that Iraqi politicians, unimpressive as many are, face difficult tasks in unfamiliar seas. Recognize that while Congressman Murtha is correct in saying that our ground forces are strained to the utmost and that is a factor, it is unfortunately not the only factor and we can do only a limited amount about it just now. Educate others. Pressure your representatives and senators to patience, caution, and very careful utterances, if any. Seek a more evenhanded policy in the Palestinian-Israeli situation and more attention to it, as all Arab states declare that vital. Fiercely resist any administration or Israeli moves to destabilize or bomb Iran (whose strange president was chosen in a genuine, democratic election). Any new destabilization is dangerous. And pray to whatever deity you prefer, reminding Him or Her that God reputedly looks out for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.
Comment on Article by Cary Fraser, Pennsylvania State University
Sally Marks has done the profession a favour by raising an issue that needs to be addressed by diplomatic historians both as a contribution to a contemporary political debate that has been deprived of serious historical insight and as a topic for elucidation in classrooms.
I would suggest a few issues that also need to be addressed. First, the American decision to establish a long-term military presence in Saudi Arabia - the country entrusted with the guardianship of Islam's holiest sites - helped to stimulate the challenge to both the Saudi monarchy and American policy in the region. How will an American decision to establish/maintain bases in Iraq, where some of the holiest sites of Shi'a Islam are located, affect the course of the current occupation and ultimately the political environment that would bring about the reconstitution of a viable and sovereign Iraqi state which can manage its relations with the wider region.
Second, what will be the roles of Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and the European Union in the creation/maintenance of a new balance of power - including the management of existing and future nuclear forces - within the region?
Third, given the growing evidence of a crisis of leadership within the American political and military establishments over the origins, course, and consequences of the Iraq misadventure, has the Iraq war highlighted the need for the rapid emergence of a new generation of American leaders?
Fourth, in what ways can diplomatic historians become a source of curricular changes that will help to educate American citizens and leaders about dealing with a very complex world in which Iraq has served as a reminder that the proverbial road to hell is paved with the rhetoric of good intentions. As an historian of international relations, I was very puzzled by the minimal attention paid to an issue in the discussions about the invasion and occupation of Iraq that should have been obvious from the outset - how does an army garrison a desert? As a teacher, I am constantly amazed by my students' failure to appreciate the role of geography - physical and human - in the evolution of human affairs. I was astonished that the current administration and their supporters in the Congress seemed to have suffered from a similar failure.
Posted on: Friday, July 6, 2007 - 16:10
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (7-6-07)
Allies in the Cold War trenches generally, but not always, still work together against radical Islam.
Take the key question of which Muslims are on the enemy's side and which on ours. With exceptions, the Right shuns non-violent Islamists, while the Left welcomes them as friends. Conservatives accept as moderates only those Muslims who actively oppose the Islamist goal of imposing the Shari‘a (Islamic law) worldwide; just because Muslim organizations or individuals denounce terrorism or work through the system does not make them, in their view, either moderate or mainstream, nor a suitable partner for government, media, or the academy.
In contrast, liberals usually distinguish between violent Islamists, which they fight, and political ones, which they accept. The U.S. government has, since Edward Djerejian's Meridian House speech fifteen years ago, adopted the leftist viewpoint and works with non-violent Islamists.
Some examples of the Right/Left divide: New York mayor Rudy Giuliani spurned a check from Saudi businessman Al-Waleed bin Talal while London mayor Ken Livingstone literally hugged Islamist thinker Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Republican Fred Thompson condemns the Council on American-Islamic Relations for often seeming"to be more aligned with our enemies than us," while Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi congenially met with the group.
I am active on the conservative side in this debate and have even drafted a list of questions to help distinguish moderates from extremists. I compare non-violent Islamists to French Communists, who worked through the democratic system to achieve Stalin's totalitarian goals.
Nor am I shy about criticizing taxpayer-funded institutions that mistake lawful Islamists for moderates. While sitting on the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, for example, I blasted its Republican leadership for co-sponsoring an event with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). Likewise, I have (unhappily, for he has done excellent work in other arenas) condemned Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, for"wrong-headedly insist[ing] on consorting with the enemy" when he funds the CSID.
The CSID particularly nettles me, as it appears to be an Islamist institution uniquely dependent on U.S. government patronage; in 2004, investigative reporter Joel Mowbray found that a whopping 90 percent of CSID funding came from the American taxpayer.
Last month, Joshua Muravchik called my criticism of Gershman"off-base" in an analysis on the website of Commentary magazine titled"Pipes v. Gershman." I hardly find this surprising, for the two share much by way of background – both come from a Shachtmanite background, each served as president of the Young People's Socialist League, both fought the cold war with distinction – and both are amateurs when it comes to Islamism.
Muravchik's assessment of CSID draws on his observations at a conference he attended in 2006, which he found"an interesting mix" because it included liberals, Islamist-sympathizers, and Islamists. He explains:
I share Pipes's suspicion of Islamists who profess democracy. But I don't expect genuine Muslim democrats to blackball Islamists who call themselves democrats. I expect them to argue with them. Which is exactly what was going on at the CSID conference. … The CSID looked to me precisely like an arena in which"moderates" were confronting Islamists. What sense does it make to anathematize that as" consorting with the enemy?"
Muravchik received the answer to this question from truly moderate Muslim intellectual leaders associated with the Center on Islamic Pluralism, in the form of a joint statement,"On Daniel Pipes and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy." Its seven signatories include Kemal Silay of Indiana University, Stephen Suleyman Schwartz of the CIP, Salim Mansur of the University of Western Ontario, and Khaleel Mohammed of the University of California, San Diego – Muslim specialists on Islam.
They point out that Gershman and others like him"have no expertise as interpreters of Islam. They are disoriented and lost in dealing with Muslims." In his ignorance, they say, Gershman has created at NED"a value system that rewards radical Muslims when they do not commit continuous acts of violence and especially if they embrace electoral processes." The problem with NED is that it defines modernity simply as voting; doing so obscures"the essential religious issues that serve as pretexts for Islamist radicalism."
As for Muravchik, like Gershman, he"overlooks many aspects of the ongoing transformation of the Islamic world, in which the confrontation with radicalism is the central contemporary issue."
Their joint statement terms CSID"a front for some of the most obnoxious members of the ‘Wahhabi lobby' in America," including Jamal Barzinji, Antony T. Sullivan, Louay Safi, and Abdulwahab Alkebsi. The seven note that"Some of us have participated in CSID events, but ceased to do so when it became apparent their goal was merely to camouflage radicals as moderates."
Regarding my criticism of CSID, the CIP group writes:
Pipes has drawn a line against the radicals and refuses to cross it. He understands, as we understand, that until the extremists give up their ideology, their vision for a"democratic" imposition of an Islamic state remains dangerous. In some respects it is even more dangerous than the violent jihad of Al-Qaida, because it lulls Westerners into a state of incaution. NED, in funding CSID, has shown that it cannot draw such a line.
CIP reiterates my key point:
Others may be excited to hear that the Muslim Brotherhood has sworn off violence in Egypt, if not in Israel. We are not satisfied with such promises. We do not trust them. Nor is Daniel Pipes satisfied with such promises; nor does he trust them. All other matters aside, that alone counts.
Their conclusion rings out:
Daniel Pipes is not a Muslim. But like us, he has looked in the faces of the Islamist radicals and has seen the danger they represent for the world. He has also recognized the authentic moderates, and hopes to make them primary in the deliberations of Westerners. On this, we support him in his criticism of the NED and CSID.
Carl Gershman, Joshua Muravchik, and I are allies in the larger struggle, but we differ on the question of lawful Islamism. In contrast, Kemal Silay, Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, Salim Mansur, Khaleel Mohammed, et al. – specialists on Islam as well as allies – concur with me.
When it comes to Islamism, should not Gershman and Muravchik be a tad less confident of their judgment and assertive in their verdicts? Perhaps they – and the other conservatives soft on Islamists – should slow down and learn from those who have studied, taught, and written about this subject over the decades?
Posted on: Friday, July 6, 2007 - 13:17
We have lately been getting so many history lessons from the White House that I have come to think of Bush, Cheney, Rice, and the late, unlamented Rumsfeld as the History Boys. They are people groping for rationales for their failed policy, and as the criticism becomes ever harsher, they cling to the idea that a true judgment will come only in the future, and history will save them.
Ironically, it is the president himself, a man notoriously careless about, indeed almost indifferent to, the intellectual underpinnings of his actions, who has come to trumpet loudest his close scrutiny of the lessons of the past. Though, before, he tended to boast about making critical decisions based on instinct and religious faith, he now talks more and more about historical mandates. Usually he does this in the broadest—and vaguest—sense: History teaches us … We know from history … History shows us. In one of his speaking appearances in March 2006, in Cleveland, I counted four references to history, and what it meant for today, as if he had had dinner the night before with Arnold Toynbee, or at the very least Barbara Tuchman, and then gone home for a few hours to read his Gibbon.
I am deeply suspicious of these presidential seminars. We have, after all, come to know George Bush fairly well by now, and many of us have come to feel—not only because of what he says, but also because of the sheer cockiness in how he says it—that he has a tendency to decide what he wants to do first, and only then leaves it to his staff to look for intellectual justification. Many of us have always sensed a deep and visceral anti-intellectual streak in the president, that there was a great chip on his shoulder, and that the burden of the fancy schools he attended—Andover and Yale—and even simply being a member of the Bush family were too much for him. It was as if he needed not only to escape but also to put down those of his peers who had been more successful. From that mind-set, I think, came his rather unattractive habit of bestowing nicknames, most of them unflattering, on the people around him, to remind them that he was in charge, that despite their greater achievements they still worked for him....
Posted on: Thursday, July 5, 2007 - 20:21