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: Chicago Tribune (8-5-07)
Mao Tse-tung used to celebrate "contradictions" as the driving force behind history. So what would he make of the contradictory pulls shaping Chinese politics today?
Consider two recent news stories: One on the closing of a Starbucks at the edge of the Forbidden City in Beijing, the other an open letter criticizing Communist Party leader Hu Jintao.
Each, in a curious way, can be linked to Mao. And each says something unexpected about China.
The shuttered Starbucks is a stone's throw from the spot where Mao stood in 1949 to announce the founding of the People's Republic. A giant, iconic portrait of Mao now hangs there, at the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
But the closing of the Starbucks had nothing to do with reverence for Mao. It came after months of Internet campaigning and protest that the coffee chain's presence "undermined the solemnity of the former imperial palace and trampled over Chinese culture," according to China Daily, an official English-language newspaper.
As for the letter to Hu Jintao, the link to Mao is cleaner: It was posted on the Web site Maoflag.net.
Signed by 17 retired government officials, the letter chastised the current leadership for legalizing private ownership of property and allowing entrepreneurs into the Communist Party.
It pointed to a recent scandal over a brick factory's use of enslaved labor as evidence of capitalism's malevolence: "We urge the party to take the evil brick kiln incidents ... as the straw that broke the camel's back and as a warning to mobilize people and correct the party's mistaken path."
What contradictions do these stories reveal?
Americans might be tempted to stress the role of the Internet. Commentators ranging from former President Bill Clinton to George Will say the Web is pushing China inevitably toward liberal capitalism, but here it is being used in the opposite way: To pressure a Seattle multinational corporation and to encourage the party that Mao once led to go back to its anti-capitalist roots.
Mao might have focused on a different contradiction.
While both protests seem to be attacks on global capitalism, the Starbucks flap had nothing to do with upholding the ideals of communism or the sanctity of the party.
The man who spearheaded the Internet drive against the Starbucks shop, a state television newscaster named Rui Chenggang, favors the opening of China's economy and its integration into the globalized economy. He and his supporters don't object to Starbucks' presence in China. They just don't want it in the Forbidden City, which they consider a sacred national icon.
But Mao loathed the Forbidden City, seeing the imperial palace as a despicable symbol of feudal oppression. In that iconic portrait hanging by the Gate of Heavenly Peace, Mao faces not toward the palace, which is now a museum, but away from it, toward Tiananmen Square.
If Beijing had to have a Starbucks, imagining the chairman's view, it might be best that the representative of decadent capitalist consumerism be in the very spot where the shuttered coffee shop was, at a palace that reminds the Chinese people of the decadent lifestyles of vile imperial rulers.
At the very least, the Maoflag.net posting and the Starbucks protest show that today's China is home to multiple and confusing visions of national pride. Which traditions are worthy of protection inspires a complex debate in today's China.
Perhaps the authors of the open letter on Maoflag.net should look to Shanghai, where a Starbucks has taken root in the posh entertainment and shopping complex called Xintiandi, or New Heaven and Earth.
That Starbucks is right around the corner from the place where, according to the official history of Chinese communism, Mao and his comrades held their party's first major congress in 1921.
The first party congress site is home to various hagiographic displays. One boasts a wax figure of a Christ-like Mao speaking to a group of fellow early communists who are arrayed around a table much like the apostles in Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper."
Surely the chairman would view that site as a much more proper symbol of the nation than the Forbidden City -- and the nearby Starbucks a greater affront.
As Jonathan Spence points out in his admirable biography, "Mao Zedong," the chairman liked the notion of certain developments turning the world upside down, so that the high became low and the sacred profane. But to have the New China he founded become a place where an old imperial palace is seen as holier than a site linked to his revolutionary activities -- well, that would doubtless seem to Mao one turn of the wheel too many.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - 21:06
SOURCE: Truthout (8-6-07)
For most of this decade, progressive economists have said the economy was growing fine, but typical workers were not benefiting because income was being redistributed upward. We can no longer say this.
The Commerce Department revised its growth data last month. It now shows the economy grew much slower over the last three years than we had previously thought. In particular, the new data implies productivity has been growing at just a 1.5 percent annual rate over the last three years. This is the same rate the economy experienced during the long productivity slowdown from 1973 to 1995. It is a full percentage point below the 2.5 percent growth rate from 1995 to 2004.
While productivity may be an alien concept to most people, it is the most important determinant of our standard of living. Productivity measures the value of the goods and services an average worker produces in an hour of work. The standard of living for different segments of the population (e.g., school teachers and hedge fund managers) will depend on how output is distributed, but if the economy is not very productive, then we don't have very much to distribute.
For example, the population of Chad, which has very low levels of productivity, would be very poor even if everything produced were distributed equally among the population. Chad's per capita income is just $1,500 a year. A family of four living on $6,000 would have a very tough time getting by under any circumstances.
Of course, the gains from productivity growth don't have to be taken in the form of more things. They can also be taken in the form of more leisure time. Workers in Europe enjoy an average of more than five weeks a year of vacation, and often put in 35-hour workweeks when they are not vacationing. Europeans can have a great deal of leisure time and still have a comfortable standard of living because they have a high level of productivity during the hours they do work.
Productivity increases could be a way to allow us to have more leisure without large reductions in our income. Higher productivity growth also makes it easier to deal with global warming and other environmental problems.
The fact productivity growth has now slowed is a very bad sign. It means the economy is not doing well by any measure. The argument for conservative economic policy was always that by giving people more incentive to work and invest, productivity would grow more rapidly, and that this would benefit everyone in the long run. It turns out, even with the massive upward redistribution of income over the last quarter century, productivity is now growing at its slowest pace in the post-war period. In short, we are not seeing much growth and the growth we are seeing is going to those at the top.
It is still too early to know whether this recent productivity slowdown will persist. No one saw the 1973 slowdown coming, or the 1995 uptick in productivity growth. Even after the fact, we don't have a good explanation for either event. However, we should be prepared for the possibility the slowdown will continue. This means policies have to be focused not just on improving the situation of those at the middle and bottom, but also at increased productivity growth.
In many cases, this may amount to the same thing. For example, in addition to failing to provide insurance to 45 million people, our health care system is also incredibly inefficient. If we had a universal Medicare system, it would both provide security for the entire population and make the health care system far more efficient by eliminating the waste associated with the private insurance industry. This can be a model for a change that both serves important public goals and increases productivity.
We can also try to catch up with the rest of the world and start giving our workers paid vacations. I don't know if this will increase productivity, but there are few people who would not appreciate a few weeks each year of vacation. If we ended the protections that benefit workers at the high end, workers at the middle and bottom would be able to enjoy their vacations with no cut in pay. This is also, by far, the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that anyone currently has on the table. (I'll elaborate in another column.)
There should be no mistake; the slowdown in productivity growth is definitely bad news. We should all want higher, more rapid productivity growth. But this does mean the policy of redistributing income upwards has been a clear failure, insofar as its goal was to increase economic growth. This means we should not be shy about looking to take economic policy in new directions.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - 19:40
SOURCE: LAT (8-6-07)
News reports on July 28 state that a Russian submarine is planting a titanium
capsule on the Arctic floor to claim the land and assets for Russia. The
capsule contains the Russian flag. A Kremlin spokesman says that they are
aware of the territorial implications of these claims but that this is nothing
more than a geologic extension of Russian territory that is allowed under the
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
News reports on July 28 state that a Russian submarine is planting a titanium capsule on the Arctic floor to claim the land and assets for Russia. The capsule contains the Russian flag. A Kremlin spokesman says that they are aware of the territorial implications of these claims but that this is nothing more than a geologic extension of Russian territory that is allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
This procedure, however, and the thinking behind this audacious sounding claim mirrors exactly the development and use of the Doctrine of Discovery by European and American explorers in the 15th-20th centuries to claim the lands of indigenous people all over the globe. Russia's actions demonstrate that the 600 year old legal Doctrine is still very much alive today as is also proven by the fact that the Doctrine is still being used by the American, New Zealand, Australian and Canadian governments against their indigenous peoples.
Canada, Denmark and Russia have also recently engaged in other actions using the Doctrine to claim assets in the Arctic area that are becoming available due to global warming and climate change. The shrinking Arctic icecaps, for example, are opening new sea lanes and making barren islands suddenly valuable. In fact, the international community is now experiencing a new race of exploration, conquest and acquisition for this"new world" - these newly available lands and sea routes. Conflicts have already arisen over these shipping lanes, islands, fish stocks, minerals and oil that are now becoming accessible and commercially exploitable.
For example, Canada and Denmark have sent diplomats and warships to plant their flags on tiny Hans Island near northwestern Greenland. In 1984, Denmark's Minister for Greenland Affairs landed on the island in a helicopter and raised the Danish flag, buried a bottle of brandy, and left a note that said"Welcome to the Danish Island." Canada was not amused by this assertion of Danish sovereignty. In 2005, the Canadian Defense Minister and troops landed on the island and hoisted the Canadian flag. Denmark lodged an official protest. In addition, Canada, Russia and Denmark are claiming waters all the way to the North Pole. Moreover, the United States and Canada are in a dispute over Canadian claims that the emerging Northwest Passage sea route is in its territory. The U.S. insists the waters are neutral and open to all but Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper states that he will place military icebreakers in the area"to assert our sovereignty and take action to protect our territorial integrity."
This kind of conduct is nothing new. It reflects exactly actions undertaken by European and American governments in the 15th-20th centuries in their race to claim the lands and the assets of the New World of the Americas, Africa, and other areas. That race was conducted under the international legal principle known today as the Doctrine of Discovery. Under various papal edicts, Spain and Portugal established claims to the lands of indigenous, non-Christian, non-European peoples by merely"discovering" the lands. Spanish, Portuguese, and later English and French explorers engaged in numerous types of Discovery rituals upon encountering new lands. The hoisting of their flag and the cross and leaving evidence that they had been there was part of the Discovery process.
In 1776-78, for example, Captain James Cook established English claims to British Columbia by leaving English coins in buried bottles. In 1774, he erased Spanish marks of ownership and possession in Tahiti and replaced them with English ones. Upon learning of this, Spain dispatched explorers to restore its marks of possession. Furthermore, in 1742-49, French military expeditions buried lead plates throughout the Ohio country to reassert the French claims of discovery dating from 1643. The plates stated that they were"a renewal of possession."
Americans also engaged in Discovery rituals. The Lewis & Clark expedition marked and branded trees and rocks in the Pacific Northwest to prove the American presence and claim to the region. They also left a memorial or memo at Fort Clatsop in March 1806 and gave copies to Indians to deliver to any whites that might arrive to prove the U.S. claim to the Northwest. The memorial stated that its"object" was that"through the medium of some civilized person . . . it may be made known to the informed world" that Lewis & Clark had crossed the continent and lived at the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Ocean. This was nothing less than a claim of discovery and possession of the region and a claim of American ownership under the Doctrine of Discovery.
A decade later, as the U.S. and England argued over the Pacific Northwest and the possession of Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and President James Monroe took actions based directly upon the principles of Discovery. In 1817, as they doubted that England would return Fort Astoria, Adams and Monroe ordered American officials to sail to Astoria"to assert the [American] claim of territorial possession at the mouth of Columbia River." Adams wrote that this mission was designed"to resume possession of that post, and in some appropriate manner to reassert the title of the United States."
Accordingly, Monroe and Adams ordered the American diplomat John Prevost and Captain James Biddle to sail to the Columbia and to"assert there the claim of sovereignty . . . by some symbolical or other appropriate mode of setting up a claim of national authority and dominion." The President and Secretary of State were ordering them to engage in Discovery rituals.
In August 1818, Captain Biddle arrived at the north side of the mouth of the Columbia River and in the presence of Chinook Indians he raised the U.S. flag, turned the soil with a shovel, and nailed up a lead plate that read:"Taken possession of, in the name and on the behalf of the United States by Captain James Biddle." He repeated this Discovery ritual on the south shore of the Columbia and hung up a wooden sign declaring American ownership of the region. John Prevost arrived at Fort Astoria in September 1818 and with the cooperation of the English he proceeded to use Discovery rituals to reclaim the fort for the United States. First, the English flag was lowered and the U.S. flag was hoisted in its place. Then the English troops filed a salute, the American flag was taken down and the Union Jack was returned to its place, and the American diplomat sailed away with his Discovery mission accomplished.
In 1823, the United States Supreme Court in Johnson v. M'Intosh declared that the Doctrine of Discovery had been the law on the North American continent since the beginning of European exploration and controlled how Europeans and Americans could claim and acquire land from the Indian nations. Discovery is still the law in the United States today and in the international arena as is well demonstrated by the actions of modern day countries attempting to claim new lands and assets in the Arctic. We are at the start of a new race to establish claims to this"New World" of the Arctic as the icecaps retreat, and it is evident that the rituals and principles of the Doctrine of Discovery provide the legal framework for claims to newly discovered lands and assets.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - 14:53
SOURCE: Tabsir (Blog) (8-4-07)
School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, King's College, University of Aberdeen.]
It was during the autumn of 2001 that I met Kafeel Ahmed, a fellow student at Queen’s University of Belfast. I was a PhD student in the anthropology department, researching Muslims in Northern Ireland and Europe; he was a student in aeronautical engineering. Kafeel, an Indian Muslim born in Bangalore, was a very active member of the Islamic Students Society of Northern Ireland (ISSNI). Unsurprisingly, he became one of my respondents and contacts. I still remember his jokes about me being Italian, and the references to the film The Padrino.
Kafeel, the Kafeel who I knew from 2001 to 2003, when I left Belfast, was a very welcoming person, very reserved and shy. Yet when you came to know him better, you discovered his intellectual side, his strong belief in Islam as justice and God’s love. He was a very calm, quite ‘westernised’ Muslim, ever ready to laugh at jokes. Interested in sport, particularly cricket, we spent time speaking at my preferred coffee shop in Botanic Avenue about Muslim identity, the experience of living in Northern Ireland as a Muslim, the tension between India and Pakistan, and the Palestinian Intifada. Kafeel had always expressed moderate ideas, so much that, if you are tempted to look for him within my book Jihad Beyond Islam, maybe thinking of one of the pseudonyms, I can tell you that you would be seeking a phantom. He is not there. He never discussed jihad, he never referred to the struggle of Muslims in Palestine or Chechnya, as such. He was more focused on injustices that Muslims were suffering, specifically on the emotional side of the sufferance of Muslims. Yet he was very concerned about what was happening to Muslims in one of the most forgotten conflicts, the Chechen conflict.
After I left Belfast, I lost total contact with him, like many of my respondents. I never met him again or had occasion to speak to him. Little by little, he faded from my memory, and became, as often happens in fieldwork, part of a past research project, one among the many voices. As usual, during anthropological research, some people become friends, others just remain respondents, people with whom you have shared ideas and opinions.
I never heard of him again. This was until an amateurish car-bomb hit a Glasgow airport terminal and burst into flames. No innocent person was injured in the terrorist attack. Yet everyone has seen the dramatic pictures of one of the perpetrators, covered in flames, still struggling with the policemen while his body was suffering massive burns. Today, that human torch, who attempted to inflict the same pain he has suffered for days on unknown innocent travellers, died in Glasgow. That burned and unrecognisable body was Kafeel Ahmed. Although I still cannot believe that Ahmed the aspirant murderer was the same Kafeel who used to smile and joke about me being Italian, and inevitably playfully humming The Padrino main theme, or serving a portion of chips while working in a kebab shop. I have to accept that something in his life happened which killed Kafeel’s soul much before the flames destroyed his body. But what kind of ‘larvae’ could have entered his heart to transform him, as in a horror movie, into a killer. Thge man I knew was so against injustice, innocent people being killed and had condemned the 9/11 tragedy openly? Perhaps the answer could be found in India, back in his town. Yet it could also be found in his shyness, and in his way of perceiving the world as full of injustice and sufferance. It could be found in the emotional way in which things affected him.
What can we learn from Kafeel Ahmed’s story? The first thing is that the environment in which people live means a lot in affecting their identity. Kafeel in Belfast lived in a very open Muslim community, which knew very well, being based in Northern Ireland, how peace among people was important. He saw the damaging effects of sectarianism, and religious as well as political hatred. He spent time with Muslims from different nations, with different beliefs (and sometimes deeply different views, since Shi’a Muslims shared the mosque and prayed there) and ideas. He saw difference and engaged with it. Kafeel in India, or Cambridge, where it seems that he moved in 2004, may have met a very different environment. The Muslim community in Belfast is a special one. There might be disagreements among the members, as in any other community, Muslim or not, but there is a great understanding of the values of negotiation and understanding in achieving peace and wellbeing for all. As Kafeel faded from my memory bit by bit, I think that the Northern Irish experience faded from Kafeel’s mind.
I am now receiving phone calls and messages from people who knew him, and had shared the pale blue carpet and walls of the mosque, a very quiet place when empty, but very alive when full of people. All of them are traumatised about Kafeel’s actions. I personally do not know what happened to Kafeel while in India, but I know that he was a very emotional person that lived with his heart open to any injury that life can inflict.
Yet this tells us something. We have to stop using stereotypes to discuss terrorism. It is not Islam as religion that brings young Muslims to commit such horrible actions. It is not just the radical websites and propaganda that can brainwash them (though they can be used to reinforce the process and personal convictions). It is not a particular philosophy or the attraction of a phantomatic Al-Qaeda, which is less and less credible every day.
No, it is a complex process, which often happens very quickly. When people like Kafeel experience a particular personal crisis of identity, and they start to identify with the suffering of others, with the feelings of those whom suffer injustice, and they want to bring justice, they can easily end up in a circle of panic and emotions, in which the end is seen as the only beginning. They want to escape a world that they cannot tolerate, but they also want paradise and not the damnation that Islam promises for suicide. I have explained in another post why they do not feel guilty about taking innocent lives.
Indeed, I am now thinking that on that day I could have been at the terminal, just entering it, while the car is approaching. I would not have recognised him, but if the plan was better organised and evil luck helped his action, I could have been killed, burned to death, by Kafeel, the same, but yet not the same smiling Kafeel who was once ready to give me an extra portion of chicken and rice during Ramadan in the Belfast mosque.
I have only one hope, now that Kafeel is dead. I hope that in the days that death waited to call him, he had reflected on his actions, and reflected that innocent people, instead of him, may have been there in that hospital dying. I hope that he understood, and felt in his heart, that he betrayed the religion he worshiped, the Muslim community, his family and friends, that he went against God’s teaching, and that he had insulted Islam, so that he deeply repented before surrendering his soul.
Posted on: Monday, August 6, 2007 - 21:17
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) (8-6-07)
The future of the state of Israel is once again a topic of heated public debate. For good reasons: The possibility of a nuclear threat from a hostile Iran is one; deadlock in the peace process in the region, and the chance of a gradual shift into chronic civil war between Israelis and Palestinians, is another. But it has become common in some circles to ask not only whether Israel can survive, but also if it has a right to.
Some commentators believe that "the Jewish Question" that has been buzzing around in the West for some three centuries — the question of how this ancient people, the Jews, should fit into a modern political order — should be reopened. National self-determination for Jews in a state of their own, such critics say, can no longer be part of a morally acceptable answer. That is a telling development. As in the past, Western attitudes to the "Jewish Question" are reliable indications of larger political moods and of the shifting meanings of political concepts.
The first thing one senses about the framing of the topic today is hardly a surprise: the growing unease with nation-states. The horrors of Fascism and Nazism made us all wary of extreme nationalism. Until the 1970s, national-liberation movements in rapidly collapsing Western colonies still reminded the democratic world that nationalism is not always the enemy of liberty but sometimes its ally. But the decline of colonialism and the deterioration of liberation movements into third-world tyrannies, combined with the rise of the European Union and globalization, changed that. The postcolonial era gave rise to a hope of transcending nationalism, and has relegated nationalist sentiments in the West's political imagination to the parties of reaction. Current debates about Israel's future clearly reflect that trend. But they also indicate a less-obvious feature of the antinational mood: a growing rift between liberalism and democracy.
A recent wave of books on the future of Israel offers a glimpse into that tendency. The four discussed here (there are many others) are polemical rather than scholarly, and they are vastly different from one another. One is an autobiographical account, by Daniel Cil Brecher, a German Jew who immigrated to Israel and then back to Europe; another is the work of a French Jewish journalist, Sylvain Cypel, who spent more than a decade in Israel; the third is a fiery anti-Zionist exhortation, by Joel Kovel, a Jewish psychiatrist and now a professor of social studies at Bard College, who challenged Ralph Nader for the presidential nomination of the Green Party; and the last is an analysis of the challenges facing Israel, by Mitchell G. Bard, a pro-Israeli, Jewish-American activist. It is hard to imagine these four authors getting along around one dinner table. But they do share something: All are, to various degrees, uneasy with the idea of national identity....
If the foreseeable future holds stability for Israel's democracy, democratization for Palestine, and peace for both, that future will be tied to national self-determination. It will have to rely on stable nation-states. Transcending nationalism would be, in this case, promoting civil war.
Looking beyond the case of Israel and Zionism, one wonders if the rising anti-national mood does not indicate a more general flow in contemporary liberal logic: Liberalism and democracy may be drifting apart.
Reducing democracy to liberalism's protection of individual rights, and positing them in opposition to nationalism, may indeed be a step on the way to transcending nation-states. But transcending nation-states may prove to transcend democracy along with them. Some very important individual human rights may be increasingly guarded, but citizens may lose control over their institutions and political fates....
Posted on: Monday, August 6, 2007 - 17:07
SOURCE: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org (8-6-07)
The NY Times op ed, entitled"A War We Just Might Win," by Brookings Institute Fellows Michael O’Hanlan and Kenneth Pollack is attracting a lot of attention in the major media, from the President and his hench-people, and even from the anti-war movement. That is what makes this an important document—the attention. In fact, it is just another puff piece that repeats (as though it were authentic journalism) the official American government line. These guys went to the Green Zone and other secure locations and talked only to occupation officials (“American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel”). We should not take their testimony as primary data, but as a presentation of the American military’s version of the current status of the war. Knowing that, we should not be surprised that they say “we just might win,” since the U.S. military has been saying that (or even more positive things) right along.
But what is the reality there? And are they (meaning the U.S. military leadership) right that we just might “win.” Not at all.
In fact, I think that this op-ed is actually a “benchmark” that the surge is officially over; that we have entered the next stage of the war—the (almost certain to be a failing) attempt to co-opt the Sunni insurgency.
Keep in mind that O’Hanlon and Pollack rest most of their argument on the prospect that the “alliance” between the U.S. military and the Sunni insurgents has been and will be successful in rolling back Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other jihadists. (They refer to as picking “the right adversary.”)
But let’s be clear on one point: this is a reversal of the surge strategy. The surge was supposed to clean out both the Sunni militias and the jihadists (aka “al Qaeda”) from the Sunni neighborhoods and towns; and purge the Mahdi’s army from the Shia neighborhoods and towns. (Petraeus and the gang abandoned offensive against the Mahdis several months ago; instead of trying to destroy the Mahdi’s army, they are now trying to select Shia areas of the country where the Mahdis have not consolidated power and prevent them from doing so. In the meantime, as I say in my recent Tom Dispatch commentary, the Mahdis have expanded their domain in Baghdad and strengthened their ties with the Shia community. They are now in a position to win any (actual) election they choose to contest in any part of the Shia areas, except perhaps Basra.)
After several months of failing to uproot the Sunni militias (i.e., insurgents) from various neighborhoods and towns around Baghdad (but succeeding in annihilating many communities), Petraeus has also abandoned this aspect of the surge—the most crucial element—except in selected places (e.g., Baquba, which is quiet now, after the destruction of several neighborhoods in July). In its place, he has negotiated an “alliance” with these very same militias that he has been fighting during the surge and for all these years since the end of “major combat opertaions.” This is the strategy that O’Hanlon and Pollack find so promising. (See the Tom Dispatch commentary for a more complete discussion of the nature of the “alliance.”)
The immediate consequence of this alliance is that the nationalist insurgents will fight against the jihadists (generally referred to in the U.S. press as “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” but actually consisting of a number of small groups that target Shia civilians with carbombs and other terrorist weapons). This fight has been brewing for quite some time. Over the last few years, the jihadists have increasingly alienated the Sunni communities that host them because the nationalists do not support attacks on Iraqi civilians (even Shia), and they bitterly resent the attempts by the jihadists to impose their particular fundamentalist ideas on their hosts. This friction has led jihadists to use their terrorist tactics within some of these communities (and therefore antagonizing large majorities of the populations) and/or to less spectacular violent confrontations.
In the past, the local insurgents could not effectively expel the jihadists because of the Americans, who not only kept them busy with constant invasions into their cities or towns or communities, but also because any effort to fight a sustained battle would expose them to easy attack from the Americans. So this truce with the Americans is an opportunity for them to put their unhindered energy into expelling the jihadists. In most places they will probably be successful.
So this “alliance” is actually a double victory for the insurgency. Not only are they finally able to expel the jihadists, but Petraeus is also giving up his attempt to dislodge them. That is, he has agreed to leave the indigenous militias in charge. Violence will be (and has been in Anbar province) drastically reduced, since the major violence occurred when the Americans sought to wrest control from the local insurgents (now Petraeus’ allies), mainly from the application of overwhelming U.S. firepower. (It has been these battles that account for most of the death and destruction in Iraq (much, much more than the carbombs and the death squads put together)).
When O’Hanlon and Pollack say in their NY Times commentary that the surge might work, they mean that this “alliance” has been and will continue to reduce the jihadist presence in these communities. At the same time, it has consolidated the power of the militias, which were, only a few months ago, the chief target of the Bush surge.
So this alliance is not “working” to advance Bush Administration strategy for pacifying the country. Instead it is a victory for the nationalist insurgents, who will finally obtain uncontested sovereignty over their local communities.
Petraeus hopes that after a while, he can turn this into an American victory by buying off the leadership of the local guerrillas and getting them to accept, first American, and then Iraqi government control of the communities. They will probably refuse (they detest the Iraqi government even more than they detest the Americans). So, in most areas, the fighting will be renewed very shortly.
But in those areas where the US can buy-out or co-opt the leadership, the U.S. (and its client Iraqi government) will seek to integrate the community into their vision of the new Iraq, including the shuttering of government enterprises and services (and/or the services provided by local clerical leaders in place of the government), the abandonment of the food and fuel subsidies (many of which are now being implemented on the community level by local groups), and all the rest of the “old” Iraq that the U.S. has been trying to destroy since the occupation began. If the battle hasn’t already begun, it will begin then, because the local insurgents have been demanding all along that the government deliver the services to which they feel they are entitled, and these are exactly the services that the Americans have pledged to replace with “the market.”
Stated bluntly, if the U.S. wants to get control of these rebellious communities, for itself or for its client government in Baghdad, it will have to renew its war with the nationalist insurgency.
Therefore, the only way the “alliance” can lead to peace in the Sunni areas is if the U.S. abandons its effort to control them.
If the U.S. does abandon its effort to gain control of Sunni cities and communities, it be the beginning of a real American withdrawal from Iraq, because the Iraqi government is already moribund. It has no army or police force (that does not depend on the U.S.) and it has no administrative or governing presence outside the Green Zone. Without the U.S. fighting a war of conquest around the country, it could not extend its power beyond the building in which the parliament meets.
If the U.S. leaves these little city-states alone, then each local municipality will be controlled by its local militia. By and large this would leave the Sadrists (who are irretrievably anti-American) in control of the Shia areas, and the Sunni nationalist insurgents (who are irretrievably anti-American) in control of the Sunni areas. Eventually, they would erect a new government that reflected their common interests. (Their common interests include: that the Americans have to be expelled; that the American effort to dismantle the Iraqi welfare state and erect a neoliberal state is exactly and completely wrong; and that the government should not be an ally of the US.) Even before the government consolidated itself, the American presence would become untenable, as the various insurgent groupings would certainly lob grenades into military bases and mine all the highways that brought supplies to American troops. Without an offensive strategy, the American troops would certainly be “sitting ducks.”
So this episode (like many before it) can only lead to peace if it leads to U.S. withdrawal. My guess is that Bush and the gang (including the leading Democrats) will not opt for withdrawal.
We can therefore expect a return to ferocious attacks on Sunni communities in the near future and perhaps equally ferocious attacks on Mahdi army strongholds (e.g., Sadr City) in the not too distant future.
Posted on: Monday, August 6, 2007 - 14:00
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (8-3-07)
If future historians ask which developing economy was the bigger counterfeiter of consumer products - China or the United States - it won't be easy to decide. Product adulteration is neither a foreign monopoly nor a new issue.
Current scandals might lead people to believe that food and product safety regulations were the natural evolution of business and good government. But it took consumer outrage to bring needed changes in America in the early 20th century.
A century ago, US consumers feared domestic products. They distrusted everything from candy to meat to medicine. Newspapers broke stories daily revealing that even reputable department stores sold flatware with less silver content than advertised and walnut furniture made of gum wood. Buyers had to be wary or they would be cheated or, worse, poisoned.
Product adulteration was already a venerable tradition in America by then. During the Civil War, Union soldiers' shoddy uniforms fell to pieces and their shoes disintegrated. They paraded barefoot, and recruits sometimes had to use flour sacks to hide their bare backsides.
Why was long underwear red? Because red dye wouldn't take well to cotton. So the bright red color was proof that long johns were genuine wool.
By the time Upton Sinclair published his expose of the meat industry, "The Jungle," in 1906, the adulteration of meat was old news. During the 1898 Spanish-American war, consumers became sensitized to the issue of "embalmed beef" when a general went public about the impurity of Army meat rations. The defense that the beef was no different from that sold to the public only increased the alarm. Although the charges were never proved that spoiled meats were doctored to make them appear fresh, a skeptical public demanded more government watchdogs....
Posted on: Friday, August 3, 2007 - 14:33
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (7-31-07)
Al Qaeda is stronger now than at any time since 9/11, say some; it is less strong than it could have become, answers the administration. Congressional Democrats say that instead of catching Bin Laden, Bush took his eyes off the ball and got mired in an irrelevant war in Iraq; the White House replies that if we don’t fight the jihadis in Iraq, we will have to do so in Manhattan.
And so American politics argue in what seems to remain a cognitive vacuum, confusing the public and producing inane statements from our elected leaders. Had Al Qaeda consciously planned how to thoroughly confuse the infidels, this would have been the ideal result. It is all the persistent and inevitable outcome of executive delusions (jihadis are “a small minority”) and Democratic flippancy (“the war on terrorism is a bumper sticker,” Sen. John Edwards has charged) against a background of popular ignorance and an oversupply of lawyers and human rights activists. The result is that six years after 9/11 we (and the Europeans are generally worse) are still fighting a war in a conceptual fog—and not getting any close to winning it.
In reality, the nature and goals of the enemy, albeit complex, should be quite clear, as should the ways to defeat it. Until we understand a few key realities, we will continue to tread water and remain on the defensive.
What is Al Qaeda?
Al Qaeda (“the base”) is at the same time an Islamist totalitarian terrorist organization and the particularly violent part of a global Muslim revivalist movement. As the name implies, it was established as a vanguard, elite organization, not dissimilar, conceptually, from the previous Marxist Leninist self-selected vanguards of the proletariat (Shining Path in Peru, Red Brigades in Italy, etc.), seeking to reestablish Islam’s historic (and mostly mythical) supremacy and purity throughout the world via the unification of the umma, the Islamic community, under a single political and religious leadership and state—the Caliphate. The means to accomplish this is jihad, strictly defined by the followers of this ideology as warfare.
Al Qaeda was not originally intended to exist as a territorial base, but the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan unexpectedly offered that opportunity. Al Qaeda took advantage of that opportunity, but controlling those lands was neither intended nor absolutely necessary. The same applies now to the wild areas of Pakistan that Al Qaeda uses for refuge and training—they are important but not vital. That fact is still misunderstood and explains the continuous surprise of some that after the Taliban’s fall in 2001 and the heavy losses it incurred at the time, Al Qaeda did not die.
While it incessantly claims to be defending an Islamic umma under attack from all sides—the most theologically convenient way to justify jihad—Al Qaeda’s ideology and strategy are aggressive and revisionist. Al Qaeda aggressively attacks the home base of the “Crusaders” (see 9/11 or the attacks in the UK) and revisionistically seeks to reintegrate into the umma the long-lost territories of Islam, such as Al-Andalus (the Iberian Peninsula).
Al Qaeda’s ideology is rigorously anti-nationalist. That allows it to attract alienated and poorly integrated elements among Muslim communities in the West and explains in part the attraction it has among Muslim elites everywhere. As Iraq today suggests, however, it could also be a serious threat to the organization, since it also clashes with the interests of established postcolonial elites and regionalist or separatist groups (Kurds, Berbers, many Palestinians).
The enemies, and thus the targets, of jihad are a) all governing regimes in the Muslim world (the “apostates”); b) their outside manipulators, controllers and supporters (the “Crusaders” led by the United States but including all Western states and Israel; c) all other infidels “oppressing” Muslims (India for Kashmir, Russia for Chechnya, China for Turkestan); and d) for the most radical jihadis (the takfiris), all Muslims who do not actively support the cause and, especially, the Shias. While these are all enemies, the priority given to each depends on circumstances, capabilities and opportunity.
Al Qaeda in Iraq
This latter fact is another cause of confusion in the West, as demonstrated by the case of Iraq. While an Al Qaeda associate group did have a small presence in Iraqi Kurdistan prior to the spring of 2003, at least on a large scale Iraq is a target of opportunity. Al Qaeda’s growth (or present decline) there depends on the chaos and confusion that followed the 2003 invasion and the vacuum created by the fall of Saddam. The scale of and media attention on its presence in Iraq aside, Al Qaeda’s role there follows the same pattern as in Afghanistan and Chechnya in the late 1990s, or Somalia more recently - it tries to implant itself wherever a political vacuum or persistent instability develop in the midst of military conflict. Lebanon, Gaza, the Sahel, southern Thailand and Philippines are, or should be expected to become, such areas of implantation. In all such cases Al Qaeda interferes in an evolving conflict, exacerbates it, and tries to channel the outcome towards its own goals and translate local motivations into a coherent ideological and global cause.
It is precisely this Al Qaeda piggybacking on existing conflicts that makes the often heard distinctions between our fighting sectarian conflict or Al Qaeda in Iraq nonsensical. Al Zarkawi stirred up the Sunni-Shia conflict but did not invent it, and separating the two in practical terms is not a serious proposition, any more than trying to do so in Afghanistan between Taliban, Pakistani Islamist spillover, and Al Qaeda. For Al Qaeda such parasitic behavior serves to magnify its influence, and it will try to repeat it in every possible circumstance. This fits perfectly in the organization’s elite, vanguardist ideology. It sees itself and behaves as the spearhead of global jihad, not as its rank and file.
Ultimately, what seems to escape so many commentators, especially among politicians, is that Al Qaeda is two things simultaneously: (1) a violent Islamist organization with worldwide tentacles and a small core leadership of ideologues and strategists, and (2) part and parcel of a large and growing political-religious movement of Islamist revival. The organization tries to channel and recruits from the movement, and the latter looks to it for strategic direction and, often, tactical purpose.
Islamic Revivalist Movement
The Islamic revivalist movement that is by now dominant in most of the Muslim world from Malaysia to Morocco, including huge segments of the Muslim communities in the West, shares some of Al Qaeda’s basic ideological tenets: that Islam is in crisis and under attack, from inside and outside by alien, Western, mostly American influence and domination. Roughly put, Islamic countries and Muslims generically are victims of the West. The only solution is a return to the “original” principles of the faith, those that gave it world importance and power centuries ago, and to umma unity and solidarity.
These basic perceptions are shared by a majority of Muslims and Islamic organizations everywhere, from the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest, to individuals and smaller groups, whether in Muslim-majority countries or in the West. While refuge in religious revivalism as an answer to civilizational, political and military decline is far from unique to Islam, its contemporary manifestation is largely Islamic.
The interface between the general perception of Islam as victim of the West—a perception often encouraged by Western elites themselves—and Al Qaeda’s (or the Salafi) view that the victimization is largely due to naked aggression is thin. This is demonstrated by a seldom noticed aspect of the reaction of nonviolent, even anti-Al Qaeda groups and personalities, including those in the West, to Islamist terrorism. Those groups have steadfastly opposed not just the conflict in Iraq, where the arguments used in favor of the U.S.-led intervention could always be debated, but also the 2001 U.S.-led attack on the Taliban. Indeed, almost always in Islamic critiques of American and British policies, whether they come from London or Riyadh, the Muslim Brothers or others, Afghanistan is mentioned in the same breath as Baghdad. Since the removal of the Taliban and its Al Qaeda proteges was a clear-cut case of self-defense, Muslim condemnations of the Afghan operations could only mean that umma solidarity is more important to them than the Taliban’s crimes. Precisely the kind of attitude Al Qaeda needs to thrive.
Where most of the Islamic revivalist movement and its supporters depart from Al Qaeda’s ideology is the method whereby Islam is to be renewed. In that sense, Western leaders’ claim that “most Muslims” reject jihadism is correct, but far from encouraging. Despite attempts, such as those sponsored by Jordan’s Crown prince Hassan to have respected imams condemn jihadi terrorism (the method not the ideas leading to it), not only has no important Sunni scholar declared Bin Laden a non-Muslim (the most influential, Al-Qaradawi, would rather let Allah decide), but many large Islamist organizations, such as Hizb ut Tahrir (an international Party of Liberation) or the Tablighis (Muslims missionary movement), could and do claim to be seeking the Caliphate by nonviolent means while their recruits often “graduate” to jihadism—again, same beliefs, different methods, and all unhelpful. Thus, even when revivalist Islamists sincerely claim to oppose jihadism, they are voluntarily tying their own hands. Hence the eternal and annoying “we condemn terrorism… but” that so confuses Western politicians, media and publics.
Why, in this context, anyone in the West would expect such Muslims, as a whole or organized ones, to condemn anything other than acts of terrorism is a mystery.
Al Qaeda/Movement Relationships
The relationships between the different Al Qaeda parts of the movement are dynamic, both centripetal and centrifugal at the same time.
Centripetal. The centripetal expansion of the movement follows general, indeed universal terrorist patterns of recruitment and indoctrination. In the specific case of Al Qaeda this means two distinct, but related methods.
The first is centered on the thousands of trainees who graduated from the Afghan camps prior to the end of 2001, who returned to their countries of origin—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and countries in North Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Europe. Once back, they either established cells or founded or radicalized existing organizations (the cases of Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon). These people know and share Al Qaeda core’s ideology and many retain ties, including personal ones, with it and with each other.
A typical case is that of Saad Houssaini, a.k.a. Moustapha, one of Al Qaeda’s most prominent cadres in Spain and North Africa. Born in Meknes, Morocco, from a middle-class family (his father was a professor)—an almost universal pattern among Al Qaeda cadres, Houssaini obtained a government scholarship to study chemistry and physics at the University of Valencia in Spain. It was there that he was attracted, or recruited, to Islamism under the influence of Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, the London-based ideologue and leader of Al-Nahda (the Revival), Tunisia’s major Islamist organization. Already under Spanish surveillance, in 1997 he fled to Taliban’s Afghanistan where he underwent further training in explosives in Al Qaeda camps, met other Moroccans, Bin Laden, Al Zarkawi and Al Zawahiri—the latter was a witness at his marriage. Following the U.S. attack in the fall of 2001, he returned to Morocco in April 2002, became a founder of GICM (Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, now part of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—AQIM) and trainer of its bomb makers. By September 2006 he was running a network of Moroccan volunteers to Iraq, until his arrest in March 2007. It was under the influence of one of the many “nonviolent” Islamist ideologues in Spain harbored by “Londonistan” that he was radicalized, shifted to jihadism, established personal ties to the Al Qaeda core, and later served as a force multiplier for the organization thousands of miles away.
Second, Al Qaeda’s central core (Bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, etc.) have sometimes accepted and given their “brand copyright” to organizations formed independently, such as the Algerian Salafi Group for Combat and Preaching, which last year became the AQIM, or autonomously, like Al Zarkawi’s group, now Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Like metastasized cancerous tumors, members and trainees of these formal Al Qaeda franchises, and some informal ones, like Southeast Asia’s Jemaah Islamiah, spread the ideology and expand the committed membership of the movement.
Centrifugal. There is, however, another dynamic within the movement, a centrifugal one. This consists of thousands of individual Muslims, many from the West and including a disproportionate number of converts to Islam, who have no personal ties to the Al Qaeda core or its main franchises, but feel attracted to its ideology and the methods it uses. With each spectacular jihadi attack or campaign, their numbers grow and they flock to the latest battlefield, as defined by Al Zawahiri in his Al Jazeera statements or by the innumerable jihadi Internet sites and their do-it-yourself jihad recipes.
There is not always a clearly defined line between the two dynamics—Al Qaeda recruiting for its cause and would be, self-recruited jihadis seeking a battle under its flag, or at least its cause.
The case of Shaker Al-Abssi, the leader of Fatah Al-Islam in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr Al-Bared, near Tripoli, Lebanon, lately under assault by that country’s army, is revealing. A Palestinian born in a camp near Jericho, his family migrated to Jordan after 1967, and he joined Yasser Arafat’s Fatah as a teenager. The organization sent him to study medicine, but he dropped out in favor of becoming a pilot, receiving training in Libya and later serving as an instructor in South Yemen. Later he participated in combat, on the winning Sandinista side in Nicaragua and on the losing Libyan side in that country’s conflict with Chad. Disappointed with Arafat’s corruption, he joined dissident, pro-Syrian factions and moved to Damascus, where he discovered religion and became a fervent believer. Afterward he became associated with Al Zarkawi’s group in Iraq and Jordan, and was sentenced to death in absentia for his role in murdering an American diplomat in Amman in 2002. Why? Because, says his brother Abdel Razak, a doctor, “The Palestinians have tried Marxism and Arab nationalism. All failed. I believe that for Shaker Islamism was the ultimate solution.” Now, claims his family, “we wait for him to become a martyr, hoping that his death will be the fuel that will set on fire the Palestinian cause.”
This, then, is a case of a rebel in search of a global ideological and strategic anchor to articulate and justify his fight for a particular cause. Associating with Al Qaeda satisfied both needs. The fact that Fatah Al-Islam is seen as both an Al Qaeda spin-off and a Syrian tool should not be confusing, not in light of the organization’s pattern of tactically piggybacking other causes.
Another good example is a new jihadist group, Ansar al Islam fi Sahara al Bilad al Mulazamin (The followers of Islam in Sahara, the land of those lifting the veil). Made up of Moroccans, Algerians, and Mauritanians, dissident elements of AQIM, it first surfaced in June 2007. Ansar refuses to obey direct orders from Al Qaeda’s core, all the while telling the latter that “You should know that we are in the same trench.” Indeed, it shares Al Qaeda’s well-known obsession with the “recovery” of Al-Andalus and hatred for all North African governments and France. This is a perfect example of what French analysts call the “Al Qaeda nebula”—a multiplying system of jihadi groups ideologically, but not always hierarchicaly, tied to the core group. We are once again confronted with the interface of movement and terrorist group.
German-Turkish author Necla Kelek was right when she pointed out that
“Politicians and religious scholars of all faiths are right in pointing out that there are many varieties of Islam, that Islamism and Islam should not be confused, that there is no line in the Koran that would justify murder. But the assertion that radical Islamic fundamentalism and Islam have nothing to do with each other is like asserting that there was no link between Stalinism and Communism.”
But just as Stalinism (and Pol Pot or Mao) was made possible by the mass of usually peaceful and naive believers in the Marxist Utopia, Al Qaeda and its nebula are permanently feeding up from the growing Islamic revivalist movement. To separate the two should be the goal of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, since they are all targets of jihadism. To deny the intimate link between the two is to deny reality. By making artificial distinctions between the two, one only postpones and avoids the real struggle.
For his career, see “Adil Boukhima, Portrait: Le Marocain d’Al Qaida,” TelQuel (Casablanca), May 17, 2007; Craig Whitlock, “In Morocco’s ’Chemist,’ A Glimpse of Al-Qaeda Bombmaker Typified Resilient Network, Washington Post, July 7, 2007; Driss Bennani, Abdellatif El Azizi, Ismail Bellaouali and Lahcen Aouad, “Enquete. Au-dela de la panique,” Tel Quel, July 5, 2007. [back]
Cecile Hennion, “De la colere au djihad, le chef du Fatah Al-Islam raconte par son frere,” Le Monde, June 5, 2007. [back]
Antonio Baquero and Jordi Corachán , “Actividad Extremista En El Desierto. Un nuevo grupo terrorista magrebí amenaza a España,” El Periodico (Barcelona), July 12, 2007. [back]
Quoted by Peter Schneider, “The New Berlin Wall,” New York Times, Dec. 4, 2005. [back]
Posted on: Thursday, August 2, 2007 - 14:34
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (8-1-07)
The hijab (a hair-covering) is ever-more popular in Detroit but has been banned from French public schools, discouraged by the International Football Association Board, and excluded from a court in the U.S. state of Georgia.
The jilbab (a garment that leaves only the face and hands exposed) was, in a case partly argued by Tony Blair's wife, first allowed, then forbidden in an English school.
Sultaana Freeman wanted her Florida drivers license to show her in a niqab, but an Orlando court said no.
The burqa (a total head and body covering) has been barred from classrooms in the UK, is illegal in public places in five Belgian towns, and the Dutch legislature has attempted to ban it altogether. Italy's"Charter of Values, Citizenship and Immigration" calls face coverings not acceptable. A courtroom in the United States has expelled a burqa'ed woman.
In brief, no general rules govern Islamic headwear in the West.
Some observers would ban hijabs from public places, but what legal grounds exist for doing so? Following my rule of thumb that Muslims enjoy the same rights and obligations as other citizens, but not special rights or obligations, a woman's freedom of expression grants her the option to wear a hijab.
In contrast, burqas and niqabs should be banned in all public spaces because they present a security risk. Anyone might lurk under those shrouds – female or male, Muslim or non-Muslim, decent citizen, fugitive, or criminal – with who knows what evil purposes.
Some examples (full details can be found at my weblog entry,"The Niqab and Burqa as Security Threats"): A spectacular act of would-be escape took place in early July, when Maulana Mohammad Abdul Aziz Ghazi, 46, tried to flee the Red Mosque complex in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he had helped lead an insurrection aiming to topple the government. He donned a black burqa and high heels but, unfortunately for him, his height, demeanor, and pot belly gave him away, leading to his arrest.
One of the July 2005 London bombers, Yassin Omar, 26, took on the burqa twice – once when fleeing the scene of the crime, then a day later, when fleeing London for the Midlands.
Other male burqa'ed fugitives include a Somali murder suspect in the United Kingdom, Palestinian killers fleeing Israeli justice, a member of the Taliban fleeing NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the murderer of a Sunni Islamist in Pakistan.
Burqas and niqabs also facilitate non-political criminal behavior. Unsurprisingly, favorite targets of robberies include jewelry stores (examples come from Canada, Great Britain, and India) and banks (Great Britain, Bosnia, and two 2007 attacks in Philadelphia). Curiously, in Kenya, street prostitutes have donned buibuis (which reveals slightly more of the face than a niqab), the better to blend into the night population and avoid the police.
Expressing the universal fear aroused by these garments, a recent Pakistani horror film, Zibahkhana (meaning"slaughterhouse" in Urdu) includes a sadistic cannibalistic killer figure dubbed"Burqa Man."
The practice of covering the face derives from tribal customs that build on Islamic law, not the law itself. For example, some tribeswomen in Saudi Arabia's Al-Kharj region put on the burqa at puberty, then never take it off – not for other women, not for their husbands, and not for their children. These family members typically see the woman's face only when viewing her corpse.
British research offers another reason to drop the burqa and niqab, finding that covered women and their breast-fed children lack sufficient amounts of vitamin D (which the skin absorbs from sunlight) and are at serious risk of rickets.
Nothing in Islam requires turning females into shapeless, faceless zombies; good sense calls for modesty itself to be modest. The time has come everywhere to ban from public places these hideous, unhealthy, socially divisive, terrorist-enabling, and criminal-friendly garments.
Posted on: Thursday, August 2, 2007 - 14:21
... Is there some new magic formula for success? Generals David Petraeus and James Amos argue that there is. They have laid out a counterinsurgency doctrine. (December 2006 Counterinsurgency Field Manual). But it is not new. When tried in Vietnam, it did not work. As Petraeus and Amos admit, the key element in insurgency is political: “each side aims to get the people to accept its governance or authority as legitimate.” Is this a feasible objective for foreigners? One searches the historical record in vain for an example of success. The foreign occupying force, by definition, is alien. Vietnam showed that even when the aliens (us) had a numerous and established local ally (the South Vietnamese government) that ally was more apt to be alienated by its association with the foreign military force than that force was to be “Vietnamized” by their native ally. In sum, the single absolutely necessary ingredient in counterinsurgency is extremely unlikely ever to be available to foreigners.
Can we not, therefore, “Iraqize” the war? We tried in Vietnam to “Vietnamize” that war by empowering the South Vietnam Government. But there, and elsewhere, natives always see such action as facades behind which foreigners stay – as the British did in Iraq. So the foreign-supported governments are not supported and have little power. We saw this in Vietnam and are already seeing it in Iraq and Afghanistan. No insurgency has been defeated in this way for at least the last century. In fact, trying this ploy in Vietnam, and gradually withdrawing over four years, cost an additional 21,000 American lives.
What about “the war on terror” beyond Iraq? Little public attention is paid to Afghanistan or – so far – to Somalia and the Philippines. Another campaign is in the advanced positioning stage against Iran. Others are being discussed for various parts of Africa and at least one for Latin America. The men who designed the current Bush administration foreign policy, the neoconservatives, have called the combination of these campaigns “the long war” and have predicted – indeed proposed – that they will last half a century. Going down this path will result in thousands of American dead and tens of thousands crippled, will severely strain American democratic institutions at home and further erode America’s reputation abroad. The monetary costs have been estimated at 15 trillion dollars. ...
Posted on: Thursday, August 2, 2007 - 14:09
SOURCE: George Wright Society website (8-1-07)
Almost a hundred years ago, just before the creation of the National Park Service, the British ambassador to the United States, James Bryce, spoke to the American Civic Association on the subject of national parks and their importance to society. With great simplicity, he acknowledged the obligation to “carefully guard what we have got.” “We are the trustees for the future,” he charged. “We are not here for ourselves alone. All these gifts were not given to us to be used by one generation, or with the thought of one generation only before our minds. We are the heirs of those who have gone before, and charged with the duty we owe to those who come after....”(1) As this country begins to think about the centennial of the National Park Service, it is appropriate that we have a serious conversation about parks and their value to our society, and the role we want parks and the National Park Service to play in the future. What is our obligation, as the trustees of these magnificent places, to our children and their children? The upcoming centennial provides an opportunity to think creatively about the kind of National Park Service we want for the next century and envision systemic changes for its betterment and ours....
The problems facing the National Park Service as it begins to think about its one-hundredth birthday help us imagine reasonable solutions. Indeed, the Park Service has been envisioning a healthier and more professional future for itself for some time through a number of thoughtful reports. One outgrowth of the Park Service’s celebration of its seventy-fifth anniversary was the production of National Parks for the 21st Century: The Vail Agenda (1992). Beginning with the statement that the Park Service was increasingly called upon to “play a broad role of preserving, protecting, and conveying to the public the meaning of those natural and cultural resources that contribute to the nation’s values, character, and experience,” the report created six categories of objectives that would lead to excellence throughout the agency. Those six categories and their objectives—resource stewardship and protection, access and enjoyment, education and interpretation, proactive leadership, science and research, and professionalism—remain relevant and largely unrealized today. A decade later the National Park Service Advisory Board, under the direction of John Hope Franklin, produced Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century (2001). This report created a fresh and clear vision of the role that a well-funded and professionally managed agency might play in American society....
Having suggested that increased funding is essential for the National Park Service to meet its obligations to Congress and the American public, one must ask what the appropriate level of funding for the agency ought to be. The president’s current budget proposal calls for a dedicated increase over the next decade of $1 billion in federal funding with another $2 billion of possible funding through a matching arrangement involving private/public money. (Because of the conditional nature of the second part of this proposal, it cannot contribute to any reliable future funding projections.) If approved by successive Congresses, this federal commitment would raise the overall budget by 2016 to around $3.5 billion. With the operating shortfall for park operations estimated at somewhere between $600 and $800 million and the deferred maintenance backlog estimated at somewhere between $5 and $8 billion, a total budget of $3.5 billion remains substantially inadequate. Estimating budgets, of course, is no small task. One way to conceptualize a well-funded National Park Service, however, is to consider that the 1966 budget for the agency at the end of Mission 66 was just over two and half times the budget in 1956. Applying the same growth factor to the 2006 budget results in a 2016 budget of $6 billion!(10)...
Posted on: Thursday, August 2, 2007 - 13:53
SOURCE: Counterpunch (8-1-07)
He may be the most beloved man in Iraq right now. Younis Mahmoud, the Iraqi soccer team captain who scored the winning goal in Iraq’s final win over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup, triggering mass jubilation in his tortured country, is a symbol of Iraqi nationhood.
Mahmoud, a Sunni Muslim on a majority Shiite team, scored on a pass last Sunday from Mulla Mohammed, the team’s only Kurdish player, for a 1-0 victory. I can only imagine how moving that was to the secular Baathists, the Sadrist nationalists, and others worried about civil war provoked by the invasion, or partition as openly suggested by some U.S. politicians like Joe Biden. All kinds of people are saying that Iraqis should learn from the soccer team and unite to achieve national goals. Praise for the team vents contempt for the corruption and lethargy of the compromised political class.
But does Mahmoud plan to head home and bask in his country’s affection? No, he’ll return to his home in Qatar where he plays for a local team.
“I don’t want the Iraqi people to be angry with me,” he told AP, noting that a bomb killed Iraqis celebrating the teams’ win over South Korea last week. The dead included a boy. “His mother said when her child was killed in front of her, she didn’t cry. She said, ‘I present my son as a sacrifice for the national team.’ Then we had to win.” Mahmoud is perhaps disturbed that anyone would attack a group of soccer fans celebrating a victory. But he also expresses fear towards those ruling Iraq.
One of the team captain’s closest friends has been arrested during the occupation, “and for one year neither me nor his family knew where he is.” Mahmoud has no confidence about his own security in Iraq, even as it unites in pride over his athletic achievement. He’s afraid he’ll be killed if he goes back, and makes it clear where he places the blame for the catastrophe.
“I want America to go out,” he declares. “Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn't invade Iraq and hopefully it will be over soon.”
I doubt his reputation in Iraq will suffer from the report of those remarks.
* * * *
Other Iraqi soccer-players’ quotes from the past
Olympic team midfielder Salih Sadir, responding in Athens in August 2004 to Bush’s claim that Iraq wouldn’t be able to participate in the games had he not “liberated” their country tells Sports Illustrated: “Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign. . . . He can find another way to advertise himself. . . .We don’t wish for the presence of the Americans in our country. We want them to go away.”
Star player Ahmed Manajid, Sunni from Fallujah, after declaring that if he weren’t playing soccer in Athens he would “for sure” be fighting alongside his people: “I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists? Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq. . . How will [Bush] meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women? He has committed so many crimes.”
Team coach Adnan Hamad stressed, “My problems are not with the American people. . . They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. . . The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the stadium and there are shootings on the road?”
Posted on: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 - 20:20
SOURCE: History on Trial (Blog) (7-24-07)
Whenever David Irving's libel case against me comes up someone inevitably asks: How could he sue you in the UK? I explain that my book was bought and published by Penguin UK and therefore he could drag me into a UK court.
Turns out that now the reach of UK libel laws has been greatly extended. It's a frightening development. In an earlier post I wrote about Rachel Ehrenfeld and how she was sued for libel by the Saudi Khalid bin Mafouz for writing that he had supported terrorism.
But here's what makes Ehrenfeld's story quite different from mine: her book was NOT published in the UK. Some people in the UK [I wonder if it was the Saudis or their lawyers???] bought a copy over the Internet.
Bin Mafouz pounced and Ehrenfeld was ordered to pay him damages. Now the American courts have come to her defense. [Scroll down at this link to find the New York Law Journal report on the Ehrenfeld case.]
Now the Saudis have silenced another book. This one is by J. Millard Burr, a former relief coordinator for Operation Lifeline Sudan, U.S. Agency for International Development, and Robert O. Collins, professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
They have written a number of books on Darfur and Sudan. Their most recent book, Alms for Jihad was published by Cambridge University Press. [Since their book was published in the UK, their case is closer to mine than Ehrenfeld's.]
The authors explore how, in the words of Michael Rubin, writing in the New York Sun:
The Saudi royal family played a pernicious role, founding and promoting charities to spread militant Sunni Islam, not only as an inoculation against resurgent Shi'ism from revolutionary Iran, but also to radicalize the Muslims in Europe and America.
The British lawyers for Khalid bin Mahfouz and his son Abdulrahman bin Mahfouz wrote Cambridge University Press saying they intended to sue the Press and the authors for defamation against their clients.
Cambridge University Press contacted the authors,and they provided detailed material in support of their claims made in Alms for Jihad.
Nonetheless, Cambridge University Press decided not to contest the argument and next week they will apologize in court.
As Rachel Ehrenfeld has just written to me in an email:"Get a copy of “Alms of Jihad” before it’s banned..."
[To satisfy the different leanings of readers of this blog I have provided links to Amazon, B&N, and Powells. I would have provided a link to Cambridge University Press but the book seems to have been buried deep within the Cambridge University Press website How's that for rewriting of history?]
Bin Mahfouz apparently has amassed a number of judgements by default, in other words the case was not tried on its merits. Everyone just caves, pays a fine, and gets out of Dodge as fast as they can.
Cambridge Press had pretty deep pockets but it too folded. If I were a reporter writing about this I would see what connections it has with the Saudis... That would be interesting to know.
And now I return to the main point: Why isn't this pattern of silencing by the Saudis of authors who are critical of them been the topic of an article in the mainstream press?
There are important legal precedences here, especially in the Ehrenfeld case, and a disturbing pattern of silencing of criticism by the Saudis.
Where are the free speech advocates now???
Posted on: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 - 19:58
SOURCE: http://www.victorhanson.com (7-30-07)
If Gen. David Petraeus can't stabilize Iraq by autumn — or if Americans decide to pull out of Iraq before he gets a fair chance — expect far worse chaos eventually to follow. We will see ethnic cleansing, mass murder of Iraqi reformers, Kurdistan threatened, emerging Turkish-, Iranian-, and Wahhabi-controlled rump states, and al Qaeda emboldened as American military prestige is ruined.
And then what new American Middle East policy would arise from the ashes of Iraq?
Past presidents and statesmen as diverse as Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Brent Scowcroft have weighed in with various remedies to our supposed blunders in the Middle East since September 11.
Apparently, Americans are supposed to forget these supposedly brilliant strategists' dismal records of dealing with Middle East terrorism, Islamic radicalism and murderous dictators. However, their three decades of bipartisan failure helped bring us to the present post-9/11 world.
So, before the United States abandons its present policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should at least recall the past record — which may be best summed up as the ying of Democratic appeasement and the yang of Republican cynicism.
Jimmy Carter now writes books damning our present policies. He should keep quiet. When the Iranians stormed the American embassy in Tehran and inaugurated this era of Islamic terrorism, his U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, announced that the murderous Ayatollah Khomeini was "a 20th century saint." Moralist Carter himself also tried to send hardcore leftist Ramsey Clark over to Tehran to beg the mullahs to release the hostages — in exchange for arms sales.
Next came Ronald Reagan, who, to put it kindly, was bewildered by Islamic extremism. He pulled out American troops from Lebanon after Hezbollah murdered 241 marines and thereby helped to energize a new terrorist movement that has spread havoc ever since.
The Lebanon retreat was followed by the disgrace of the Iran-Contra affair, when American agents sold the hostage-taking theocracy missiles and then used the receipts illegally to fund the Contras. Few now remember that Oliver North purportedly flew to Iran to seal the deal, bearing gifts for the ayatollah. No need to mention the intelligence the Reagan administration gave to Saddam Hussein during the savage Iran-Iraq war, or the way it continued Carter's policy of arming jihadists in Afghanistan.
There were just as many cynical realists in George Bush Sr.'s foreign policy team. In the debate leading up to the first Gulf War, Secretary of State James Baker justified attacking oil-rich Saddam Hussein for the sake of "jobs, jobs, jobs." And when our coalition partner, the even oil-richer House of Saud, objected to removing the murderous Hussein regime after its retreat from Kuwait, we complied — to the point of watching Saddam butcher thousands of Kurds and Shiites.
Bill Clinton also often weighs in with ideas on the Middle East. But during his two terms he passed up an offer from Sudan to hand over bin Laden. Shortly afterwards, the terrorist openly threatened us: "To kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim."
The Clinton administration also didn't do much about eight years of serial terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, American servicemen in Saudi Arabia, the East African embassies or the USS Cole. The $50 billion U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal did not reflect well on Clinton's multilateral model of dealing with Saddam Hussein....
Posted on: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 - 12:49