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: Counterpunch (9-21-07)
In recent times, no nationalist project has been so completely mythologized by its partisans as Zionism. In the construction of nearly all aspects of its history, the official Zionist narrative is often at variance--even complete variance--with the facts as they are known to the rest of the world: and, more recently, even as they have been documented by some Zionist historians.
Yet few Zionists would deny one central fact of their history: and that is the history of violence that has attended the insertion of Jewish colons into the Middle East. The history of the Zionist movement in Palestine--it can scarcely be disputed--has been attended by violence between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians; it has led to unending conflicts between Arab societies and Israel; and these conflicts continue to draw Western powers, especially the United States since 1945, into ever widening clashes with the Islamic world.
The history of this violence was contained in the Zionist idea itself. Violence is integral to Zionism: not incidental to it.
This violent history of Zionism had been foreseen by the early Zionists in their private musings; and certainly, the risks inherent in Zionism could scarcely remain hidden once its victims began to resist the colonization of their lands. However, the Zionists chose to shelve these concerns, convinced that the 'natives' lacked the will, organization and resources to derail their plans.
Thus it is that the Zionists, who engaged in voluminous and intense discussions about the nature of their movement, never developed a coherent "Arab doctrine" that would examine and appraise the unfolding Arab response to Zionism.
In part, they may have felt that this was unnecessary. After all, many of the early Zionists--according to Ahad Ha'am writing in 1891--believed that "the Arabs are all savages who live like animals and do not understand what is happening around them." Why worry about these "savages," when they were sure to be swept away by the inexorable advance of civilization the Jewish settlers were introducing into the region?
Other Zionists who took note of the incipient Arab resistance nevertheless chose to dismiss their concerns with wishful thinking. Once the Palestinians would begin to reap the benefits of Jewish colonization--in rising land prices and new employment opportunities--they would welcome the settlers with open arms.
In the Zionist world-view, the Palestinians were not a people; they had no national identity, no national aspirations.
In any case, it would have been impolitic for the early Zionists to air their concerns in public. In the face of open discussions about the violent consequences of Jewish colonization, and the resistance this was certain to evoke among Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, the meager support that Zionism enjoyed among Jews would quickly have dried up. At this stage, Zionism could not have survived sober consideration of its long-term, violent consequences.
Posted on: Monday, September 24, 2007 - 16:14
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (9-13-07)
IN A SPEECH THAT will no doubt be hailed by the left as bold and original, Senator Barack Obama today unveiled "his" plan for a "responsible" withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq by the end of 2009. The plan may be bold, but it is certainly not original. In fact, Obama's plan is extremely similar to one unveiled in June by the Center for a New American Strategy called "Phased Transition: A Responsible Way Forward and Out of Iraq." Like the CNAS report, Obama's plan calls for the withdrawal of almost all American combat forces from Iraq by the time the next president takes office (oddly enough), but purports to offer ways to achieve vital American goals in Iraq without using U.S. forces in combat, including continuing the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq, helping the Iraqis achieve political reconciliation, preventing the Iraq struggle from becoming a regional war, and preventing genocide within Iraq (the CNAS report called its objectives "the three nos:" no al Qaeda, no regional war, and no genocide, and also argued that its approach would enable reconciliation within Iraq). Like the CNAS plan, Obama's proposal asserts that U.S. forces can continue to train Iraqi Security Forces even after this withdrawal of combat power (as long as the ISF are non-sectarian). Like the CNAS plan, Obama's proposal is utterly unworkable. Any attempt to transfer it from the realm of thought-experiment to the real world would lead to immediate disaster in Iraq and the region.
The authors of the CNAS report, James Miller and Shawn Brimley, put a lot of serious effort into the challenge of finding some middle way to achieve America's goals in Iraq that was neither precipitous withdrawal nor the current strategy. They considered real military problems in some detail and offered a detailed proposal backed with reasoned arguments. In the end, as an equally detailed study by the American Enterprise Institute concluded, the solution Miller and Brimley came up with is simply not feasible from a military-technical standpoint, and relies on a number of baseless assumptions about how Iraqi and regional actors will respond. Any effort to implement it in the timelines suggested in the report would lead to the immediate collapse of the Iraqi Security Forces for certain, and most probably an escalation in violence, the collapse of the Iraqi government, and a failure to achieve any of America's vital national security goals in Iraq.
The CNAS team deserves credit for making a serious and respectable effort to grapple with a difficult task. Obama's proposal does not. Not only is it a strategy someone else developed and published, but it is dumbed down to the point of incoherence. On the one hand, the plan trumpets: "All combat troops redeployed by 2009." The proposal even provides a little plan for how to do that: "The withdrawal would be strategic and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government. Troops would be removed from secure areas first, with troops remaining longer in more volatile areas. The drawdown would begin immediately with one or two combat brigades deploying each month and all troops engaged in combat operations out by the end of the year." This sounds good (if one accepts the premise that withdrawal is desirable), but means little.
Moving something like 160,000 troops and their equipment out of Iraq between now and January 2009 would not be "strategic" or "phased." It would be a rush for the exit. Even the CNAS report proposed removing only 100,000 soldiers over a longer period, and even that effort would have been highly problematic (see the AEI report for additional details). The notion of removing troops from safe areas first and hotspots later also sounds reasonable, but isn't. American forces move into and out of Iraq by brigade. But brigades in Iraq are not deployed all together--they normally have battalions and even companies in various, sometimes widely dispersed, areas. In the real world, withdrawing a brigade requires moving its subordinate units back to bases, reassembling them into the brigade, and then moving it out of the country--along the single road that serves as our principal line of supply from Kuwait. The process of moving one-to-two brigades per month would not permit such an orderly and carefully calibrated withdrawal as Obama pictures. It would be simple cut-and-run, about as fast a withdrawal as it would be possible for the U.S. to undertake.
The weird thing about Obama's plan is that the section following "All Combat Troops Redeployed by 2009" is headed "Residual Force to Remain." This "residual force" would "protect American diplomatic and military personnel in Iraq, and continue striking at al Qaeda in Iraq. If Iraq makes political progress and their security forces are not sectarian, we would also continue training the Iraqi Security Forces. In the event of an outbreak of genocide, we would reserve the right to intervene, with the international community, if that intervention was needed to provide civilians with a safe-haven." The CNAS report was clear and explicit about this point. It argued that something like 60,000 American soldiers, including three combat brigades, would be required to achieve these goals (Jim Miller explained subsequently that the 60,000 troops was not intended as a firm number, but that the range would probably be between 40,000 and 80,000). It described in considerable detail what those forces would do and what kind of troops would be required. Even so, the AEI evaluation of the CNAS plan concluded that 60,000 or even 80,000 troops could not possibly perform all the missions the CNAS authors wanted to give them. But at least there was thought and logic in the CNAS proposal.
Obama's proposal, on the other hand, can charitably be called disingenuous. How are the American people expected to parse "All Combat Troops Redeployed by 2009" but "Residual Force to Remain"? Sounds like American forces won't be in combat and won't be in danger, right? The CNAS team was straightforward and honest about this. They recognized that American troops would continue to fight and continue to be in danger, and they argued that American interests in Iraq were sufficiently important to continue to accept that price. The whole stated purpose of the CNAS exercise, in fact, was to find a way to head-off an irresponsible precipitous withdrawal that the authors feared would result if President Bush continued to fight for his current strategy. They appear to have been wrong in that assumption, but the aim of their effort was to find a way to ensure that American national security interests in Iraq would be protected. It is less clear that that is the aim of the Obama proposal, and it is far less clear from the proposal itself just exactly what the American people and the American military would be in for were it adopted.
It is too much to expect Senators to develop concrete and detailed war plans on their own--with very few exceptions they have neither the staffs nor the expertise to do so. That is one of the reasons why the United States has traditionally left the developing of war plans to its generals. But when a senator puts out his "own" plan that is virtually identical to one that has already been carefully evaluated and shown to have been unworkable, it seems only right that the American people should be aware of the fact.
Posted on: Monday, September 24, 2007 - 15:59
SOURCE: Excerpts from recent posts from Ms. Lipstadt's blog (9-24-07)
I am listening to the Columbia forum. Bollinger began with a truly hard hitting statement expressing his revulsion at all that Ahmadinejad represents. He challenged Ahmadinejad to invite him and a group of students and faculty to come to Iran to speak to university students about free speech, in the same way that Ahmadinejad is benefiting today.
Bollinger was first rate.
He told him his Holocaust denial makes him ridiculous.
He attacked him for his persecution of scholars, women, and dissenters.
He called him to account for his threats to destroy Israel.
It was powerful and it was moving. If this event had to happen, this was the best beginning possible.
I am sure there will be those who will critique Bollinger for being so hard hitting.
I say bravo but also dissent from his attempt to fold this into the tenets of free speech.
As soon as Ahmadinejad began to speak it was clear that he was not prepared for such a statement. He made it sound like he did not even know who Bollinger was. Said it was insulting to have to listen to such things.
Ahmadinejad probably never had to sit through such a hard hitting critique of his record. It reminded me of a miscalculation made by David Irving when he chose the courtroom as his venue to make his argument. There was a judge there with the authority to make him stop his polemics and who could point out when he was making things up out of whole cloth [i.e. lying].
So too Ahmadinejad had to sit there and listen to his record in a way that he probably never has had to do. It also points out why the Scott Pelley's of the world are such poor excuses for interviewers. He could have asked some of these questions instead of his idiot queries.
Now Ahmadinejad is engaging in a religious discourse. My guess is that most students present have no idea where he is going with this. I think it is his attempt to sound like an intellect and some who believes in the pursuit of truth. It is a real miscalculation of his audience, I think...
Too bad his record contradicts everything he is saying....
On Morning Edition [NPR] a Columbia student was just quoted as saying, "I don't know what to think of him if I don't really know what he stands for. Let him come and speak and then I can be really angry." [I am paraphrasing slightly]
Could someone explain to me what this student is doing at Columbia if she doesn't know what Ahmadinejad stands for? Doesn't she read a newspaper? Is she living under a rock?
Here is a check list for her:
1. Religious freedom in Iran [except for fervently religious Muslims]
2. Academic freedom in Iran [except for those who follow the government line]
3. The existence of Israel ["wipe it off the map"]
4. The historical fact of the Holocaust
5. Iraq's right to decide its own future
This only a partial list.
I wonder if she knows that Haleh Esfandiari, the much respected director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was jailed in Iran for a number of months and that other scholars still sit in jail.
I guess this airhead Columbia student never heard about any of these things. I doubt that she will hear them from Ahmadinejad at today's talk. I do suspect that Bollinger will raise the issue in his introduction.
Columbia's Dean John H. Coatsworth, in the name of defending the university's invitation to Ahmadinejad, told Fox News that the institute would have invited Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler to appear before students had he been willing to participate in an open debate.
This is one of those posts that needs no comment.
As I observed in the previous post, Ahmadinejad is going to speak tomorrow at Columbia University. This morning on NPR Columbia President Lee Bollinger was quoted as saying that, while he was going to introduce Ahmadinejad by listing his human rights abuses, addressing his Holocaust denial, and castigating his calls for the destruction of Israel, he believed that Ahmadinejad had a place at Columbia because university's are places for "dialogue."
Bollinger has issued a statement in which he describes Columbia "as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas.... Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most or even all of us will find offensive and even odious."
What Bollinger and a lot of other very smart people don't understand is that you cannot dialogue with a liar. They make up facts, create their own reality, and leave you twisting in the wind.
Columbia has given Holocaust deniers everywhere a tremendous victory. He has made their claims and "other side" of a debate.
Secondly, while I hate the glib comparisons to Hitler [from the right and from the left], a not so off the mark comparison has been made between inviting Hitler in the 1930s [early 1930s] and inviting Ahmadinejad today.
For elaboration of this see Raphael Medoff's column at the website of the David Wyman Instittue Columbia University has a record of being open to Nazi representatives throughout the 1930s. It, of course, is not alone in this regard. Harvard did as well. And my guess that lots of other universities did the same.
All in the name of dialogue.
Seems that Ahmadinejad is going to speak at Columbia University. I find it galling. I just listened to some Columbia faculty and students talking about how universities are places for "dialogue" and for people to talk "with one another."
True. But this is a man who has called for the destruction of Israel [wipe off the face of the map] and who has denied the Holocaust.
If he had denied American slavery or the Armenian Genocide would these same students be saying we should "dialogue" with him?
I think not.
The people at Columbia who invited him have minds that are so open their brains fell out.
Posted on: Monday, September 24, 2007 - 14:46
SOURCE: Inside Higher Ed (9-24-07)
The biggest academic freedom fight of the year was also the shortest — and the hardest to understand. Duke Law School professor Erwin Chemerinsky accepted an offer on Sept. 4 to serve as founding dean of the new law school at UC Irvine; UCI Chancellor Michael Drake withdrew the offer a week after the contract had been signed; the firing was greeted with outrage on the campus and among law school faculty nationwide, and was condemned in editorials in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times; and Chemerinsky was rehired six days later, on Sept. 16....
It’s widely assumed that political pressure from the right led the chancellor to withdraw the offer. But where exactly did the pressure come from? The answer could reveal a lot about the battle lines over academic freedom in America today.
Drake has offered several explanations for his actions. Chemerinsky reports that when Drake withdrew the offer, he explained that his appointment would have caused “a bloody battle” with the Board of Regents. But it turns out the regents had the appointment on their consent calendar, indicating that they considered it uncontroversial and planned no debate — which is in fact what happened when they approved it on Sept. 20.
The problem with Chemerinsky, according to Drake, was not his political positions, but rather the fact that he was a “polarizing” figure. But in the furor over withdrawing the offer, Chemerinsky turned out not to be polarizing at all. Not only was the faculty virtually unanimous in supporting him, but he received crucial support from leading conservative legal scholars and commentators in southern California. Pepperdine’s Douglas Kmiec wrote for the Los Angeles Times op-ed page describing Chemerinsky as “one of the finest constitutional scholars in the country.” Chapman’s conservative law dean, John Eastman, called firing Chemerinsky “a serious misstep.” Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt called Drake’s action “revolting.”
Drake denied that “political pressure” played any role in his decision. After he withdrew the offer to Chemerinsky, he explained that it was “a management decision, not a political one.”
He told the Los Angeles Times that “no one called me and said I should do anything.” But that turned out to be untrue. A group of 20 prominent Republicans had organized against Chemerinsky in recent weeks, according to the Times, which reported that “Drake’s cell phone number was distributed so the protesters could call the chancellor.” A separate campaign was organized by conservative Republican activist and L.A. county supervisor Mike Antonovich, who said he had e-mailed a “small group of supporters” urging them to contact the university and demand that the Chemerinsky offer be rescinded. Antonovich told the Associated Press that appointing Chemerinsky to head the UCI law school “would be like appointing al-Qaeda in charge of homeland security.” So much for “no political pressure.”
Chemerinsky argued that he was fired because of an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in August that criticized California’s procedures for death penalty appeals. The op-ed appeared the same day Chemerinsky was offered the job. He said (in another L.A. Times op-ed) that Drake had told him that op-ed had made him “too politically controversial.”...
The fact is that we still don’t really know the sources of the pressure that lead Drake to act against his newly-appointed dean. And at this point, with Chemerinsky himself calling for a focus on the future, it seems unlikely we will ever know what happened to cause the biggest academic freedom fight of the year.
Posted on: Monday, September 24, 2007 - 11:14
SOURCE: History and Policy (9-10-07)
... As an historian it is not for me to attempt an in-depth analysis of today's binge-drinking crisis. But, at least superficially, there do seem to be parallels with the Gin Craze of the early-eighteenth century. Firstly, the media play a critical role. The police and health professionals clearly have direct and regular contact with the phenomenon, but most older citizens make their acquaintance with binge-drinking primarily through the media, especially TV and the newspapers. Certainly it is the media who control how we see it; it is they who create the visual and written images and texts that determine perceptions of the phenomenon. Moreover, though we might like to think that the newspaper photographer or TV cameraman just point their lenses in a random way at the goings on, commonsense suggests that there is a good deal of calculation behind the production of the images. Secondly, my impression from these images is that though young men are undoubtedly present it is young women that are the media's focus - scantily clad, sometimes roaming around in groups linked together by arms, other times staggering helplessly on their own, occasionally collapsed in the gutter vomiting. Thirdly, where men are shown it is usually engaged in acts of bravado, damage to property, and inter-personal violence. Fourthly, the setting is invariably urban rather than rural, city centre rather than suburban, and outdoors rather than indoors. Binge drinking is thus portrayed as a public and urban phenomenon. Fifthly, pervading many reports is a sense of governmental inaction and complacency. The world is falling into chaos, but the state is doing little to address the problem. Indeed, where the government does act, it is to introduce measures such as allowing twenty-four hour drinking that, from a commonsense point of view, seem likely to inflame rather than relieve the problem. Sixthly, one of the reasons given to justify the de-regulation of licensing hours is the example of Europe, where it is argued that permitting an all-day drinking culture encourages a more mature and civilized approach to alcohol consumption. However, such a line of argument simply fuels a xenophobic response in the media, where de-regulation is portrayed as yet another example of loss of autonomy and cultural identity as Britain in Europeanized. Finally, though the media may project the crisis, behind it are a series of organizations, professional bodies and pressure groups drip-feeding information and statistics, and pursuing agendas which inevitably reflect their own take on politics and society.
On the face of it the parallels in the way they are portrayed between the Georgian Gin Crisis and the modern binge-drinking crisis do seem striking. This in itself might make us query whether we are dealing with a dramatic new phenomenon that requires immediate action if social collapse is to be avoided, or with an endemic feature of society, that flares up on an occasional basis and that is resistant to quick-fix solutions. Moreover, if the Georgian crisis can be characterized as a 'moral panic' - an event constructed in the media that draws its power primarily not from its inherent features but from its capacity to mediate a package of structural social anxieties, to act, as it were, as a lightning rod for social phobias - then might not the same be argued of the modern binge-drinking crisis?
However, for a number of reasons, we should be cautious about over-drawing the parallels.
Firstly, as I argued earlier, the eighteenth-century Gin Craze is not the same as the twenty-first-century binge-drinking crisis. The eighteenth-century attack on gin drinking was not one on alcohol consumption per se, or even on heavy drinking as such. As 'Beer Street' makes clear, drinking British brewed beer, and in large quantities, was considered not only acceptable but even beneficial and patriotic. Arguably it was only after a safe water supply was introduced - and when industrialization made work and alcohol incompatible, and a fully-fledged temperance movement emerged in the Victorian period - that there developed a credible critique of alcohol consumption and heavy drinking. Even today it is far from obvious that the campaign against binge drinking is primarily motivated by an anti-alcohol agenda, though it clearly is among some pressure groups. Alcohol consumption remains, as it always has, fundamental to many of the social rituals and recreations of modern society. In this sense binge drinking could be said to operate within rather than outside the boundaries of social norms. It may be that there is some alarm, as with the Gin Crisis, at the form in which alcohol is being consumed. Lager, which binge-drinking males consume in large quantities, has a continental, anti-patriotic feel when compared with traditional British beers. But it is the alcopops which have generated most criticism. ...
Posted on: Friday, September 21, 2007 - 09:29
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (9-20-07)
A week has passed since George W. Bush announced that U.S. troops will stay in Iraq in"a security engagement that extends beyond my Presidency." Last spring, those words would have evoked howls of protest from Democratic leaders. Now, scarcely a peep.
While the world was on August vacation, Republican and Democratic leaders moved toward a compromise. The outlines are clear enough: Some U.S. troops will start leaving Iraq soon, but tens of thousands will stay on indefinitely with a permanent mission of providing something called"overwatch." This open-ended "Korea model" seems to be a done deal. About the only issue left to debate is how fast the"transition" should happen, how quickly the troops that aren't staying should be"redeployed."
Peace activists who despair of the spineless Democrats should keep in mind that Bush and Cheney have compromised, too. In his most recent speech, just six years and two days after he became our tough-as-nails"war president," the Decider announced that he has decided to do what many Democrats and the peace movement have been demanding -- begin getting troops out of Iraq.
Yes, the numbers will be so pitifully small that many already claim they are meaningless. Nonetheless, it's a major shift in Bush's narrative. And that counts for something all too real, because the debate is hardly about policy any more. It's mainly about the stories we tell about policy -- and about"America." Perhaps it always was.
Every war is bound to turn into a story. Every war is experienced as dramatic spectacle -- the more mythic the better. It's no coincidence that the military refers to a battle zone as a"theater."
Political"battles" are high drama, too. On the campaign trail, the most gripping plot usually wins. In that context, a debate about the math of minimalist"drawdown" -- how many troops should leave and how soon -- is hardly the stuff of legend, the sort of thing to fuel public passions. And yet the two major parties have to conjure up the illusion of a profound, emotionally stirring difference between them. So they turn a debate like the present one about troop numbers and time frames into a contest between larger competing narratives.
Last spring, with the President's surge plan seemingly floundering, it looked like the Democrats were winning that contest. Then, over the summer, the administration began to catch up -- and not just by accident. According to the Washington Post:
"Ed Gillespie, the new presidential counselor, organized daily conference calls at 7:45 a.m. and again late in the afternoon between the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy and military in Baghdad to map out ways of selling the surge. From the start of the Bush plan, the White House communications office had been blitzing an e-mail list of as many as 5,000 journalists, lawmakers, lobbyists, conservative bloggers, military groups and others with talking points or rebuttals of criticism. Between Jan. 10 and [early September], the office put out 94 such documents."
Call it a surge of words on the home front. But mounting a publicity blitz, no matter how well funded, is no guarantee of success. You have to put on a show good enough to sell tickets and elicit applause. So, why did the pro-war show draw a big enough audience (at least among beleaguered Republicans) that many key Democrats, frustrated by Congressional voting math and frightened for the 2008 electoral future, began to wave the flag of compromise -- and so few Republican Senators were willing to support even the Democrats' half-way measures?
A War President Who Can't Win the War
Part of the answer is revealed in the most astounding polling figure of recent weeks. A New York Times poll asked,"Who do you trust the most with successfully resolving the war in Iraq?" In response, only 5% of those polled gave the nod to the Bush administration, just 21% to Congress, but fully 68% -- more than two out of three -- plunked for"the military."
Once again, the top-rated show of the season is evidently that all-time favorite,"The Military Saves the Day," a sequel to the smash hit of the past several seasons,"Support Our Troops." No wonder the White House brought its hero and surge commander, General David Petraeus, on stage for the final scene in this act of a seemingly unending drama. No wonder Bush used the general as cover, not only for continuing the war, but for making his own shadowy compromises in his September 13 address to the nation (which, by the way, drew a far smaller audience than his last major speech introducing his surge plan, or"new way forward," on Jan. 10)."General Petraeus recommends that in December, we begin transitioning to the next phase of our strategy," the President said."Our troops will focus on a more limited set of tasks." It was as if, all of a sudden, the newly four-starred general, and not the President, were now the commander-in-chief.
For White House scriptwriters, there was certainly another reason to give the general the leading role in this scene from the administration's home-front Iraq drama. He has actually seen something of the reality of war. Everyone knows that the President (like the Vice President and others high in this administration) studiously -- even notoriously -- avoided the real theater of battle. With his wartime credibility always somewhat suspect, all Bush can offer is an illusion spun out of dramatic words.
Bush and his writers also made compromises in their story line. The ringing language of past years about bringing"freedom" to Iraq and the Middle East, though not completely absent, was far more muted this time around. Instead of spreading good tidings about an American mission to liberate the world, the main theme of the President's Petraeus speech was a reprise of another close-to-home classic:"The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States." The post-9/11 narrative -- defending America against those who would destroy us -- had again taken center stage.
No facts are available to indicate that the war in Iraq is making Americans safer, as Petraeus himself admitted. So, the President's claim made no sense -- not, that is, if you were measuring his argument against facts or logic. But don't fool yourself, it made fine sense as a good old-fashioned American yarn: The band of brothers righteously defending themselves against evildoers who will annihilate us if we don't annihilate them first.
There is, however, one crucial piece of that old American yarn that Bush now has no choice but to downplay -- the piece that says the good guys always win, unconditionally. After years of announcing that victory was at hand, or at least claiming that he had a surefire strategy for victory, he can no longer tell that part of the story because no one will believe it any more. In his latest speech the word"victory" -- which he once used 15 times in a single speech -- was missing in action, replaced by the far less martial, so much less triumphant word"success." The"Korea model," that more than half-century of garrisoning the southern part of that country after a stalemated war, lets us know what"success" is supposed to mean: A government (or a set of regional governments) in Iraq that can provide safety for American troops on their permanent bases and wherever they go throughout the country.
But even that hard-to-imagine outcome would be far too pallid a dénouement to look like victory to an American audience. In fact, that's one big reason Bush's public support has eroded enough to force him to make compromises. He's a war President who can no longer promise to actually win the war.
A Test of Character
A good plot raises the right question, one that keeps people in the theater because they care deeply about the answer. In the battle of narratives, this administration, no matter how crippled, still knows what the right question is.
When it comes to Iraq, in recent months, Democratic scriptwriters have indeed spotlighted a question: Can inept Iraqi politicians succeed in getting their act together, when brave Americans give them the time to do so? It's just not the right question from a story-telling point of view. Few Americans really care about the performance of a faction-torn foreign government on the other side of the world.
The administration's story might seem to turn on a question with little more mobilizing power: Can American troops succeed in reducing violence in Iraq? But behind that question -- and General Petraeus' elaborate charts on the metrics of violence in that country -- Republicans build dramatic tension by raising a very different question, which really does matter to a sizeable part of the American audience: Does our nation have the" character" or the"stomach" -- Dick Cheney's favorite word -- to keep on fighting evil until something that can plausibly be called"success" is conjured out of the dusty air of Iraq?
Bush raised that question in the opening words of his recent address:"In the life of all free nations, there come moments that decide the direction of a country and reveal the character of its people. We are now at such a moment." And he offered the answer many want to hear -- even if not, at the moment, from him -- in his closing words:"Support our troops in a fight they can win."
That has, of course, been the basic plot of Bush's Global War on Terror. Since September 11, 2001, he and his speechwriters have been telling a story whose hero is not, in fact, a president, or a general, or any individual, but"America" -- with all the world, by rights, its stage.
In Bush's story, as long as America is strutting across that stage, playing the lead with a commanding tone, fighting evil at every turn, Americans can feel like winners and heroes. All of this is supposed to be not an American ego trip, but a classic test of character.
Millions more wish they could. If they are old enough, many remember a time when they did -- before Vietnam. Failure in Vietnam cast into doubt all the old American verities about heroism, character, and national direction. It left many wondering whether the old stories could ever be played out again on the stage of American life -- and feeling remarkably good, after September 11, 2001, when victory in war seemed once again to become the finale of our national drama. The growing feeling since that"Iraq" is Arabic for"Vietnam" has, of course, been devastating to any sense of fated American triumph. Yet millions of doubters must still yearn to believe in an American story that ends with good defeating evil on some planetary frontier.
Because the Iraqis have proven so unwilling to play the role of defeated enemy in the theater of battle -- and the Iraqi situation has grown so complex -- the Bush administration has been left with little choice but to blame all evil on al-Qaeda, in Iraq and elsewhere. As a White House official told a Washington Post reporter, at least Americans"know what that means. The average person doesn't understand why the Sunnis and Shia don't like each other. They don't know where the Kurds live… And al-Qaeda is something they know. They're the enemy of the United States."
In such a script, our protectors are"the troops," the ultimate symbol and proof of America's character. The most powerful weapon of war supporters has long been the question, raised with appropriate self-righteousness:"Don't you support our troops?" The politically correct antiwar answer almost has to be:"Yes. That's why I want to bring them home." As it happens, though, such a response has had little effect because it misses the point.
"Supporting our troops" is not about helping individual soldiers to live better lives or, for that matter, making their lives safer. It's about supporting a morality play in which the lead actor,"our troops," represents all the virtues that so many believe -- or wish they could believe -- America possesses, giving us the privilege (and obligation) of directing all that happens on the world stage.
Bush put on yet another performance of that morality play on September 13th, ending with the almost obligatory tragic message from grieving parents:"We believe this is a war of good and evil and we must win.... even if it cost the life of our own son. Freedom is not free." That sums up the essence of the drama. Coming from people whose child is dead, it's seems like a show stopper. What else can you say?
The Democrats Read from a Thin Script
In response to the President's Petraeus address, the Democrats' answer man, Senator Jack Reed, did not actually have much to say. He did make it clear that, when it comes to war and the military, he's a lot more in touch with reality than the President."I was privileged to serve in the United States Army for 12 years," Reed said modestly. He might have added that he was a West Point graduate and an officer in the famed 82nd Airborne Division.
But like so many Democrats, including legless former Senator Max Cleland and Vietnam veteran John Kerry, he found himself mysteriously unable to turn his real-life experience into an effective post-9/11 narrative. A powerful drama creates a world of its own, one that can easily feel more real than reality. Even after so many years of disaster and so much repetition, against Bush's rich drama, Reed could still offer only a thin script with feeble characters, little if any plot, and no sense of direction. Mostly he carped at the commander-in-chief of what the Democrats themselves acclaim to be the finest fighting force in the world. So he left his party open to the same criticism thrown at Sixties radicals:"You only know what you're against. You don't know what you're for."
The Democrats' story does embody positive values. It calls on us to act in an old American tradition of pragmatism, where the only question that matters is:"Is it working?" If it's not working, you try something else that might actually get the job done. But Reed never even suggested what that something else might be.
In a battle between stories, it's often not enough to attack the incumbent's ineptitude. As John F. Kennedy, another Democrat with a real-life war record, knew, you also have to tell a satisfying tale about moving onto a new frontier, where you can pass that test of character and become a profile in courage. Heroism makes for a more alluring story than timidity every time.
So, even if the practical side of Americanism screams out,"Leave the theater, now!", there is still a powerful impulse to stay glued to our seats until the bugles sound, the cavalry charges, and our side wins the day.
The Democrats sense that. They sense as well that opposition to the war is spread wide but not necessarily deep; that public opinion might, at least to some extent, still be turned by a well-produced show -- as the marginal poll gains of the President among Republican audiences in the last two months have indicated. The Democrats fear that, if they truly lead the way to the exits, they might turn around one day to find less than half the voters following. That's why so many of them -- and all too many Republicans as well -- are afraid to act on what they know is right.
The Show Must Go On
The great debate about Iraq is not, and never really was, about what we should do in Iraq. No matter how many Iraqis have died or become refugees thanks to the Bush intervention, they remain largely ignored bit players in our central drama, which is, and always was, about what we will make of America. Now, the outcome of that debate is coming more clearly into view and it's not a pretty picture. The compromise the two parties are hammering out on Iraq policy reflects a deeper compromise the public seems to be groping toward on national identity -- between who we are in reality (pragmatic, if sidelined, civilians who know a war is badly lost and want to end it) and who we are in our imaginations (heroic soldiers proving our character in the theater of war).
All theater, all storytelling, rests on the power of illusion and the willing suspension of disbelief. Bush and the Republicans have repeatedly given millions of doubters a chance to suspend their post-Vietnam disbelief in traditional tales of American character; the Democrats have given millions of doubters a chance to suspend their disbelief that the will of the people can make any difference whatsoever. The two parties join together to give the whole nation a chance to believe that a fierce debate still rages about whether or not to end the war. That political show we can expect to go on at least until Election Day 2008.
And we can expect both parties, and the media who keep the show going, to abide by an unspoken agreement that one kind of question will never be asked, because the tension it raises might be unbearable: Is it moral for our troops to occupy another country for years, bomb its cities and villages, and kill untold numbers of people halfway across the planet? If the script ever makes room for that question, we'll be able to watch -- and participate in -- a far more profound debate about the war.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2007 - 15:50
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (9-20-07)
Has anyone noticed that our commander-in-chief no longer plays dress up? He hasn't done so for a while and that's no small thing. It's a phenomenon that came and went almost without comment in the media.
I don't remember the first time I noticed that George W. Bush liked to dress up. It could have been in May 2003 when he strutted across that carrier deck all togged out to announce that "major combat operations had ended" in Iraq, or when he started appearing before massed, hoo-ahing troops in military-style jackets with "George W. Bush, Commander in Chief" hand-stitched across the chest, or when he served that inedible turkey in Baghdad. I can't tell you either when it first registered that he was visibly enjoying himself "in uniform"; or when it occurred to me that this was not just play-acting, but actual play of a very young and un-presidential sort; or when I first noticed that, "in uniform," he looked strangely like a life-sized version of the original 12-inch G.I. Joe doll. ("Action figure" was the term first invented for it, because who wanted a boy to think he had a Barbie, even if it came with its own "beach assault fatigue shirt" and "bivouac pup-tent set"?)
Here's something I suspect goes with the above. With rare exceptions, the fiercest post-9/11 "warriors" of this administration were never in the military. They had, in the Vice President's words, "other priorities in the ‘60s." Hence that old (and not very useful) term "chickenhawks." On the other hand, a surprising number of Democrats in Congress had actually served in the military -- not that, from Senators Max Cleland to Jack Reed, it did them much political good. Americans have preferred, it seems, to hear their war stories from the men who sat out the wars.
The reason, I suspect, is simple enough. I'm about George Bush's age. My father, like his, fought in Asia in World War II. In the 1950s, my childhood years, that generation of fathers -- the ones I knew, anyway -- were remarkably silent on their actual war experiences, but to us kids that made no difference. All we had to do was walk to the nearest neighborhood movie theater, catch Merrill's Marauders, or some other war flick, and it was obvious enough just what heroic things they had accomplished. George Bush and I both sat in the dark, enveloped in the same American mythic tradition -- already then a couple of hundred years old -- that I've called "victory culture"; we knew Americans deserved to, and would, triumph against savage enemies out on some distant frontier; we both thrilled to the sound of the bugle as the blue coats charged; we both felt the chills run up our spine as, with the Marine Hymn welling up, the Marines advanced victoriously while "The End" flashed on the screen.
Here's the difference: I left that movie theater in the Vietnam era. Much of the Bush administration seems to have remained in the dark. There, it seems, they sat out defeat and emerged strangely untouched, as I've written elsewhere, as the Peter Pans of American war play. While, in the 1980s, G.I. Joe shrunk to 3¾-inch size to squeeze into the Star-Wars universe and began fighting fantasy villains, while others absorbed the Vietnam lesson, they arrived in the post-9/11 moment with a still untarnished dream of American triumphalism. And that, as Ira Chernus makes clear below, is what Americans wanted -- and many, against all odds, still want -- to hear.
The President and his top officials were the ones who could still embody the idea of a "good war," both enjoying the performance themselves and making it seem thrilling; and, for some years, a remarkable number of Americans suspended Vietnam-style disbelief and went with the flow. Under the circumstances, a surprising number still do. It just turned out -– and who in the "reality-based" world can truly be surprised -- that they couldn't translate their all-American fantasy world, or the President's dress-up dreams, into reality. Fighting actual wars proved a painfully different matter.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2007 - 15:48
SOURCE: New Republic (9-20-07)
When the University of California Regents rescinded former Harvard president Lawrence Summers's invitation to speak at a Board dinner this month, it was too easy to link Summers with Erwin Chemerinsky: Just days before, the University of California at Irvine had rescinded Chemerinsky's invitation to serve as dean of their new law school. While the two cases share some common elements--in both, the officials reneged under pressure on commitments presumably made in good faith and for good reasons--the superficial similarities conceal deep differences. In the Chemerinsky case, UC threatened Chemerinsky's academic freedom; in the Summers case, UC threatened mine--and that of everyone else who teaches here.
UCI unhired Erwin Chemerinsky because, he said, they were worried about "conservatives out to get me," and they knew some of the UC Regents would vigorously oppose him. This threat almost certainly came from someone outside UCI: maybe the politician who said appointing Chemerinsky dean would be "like appointing Al Qaeda in charge of homeland security," maybe a discontented donor, maybe both.
Universities' vulnerability to outside pressure is what brought us academic freedom in the first place. In 1900, the Stanford economist-turned-sociologist Edward Ross said he opposed immigration because it threatened Anglo-Saxon racial purity. Jane Stanford, widow of railroad tycoon Leland Stanford and benefactor of the university (as well as beneficiary of immigrant labor) insisted Ross be fired. Ross countered, "It is my duty as an economist to impart ... in a scientific spirit, my conclusions on subjects with which I am expert." Mrs. Stanford won.
The Ross case inspired what became the American Association of University Professors' 1915 "General Declaration of Principles." In it, the AAUP explained universities must act so it is clear that "what purport to be the conclusions of men [sic] trained for, and dedicated to, the quest for truth, shall in fact be the conclusions of such men, and not echoes of the opinion of the lay public, or the individuals who manage or endow universities." Otherwise the truth is imperiled.
As the AAUP's 1915 statement indicates, academic freedom differs from freedom of speech. Scholars enjoy it not because they have First Amendment rights (indeed, as the historian Thomas Haskell points out, in 1915, nobody had the First Amendment rights Americans enjoy today) but because of their training and participation in a specialized community of inquiry. What Ross said, though unpleasing to us and indeed to many decent people in 1900, was at the time within the realm of legitimate sociology. His ideas demanded investigation and critique--not firing.
Insofar as UCI succumbed to "the opinion of the lay public, or the individuals who manage or endow universities" when it unhired Erwin Chemerinsky for expressing opinions within his expert competence (including especially his comments on now-resigned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales), they obviously violated a core canon of academic freedom. Perhaps because the case was so blindingly clear, UCI un-unhired Chemerinsky.
Summers's case differs. Here, the objection came from within the community of scholarly inquirers at UC Davis who organized a petition signed by UC professors who believe it "inappropriate at a time when the University is searching for a new president" to invite Summers, who "has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia" since his clash with African American Studies professor Cornel West and his 2005 comments on genetic differences in scientific aptitude between men and women.
You might think this looks a lot like the case of Edward Ross--in both, a northern California university doesn't want to hear from an economist talking the sociology of innate differences. But there are key distinctions. Summers doesn't work here and, as one of his Harvard colleagues points out, he doesn't have the right to "speak anywhere and everywhere" or indeed on everything....
Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2007 - 15:14
SOURCE: Gloria Center (9-18-07)
People don’t often threaten to murder me face to face. But in the spring of 2007, Alexis Debat, director of the terrorism program at the Nixon Center and consultant to ABC News, did just that.
Precisely why is not clear to me even now, but it seemed to be part of a pattern of bizarre instability that he emanated. I had never met anyone who struck me as a more obvious fabulist. Yet after thirty years of studying the Middle East it was not surprising to meet people like that. The region is full of them, even at the highest political and intellectual levels, and they are by no means absent from the field of studying that area in the West.
I met Debat at the insistence of Robert Leiken, a former Central American expert who reinvented himself quickly as an expert first on immigration and then on Islam, also at the Nixon Center. It was in the period before Leiken decided that the Muslim Brotherhood was a moderate democratic group which should be engaged by U.S. policy. You have to meet Debat, he insisted, and it was clear that this guy was his guru and a great influence on him in his new pretensions to knowing something about the Middle East. Later, it would be clear Debat played a key role in his foolish fantasy that the Muslim Brotherhood was a bunch of liberal reformers who detested violence.
At the lunch, Debat went on and on about his inside links with terrorism and its key figures, providing lots of details. Of course, no one could verify these details, which meant one was given free reign to make them up. I applied the old Arab proverb: “How do you know it is a lie? Because it is so big.” His claims were just too good to be true. And his bragging about having worked with French intelligence only added to my suspicions, since that organization is known for its tendency to, shall we say, get a little too enthusiastic in claiming fabulous inside information.
Perhaps I made my feelings a little too clear, for as we walked from the restaurant, Debat insisted on going along with me to the subway. And there on the corner of Q Street, he said: “I am a great admirer of your work. Some day I might have the great honor of killing you.”
“What did you say?” I asked in astonishment. He was a bit flustered but did not deny what he said. I asked him if he was threatening me, but he just smiled to let me know that his message had been conveyed.
I did not take this seriously as a real threat that he was going to do anything. Years of dealing with revolutionaries, terrorists, soldiers, and people generally carrying guns and committing violence have taught me to distinguish between real potential killers and big talkers. Yet clearly this was someone to stay away from and who should be given no credibility.
It reminded me of an incident thirty years earlier. A fellow had appeared at various Middle East studies meetings saying he was with “army intelligence” and that he had all sorts of internal documents about the decisions of the new revolutionary leadership in Iran. He drew big audiences at such events and was invited by a leading expert on Iran to an elite seminar, where the professor proclaimed that he was a great expert.
A bit of research by a group of people including myself discovered that he was an enlisted soldier at a field intelligence unit—without access to high-level political intelligence of the kind he was fabricating. One of my colleagues intervened to stop a major university from hiring him. The individual did get a job at a smaller school.
Fabulists, suffering from psychological problems, greed, ambitions, and often with a political agenda, are not uncommon in studying or writing about the Middle East. That is in part due to the region’s importance and in part due to the fact that you can apparently get away with saying anything about it, especially if you are anti-American and anti-Israel.
The rules of logic apparently don’t apply to a region where terrorists are magically transformed into freedom fighters; anti-Americanism is covered up or rationalized away; one thing is said in Arabic or Persian and the opposite in English; conspiracy theories are rife and get credibility even in the highest circles of American intellectuals and publishers; and so on.
It is a subject area where completely unqualified people like Leiken and Debat can carry out a major campaign to reverse American policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood and even get U.S. government contracts to do it.
In universities in the United States today, many courses on the Middle East are taught just about as they would be at the University of Damascus or Tehran by people who hold those same ideologies.
Indeed, the work of the biggest current guru for this school, Edward Said, was in itself a gigantic fraud. And what is more telling than when some of his autobiographical lies were exposed, the attacks were on the scholar who published this information and not on the one who fabricated it?
The works of Walt and Mearsheimer have about as much in common with the actual making of U.S. foreign policy as the idea that the American government carried out the September 11 attacks on itself, the sun goes around the earth, or the world is flat.
Yasir Arafat, a major league fabulist himself, once told an Arab leader who complained about his fantasies that if he was willing to die for Palestine he was certainly willing to lie for Palestine.
Yet there are supposed to be checks against such behavior. Two of the main ones are universities and the media. Yet when large elements in both have gone over to factual fable-making or, more likely, analytical fable-making, who is going to guard against the intrusion of lies, madness, and anti-democratic forces?
Nothing says it better than Woody Guthrie’s “Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd”:
“Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.”
Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2007 - 13:45
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (9-20-07)
So it turns out that Erwin Chemerinsky is going west, after all.
Last week, citing the Duke professor’s “controversial” public positions, the University of California, Irvine withdrew an offer to make him dean of its new law school. But it reinstated the offer after a firestorm of protest, including a letter signed by hundreds of faculty members.
That’s exactly as it should be. As the letter noted, “unacceptable ideological considerations” clearly caused the university break its initial deal with the left-leaning Chemerinsky. And the entire sordid affair threatened academic freedom, putting other professors on notice that they should moderate their views—or pay the price.
So why isn’t the professoriate rallying around Condoleezza Rice?
About six hours up the road from Irvine, at Stanford University, there’s another battle brewing over academic freedom. But this time the target is Rice, a national security adviser and secretary of state for a Republican president. So we’re about to find out whether America’s mostly liberal professors really believe in academic freedom, or whether they simply want their own side to win.
The initial salvo was fired last May, when the Stanford student newspaper ran an article discussing the return of Rice after President Bush leaves office. A political science professor and former provost at Stanford, Rice hasn’t committed to any job past January 2009. But it seems likely that she will come back to campus in some capacity, as the student newspaper reported.
And that was too much for many readers. “Condoleezza Rice serves an administration that has trashed the basic values of academia: reason, science, expertise, and honesty,” wrote an emeritus math professor, in a letter published several days later. “Stanford should not welcome her back.”
The blogosphere was even harsher, of course. On the newspaper’s website, one reader compared Rice to the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels; another called her a war criminal. “Would Stanford harbor a serial killer just because she previously worked at the University?” one alumna asked. “She’s a controversial figure . . .Now is the time for the administration to quietly encourage Ms. Rice to go elsewhere.”
So let’s get this straight. If you refuse to hire Erwin Chemerinsky because of his “controversial” liberal opinions, that’s a blow against academic freedom. But if you turn away Condoleezza Rice because of her controversial conservative views, you’re upholding the highest values of the academy itself.
Here you might reply that Rice should be rejected on the basis of her deeds, not her ideology. But there’s a slender line between them. Every action implies some kind of opinion, and every opinion carries the potential for action. As soon as we start dismissing academicians on either ground, American history shows, academic freedom is dead.
And some of the grimmest history comes from Stanford itself. Consider the case of E. A. Ross, one of the nation’s top economists at the turn of the last century. Ross publicly defended socialist leader Eugene Debs and also called for restrictions on Chinese immigration, running afoul of the railroad barons who financed his university. So Jane Stanford—widow of Stanford’s founder—engineered his resignation.
“A man cannot entertain such rabid ideas without inculcating them in the minds of the students under his charge,” Jane Stanford wrote. “Stanford University is lending itself to partisanism and dangerous socialism. Professor Ross cannot be trusted, and he should go.”
Fifty years later, during the height of the McCarthy period, a similar fate befell Edward Condon. An eminent physicist and veteran of the Manhattan Project, which designed the first atomic bomb, Condon received an offer to become dean of Stanford’s graduate school. But the university withdrew the offer after Condon was attacked by Parnell Thomas, chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although Condon had never been a communist, as Thomas charged, he had supported Progressive presidential candidate Henry Wallace in 1948. That was dangerous enough.
And unlike Chemerinsky, Condon didn’t get his offer reinstated. Indeed, for several years, he couldn’t get an academic job at all. Too “controversial.”
How can you bemoan the ravages of the red-baiting 1950s, when dozens of professors were dismissed for ideological reasons, then erect your own ideological litmus tests for the present? It really doesn’t matter if you agree with Condoleezza Rice; I certainly don’t. The question is whether you’ll grant her the same consideration as Erwin Chemerinsky. And if you don’t, you’re repeating some of the worst mistakes of our past.
So let’s all salute Chemerinsky, a brilliant scholar and author, as he rides west to assume his new post at Irvine. But let’s make sure that Condoleezza Rice is welcomed back to Stanford, too. Anything less will betray academic freedom, which means nothing once you start restricting it to people whom you like.
Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2007 - 13:08
SOURCE: Released by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies (9-20-07)
Columbia University has invited a representative of the world’s most antisemitic regime to speak on its campus. This week’s news? Try 1933.
Seventy years before this week’s invitation to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Columbia rolled out the red carpet for a senior official of Adolf Hitler’s regime. The invitation to Iran’s leader may seem less surprising, but no less disturbing, when one recalls that in 1933, Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler invited Nazi Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Hans Luther, to speak on campus, and also hosted a reception for him. Luther represented "the government of a friendly people," Butler insisted. He was "entitled to be received ... with the greatest courtesy and respect." Ambassador Luther's speech focused on what he characterized as Hitler's peaceful intentions. Students who criticized the Luther invitation were derided as “ill-mannered children” by the director of Columbia’s Institute of Arts and Sciences.
Columbia also insisted on maintaining friendly relations with Nazi-controlled German universities. While Williams College terminated its program of student exchanges with Nazi Germany, Columbia and other universities declined to do likewise. Columbia refused to pull out even after a German official candidly asserted that his country’s students were being sent abroad to serve as “political soldiers of the Reich.”
In 1936, the Columbia administration announced it would send a delegate to Nazi Germany to take part in the 550th anniversary celebration of the University of Heidelberg. This, despite the fact that Heidelberg already had been purged of Jewish faculty members, instituted a Nazi curriculum, and hosted a burning of books by Jewish authors. Prof. Arthur Remy, who served as Columbia’s delegate to the Heidelberg event, later remarked that the reception at which chief book-burner Josef Goebbels presided was “very enjoyable.”
"Academic relationships have no political implications," President Butler claimed. Many Columbia students and faculty members disagreed. More than one thousand of them, including Nobel Laureate Harold Urey and world-renowned anthropologist Franz Boas, signed a petition opposing the decision to participate in Heidelberg. The student newspaper, The Spectator, also opposed it. Students held a "Mock Heidelberg Festival" on campus, complete with a bonfire and mock book burning. "Butler Diddles While the Books Burn," their signs proclaimed.
That was followed by a student rally in front of Butler's mansion. Butler was furious that a leader of the rally, Robert Burke, "delivered a speech in which he referred to the President [Butler] disrespectfully." As punishment, Burke was expelled from Columbia. He was never readmitted, even though he had excellent grades and had been elected president of his class, and even though Columbia’s own attorney later acknowledged that “the evidence that Burke himself used bad language is slight.”
Eventually, in the late 1930s, Butler would change his position and speak out against the Nazis. Unfortunately, it was too late to undo the damage he already had done by helping to legitimize the Hitler regime.
As Prof. Stephen Norwood of the University of Oklahoma has found in his research on the academic community’s response to Hitler in the 1930s, Columbia was not the only prominent U.S. university to behave shamefully with regard to the Nazis. Harvard hosted a visit by Hitler’s foreign press spokesman, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl. American University chancellor Joseph Gray visited and praised Nazi Germany. MIT Dean Harold Lobdell personally tore down posters for a rally against a Nazi warship docked in Boston’s harbor, and MIT participated in a 1937 celebration at the Nazi-controlled University of Goettingen. Yale, Princeton, Bryn Mawr, and others continued student exchanges with Nazi Germany into the late 1930s, and more than twenty U.S. colleges and universities took part in the 1936 Heidelberg event.
But Columbia is unique in one important respect. Its administration alone seems to have learned so little from the mistakes of the 1930s that it is prepared to welcome the leader of yet another antisemitic, terrorist regime.
According to Israel’s ambassador, inviting Ahmadinejad to speak is the equivalent of “inviting Hitler to [speak] in the 1930s,” because “appeasing fanatics and granting them legitimacy leads to genocide and war.” Will some future Columbia president one day look back at the invitation to Ahmadinejad and say the same thing?
Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2007 - 12:01
SOURCE: LAT (9-17-07)
There are two things that are futile to try to predict a year or more ahead: the exchange rate of the dollar and the next president of the United States. But let's just suppose the most probable thing -- based on current opinion polls -- happens. By that I mean that Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic Party's nomination and Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican Party's.
If that is the choice Americans confront on election day, Giuliani could very well emerge as the next president of the United States. ...
I remember visiting the pre-Giuliani Manhattan. It was like one long episode of "Kojak." The professions then open to young New Yorkers were dealer, hood, hooker, junkie, pimp -- or bent cop. Yet by the time I moved to the city, not long after 9/11, the analysts outnumbered the psychos. "Kojak" had been replaced by "Seinfeld." A large share of the credit for that transformation belongs to Giuliani. His presidential bid is based on the notion that what worked for the world's capital city can work for the world.
America, Giuliani says, must remain "on offense" to win the "terrorists' global war on us." What, like George W. Bush? No, no, no, no, no. In common with nearly all the Republican candidates, Giuliani's hero of choice is Ronald Reagan. But he also makes a point of likening himself to Winston Churchill.
That worries me. It shows that Giuliani buys the idea that since 9/11, the U.S. has been fighting World War III. You know how this routine goes. Al Qaeda is made up of Islamo-fascists; 9/11 was Pearl Harbor; Saddam Hussein was the Arab Hitler; the fall of Baghdad would be like the liberation of Paris. And so on. Now it's Giuliani's turn. "We should try to accomplish [in Iraq] what we accomplished in Japan or in Germany," he says. What, like bombing the place flat?
The reality is that the threat posed by Islamist terrorism today is wholly different from the threat posed by the Axis powers in 1941-42. To judge by Osama bin Laden's latest rant, he aims at mass conversion, not conquest (with low-interest loans as the latest inducement).
The Islamists have thousands rather than millions of trained warriors. Their most dangerous weapons are land mines and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, not aircraft carriers and guided missiles. The total number of American fatalities that can be attributed to this supposed world war is about 6,000 (adding together 9/11 victims with U.S. passports and the service personnel killed in action in Iraq). On average, the Axis powers killed about 20,000 Allied soldiers and civilians a day.
The trouble is that the more Americans imagine they are in a world war, the less attention they pay to the more profound strategic threats their country faces. I can think of four in particular:
* the descent of the greater Middle East into a large-scale war;
* the disintegration of the system of nuclear nonproliferation;
* the escalating competition between developed and emerging economies over scarce raw materials;
* the breakdown of the system of multilateral trade liberalization.
Taken together, these challenges will sorely test whoever occupies the White House after Bush. Has Giuliani given any of them serious thought? Does he have any strategic vision beyond preventing another 9/11 (his nightmare, he says, is an Iranian-made dirty bomb "in London or Rome or America")?
Applied to cleaning up the mean streets of New York, Giuliani's offensive approach worked pretty well (though it eventually ended in overkill). How well it can work as foreign policy is another matter altogether.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - 18:03
SOURCE: Madman of Chu (blog) (9-19-07)
Much of the logic from apologists for the Bush strategy in Iraq has begun to resemble that of the protagonist in an old joke:
A: Why are you banging your head against that wall?
B: It keeps the snakes away.
A: There are no snakes around here.
B: See! It's working!
Like the snake-warder who ignores the agenda of the snakes, Bush pundits declaim upon the situation in Iraq with very little thought for what the motives of the Iraqis themselves might actually be. One recent example was the broad anticipation, much discussed throughout the print, broadcast, and blog media, of a"TetOffensive" on the part of Iraqi insurgents set to coincide with General David Petraeus' testimony before Congress. Insurgents were so determined to discredit"the surge," so this story went, that they would launch a series of high profile attacks in the lead up to the General's assessment report earlier this month.
Well, the"surge assessment" has come and gone, and the"Iraq Tet Offensive" has yet to materialize. The levels of violence in Iraq have remained high, but one can not argue that we have seen a significant spike in the numbers of attacks against either Iraqi civilians or Coalition forces. One might argue that the prevention of a"Tet" is one index of the the success of the"surge," but this is the equivalent of declaring that banging our heads against the wall has kept the snakes away.
So many predictions from the Bush White House and its supporters about the course of the war have come up wrong that it may seem gratuitous to comment upon this one. Moreover, the prediction itself was corollary to a very blatant act of political theater, thus it may have been issued as a form of"prophylaxis." In other words, whether those who broadcast this prediction felt it to be true, they were compelled to issue it against the chance that a spike in violence might occur, thus it is not a genuinely fair gauge of their prognosticative powers.
All of this being taken into account, it is nonetheless reasonable to examine the failure of the"Tet prediction" and what it says objectively about the trajectory of the Iraq conflict. Its logic is clear- it is predicated on the assumption that the Iraqis are closely calculating their actions to influence the conduct of the US government and military. The failure of the Tet prediction, whether any of its proponents really believed it or not, calls into question the logic upon which it was based. If the launching of a"Tet offensive" would have proved that Iraqi insurgents are determined to influence US policy, does not the failure of it to materialize at least suggest the opposite possibility- that Iraqis, insurgents or not, have little interest in the ultimate shape of US policy?
The original Tet Offensive from which this metaphor derives was deeply rooted in the strategic interests of US opponents in Vietnam, most particularly the Communist Party of Vietnam. Historian have long understood that Tet was a tactical defeat for the insurgents of South Vietnam, any strategic advantages US opponents derived from it were entirely in the realm of propaganda. This was a fair trade off for the CVP, the architects of Tet, however, in that the tactical assets that were expended during the offensive would eventually have become a liability if and when the US withdrew from Vietnam. A robust force of South Vietnamese guerrillas, many of whom were not Communist, might have resisted the speedy subjugation of South Vietnamese society to the authority of the CVP, thus it was expedient to"sacrifice" them in a largely symbolic (but nonetheless politically efficacious) act of resistance.
No such logic is operative in Iraq today. The foremost concern of every interest group in Iraq is its position relative to other Iraqis, and all groups are only interested in US policy to the extent that it affects that internal power dynamic. Any tactical assets that any Iraqi party expends in attempting to move US policy are assets they will miss if and when the US leaves and the internal struggle over the fate of Iraq begins. Almost no group in Iraq, therefore, has a long-term interest in expending any assets to influence the course of"the surge." Security in Baghdad may have improved, there have been no strikes recently as spectacular as the bombings of the Iraqi parliament and the al-Sarafiya bridge in April. But this development has little bearing on the strategic interests of most Iraqi groups currently participating in the conflict.
This judgment is corroborated by the new counterinsurgency manual sponsored by David Petraeus. That text declares that a conflict like that in Iraq cannot be assessed by conventional means, using maps depicting the dispositions of forces and terrain. It proposes an alternative conceptual model for analyzing the course of such a conflict, dubbed a"logical line of operation (LLO)," an example of which is charted at left. Along the vectors articulated by this model very little strategic rationale for the success of"the surge" may be found. Whatever effect the" combat operations" of the additional troops deployed during the surge may have had, no one can argue that there has been much movement from the left side of this graph toward the right side since the beginning of extra deployments in January. Indeed, anyone who studied this chart with an eye toward the intrinsic motives of the Iraqi participants in the conflict would have refrained from predicting a"Tet offensive." Just as the surge has produced little movement from left to right along this LLO, a"Tet offensive" would have done very little to hinder it- less, certainly, than would have justified the expenditure of assets needed to contend with other Iraqi factions in the long term.
The latest"Tet prediction" moment (for it is not the first, and will not likely be the last) has come and gone without raising many eyebrows. It is dismaying, however, not merely for exemplifying how little US policy analysts understand the motives of the Iraqis, but how little interest they evince in even attempting to do so. I wish that US leaders would begin to scrutinize this litany of failed predictions and rethink the ill logic that has guided them since the Iraq policy began, but I do not hold out much hope of such an event. For the foreseeable future it seems that we will continue banging our heads against a wall in order to keep the snakes away.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - 14:24
SOURCE: http://www.tpmcafe.com (9-17-07)
Two years ago the New York Times Book Review published an essay of mine, "Allan Bloom and the Conservative Mind," in which I showed that Bloom rejected conservatives' touting his 1987 bestseller The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students as if it were a manifesto for their movement.
True, Bloom's book was properly scathing of leftist racial and sexual "identity" politics and of the political-correctness police. And it inspired a surge in conservative campus funding, pedagogy, and activism intended to rescue liberal education from a vapid, divisive multiculturalism.
Far from rescuing the liberal arts, though, the conservative surge was weakening them. It was inundating undergraduate life with premature training in marketing, self-marketing, national-security strategizing, misplaced religious enthusiasms, and sometimes, as a grace note, jejune affectations of classical virtue. And no one, I showed, had decried all this more loudly than Bloom himself.
Bloom was eccentric, and not, shall we say, my cup of tea. But some of his arguments deserve rescuing from conservative ideologues and from journalists addicted to "left vs. right" scenarios or confused and embittered by what they think liberals did to their own educations. Such journalists thought I must be trying to rescue Bloom from the right in order to claim him for the left. They didn't notice that liberal education is endangered far more now by conservative capitalist surges than by tenured radicals – an important distinction.
As it turns out, some of these confused journalists were working at The Times Book Review itself.
Under its editor-in-chief Sam Tanenhaus and a curdled former leftist apostate or mini-con or two, the Book Review clambered onto the bandwagon of neoconservative folly in Iraq, skewing its mix of reviews toward bashing critics of the war until sometime in 2005. Around then the Book Review began doing some damage control, sometimes bashing addled liberals all the more eagerly, as if that would cleanse its own excesses. How many more rounds of reviews by Christopher Hitchens, David Brooks, Paul Berman, Peter Beinart, Joe Klein, and others fixated on the follies of the left will it take to make obvious the Review's displacing of its own war guilt onto whatever liberals it can find who are even more addled than its own liberal war hawks and neo-con fellow travellers?
Occasionally the Book Review does praise a good liberal book (by the Times' own Frank Rich, for example), or it lets someone like the sorry Beinart hustle some truly embarrassing neo-con like Norman Podhoretz off-stage. Tanenhaus, in a meltingly tender New Republic profile of William F. Buckley, Jr., seemed to me to be trying to insinuate himself retroactively into Buckley's early and prescient skepticism about the war. But integrity at the Book Review (and the New Republic) will require a change not of tactics but of hearts -- and, in some cases, maybe even hands.
I've assailed the Book Review on this in passing here, and in The American Prospect, perhaps annoying some review editors. And now comes another Times Bloom essay by one of them that really ought to be read alongside my own.
Rachel Donadio's "Revisiting the Canon Wars" is fair and balanced, so to speak, but it repeats so much of what I said two years ago that one wonders why she wrote it at all. This is the Bloom book's 20th anniversary, but, if the timing of these two pieces were reversed, wouldn't Book Review editors have told me, "We can't run yours because we ran a big essay on this subject only two years ago."?
Donadio's essay is also twice as long as mine, but that's no improvement, reflecting as it does Review editors' penchant for writing much more voluminously and ponderously than they let other reviewers do. (Did you ever finish Tanenhaus' grand reassessment of Richard Hoftstadter, nearly five times the length of most full-page Times reviews? Or Barry Gewen's encyclopedic and exhausting meditation on the death of art?)
Donadio's extra space does let her call around to savants for apercus on who's killing liberal education, but her composite of their comments is something of a muddle. She acknowledges that Bloom mistrusted capitalism and that market and career pressures may indeed hurt the humanities more than mad lefties do. But her essay leaves the impression that if liberal education is ailing, it's mainly because – as an enlarged "pull quote" in the margin puts it -- "Two decades after Allan Bloom's book, it's generally agreed that his multiculturalist opponents won the canon wars." So it was they who shattered any possible consensus about which great books and core courses are essential to a good education.
But was it? Mightn't it also be "generally agreed" that while multiculturalist leftists were winning the canon wars, multiculturalist (global) capitalists were winning almost everything else? As Todd Gitlin put it memorably in The Twilight of Common Dreams, while the left was marching on the English Department, the right was marching on the White House, pushing a neoconservative interventionism that turned on the universities themselves. That has ill served liberal education, let alone ancient or Enlightenment republicanism. I say more about this today in The Guardian.
When I made such arguments in the Book Review in 2005, some of the most encouraging responses came from thoughtful conservatives: Ross Douthat wrote that "the questions Sleeper's essay raises are important, and deserve a hearing on the Right." Four of Bloom's former editors and friends wrote to thank me for rescuing his legacy from "Take Back the University" yahoos like Kimball and David Horowitz. Bloom's colleague Nathan Tarcov, who'd co-directed with him the conservative Olin Center at the University of Chicago, said so in a letter to the Times.
It was right of the Book Review to publish Tarcov's letter then (next to one from David Horowitz, of course), but on Sunday a tiny but very telling indication of how the Review has changed came in the online box of "Related" Times articles posted with Donadio's essay. It failed to link the most "related" article the Times has published in recent years – my Bloom essay. Yet it did link the conservative zealot Roger Kimball's glowing 1987 review of Bloom's book, and then Kimball's own book, "Tenured Radicals," as well. Whether out of pique or incompetence, editors who can't reference their publication's own published work are getting Orwellian and letting their own paper down.
It would be nice to "take back the Book Review" from its punch-drunk conductors, but not in order to hand it over to politically correct former editors like Rebecca Sinkler. We badly need gatekeepers with a civic-republican integrity and courage that reflects liberal education, not the curdled ressentiment about professors that we get so much from Tanenhaus, culture columnist Edward Rothstein and others I'm too merciful (or just not annoyed enough) to name.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - 14:09
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) (9-19-07)
... Soon after relocating to Washington in order to attend Georgetown, I landed an internship, which later evolved into a full-time position, at the Near East Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress, where thousands of new books, serials, and microfilms arrive yearly from the Arab world.
Numerous Arabic books dealing with Al Qaeda passed through my hands in this privileged position. A good number contained not only excerpts or quotes by Al Qaeda but entire treatises written by its members. Surprisingly, I came to discover that most of these had never been translated into English. Most significantly, however, the documents struck me as markedly different from the messages directed to the West, in both tone and (especially) content.
It soon became clear why these particular documents had not been directed to the West. They were theological treatises, revolving around what Islam commands Muslims to do vis-à-vis non-Muslims. The documents rarely made mention of all those things — Zionism, Bush's "Crusade," malnourished Iraqi children — that formed the core of Al Qaeda's messages to the West. Instead, they were filled with countless Koranic verses, hadiths (traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad), and the consensus and verdicts of Islam's most authoritative voices. The temporal and emotive language directed at the West was exchanged for the eternal language of Islam when directed at Muslims. Or, put another way, the language of "reciprocity" was exchanged for that of intolerant religious fanaticism. There was, in fact, scant mention of the words "West," "U.S.," or "Israel." All of those were encompassed by that one Arabic-Islamic word, "kufr" — "infidelity" — the regrettable state of being non-Muslim that must always be fought through "tongue and teeth."
Consider the following excerpt — one of many — which renders Al Qaeda's reciprocal-treatment argument moot. Soon after 9/11, an influential group of Saudis wrote an open letter to the United States saying, "The heart of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is justice, kindness, and charity." Bin Laden wrote in response:
"As to the relationship between Muslims and infidels, this is summarized by the Most High's Word: "We renounce you. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us — till you believe in Allah alone." So there is an enmity, evidenced by fierce hostility from the heart. And this fierce hostility — that is, battle — ceases only if the infidel submits to the authority of Islam, or if his blood is forbidden from being shed, or if Muslims are at that point in time weak and incapable. But if the hate at any time extinguishes from the heart, this is great apostasy! Allah Almighty's Word to his Prophet recounts in summation the true relationship: 'O Prophet! Wage war against the infidels and hypocrites and be ruthless. Their abode is hell — an evil fate!' Such, then, is the basis and foundation of the relationship between the infidel and the Muslim. Battle, animosity, and hatred — directed from the Muslim to the infidel — is the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them."
Bin Laden goes so far as to say that the West's purported hostility toward Islam is wholly predicated on Islam's innate hostility toward the rest of the world, contradicting his own propaganda: "The West is hostile to us on account of ... offensive jihad."
In an article titled "I was a fanatic ... I know their thinking" published by the Daily Mail soon after the London and Glasgow terrorist plots, Hassan Butt, a former jihadist, helps explain the Islamist dichotomy between the propaganda of reciprocity and the theology of eternal hostility toward the infidel: "When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network ... I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings, and 7/7 was Western foreign policy."
One is reminded of the captured video showing bin Laden laughing and gesticulating soon after the 9/11 strikes, boasting that many of the hijackers weren't even aware that they were on a suicide mission. Butt continues:
By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed this "Blair's bombs" line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology. ... As with previous terror attacks, people are again saying that violence carried out by Muslims is all to do with foreign policy. For example, on Saturday on Radio 4's Today program, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: "What all our intelligence shows about the opinions of disaffected young Muslims is the main driving force is not Afghanistan, it is mainly Iraq."
Whatever position one takes as to why Al Qaeda has declared war on America, one thing is clear: We must begin to come to terms with all of Al Qaeda's rhetoric, not just what is aimed specifically at Western readers....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - 13:23
SOURCE: NYT (9-19-07)
... This ["special"] relationship [between Great Britain and the United States] has always been a curious notion. Along with the even more dubious idea that Churchill popularized of a community of “English-speaking peoples,” it is sustained by make-believe and rewritten history. Americans don’t often use the phrase, but there was an almost comical exception when Senator John McCain visited England last year. “The special relationship between our two countries will endure throughout the 21st century,” he said. “I say that with total confidence because it’s lasted for 200 years.”
It has what? The senator’s “200 years” would take us back to the early years of the 19th century, or let’s say to 1812. What was special about the relationship that year was that the two countries were at war. Some of us take modest patriotic pride recalling the day that our brave lads burned the White House. And when he sings “The Star-Spangled Banner,” can Senator McCain have forgotten that it was a British rocket’s red glare?
For the next century the two countries were decidedly more often on bad terms than good. A large part of the British Army was stationed in Canada to protect it from its southern neighbor, and with good reason. Before the Civil War, Sir Robert Peel warned Parliament about the grave danger of an American war; during it, the secretary of state, William Seward, wanted to declare war on England and was supposedly restrained only by Lincoln himself (“One war at a time, Mr. Seward”); after it, there was a bitter dispute about a Confederate warship built in England.
In 1895 the two countries nearly went to war over a trivial border dispute in South America, and it was recorded at the time that in America a war with England would be the most popular of wars. And again in 1914: not only did Woodrow Wilson worry that he might need to intervene on the German side because of the British naval blockade but it was reckoned that more Americans would have wanted to fight against England than for it.
The two did quite briefly fight together in two world wars, but only Tony Blair, after telling a grieving New York six years ago that “My father’s generation went through the blitz; they know what it is like to suffer this deep tragedy and attack,” could have added: “There was one country and one people which stood by us at that time. That country was America, and those people were the American people.” He meant the blitz in the winter of 1940-41, when the United States was conspicuously neutral....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - 08:40
SOURCE: Crisis Papers (9-18-07)
Let's construct a pair of binoculars out of two quotes. What we see may help us understand more clearly our current reality and where it could take us in November 2008.
Seen through the right ocular is this doozy by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; it's from another era (the early-1970s, to be exact), discussing the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile prior to the military coup that toppled his government:
"The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves...I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people."
Seen through the the left ocular is a recent remark by liberal Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey from California, speaking to a gathering of anti-war activists:
"You folks should go after the Democrats. ... I'd hate to lose the majority, but I'm telling you, if we don't stand up to our responsibility, maybe that's the lesson to be learned."
So let's join the two together, adjust the binocular focus and see what's on the political horizon.
U.S. TRUSTS DEMOCRACY UNTIL...
Kissinger's recommendation for the U.S. to decide, and help arrange for, the" correct" rulers for other countries should not be surprising. (In case you've forgotten, Chile's President Allende was overthrown by rightist forces, with covert U.S. help.) That's what authoritarian ideologues do. Why? Because they are convinced they hold the patents on Truth and Righteousness and thus are permitted, nea required, to play God with other peoples' lives.
Bush carries it even further, claiming that God told him to invade Iraq.
And now, the supposedly"sovereign" government of Iraq is under firm orders from Bush to meet the"benchmarks" for stability, reconciliation, oil-revenue sharing, etc., or else. The"or else" is clear. If al-Maliki can't or won't do it, he will be replaced by a more malleable, U.S.-friendly leader.
Yes, we made a thorough mess of the situation from the first moment we invaded and set up our occupation. Yes, your civilians are dying by the hundreds each week, sometimes each day, because we removed your dictator but without moving fast enough to establish law and order and police presence and governmental institutions. Yes, we disbanded your army and thus sent hundreds of thousands of young, armed men into the streets without jobs or compensation. Yes, several million of your best and brightest citizens have emigrated from the charnel house that is Iraq.
And because we are responsible for a good share of all this misery and slaughter, we're going to stay another ten years until YOU get it right.
Oh, by the way, we're considering arranging for the division of your country into three distinct parts -- Shia, Sunni, Kurds -- but you'll love it. No need to fret: It's for your own good.
BEWARE OF"TRUTH" ZEALOTS
What's happening in Iraq, using the Kissinger quote as an example, is not unique to the CheneyBush Administration, nor to the United States of America. Self-righteous zealots, infused with"The Truth," have been galloping over the historical landscape for millenia, causing death and destruction whenever and wherever they decide to conquer and rule other peoples"for their own good." (At least that's the public rationale; privately, it's most often greed for territory and natural resources, attempts to control unstable geopolitical situations, vendettas for perceived injustices, etc. etc.)
But because such invasions and occupations have been going on for millenia doesn't make them any more acceptable when we Americans do them, especially so in the Iraq case since that war clearly was one of choice, based on lies and deceptions. And it was carried out with the U.S. having no"Plan B" for nation-building amidst an anti-occupation insurgency and a concurrent civil war as the various sectarian and religious groups jockeyed for power and control.
Bush, in his televised address last week, made it clear that there will be no major change of course in Iraq; he'll withdraw the"surge" brigades that were scheduled to be rotated out anyway, and leave 130,000-plus troops still in occupation for a good, long while, at least five and maybe 10 or 20 more years, a la South Korea. (Incidentally, this Korea analogy is total B.S., since there was no countrywide occupation there, no guerrillas who wanted us out.) Bush seems to be suggesting that the administrations that follow him, despite any professed intentions to pull back from Iraq, will find that he has so FUBAR-ed the situation in Iraq that they will be hogtied to the original Bush policy, with little chance for escape.
THE MORPHING OF THE PARTIES
The election of 2008 could lead to an historic re-alignment of the two major political parties, from the inside.
The activist Democratic base, thoroughly angered by how they are disrespected and taken for granted while the leadership directs the party down traditional paths of centrist and center-right policies, is starting to loudly grumble about that leadership and the party's presidential contenders.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, after refusing to put impeachment back"on the table" and being overly timid in her anti-war moves, will have to face off with activist Cindy Sheehan in her home San Francisco district next November. Other wishy-washy or Blue Dog Democrats will face primary challengers from the progressive wing of the party.
And here, as noted above, we have progressive Congresswoman Woolsey more or less urging the base to purify the party by knocking off less-than-satisfactory Democrats.
That's pretty strong stuff, suggesting that the Democrats won't move off their centrist dime until they are smacked upside the head by the base deciding to abandon the party, which could result in the Democrats losing their majority in the House.
WHAT THE DEMS COULD DO
Woolsey's heated rhetoric may be ill-advised and self-destructive, but Democratic Party leaders would be foolish to ignore its genesis. Based on conversations this writer has had with numerous progressive Democrats around the country, backed up by recent national polls and letters to the editors and on the call-in radio shows, Woolsey is by no means alone in her thinking.
The basis for this point of view lies in the results of the November 2006 election, when the voters overwhelming put the Democrats in charge in the House and Senate to make major changes, especially in the conduct and longevity of the occupation in Iraq. It's now nearly a year later, and the Democrats are doing virtually nothing in the way of stopping the coming attack on Iran, and have done little or nothing except pass non-binding resolutions on the Iraq occupation.
If the Democrats were to act like a true party of opposition, they could pass a bill explicity forbidding an attack on Iran, absent an imminent threat to America. They could pass a House bill authorizing funds only to protect the troops as they leave Iraq. They could, by mustering 41 votes in the Senate, cut off funding for the war except to protect the troops as they exit Iraq. But, under Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, they don't; their major aim seems to be to water down bills aimed at Bush's war in order to attract enough wavering Republicans to join them. It's conceivable such bills might pass, but they would be ineffective in doing anything other than telling Bush how tenuous his support is in the Congress, something he already knows.
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY COULD CHANGE
There is a huge chunk of the GOP that is, and has been for some time, appalled by the hijacking of their party by far-right ideologues who are eager for military adventures abroad, repressive measures at home, and spending the treasury into humongous deficits. For lack of a better term, let's refer to these alienated Republicans as comprising the"realist" wing of the GOP.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently told his fellow Republicans that unless the GOP moves back toward the center, it risks becoming a permanent minority party in state and national elections. Alan Greenspan, the former head of the Federal Reserve, a true conservative Republican, finally has expressed another part of that"realist" frustration:
"According to the Wall Street Journal, the former Federal Reserve chairman writes (in his upcoming memoir) that the GOP deserved to lose power in Congress last fall because it abandoned its small-government principles and let the budget get out of control.
"Congressional Republicans 'swapped principle for power,' he wrote. 'They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose." And though he urged Bush to veto bills to exercise fiscal discipline, the president did not follow through, and that was a 'major mistake'."
So you've got more and more Republicans, including many high-ranking Pentagon and intelligence officers, angry at the Cheneyist neo-cons for putting the military and U.S. national interests in jeopardy with their reckless foreign adventures; you've got small-government stalwarts angry at the disastrous, big-spending economic policies of the Bush Administration; you've got libertarians and moderates angry at the shredding of Constitutional protections and the police-state spying and other civil-liberties violations; etc.
In short, there is a huge center/center-right wedge of the GOP that, looking at the Bush-lite candidates being offerred, might well sit on their hands on Election Day 2008 or potentially could be lured to vote for a third-party candidate. (In one recent poll,"none of the above" was the winner among Republican voters.)
On the other side, as we've seen, there is a huge progressive bloc in the Democratic Party that similarly is likewise turned off the leading candidate currently in the race. If Hillary Clinton were to be nominated, they, too, might choose to sit out the November 2008 election, or could be ripe for a truly dynamic third-party candidate.
Is there such a populist, charmistic candidate who might make a race of it by uniting the disenchanted Dems and Reps? Or, more likely, the question should be (reminiscent of when Ross Perot mounted a strong third-party run in 1992, or Ralph Nader in 2000), which party would most benefit by a serious three-way race in 2008?
Right now, the public is so averse to Republicans -- due to the never-ending war in Iraq, to the financial, political and sexual scandals, to the deficient candidates running for the nomination -- that the Democratic candidate potentially could take the victory outright, even with a third party running a nominee. But it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Republican candidate could slide by in a three-way race, since the activist Dem base -- who ring the doorbells, drive voters to the polls, and supply millions in donations -- might well abandon the Democrats and split their energies elsewhere.
So let's take a final look through the binoculars above and see what our situation looks like in late-September 2007.
If the political situation stays much the same on the ground in Iraq, which certainly seems likely, and if the Democrats don't force a change in mission, which also seems likely, and if the U.S. attacks Iran, which appears to be a certainty within the next few months, the U.S. will be seen as continuing its imperial, self-righteous, bullying policies. Translation: More fuel for the recruiting of suicide-bombers, more terrorism directed at the U.S., an even lower reputation in international circles, more danger to America's national interests.
If each of the two major parties nominates someone who is anethema to the base of that party, those segments might split away and either form a loosely-knit third-party, or join with the Greens or whomever, thus throwing the 2008 election into confusion and/or hope, depending on the outcome you desire. It's possible the two major parties would undergo significant internal shakeups and realignments, and that a viable third party might emerge, even if it doesn't elect a candidate in 2008.
May we live in interesting times, indeed.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 - 22:35
SOURCE: MahdiWatch.org (blog) (9-16-07)
As of this writing I am watching C-SPAN2's "Book TV." Lawrence Wright is interviewing Raymond Ibrahim, who works in the Middle East section at the Library of Congress and just published The al-Qaeda Reader, containing translations of Usama bin Ladin's and Ayman al-Zawahiri's writings. Wright is trying, at every turn, to refute Ibrahim's analysis. For example, Ibrahim was just discussing the fact that UBL and his ilk justify their violence from the Qur'an and the Hadiths. Wright interjected "but of course every religion has violent tendencies: in Christianity you're supposed to stone homosexuals." Amazing. I've read the New Testament numerous times, and I've yet to find that passage.
Wright is a noted and best-selling author and alleged "expert" on the war on terror and the Middle East--and a guest host on C-SPAN--yet he is incredibly ignorant (or simply misrepresentative) of the basic teachings of Christianity. (For those of you that don't know: homosexuality is condemned as sinful in Romans 1:18-26, I Corinthians 6:9ff and I Timothy 1:8ff, but NOWHERE in the Christian faith is stoning mandated for gays or lesbians.) Of course, this attempt to brand Christianity as equal to Islam in spawning violence is a familiar trope of mainstream media types.
Ibrahim is now pointing out, over Wright's protestations, that Buddhists don't commit suicide bombings--whereas Muslims do, and furthermore that they ground such activity in their religion. Wright is trying to counter with the example of the Japanese kamikazes, who were willing to die for the Emperor.
Wright now is claiming that "every religion has contradictions in it" and is adducing Judaism as an example. He's following this with vague, blanket statements about "fundamentalist Christians who want to bring about the end of days." Ibrahim is countering that "there is no text in the New Testament telling them to do that"--whereas the Qur'an and Hadith, according to Islamic exegetes and commentators, DO contain violent commandments. So Christians who act violently are contradicting their faith--whereas Muslims who do so are not necessarily contradicting theirs.
(I've made this point in a number of articles, and of course Robert Spencer does so, quite articulately, for a living.)
Wright has moved into claiming that this problem in Islam is because "Islam has no center of authority." Well, that may be part of it. But as Ibrahim is now responding, ijma' ("consensus" of Islamic authorities) has long said that violence is totally justified in expanding the Dar al-Islam (World of Islam) at the expense of the Dar al-Harb (World of War, literally--that is, the rest of us who are not Muslims). "Fighting is prescribed for you" is a Qur'anic dictate, as Ibrahim is pointing out.
Wright just asked an incredibly moronic question: "why is violence just now becoming paramount in Islam?" Ibrahim just told him--the "expert" on Islam--that "it's not modern, Islamic violence has always been justified and acted on to expand Islam, from the earliest days through the time of the Ottoman Empire." And to Wright's rhapsodic musings about the tolerance of medieval Islam in al-Andalus (Spain), Ibrahim just reminded him "well, the Muslims got Spain in the first place through violent conquest." He also reminded Wright that "the Crusades didn't happen until AFTER Muslims had invaded the Byzantine Christian Empire and conquered territory."
Watch yourself, if C-SPAN2 shows this again. And I highly recommend getting a copy of The al-Qaeda Reader. I'm going to stop listening to Wright's dhimmi drivel and go order the book.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 - 11:53
SOURCE: Tribune Media Services (9-17-07)
Some holdover Nazi?
Hardly. It was former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan of Turkey, a NATO ally. He went on to claim that the Jews — whom he refers to as "bacteria" — controlled China, India and Japan, and ran the United States.
Who alleged: "The Arabs who were involved in 9/11 cooperated with the Zionists, actually. It was a cooperation. They gave them the perfect excuse to denounce all Arabs."
A conspiracy nut?
Actually, it was former Democratic U.S. Sen. James Abourezk of South Dakota. He denounced Israel on a Hezbollah-owned television station, adding: "I marveled at the Hezbollah resistance to Israel. . . . It was a marvel of organization, of courage and bravery."
And finally, who claimed at a United Nations-sponsored conference that democratic Israel was "much worse" than the former apartheid South Africa, and that it "undermines the international community's reaction to global warming"?
A radical environmentalist wacko?
Again, no. It was Clare Short, a member of the British parliament. She was a secretary for international development under Prime Minister Tony Blair.
A new virulent strain of the old anti-Semitism is spreading worldwide. This hate — of a magnitude not seen in over 70 years — is not just espoused by Iran's loony president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or radical jihadists.
The latest anti-Semitism is also now mouthed by world leaders and sophisticated politicians and academics. Their loathing often masquerades as "anti-Zionism" or "legitimate" criticism of Israel. But the venom exclusively reserved for the Jewish state betrays their existential hatred....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 - 09:00
SOURCE: Globalist (9-17-07)
... What is Iraq now was Latin America then, a time and place where the force of the United States as an invading power was considered at least as powerful as it is today.
Whether in Haiti or elsewhere, Americans back then believed that they were top dog — and, after invading, could fix up a place like that rather quickly. Little did they know then… Little do we know now…
In particular, the long occupations — Haiti (1915-1934), the Dominican Republic (1916-1924) and Nicaragua (1912-1933) — demonstrated amply a basic miscalculation on the part of the United States.
Then as now, U.S. policymakers believed that politicians under occupation were a highly pliable force — to be used on behalf of the good intentions of the intervening United States to remake that country — and extinguish all evil from its soil.
Alas, politicians — even when under occupation (and therefore seemingly powerless) — remained politicians. No matter how deprived, abused, exhausted or otherwise starved for stability ordinary people were
under occupation, Haitian, Dominican and Nicaraguan politicians were of another breed.
All too often, they proved willing to go on fighting with each other, to be uncompromising with either the U.S. Marines or the State Department — and to play the infamous “waiting game” until the troops left and the destructive politics of old could return.
And were those politics ever destructive. The Marines landed in all three countries in part to keep away dreaded European gunboats, but they stayed to try to right a far more fearsome wrong: internecine — or, as we say today of Iraq, sectarian — politics....
The fatal flaw of these occupations is alive again in Iraq. Despite Ambassador Crocker’s recent mutterings, the United States is again building up an apparatus of repression — without paying due respect to the political culture of Iraq.
Too much centralization is taking place, leaving scant room for the natural evolution of indigenous political institutions....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 - 00:09