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: TomDispatch.com (10-22-07)
This essay is a review of The Matador's Cape, America's Reckless Response to Terror by Stephen Holmes (Cambridge University Press, 367 pp., $30).
There are many books entitled"A Guide for the Perplexed," including Moses Maimonides' 12th century treatise on Jewish law and E. F. Schumacher's 1977 book on how to think about science. Book titles cannot be copyrighted. A Guide for the Perplexed might therefore be a better title for Stephen Holmes' new book than the one he chose, The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror. In his perhaps overly clever conception, the matador is the terrorist leadership of al Qaeda, taunting a maddened United States into an ultimately fatal reaction. But do not let the title stop you from reading the book. Holmes has written a powerful and philosophically erudite survey of what we think we understand about the 9/11 attacks -- and how and why the United States has magnified many times over the initial damage caused by the terrorists.
Stephen Holmes is a law professor at New York University. In The Matador's Cape, he sets out to forge an understanding -- in an intellectual and historical sense, not as a matter of journalism or of partisan politics -- of the Iraq war, which he calls"one of the worst (and least comprehensible) blunders in the history of American foreign policy" (p. 230). His modus operandi is to survey in depth approximately a dozen influential books on post-Cold War international politics to see what light they shed on America's missteps. I will touch briefly on the books he chooses for dissection, highlighting his essential thoughts on each of them.
Holmes' choice of books is interesting. Many of the authors he focuses on are American conservatives or neoconservatives, which is reasonable since they are the ones who caused the debacle. He avoids progressive or left wing writers, and none of his choices are from Metropolitan Books' American Empire Project. (Disclosure: This review was written before I read Holmes' review of my own book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic in the October 29 issue of The Nation.)
He concludes:"Despite a slew of carefully researched and insightful books on the subject, the reason why the United States responded to the al Qaeda attack by invading Iraq remains to some extent an enigma" (p. 3). Nonetheless, his critiques of the books he has chosen are so well done and fair that they constitute one of the best introductions to the subject. They also have the advantage in several cases of making it unnecessary to read the original.
Holmes interrogates his subjects cleverly. His main questions and the key books he dissects for each of them are:
* Did Islamic religious extremism cause 9/11? Here he supplies his own independent analysis and conclusion (to which I turn below).
* Why did American military preeminence breed delusions of omnipotence, as exemplified in Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (Knopf, 2003)? While not persuaded by Kagan's portrayal of the United States as"Mars" and Europe as"Venus," Holmes takes Kagan's book as illustrative of neoconservative thought on the use of force in international politics:"Far from guaranteeing an unbiased and clear-eyed view of the terrorist threat, as Kagan contends, American military superiority has irredeemably skewed the country's view of the enemy on the horizon, drawing the United States, with appalling consequences, into a gratuitous, cruel, and unwinnable conflict in the Middle East" (p. 72).
* How was the war lost, as analyzed in Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor (Pantheon, 2006)? Holmes regards this book by Gordon, the military correspondent of the New York Times, and Trainor, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, as the best treatment of the military aspects of the disaster, down to and including U.S. envoy L. Paul Bremer's disbanding of the Iraqi military. I would argue that Fiasco (Penguin 2006) by the Washington Post's Thomas Ricks is more comprehensive, clearer-eyed, and more critical.
• How did a tiny group of individuals, with eccentric theories and reflexes, recklessly compound the country's post-9/11 security nightmare? Here Holmes considers James Mann's Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet (Viking, 2004). One of Mann's more original insights is that the neocons in the Bush administration were so bewitched by Cold War thinking that they were simply incapable of grasping the new realities of the post-Cold War world."In Iraq, alas, the lack of a major military rival excited some aging hard-liners into toppling a regime that they did not have the slightest clue how to replace…. We have only begun to witness the long-term consequences of their ghastly misuse of unaccountable power" (p. 106).
* What roles did Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld play in the Bush administration, as captured in Michael Mann's Incoherent Empire (Verso, 2003)? According to Holmes, Mann's work"repays close study, even by readers who will not find its perspective altogether congenial or convincing." He argues that perhaps Mann's most important contribution, even if somewhat mechanically put, is to stress the element of bureaucratic politics in Cheney's and Rumsfeld's manipulation of the neophyte Bush:"The outcome of inter- and intra-agency battles in Washington, D.C., allotted disproportionate influence to the fatally blurred understanding of the terrorist threat shared by a few highly placed and shrewd bureaucratic infighters. Rumsfeld and Cheney controlled the military; and when they were given the opportunity to rank the country's priorities in the war on terror, they assigned paramount importance to those specific threats that could be countered effectively only by the government agency over which they happened to preside" (p. 107).
* Why did the U.S. decide to search for a new enemy after the Cold War, as argued by an old cold warrior, Samuel Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon and Schuster, 1996)? It is not clear why Holmes included Huntington's eleven-year-old treatise on"Allah made them do it" in his collection of books on post-Cold War international politics except as an act of obeisance to establishmentarian -- and especially Council-on-Foreign-Relations -- thinking. Holmes regards Huntington's work as a"false template" and calls it misleading. Well before 9/11, many critics of Huntington's concept of" civilization" had pointed out that there is insufficient homogeneity in Christianity, Islam, or the other great religions for any of them to replace the position vacated by the Soviet Union. As Holmes remarks, Huntington"finds homogeneity because he is looking for homogeneity" (p. 136).
* What role did left-wing ideology play in legitimating the war on terror, as seen by Samantha Power in "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide (Basic, 2002). As Holmes acknowledges,"The humanitarian interventionists rose to a superficial prominence in the 1990s largely because of a vacuum in U.S. foreign-policy thinking after the end of the Cold War…. Their influence was small, however, and after 9/11, that influence vanished altogether." He nonetheless takes up the anti-genocide activists because he suspects that, by making a rhetorically powerful case for casting aside existing decision-making rules and protocols, they may have emboldened the Bush administration to follow suit and fight the"evil" of terrorism outside the Constitution and the law. The idea that Power was an influence on Cheney and Rumsfeld may seem a stretch -- they were, after all, doing what they had always wanted to do -- but Holmes' argument that"a savvy prowar party may successfully employ humanitarian talk both to gull the wider public and to silence potential critics on the liberal side" (p. 157) is worth considering.
* How did pro-war liberals help stifle national debate on the wisdom of the Iraq war, as illustrated by Paul Berman in Power and the Idealists (Soft Skull Press, 2005)? Wildly overstating his influence, Holmes writes, Berman, a regular columnist for The New Republic,"first tried to convince us that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, far from being a tribal war over scarce land and water, is part of the wider spiritual war between liberalism and apocalyptic irrationalism, not worth distinguishing too sharply from the conflict between America and al Qaeda. He then attempted to show that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden represented two 'branches' of an essentially homogeneous extremism" (p. 181). Berman, Holmes points out, conflated anti-terrorism with anti-fascism in order to provide a foundation for the neologism"Islamo-fascism." His chief reason for including Berman is that Holmes wants to address the views of religious fundamentalists in their support of the war on terrorism.
* How did democratization at the point of an assault rifle become America's mission in the world, as seen by the apostate neoconservative Francis Fukuyama in America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale University Press, 2006)? Holmes is interested in Fukuyama, the neoconservatives' perennial sophomore, because he offers an insider's insights into the chimerical neocon"democratization" project for the Middle East.
Fukuyama argues that democracy is the most effective antidote to the kind of Islamic radicalism that hit the United States on September 11, 2001. He contends that the root of Islamic rebellion is to be found in the savage and effective repression of protestors -- many of whom have been driven into exile -- in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Terrorism is not the enemy, merely a tactic Islamic radicals have found exceptionally effective. Holmes writes of Fukuyama's argument,"[T]o recognize that America's fundamental problem is Islamic radicalism, and that terrorism is only a symptom, is to invite a political solution. Promoting democracy is just such a political solution" (p. 209).
The problem, of course, is that not even the neocons are united on promoting democracy; and, even if they were, they do not know how to go about it. Fukuyama himself pleads for"a dramatic demilitarization of American foreign policy and a re-emphasis on other types of policy instruments." The Pentagon, in addition to its other deficiencies, is poorly positioned and incorrectly staffed to foster democratic transitions.
* Why is the contemporary American antiwar movement so anemic, as seen through the lens of history by Geoffrey Stone in Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (W. W. Norton, 2004)? Holmes has nothing but praise for Stone's history of expanded executive discretion in wartime. A key question raised by Stone is why the American public has not been more concerned with what happened in Iraq at Abu Ghraib prison and in the wholesale destruction of the Sunni city of Fallujah. As Holmes sees it, the Bush administration, at least in this one area, was adept at subverting public protest. Among the more important lessons George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, and others learned from the Vietnam conflict, he writes, was that if you want to suppress domestic questioning of foreign military adventures, then eliminate the draft, create an all-volunteer force, reduce domestic taxes, and maintain a false prosperity based on foreign borrowing.
* How did the embracing of American unilateralism elevate the Office of the Secretary of Defense over the Department of State, as put into perspective by John Ikenberry in After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars (Princeton University Press, 2001)? This book is Holmes' oddest choice -- a dated history from an establishmentarian point of view of the international institutions created by the United States after World War II, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and NATO, all of which Ikenberry, a prominent academic specialist in international relations, applauds. Holmes agrees that, during the Cold War, the United States ruled largely through indirection, using seemingly impartial international institutions, and eliciting the cooperation of other nations. He laments the failure to follow this proven formula in the post-9/11 era, which led to the eclipse of the State Department by the Defense Department, an institution hopelessly ill-suited for diplomatic and nation-building missions.
* Why do we battle lawlessness with lawlessness (for example, by torturing prisoners) and concentrate extra-Constitutional authority in the hands of the president, as expounded by John Yoo in The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11 (University of Chicago Press, 2005)? In this final section, Holmes puts on his hat as the law professor he is and takes on George Bush's and Alberto Gonzales' in-house legal counsel, the University of California, Berkeley law professor John Yoo, who authored the"torture memos" for them, denied the legality of the Geneva Conventions, and elaborated a grandiose view of the President's war-making power. Holmes wonders,"Why would an aspiring legal scholar labor for years to develop and defend a historical thesis that is manifestly untrue? What is the point and what is the payoff? That is the principal mystery of Yoo's singular book. Characteristic of The Powers of War and Peace is the anemic relations between the evidence adduced and the inferences drawn" (p. 291).
Holmes then points out that Yoo is a prominent member of the Federalist Society, an association of conservative Republican lawyers who claim to be committed to recovering the original understanding of the Constitution and which includes several Republican appointees to the current Supreme Court. His conclusion on Yoo and his fellow neocons is devastating:"[I]f the misbegotten Iraq war proves anything, it is the foolhardiness of allowing an autistic clique that reads its own newspapers and watches its own cable news channel to decide, without outsider input, where to expend American blood and treasure -- that is, to decide which looming threats to stress and which to downplay or ignore" (p. 301).
Is Islam the Culprit or Merely a Distraction?
In addition to these broad themes, Holmes investigates hidden agendas and their distorting effects on rational policy-making. Some of these are: Cheney's desire to expand executive power and weaken Congressional oversight; Rumsfeld's schemes to field-test his theory that in modern warfare speed is more important than mass; the plans by some of Cheney's and Rumsfeld's advisers to improve the security situation of Israel; the administration's desire to create a new set of permanent U.S. military bases in the Middle East to protect the U.S. oil supply in case of a collapse of the Saudi monarchy; and the desire to invade Iraq and thereby avoid putting all the blame for 9/11 on al Qaeda -- because to do so would have involved admitting administration negligence and incompetence during the first nine months of 2001 and, even worse, that Clinton was right in warning Bush and his top officials that the main security threat to the United States was a potential al Qaeda attack or attacks.
This is not the place to attempt a comprehensive review of Holmes' detailed critiques. For that, one should buy and read his book. Let me instead dwell on three themes that I think illustrate his insight and originality.
Holmes rejects any direct connection between Islamic religious extremism and the 9/11 attacks, although he recognizes that Islamic vilification of the United States and other Western powers is often expressed in apocalyptically religious language."Emphasizing religious extremism as the motivation for the [9/11] plot, whatever it reveals," he argues,"…terminates inquiry prematurely, encouraging us to view the attack ahistorically as an expression of 'radical Salafism,' a fundamentalist movement within Islam that allegedly drives its adherents to homicidal violence against infidels" (p. 2). This approach, he points out, is distinctly tautological:"Appeals to social norms or a culture of martyrdom are not very helpful…. They are tantamount to saying that suicidal terrorism is caused by a proclivity to suicidal terrorism" (p. 20).
Instead, he suggests,"The mobilizing ideology behind 9/11 was not Islam, or even Islamic fundamentalism, but rather a specific narrative of blame" (p. 63). He insists on putting the focus on the actual perpetrators, the 19 men who executed the attacks in New York and Washington -- 15 Saudi Arabians, two citizens of the United Arab Emirates, one Egyptian, and one Lebanese. None of them was particularly religious. Three were living together in Hamburg, Germany, where they did appear to have become more interested in Islam than they had been in their home countries. Mohamed Atta, the leader of the group, age 33 on 9/11, had Egyptian and German degrees in architecture and city planning and became highly politicized in favor of the Palestinian cause against Zionism only after he went abroad.
Holmes notes,"According to the classic study of resentment, [Friedrich Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals (1887)] ‘every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering; more specifically, an agent, a"guilty" agent who is susceptible of pain -- in short, some living being or other on whom he can vent his feelings directly or in effigy, under some pretext or other.' If suffering is seen as natural or uncaused it will be coded as misfortune instead of injustice, and it will produce resignation rather than rebellion. The most efficient way to incite, therefore, is to indict" (p. 64).
The role of bin Laden was, and remains, to provide such a hyperbolic indictment -- one that men like Atta would never have heard back in authoritarian Egypt but that came through loud and clear in their German exile. Bin Laden demonized the United States, accusing it of genocide against Muslims and repeatedly contending that the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia ever since the first Gulf War in 1991 was a far graver offense than the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, even though that had led to the death of one million Afghans and had sent five million more into exile.
The fact that the 9/11 plot involved the attackers' own self-destruction suggests possible irrationality on their part, but Holmes argues that this was actually part of the specific narrative of blame. Americans feel contempt for Muslims and ascribe little or no value to Muslim lives. Therefore, to be captured after a terrorist attack involved a high likelihood that the Americans would torture the perpetrator. Suicide took care of that worry (and provided several other advantages discussed below).
The United States as"Sole Remaining Superpower"
Another subject about which Holmes is strikingly original is the subtle way in which the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the United States' self-promotion as the sole remaining superpower clouded our vision and virtually guaranteed the catastrophe that ensued in Iraq."Because Americans…. have sunk so much of their national treasure into a military establishment fit to deter and perhaps fight an enemy that has now disappeared," he argues,"they have an almost irresistible inclination to exaggerate the centrality of rogue states, excellent targets for military destruction, [above] the overall terrorist threat. They overestimate war (which never unfolds as expected) and underestimate diplomacy and persuasion as instruments of American power" (pp. 71-72).
Holmes draws several interesting implications from this American overinvestment in Cold-War-type military power. One is that the very nature of the 9/11 attacks undermined crucial axioms of American national security doctrine. In a much more significant way than in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, a non-state actor on the international stage successfully attacked the United States, contrary to a well-established belief in Pentagon circles that only states have the capability of menacing us militarily. Equally alarming, by employing a strategy requiring their own deaths, the terrorists ensured that deterrence no longer held sway. Overwhelming military might cannot deter non-state actors who accept that they will die in their attacks on others. The day after 9/11, American leaders in Washington D.C. suddenly felt unprotected and defenseless against a new threat they only imperfectly understood. They responded in various ways.
One was to recast what had happened in terms of Cold-War thinking."To repress feelings of defenselessness associated with an unfamiliar threat, the decision makers' gaze slid uncontrollably away from al Qaeda and fixated on a recognizable threat that was unquestionably susceptible to being broken into bits" (p.312). Holmes calls this fusion of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein a"mental alchemy, the ‘reconceiving' of an impalpable enemy as a palpable enemy." He endorses James Mann's thesis that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and others did not change the underlying principles guiding American foreign policy in response to the 9/11 attacks; that, in fact, they did the exact opposite:"[T]he Bush administration has managed foreign affairs so ineptly because it has been reflexively implementing out-of-date formulas in a radically changed security environment" (p. 106).
Unintended consequences also played a role, Holmes argues:"If conservative Congressmen had not blocked [Pennsylvania Governor] Tom Ridge's nomination as Defense Secretary [in 2000] for the ludicrously immaterial reason that he was wobbly on abortion, then the Cheney-Rumsfeld group, including Wolfowitz and [Douglas] Feith, would have been in no position to hijack the administration's reaction to 9/11" (pp. 93-94). Rumsfeld enthusiastically endorsed Bush's description of his"new" policies as a"war" because the Office of the Secretary of Defense then became the lead agency in designing and carrying out America's response.
There was little or no countervailing influence."By sheer chance," Holmes writes,"Rice and Powell -- no doubt orderly managers -- have pedestrian minds and perhaps deferential personalities. Neither provided a gripping and persuasive vision of the United States' role in the world that might have counteracted the megalomania of the neoconservatives, and neither was capable of outfoxing the hard-liners in an interagency power struggle" (p. 94).
The costs of equating al Qaeda with Iraq and of concentrating on a military response were high."It meant that some of the troops sent to Iraq in the first wave believed, disgracefully, that they were avenging the 3,000 dead from September 11…. Cruel and arbitrary behavior by some U.S. forces helped stoke the violent insurgency that followed" (p. 307).
American confusion about the nature of the enemy -- rogue state vs. non-state terrorist organization -- produced two different counterstrategies, both of which almost certainly made the situation worse. First, by focusing on a rogue state (Iraq), rather than on a non-state actor (al Qaeda), the Pentagon drew attention to what it came to call the"hand-off scenario" in which a nuclear-armed rogue state might hand over weapons of mass destruction to terrorists who would use them against the U.S. To counter this threat, the Pentagon developed a strategy of preventive war against rogue states with the objective of bringing about regime change in them. The only way to prevent nuclear proliferation to terrorist groups -- so the argument went -- was to forcibly democratize Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes, some of which had long been allied with the United States.
The other strategy was a return to what seemed like a form of deterrence: a"scare the Muslims" campaign. This involved a resort to massive"shock and awe" bombing raids on Baghdad with the intent of demonstrating the futility of defying the United States.
By reacting to the threat of modern terrorism with an attack on a substitute target -- without even bothering to calculate the enormous potential costs involved -- the Pentagon greatly overestimated what military force could achieve. Both the regime-change and overawe-the-Muslims approaches carried with them potentially devastating unintended consequences -- particularly if any of the premises, such as about who possessed WMD, were wrong. Overly abstract ideas were substituted for empirical knowledge of, and logical responses to, an enemy's capabilities. Thus, insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, two devastated, poor countries, have managed to fight one of the most powerful American expeditionary forces in history to a virtual standstill. In short,"America's bellicose response to the 9/11 provocation was not only dishonorable and unethical, given the cruel suffering it has inflicted on thousands of innocents, but also imprudent in the extreme because it was bound to produce as much hatred as fear, as much burning desire for reprisal as quaking paralysis and docility. Some of the sickening effects are unfolding before our eyes. That even more malevolent consequences remain in store is a grim possibility not to be wished away" (p. 10).
Complicity of the Left in American Imperialism
Holmes is also interesting on why the American Left has been so ineffectual in countering the efforts of Washington's pro-war party. Deeply guilt-ridden over the Clinton administration's failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda and frustrated by the constraints of international law and United Nations procedures, some influential progressives in America had already advocated a preemptive and unilateralist turn in American foreign policy that the Bush administration hijacked. Human rights activists had heavily promoted intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo to halt ethnic cleansing -- and doing so without any international sanction whatsoever. Some of them became as enthusiastic about using the American armed forces to achieve limited foreign policy goals as many neocons. Even U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright made herself notorious with her 1993 wisecrack to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell:"What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?"
Although Holmes tries not to overstate his case, he suspects that the humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s -- at one point he speaks of"human rights as imperial ideology" (p. 190) -- may have played at least a small role in the public's acceptance of Bush's intervention in Iraq. If so, it is hard to imagine a better example of the disasters that good intentions can sometimes produce. The result in Iraq, in turn, has more or less silenced calls from the Left for further campaigns of military intervention for humanitarian purposes. The U.S. is conspicuously not participating in the U.N. intervention in the Darfur region of Sudan.
The Rule of Law
As a legal scholar, Holmes is committed to the rule of law."[L]aw is best understood," he writes,"not as a set of rigid rules but rather as a set of institutional mechanisms and procedures designed to correct the mistakes that even exceptionally talented executive officials are bound to make and to facilitate midstream readjustments and course corrections. If we understand law, constitutionalism, and due process in this way, then it becomes obvious why the war on terrorism is bound to fail when conducted, as it has been so far, against the rule of law and outside the constitutional system of checks and balances" (p. 5).
This short-circuiting of normal constitutional procedures he sees as probably the most consequential post-9/11 blunder of the Bush administration. The President's repeated claims that he needs high levels of secrecy and the ability to arbitrarily cancel established law in order to move decisively against terrorists draw his utter contempt."By dismantling checks and balances, along the lines idealized and celebrated by [John] Yoo, the administration has certainly gained flexibility in the 'war on terror.' It has gained the flexibility, in particular, to shoot first and aim afterward" (p. 301). Although such an assumption of dictatorial powers has happened before during periods of national emergency in the United States, Holmes is convinced that the humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s helped anesthetize many Americans to the implications of what the government was doing after 9/11.
Even now, with the Iraq War all but lost and public opinion having turned decisively against the President, there is still a flabbiness in mainstream criticism that reveals a major weakness in the conduct of American foreign policy. For example, while many hawks and doves today recognize that Rumsfeld mobilized too few forces to achieve his military objectives in Iraq, they tend to concentrate on his rejection of former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki's advice that he needed a larger army of occupation. They almost totally ignore the true national policy implications of Rumsfeld's failed leadership. Holmes writes,"If Saddam Hussein had actually possessed the tons of chemical and biological weapons that, in the president's talking points, constituted the casus belli for the invasion, Rumsfeld's slimmed-down force would have abetted the greatest proliferation disaster in world history" (p. 82). He quotes Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor:"Securing the WMD required sealing the country's borders and quickly seizing control of the many suspected sites before they were raided by profiteers, terrorists, and regime officials determined to carry on the fight. The force that Rumsfeld eventually assembled, by contrast, was too small to do any of this" (pp. 84-85). As a matter of fact, looters did ransack the Iraqi nuclear research center at al Tuwaitha. No one pointed out these flaws in the strategy until well after the invasion had revealed that, luckily, Saddam had no WMD.
With this book, Stephen Holmes largely succeeds in elevating criticism of contemporary American imperialism in the Middle East to a new level. In my opinion, however, he underplays the roles of American imperialism and militarism in exploiting the 9/11 crisis to serve vested interests in the military-industrial complex, the petroleum industry, and the military establishment. Holmes leaves the false impression that the political system of the United States is capable of a successful course correction. But, as Andrew Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, puts it:"None of the Democrats vying to replace President Bush is doing so with the promise of reviving the system of checks and balances…. The aim of the party out of power is not to cut the presidency down to size but to seize it, not to reduce the prerogatives of the executive branch but to regain them."
There is, I believe, only one solution to the crisis we face. The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge, still growing military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic -- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force. To take up these subjects, however, moves the discussion into largely unexplored territory. For now, Holmes has done a wonderful job of clearing the underbrush and preparing the way for the public to address this more or less taboo subject.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 - 20:48
SOURCE: Counterpunch (10-15-07)
My attack on the "Islamofascism" concept and the right-wing extremists' call for an "Islamofascism Awareness Week" has provoked varying responses, from a lovely invitation to attend an Eid feast to such reactions as the following:
Dear Professor Leupp,
While the issue of exactly what to call those who base their faith in Islam, and at the same time, call for a "world Caliphate" and with the outspoken intent of bringing "all the world" under this Caliphate, ruling via "Sharia Law", there can be no rational debate over the issue of intent, one merely has to record the words of the Islamic leaders around the world.
As to the idea that Iran has not attacked anyone in centuries, you seem to have lost sight of the act of war Iran committed when it invaded our Embassy in 1979. In case you've lost sight of it, embassies are considered "sovereign territory" of the Nation whose embassy it is, and any such attack is considered "an act of war" in accordance with Geneva Convention.
You also give Iran a free ride in ignoring the fact that Iranian Revolutionary Guards put in place Iranian saboteurs who used half a dozen satchel charges to disable airliners sitting on the runway and taxi-way of Beirut International Airport, the same year, and assassinated various Lebanese Government officials fomenting an Islamic war against the Constitutional government of Lebanon.
It is a fact that Hezbollah is an Iranian terrorist organization, and that it has been used to keep Lebanon from having a civil government by agitation and the usurpation of authority among the Islamic sector of Lebanon, and bringing about the "Lebanese civil war" which still rages today.
I spent the winter of 82-83 as part of the "Multi-National Peace-keeping Force" which halted the Islamic aggression, removed arafat and his minions, established arafat as a "bargaining partner", and prevented the Israeli Defense Force from pursuing the minions of arafat some 2500 terrorists, and destroying them. We kept the IDF and the Syrian Army from battling out the control of Beirut, and provided security for all the non-Islamic people of Lebanon, who have been deliberately targeted by Hezbollah and the many Islamic militias fomented by Iran.
You apparently don't know much about what has gone on in the middle east in the past three decades, or you would have a column that could be based on facts, explicated, rather than on feelings and opinions without the backing of facts.
If you really want to know what it is like in the middle east, you have to go there and experience it. I have, and it doesn't "experience" anything like it is played out by the media. Even the so called "moderate Muslims" openly proclaim that Islam is not in America to be equal to any other religion, but is here to rule over all. That is the official position of the "Council on American Islamic Relations", which is merely a new name for the "Palestinian Liberation Organization" which had to change its name to remain in the United States.
[Concluding disparaging remarks deleted]
GySgt, USMC, ret.
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I usually smile at this sort of material, particularly if I find it personally insulting, and delete it. I don't have time to even answer all the polite emails I receive. But in this case on a whim I replied, asking permission to replicate the letter with my comments so we might both reach a wide audience. The sergeant's response follows.
* * *
You are welcome to post it, I make no excuses for what I write, it is what I have found through experience. My only hope for this world, is for those who are indeed "moderate" to find ways to actually communicate, and find a way and means to compromise and find peace. I am reminded of the story of the first weeks of our post revolutionary war post articles of confederation time, when our forefathers sat down with the intent to "fix the articles so they would work more aptly to further the life of the colonies". They spent weeks with no real hope, every representative seeing his own desires for his own State as being opposed by the desires of the others with the same goal.
Benjamin Franklin stood up, at 82, and spoke out to the convention. He asking why "we can gather here together" with the intent of forming a new kind of bond between Sovereign States, after fighting a war where "we sought the answer to our questions from before the first shot was fired, from the God of Creation, and held our judgment until we found our answer, yet we have opened this most difficult task, and have entirely left our supplications for wisdom behind". He then asked that the chaplain be brought forward and they had prayer and sought guidance.
From that day on, the Constitution Convention had prayer of supplication for wisdom to meet all the needs of the delegates, and out of it came the single most important contract between a people, and their prospective government that has ever been written. It is the document that spells out our "contract" between all of us, it defines the role of the federal government, and it does all of this with an even hand for all who pursue liberty while restraining their own wills with personal self-responsibility.
I apologize for the last couple of personal remarks, I know I disparaged you to some degree, and it was out of anger. I ask that you forgive me the personal remarks, and other than that, take it, reproduce it, and reply as you will. I would appreciate a copy of your comments as well if you will. I am far happier for having a debate than simply taking everything at first glance.
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In the spirit of rational debate, here's my reply.
Dear Gunnery Sergeant John McClain:
First of all, I dispute the charge that my column was based on "feelings" as opposed to "facts." You did not cite any instance of factual error. The main point of the column was that "Islamofascism Awareness Week" constitutes a general, unprincipled attack on a world religion in the context of moves towards war with more Muslim countries. It's intended to distort and vilify.
You make it clear that your reaction to my piece is shaped by your military experience in Lebanon in 1982-3, countering what you call "Islamic aggression." You are of course speaking of a majority Muslim country that had a government headed by a Christian (in accordance with a French-dictated constitution, a legacy of a Christian colonialism). He had requested the assistance of secular Muslim Syria in the 1970s to halt a civil war. Lebanon had been invaded by Israel in 1982. As I understand it the Shiite population of southern Lebanon initially welcomed the Israeli invasion due to their hostility to the Palestinian presence that Israel drove out. But the mood quickly changed, and Hizbollah was born.
You were involved in the multinational force sent in part to evacuate Palestinians, targeted savagely by the Israelis led by Ariel Sharon and by the Lebanese Christian Phalangists. Where do you find "Islamic aggression" in this scenario? U.S. troops were targeted by Shiites acting in their own country. Who's the aggressor here? You erroneously call Hizbollah an "Iranian terrorist organization." No doubt it (or the "Islamic Jihad" group that took responsibility for the 1983 Beirut barracks attack) had Iranian backing, but it consists of Lebanese. But do you really think that in the context of Israeli, French, U.S. and Syrian involvement (this latter, I repeat, invited by Christian Lebanese), Islamic Iran was the "aggressor" here?
Just as an intellectual exercise I might ask you to wrack your brain and list down instances of U.S. aggression in the last 30 years. And next to that column list anything you can possible represent as "Iranian acts of aggression." Note down the casualty figures and compare. Perhaps you will reject the very notion that the U.S., the USMC in particular, would ever be involved in any aggression against, say, Grenada, or Panama, or Yugoslavia, or Iraq. Perhaps you think those were all noble causes. But ask yourself why people globally, regardless of religion, understand the current U.S. invasion of Iraq, condemned as illegal by Pope John Paul II and then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as aggression, big-time. And ask why a Muslim might see it as specifically "Christian aggression" against a Muslim state.
You assume I have never been in the Middle East. I have, actually, but that is of little importance. You and I can be living in the same neighborhood of Boston but very different assessments of what is going on. Your very specific sort of experience in Lebanon hardly entitles you assert superior knowledge of the Islamic world, and your references to Palestinians (and apparent disinclination to even capitalize the name of their late leader) suggest you have acquired a very skewed understanding of their plight and response to it.
You make several assertions, implicitly demanding I accept or refute them:
(1) Islamic leaders around the world call for a "world Caliphate."
(2) Iran (contrary to my claim to the contrary) has in fact attacked other countries in recent times.
(3) Even "moderate" Muslims want to "rule over all" in America.
Before responding to these, I'd like suggest that religion is as much as anything else a matter of cultural identity. It's not genetically determined, but is generally inherited from one's parents. Those who come to abandon the faith in which they were raised are surely in the minority. In other words, the billion-plus Muslims about whom you so confidently generalize are comparable to a huge ethnic category (like Europeans) or linguistic group (like English speakers). Among them there is enormous variety. But when you attack the whole group, you tend to encourage them to pull together in self-defense.
World religious statistics might suggest that one-third of human beings are Christians, but how many of those Christians sincerely believe, study scripture, or really care about religion? How many will go to church on occasion, enjoy the atmosphere, church music etc. but would be utterly unable to explain to someone else the articles of the Apostles' or Nicene Creed? How many would just say, "Well, I don't know about that stuff. Anyway I was raised Methodist (or whatever)?" How many indifferent, secular people only discover the importance of the religion they've inherited when it and they come under attack?
In the old Yugoslavia, the Muslim population was generally secular. I have friends from Bosnia who are religiously indifferent and prefer to be called "Bosniaks" rather than "Bosnian Muslims" because Islam isn't really central to their lives. But when savage ethnic violence broke out in Yugoslavia, everyone in what had been a very secular society was suddenly a Catholic Croat, Orthodox Serbian, Muslim Bosnian, etc. In that context an attack on a specific religion was basically an attack on a whole ethnic group. The results were horrific.
I personally reject religious belief in general, and in writing about Islam I've never promoted the belief system. In the right time and place, I critique religion broadly or analyze as best I can any particular one. You appear to be a Christian. Surely you understand that if one wanted to stress the most shocking content of the Bible (and there is so much of it) and the savagery of Christian history from the burnings of heretics to the forced conversions in the New World to the general carnage occurring within 20th century Christian-European civilization, it would be an easy project. But then there's the other side: the beauty of the Sermon on the Mount, the glory of Bach's music, the heroism of the African-American church in the Civil Rights Movement. I think it's the same with Islam. It's a complex mix.
But to your specific claims:
(1) Islamic leaders around the world call for a "world Caliphate."
Which leaders are you talking about? All Islamic leaders? Your statement that "there can be no rational debate over the issue of intent" is obviously an effort to cut off discussion. But the rather authoritative Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford University Press, 1997) will inform you in its "Khalifa" entry that "in practice, there is little sign of any desire to return to the Caliphate" among Muslims (p. 543).
Islam is a missionary religion, like Christianity. There are Christian evangelicals who want to convert the entire world and are indeed the support-base of this (aggressive) Bush administration. Then there are Christians who celebrate the diversity of belief systems. If you ask a Muslim leader if he/she would desire that the whole world be Muslim, the answer would perhaps be yes. People who experience satisfaction in their faith may wish to spread it, out of love for humanity among other reasons, however misguided I may consider their efforts. The religious proselytizing mentality is hardly unique to Islam. As for the revival of the caliphate, I think there are many opinions within Islam about that issue and it is the last thing on the mind of the ordinary Muslim. The fact that President Bush, who knows very little about history, should hold up this boogeyman of a revived caliphate should tell you something. I'd suggest reading this article from the Oct. 12 Newsweek for some perspective.
(2) Iran has in fact attacked other countries in recent times.
You begin with "Iran" attacking "our" embassy in 1979. In fact, in the course of the Iranian Revolution---the most genuinely mass-based revolution in a Muslim country in modern times, supported by nearly all segments of a complex society---Muslim students seized the embassy. This as you know followed the U.S. refusal to observe the extradition treaty between the two countries that would have returned the Shah to Iran from the U.S. and allowed the Iranians to try him for multiple crimes. (You know, the way the similarly hated and formerly U.S.-backed Saddam Hussein in U.S.-occupied Iraq was tried?) It was not the action of a consolidated state. In any case the fact that it was so widely supported in Iran should alert you to the fact that the main victim here wasn't the group of U.S. diplomats and CIA agents ultimately freed in a deal as Reagan took office, but a large nation that had been subjected to the rule of a man aggressively installed in power by the government of your majority-Christian nation in 1953 after it had toppled the democratically elected regime.
You note that "embassies are considered 'sovereign territory' of the Nation whose embassy it is, and any such attack is considered 'an act of war' in accordance with Geneva Convention." I wonder what your feelings are about U.S. forces storming the Iranian consulate in Irbil, Iraq last January, and seizing diplomatic personnel, computers and documents. That action was denounced even by the Iraqi regime placed in power by the invasion. Should Iran consider that an act of war?
Even if you can find instances of Iranian-sponsored terrorism here and there (and no doubt you can), how does affect my argument? Are you saying that because such things happen, it's ok to broadly trash Muslims? That these instances stem from something intrinsic to Islam? The burden of proof is on you.
(3) Even "moderate" Muslims want to "rule over all" in America.
Is that allegation the product of research, John? Have you had conversations with moderate Muslims who state that? And if they do, are they saying that they're working overtime to make this happen through planning jihadi violence in our cities? Or merely that they believe as a matter of faith that ultimately God's will will be realized as the whole world embraces the truth of the Qur'an?
While some folks are promoting paranoid Islamophobia, Muslim clerics in the U.S. have stated their commitment to ecumenism and tolerance. (These include the CAIR folks you conflate mistakenly with the PLO.) Do you think them insincere? And if the two million Muslims in the U.S. indeed harbor the secret desire to "rule over all," what do you think "we" non-Muslims should do? Follow the example of Christian sixteenth century Spain and expel the Muslims or force them to convert? Or the example of twentieth century Germany in dealing with the Jews---with concentration camps and genocide? (Recall by the way how the Nazis accused the Jews of trying to control the world and Germany. Do you see no resemblance between such charges and your statements about Muslims trying to "rule all the world" and "rule over all" America?)
As you know current U.S. "defense" doctrine specifies that the U.S. will not permit any rival power to emerge on this planet, will maintain "full spectrum dominance" and engage in preemptive strikes in violation of the UN Charter. The U.S. military budget exceeds that of the entire world combined, and there are U.S. forces stationed in over half the world's countries. There are 190 US bases in Europe alone. Dick Cheney and his neocons want to "defeat evil" in Muslim Iran and Syria, producing an empire from the Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean. Sounds to me like an effort to "rule all the world"---a sort of American caliphate emerging to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers."
By the way, what do you suppose "Muslim rule" meant historically? Surely you are aware that during centuries when Christian monarchs were driving out Jews, they were made welcome in Muslim societies as a "People of the Book." And that while Muslims were being driven out of Spain or forced to convert by the sword, the Muslim world generally extended tolerance to Christians. The religious intolerance of a minority of contemporary Muslim states has not been the historical norm since Islam emerged, 1200 years before the birth of the American republic.
Notice how the Christians who had enjoyed equal rights in Saddam's Iraq are now fleeing in droves from that country to Syria with its Baathist secularist policies as they strive to regain the religious freedom they've lost. Note too that Syria is in the U.S. administration's crosshairs, vilified constantly and conflated with Iran---a very different country politically, ethnically, culturally, and religiously but also Muslim.
Finally, you mention Benjamin Franklin, the Constitution, and the role of collective prayer in producing agreement at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. I'm not sure exactly how this connects with your earlier email, and not sure if your facts are accurate. But this is what I get out of it. Religion can bind people together. Maybe a common belief in a Supreme Being helped focus the delegates' discussion in Philadelphia. But the delegates at that convention differed widely in their religious beliefs. You may know that Franklin, a man of the Enlightenment, was skeptical about the divinity of Christ although the Christians today want to include him (and the equally skeptical Thomas Jefferson) as co-believers. I think this is clearly erroneous from a historical point of view but it again relates to the question if identity. Maybe they would have defined themselves in some contexts as Christians but they would never have embraced many doctrines in the Bible espoused by other delegates. Similarly, many Muslims today will only selectively embrace aspects of historical Islam. The U.S. press with some justice distinguishes "secular" Muslims in the Iraqi government from "fundamentalists." Muslim identity like Christian identity is complicated.
Religions and their practices evolve over time. Contemporary Christianity is not that of St. Paul's or Luther's time, and Islam today is not that of the Prophet's day or of the time of the Caliphate. A hostile critic wanting to provoke can always throw an ancient text into a contemporary believer's face and demand, "Justify that!" or "Explain that!" or "Apologize for that!" I could confront a self-defined Christian with lots of biblical passages in an attempt to embarrass or put on the spot. But what would be the point? I don't assume the average Christian takes the Bible literally, feels obliged to defend every passage, or wants society to be governed by the Laws of Moses or the instructions found in the epistles of St. Paul. Nor does the average Muslim want to live by the Sharia law you apparently find so threatening.
These days those who stereotype Muslims and essentialize Islam not only don't know what they're talking about but are vilifying and dehumanizing others in order to justify more war. I'm not saying that's your intention, Sergeant, but it's encouraged by your rhetoric about "the Caliphate."
A final comment on Franklin. He once expressed fears about the German immigrant population in the American colonies, doubts about the possibility of assimilating German-speakers. He was concerned that there would eventually be so many Germans in what would become the United States that "all the advantages we [English colonists] have will, in my opinion, be not able to persevere our language, and even our government will become precarious."
Of part-German ancestry myself, I have to shake my head at such unfounded fear. This country---if it's the country of that Constitution you so revere---should be able to assimilate people from anywhere, regardless of ethnicity or religion, including Muslims.
With best wishes this Eid.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 - 20:19
SOURCE: New Republic (10-22-07)
Nothing in the field of international affairs is as scandalous and as perplexing as the fact of American power. From Revolutionary times to the present, virtually all observers foreign and domestic have agreed that Americans don't do foreign policy well. Moralistic, uninformed, unsubtle, alternately isolationist and hyperactive, hamstrung by a clumsy constitutional process and a public that oscillates between fatuous idealism and ignorant bellicosity, U.S. foreign policy has been shocking the world for more than 200 years.
And, worse still, we win. For two centuries, the United States has astounded critics with its bad foreign policy--and, for two centuries, the United States has steadily risen to an unprecedented level of power and influence in the international system. Why does the team with the worst skills in the league end up with so many pennants?
The spectacle is often surreal. The United States seems to wander nearsightedly but relatively unscathed past one hazard after another--like a version of the chronically oblivious cartoon character Mr. Magoo. Thomas Jefferson's embargoes against Britain and France during the Napoleonic Wars crippled U.S. trade and lowered our prestige; the episode remains a textbook example of moralistic illusions effecting poor foreign policy choices. But Jefferson's America escaped a generation of devastating world conflict with few scratches, and no country emerged with gains that truly matched the Louisiana Purchase. The pattern continued, as a blundering, often racist foreign policy allowed the United States to expand to the Pacific Ocean and assert a hemispheric hegemony that endures to this day, overcoming the opposition of European powers that had larger armies and navies, better-organized policy- making, a more nuanced view of the world, and a less cumbersome political structure.
The pattern continued in the twentieth century. Historians--notably George F. Kennan--have justly excoriated the profound ignorance, moralism, and wishful thinking of American statesmen in the last century. A strong commitment to the European balance of power before World War I would probably have prevented that terrible conflict; Germany would have realized that a well-armed United States, prepared to support Britain and France, made victory impossible. Wilson's disastrous conduct at Versailles, the Washington establishment's equally contemptible failure to integrate the United States into the interwar global security system, the passive and mindless acquiescence in Franco-British containment of Hitler--America's contribution to the suffering of World War II is much greater than most of us even now are willing to acknowledge.
But, devastating and horrible as the two world wars were, the net result for the United States was surprisingly benign. We sustained serious casualties and we spent a lot of money, but Mr. Magoo suffered far less than either his allies or his enemies; indeed, economically, technologically, and politically, the United States emerged from both world wars stronger than when we entered them....
[HNN Editor: This article extends for 10 web pages.]
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 - 17:51
SOURCE: WSJ (10-23-07)
Twenty years ago today the United States Senate voted to reject President Reagan's nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. The senators may have had every reason to believe that was the end of the story. However ugly it had been, however much time it had taken, Mr. Bork's defeat was only one more routine sacrifice to partisan politics. But time would prove wrong anyone who actually thought that. The battle over Mr. Bork was politically transformative, its constitutional lessons enduring.
To many at the time (and still today) it was inconceivable that a man of Mr. Bork's professional accomplishments and personal character could be found unacceptable for a seat on the Court. Warren Burger summed it up for many when he described Mr. Bork as simply the best qualified nominee in the former chief justice's own professional lifetime--a span of years that included the appointments of such judicial luminaries as Benjamin Cardozo, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. Such praise was no empty exaggeration.
A former Yale law professor and U.S. Solicitor General, Mr. Bork was, at the time of his nomination, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. When he was a circuit court judge, Mr. Bork's opinions not only were never overruled on appeal, but on several occasions his dissents were adopted by the Supreme Court as its majority view.
In an earlier day such an appointment would have been celebrated as adding breadth, depth and luster to the highest bench. Instead, the nominee faced a mauling by those who set out not only to destroy him personally but to discredit all that he stood for as a jurist.
It was immediately clear that the unprecedented vote of 58-42 against his confirmation reflected something far more historic and fundamental than an ordinary partisan standoff. The confrontation in fact had been one of the most cataclysmic and divisive events in American domestic politics during the second half of the 20th century. The reason was that Mr. Bork's opponents succeeded in making the fight over his nomination into a contest over the future of the Constitution.
The issue that united the judge's critics in their fiery, scorched-earth opposition was never his ability or reputation but rather his theory of judging. Mr. Bork's belief was that judges and justices in their interpretations of the Constitution must be bound to the original intentions of its framers. In his sober constitutional jurisprudence there was no room for any airy talk about a general right of privacy, allegedly unwritten constitutions, vague notions of unenumerated rights, or what the progressive Justice Black once derided as "any mysterious and uncertain natural law concept." For Mr. Bork, the framers said what they meant, and meant what they said....
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 - 17:40
SOURCE: Nation (10-12-07)
The New York Times recently reported that President George W. Bush has told his visitors "that he needs to get to the Korea model," meaning a politically sustainable US presence to stabilize the Middle East. Obviously, this is part of his design to lock his successors (not just the next President) into defending the Middle East as a cardinal precept of American foreign policy.
Bush intends for his successors to defend and continue his Iraq War, and expand his notions of democracy to the area--provided they not disturb the status quo for our friends who supply us with oil. He will embed us deeper in Iraq and meanwhile prepare a Second Front for Iran.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter tentatively moved toward drawing down troops garrisoned in South Korea. Political figures in South Korea and Japan reacted with a mixture of dismay and indignation, all but accusing the United States of abandoning them to aggression and a takeover by "Red China" and North Korea. The outcry was hysterical--and cynical.
The fine hand of vested military interests was all too apparent. The military-industrial complex, bequeathed to us long before Eisenhower's famous warning, was not about to surrender its lucrative Korean "business," which long had eclipsed the original containment mission. They filled the campaign coffers of Congressmen, scattered around the country, who were only too anxious to maintain full "defense" employment in their districts. And we are still in Korea.
The Bush Administration has made clear its opposition to any peace treaty between the two Koreas without the North's submission to our nuclear weaponry demands. Bush's Korea model serves his Middle East aims. We are now captive to Saudi Arabia's and the United Arab Emirates' rich supplies of oil; to maintain that pipeline, we presumably must be prepared to defend our suppliers against any hostile aggression by Iran. The Saudis will not have it any other way--whatever Osama bin Laden may think about our being on Sunni holy soil.
Just as with South Korea, the military and its suppliers retain an enormous stake in such a policy. Reportedly, half the US Navy's warships are now within striking distance of Iran. They must be supplied with missiles, food and other stores. Again, defense and war measures serve the local needs of a Congressional district--whatever the national interests or needs.
Now comes the Kyl-Lieberman resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization. This is no typical "sense of the Senate" measure, harmless and equivalent to the annual Mothers' Day or Little League resolutions. True, the authors modified their original saber-rattling words, but the consensus is that Bush has been given his blank check. When it suits his purposes, he conveniently remembers Vietnam: think of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution--a warning against attacking US Forces that Lyndon Johnson later cleverly exploited to Americanize the existing conflict and safeguard us against imagined falling dominoes.
Senator James Webb (D-VA) has no illusions about the Bush Administration's present course. He, too, is a good student of history. Webb assailed Kyl-Lieberman as "a backdoor method of gaining Congressional validation for military action, without one hearing and without serious debate." Shades of Tonkin Gulf.
The Senate overwhelmingly voted to support the resolution, 76-22, and the lesser political stars of the House earlier voted 397-16 to endorse it. Perhaps the Democratic majorities believed that once Senator Joseph Lieberman agreed to remove his more bellicose language, they could support the "simple" condemnation of the Revolutionary Guards. Congressional memories are notoriously short.
The resolution received media attention largely for its links to presidential politics, with little consideration of it implications. Much was made of Hillary Clinton's vote for it. Barack Obama was a no-show. Clinton was joined by numerous Democrats (her supporters?) in a show of solidarity with their old friend Lieberman. (Most strikingly, Charles Schumer (D-NY) supported it, but he and his ready microphone were nowhere to be found.)
Interestingly, the 2006 class of newly elected Senators, with clear memories of their constituents' antiwar sentiments, voted against Kyl-Lieberman: Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Clair McCaskill (D-MO), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Webb. The Republicans continue to march in directed lockstep--only Chuck Hagel (R-NB) and surprisingly, Richard Lugar (R-IN) opposed the resolution. But the silence of such "moderates" and critics" as John Warner (R-VA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) tells us about the strength of White House discipline.
The Democrats, more diverse and more splintered, are always ripe for analysis. David Bromwich has suggested that Hillary Clinton is psychologically akin to the Fabian Socialists--without, of course, their Socialist component. Such Fabians as Sidney and Beatrice Webb ardently believed in imposing top-down bureaucratic organizations for a benign reform of the world. And they were, it should be remembered, primary advocates of liberal imperialism. George Bush and Hillary Clinton do not differ in goals; she undoubtedly believes she can do it all more efficiently.
The Democrats appear to be anti-Iraq War. Maybe. But they surely are not opponents of imperial overreach.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Monday, October 22, 2007 - 21:18
SOURCE: Independent Institute (10-19-07)
The Bush administration is attempting to soothe the Turkish government’s apoplectic reaction to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s label of “genocide” on Turkey’s slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, which occurred almost a century ago. The administration fears that an enraged Turkish ally, already threatening to invade northern Iraq in order to suppress armed Turkish Kurd rebels seeking refuge there, will also cut off U.S. access to Turkish air bases and roads used to re-supply U.S. forces in Iraq. The administration essentially wants to allow the Turks to continue to deny a historical fact that preceded even the existence of the current Turkish system of government.
Similarly, the United States has never been too enthusiastic about criticizing Japan’s denial of having used Chinese and South Korean women as sex slaves (so-called “comfort women”) during World War II. More generally, the United States never really says too much when the current Japanese government regularly tries to whitewash in school textbooks the atrocious conduct of the Imperial Japanese regime before and during World War II. Again, a principal ally who does not face up to important historical facts is not reproved.
Yet the administration is still repeatedly bringing up Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s December, 2005 denial of the historical fact of the Jewish holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. That’s because the U.S. government chooses to get along a lot less with the Iranian government (than it does with the governments of Turkey and Japan); because Israel, Iran’s nemesis, is a U.S. ally; and because the administration can win points with its domestic Israeli lobby.
In the same vein, the administration is supposed to be supporting the expansion of democracy overseas—that’s why the United States invaded Iraq, right?—but does so only in less friendly countries, not close allies. The United States has pressured weaker Arab countries near Israel to hold elections and make democratic reforms, for example, among the Palestinians and Lebanese, but it has not pressured Israel to remove the second-class citizenship of the Arab population living within its borders. The administration has aided opposition forces in Iran, even though the groups don’t want the support, while making only half-hearted attempts to democratize its autocratic allies in Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Of course, the United States doesn’t really need to coddle despotic regimes just to win their lukewarm support for the “war on terror,” their promise not to attack Israel, or their agreement to pump oil which their own economic interest would cause them to sell on the world market anyway. But neither does it need to meddle in the internal affairs of adversaries, such as Syria and Iran.
But if the United States were to have the same standard for all countries—both friend and foe—and join the international community in identifying and strongly condemning all documented cases of genocide, other war crimes, and repressive behavior by all countries, then perhaps there would be a chance that history might not be repeated....
Posted on: Monday, October 22, 2007 - 21:01
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (10-19-07)
They can't help themselves. They want to confess.
How else to explain the torture memorandums that continue to flow out of the inner sancta of this administration, the most recent of which were evidently leaked to the New York Times. Those two, from the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, were written in 2005 and recommitted the administration to the torture techniques it had been pushing for years. As the Times noted, the first of those memorandums, from February of that year, was"an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency." The second"secret opinion" was issued as Congress moved to outlaw" cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment (not that such acts weren't already against U.S. and international law). It brazenly"declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard"; and, the Times assured us,"the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums."
All of these memorandums, in turn, were written years after John Yoo's infamous "torture memo" of August 2002 and a host of other grim documents on detention, torture, and interrogation had already been leaked to the public, along with graphic FBI emailed observations of torture and abuse at Guantanamo, those"screen savers" from Abu Ghraib, and so much other incriminating evidence. In other words, in early 2005 when that endorsement of"the harshest interrogation techniques" was being written, its authors could hardly have avoided knowing that it, too, would someday become part of the public record.
But, it seems, they couldn't help themselves. Torture, along with repetitious, pretzled"legal" justifications for doing so, were bones that administration officials -- from the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense on down -- just couldn't resist gnawing on again and again. So, what we're dealing with is an obsession, a fantasy of empowerment, utterly irrational in its intensity, that's gripped this administration. None of the predictable we're shocked! we're shocked! editorial responses to the Times latest revelations begin to account for this.
Torture as the Royal Road to Commander-in-Chief Power
So let's back up a moment and consider the nature of the torture controversy in these last years. In a sense, the Bush administration has confronted a strange policy conundrum. Its compulsive urge to possess the power to detain without oversight and to wield torture as a tool of interrogation has led it, however unexpectedly, into what can only be called a confessional stance. The result has been what it feared most: the creation of an exhausting, if not exhaustive, public record of the criminal inner thinking of the most secretive administration in our history.
Let's recall that, in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the administration's top officials had an overpowering urge to "take the gloves off" (instructions sent from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's office directly to the Afghan battlefield), to"unshackle" the CIA. They were in a rush to release a commander-in-chief"unitary executive," untrammeled by the restrictions they associated with the fall of President Richard Nixon and with the Watergate era. They wanted to abrogate the Geneva Conventions (parts of which Alberto Gonzales, then White House Council and companion-in-arms to the President, declared "quaint" and"obsolete" in 2002). They were eager to develop their own categories of imprisonment that freed them from all legal constraints, as well as their own secret, offshore prison system in which their power would be total. All of this went to the heart of their sense of entitlement, their belief that such powers were their political birthright. The last thing they wanted to do was have this all happen in secret and with full deniability. Thus, Guantanamo.
That prison complex was to be the public face of their right to do anything. Perched on an American base in Cuba just beyond the reach of The Law -- American-leased but not court-overseen soil -- the new prison was to be the proud symbol of their expansive power. It was also to be the public face of a new, secret regime of punishment that would quickly spread around the world -- into the torture chambers of despotic regimes in places like Egypt and Syria, onto American bases like the island fastness of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, onto U.S. Navy and other ships floating in who knew which waters, into the former prisons of the old Soviet Empire, and into a growing network of American detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So, when those first shots of prisoners, in orange jumpsuits, manacled and blindfolded, entering Guantanamo were released, no one officially howled (though the grim, leaked shots of those prisoners being transported to Guantanamo were another matter). After all, they wanted the world to know just how powerful this administration was -- powerful enough to redefine the terms of detention, imprisonment, and interrogation to the point of committing acts that traditionally were abhorred and ruled illegal by humanity and by U.S. law (even if sometimes committed anyway).
Though certain administration officials undoubtedly believed that"harsh interrogation techniques" would produce reliable information, this can't account for the absolute fascination with torture that gripped them, as well as assorted pundits and talking heads (and then, through "24" and other TV shows and movies, Americans in general). In search of a world where they could do anything, they reached instinctively for torture as a symbol. After all, was there any more striking way to remove those"gloves" or"unshackle" a presidency? If you could stake a claim the right to torture, then you could stake a claim to do just about anything.
Think of it this way: If Freud believed that dreams were the royal road to the individual unconscious, then the top officials of the Bush administration believed torture to be the royal road to their ultimate dream of unconstrained power, what John Yoo in his"torture memo" referred to as"the Commander-in-Chief Power."
It was via Guantanamo that they meant to announce the arrival of this power on planet Earth. They were proud of it. And that prison complex was to function as their bragging rights. Their message was clear enough: In this world of ours, democracy would indeed run rampant and a vote of one would, in every case, be considered a majority.
The Crimes Are in the Definitions
This, then, was one form of confession -- a much desired one. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their subordinates (with few exceptions) wished to affirm their position as directors of the planet's"sole superpower," intent as they were on creating a Pentagon-led Pax Americana abroad and a Rovian Pax Republicana at home. But there was another, seldom noted form of confession at work.
As if to fit their expansive sense of their own potential powers, it seems that these officials, and the corps of lawyers that accompanied them, had expansive, gnawing fears. Given this cast of characters, you can't talk about a collective"guilty conscience," but there was certainly an ongoing awareness that what they were doing contravened normal American and global standards of legality; that their acts, when it came to detention and torture, might be judged illegal; and that those who committed -- or ordered -- such acts might someday, somehow, actually be brought before a court of law to account for them. These fears, by the way, were usually pinned on low-level operatives and interrogators, who were indeed fearful of the obvious: that they had no legal leg to stand on when it came to kidnapping terror suspects, disappearing them, and subjecting them to a remarkably wide range of acts of torture and abuse, often in deadly combination over long periods of time.
Perhaps Bush's men (and women) feared that even a triumphantly successful commander-in-chief presidency might -- à la the Pinochet regime in Chile -- have its limits in time. Perhaps they simply sensed an essential contradiction that lay at the very heart of their position: The urge to take pride in their"accomplishments," to assert their powers, and to claim bragging rights for redefining what was legal could also be seen as the urge to confess (if matters took a wrong turn as, in the case of the Bush administration, they always have). And so, along with the pride, along with the kidnappings, the new-style imprisonment, the acts of torture (and, in some cases, murder), the pretzled documents began to pour out of the administration -- each a tortured extremity of bizarre legalisms (as with Yoo's August 2002 document, which essentially managed to reposition torture as something that existed mainly in the mind of, and could only be defined by, the torturer himself); each was but another example of legalisms following upon and directed by desire. (Yoo himself was reportedly known by Attorney General John Ashcroft as Dr. Yes,"for his seeming eagerness to give the White House whatever legal justifications it desired.") Each, in the end, might also be read as a confession of wrongdoing.
What made all this so strange was not just the"tortured" nature of the"torture memo" (just rejected by the new attorney general nominee as"worse than a sin, it was a mistake"), but the repetitious nature of these dismantling documents which, with the help of an army of leakers inside the government, have been making their way into public view for years. Or how about the strange situation of an American president, who has, in so many backhanded ways, admitted to being deeply involved in the issues of detainment and torture -- as, for instance, in a February 7, 2002 memorandum to his top officials in which he signed off on his power to"suspend [the] Geneva [Conventions] as between the United States and Afghanistan" (which he then declined to do"at this time") and his right to wipe out the Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War when it came to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. That document began with the following:"Our recent extensive discussions regarding the status of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees confirm…"
"Our recent extensive discussions…" You won't find that often in previous presidential documents about the abrogation of international and domestic law. It wasn't, of course, that the U.S. had never imprisoned anyone abroad and certainly not that the U.S. had never used torture abroad. Water-boarding, for instance, was first employed by U.S. soldiers in the Philippine Insurrection at the dawn of the previous century; torture was widely used and taught by CIA and other American operatives in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, and elsewhere. But American presidents didn't then see the bragging rights in such acts, any more than a previous American president would have sent his vice president to Capitol Hill to lobby openly for torture (however labeled). Past presidents held on to the considerable benefits of deniability (and perhaps the psychological benefits of not knowing too much themselves). They didn't regularly and repeatedly commit to paper their"extensive discussions" on distasteful and illegal subjects.
Nor did they get up in public, against all news, all reason (but based on the fantastic redefinitions of torture created to fulfill a presidential desire to use"harsh interrogation techniques") to deny repeatedly that their administrations ever tortured. Here is an exchange on the subject from Bush's most recent press conference:
"Q What's your definition of the word ‘torture'?
"THE PRESIDENT: Of what?
"Q The word ‘torture.' What's your definition?
"THE PRESIDENT: That's defined in U.S. law, and we don't torture.
"Q Can you give me your version of it, sir?
"THE PRESIDENT: Whatever the law says."
After a while, this, too, becomes a form of confession -– that, among other things, the President has never rejected John Yoo's definition of torture in that 2002 memorandum. Combine that with the admission of"extensive discussions" on detention matters and, minimally, you have a President, who has proven himself deeply engaged in such subjects. A President who makes such no-torture claims repeatedly cannot also claim to be in the dark on the subject. In other words, you're already moving from the Clintonesque parsing of definitions ("It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is'") into unfathomable realms of presidential definitional darkness.
On the Record
Of course, plumbing the psychology of a single individual while in office -- of a President or a Vice President -- is a nearly impossible task. Plumbing the psychology of an administration? Who can do it? And yet, sometimes officials may essentially do it for you. They may leave bureaucratic clues everywhere and then, as if seized by an impulsion, return again and again to what can only be termed the scene of the crime. Documents they just couldn't not write. Acts they just couldn't not take. Think of these as the Freudian slips of officials under pressure. Think of them as small, repeated confessions granted under the interrogation of reality and history, under the fearful pressure of the future, and granted in the best way possible: willingly, without opposition, and not under torture.
Sometimes, it's just a matter of refocusing to see the documents, the statements, the acts for what they are. Such is the case with the torture memos that continue to emerge. Never has an administration -- and hardly has a torturing regime anywhere -- had so many of its secret documents aired while it was still in the act. Seldom has a ruling group made such an open case for its own crimes.
We're talking, of course, about the most secretive administration in American history -- so secretive, in fact, that Congressional representatives considering classified portions of an intelligence bill, have to go to"a secret, secure room in the Capitol, turn in their Blackberrys and cellphones, and read the document without help from any staff members." Such briefings are given to Congressional representatives, but under ground rules in which"participants are prohibited from future discussions of the information -- even if it is subsequently revealed in the media…" So representatives who are briefed are also effectively prohibited from discussing what they have learned in Congress.
And yet, none of this mattered when it came to the administration establishing its own record of illegality -- and exhibiting its own outsized fears of future prosecution. Let's just take one labor intensive -- and exceedingly strange, if now largely forgotten -- example of these fears in action. In 2002, a new tribunal, the International Criminal Court (ICC), was established in the Hague to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes."[T]hen-Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton nullified the U.S. signature on the International Criminal Court treaty one month into President Bush's first term" and Congress subsequently passed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act which prohibited" certain types of military aid to countries that have signed on to the International Criminal Court but have not signed a separate accord with the United States, called an Article 98 agreement." The Bush administration, opposed to international"fora" of all sorts, then proceeded to go individually, repeatedly, and over years, to more than 100 countries, demanding that the representatives of each sign such an agreement"not to surrender American citizens to the international court without the consent of officials in Washington."
In other words, they put the sort of effort that might normally have gone into establishing an international agreement into threatening weak countries with the loss of U.S. aid in order to give themselves -- and of course those lower-level soldiers and operatives on whom so much is blamed -- a free pass for crimes yet to be committed (but which they obviously felt they would commit). We're talking here about small, impoverished lands like Cambodia, still attempting to bring its own war criminals of the Pol Pot era to justice.
In the process of twisting arms, the administration suspended over $47 million in military aid"to 35 countries that ha[d] not signed deals to grant American soldiers immunity from prosecution for war crimes." In this attempt to get every country on the planet aboard the American no-war-crimes-prosecution train before it left the station, you can sense once again the administration's obsessional intensity on this subject (especially since experts agreed that the realistic possibility of the ICC bringing Americans up on war crimes was essentially nil).
The Bush administration regularly reached for its dictionaries to redefine reality, even before it reached for its guns. It not only wrote its own rules and its own"law," but when problems nonetheless emerged from its secret world of detention and pain and wouldn't go away -- at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere -- it proceeded to investigate itself with the expectable results. For Bush's officials, this should have seemed like a perfect way to maintain a no-fault system that would never reach up any chain of command. Indeed, as Mark Danner has commented, such practices plunged us into an age of"frozen scandals" in which, as with the latest torture memos, the shocked-shocked effect repeats itself but nothing follows. As he has written:"One of the most painful principles of our age is that scandals are doomed to be revealed -- and to remain stinking there before us, unexcised, unpunished, unfinished."
How true. And yet, looked at another way, the administration -- with outsized help from outraged government officials who knew crimes when they saw them and were willing to take chances to reveal them -- has already created a remarkable record of its own criminal activity, which can now be purchased in any bookstore in the land.
Back in the early fall of 2004, when the first collection of such documents arrived in the bookstores, Mark Danner's Torture and Truth, America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror, it was already more than 600 pages long. In early 2005, when Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law, and Josh Dratel, the civilian defense attorney for Guantanamo detainee David Hicks, released their monumental The Torture Papers, The Road to Abu Ghraib, another collection of secret memoranda, official investigations of Abu Ghraib, and the like, it was already an oversized book of more than 1,200 pages -- a doorstopper large enough to keep a massive prison gate open. And, of course, even it couldn't hold all the documents. A later Greenberg book, The Torture Debate in America, for instance, has military documents not included in the first volume.
Then, there were the two-years worth of FBI memos and emails about Guantanamo that the ACLU pried loose from the government and released on line, also in 2005. This material was damning indeed, including direct reports from FBI agents witnessing -- and protesting as well as pointing fingers at -- military interrogators at the prison, as in an August 2, 2004 report that said:"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water…Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more." Or a Jan. 21, 2004 email in which an FBI agent complained that the technique of a military interrogator impersonating an FBI agent"and all of those used in these scenarios, was approved by the DepSecDef," a reference to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz.
Other paperback volumes have also been published that include selections from these and other documents like Crimes of War: Iraq by Richard Falk, Irene Gendzier, and Robert Jay Lifton and In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond by Jeremy Brecher, Jill Cutler, and Brendan Smith. If all of these documents, including the latest ones evidently in the hands of the New York Times, were collected, you would have a little library of volumes -- all functionally confessional -- for a future prosecutor. (And there are undoubtedly scads more documents where these came from, including perhaps a John Yoo"torture memo," rumored to exist, that preceded the August 2002 one.)
What an archive, then, is already available in our world. It's as if, to offer a Vietnam comparison, the contents of The Pentagon Papers had simply slipped out into the light of day, one by one, without a Daniel Ellsberg in sight, without anyone quite realizing it had happened.
The urge of any criminal regime -- to ditch, burn, or destroy incriminating documents, or erase emails -- has, in a sense, already been obviated. So much of the Bush/Cheney"record" is on the record. As Karen J. Greenberg wrote, back in December 2006,"What more could a prosecutor want than a trail of implicit confessions, consistent with one another, increasingly brazen over time, and leading right into the Oval Office?"
Looking back on these last years, it turns out that the President, Vice President, their aides, and the other top officials of this administration were always in the confessional booth. There's no exit now.
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: Friday, October 19, 2007 - 19:06
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (10-19-07)
Last week, the editorial page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution included a cartoon from the Richmond Times Dispatch, a conservative paper out of Richmond, Virginia. The cartoon, by Gary Brookins, features a NASCAR-style car, covered with bumper stickers announcing support for “protectionism,” “moveon.org,” and “taxes.” It is driven by a cheerful looking donkey, who is saying, “Step on the gas and keep turning left!”
Now, there is nothing especially new in accusing the Democrats of being “liberal,” Ronald Reagan did it all the time, and it has been used with great effectiveness against candidates such as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry. But what is it that makes Americans so afraid of liberals?
A fascinating book by Bruce Miroff helps answer this question. The book, The Liberal Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party, has as its premise the idea that the last moment of true liberalism in American politics was the 1972 McGovern candidacy. When, through a combination of back luck, misguided strategy, and the chicanery of the Nixon White House, McGovern was thoroughly discredited, liberalism lost its way as well.
To (over) simplify his complex and detailed analysis, Miroff argues that because of the tainted nature of “McGovernism,” Democrats are vulnerable on foreign policy because they are seen as “weak,” and are threatened domestically because the claim of “liberalism” with all of its cultural associations severs working class constituents from their own class interests, and thus from the Democratic Party. We have seen similar arguments before, most notably in the well-known What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservative Won the Heart of America?. But to my knowledge, no one has tied the phenomena surrounding “the L word” to the history of American liberalism as refracted through the McGovern campaign.
This is important because of the way that it destabilizes and paralyzes centrist Democrats. When Hillary Clinton, whose positions are simply not that far removed from those of other Democrats—and indeed, are arguably more centrist than some—is tagged as the “liberal,” the specter of McGovernism and all its cultural and ideological baggage is raised.
And Democrats seem unable to counter that specter with any arguments that rise above a sort of weak-minded defensiveness. As Miroff puts it, “centrists explain themselves by what they are not and out of a fear of what Republicans will say they are. To make matters worse, defensiveness often bleeds over into pure expedience.” When centrist Democrats fail to make arguments out of actual conviction, they naturally appear to lack conviction. This lack of conviction alienates voters every bit as much as the policies associated with “liberalism.”
The more centrists try to accommodate the perceived national move to the Right, the more they alienate their actual constituency, and yet Leftist Democrats are electorally vulnerable. McGovern, who, Miroff shows, was not nearly as liberal as he was “accused” of being, demonstrated the electoral weakness of campaigns that veer too far Left, as Barry Goldwater provides as cautionary tale for those who lean—or who are perceived as leaning—too far to the Right.
Moreover, it is dangerous indeed to run for the presidency while criticizing America—such campaigns are perceived as “negative,” and “unpatriotic,” and that tends to leave very little argumentative space for the development of a different national agenda. Reagan, again, was adept at presenting a new agenda in a positive way—he relied heavily on the rhetoric of purification, asking Americans not to change their values, but to restore them. Democrats, the party of progress and change, has difficulty arguing for restoration, as it seems to contradict much of what they stand for ideologically.
Republicans have been deft at springing this trap on Democrats, and editorial such as the one that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch indicate that the trap is opening wide again.
The result is a Democratic party that faces what Miroff calls an “identity crisis,” but which is also an argumentative crisis. Lacking the ground to make a coherent set of claims based on what can be easily perceived as conviction, the Democrats tend to look like vacillators, practitioners of expediency, a perception that is as damaging as the fear that Democrats oppose “traditional” American values.
As instructive as the McGovern example is (and Miroff demonstrates that it is wonderfully instructive), it also points Democrats to the example of the Republicans during roughly the same period. They spent their time in the wilderness developing and arguing for a coherent set of ideas that could be called conservatism. Democrats do not seem to be doing similar work to articulate and thus restore something called “liberalism.” The New York Times, for instance, carried an article on October 14 headlined, “Candidates Spar Over Who is A Real Republican.” It is difficult to imagine a similar headline about the Democrats.
And this is a fact that may well work against Democrats in an electoral context that seems to be favoring them.
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2007 - 18:56
SOURCE: Perspectives, the newsmagazine of the AHA (10-1-07)
Less than a decade after the U.S. victory in Europe and the Pacific, scholar-journalist Bernard DeVoto penned an essay in Harper's Magazine facetiously titled, "Let's Close the National Parks." For years, DeVoto had captured the imagination of the general reading public with his witty, thought-provoking column in which he analyzed issues concerning the American West. Easterners, it seemed, were captivated by the West; Ogden-born DeVoto, an immigrant to Harvard University, regularly piqued their fascination with the mythic region.
DeVoto used his celebrated public forum in October 1953 to awaken readers to a looming national crisis. America's national parks system, which had languished during the war years for want of money, professional expertise, and near abandonment by tourists, experienced marginal improvement during the first postwar decade. Just months after the return of millions of America's soldiers and sailors, it became increasingly clear to state and local administrators that the United States would never revert to its prewar lifestyle. Postwar America witnessed an increase in leisure time for every working individual and greater access to neighboring states and regions via a system of interstate highways, enhanced by an affordable means of travel. America's love affair with the automobile, especially during the 1950s and the 1960s, enabled the country's citizens to experience their national parks in unprecedented numbers.
But the national parks system, DeVoto lamented in his poignant article, was suffering from "financial anemia." As the United States modernized its federal and state highways, national park byways remained, for the most part, dust-ridden trails. Park managers, moreover, found it nearly impossible to attract qualified employees to fill vacancies resulting from the war. Extreme isolation, long hours, and inadequate pay, made worse by pitiful housing conditions throughout the system, rendered the National Park Service (NPS) unappealing to most returning service men and women. "Ever since it was organized," DeVoto wrote, "the Service has been able to do its difficult, complex and highly expert job with great distinction because it could count on this [employees'] ardor and devotion." He further asserted, "The most valuable asset the Service has ever had is the morale of its employees." He then cautioned that NPS morale was at an all-time low....
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2007 - 18:19
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (10-19-07)
Some people are treated as pariahs when they tell the truth; later, history lauds them for their courage and convictions. Reese Erlich is one of those truth tellers. In January 2003, before the war in Iraq began, Erlich co-authored "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You," which deftly separated propaganda from reality and implicitly predicted the harsh and chaotic consequences that would result if the United States attacked Iraq. Read it again today and it seems eerily prescient.
Now Erlich has taken on another frightening subject - the story behind the recent war of words between Iran and the United States that could lead to an American military attack on that nation. In "The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis," Erlich investigates the origins of the rhetorical war that now exists between the two nations. Are these words simply meant to shore up their respective domestic audiences, as some have suggested? Perhaps, but that is not the only answer Erlich uncovers as he repeatedly visits Iran to excavate the origins of this recent exchange of threats.
Most Americans know very little about Iranian history, including the fact that Iran is Persian, not Arabic. Also little known is that the CIA funded and engineered a coup in 1953 against Mohammed Mossadegh, a democratically elected leader chosen by Time magazine as Man of the Year just two years earlier. In his place, the United States installed the Shah of Iran, who turned over 50 percent of Iranian oil production to U.S. oil companies.
Iranians have never forgotten that America violated its own democratic principles in order to control Iran's oil. It was against the shah's brutal reign, his lavish conspicuous consumption and his role as an American puppet that large parts of the population staged a coup in 1979 and took over the American Embassy.
When the Bush administration came to power, the goal of many neoconservatives, according to officials who spoke with Erlich, was regime change in Iran - after, that is, they had completed regime change in Iraq. That is why Iran was dubbed part of the "axis of evil." They wanted to topple the current leaders and to install, once again, an American ally who would allow the United States to dominate access to the region's oil.
But, asks Erlich, is it really necessary to dominate an entire region to secure access to energy sources? After all, "the United States can buy those energy resources on international markets, as do other countries. In order to maintain a steady supply of oil, Sweden doesn't unilaterally impose sanctions, prop up dictatorships, or overthrow governments." And, he asks, who benefits from America's aggressive policies? His answer: U.S. so-called "strategic interests" benefit corporations whose profits depend on domination of the region.
Erlich also reminds us that all the fearmongering about Iran's efforts to build a nuclear program masks the fact that the United States aided Iran's race to build nuclear reactors while the shah was in power. A declassified document from Gerald Ford's administration notes that Tehran should "prepare against the time - about 15 years in the future - when Iranian oil production is expected to decline sharply."
In 1967, in fact, Americans helped build Iran's first research reactor at the University of Tehran and even provided Iran with 5.85 kilograms of 93 percent enriched uranium. After the shah was deposed and fell ill, however, he could no longer function as America's ally. From then on, Iran's nuclear program marked the country as a sworn enemy of the United States.
If Erlich is critical of American foreign policy, he is certainly not a supporter of the mullahs or naive about Iran's current leaders. Based on interviews with Iranians, he vividly describes the rampant corruption of government officials, their fierce crackdowns on dissidents, and Friday prayer services at which 10,000 people scream "Death to America." He also reports the hideous impact of Shariah law on women, and the political and intellectual rigidity of a theocratic fundamentalist nation.
At the same time, he observes youth's attraction to all things American, as well as the subterranean power of the waning and hidden opposition movement, both of which should be supported by those who would like to see greater freedom in Iran. Where he is too uncritical is in his discussion of Iran's support of terrorist groups.
In recent months, the rhetoric between Tehran and Washington has escalated dramatically. On Sept. 2, the Sunday Times of London described an American plan for a three-day operation, bombing as many as 1,200 Iranian targets. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently boasted that his country now has 3,000 uranium-enrichment operational centrifuges, which the International Atomic Energy Agency doubts is true.
How much is smoke and mirrors, bluff and rhetoric? I certainly don't know. But "The Iran Agenda" can help readers understand why Iran and the United States may - or may not - soon be involved in yet another war.
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2007 - 18:19
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (10-8-07)
The Arab-Israeli conflict is often said, not just by extremists, to be the world's most dangerous conflict – and, accordingly, Israel is judged the world's most belligerent country.
For example, British prime minister Tony Blair told the U.S. Congress in July 2003 that"Terrorism will not be defeated without peace in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. Here it is that the poison is incubated. Here it is that the extremist is able to confuse in the mind of a frighteningly large number of people the case for a Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel." This viewpoint leads many Europeans, among others, to see Israel as the most menacing country on earth.
But is this true? It flies in the face of the well-known pattern that liberal democracies do not aggress; plus, it assumes, wrongly, that the Arab-Israeli conflict is among the most costly in terms of lives lost.
To place the Arab-Israeli fatalities in their proper context, one of the two co-authors, Gunnar Heinsohn, has compiled statistics to rank conflicts since 1950 by the number of human deaths incurred. Note how far down the list is the entry in bold type.
Conflicts since 1950 with over 10,000 Fatalities*
1 40,000,000 Red China, 1949-76 (outright killing, manmade famine, Gulag) 2 10,000,000 Soviet Bloc: late Stalinism, 1950-53; post-Stalinism, to 1987 (mostly Gulag) 3 4,000,000 Ethiopia, 1962-92: Communists, artificial hunger, genocides 4 3,800,000 Zaire (Congo-Kinshasa): 1967-68; 1977-78; 1992-95; 1998-present 5 2,800,000 Korean war, 1950-53 6 1,900,000 Sudan, 1955-72; 1983-2006 (civil wars, genocides) 7 1,870,000 Cambodia: Khmer Rouge 1975-79; civil war 1978-91 8 1,800,000 Vietnam War, 1954-75 9 1,800,000 Afghanistan: Soviet and internecine killings, Taliban 1980-2001 10 1,250,000 West Pakistan massacres in East Pakistan (Bangladesh 1971) 11 1,100,000 Nigeria, 1966-79 (Biafra); 1993-present 12 1,100,000 Mozambique, 1964-70 (30,000) + after retreat of Portugal 1976-92 13 1,000,000 Iran-Iraq-War, 1980-88 14 900,000 Rwanda genocide, 1994 15 875,000 Algeria: against France 1954-62 (675,000); between Islamists and the government 1991-2006 (200,000) 16 850,000 Uganda, 1971-79; 1981-85; 1994-present 17 650,000 Indonesia: Marxists 1965-66 (450,000); East Timor, Papua, Aceh etc, 1969-present (200,000) 18 580,000 Angola: war against Portugal 1961-72 (80,000); after Portugal's retreat (1972-2002) 19 500,000 Brazil against its Indians, up to 1999 20 430,000 Vietnam, after the war ended in 1975 (own people; boat refugees) 21 400,000 Indochina: against France, 1945-54 22 400,000 Burundi, 1959-present (Tutsi/Hutu) 23 400,000 Somalia, 1991-present 24 400,000 North Korea up to 2006 (own people) 25 300,000 Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, 1980s-1990s 26 300,000 Iraq, 1970-2003 (Saddam against minorities) 27 240,000 Columbia, 1946-58; 1964-present 28 200,000 Yugoslavia, Tito regime, 1944-80 29 200,000 Guatemala, 1960-96 30 190,000 Laos, 1975-90 31 175,000 Serbia against Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, 1991-1999 32 150,000 Romania, 1949-99 (own people) 33 150,000 Liberia, 1989-97 34 140,000 Russia against Chechnya, 1994-present 35 150,000 Lebanon civil war, 1975-90 36 140,000 Kuwait War, 1990-91 37 130,000 Philippines: 1946-54 (10,000); 1972-present (120,000) 38 130,000 Burma/Myanmar, 1948-present 39 100,000 North Yemen, 1962-70 40 100,000 Sierra Leone, 1991-present 41 100,000 Albania, 1945-91 (own people) 42 80,000 Iran, 1978-79 (revolution) 43 75,000 Iraq, 2003-present (domestic) 44 75,000 El Salvador, 1975-92 45 70,000 Eritrea against Ethiopia, 1998-2000 46 68,000 Sri Lanka, 1997-present 47 60,000 Zimbabwe, 1966-79; 1980-present 48 60,000 Nicaragua, 1972-91 (Marxists/natives etc,) 49 51,000 Arab-Israeli conflict 1950-present 50 50,000 North Vietnam, 1954-75 (own people) 51 50,000 Tajikistan, 1992-96 (secularists against Islamists) 52 50,000 Equatorial Guinea, 1969-79 53 50,000 Peru, 1980-2000 54 50,000 Guinea, 1958-84 55 40,000 Chad, 1982-90 56 30,000 Bulgaria, 1948-89 (own people) 57 30,000 Rhodesia, 1972-79 58 30,000 Argentina, 1976-83 (own people) 59 27,000 Hungary, 1948-89 (own people) 60 26,000 Kashmir independence, 1989-present 61 25,000 Jordan government vs. Palestinians, 1970-71 (Black September) 62 22,000 Poland, 1948-89 (own people) 63 20,000 Syria, 1982 (against Islamists in Hama) 64 20,000 Chinese-Vietnamese war, 1979 65 19,000 Morocco: war against France, 1953-56 (3,000) and in Western Sahara, 1975-present (16,000) 66 18,000 Congo Republic, 1997-99 67 10,000 South Yemen, 1986 (civil war)
*All figures rounded. Sources: Brzezinski, Z., Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-first Century, 1993; Courtois, S., Le Livre Noir du Communism, 1997; Heinsohn, G., Lexikon der Völkermorde, 1999,2nd ed.; Heinsohn, G., Söhne und Weltmacht, 2006, 8th ed.; Rummel. R., Death by Government, 1994; Small, M. and Singer, J.D., Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars 1816-1980, 1982; White, M.,"Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century," 2003.
Mao Tse-Tung, by far the greatest post-1950 murderer.
These figures mean that deaths Arab-Israeli fighting since 1950 amount to just 0.06 percent of the total number of deaths in all conflicts in that period. More graphically, only 1 out of about 1,700 persons killed in conflicts since 1950 has died due to Arab-Israeli fighting.
(Adding the 11,000 killed in the Israeli war of independence, 1947-49, made up of 5,000 Arabs and 6,000 Israeli Jews, does not significantly alter these figures.)
In a different perspective, some 11,000,000 Muslims have been violently killed since 1948, of which 35,000, or 0.3 percent, died during the sixty years of fighting Israel, or just 1 out of every 315 Muslim fatalities. In contrast, over 90 percent of the 11 million who perished were killed by fellow Muslims.
Comments: (1) Despite the relative non-lethality of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its renown, notoriety, complexity, and diplomatic centrality will probably give it continued out-sized importance in the global imagination. And Israel's reputation will continue to pay the price. (2) Still, it helps to point out the 1-in-1,700 statistic as a corrective, in the hope that one day, this reality will register, permitting the Arab-Israeli conflict to subside to its rightful, lesser place in world politics.
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2007 - 11:38
SOURCE: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (10-16-07)
Although Congress has been dealing with the Bush administration’s proposal to develop the reliable replacement warhead (RRW) for much of 2007, it’s remarkable that the new weapon, a hydrogen bomb, has attracted little public protest or even public attention.
After all, for years opinion polls have reported that an overwhelming majority of Americans favor nuclear disarmament. A July 2007 poll by the Simons Foundation of Canada found that 82.3 percent of Americans backed either the total elimination or a reduction of nuclear weapons in the world. Only 3 percent favored developing new nuclear weapons.
And yet, RRW is a new nuclear warhead, the first in two decades, and--if the Bush administration is successful in obtaining the necessary authorization from Congress--it will be used widely to upgrade the current U.S. nuclear arsenal. In this fashion, RRW won’t only contradict the U.S. government’s pledge under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to move toward nuclear disarmament, it will actually encourage other nations to jump right back into the nuclear arms race.
Of course, peace and disarmament groups--including Peace Action, the Council for a Livable World, and Physicians for Social Responsibility--have sharply criticized RRW in mailings to their supporters and on their websites. Public protests have taken place, including hunger strikes and other demonstrations at the University of California in May 2007 and a demonstration at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in August 2007.
But these protests have been small. And the general public hasn’t noticed RRW. Why?
A key reason is that peace groups and the public are preoccupied by the Iraq War and by the looming war with Iran. The actual use of weapons is always more riveting (and certainly more destructive) than their potential use. And weapons are being employed every day in Iraq, while nuclear weapons represent merely a potential danger--albeit a far deadlier one. Thus, in certain ways, the nuclear disarmament campaign faces a situation much like that during the Vietnam War, when the vast carnage in that conflict distracted activists and the public from the ongoing nuclear menace.
Another reason is that it’s hard to involve the public in a one-weapon campaign. To rouse people from their lethargy, they need to sense a crucial turning point. When atmospheric nuclear testing and the development of the hydrogen bomb riveted public attention on the danger of wholesale nuclear annihilation in the late 1950s, or when the Reagan administration escalated the nuclear arms race and threatened nuclear war in the early 1980s, people felt they had come to a crossroads. By contrast, RRW appears rather arcane and perhaps best left to the policy wonks.
Finally, the mass communications media have done a good deal to distort and/or bury nuclear issues since the end of the Cold War. Yes, at the behest of the Bush administration they trumpeted the supreme dangers of Iraqi nuclear weapons, even when those weapons didn’t exist. But they did a terrible job of educating the U.S. public about nuclear realities. A 1999 Gallup poll taken a week after the U.S. Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty found that, although most Americans favored the treaty, only 26 percent were aware that it had been defeated! Similarly, a 2004 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that the average American thought that the U.S. nuclear stockpile, which then numbered more than 10,000 weapons, consisted of only 200. Given the very limited knowledge that Americans have of the elementary facts about nuclear issues, it’s hardly surprising that relatively few are busy protesting against the development of RRW.
Posted on: Thursday, October 18, 2007 - 14:19
Equally remarkable, President Lincoln did not say he would"stand by" his generals or that"we must give the military the tools it needs" to accomplish its mission. Instead, he rescinded the Order.
A century-old account of General Grant's short-lived ban on Jews has recently been published online.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln repeatedly suspended habeas corpus and authorized other serious infringements on civil liberties. But there are some things that are not done in America, it appears, even when the survival of the nation is at stake. This was one of them.
General Grant's action was not entirely irrational and prejudice-driven. An estimated 25,000 of the nation's 150,000 Jews lived in the South and were loyal to the Confederacy, according to a 2005 Library of Congress exhibition. And some Jewish merchants would"roam through the country contrary to government regulations," Grant complained.
"The President has no objection to your expelling traitors and Jew peddlers which I suppose was the object of your order," wrote Gen. Henry Halleck to Gen. Grant, somewhat inelegantly."But as it in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deems it necessary to revoke it."
The story received only cursory, two-sentence treatment in the preeminent Lincoln biography ("Lincoln") by David Herbert Donald, which mistakenly attributed Halleck's"Jew peddler" phrase to Grant (p. 409).
And Grant himself did not mention Order No. 11 in his Memoirs. He deliberately omitted it, his son explained in a 1907 letter, because"that was a matter long past and best not referred to."
To the contrary, however, this principled exercise of restraint by the President in time of war seems well worth remembering and pondering today, when basic civil liberties are again in dispute. (At his confirmation hearing today, Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey was unable or unwilling to categorically reject the possibility of indefinite detention of an American citizen without trial.)
The most detailed account of the origins and aftermath of General Grant's Order No. 11 expelling the Jews from the areas under his control seems to be a 1909 book entitled"Abraham Lincoln and the Jews," self-published by author Isaac Markens (pp. 10-17).
That book, long out of print, was recently digitized and published by Google Books and is now freely available here:
In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant was an honored guest at the dedication of Adas Israel, which is now the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, DC.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 - 18:47
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (10-17-07)
In April 1972, with North Vietnamese forces advancing as part of their Nguyen Hue Offensive, Seventh Air Force Headquarters in Saigon began drawing up evacuation plans. Approximately 60,000 U.S. military personnel remained in South Vietnam along with many more thousands of civilian contractors, American reporters, missionaries, businessmen, State Department personnel and employees of other U.S. government agencies. The planners soon gave up. In 1972, if South Vietnam had fallen, there would have been no way to evacuate that many Americans. If the North Vietnamese and their communist Viet Cong cohorts in the South didn’t stop us, the South Vietnamese army would have. After all, they controlled the airports and seaports and without their cooperation, we would have to shoot our way out.
In the spring and summer of 1972, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) evidenced much improved fighting qualities by containing the massive North Vietnamese onslaught. The ARVN bent, but it didn’t break. American air power provided close air support while unleashing Operation Linebacker, later dubbed Linebacker One, on North Vietnam. Linebacker kicked off on May 8, 1972 when naval aircraft seeded magnetic and acoustical mines into the harbor entrances at Haiphong and Dong Hoi. Then laser guided bombs, at that time a relatively new technological innovation, severed the northwest and northeast rail lines and highway north of Hanoi. Two-thousand pound laser guided bombs brought down bridges over deep mountain gorges and took out tunnels in the Annamite Mountains. Fighter-bombers laden with conventional 500-pound bombs then blasted the backed-up rail and road traffic. American air power effectively isolated North Vietnam from sources of supply pouring in from China by rail and highway and from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through North Vietnam’s ports. Hanoi’s divisions on the offensive in South Vietnam were conventional armies employing tanks, trucks and heavy artillery. These forces consumed a thousand tons of supplies a day rather than the 100 or so tons previously required by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong units between 1969 and the spring of 1972. Linebacker effectively restricted this flow of supplies making it the most effective use of air power in the Vietnam War and one of the most successful aerial interdiction efforts in history.
Three years later, with only a handful of U.S. military personnel and far fewer civilians remaining in South Vietnam, Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon, still proved a close-run thing. Indeed, some missionaries and a small number of other Americans did not get out. Enormous numbers of South Vietnamese who fought for the Saigon government and who supported U.S. policy were left behind to face the harsh “justice” of the victorious communists. In Cambodia and Laos major blood baths took place. The Cambodian Khmer Rough systematically annihilated anyone associated with the Phnom Penh government along with an entire class of educated people. Millions were murdered. In Laos, the Pathet Lao, under the control of the North Vietnamese, imprisoned and murdered the Lao royal family along with hundreds of officials of the Vientiane government. The North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao conducted a genocidal campaign against the Hmong, a tribal people who, with U.S. support, fought valiantly for their homes in the mountains surrounding the Plain of Jars.
In early 1975, as the communists initiated their final offensives in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the American left remained riveted on the supposed ravages of war wreaked on Indochina by U.S. military forces. A continuous cacophony bellowed about “secret bombings” and lamented an “eco-disaster” issuing from a supposed “bathing of South Vietnam” in Agent Orange. In the aftermath, the left’s silence over the murderous aftermath undertaken by the communist Vietnamese and their cohorts in Cambodia and Laos was pervasive.
The lessons for today are clear. First, any precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be costly even if it were possible, which it isn’t. Second, the sectarian violence that follows, being religiously and ethnically-driven, will be far bloodier than what happened in South Vietnam, more resembling the ethnic and class-cleansing carried out by the Khmer Rouge and Pathet Lao. Third, in Indochina there was no regional power ready or able to fill the void left by America—China tried in 1979 and the Vietnamese army trounced its invasion forces. Iran, by contrast, is anxious to dominate Iraq, seize its oil, and then exercise hegemony over the Persian Gulf region.
Iran ultimately plans to establish a global Islamist caliphate. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Shi’ite mullahs in Teheran know the United States and Israel present major obstacles to realizing that vision. Make no mistake: Iran is at war with the Judeo-Christian West. If we lose this war, we lose Western civilization.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 - 15:10
SOURCE: Salon (10-17-07)
Future historians may conclude that the key issue in the 2008 presidential campaign was not Iraq, but whether the United States should go to war with Iran. Sparring over Iran dominated the Republican debate in Dearborn, Mich., last week, while a Senate resolution condemning Iran's Revolutionary Guards as terrorists divided the Democrats, some of whom (including Sen. Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) feared that it might give Bush a pretext to launch another war. Unexpectedly, Tehran has emerged as a preoccupation of candidates -- as a litmus test for attitudes toward war and domestic security.
The Republicans are competing to see who can wax most bellicose. The two candidates with the greatest need to compensate for their socially liberally pasts, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, have been extra warlike. Giuliani in particular seems to be running for velociraptor-in-chief.
In an ABC interview on Sunday, Giuliani made fun of Romney for saying during the Dearborn debate that he would seek the advice of counsel before launching a war on Iran. Moderator Chris Matthews had asked, "If you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities?" Romney had replied that the president "has to do what's in the best interest" of the country "to protect us against a potential threat." He said nothing about needing a congressional declaration of war; indeed, he was clearly suggesting that for him to strike Iran it would suffice to get a legal opinion that such an act did not require a formal declaration of war.
During his Sunday interview, Giuliani attempted to portray Romney's brazen end run around the Constitution as evidence of wimpiness. "That's one of those moments in a debate," he told ABC News, "where you say something and you go like this [wiping his mouth with the back of his hand] ... wish I can get that one back.
"Basically, right out of the box," Giuliani continued, "first thing, you're faced with imminent attack on the United States, I don't think you call in the lawyers first. I think maybe the generals, the ones you call in first, they're the ones you want to talk to."
But Matthews, of course, had not asked Romney what he would do were the U.S. attacked. His question concerned a sudden U.S. strike on Iran's nuclear energy facilities, and whether the president should seek congressional authorization for such an act of war....
Of the four senators among the Democratic candidates, only Hillary Clinton voted for the non-binding Kyl-Lieberman resolution on Sept. 26. The Kyl-Lieberman resolution, which passed 76-to-22, with 29 Democrats voting in favor, says, "the United States should designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization ... and place the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists." Jim Lobe, among the best journalists covering neoconservatism in Washington, wrote that unnamed "Capitol Hill sources" told him that the resolution was crafted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker, interviewed on "Democracy Now," concurred that the amendment was pushed by the Israel lobby.
It would be unprecedented to declare a military force of a state to be a "terrorist" organization, and illogical, since the formal definition of terrorism is that it is committed by non-state actors. It would also endanger U.S. troops, who might well be designated terrorists by some foreign governments. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that she would not allow a similar resolution to be brought up for a vote in the House of Representatives, telling ABC's "This Week," "This has never happened before, that a Congress should determine one piece of someone's military is [a threat]."...
Posted on: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 - 13:32
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (10-17-07)
The tensions between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan contributed to jitteriness in the oil markets that drove the prices to as high as $88.20 at one point on Tuesday before falling back to over $87. The oil price spike in turn frightened investors and hit stock markets around the world.
The United States consumes about 21 million barrels of petroleum every day. About 85 million barrels a day is produced in the entire world. The US thus consumes about a fourth of the supply, even though it has only 5 percent of the world's population. The US only produces about 7.5 million barrels a day, so it has to import some 13 million. the geniuses in the White House have so alienated some US suppliers, like Venezuela, that Caracas is planning to sell nearly half of its over 2 mn. b/d to China rather than selling it all to the US. Since petroleum is now increasingly scarce and is a seller's market, Chavez's plan would cut down on the amount of petroleum available to the US.
On the other hand, nearly a fourth of US dwellings completely lack insulation, and most others have old windows that radiate away energy, just plain holes and gaps through which energy escapes, etc. If Bush had given tax breaks for putting in insulation and for conservation instead of giving away billions to rich people who don't need it, the US would have saved millions of barrels a day, replacing everything Iraq or Venezuela produces (and wiping out the reason for the Iraq War).
Insulation is better than war.
(Ethanol, by the way, is an expensive fraud from the same people that brought you sugar tariffs and corn syrup that promotes obesity.)
Anyway, as Reuters points out, the geography of the oil analysts is bad if they think a Turkish-Kurdish clash would have much effect on oil. Kirkuk has only been exporting about 300,000 barrels of petroleum per day through the Turkish port of Ceyhan for the past 3 months, and at many points in recent years it has not been able to export anything. The Kirkuk exports fell to 200,000 on Tuesday because of PKK attacks in Anatolia and tensions with Turkey.
What is at stake in the exports from Kirkuk just is not great enough to account for the spike in petroleum futures prices, in a rational world. World production declined from about 86 million barrels a day in June, 2006, to 84.5 million barrels a day in June, 2007. (About one million barrels a day of this decline was owing to a Saudi reduction from producing 9.6 mn. b/day to 8.6 mn. b/day in that period).
Production increased to 85 mn. b/d in September. So during summer of 2007 the world's producers put on the market five times as much petroleum & other liquid fuel as was lost on Tuesday from Kirkuk. Even if Kirkuk exports were shut down, the world daily production would still be a above what it was just last June, when prices were not nearly as high.
It may be that analysts are afraid that a Turkish incursion into Iraq will somehow bring in other regional players, roiling Persian Gulf production. But Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran are in fact unlikely to get involved in a Turkish-Kurdish conflict. They are far to the south and except for Iran, don't have Turks or Kurds. Even if Iran intervened, and even if Iranian Kurdistan was thrown into turmoil, that would not affect Iranian oil production, which is mainly down south at Ahvaz. Sunni-Shiite battles among Arabs in Baghdad are far more dangerous to the stability of the Gulf than the situation in Anatolia.
So the price spike just seems to me driven by unfounded speculation if it is as advertised. If there is increased demand or instability elsewhere in the market, that is something different. But that is not what the news reports are saying.
What is clear is that Dick Cheney's desperate bid to grab Iraq for US petroleum corporations and for proprietary contracts to supply the US is backfiring big time. Instead of reducing the importance of Saudi Arabia, Cheney and the Neocons have magnified it. Instead of bringing online a big new supplier (Iraq) they have actually reduced the average production from Iraq as compared to the days of the UN sanctions on Saddam! Instead of assuring the US position as a superpower by assuring it special access to Gulf petroleum through military means, Cheney and his friends have destabilized the key energy-producing regions of the world and are driving some producers to deliberately seek proprietary contracts with China s so as to avoid over-dependence on an overbearing US that openly announces it would like to overthrow their governments. (I'm thinking of Venezuela here; with tweaking the same thing could be said of Iran).
Cheney's militarism is too blunt an instrument for the delicate job of assuring US energy security. Nearly $90 a barrel is not security for us-- it is a threat to our economy. Prices may not stay this high all that long in the short term, since primary commodity markets to fluctuate. But as the peak oil people point out, no new big fields have been found or exploited for a very long time, and demand from China, India and elsewhere is growing rapidly. It is going to be an expensive or cold winter for a lot of Americans. It likely won't be the last. Courtesy in some part, the short-sighted and counter-productive policies of one of the country's most notorious traitors, Richard Bruce Cheney.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 - 13:29
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (10-16-07)
An effort to change California’s method of allocating electoral college votes has collapsed. Shortly after sponsors began gathering signatures for a ballot measure (called the Presidential Election Reform Act) to adopt a district system, the major players suddenly quit. “The levels of support just weren’t there,” a fundraiser told the San Francisco Chronicle. Some Republicans have muttered about reviving the effort, but few take the talk seriously.
California has been trending Democratic since the 1980s. The current winner-take-all system means that the Democratic nominee can usually count on the state’s 55 electoral votes. Under the now-defunct measure, candidates would have gotten one electoral vote for each California congressional district that they carried. (The statewide winner would have an additional two votes.) A Republican could thus win 20 or more electoral votes in California even if the Democrat won the state.
Democrats saw the measure as a threat, citing a Field Poll showing it with 47 percent support. They need not have worried. When a California ballot measure starts with less than a majority, strong opposition can usually beat it. And California Democrats enjoy a big edge in finance, organization, and morale. In this case, they were able to mount a fierce media counterattack before the campaign even started. “We ran it like a military operation,” one operative told the San Francisco Chronicle. “You had this SWAT team of talented, hyper-engaged people. … It was: boom, boom, boom.”
In a triumphant email yesterday, noted Democratic activist Bob Mulholland claimed that a new private poll put the numbers at 25% yes and 48% no.
In any event, the measure would have been a much stronger money magnet for Democrats than for Republicans. The Democrats were angry about the measure, and anger is a powerful tool for political fundraising.
Had the measure remained alive, Democrats would have focused their fire on Peter Singer, a New York billionaire who had provided much of the seed money. Singer backs Rudy Giuliani, so they could have portrayed the measure as a Giuliani plot.
Also, it might have backfired in November. If Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, he might have an outside chance of carrying the state. But under the district plan, he would still lose dozens of California electoral votes.
Reforms of the electoral process have often disappointed partisan hopes. Democrats thought that the 18-year-old-vote would sweep Nixon out of the White House. Instead, he carried 49 states. They had great expectations for the “motor voter” law in the 1990s, but the GOP kept control of Congress. In the first election after the latest campaign finance law, President Bush beat Senator Kerry.
Ironically, the early demise of the electoral college initiative is probably good news for the GOP.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 - 13:18
SOURCE: Legal Times (10-15-07)
Clarence Thomas’ brutally self-critical autobiography, My Grandfather’s Son, bears little resemblance to most early accounts of the book’s contents.
For instance, only at Page 241 — well past the 80 percent mark in a 289-page book — does Thomas reach the subject of Anita Hill’s charges that threw his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings into turmoil. Previous references to Hill as an aide at first the U.S. Department of Education and then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission foreshadow what’s to come, but except for several derisively critical comments about her job performance, Thomas says nothing new about Hill or her accusations. Indeed, much of Thomas’ account of his angry self-defense at those hearings is drawn directly from his public testimony and little more. Compared to the intensely intimate and emotionally riveting account that Sen. John Danforth, his mentor and close friend, provided in his 1994 book, Resurrection: The Confirmation of Clarence Thomas, Thomas’ own revisiting of that traumatic experience seems terse and restrained.
Yet My Grandfather’s Son is plenty newsworthy, even if initial reviews and commentaries have “missed the lede,” as journalists say when stories fail to highlight what’s most important. In fact, those accounts have missed multiple ledes.
Let’s start with one that’s not all that obvious. Thomas’ son, Jamal — who’s now a 34-year-old options trader for Wachovia Securities in Richmond, Va. — was born while the justice-to-be was a newly married second-year student at Yale Law School. Jamal figures in this memoir most prominently when Thomas describes the subsequent dissolution of that marriage, after which Jamal eventually lived full-time with his father. But Thomas also recounts that, soon after Jamal’s birth, TV news footage of black schoolchildren being bused into the vociferously hostile white neighborhood of South Boston led him to make a remarkable vow: “I swore on the spot never to let Jamal go to a public school.”
Thomas kept his pledge, though in later years his personal finances repeatedly left him scrambling to pay Jamal’s private school tuition bills.
Top public officials need not send their children to public school, but a personal aversion toward public education as intense and long-standing as Thomas’ — apparently irrespective of state, district, or particular school — is a noteworthy attitude for a jurist who regularly confronts cases that present a wide range of public schooling issues. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 - 22:07
SOURCE: Counterpunch (10-10-07)
With much fanfare, a collection of far-right ideologues backed by right-wing "think tank" money are proclaiming an "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" on college campuses beginning Oct. 22. It is a calculated effort to vilify Islam in general, place Muslim Student Associations on the defensive, and generate support for further U.S. military action in the Islamic world.
Muslims constitute about a quarter of the world's population and around two percent of the U.S. population. They include members of many ethnic groups. Arabs are a minority in the Muslim world; the most populous Muslim countries (Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh) are non-Arab. The Muslim world is complex and divided, religiously (into Sunni, Shiite, and other groups) and politically. There are Muslim absolute monarchies, constitutional monarchies, secular states and Islamic republics. To understand this world, one needs to dispassionately examine it, avoiding stereotypes.
But immediately after 9-11, the Bush administration, having no patience with "nuance," set about trying to link the secular republic of Iraq with the (mostly Saudi) al-Qaeda religious fanatics. It believe that having been attacked by al-Qaeda most Americans would support an attack on the completely unrelated target of Iraq. But what did al-Qaeda and Iraq have in common? The former hated the latter for its suppression of Islamic religious activism, and its tolerance for Christians and other religious minorities. But somehow Bush was able to conflate the two, so that even today about a third of Americans believe Saddam was involved in 9-11. Those on the Christian right are most inclined to this view, and to embrace sentiments like those expressed by right-wing extremist Ann Coulter in National Review Sept. 13, 2001: "We should invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." But they're joined by secular neoconservatives like Norman Podhoretz who has called on Bush to bomb Iran, which he calls "the currently main center of the Islamofascist ideology."
Iran is another country with no ties to 9-11 or al-Qaeda, and indeed a mortal enemy of the latter. But it is another Muslim state in the Bush administration's crosshairs, along with Syria-yet another, very different, Muslim country. It's in this context, and that of general disillusionment with the Iraq War, that the radical neoconservatives are pushing this "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week." It's the brainchild of David Horowitz, professional "former leftist" and Fox News commentator, proponent of the Iraq War who called one antiwar demonstration in 2002 "100,000 Communists," and author of a book attacking college professors as "far left" in general. He founded (as a non-student in his 60s) "Students for Academic Freedom" which insists that conservative students are treated unfairly in academe. Horowitz is known for his 1990s ads in student newspapers protesting calls for reparations for slavery, stating that African-Americans should be thankful that they're here. In 2003 he maligned Rachel Corrie, killed by an Israeli military bulldozer while protesting a house demolition in Gaza, as a "terrorist" supporter. He is not about spreading "awareness" but selectively focusing on aspects of the Muslim world that might produce sympathy for more U.S.-sponsored "regime change."
The "Islam-Fascism Awareness Week" strategy is apparently to focus on gender inequality in the Muslim world. Participating students invite women's groups and gaylesbian groups to get involved, hoping to build a united front of general indignation at Islamic oppression of women and gays. Of course, in the Muslim world the status of women varies; under Saddam's secular Iraqi women were subject to no dress code, were among the best educated in the Arab world, and served in government, while under U.S. occupation their status (and that of gays) has plummeted. There is a big difference between the status of women in Syria and in Saudi Arabia. Recall how Laura Bush made a big deal about the burqa in Afghanistan, implying that the U.S. invasion would somehow remove it? It's still worn by the great majority of Afghan women. It was not invented by the Taliban and has not disappeared just because the U.S. has installed a client regime.
The term "Islamofascism" itself---popularized by Eliot Cohen (Condi Rice's deputy), Frank J. Gaffney and other neocon writers for the National Review, and used by President Bush in saber-rattling speeches---is highly problematic. It's defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as "a controversial term equating some modern Islamic movements with the European fascist movements of the early twentieth century." I teach every year Japanese fascism in the 1930s and 40s. I discuss different definitions of fascism, pointing out how some seem to fit the Japanese case, while others don't, causing some scholars to even reject application of the term. But there is precious little in any mainstream scholarly definition of fascism that applies to the Islamic world in general or even specific countries. What "ideology" links the disparate targets of this administration-the al-Qaeda and Taliban Sunni fanatics, the Baathists of Iraq and Syria, the Shiite mullocracy"guided democracy" of Iran---other than the common denominator of Islam? But you can't in polite company attack Islam in general, so you dub it "Islamofascism."
Those seeking to link contemporary Islam with European fascism emphasize feelings of victimization and dreams of restoring lost glory. But where in the Muslim world is the charismatic leader? Bin Laden? The Baathists and Shiites hate him. Where's the mass-based party? Where's ultranationalism or racism? Islam emphasizes the equality of peoples before God, while the Qur'an explicitly states that righteous Christians and Jews will enter Paradise.
The real intention here is to couple "Islam" with a powerful epithet, devoid of analytical content, conjuring up images of a universally detested past. Bush insists on comparing the constitutionally weak Iranian President Ahmadinejad, leading a country that hasn't attacked another in hundreds of years, with Hitler (as his father compared Saddam to Hitler). Similarly, the proponents of the "Islamofascism" concept want to play upon emotions rather than really spread "awareness." Their historical analogies are absurd, while their planned week is more than an affront to Muslims. It is an insult to everybody's intelligence.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 - 20:51
SOURCE: http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu (10-5-07)
The toy company Mattel has apologized for blaming China for the recall of millions of toys. It turns out that most of the recalls were caused by design flaws. Can we add this sorry affair to the list of flaps, scares, and panics that have marked relations between our two countries since 1949?
The "who lost China?" flap and Chinese anti-American scare campaigns of the 1950s kicked off a generation-long mutual panic which made genuine differences between the two countries hard to negotiate. Then U.S. President Richard Nixon visited in 1972, in part, to play the "China card" against Moscow. This was a realist course of action, as was Washington's response (or rather non-response) to the suppression of the Democracy Movement of 1989.
American presidential candidates have a habit of using China as a stick to cudgel the opposition. Of course, once elected, the candidate soon discovers why basic China policy hasn't changed since Nixon: outsiders can do little to change China if they don't engage the leaders of China. We strive to hit the right balance between winking at its transgressions and pushing for changes.
The 1990s and early 2000s saw a series of flaps. Chinese campaign contributions, the arrest of alleged spy Wen Ho-lee, bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, and downing of an American spy plane were among them. The post-9/11 war on terror only papered over conflicts.
Each of these scares had a basis; the two countries have different interests. Still, strung together, these flaps bring to mind the old Chinese observation that once you have been bitten by a snake, you will panic when you see a piece of rope.
In China, there is no less touchiness. The Olympics next summer are an honor which Chinese felt was unjustly delayed. While we should all pray "No Flaps, please," problems will certainly arise, ranging from killer air and water pollution to demonstrations from Falun Gong and Tibetan sympathizers. There will be provocations, incidents, and crackdowns. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves back in crisis mode.
Chinese popular pride, euphoria, and indignation are not manufactured. The regime can at best channel or deflect them, though also exploiting them as a means of replacing faded revolutionary fervor. But recent studies using newly available classified documents confirm that in the diplomatic dance leading up to Henry Kissinger's "Operation Marco Polo" in 1971, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai knew that Americans needed the "China card" to triangulate against the Soviets and to influence the North Vietnamese. China equally needed American support against Soviet nuclear threats, yet American demonstrations of respect were crucial. Without them, China would not have negotiated.
On the U.S. side, the toxic toy menace tapped a nerve in something the way that a doctor produces that famous knee jerk -- one small tap in the right place. True, toxic toothpaste, pet food, or toys are alarming. But they are more frightening for Chinese consumers, tens of thousands of whom suffer each year from defective or fraudulent drugs, contaminated foods, or weak safety standards.
The fundamental problem is not just the totalitarian control of the country by the Chinese Communist Party. The impressive rate of economic growth for more than a quarter of a century is highly worthy of respect, even though this success produced pollution, corruption, piracy of intellectual property, destruction of water sources and any number of dire problems.
The bigger challenge for the government, paradoxically, is to break out of a cycle of ineffectiveness, especially outside the major cities. The state lacks the legitimacy to elicit compliance without force, but the use of force further drains legitimacy. The central government passes laws, spews out regulations, strikes moralistic stances, and makes promises. Dramatic actions are taken and corrupt officials are arrested -- even executed -- but when one problem is addressed, others get worse. Local officials who are worried about jobs and revenues are not eager to listen to Beijing's orders to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, never mind that the goose leaves droppings all over the place.
The toy flap showed ways to achieve some good. The American media now do far better than before in presenting China's problems in perspective. We get better results when the question is not "what crimes have you committed against us?" but "what can benefit us both?" On the issue of toy safety, Mattel and the two governments acted like grown-ups, though not without pressure and arm-twisting. Mattel could take needed steps on its own because its primary constituency was its stockholders. In contrast, environmental progress, labor protection, intellectual piracy, and financial transparency are negotiated before larger and less well-informed audiences. Arms control and military competition play to even larger and more emotional constituencies.
The "Big Bad China" story still grabs headlines, commentators of various persuasions still issue flip clichés, and politicians still slip into China bashing. Since Chinese still see themselves as the rising, hardworking, high-achieving underdogs denied respect, they bristle at uninformed American self-righteousness and retaliate in kind. Yet Chinese and Americans need to acknowledge that they have much in common and can both benefit from working together.
Achievable progress can be torpedoed by feckless posturing but strengthened by tough negotiations on the basis of both national self-interest and what Zhou called "equality and mutual benefit."
There are no more China cards; let there be no more China sticks.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 - 19:53