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: Lipstadt Blog (10-6-07)
Miriam is someone whose Jewish identity is integral to who she is. It's not something she takes on and off at will. More importantly, she delights in being a member of this particular "tribe."
I will cut her some slack and say she may be too young to remember when the term was used by comedians, journalists, and just about everyone at will. I am not sure. But the fact is that it is deeply antisemitic and unequivocally misogynist.
"The Jap" is a stereotype of someone who has all the attributes an antisemite would associate with Jews: loves money and material comfort and will do anything to anyone to further her own needs even if it means causing others pain and problems. She is rich, narcissistic, self-centered, a "user" of people, and generally a pretty disgusting person.
This stereotyping of a Jewish woman would not make sense if those who spread it did not have 1000s of years of antisemitic stereotypes on which to rely.
Furthermore the term is ONLY associated with women, as if to say it is Jewish women who have raised these disgusting attributes to an art, oppressing not just non-Jews but also the Jewish men in their orbit.
I am sure there will be those who will tell me it was spread and nurtured by Jewish comedians. How then, they will probably ask, could it be antisemitic? The answer is that just because a negative stereotype originates with a member of the group under attack does not mean it is not a stereotyping of the group.
Those who created and spread this version of the stereotype are the same generation of comedians and writers who nurtured the obnoxious image of the Jewish mother. While the Jewish mother, as they depicted her, was overbearing, intrusive, and disgusting, she had one redeeming social value. Unlike the "Jap," she focused her energies on making things better for others, her children particular. In contrast, the "Jap," who has all the same tendencies, is only interested in herself.
[I might point out that the stereotype of the Italian mother has all the same attributes of the Jewish mother. She, however,was and is depicted as an affirming, wonderful character.]
I wonder if the term would have ever gained traction if it did not also build on the contempt once extant in this country for people of Japanese descent. In other words the term was already one of contempt so it was easier to transfer it from one group which was an object of contempt to another group which is an object of contempt.
The fact is that there are lots of young spoiled, self-centered, materialistic people: some of them are men, some of them are women, some of them are Protestant, some of them are Catholics, some of them are White, some of them are Black, some Asian, and some of them are Jews.
Thanks to the too often maligned notion of "political correctness," we hear the term less frequently today. I hope Miriam -- and anyone else inclined to use the word -- will return it and keep it forever consigned to the one place it belongs: the dust bin of ugly prejudicial stereotypes.
Posted on: Monday, October 8, 2007 - 21:59
SOURCE: Inside Higher Ed (10-8-07)
...Accountability is the buzzword of the decade; the taxpayers (and their duly elected representatives) want to know that they’re getting something in return for their billions. That’s not unreasonable. But as anyone who has taught the humanities with passion for any length of time will attest, the most enduring outcome of our work as teachers emerges over the course of a student’s entire life. The educrats have decided that the best way to prove accountability is to create measurable, testable, “student learning outcomes” (SLOs). The problem is, they expect that outcome to be manifest by the end of the semester in which the student was enrolled and evident in the form of a test that can be given at many colleges to allow for comparison. Evidence of authentic learning almost invariably takes much longer to emerge and its value for the student is independent of whether the student down the road or across the country had a good learning outcome.
The longer I teach, the more convinced I become that worrying too much about assessing learning is one of the chief enemies of inspiring our students to want to learn. Look, I want all my students to pass their final exams, get good grades, and remember what it is that they’ve learned. But I’m teaching history, not providing a certificate in refrigerator maintenance. My final exams assess the ability to construct coherent arguments as well as what, on one given day, a student has managed to memorize. But that doesn’t mean that even the most carefully crafted exam can assess learning because the real learning happens long after the student has left the class.
Especially in my humanities and gender studies courses, I know full well that it will take many of my students years and years to connect what they’ve learned in class to their own lives. Often, the epiphanies and break-throughs that matter will happen long after students have left this campus, long after they’ve moved out of reach of the educrats and their assessment tools. I always compare the job of a good teacher (I’m not a learning facilitator) to a gardener or a farmer. I know it sounds patriarchal, deeply Western, and unfashionably hierarchical, but there it is: I sow seeds in the soil of students’ hearts and minds. (Some of the time, my seed falls on rock, other times it ends up in the thistles, but some of it ends up in nice, loamy earth.) And here’s the thing: I don’t often get to see what blossoms and what doesn’t, because whatever flowers do bloom will generally do so months or years after the student has left my class....
Posted on: Monday, October 8, 2007 - 16:03
SOURCE: History Unfolding (Blog) (10-7-07)
... We liberal Democrats have been kidding ourselves for seven years if we really think we have anything to do with the debate over our foreign policy. We are nothing but whipping boys and girls, trotted out as defeatists eager to stab our troops in the back to rally the public behind a policy that has so far delivered nothing but failure. The real battle has been a family fight (literally) among Republicans, pitting the surviving GIs and Silents (Scowcroft, Baker, Colin Powell and the first President Bush), against the Boomers, including Cheney (temperamentally a Boomer although technically a Silent), Wolfowitz, Perle, Kristol, and George W. Bush. A secondary player has been the entire bureaucracy, including most the military and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which always had doubts about the war in Iraq and has wanted to wind it up as quickly as possible for at least three years.
Kristol has understood all this from the beginning and has anticipated where the debate would go. He has been calling for more American troops in Iraq since 2004, again and again. He repeatedly criticized our military leadership for wanting to wind the war down. And in practice, though not, as we have seen, in theory, he never had any confidence in the Iraqis to protect our interests. On only one occasion did he seriously criticize President Bush. He attacked the slogan, “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down,” because he thought it showed false confidence in their ability to take over the job. He proposed an alternative: “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand with them.” For all his disgraceful rhetoric about how liberals threw away victory in South Vietnam, one suspects that he really understands that to have held South Vietnam, American forces would have had to stay there forever—exactly what he now must hope for in Iraq. He also complained that the size of our forces was being held down by the need to rotate them regularly.
What really impressed me, I must admit, was Kristol’s realization, which did not dawn on me until I read Bob Woodward’s new book early this year, that Donald Rumsfeld was on the other side of the fight. As early as November 2003, Kristol was criticizing Rumsfeld for pressing the Iraqis to take over responsibility for their own security. He later expressed contempt for the theory that the Iraqis had to know we were leaving in order to get serious about their own responsibilities, calling this foreign policy as welfare reform. And while he apparently had the sense not to crow about it, Rumsfeld’s resignation after last November’s election was a key event, as I have already written here, because it allowed the surge to go forward.
But of course, Kristol, like his hero the President, has not been willing to face up to the implications of his policy. Success in Iraq would indeed (if it were possible at all) require more troops—far more troops, probably three times as many. That would probably require doubling the size of our ground forces—and that would obviously require a draft. Kristol did advocate expanding the army early—but not that much. And he has never, so far as I know, advocated a return to conscription. Perhaps that will come when, and if, a Democrat takes over the White House. Kristol has won this dispute because the President is obviously on his side. (I am less sure, ironically, about the Vice President—but that is another story.) But I do not think that will be anything to be proud of ten or twenty years down the road.
Meanwhile, Kristol’s columns have never—literally never—seriously addressed the human costs of this war. He has never referred to the two million refugees that have left Iraq or the roughly equal number that have been internally displaced. He has not discussed the tactics of Shi’ite and Sunni militias very much, or even alluded to the basic fact—surely an indicator of something?—that no American has been able to go anywhere in Iraq without armed escort for years. And he has never said much about the Americans who are actually fighting the war. On September 23, 2003, in one of his first calls for more forces, Kristol made an interesting remark. “And contrary to what some say,” he and Robert Kagan wrote, “more troops don't mean more casualties. More troops mean fewer casualties--both American and Iraqi.” As my readers know, that did not initially turn out to be the case—American casualties rose sharply during the first six months of the surge, although they have declined during the last two months. On June 14, 2004, in the wake of the uprisings in Fallujah and southern Iraq, he wrote, “But there are grounds for hope. We are actually winning the war in Iraq, and the war on terror. We're not winning either as thoroughly or as comprehensively as we should be. Still, it is a fact that one year after the invasion of Iraq, Saddam and his regime are gone; a decent interim Iraqi government is taking over; we and the Iraqis have not suffered a devastating level of casualties; the security situation, though inexcusably bad, looks as if it may finally be improving; Moktada al-Sadr seems to have been marginalized, and the Shia center is holding; there is nothing approaching civil war.”
Those are the only two discussions of American casualties that I found in everything Kristol has said about the war—one arguing that they would not increase, one arguing that they were not that bad. (Kristol has quoted Australian David Kilcullen claiming—misleadingly, I believe—that casualties as a percentage of American troops had fallen during the first few months of this year, while rising absolutely). Neoconservatism, like Richard Nixon’s foreign policies, involves a real contempt for human life, which must freely be sacrificed to defend America and “spread democracy.” And of course, if things go wrong, one can always blame the reality-based community in the bureaucracy, the military, and the press. Kristol and I are both, in our own ways, trying to affect the course of American policy. I can’t claim to have had the influence he has, but I’m proud to say that I’ve done it on my own time, and for nothing. That’s the beauty of the net.
Posted on: Sunday, October 7, 2007 - 21:59
SOURCE: NYT (10-7-07)
THE “liberal hawks” are back. These, of course, are the politicians and pundits who threw in their lot with George W. Bush in 2003: voting and writing for a “preventive war” — a war of choice that would avenge 9/11, clean up Iraq, stifle Islamic terrorism, spread shock, awe and democracy across the Middle East and re-affirm the credentials of a benevolently interventionist America. For a while afterward, the president’s liberal enablers fell silent, temporarily abashed by their complicity in the worst foreign policy error in American history. But gradually they are returning. And they are in a decidedly self-righteous mood.
Yes, they concede, President Bush messed up his (our) war. But even if the war was a mistake, it was a brave and good mistake and we were right to make it, just as we were right to advocate intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. (“The difference between Kosovo and Iraq isn’t between a country that wanted peace and one that didn’t,” the Slate editor and onetime war cheerleader Jacob Weisberg, now tells us. “It was a matter of better management and better luck.”) We were right to be wrong — and that’s why you should listen to us now....
The case for liberal interventionism — “taking a stand” — had nothing whatever to do with the Iraq war. Those of us who pressed for American-led military action in Bosnia and Kosovo did so for several reasons: because of the refusal of others (the European Union and United Nations) to engage effectively; because there was a demonstrable and immediate threat to rights and lives; and because it was clear we could be effective in this way and in no other.
None of these considerations applied in Iraq, which is why I and many others opposed the war. However, it is true that United States military intervention in urgent cases will be much harder to justify and explain in future. But that, of course, is a consequence of the Iraq debacle.
Posted on: Sunday, October 7, 2007 - 16:38
SOURCE: NYT (10-7-07)
JOHN McCAIN was not on the campus of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University last year for very long — the senator, who once referred to Mr. Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance,” was there to receive an honorary degree — but he seems to have picked up some theology along with his academic hood. In an interview with Beliefnet.com last weekend, Mr. McCain repeated what is an article of faith among many American evangelicals: “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”...
... The only acknowledgment of religion in the original Constitution is a utilitarian one: the document is dated “in the year of our Lord 1787.” Even the religion clause of the First Amendment is framed dryly and without reference to any particular faith. The Connecticut ratifying convention debated rewriting the preamble to take note of God’s authority, but the effort failed.
A pseudonymous opponent of the Connecticut proposal had some fun with the notion of a deity who would, in a sense, be checking the index for his name: “A low mind may imagine that God, like a foolish old man, will think himself slighted and dishonored if he is not complimented with a seat or a prologue of recognition in the Constitution.” Instead, the framers, the opponent wrote in The American Mercury, “come to us in the plain language of common sense and propose to our understanding a system of government as the invention of mere human wisdom; no deity comes down to dictate it, not a God appears in a dream to propose any part of it.”
While many states maintained established churches and religious tests for office — Massachusetts was the last to disestablish, in 1833 — the federal framers, in their refusal to link civil rights to religious observance or adherence, helped create a culture of religious liberty that ultimately carried the day....
Posted on: Sunday, October 7, 2007 - 15:53
SOURCE: Nation (10-15-07)
are seeking to salvage their crumbling reputations by blaming their critics for the catastrophe their policies have wrought. We are witnessing the foundation for a post-Iraq "stab in the back" campaign.
The tactic--Dolchstoßlegende, which means, literally, "dagger stab legend"--is associated with attacks by German anti-Semites on Jews in the aftermath of World War I and is a familiar response for frustrated American right-wingers when reality fails to live up to their ideological fantasies. Following the inevitable collapse of nationalist China, unhinged accusations of a liberal conspiracy inside the US government that purposely "lost" China to the Commies ruled the foreign policy debate. Consider these words from GOP Senator William Jenner of Indiana: "This country today is in the hands of a secret inner coterie which is directed by agents of the Soviet Union.... [A] secret invisible government...[has] led our country down the road to destruction." The China lobby--the AIPAC of its day--tirelessly policed American politics to insure that no one with national aspiration dared recognize the reality of the Communist Chinese victory.
During Vietnam, Ronald Reagan tried to blame protesters for killing troops, charging, "Some American will die tonight because of the activity in our streets." The right created the myth of antiwar protesters spitting on soldiers, although a detailed study by Jerry Lembcke, in his The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam, found not a single verifiable incident of such behavior. And while it is a given among conservatives--and even reporters--that critical media coverage somehow hampered the war effort, Daniel Hallin's The Uncensored War notes that most reports, particularly on television, rarely deviated from patriotic, pro-American assumptions. Indeed, the Army's official history of the media's role in the conflict, published by the Army Center of Military History, explicitly rejects this line. None of this prevented Norman Podhoretz from reviving the charge in 1982 with a thinly researched book-length essay called Why We Were in Vietnam. Fortunately, the country was not in the mood; the vast majority of Americans surveyed over the past thirty years have said US involvement was a mistake from the start. (Nowhere in his book did Podhoretz admit that one of those leftists calling explicitly for a US defeat was the then-editor of Commentary--a fellow by the name of "Norman Podhoretz." He argued in 1971 that a Vietcong victory was preferable to "the indefinite and unlimited bombardment by American pilots in American planes of every country in that already devastated region.")
The coming campaign's foundations are already in place. They rest on three building blocks: an attack on the loyalty of those willing to recognize reality; the construction of an alternative reality in which victory is deemed to be imminent; and, finally, a shifting of blame for a supposedly premature withdrawal to those who refuse to play along.
Matthew Yglesias, in the Center for American Progress's "Think Again" column, noticed preparations for such a campaign as early as May 2004. Roll Call's Morton Kondracke pretended that "the media and politicians" were "in danger of talking the United States into defeat in Iraq," while Tony Blankley of the Washington Times added, "the president's political and media opposition want the president's defeat more than America's victory." Two years later, when most Americans had turned against the war, Spencer Ackerman, writing in The New Republic, noticed that not a single contributor to a National Review symposium advocated withdrawal. Typical were comments like those of former Bush Pentagon analyst Michael Rubin, who announced, "The US is losing in Iraq because American politicians and the general public have not decided they want or need to win."
George W. Bush has both feet firmly planted in the "stab" camp, and offered it aid and comfort when he tried to link the "unmistakable legacy of Vietnam"--"boat people," "re-education camps" and "killing fields"--to calls for withdrawal from Iraq. Podhoretz's recent entry into the sweepstakes is, appropriately, a retread of his 1982 attack on his ex-friends and former self. In his clinically delusional book World War IV, Podhoretz paints Bush as a "great president" and professes to see in Iraq "enormous strides that had been made in democratizing and unifying the country under a workable federal system." No less implausibly, he compares war opponents, like former National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, to a "domestic insurgency" with a "life-and-death stake" in America's defeat. Podhoretz flatters himself and his fellow armchair generals with his claim that his screeds in Commentary and the Wall Street Journal editorial pages represent a "war of ideas...no less bloody than the one being fought by our troops in the Middle East."
Podhoretz's paranoid ravings notwithstanding, it is likely that he has been less effective in laying the groundwork for the post-Iraq stab campaign than second-generation neocon generalissimo William Kristol, who despite mountains of contrary evidence professes to detect an "astoundingly" successful surge and a military situation that is "better than anyone expected." Kristol's Weekly Standard recently ran a cover drawing of an American soldier viewed from behind within the sights of an unseen weapon, beneath the headline Does Washington Have His Back? Another Standard headline reads: They Don't Really Support the Troops.
Such visual, visceral propaganda attacks would have fit in perfectly with those employed against Jews by right-wing anti-Semites in the days before Hitler. One might have imagined that American neocons would have pulled back before crossing that line.
The campaign is coming; forewarned is forearmed.
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: Friday, October 5, 2007 - 21:23
SOURCE: Newsweek (10-8-07)
Few successful wars of liberation have been more roundly condemned or more quickly forgotten than the American-led campaign to free Italy, which began 64 years ago last month. GREAT STUPIDITY? a magazine headline asked at the time. The scholar David M. Kennedy later noted the 312,000 Allied casualties suffered in two years of slogging up the Italian boot and condemned "a grinding war of attrition whose costs were justified by no defensible military or political purpose." Other historians have been far harsher.
Yet the Italian campaign has enduring resonance, both as a milestone on the road to victory in World War II and as a steppingstone toward a free, stable Europe. Sometimes liberation works as planned: the fight for Italy unshackled that nation from both the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and his blood pact with Nazi Germany. It prompted the transformation of a stunted, totalitarian misfit into a prosperous Western democracy.
Certainly, the lessons learned in Italy paid dividends later in the war, especially through the expertise gained in complex amphibious operations at places like Salerno and Anzio, and in fighting as a large, multinational coalition. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the senior commander overseeing the Italian campaign until the end of 1943, used the multinational headquarters he had built in the Mediterranean as a template both for SHAEF—the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, which orchestrated the final victory in Western Europe—and eventually for NATO. The boot also blooded American GIs and their commanders for later campaigns: much of the force that invaded southern France in August 1944 had fought at the Volturno River, the Rapido River, Monte Cassino and Anzio....
Posted on: Friday, October 5, 2007 - 21:00
SOURCE: Atlantic Monthly (11-1-07)
If the American idea was to subdue Native Americans and place them at the disposal of European settlers, to import several million Africans to the New World and subject them to a lifetime of slavery, to impose on Asian immigrants a lifetime of discrimination, then perhaps the American idea was not so admirable.
If the American idea, once the Civil War had concluded, was to sentence the freedmen to a lifetime of racial segregation, discrimination, and humiliation, then perhaps the American idea was not so praiseworthy.
If the American idea, during and after Reconstruction, was to subject the freedmen to new levels of indignities, and new forms of so-called racial integrity by defining the nature of the blood in the veins of a so-called white person, and to sentence entire communities to race riots that rivaled the pogroms of Eastern Europe, then perhaps the American idea was not quite so attractive....
Posted on: Friday, October 5, 2007 - 20:26
SOURCE: Introduction to an article at the website of Japan Focus, "Families of Eight Wrongfully Executed South Korean Political Prisoners Awarded Record Compensation. The People's Revolutionary Party 8" (10-1-07)
NEWS HEADLINE: Court ruling grants 63.7 billion won to families, the largest amount ever paid in a case involving political dissidents
The large monetary awards to the family members of eight men executed in 1974 as members of the “People’s Revolutionary Party” have no precedent, and mark another milestone in South Korea’s remarkable record of historical reckoning and reconciliation. The twin pillars of this are the reconciliation with North Korea ongoing since Kim Dae Jung was elected president, and the 1995 trials of former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo for treason in carrying out their serial coup d’etat in 1979-80, which involved the bloody suppression of the Kwangju Rebellion. (Chun was sentenced to death and Roh to life in prison, but President Kim pardoned both of them so they could sit fidgeting on the podium while he was inaugurated in February 1998). Few other countries with long histories of dictatorship have managed democratization with the same measure of justice and magnanimity. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes to mind, and it was indeed a model for both Kim Dae Jung and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun.
Few foreigners recognize the degree to which, not even a decade ago, South Korea needed not just to be reconciled to itself, but to be unified as a country. In many ways the peninsula had three different parts—the North, the South, and the remnants of a strong left wing in the southwest and southeast. Kwangju, a major city in the southwest, had been rebellious since the Tonghak peasant masses marched on Seoul in 1894 and helped to touch off the Sino-Japanese War. Extensive resistance to the Japanese marked the region well into the 1920s, and when the American occupation arrived in 1945, the southwestern and southeastern provinces were the heartland of the strong left that organized and dominated much of the country until the U.S. reemployed Koreans in the national police and the military (who had long collaborated with Japanese imperialism) to suppress it. In October 1946 this touched off a major rebellion in Taegu and the surrounding area in the southeast, which then quickly spread to the southwest. During the three years of the U.S. Occupation many political parties had “peoples” or “revolution” in their titles, and it was a commonplace, daily occurrence to see leftists with “people’s revolution” banners flying, clashing with police and rightwing youth groups. People also often switched sides: Park Chung Hee had been an officer in the Japanese army, but was arrested in the 1948 leftist rebellion that started in the southwestern port of Yosu.
The Korean War changed all that. It cauterized South Korean politics, making anyone on the left, or from a leftist family, a target of the regime; to be labeled a communist or a leftist was to be blacklisted and ostracized—often by one’s close neighbors, who were desperate to avoid the “Red” taint. Park Chung Hee reinvented himself as an intelligence officer during the war, and seized power in another coup in 1961. He made the Korean Central Intelligence Agency the most powerful political institution in the country, but even with the top business conglomerates, the military, the National Police and the KCIA behind him, he nearly lost the presidential election in 1971—when Kim Dae Jung from the southwest won 46 percent of the vote. That was the proximate cause of Park’s declaration of martial law in 1972 and a new constitution making him president for life. Resistance to his dictatorship persisted, however, with large street demonstrations in 1974 that caused “emergency declarations” to fly around Seoul like bats after dusk. Decree #1 on January 8, 1974 promised to punish anyone who opposed or wanted to revise the 1972 constitution and Decree #4 (April 3) authorized the Education Minister to suspend or expel protesting students.
It was in this context that the dictatorship arrested the “PRP” eight—nearly all of them from Taegu—in 1974 and charged them with treason. About a year later (on April 8, 1975), General Park issued Decree #7, which simply shut down Korea University. That same day the Supreme Court took ten minutes to rubber stamp the KCIA’s PRP case; the eight men were hanged the next day at dawn. A month later Park issued his infamous Emergency Decree #9, enumerating a long list of crimes including “fabricating and disseminating false rumors” and assembling in any way “disruptive to political order.” As it happened the KCIA had fabricated the People’s Revolutionary Party out of thin air, and tortured the eight individuals until they admitted belonging to it and working with the North to build a communist Korea.
A handful of Americans spoke out against this travesty, including Protestant missionary George Ogle and Catholic missionary James Sinott (both of whom Park expelled from the country), but the general response followed the Nixon and Ford administration’s lead: silence. It was one thing to defend protesting students from the premier private school (Korea University), and quite another to speak out on behalf of alleged communists. Furthermore, the U.S. was complicit: even before the war began in 1950, formerly secret Embassy documents show that Washington was not only willing to tolerate almost any abuse against someone deemed a Red, but applauded the use of any means necessary to shut down their activities. After the war, to be a leftist or communist meant the regime could do anything it wanted to you, knowing that little if any resistance would come from Washington.
In February 1985 I was fortunate to be one of the foreigners accompanying Kim Dae Jung back from his exile in the U.S. While our delegation was there we met with family members of the accused PRP people. Their spokesperson was a spunky, pretty woman, who happened to mention that it was very difficult for her to find a husband because of her family background. On our delegation was Bernard Aronson, later George H. W. Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. As a van took us away, Christopher Hitchens and I observed Mr. Aronson blowing kisses at the woman, and yelling out, “I’ll marry you!”
It so happened that one woman from a blacklisted leftist family, Kwon Yang-suk, was able to find a husband: his name was Roh Moo-hyun, who distinguished himself in the 1980s for his work on behalf of activists dissenting from General Chun’s dictatorship. More than sixty years after the U.S. first stumbled into an unknown political, social and cultural thicket named not Iraq but Korea, Koreans are finally reclaiming their tortured history for themselves, binding up wounds and trying to make amends. It is an admirable effort.
Posted on: Friday, October 5, 2007 - 20:17
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (10-5-07)
The election for president is more than a year away. Neither major party has as yet chosen a nominee. Yet the results of the 2008 election are already in: the Democrats will recapture the White House next fall, whether they nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, John Edwards, or Bill Richardson. Only an unprecedented cataclysmic change in American politics during the next year could salvage Republican hopes.
This good news for Democrats and grim news for Republicans comes from the “Keys to the White House,” a historically based prediction system that I developed in 1981, in collaboration with Volodia Keilis-Borok, an authority on the mathematics of prediction models.
The Keys retrospectively accurately account for the popular vote winners of every presidential election from 1860 through 1980 and prospectively forecast the winners of every presidential election from 1984 through 2004. The keys model predicted George W. Bush’s reelection in April 2003.
The Keys show that elections are not horse races in which candidates surge ahead or fall behind on the campaign trail, with pollsters keeping score. Rather, a pragmatic American electorate chooses a president according to the performance of the party holding the White House as measured by the consequential events and episodes of a term — economic boom and bust, foreign policy successes and failures, social unrest, scandal, and policy innovation. Nothing that a candidate has said or done during a campaign, when the public discounts everything as political, has changed his prospects at the polls. Debates, advertising, television appearances, news coverage, and campaign strategies — the usual grist for the punditry mills — count for virtually nothing on Election Day.
The Keys include 13 diagnostic questions that are stated as propositions that favor reelection of the incumbent party. (See table below.) When five or fewer of these propositions are false or turned against the party holding the White House, that party wins another term in office. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.
Even without counting a single economic key against the incumbent Republicans, they currently have a seven key deficit, one more than necessary to predict their defeat in 2008.
The following Keys currently count against the incumbent party.
The following three Keys currently favor the incumbent Republican Party.
The following Keys are uncertain:
Two caveats are in order. First, as a nationally based system, the Keys predict only the popular vote. In the last hundred years, however, the popular and Electoral College votes have diverged only in the 2000 election. For the special circumstances of that election, see, Lichtman, “What Really Happened in Florida’s 2000 Presidential Election,” Journal of Legal Studies 32(1), 2003). Second, the Democrats may well introduce an element of uncertainly by making a path-breaking nomination of either a woman, Hillary Clinton, or an African-American, Barack Obama. The keys, however, are a robust system that has endured through momentous changes in the electorate, the economy, the society, and the technology of elections. It is unlikely that any contingency will alter the negative verdict on the party in power.
The verdict of the Keys for 2008 does not depend on the particular candidate nominated by either party. So my advice to Republicans and Democrats alike in the primary elections is to vote for the candidate you believe in for 2008 and forget the misleading pursuit of the false grail of so-called “electability.”
Summary of the 13 Keys as of September 2007:
The Keys are stated to favor the reelection of the incumbent party. When five or fewer are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.
KEY 1 (Party Mandate): After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. (FALSE)
KEY 2 (Contest): There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination. (FALSE)
KEY 3 (Incumbency): The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president. (FALSE)
KEY 4 (Third party): There is no significant third-party or independent campaign. (UNCERTAIN)
KEY 5 (Short-term economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. (UNCERTAIN)
KEY 6 (Long-term economy): Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. (UNCERTAIN)
KEY 7 (Policy change): The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. (FALSE)
KEY 8 (Social unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term. (TRUE)
KEY 9 (Scandal): The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. (TRUE)
KEY 10 (Foreign/military failure): The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. (FALSE)
KEY 11 (Foreign/military success): The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. (FALSE)
KEY 12 (Incumbent charisma): The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. (FALSE)
KEY 13 (Challenger charisma): The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (TRUE)
Results: TRUE: 3 KEYS; FALSE: 7 KEYS; UNCERTAIN: 3 KEYS
Prediction: INCUMBENT REPUBLICANS LOSE POPULAR VOTE
Posted on: Friday, October 5, 2007 - 20:09
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (10-4-07)
It's time to save the military from itself. I say this as a retired Air Force officer who served for twenty years, my last three in a "joint" assignment, working closely with Army, Marine, and Navy officers and enlisted men and women. As the Dean of Students at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, I saw hundreds of young troops cross the stage, graduating with new skills in Arabic and other strategic languages. With few exceptions, these (mostly) young men and women were highly motivated, committed to their service and country, and ready to go to war. They had no quit in them.
But in the words of Kenny Rogers, "You've got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run." The reference to his hit song, "The Gambler," is not facile. The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote that war, in its complexities and uncertainties, most resembles a game of cards -- let's say Texas Hold'em in honor of the President's adopted state. Over the last four-plus years, we've shoved hundreds of billions of dollars into the Iraqi pot, suffered sobering losses in killed-in-action/wounded-in-action, yet we're still holding losing cards dealt from a stacked deck. Even so, the Bush administration has recently doubled-down instead of folding, hoping to hit an inside straight despite long odds.
Why are we spilling blood and treasure with such reckless abandon? One answer is the military itself. Our military is a funhouse reflection of ourselves -- purpose-driven, results-oriented, can-do, never-say-die, win-at-any-cost. Many commentators have noted that, in his recent testimony before Congress, General David Petraeus was hardly likely to criticize his own strategy in Iraq or, more crucially, the performance of the troops under his command. I have no doubt, however, that his belief in the viability of his mission reaches far deeper than that. Indeed, it surely taps into a core belief within the military that we can -- and must -- prevail in any conflict. We've been seduced by our own hype about being the world's "sole superpower," as if nuclear and technological supremacy had made us omnipotent as well as omni-competent.
Cheating the Kobayashi Maru
But how can you win someone else's civil war? In Iraq, our military faces a classic Kobayashi Maru -- a no-win situation. In the Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, Admiral Kirk recounts how he triumphed over his own Kobayashi Maru -- by cheating. He reprograms a computer simulation to allow for victory, even winning a special commendation for originality!
The U.S. military seems to think it can do the same. Its version of reprogramming is "metrics": Show enough colored charts with seemingly hard-and-fast numbers and you can claim, if not victory, at least progress of a sort. Anti-war critics have referred to this as "cooking the books," implying that the military is engaged in a deliberate campaign of lies. While it may be true that the first casualty of any war is truth, bald-faced lies have been the least of our problems when it comes to our armed forces. Far more devastating has been the ability of its commanders to mislead themselves, and so, us. Even when U.S. forces can't always "search and destroy" Iraqi insurgents and terrorists, it turns out that they can search and deploy metrics indicative of progress anyway.
But when such metrics are deployed, do they mean what our military thinks they mean? For example, General Petraeus noted that this year his troops had already found and cleared more than 4,400 weapons and explosive caches, 1,700 more than in all of 2006. Is this, then, proof of better intelligence and interdiction techniques, as he claims? Or is it a sign that these caches are proliferating? Or that the insurgents are learning to disperse their weapons more effectively? And what exactly constitutes a cache anyway? Two AK-47s and an old artillery shell? And is it possible that top-down pressure from the chain-of-command to show results has inflated this figure? In other words, is better counting (and possibly some creative accounting) behind these figures?
Here's a metric of a different sort. General Petraeus testified that Iraq has already committed $1.6 billion to the U.S. foreign military sales (FMS) program, and will likely commit another $1.8 billion to FMS by year's end. He presented this as positive news. Yet, is this not another way of saying that Iraq has $3.4 billion less to commit to desperately needed internal infrastructure repairs and improvements? Is it really the case that Iraq's ongoing civil war is best resolved by an infusion of billions of dollars worth of U.S. military equipment?
Lies, Damned Lies, and Metrics
One might be pardoned for asking: What makes our military think this way? For these and other metrics are not lies (although lies may be folded into them); rather, they are symptomatic of a state of ongoing self-delusion as well as self-congratulation. Our military is structured to recognize and reward performance, and institutionally we believe that "true" performance must be quantifiable. So we develop (invent is often a better word) "metrics" to feed the beast. Promotion ("fitness") reports exhibit the Lake Wobegon Effect, where nearly every officer and NCO turns out to be above average. Commanders do their best to quantify, showcase, and elevate the accomplishments of their units, even if results are nebulous or ephemeral. The status reports Petraeus offered Congress, displayed on those giant, colorful charts during the recent hearings, are at least in part a compilation of these glowing reports. The end result: an inherently flawed and overly optimistic vision, heavily weighted toward "progress" and ultimate success.
While this may, in part, be a military version of the grade-inflation endemic in our schools and culture, there are other signs that it is now rampant. Medals and ribbons, for instance, have proliferated to such an extent that few have any real meaning. Officers openly sneer about "PCS medals," almost pro forma awards received after a "permanent change in station" -- that is, a new assignment, no matter how peaceable. Many medals shout "been there," rather than "done that." Some awards and decorations today are tied more to the military rank of the recipient than to objective measures of merit. Indeed, ribbons have proliferated like nuclear missiles during the Cold War. I counted nine rows on Petraeus' left breast during his Congressional hearings. If they were a valid metric across time, he would be roughly thrice as capable and valorous as George C. Marshall, perhaps America's greatest soldier-statesman, who somehow ran and won a world war while wearing only three rows of ribbons.
By no means do I intend to disparage General Petraeus or his record. In wearing a uniform festooned with medals, ribbons, badges, and tabs, he's the norm among U.S. military commanders. Yet those medals and militaria that our commanders wear are a kind of evidence. Our military, they indicate, is so busy patting itself on the back that its medal-bestowing has come to resemble those Little League tournaments where every kid gets a trophy, win or lose. We're so busy celebrating how great we are that we're failing to face reality. Not all problems can be solved by applying more elbow grease and shouting "Hooah."
Our military will continue to showcase the metrics of success in Iraq because the system itself is built on them. By nature as well as training, our military is composed of action-oriented problem solvers. This is a great strength, but also a potentially fatal flaw. It makes it unlikely indeed that military commanders will recognize how "bugging out and calling it even" -- the jaded advice of Private Hudson in Aliens -- can, at times, be the height of military wisdom. We magnet-ribbon people who sport "support our troops" on our SUVs need to learn that "support" sometimes means pulling the troops out, even when some of them are kicking and screaming to stay.
Generals and Train Wrecks
In a country founded on civilian control of the military, it's disturbing indeed that, as a New York Times/CBS poll indicated recently, Americans trust their generals three times as much as Congress and 13 times as much as the President. As unjust as the "General Betray Us" tag may have been in that Moveon.org ad, many other Americans, including most of Congress -– and, above all, the President himself -- seem to be chanting "General Please Save Us." Both chants are misguided, but the second is the more dangerous.
As French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau famously noted a century ago, "War is too important to be left to generals" -- a fact illustrated recently by a serving Army officer. In "A Failure in Generalship," which appeared in Armed Forces Journal in May, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling argues that, prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, our generals "refused to prepare the Army to fight unconventional wars" and thereafter failed to "provide Congress and the public with an accurate assessment of the conflict in Iraq." Put bluntly, he accuses them of dereliction of duty. Bewailing a lack of accountability for such failures in the military itself, Yingling memorably concludes that "a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."
When it comes to Iraq, we seem to suffer from a baffling case of collective amnesia. Think back to the spring of 2004. A friend of mine was then serving in the Green Zone with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), run by presidential appointee L. Paul Bremer III. Prior to the official handing over of "sovereignty" to the Iraqis in June of that year, he wrote me that the CPA staff "accepted as given" widespread "corruption, private militias, insecurity, and coming civil war." The "scariest" part, he added, "is that we're supporting a regime which is seen as completely illegitimate by the people it's supposed to rule in the name of democracy…. Even the Iraqis who welcomed us after Saddam have lost patience with us and are pursuing other routes to power and national control." The whole operation, he concluded, "is a train wreck waiting to happen, and the administration simply refused to acknowledge it, much less do anything about it." And for overseeing this train wreck, the Bush administration in December 2004 rewarded Bremer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Saving the New "Greatest Generation"
Yingling's recent cri de coeur and my friend's pessimistic, yet accurate, prediction highlight the crime we're committing against today's all-volunteer military. For I believe General Petraeus was right to salute our troops as a new "greatest generation." After all, our last one, the veterans of World War II (currently celebrated in Ken Burns' documentary series), contained a large percentage of more-or-less reluctant draftees. Today's troops may not have had in mind repeated 15-month deployments to Iraq when they raised their right hands to take the oath, but they still resolutely put themselves in harm's way. They deserve our respect and gratitude -- but, even more, they deserve our attention.
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: Ask not what your military can do for you, but ask what you can do for your military. In this case, "support our troops" should mean supporting the idea of pulling them out of a morale-sucking morass. The President won't act, so Congress must. Chaos may -- or may not -- ensue in Iraq after our troops withdraw, but buying time for more colorful benchmarks to be met, for more impressive metrics to be produced, is unconscionable when we know it will entail thousands of additional American casualties and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. These are the metrics that matter -- blood and treasure. But what should matter even more to our country than body bags and billions is trust -- the emotional and spiritual ties that bind our troops to ourselves. Those ties, currently being stretched in Iraq, must not be allowed to snap. For if they do, we'll be left with hollowed -- instead of hallowed -- legions.
Posted on: Friday, October 5, 2007 - 19:47
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (10-2-07)
At least Caesar was just commenting on reality when he wrote that"all Gaul is divided into three parts." Last week, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden attempted to create reality when an overwhelming majority of the U.S. Senate voted for his non-binding resolution to divide Iraq into three parts -- Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish autonomous zones. Shailagh Murray of the Washington Post reported that the 75-23 Senate vote was"a significant milestone…, carving out common ground in a debate that has grown increasingly polarized and focused on military strategy." Murray added,"The [tripartite] structure is spelled out in Iraq's constitution, but Biden would initiate local and regional diplomatic efforts to hasten its evolution."
In Iraq, the plan was termed a "disaster" by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called the Senate resolution"a step toward the breakup of Iraq." He added, according to Juan Cole's Informed Comment website,"It is a mistake to imagine that such a plan will lead to a reduction in chaos in Iraq; rather, on the contrary, it will lead to an increase in the butchery and a deepening of the crisis of this country, and the spreading of increased chaos, even to neighboring states." In the meantime, Sunni clerics and various political parties joined in the denunciations. Only the Kurds, eager for an independent state, evidently welcomed the plan.
Cole caught the essence of this latest stratagem perfectly: First, he pointed out, the Senate"messed up Iraq by authorizing Terrible George to blow it up, now they want to further mess it up by dividing it."
But here's the most curious thing in this strange exercise in counting to three -- simply that it happened in the United States. Let's imagine, for a moment, that the Iraqi Parliament had voted a non-binding resolution to grant congressional representation to Washington DC or to allow California's electoral votes to be divided up by district. Or what if the Iranian parliament had just passed a non-binding resolution to divide the United States into semi-autonomous bio-regions?
Such acts would, of course, be considered not just outrageous and insulting, but quite mad and, on our one-way planet, they are indeed little short of unimaginable. But no one I noticed in the mainstream of political Washington or the media that covers it -- whether agreeing with the proposal or not -- seemed to find it even faintly odd for the U.S. Senate to count to three in support of a plan that, at best, would put an American stamp of approval on the continuing ethnic cleansing of Iraq.
No matter how meaningless Biden's resolution may turn out to be as policy, it has the benefit of taking us directly to bedrock Washington belief systems -- specifically, that it is America's global duty to solve the crises of other nations (even the ones that we set off). We are, after all, the nation-building nation par excellence and, despite all evidence to the contrary in Iraq, it is still impossible for official Washington to imagine us as anything but part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
You can find this same thinking no less readily available in another counting exercise under way in Washington…
Counting to Five, to Ten, to Fifty
Right now, leading Democrats, as well as Republicans, are focused on counting to both five and ten, which turn out to be the same thing. In a recent debate among the Democratic candidates for the presidency, for instance, the top three (by media and polling agreement), Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards refused to commit to having all American troops out of Iraq by 2013, the end of a first term in office -- five years from now, and 10 years from the March 2003 launching of the invasion.
Like much else of recent vintage, this 10-year count may have started with our surge commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, who, for some time, has been telling just about anyone willing to listen that counter-insurgency operations in Iraq could take"up to a decade." ("In fact," he told Fox News in June,"typically, I think historically, counter-insurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years.") Now, it seems, his to-the-horizon-and-beyond Iraqi timetable has largely been subsumed into an inside-the-Beltway consensus that no one -- not in this administration or the next, not a new president or a new Congress -- will end our involvement in Iraq in the foreseeable future; that, in fact, we must stay in Iraq and that, the worse it gets, the more that becomes true -- if only to protect the Iraqis (and our interests in the Middle East) from even worse.
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks put it this way on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer:"[The Democrats in Congress are] not going to cut off funding, and we've seen and we saw in the debate this week, there are going to be probably U.S. troops in Iraq there 10 years, regardless who's elected. So they're not going to win on this." Liberal warhawk George Packer in the New Yorker recently wrote a long article,"Planning for Defeat," laying out many of the reasons why Iraq remains a disaster area and discussing various methods of withdrawal before plunking for a policy summed up in the suggestion of an anonymous Bush administration official,"Declare defeat and stay in." Packer concluded:"Whenever this country decides that the bloody experience in Iraq requires the departure of American troops, complete disengagement will be neither desirable nor possible. We might want to be rid of Iraq, but Iraq won't let it happen."
Retired Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, representing the military punditocracy, offered the following:"I don't see us getting out of Iraq for a decade." In fact, increasingly few in official Washington do. (An exception is presidential candidate Bill Richardson, who launched a web video this week from a total withdrawal position that began:"George Bush says the surge is working. Gen. Petraeus says it will take more time. Republican presidential candidates say stay as long as it takes. No surprises there. But, you might be surprised to learn that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards would all leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq…") Iraq is, of course, acknowledged to be the number-one issue in the upcoming presidential campaign; the ever growing unhappiness of Americans with our presence in that country is considered a fact of political life; and yet it's becoming ever harder to imagine just what the future Iraq debate among presidential candidates will actually be about, if everyone agrees that we have at least five years to go with no end in sight.
And let's remember that behind the five and ten counts lurks a count to 50 and beyond; the number of years, that is, that American troops have been garrisoned in South Korea since the Korean War ended in stalemate in 1953. Visitors to the White House have long reported that President Bush was intrigued with the"Korea model." As David Sanger of the New York Times' wrote recently:"Many times over the past six months, he has told visitors to the White House that he needs to get to the Korea model -- a politically sustainable U.S. deployment to keep the lid on the Middle East." (Keep in mind, however, that, when the Bush administration rumbled into Baghdad on their tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in April 2003, it was the Korea model they had in mind -- though they weren't calling it that at the time.)
This is the model that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also seems to have put his money on -- a drawn-down American force garrisoned in giant, semi-permanent bases in a"stabilized" Iraq for eons to come. The Congressional Budget Office has already crunched numbers on what such a model would likely cost.
Behind all these counting exercises lies the belief that wherever we land and whatever we do, we are, in the end, the anointed bringers of something called"stability" and if we have to count to 50, 500, 50,000, or 500,000 and do it in the currency of corpses, sooner or later it will be so.
Everyone remembers when the Vietnam-era body count was banished from the Global War on Terror. Tommy Franks, the general who led American forces into Afghanistan (and later Iraq), bluntly stated:"We don't do body counts." And then, jumping ahead a few years, there was the President plaintively blurting out his pain to a coffee klatch of empathetic conservative journalists in October 2006:"We don't get to say that -- a thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening. You just don't know it…. We have made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team."
Well, tell that to the troops on the ground. There, it's evidently been déjà vu all over again for a while.
The recent murder trial of an American sniper from an elite sniper scout platoon operating in Iskandariya, a Sunni area in the"Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad, has been filled with revelations. Among them, that the Pentagon has a program to put "bait" out like"detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition" to draw unwary insurgents into sniper scopes; this, in a land with perhaps 50% unemployment, where anything salvageable will be scavenged by civilians. ("In a country that is awash in armaments and magazines and implements of war, if every time somebody picked up something that was potentially useful as a weapon, you might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back," comments Eugene Fidell of the National Institute of Military Justice.) As it turns out, the snipers seem to have misunderstood the use of these"bait" items -- or to have understood all too well their real use -- and instead placed them on unarmed Iraqis they had already killed in order to create instant"insurgent" bodies appropriate for the body count that wasn't supposed to be.
As Private David C. Petta, told the court, according to the Washington Post,"he believed the classified items were for dropping on people the unit had killed, ‘to enforce if we killed somebody that we knew was a bad guy but we didn't have the evidence to show for it.'" (The weaponizing of the dead was, by the way, a commonplace of the Vietnam War as well.) According to court testimony, the specialists from this sniper squad,"described how their teams were pushed beyond limits by battalion commanders eager to raise their kill ratio against a ruthless enemy.... During a separate hearing here in July, Sgt. Anthony G. Murphy said he and other First Battalion snipers felt 'an underlying tone' of disappointment from field commanders seeking higher enemy body counts. 'It just kind of felt like,"What are you guys doing wrong out there?"'")
And little wonder, given what was at stake. This was, of course, standard operating procedure in Vietnam too -- and for the same reasons. Lieutenant General Julian J. Ewell, for instance, had his own codified kill ratios of"allied to enemy dead" for his units in Vietnam. These ranged from 1:50, which qualified as"highly skilled U.S. unit" to 1:10,"historical U.S. average." And woe be to those who were just average. Units will be"pushed beyond limits" any time"victory" or"success" or"progress" becomes nothing but a body-counting game, as is happening again.
Once progress in a frustrating counter-guerrilla war is pegged to those endlessly toted up corpses, the counting process itself naturally becomes a crucial measure of success (in lieu of actual success), unit by unit -- which means it also becomes a key measure of performance, and performance is, of course, the measure of military advancement. So, the pressure to be that"highly skilled unit" translates into pressure for more bodies to report as signs of success. Sooner or later, if you just report actual enemy killed, your stats sheet begins to look lousy -- especially if others are inflating their figures, as they will do. And then the pressure only builds.
Every bit of this should ring a grim bell or two; but, as New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh commented recently in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, from Vietnam to today there's been"no learning curve.""You'd think," he said,"that in this country with so many smart people, that we can't possibly do the same dumb thing again.... [but] everything is tabula rasa."
Prepare not to be surprised: In Iraq, the military counted bodies from the beginning -- counted, in fact, everything. They just weren't releasing the figures back in the days when the Bush administration was less desperate about Iraq and far more desperate not to appear to be back in the Vietnam era of endless stats and no victory. But the"metrics" (as they are called) were always something of an open secret. In March 2005, for instance, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told an NPR reporter:
"We have a room here [in the Pentagon], the Iraq Room where we track a whole series of metrics. Some of them are inputs and some of them are outputs, results, and obviously the inputs are easier to do and less important, and the outputs are vastly more important and more difficult to do.
"We track, for example, the numbers of attacks by area. We track the types of attacks by area…. [W]e track a number of reports of intimidation, attempts at intimidation or assassination of government officials, for example. We track the extent to which people are supplying intelligence to our people so that they can go in and actually track down and capture or kill insurgents. We try to desegregate the people we've captured and look at what they are. Are they foreign fighters, Jihadist types? Are they criminals who were paid money to go do something like that? Are they former regime elements, Ba'athists? And we try to keep track of what those numbers are in terms of detainees and people that are processed in that way.... We probably look at 50, 60, 70 different types of metrics, and come away with them with an impression."
And as it happens, though he didn't mention it that day, the military were also assiduously counting corpses. We know that because last week they released figures to USA Today on how many insurgents U.S. forces have supposedly killed since the invasion of Iraq ended: 18,832 since June 2003; 4,882"militants" so far in 2007 alone. That represents a leap of 25% in corpse-counting from the previous year. These previously derided body counts, according to American officials quoted in Stars and Stripes, now give the necessary"scale" and" context" to the fight in Iraq.
As the USA Today report points out, last year Centcom Commander John Abizaid had suggested that the forces of the Sunni insurgency numbered in the 10,000-20,000 range. If the released figures are accurate, nearly 25%-50% of that number must have been killed this year. (Who knows how many were wounded.) Add in suspected Sunni insurgents and terrorists incarcerated in American prisons in Iraq only in the"surge" months of 2007 -- another 8,000 or so -- and it suddenly looks as if something close to the full insurgency has essentially been turned into a ghost resistance between January and September of this year.
(Again, Vietnam had its equivalents. After the nationwide Tet Offensive in February 1968, for instance, the U.S. military requested more troops from the Johnson administration. They also claimed that the Vietnamese had lost 45,000 dead. As historian Marilyn Young wrote in her book, The Vietnam Wars,"UN Ambassador Arthur Goldberg wanted to know what was enemy troop strength at the start of Tet. The answer: between 160,000 and 175,000. And the ratio of killed to wounded? Estimated at three and a half to one, answered the officer. 'Well, if that's true,' Goldberg calculated quickly, 'then they have no effective forces left in the field.' This certainly made additional American forces seem redundant.")
By now, it seems as if everyone on the American side is suddenly counting in public. In August, the President, for the first time, felt free to become the leader of a"body-count team" and proudly announced, in a televised speech to the American people, just how many insurgents U.S. forces were supposedly killing in each surge month (though the figures don't gibe with the ones released by the military last week):"Our troops have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of this year." General Petraeus, of course, arrived in Washington to deliver his"progress report" to Congress with his own Vietnam-style multicolored charts and graphs to display; and the military, having sworn not to do body counts, is now releasing figures daily -- often large ones -- on kills in Afghanistan and Iraq that regularly make the headlines. And every day, it seems, new Pentagon databases and squads of number-crunchers are revealed. By now, it's a genuine carnage party.
Last week, Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reported in far greater depth than we've seen before on the metrics squads run out of the Pentagon and the U.S. command in Baghdad. In the process, she found some interesting discrepancies between the findings of the Pentagon's data analysts and those working for Petraeus --"Civilian casualty numbers in the Pentagon's latest quarterly report on Iraq last week, for example, differ significantly from those presented by the top commander in Iraq…" -- and this became the subject of much on-line analysis at sites like ThinkProgress.org and TalkingPointsMemo.com. But perhaps more interesting than these discrepancies was the size of the overall military counting operation.
DeYoung, for instance, interviewed Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dan Macomber, the"senior all-source intelligence analyst" in charge of a six-person team whose only task is"to compile [data] and track trends and analysis for General Petraeus" personally. And that team, in turn, is but a small part of a larger crew"far from the battlefield" that, DeYoung reports, includes"platoons of soldiers in Iraq and at the Pentagon… assigned to crunch numbers -- sectarian killings, roadside bombs, Iraqi forces trained, weapons caches discovered and others -- in a constant effort to gauge how the war is going."
Think of that for a moment."Platoons" of military counters trying to count their way so high on a pile of Iraqi corpses and captured weapons that, someday,"progress" and even perhaps a glimmer of"success" might appear at the end of that dark, dark tunnel. That would be when, assumedly, the"stability" we represent would finally make its appearance. What Iraq would be by then is another matter entirely.
Counting to a Million and Beyond
Why would such"platoons" of counters be needed? One answer might be that the counting runs high indeed. On Monday, there was a revealing inside-the-fold piece in the New York Times on this subject. It was, on the surface, a modest good-news piece from a distinctly bad-news land. While the central government in Baghdad is now almost paralyzed, wrote James Glanz, its corrupt ministries unable to spend even small percentages of the oil moneys allotted to them for various reconstruction activities, local spending in some provinces may be significantly more effective (or, if you read the piece to the end, it may not). Here was the key passage:
"The capital budget for the entire country, including the provinces, was $6 billion in 2006 and $10 billion in 2007. But some national ministries spent as little as 15 percent of their share last year, citing problems such as a shortage of employees trained to write contracts, the flight of scientific and engineering expertise from the country and the danger from militias and the insurgency."
Think about that:"a shortage of employees trained to write contracts…";"the flight of scientific and engineering expertise from the country…" There's something worth counting, but you might be doing it for a long, long time. Significant parts of what was once a large Iraqi professional class have, since the occupation, become"bus people." They have fled the country in unknown numbers -- though a recent Oxfam report indicates that, in Baghdad, some hospitals and universities have lost up to 80% of their staffs. These are part of a larger exodus of staggering dimensions. It is now estimated -- nobody knows the real numbers -- that there are at least 2.5 million Iraqis who have fled abroad since the Bush administration's invasion ended. Up to 2.2 million more Iraqis have been dislodged from their homes, largely by sectarian violence, and turned into internal refugees.
And then, of course, there were the Iraqis who couldn't flee -- those corpses everyone is now so hot to count, so eager to measure progress upon. As in June 2006 with the door-to-door study that became the Lancet report, which suggested that 600,000 Iraqis might have died violently since the invasion of 2003, we have another survey of the dead. Again, it offers startling figures; and, once again, those figures, though produced by a reputable British survey outfit, ORB or Opinion Research Business, which has been polling in Iraq since 2005, were largely ignored in the mainstream media. As Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. wrote in a moving essay at his libertarian website, LewRockwell.com:
"How comfy we are all in the United States, as we engage in living-room debates about the US occupation of Iraq, whether 'we' are bringing them freedom and whether their freedom is really worth the sacrifice of so many of our men and women. We talk about whether war aims have really been achieved, how to exit gracefully, or whether we need a hyper-surge to finish this whole business once and for all.... But when 'we' cause the calamity, suddenly there is silence."
A sample of 1,499 Iraqis 18 years old and up were asked:"How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003 (i.e. as a result of violence rather than a natural death such as old age)? Please note that I mean those who were actually living under your roof." Nearly one of every two Baghdad households claimed to have lost a family member and the firm estimated that, overall, approximately 1.2 million Iraqis may have died violently since the invasion, which, if true, would put even the Rwandan genocide in the shade. Other estimates of Iraqi deaths are lower, but still staggering.
And that's just the dead. Not the wounded. Not the mentally damaged or the shell-shocked or the deranged. Not those thousands in northern Iraq who are now coming down with cholera, thanks to worsening sanitary conditions and the unavailability of potable water. There -- in a country which may have lost 1.2 million people to violence in four-plus years -- is where our leading presidential candidates, many pundits (liberal as well as conservative), and significant numbers of Congressional representatives agree we must remain in some form beyond at least 2013, for reasons of"stability," lest a"genocide" occur.
If the polls are to be believed, here in this country only the American people disagree, and they obviously don't count for much.
So while we hunker into Iraq, the numbers-crunchers will undoubtedly redouble their efforts for the next"progress report," upcoming in March 2008, from General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. They are undoubtedly already preparing their bar charts and multi-colored graphs. Out in the field, the pressure on the troops to provide the stats that will make those graphs reflect"progress," that will allow units to achieve"success" and commanders to advance, will only increase.
The lesson of these last metrics-filled surge months is already clear enough: We count, they don't.
Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Thursday, October 4, 2007 - 12:39
A curious coda was sounded in Jena, Louisiana this past week. In the wake of explosive confrontations between black and white high school students that have served, among other things, to bring to light just how poorly human beings can treat one another, Jesus appeared.
For those familiar with the history of the freedom movements in the United States—especially those of the 1950s and 60s—the Jena story is nothing new. Racial tensions are ignited by one side's encroachment upon the other's territory. Matters escalate, symbolic gestures lead to full-on violence, someone is charged, the all-white jury decides, the nation reacts in horror, a march is held, and a town becomes a symbol, a benchmark of shame that serves in the grander scheme to signify a cathartic hope for progress. Montgomery . Little Rock . Oxford . Birmingham . Selma .
And now Jena. Reed Walters, the LaSalle Parish District Attorney in charge of prosecuting the " Jena 6," held a nationally televised press conference on September 27 to announce that he would not challenge an appellate court's decision overturning 17-year-old Mychal Bell's conviction for aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy because he was wrongly tried as an adult. At the end of the conference Walters thanked "the Christian community" for their prayers and made this observation about the September 20 march that drew roughly 10,000 protesters—mostly black—to Jena: "I firmly believe that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened." When challenged, Walters clarified his statement: "What I'm saying is, the Lord Jesus Christ put his influence on those people, and they responded accordingly."
That Jesus prevented "disaster" in Jena by "put[ting] his influence on those people" is a hard formulation to swallow. What sort of disaster does he mean? What are we to make of the implication that "those [black] people" would never have been able to behave in a peaceful, civil manner without divine intervention? Having raised these points, I set them aside. My purpose is not to pillory Walters but to point out that by invoking Jesus, Walters, albeit unconsciously, falls into line with other actors in the Jena events, all of whom are also actors in a larger, religiously infused drama.
Religion has inundated this story at every step. Jena is a tale of black and white, and as such it participates in the racial mythology of American culture. Attempting to reconstruct the origins of this myth, Ralph Ellison conflated the rhetoric of Genesis 1:1 with a primordial understanding of " Africa." In this understanding the American creation story becomes less about Adam and Eve and more about Africans and English—racism is America's original sin. That the violence would escalate over a tree, furthermore, signals the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as well as the broader religious category of trees that Genesis depicts. Likewise, shade—the tree's benefit and presumably what made it prime real estate in Jena's high school courtyard in August 2006—is rarely without troubling biblical associations.
The events of Jena also resurrected symbols and rituals associated with the racial ur-myth at the fringes of the American civil religion. By hanging nooses from the tree, white students invoked lynching, a scapegoating ritual in which an innocent victim is sacrificed as an expression of white supremacy. The metaphor of a "strange fruit" in the haunting song popularized by Billie Holiday ties lynching back to Genesis: "Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze / Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." Good and evil, indeed.
Finally there is the protest itself. No matter what "the Lord Jesus Christ's" direct role was on September 20, the event certainly was intended to recall the remarkable mass rituals orchestrated by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC—a point that television coverage made certain was not lost on its viewers. Expressive of God-given rights, the freedom movement's protests dramatized the biblical essence of American racial confrontation before a national and global audience, via the new technology of television. King consciously took on the role of Moses. Police dogs, fire hoses, firebombs, and nightsticks stood in for the lashes endured by suffering servants and children of Israel. The carnage was terrible and real, yet it was equally effective for the way it plugged into a larger Christian narrative central to the mythology of " America."
In the end, perhaps, the most unsettling aspect of the entire Jena episode is precisely how little it diverges from the past. Reed Walters has given us the occasion to explore its religious implications, where we see a continuing dialectic of racial violence and conflict in which the rituals, symbols, and responses have changed very little. Though the tree was cut down, there is nothing new under the sun.
Posted on: Thursday, October 4, 2007 - 10:29
SOURCE: NYT (10-3-07)
DESPITE the rosy claims of the Bush administration, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 is fundamentally flawed. The latest national tests, released last week, show that academic gains since 2003 have been modest, less even than those posted in the years before the law was put in place. In eighth-grade reading, there have been no gains at all since 1998.
The main goal of the law — that all children in the United States will be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014 — is simply unattainable. The primary strategy — to test all children in those subjects in grades three through eight every year — has unleashed an unhealthy obsession with standardized testing that has reduced the time available for teaching other important subjects. Furthermore, the law completely fractures the traditional limits on federal interference in the operation of local schools.
Unfortunately, the Congressional leaders in both parties seem determined to renew the law, probably after next year’s presidential election, with only minor changes. But No Child Left Behind should be radically overhauled, not just tweaked....
The obvious solution is to reverse roles. Washington should supply unbiased information about student academic performance to states and local districts. It should then be the responsibility of states and local districts to improve performance.
Congress should also drop the absurd goal of achieving universal proficiency by 2014. Given that no nation, no state and no school district has ever reached 100 percent math and reading proficiency for all grades, it is certain that the goal cannot be met. Perpetuating this unrealistic ideal, however, guarantees that increasing numbers of schools will “fail” as the magic year 2014 gets closer.
Unless we set realistic goals for our schools and adopt realistic means of achieving them, we run the risk of seriously damaging public education and leaving almost all children behind.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - 23:40
SOURCE: Joint Force Quarterly (JFQ) 4th Quarter (10-1-07)
The political and defense communities of 2006 had the wrong debate about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.1
Instead of “should he stay or should he go,” the debate should have been whether we even need the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). It is perhaps time to admit that the great post–World War II American experiment called “unification” has failed.2 The recent civil-military relations spat over the handling of the Department of Defense (DOD) by its former chief is merely the occasion for this essay. The conflict was not as much about Rumsfeld’s personality as some would have us believe. The criticism that Rumsfeld received in 2006 and prior has precedence in the tenures of Secretaries past, including James Forrestal, Louis Johnson, Robert McNamara, and a host of others whom many have forgotten.3 It would seem that when problems continually reoccur, we need to look at their cause systemically instead of indulging in the scapegoating common to American culture.
The problem is deeper than any political appointee; the source is the office itself. Simply put, the Secretary of Defense and his supporting staff are too powerful. The wisdom of the creation and relevance of the original organization are what need to be reconsidered.
The unification of the Departments of the Navy and War (now renamed the Department of the Army) with the new Department of the Air Force as subordinate organizations under a new Secretary of Defense occurred as a result of the lessons learned from World War II. Unification did not occur naturally or without conflict. The Navy, in fact, was its greatest opponent. Unification had initially been attempted after World War I, principally due to the efforts of advocates such as General William “Billy” Mitchell for an independent air force.4 The clamor became so serious that President Calvin Coolidge convened a board in September 1925 to examine a number of questions, the fifth of which was, “Should there be a Department of National Defense under which should be grouped all the military defensive organizations of the Government?” The board included nine civilian and retired military members, including Rear Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher (uncle of the famous Jack Fletcher) and Congressman Carl Vinson. They elected Dwight W. Morrow (a banker and lawyer) as their chairman. The Morrow Board concluded its hearings in November of that year and did “not recommend a Department of National Defense, either as comprising the Army and the Navy or as comprising three coordinate Departments of Army, Navy, and Air. The disadvantages outweigh the advantages.” 5 These wise words seem to have special clarity in 2007.
Nevertheless, unification was legislatively implemented by the National Security Act of 1947. This act was significantly modified by the Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 and again in 1986 with the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act. Two reorganizations, and our national security structure is still in a muddle. Perhaps it is time for a real “transformation.”...
Posted on: Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - 01:21
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (10-2-07)
"Everything" did not change on 9/11, as some expected, but one thing certainly did: the U.S. government's willingness to preempt enemies before they act. This new policy has outraged so many, it may be discontinued.
In foreign affairs, preemption replaced the long-established policy of deterrence. A series of speeches established the new policy, culminating in George W. Bush's June 2002 declaration that "our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives." Nine months later, preemption justified the invasion of Iraq before Iraqis had attacked the United States, to the fury of many.
In domestic U.S. affairs too, preemption has prompted great consternation. In keeping with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution ("The right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause"), law enforcement historically has held off arresting thieves until they actually committed crimes. But the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), beefed up by the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, makes it easier to stop terrorists before they act. If there is probable cause that someone is acting as an agent of a foreign terrorist group, without there also being probable cause that he has planned or committed crimes, it allows surveillance – and the resulting evidence.
Last week, a U.S. district court judge in Oregon, Ann Aiken, used the case of one Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon attorney who was wrongly accused of terrorism, as her vehicle to declare unconstitutional this key provision of the USA PATRIOT Act. If upheld, her decision to reject prior precedent upholding the act has potentially far-reaching and harmful consequences for counterterrorism.
Mayfield's case, however, shows the weakness in Aiken's argument:
Following the March 11, 2004, bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured 2,000, the Federal Bureau of Investigation tested a set of fingerprints from the Spanish crime scene and generated twenty prints from its system that most closely matched. Mayfield alleges that FBI examiners ran background checks and learned of his conversion to Islam, and that this knowledge biased their examination of his fingerprints, leading to the search of his house, followed by his arrest. He spent two weeks in prison, until the Spanish authorities definitively attributed those fingerprints to someone else.
Mayfield argues that taking his religion into account was illegitimate and the court agreed with him. However, circumstantial evidence strongly suggested Mayfield's connection to the Madrid bombing, as I have shown in a prior column and weblog entry. That evidence included Mayfield having:
*Prayed in the same mosque as did several individuals who pleaded guilty of conspiring to help the Taliban.
*Helped organize a branch of the Muslim Student Association, a Wahhabi organization, at Washburn University.
*Represented Jeffrey Leon Battle – who subsequently was sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to levy war against America – pro bono in a custody dispute.
*Advertised his law practice with Farid Adlouni, someone "directly linked in business dealings" with Wadih El Hage, Osama Bin Laden's former personal secretary later convicted of conspiring to murder American citizens.
*Wrote a letter supporting the Taliban.
In addition, Mayfield's house contained virulently anti-Semitic articles, his landline telephone was used to contact Perouz Sedaghaty (a.k.a. Pete Seda), a suspected terrorism-funder, and someone used his home computer to research travel to Madrid, rental housing in Spain, and a website connected to the Spanish national passenger rail system, target of the Madrid bombings.
This evidence, the U.S. Attorney in Oregon, Karin Immergut, rightly concluded, "demonstrates that the government and its agents were acting in good faith" when they imprisoned Mayfield. Also, the Department of Justice inspector general found no indication "that the FBI Laboratory had knowledge of Mayfield's religion" while analyzing his fingerprints. But Judge Aiken, a Clinton appointee, exploited law enforcement's misstep to gut the USA PATRIOT Act.
That act provides some crucial updating; the Founding Fathers could not anticipate that U.S. citizens one day would support Al-Qaeda, while Congress wrote FISA to counter Soviet espionage, not Hezbollah cells. Should Aiken's view prevail (which it might well not), terrorism will more often have to occur before its perpetrators may be arrested.
Practically speaking, we will have returned to 9/10.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - 01:08
SOURCE: LAT (10-2-07)
Today, many of us will pause to remember the five Amish girls who were murdered a year ago at a one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa. Television crews will return to the community and dutifully record Amish children walking to their new one-room school, which looks a lot like the one torn down days after the attack.
But the new building has a steel door that locks from the inside. And that makes all the difference.
School shootings are etched onto our collective psyche, each name signifying another moment of unspeakable horror. Littleton, Colo. Jonesboro, Ark. Springfield, Ore. And most recently, of course, Virginia Tech.
But Nickel Mines was different, because of its victims. For nearly a century, the Amish have symbolized simple rural living and the security that came with it. When Charles Carl Roberts took those Amish girls' lives, he took away this feeling. The new Amish school represents our effort to reclaim it, to return to an era before such mass murder. But the steel door reminds us that we can't.
Most Americans knew and cared little about the Amish until the 1930s, when Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal revolutionized the nation's countryside. Federal assistance brought electricity, soil conservation and better roads. Children who used to walk to single-classroom buildings now took buses to consolidated schools, where they mixed with a wider array of students and teachers.
New Deal photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans often trained their cameras on dilapidated one-room schools, which epitomized the poverty and parochialism of rural communities. At the same time, Americans worried that the positive aspects of country life -- tranquillity, simplicity, self-reliance -- were passing away.
Enter the Amish, who received their first great burst of nationwide publicity in the late 1930s. Even as the countryside transformed, they upheld its traditions: horses and buggies, oil lamps and one-room schools. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder's series of "Little House" novels, which topped bestseller lists during the same period, the Amish symbolized the sturdy pioneer character that would lead the United States out of the Depression.
So reporters and photographers descended on Amish communities, eager to transmit the lessons from these surviving bastions of rural virtue. Between March 1937 and December 1938, for example, the New York Times ran 17 articles on efforts by Amish parents in East Lampeter, Pa., to save their one-room schools from consolidation. House and Garden and other magazines published photo essays about the Amish, including the inevitable shot of children walking to a one-room schoolhouse.
Fast-forward to the 1970s and 1980s, the next big wave of Amish-as-metaphor. This one came from political conservatives, who worried that public education was in decline. They seized on the Amish and their one-room schools, which seemed to embody the back-to-basics instruction and discipline that the rest of the nation had forsaken.
As one advocate gushed, Amish children studied "the unsweetened 3 Rs" -- that is, reading, writing and arithmetic; even more, they resisted "fads and frills" like gym, art and sex education. Most of all, the Amish continued to pray in the classroom. As public schools turned away from God, the argument went, these rural folk held on to him.
This week, of course, we'll use the Amish to represent another quality of our lives that has been lost: security. We hear that term all the time now, especially in the context of the so-called war on terror. But the most unfathomable terror lies right next to us, in tortured souls like Charles Roberts. And we never know when it will strike again.
That's why the new Amish school in Nickel Mines has that steel door with multiple locks. It still doesn't have a telephone, but the school sits next to a row of non-Amish homes that do. During Roberts' rampage, the teacher had to run to a nearby farm to dial 911.
At the students' request, meanwhile, the driveway leading to the new school is paved. They are still haunted by the sound of Roberts' pickup truck, spinning over the gravel driveway on his way to kill their siblings and friends.
Their schoolhouse has a different name now: New Hope Amish School. And these gentle people do give us hope, for the day when senseless violence no longer mars our schools and communities.
But that day is a long way off, and we all know it. In today's national imagination, the Amish embody safety and security. So if the Amish aren't safe, nobody is. Those five children could have been your kids or mine. And we all know that too.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - 11:18
SOURCE: Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center (10-1-07)
A massive controversy has erupted in the United States, and across the world, around Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York, where he spoke at the United Nations and Columbia University.
Who is this man and what does he want? Is he a new Hitler or a leader with understandable grievances who should be engaged in dialogue? Apart from the passion provoked and naïveté too often shown toward this leader, how can we accurately assess him?
Ahmadinejad is a demagogue on a lot of issues for three distinct reasons:
First, he is trying to use his radical stance—extremist even on the already extreme Iranian political spectrum—to gain control of the country. As head of a faction and due to personal ambition he is trying to displace other groups. Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei remains the single most powerful person in Iran and Ahmadinejad real rival within the country.
Second, Ahmadinejad is pursuing the Iranian Islamist revolution’s long-term goal—but one not always given top priority by the regime—of spreading Islamist revolution throughout the region and emerging as the most powerful force in the Middle East. In terms of promoting Iran’s primacy, there is an inherent nationalist as well as Islamist element in his policy.
Third, Ahmadinejad seems to be a true believer in the Iranian Islamist ideology which sees international politics as a struggle between the true followers of the deity and the allies of Satan.
Ahmadinejad’s goals, then, are his control over Iran, Iran’s control over the Persian Gulf area (especially Iraq), Israel’s destruction, Iranian leadership over the Middle East, the expulsion of Western (and especially American) influence from the region, and even world domination, in roughly that order.
Basically, Ahmadinejad is not a unique phenomenon in modern Middle East history. The role to be filled is that of the leader of the Arabs and Muslims as well as prime enemy of America, Israel, and the West. In this respect, he is comparable to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s; Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1970s and 1980s; Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and 1990s; and Usama bin Ladin during the period before and especially after September 11, 2001. Yet Ahmadinejad has also become a symbol for the radical Islamist challenge to everyone else in the world
What makes Ahmadinejad different? The key element here, and one due to his own words and behavior, is that he seems not to be held back by caution, a rational calculation of the balance of forces, even if judged by the standard of his predecessors aside from bin Ladin of course. In other words, Ahmadinejad seems capable of anything and consequently far more dangerous. This conclusion is not just a matter of Western projection. I’ll bet that at times he scares even Khamenei.
Here are some elements in that set of problems:
--Ahmadinejad makes statements implying his belief that the end of the world is at hand and the Shia messiah is on the way. Thus, provoking war with Israel or the United States is not so much to be seen as risking the destruction of Iran’s Islamist regime as fulfilling its divine mission.
--For a number of reasons, Ahmadinejad thinks that his side is winning and the West is weak and in retreat. That could provoke him to even more extreme adventurism.
--While other Iranian leaders have spoken about Israel’s destruction, he is putting it higher on his agenda and is more likely to do something to try to implement this objective.
--The way things are going he will one day have nuclear weapons to play with in fulfilling his goals. Two important points should be noted here. First, the bombs and missiles would be held by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, his close ally and the main liaison between Iran and terrorist groups, itself raising the prospect of their being used. Second, even if Iran never used nuclear weapons the effect on the region would be devastating. Arab governments would rush to appease Iran; large numbers of Arabs would rush to join radical Islamist groups believing that this movement is the wave of the future.
--In Iraq, Iran has gone into a virtual state of war against the United States trying to project Tehran’s influence and killing American soldiers.
--Ahmadinejad has also become, for all practical purposes, the leader in promoting hatred of the United States and not only of Israel but of Jews in general.
What undercuts the dangers posed by Ahmadinejad? He still does not have full control over Iran and may never achieve this goal. Since he is a Shia Muslim and is not an Arab it is more difficult for him to play a leadership role over the largely Sunni Muslim Arabic-speaking world. Not impossible, as these barriers have been partly overcome, but harder nonetheless.
Thus, Ahmadinejad has not yet achieved the status of being equivalent to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin as the world’s leading threat to peace and freedom but he is certainly trying to rise to this level.
It should be rather obvious that this is not a problem caused by lack of communication and that engagement with him will not have any moderating effect. He must be opposed and his regime pressured. Aside from the problems posed by the Iranian government in general, taking a tough stand against Ahmadinejad is necessary to convince his colleague-rivals that they must get rid of this guy and tone down their country’s behavior in order to ensure their own survival and that of their regime.
Posted on: Monday, October 1, 2007 - 20:21
SOURCE: Tabsir (Blog) (10-1-07)
Since the revolt of the monks against the military junta in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, all the Western mass media have focused on the long history of oppression in this South Asian country, that, I suppose, few of us really know about. While in Italy this summer, I saw people wearing purple T-shirts in the streets, at the universities, and organised protests at the Burmese embassies in support of the ‘Buddhist monks’. This struggle for freedom recently saw its first victims, and there is a general fear that the new protest will be as unsuccessful as the attempted revolution in 1988. Yet the attention is very much focused upon the courage of the ‘peaceful’ monks.
From an anthropological viewpoint, the revolt in Burma is particularly interesting for one specialised in Muslim societies and communities. There are two elements that most attract my attention. First of all, how this revolt is represented by the Western mass media and secondly, the near total lack of reference to the drama that the Muslim minority, the so called Rohingya Muslims, have experienced in the last three decades. There are some hard stereotypes which affect how the mass media represent religions, and consequently, how ordinary people understand religions. To make a long story short (and of course this means to over-generalise), religions are still understood through a Manichean vision: peaceful versus violent, good versus evil, true versus false. Of course, in the majority of cases, political correctness has transformed the vehement apologetic diatribe of Middle Age origin. Today, the Manichean discourse is passed to the mass media audience through latent or manifest stereotypes, which essentialize religion into a ‘real thing’; a powerful cultural artifact from which actions derive. So in this made-for-CNN scenario, Buddhism is the most peaceful religion; Islam the aggressive and violent; Christianity the confused one.
The mass media need to simplify, to present news in a sequence of exponential pathos, to attract your ocular bulbs and conquer your mind long enough to feed you all the appropriate advertisements (the real end of the process). Yet religion is a complex phenomenon, and I can tell you that it is as variegate as the human beings which live on this beautiful, yet terminally ill, planet.
“Burma is a Buddhist state facing a Buddhist power struggle.” This would be the headlines of newspapers if instead of a Buddhist state with Buddhist monks, Burma was Iran, where the confrontation between Shi’i Muslims and Sunni Muslims seems to be able to explain everything, including the failure of the Iraqi American dream. Of course, the Burmese drama is more complex than just a struggle within a religion or the struggle between saints and kings.
However, the mass media, which discusses and reports the oppression of the Buddhist population by the generals, neglects to inform you about another story, another tragedy. The omission, when compared, is not very dissimilar from the Western attitude towards other Muslim minority and refugee tragedies. Just to mention one, allow me to remind you of the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and its genocide that nobody (not even Muslims) commemorate. Muslims often play only one part in the drama of headline news, the evil character, like the on-the-warpath Indians in Hollywood Westerns, before Sergio Leone corrected the historical mistake.
Here is a reality of Burma that probably you have never heard about (if by any chance you had heard about Burma before!). Muslims in Burma are a persecuted minority. It is a long story and history that I will try to summarize for you, and let you read more from the little available on the topic.
Burma has about 4% of Muslim population (Muslim leaders say 10%). The life of Burmese Muslims has never been easy, and as other Muslims (i.e. Palestinians) they received amazing promises from us, the British, only to find themselves abandoned to a destiny of suffering after the demise of British colonialism. So, here is the story of the Rohingya Muslims, and their grim destiny. The Rohingya Muslims live mainly in the North of the Rakhine State and represent, officially, 4% of the entire Burmese population, but represent 50% of the population of Rakhine state (previously known as Arkana) itself. Islam reached the region during the 9th century through contact with Arab merchants. Arkana was an independent state until 1784 and developed it’s own culture and also dialect. In 1784, a Burmese king, Bodawpaya, annexed Arkana to his domain. This provoked a long guerrilla war with the Muslims, which saw, according to historians, more than 200,000 Arkanese killed. Many of the local Muslim population, at that time, were reduced to slavery and forced to build Buddhist monasteries.
The struggle continued, but so unsuccessfully that in 1796 more than two-thirds of the Muslim population of Arkana had to leave the country and find refuge in what today is Bangladesh. Arkana was annexed to the rest of the British Empire by 1885, and many Rohingya Muslims decided to go back to their homeland. The journey between their homeland and Bangladesh would become a cruel ritual for this population. Until the Second World War, Muslims and Buddhists were able to live more or less peacefully side by side. Yet the Japanese were reaching the region in 1942, and so again the Muslims, and this time also the British, were forced to leave Arkana .The Buddhists found an opportunity to clear the Muslim population from Arkana, and thus another 20,000 Muslims fled to the British Indian territories (today Bangladesh). Indeed, while the Rakhine Buddhists supported the Japanese, the Muslims, as in other countries, supported the British forces. The British, to thank the Muslims for their support and loyalty, promised the Rohingyas an autonomous region in the north of the country. Many refugees decided to come back to their homes, full of hope for the possibility of having their own state. As usual in British foreign relationships and history, the promise was never honoured. Also the fact that the Muslim population had supported the British and tried to achieve autonomy in the northern region, made them appear suspicious to the Burmese regime and the main Buddhist population. These feelings toward the Muslim minority not only still exist today but also have been reinforced, after the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Banyan in Afghanistan.
Muslims in Burma are not considered to be citizens. They have no rights and often suffer discrimination and indiscriminate killings. Many of them, in particular after 1962, had to flee the country and still today live in refugee camps in Bangladesh, which actually does not welcome them. Although Muslims took an active part in the 1988 revolt, and paid the consequences more than the Buddhist population, the majority of monks and Buddhists in Burma have anti-Muslim sentiments, in particular based on the fear of possible intermarriages.
Pamphlets glorifying race purity and Buddhism and actually reinforcing anti-Muslim sentiments have been distributed since 2001 (i.e. Myo Pyauk Hmar Soe Kyauk Hla Tai or The Fear of Losing One’s Race). These inflammatory publications, preaching against the Muslim minority, as well as rumors spread about Muslims raping children in the streets, provoked a series of monk-led riots against Muslim families and the destruction of mosques. Muslims were killed and mosques destroyed, and again the Rohingya Muslims had to flee to Bangladesh.
Today we are witnessing a new Burmese revolt, organised mainly by the few politicised monks. Everybody hopes that the Buddhist monks can succeed in mobilising the population in a sort of farther-east Intifada. Some Muslims, I know, are repeating their Inshallahs in the not so distant Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. They hope that the end of the military junta means the end of their oppression.
Nonetheless, a question remains, after such strong monk-led anti-Muslim campaigns, which were reinforced by the welcomed ‘Bushit’ rhetoric of ‘war on terror’, would the new, certainly Buddhist, regime accept the history and the existence, as Burmese citizens, of Rohingya Muslims? Or, would the new regime, like their predecessor generals, brand the Muslims as an easy scapegoat?
Posted on: Monday, October 1, 2007 - 18:38