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: Britannica Blog (11-9-07)
This is the first in a series of posts on the future of conservative politics in the United States. I invite all to comment on this important and fascinating topic.
Conservatives have largely set the terms of political debate in the United States for the last thirty years. Yet the conservative movement is undergoing a major transition, and its future is in doubt. Major figures on the Right have even denounced President George W. Bush as a betrayer of the conservative tradition. This first blog will raise the possibility of a major transition in the leadership of conservative Christians in the United States.
Since the late 1970s several major national figures have helped rally white evangelical Protestants in the United States behind conservative causes and Republican candidates. In the 2004 presidential election nearly 90 percent of regular, church-going white evangelical Protestants voted for President Bush. Yet the leadership of evangelical Christians is undergoing a major change with possibly profound implications for conservative politics.
Among Christian conservative leaders, Ralph Reed, the Christian Right’s shrewdest political strategist, was tainted by his association with corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and in 2006 lost the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor in his home state of Georgia. That year, the Southern Baptist Convention, which had been controlled by theological and political conservatives since the late 1980s, elected a moderate minister, the 53-year-old Frank Page as its new president. Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and an adviser to President Bush, also resigned in 2006 year amid a nasty sex and drugs scandal.
Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ died in 2003. Jerry Falwell died in May 2007, and D. James Kennedy of the nationwide Coral Ridge Ministries died the following September. In 2007, Pat Robertson turned 77 years of age; Beverly LaHaye, the founder of Concerned Women of America, turned 78; and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, turned 71. New evangelical stars such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, who have built associations of many thousands of churches, are less politically active than Falwell and Robertson. They are also more open to liberal ideas about civil rights, the environment, and social justice and less inclined to back moral crusades by government abroad. For example, Hybels, Warren, and a few dozen other evangelical leaders signed a statement last year calling for action to halt global warming.
Is it possible then that evangelical Christians will fragment politically or that a new movement will arise that is conservative on social issues, but conventionally liberal on environmental, civil rights, foreign policy and economic issues? I await your thoughts.
Posted on: Friday, November 9, 2007 - 17:42
SOURCE: WSJ (11-8-07)
"Why should we Anglo-Saxons apologize for being superior?" Winston Churchill once growled in exasperation. "We are superior." Certainly Churchill's views of what he and other late Victorians called the "lesser races," such as blacks and East Indians, are very different from ours today. One might easily assume that a self-described reactionary like Churchill, holding such views, shared the anti-Semitism prevalent among Europe's ruling elites before the Holocaust.
But he did not, as Martin Gilbert vividly shows in "Churchill and the Jews." By chronicling Churchill's warm dealings with English and European Jews throughout his long career, and his heartfelt support of Zionism, Mr. Gilbert conveys Churchill's deep admiration for the Jewish people and captures his crucial role in creating the state of Israel. Churchill offers the powerful example of a Western statesman who--unlike other statesmen in his own time and ours--understood the malignant nature of anti-Semitism and did what he could to oppose its toxic effects.
His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had been a close friend and ally to many wealthy British Jews, almost notoriously so, given the rancid snobbery of his circles. The son rarely failed to follow his father's inclinations, in this matter as in others. Jews like the Rothschilds and the banker Sir Ernest Cassel helped to advance Winston Churchill's early career (including watching over his finances after his father's death), and he repaid their support in part by publicly condemning the kind of anti-Semitism that was all too common in England's upper classes. But his actions were not merely an expression of personal thanks.
A student of history, Churchill came to feel that Judaism was the bedrock of traditional Western moral and political principles--and Churchill was of a generation that preferred to talk about principles instead of "values." For Europeans to turn against the Jew, he argued, was for them to strike at their own roots and reject an essential part of their civilization--"that corporate strength, that personal and special driving power" that Jews had brought for hundreds of years to Europe's arts, sciences and institutions.
To deny Jews a national homeland was therefore an act of ingratitude. Churchill became a keen backer of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which broached the idea of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As a friend to Zionist leader Chaim Weizman, and as colonial secretary after World War I, Churchill made establishing such a homeland a matter of urgency. "The hope of your race for so many centuries will be gradually realized here," Churchill told a Jewish audience in Jerusalem during his visit in March 1921, "not only for your own good, but for the good of all the world."...
Posted on: Friday, November 9, 2007 - 01:32
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-6-07)
The world's finest military launches a highly coordinated shock-and-awe attack that shows enormous initial progress. There's talk of the victorious troops being home for Christmas. But the war unexpectedly drags on. As fighting persists into a third, and then a fourth year, voices are heard calling for negotiations, even"peace without victory." Dismissing such peaceniks and critics as defeatists, a conservative and expansionist regime -- led by a figurehead who often resorts to simplistic slogans and his Machiavellian sidekick who is considered the brains behind the throne -- calls for one last surge to victory. Unbeknownst to the people on the home front, however, this duo has already prepared a seductive and self-exculpatory myth in case the surge fails.
The United States in 2007? No, Wilhelmine Germany in 1917 and 1918, as its military dictators, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his loyal second, General Erich Ludendorff, pushed Germany toward defeat and revolution in a relentless pursuit of victory in World War I. Having failed with their surge strategy on the Western Front in 1918, they nevertheless succeeded in deploying a stab-in-the-back myth, or Dolchstoßlegende, that shifted blame for defeat from themselves and Rightist politicians to Social Democrats and others allegedly responsible for losing the war by their failure to support the troops at home.
The German Army knew it was militarily defeated in 1918. But this was an inconvenient truth for Hindenburg and the Right, so they crafted a new"truth": that the troops were"unvanquished in the field." So powerful did these words become that they would be engraved in stone on many a German war memorial.
It's a myth we ourselves are familiar with. As South Vietnam was collapsing in 1975, Army Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., speaking to a North Vietnamese counterpart, claimed the U.S. military had never lost a battle in Vietnam. Perhaps so, the NVA colonel replied,"but it is also irrelevant." Summers recounts his conversation approvingly, without irony, in his book On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. For him, even if we lost the war, our Army proved itself"unbeatable."
Though Summers' premise was -- and remains -- dangerously misleading, it reassured the true believers who ran, and continue to run, our military. Those military men who were less convinced of our"unbeatable" stature tended to keep their own counsel. Their self-censorship, coupled with wider institutional self-deception, effectively opened the door to exculpatory myths.
A New American Stab-in-the-Back?
Warnings about a new stab-in-the-back myth may seem premature or overheated at this moment in the Iraq War. Yet, if the history of the original version of this myth is any guide, the opposite is true. They are timely precisely because the Dolchstoßlegende was not a post-war concoction, but an explanation cunningly, even cynically, hatched by Rightists in Germany before the failure of the desperate, final"victory offensive" of 1918 became fully apparent. Although Hindenburg's dramatic testimony in November 1919 -- a full year after the armistice that ended the war -- popularized the myth in Germany, it caught fire precisely because the tinder had been laid to dry two years earlier.
It may seem farfetched to compare a Prussian military dictatorship and its self-serving lies to the current Bush administration. Yet I'm not the first person to express concern about the emergence of our very own Iraqi Dolchstoßlegende. Back in 2004, Matthew Yglesias first brought up the possibility. Last year, in Harper's Magazine, Kevin Baker detailed the history of the stab-in-the-back, suggesting that Bush's Iraqi version was already beginning to germinate early in 2005, when news from Iraq turned definitively sour. And this October, in The Nation, Eric Alterman warned that the Bush administration was already busily sowing the seeds of this myth. Other Iraqi myth-trackers have included Gary Kamiya at Salon.com, and Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith at Commondreams.org. Just this August, Thomas Ricks, Washington Post columnist and author of the bestselling book, Fiasco, worried publicly about whether the military itself wasn't already embracing elements of the myth whose specific betrayers would include"weasely politicians" (are there any other kind?) and a"media who undercut us by focusing on the negative."
Is an American version of this myth really emerging then? Let's listen in on a recent Jim Lehrer interview with Senator John McCain, who, while officially convinced that the President's surge plan in Iraq was working, couldn't seem to help talking about how we might yet lose. His remarks quickly took a disturbing turn as he pointed out that our Achilles' heel in Iraq is… well, we the people of the United States and our growing impatience with the war. And the historical analogy he employed was Vietnam, the catalyst for the deployment of the previous American Dolchstoßlegende.
While the Vietnam War was disastrous, McCain conceded, our military had -- he argued -- turned the tide after the enemy's Tet Offensive in 1968 and the replacement of Gen. William Westmoreland with Gen. Creighton Abrams as commander of our forces there. Precisely at that tipping-point moment, he insisted, the American people, their patience exhausted, had lost their will to win. For McCain, there really was a light at the end of that Vietnamese tunnel -- the military saw it, yet the American people, blinded by bad news, never did.
In today's Iraq -- again the McCain version -- Gen. David Petraeus is the new Abrams, finally the right general for the job. And his new tactic of protecting the Iraqi people, thereby winning their hearts and minds, is working. Victory beckons at the end of the"long, hard path" (that evidently has replaced the Vietnamese tunnel), unless the American people run out of patience, as they did back in the late 1960s.
McCain is no Hindenburg. Yet his almost automatic displacement of ultimate responsibility from the Bush administration and the military to the American people indicates the traction the stab-in-the-back myth has already gained in mainstream politics. For the moment, with hope for some kind of victory, however defined, not quite vanquished in official circles, our latest dagger-myth remains sheathed, its murderous power as yet unwielded.
Then again, perhaps that's not quite the case, even now. In The Empire Strikes Back, young Luke Skywalker asks Yoda, his wizened Jedi Master, whether the dark side of the Force is stronger than the good. No, Yoda replies, just"easier, quicker, more seductive" -- an accurate description of the dark power of the stab-in-the-back myth. Politicians sense its future power and alter their positions accordingly. For example, no leading presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat, dares to be labeled"defeatist" by calling for a major withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2008. Exceptions like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, or even Bill Richardson only prove the rule -- with support in the low single-digits, they risk little in bucking the odds.
Fear of being labeled"the enemy within" is already silently reshaping our politics as even decorated combat veterans like Congressman (and retired Marine Corps colonel) John Murtha are not immune from being smeared for criticizing the President's war. Politicians recognize that, in a campaign, it's well-nigh impossible to overcome charges of weakness and pusillanimity. Senator Hillary Clinton senses that she may be unelectable unless she argues for us to continue to fight the good fight in Iraq, albeit more intelligently. In fact, if you're looking for significant changes in troop levels or strategy there, better hunker in for Inauguration Day 2009 -- and then prepare to wait some more.
Of Myths and Accountability
McCain's comments did echo a Clausewitzian truth. In warfare, the people's will is an indispensable component of a nation's warfighting"trinity" (that also includes the government and the military). It's exceedingly difficult to prevail in a major war, if a leg of this triad is hobbled. By choosing not to mobilize the people's will, by telling us to go about our normal lives as others were fighting and dying in our name, the Bush administration actually hobbled its own long-term efforts. Now, they are getting ready to claim that it was all our fault. We were the ones who lost our patience and will to victory. This is rather like the boy who killed his father and mother, only to throw himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan.
Back in 2002-2003, with an all-volunteer military, a new Blitzkrieg strategy, and believing God to be on their side, it appears Bush and Company initially assumed that broader calls for support and sacrifice were militarily unnecessary -- and unnecessarily perilous politically. Now, despite dramatic setbacks over the last four years, they still refuse to mobilize our national will. Their refusal reminds me of the tagline of those old Miller Lite beer commercials: Everything you always wanted in a war, and less -- as in less (or even no) sacrifices.
So let me be clear: If we lose in Iraq, the American people will not be to blame. We cannot be accused of lacking a will that was never wanted or called upon to begin with. Yet the stab-in-the-back myth gains credibility precisely because so few high-level people either in government or the military are being held accountable for failures in Iraq.
In World War II, Thomas Ricks reminds us, our military relieved seventeen division commanders and four corps commanders of duty. With the possible exception of Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinski of Abu Ghraib infamy, has any senior officer been relieved for cause in Iraq? Since none apparently has, does this mean that, unlike the spineless American people, they have all performed well?
To cite just one typical case, Major General Kenneth Hunzeker served as the commanding general, Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, from October 2006 to July 2007 in Iraq. Surely, this was a tough job, especially for a man with no proficiency in Arabic. Yet, by all accounts, Iraqi police units to this day remain remarkably corrupt, militia-ridden, and undependable. Does this mean Hunzeker failed? Apparently not, since he was promoted to lieutenant general and given a coveted corps command. Interestingly, his most recent official biography fails to mention his time in Iraq leading the police assistance team. Even if Hunzeker was indeed the best man for the job, what kind of progress could have been possible in a ten-month tour of duty? By the time Hunzeker learned a few painful lessons, he was already jetting to Germany and command of V Corps.
If no one is held accountable for failed policies, if, in fact, those closest to the failures are showered with honors -- as was, for instance, L. Paul Bremer III, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad for the President from May 2003 to June 2004 -- it becomes easier to shift blame to anyone (or everyone). Here, German precedents are again compelling. Because the German people were never told they were losing World War I, even as their Army was collapsing in July and August 1918, they were unprepared for the psychological blow of defeat -- and so, all-too-willing to accept the lie that the collapse was due to the enemy within.
This is not to say that today's military has been silent. To cite three examples, retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez recently criticized the surge strategy and called the Iraq war"a nightmare with no end in sight." Another perspective came from 12 Army captains formerly stationed in Iraq, who, writing in the Washington Post, also rejected the surge and called for rapid withdrawal as the best of a series of bad options. Finally, seven NCOs in the elite 82d Airborne Division (and then still in Iraq) offered graphic illustrations (on the op-ed page of the New York Times) of the one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of"progress" on the ground in Iraq.
Think of these as three military perspectives on a disastrous war. But even they can serve as only a partial antidote to the myth that some kind of victory is inevitable as long as we, the American people, remain supinely supportive of administration policy.
Given the right post-war conditions, the myth of the stab-in-the-back can facilitate the rise of reactionary regimes and score-settling via long knives -- just ask Germans under Hitler in 1934. It also serves to exonerate a military of its blunders and blind spots, empowering it and its commanders to launch redemptive, expansionist adventures that turn disastrous precisely because previous lessons of defeat were never faced, let alone absorbed or embraced.
Thus, the German military's collapse in World War I and the Dolchstoß myth that followed enabled the even greater disaster of World War II. Is it possible that our own version of this, associated with Vietnam, enabled an even greater disaster in Iraq? And, if so, what could the next version of the stab-in-the-back bring in its wake?
Only time will tell. But consider yourself warned. If we lose Iraq, you're to blame.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Copyright 2007 William J. Astore
Posted on: Thursday, November 8, 2007 - 23:04
SOURCE: Dissent (Winter Edition) (11-1-07)
CHINA'S ECONOMY IS booming like never before and its social fabric is being ripped apart and knit together in novel ways. State-of-the-art sports stadiums, a renovated airport terminal, and a new financial district have been built or are under construction in pre-Olympic Beijing, where there's even been talk of seeding rain clouds to limit pollution.
And, not to be outdone by its rival to the north, Shanghai is preparing to host the 2010 World Expo, an event that will have decidedly twenty-first-century elements. Upon arrival, visitors will be rocketed from airport to WiFi-wired exhibition halls via magnetic-levitation trains that run through a city that now has more skyscrapers than Manhattan.
Yet amidst the cacophony of the new the historically minded can often hear curious--and sometimes disturbing--echoes of the past. Even the most seemingly futuristic phenomena turn out to have surprisingly old-fashioned aspects. This is certainly true of both the Beijing Games and the Shanghai Expo. Each will open a new chapter in Chinese history: one will be China's first Olympics, the other its first World's Fair. But some preparations underway for both are throwbacks to patterns dating to the 1900s—or even the 1800s.
To get Beijing ready for the Olympics, an old-style campaign to stop spitting is underway in which, as in the past, a top-down effort to reshape etiquette is presented as a crucial step toward improving the nation's image. A quick Web search for "anti-spitting campaigns in China" generates a YouTube posting that illustrates the parallels between the current campaign and one carried out more than fifty years ago. The posting includes footage from a propaganda film shot in Maoist times (1949-1976). Back then, as now, spitting on the ground is targeted as not just unhygienic but symbolic of backwardness. (It is no accident that in the YouTube footage young people are shown telling people much older than them to expectorate into a handkerchief.)
And mass campaigns of this sort began well before the Communist Party took power. Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party, an earlier authoritarian regime, also launched them. Injunctions against spitting were part of Chiang's "New Life Movement" of the 1930s. They, like the current etiquette drive, took place at a time when efforts were underway to incorporate Confucian ideals into a drive to modernize the country.
Recent discussions of the Shanghai Expo have been equally retrograde. At least to anyone who has read The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson's recent bestseller about Chicago's 1893 World's Fair. Larson captures beautifully the mood in early 1890s Chicago as local boosters, enthused about the potential to modernize their city, struggled to find a way to outdo the Eiffel Tower. In the end, they chose to build the world's first Ferris wheel.
Shanghai boosters have also been talking about how the Expo can modernize their city. There have been lively discussions—not yet concluded—about how to create a symbol for the Expo as memorable as the Eiffel Tower and though this plan has been eventually abandoned, there was even talk of erecting the world's tallest Ferris wheel in Shanghai.
There's also something reminiscent of an earlier era in how the Beijing games and Shanghai Expo are becoming rolled together to transform the summer-long sprint of the Olympics into a drawn out two-city relay. China's rulers hope that this will keep international attention (though ideally not the sort of highly critical attention as of late) focused on their country for several years. To encourage people to think of the two events as linked, the Shanghai Expo is sometimes referred to as the "Economic Olympics." Joint promotional activities for the two spectacles are also underway on the official Beijing 2008 Web site.
For the historically minded, this pairing of an Olympics and a display of global goods and new technologies brings to mind Paris in 1900 and St. Louis in 1904, when the Olympics (not yet a big deal) were folded into a World's Fair (then still the great genre of international gathering).
What this brief look at the lead-up to Beijing 2008 and Shanghai 2010 suggests is that while China of the 1990s defied categorization because it contained both Communist and capitalist elements, the situation is now different. The aspect of China that points most strongly toward the need to think beyond standard categories is the juxtaposition of elements associated with radically different eras.
This dimension of China's situation confounds outside observers and many Chinese alike. After all, there just isn't any standard reference work about how countries develop to explain a place that is preparing for a moon shot yet is still plagued by forms of labor exploitation—like those detailed in recent reports about kidnapped youths forced to man brick kilns under atrocious conditions—that can seem uncomfortably reminiscent of those described by Industrial Revolution-era critics of nineteenth-century, no-holds-barred British capitalism. Such as William Blake (who gave us the phrase "dark Satanic mills") or Charles Dickens. Or, of course, Karl Marx, whose magnum opus on social inequities and the mistreatment of workers, Das Kapital, briefly but perhaps appropriately rose high up Beijing bestseller lists in 2006.
Posted on: Thursday, November 8, 2007 - 22:09
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-8-07)
No sooner had Hillary Clinton proceeded from the Democratic presidential debate to a speech at Wellesley College last week than the wailing began. Barack Obama hit the"Today" show accusing her of playing the"don't pick on me" woman and a chorus line of media pundits denounced her for having hurt the cause of feminism by acting like the injured girl and dealing the"gender card."
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd contended that Clinton was trying to show"she can break, just like a little girl…. If she could become a senator by playing the victim after Monica, surely she can become president by playing the victim now." FOX News' Mort Kondracke preached:"I think it is very unattractive for a general election candidate, who wants to be the Commander in Chief of the free world, to be saying 'They're ganging up on me!' I mean, this is the NFL. This is not Wellesley versus Smith in field hockey."
These indictments were conjured from the slimmest of evidence. Even the New York Times, while"piling on," had to do contortions to pin the victim label on Clinton's comments. As a November 5th Times article put it:"Mrs. Clinton denies playing the gender card -- at least in the traditional sense of saying that as a woman she should be exempt from the traditional rough-and-tumble of campaigns -- and her remarks on the subject have certainly been oblique." For oblique, read frustratingly nonexistent. What she did say -- at her alma mater before a whooping and roaring crowd of more than 1,000 young women -- was:"In so many ways, this all-women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys' club of presidential politics…. Fear is always with us, but we just don't have time for it, not now. So let's roll up our sleeves and get to work together. We're ready to shatter that highest glass ceiling."
What about that was so girl-with-her-finger-in-her-mouth frail?
The indignation of Clinton's opponents may have a motive more genuine than their desire to defend feminism. They are mad because they feel robbed. Clinton, in fact, didn't play the victim card. The gender card she played was the one every successful recent male presidential candidate has played -- the rescuer card.
Rescuing Americans from the"Wolves"
Keep in mind: The gender card is always played. It's even played in presidential campaigns where all the candidates are men (or rather, as Kondracke prefers, quarterbacks). Given the political culture -- and for reasons embedded in our history -- that card usually involves a morality play in which men are the rescuers and women the victims in need of rescuing.
Bill Clinton understood the power of that formula when he showcased his boyhood efforts to"stand up" to his abusive stepfather and shield his mother from blows. When facing George H.W. Bush, Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis learned this lesson too late -- after he failed to fly into a vigilante-style rage in response to an infamous televised debate question in October 1988 that went like this:"Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?" Dukakis' un-Duke-like reply about his wife --"No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life" -- whacked his approval ratings from 49% down to 42% overnight and was pivotal in denying him the election; as was that other failed protection drama that dominated the campaign: the specter of black convict Willie Horton ("every suburban mother's greatest fear," as one of the Republican ads that inundated the airwaves put it), who raped a woman after being furloughed in Massachusetts while Dukakis was governor. His campaign belatedly, lamely, tried to counter in kind -- with an ad about a convict who escaped from a federal treatment program and raped and killed a mother of two.
Post-9/11, with the nation facing the constant threat of"savage" attack, the inclination to play the gender rescue card became an imperative -- as was in full evidence during the 2004 presidential campaign."Every suburban mother's greatest fear" was now not a black man's mug shot but a Muslim terrorist's, and every suburban mother was recast as a Security Mom (a mythical creature, as it happened, but that's another story).
Victory on Election Day went to the candidate who best understood how to deal from that deck. Both George W. Bush and John Kerry worked hard to position themselves as the King of the Wild Frontier. (Both granted long interviews to hunting and fishing magazines; both bragged about their gun collections; Bush whacked at sagebrush and tree stumps; Kerry stalked wild animals and waved their bloody pelts at journalists.) Kerry's handlers, however, failed to put into play the female part of the rescue equation. They counted on the Senator's decorated service in Vietnam to qualify him for the hero role, especially in contrast to Bush's AWOL record. What they were missing was a woman to rescue.
Bush's advisers knew better, as was apparent in their political commercials. In"Wolves," set in a dark forest invaded by a pack of wolves (read: terrorists), a trembling female voiceover warned voters that Kerry would make cuts in U.S. intelligence"so deep they would have weakened America's defenses -- and weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm." Kerry, in fact, had no plans to make such cuts, but that hardly registered."Wolves" engaged America's terror-dream, which the GOP was going to vanquish with a cowboy swagger…. and a commanding daddy"hug."
In the final weeks of the race, Bush's backers unveiled"Ashley's Story," a 60-second commercial featuring the President hugging a teenage girl named Ashley Faulkner, whose mother had died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Ashley -- shown lying in a hammock in her backyard, reading a novel with a Victorian lady on the cover -- says:"He's the most powerful man in the world and all he wants to do is make sure I'm safe."
The $14 million worth of air time purchased made it the single most expensive political ad of the race. Broadcast more than 30,000 times, it achieved saturation level in the crucial swing states. In Ohio alone, the spot ran 7,000 times, a bombardment intensified by an Internet, phone, and direct-mail campaign that distributed 2.3 million brochures showcasing The Hug. Exit poll studies later concluded that"Ashley's Story" was critical to the election results. Political analysts scored it"the most effective ad" of the political season and post-election surveys found it to be one of the two most remembered ads (the other being its evil twin, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth commercial attacking Kerry's combat credentials).
Like Dukakis' campaign, Kerry's belatedly went looking for women to protect."No American mother should have to lie awake at night wondering whether her children will be safe at school," Kerry insisted in a Philadelphia stump speech in September, seizing upon a much-publicized school hostage crisis in Russia as an eleventh hour opportunity to position himself as America's guardian."When we look at the images of children brutalized by remorseless terrorists in Russia, we know that this is not just a political or military struggle -- it goes to the very heart of what we value most -- our families. It strikes at the bond between a mother and child." As president, he said, he would regard it as"my sacred duty" to be able to say"I am doing everything in my power to keep your children safe."
After"Ashley's Story" aired, the Kerry campaign struggled to catch up with two commercials featuring"Jersey Girl" 9/11 widows. In one, Kristen Breitweiser said,"We are no safer today. I want to look in my daughter's eyes and know that she is safe"; in the other, Mindy Kleinberg tartly noted that her three children needed more than a"hug" to feel safe. But when the Kerry's strategists raced to air the ads, they discovered they'd been trumped: The Bush campaign had bought up the commercial time in the big swing states.
It's doubtful the ads would have helped, anyway. Throughout the presidential race, the media largely ignored the Jersey Girls' efforts on behalf of the Kerry campaign. Their grueling traveling and speaking tour for the candidate yielded little coverage, and they were quickly deemed, in the words of the New Republic,"virtual nonentities." By reminding Americans that their protectors had failed them --"We are no safer today" -- the Jersey Girls' testimony not only violated the terms of the rescue formula, but essentially put their guardians on trial.
The point is: this had as much to do with gender as security, something any successful candidate understood.
In this election, the gender card has proved harder to play than usual. No one's talking about security moms anymore. For their part, Democratic candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards have not been running security-scare -- and, by extension, gender-scare -- campaigns. And the GOP candidates, while playing the security card for all it's worth, have yet to find a way to assign a little Ashley to their twenty-first century John Wayne -- though, no doubt, that will come.
Auditioning to be a Feminist John Wayne
So far, the only person who has a lock on rescuing women is the one female candidate. Accusations that she was promoting herself as a feminine victim were not only ludicrously overplayed, but often outright inaccurate, and in any case missed the point. Take for instance, ABCNews.com's attempt to give new legs to the victim canard with a November 5th headline:"Pelosi: Clinton Camp Played Gender Card." Actually, as a quote in the article made clear, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made the opposite point:"[Sen. Clinton] said it best: They're 'piling on' -- or whatever the words were -- 'because I'm the front-runner.' That's why they're piling on…. If she was in third place, they wouldn't say, 'Let's go attack a woman.'"
Hillary Clinton's rescue of women departs from the previous male version. In the old model, helpless women were saved from perilous danger by men. In the new, women are granted authority and agency to rescue themselves. Understanding the distinction is essential to an evaluation of current American politics.
The clash between these two rescue scenarios was on vivid display in late 2001, when President Bush signed the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act (before a window-dressing crowd of invited feminists) and declared that"the central goal of the terrorists is the brutal oppression of women." His concern for women's rights came to a halt, however, as soon as the Taliban was driven from power and Afghanistan was theoretically secured.
"Right now we have other priorities," a senior administration official told the New York Times when asked (only two and a half weeks into the Afghan war) what role women's rights would have in a future government."We have to be careful not to look like we are imposing our values on them." Tellingly, even as the President was trumpeting female oppression as a casus belli and part of his global rescue scenario, his administration was deep-sixing an initiative that would have provided financing for women-run NGOs in Afghanistan. After all, if women proved capable of fending for themselves, if they laid claim to self-determination instead of violation and dependency, the rescue drama fell to pieces.
The Bush administration was no more inclined to promote female strength at home than overseas; witness the ways it sought to roll back women's progress on many fronts -- from reproductive rights and employment equity to military status. By hugging girls while trying to gut equal-opportunity programs, the White House was working hard to institute its own cult of victimhood. But in the end, 1,001 Ashleys couldn't save Bush -- nor the Republicans who will inherit his mantle -- from the electorate's knowledge of his multiple rescue failures, culminating in the image of our Commander-in-Chief playing guitar while the citizens of New Orleans, female and male both, cried for help.
This year, as always, the presidential candidates must contend with the rescue formula, complicated by the fact that Bush has so devalued its currency. In this climate, Hillary Clinton can do what her male counterparts cannot. She is, indeed, reaching for the gender card -- just as her accusers claim. It's just a different card than they imagine. She is auditioning for the role of rescuer on a feminist frontier.
She returned to Wellesley to tell the female undergraduate"hostages" that she was there to free them; she was there to help them"roll up our sleeves" and"shatter that highest glass ceiling." As such, she latched onto a crucial element of presidential races past, and possibly to come -- that at the core of all American political rescue fantasies is a young woman in need.
In the general election, whoever the candidates may be, they will be tempted, perhaps required, to show just those bona fides. Clinton may be the only one who can do so without betraying the signature of a disgraced cowboy ethic.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Copyright 2007 Susan Faludi
Posted on: Thursday, November 8, 2007 - 21:34
SOURCE: LAT (11-8-07)
'Do you wish to win for yourself the undesirable title of the 4-P's Candidate: Pusillanimously-Pussyfooting-Pious-Platitudinous Roosevelt?" wrote a Harvard friend to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, imploring him to forthrightly address the crucial issues of the day. But Roosevelt had chosen a different -- and safer -- game plan. From the very beginning of his quest for the presidency in 1931, he purposefully sought to be elusive, vague and to appear to be all things to all people.
Seventy-five years later, a chorus of political commentators -- and fellow Democratic presidential candidates -- are lashing out at Hillary Rodham Clinton, accusing her of the very same tactic of evasion. She straddles, practices "systematic caution" and plays "dodge ball," they charge. Her critics demand that she be more candid and genuine.
That is a sensible and astute formula -- for losing elections.
Roosevelt, the only American president to win four terms in office, campaigned as a supreme waffler in 1932 -- and by doing so he beat incumbent Herbert Hoover and set the stage for the transformation of American society and government.
FDR saw the Democratic Party for what it was: an amorphous association representing a wide variety of competing interests. To win the presidential nomination, he needed to keep on board an improbable mix of Eastern liberals, Western reformers, labor leaders, internationalists, Wall Street financiers and Southern states' rights conservatives and white supremacists. So evasive was he that one columnist dubbed him "the corkscrew candidate."
After securing the nomination over several now-forgotten Democrats, his strategy in the general election remained the same: to appeal to as wide and inclusive a swath of the American public as possible, to Democrats, progressives, independents and moderate Republicans.
Both Roosevelt and Hoover confronted a numbed, stricken nation, where millions of battered Americans -- 25% of the country -- were out of work, standing morosely in long bread lines, sleeping under frayed newspapers on streets lined with empty storefronts.
Hoover rejected government action to help the jobless and needy. Instead, he passively passed the buck to the people, expressing confidence in their ability to "work out the cure" to the nation's economic hardships.
Roosevelt didn't go much further. Once state governments and charitable organizations such as Community Chests had done everything in their power to help the poor, he told audiences, only then should the federal government step in as a last resort. The two candidates often seemed to be speaking each other's lines.
Only once during the campaign did FDR stray from that bland course. In a speech in Georgia, he warned that millions of desperate people "will not stand silently by forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach." Was a gutsy Roosevelt raising the specter of mass revolt? Frantic that Roosevelt had committed a major gaffe in a flawless campaign, close advisor Louis Howe insisted that his boss tone down his message.
As the campaign drew to a close, Roosevelt improbably assailed Hoover for "reckless and extravagant spending" and urged that government spending be cut by 25%.
Roosevelt's cagey strategy paid off. He swept the nation, carrying 42 states -- only Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont went Republican. The GOP lost 12 seats in the Senate and more than 100 seats in the House, giving control of both chambers to the Democrats. A sea change had taken place. And the presidential candidate who had suggested severe budget cuts would go on to spend billions -- a lot of money in the 1930s -- for huge relief and public-works programs.
The task of uniting Democrats may seem less daunting today than in 1932 because the Southern conservatives FDR needed to keep on board have mostly left the party. But just substitute for them antiabortion, anti-gun control, anti-free-trade and anti-immigration Democrats, and it's apparent that for Clinton or anyone else, the path to victory is, in fact, across a delicate political tightrope.
Posted on: Thursday, November 8, 2007 - 20:44
SOURCE: Sandbox (11-5-07)
Hillary Clinton has published her foreign policy agenda in Foreign Affairs magazine, under the title "Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-First Century." The one paragraph on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict draws deeply on the notions that "resolving the conflict" should be America's top priority, that both sides are equally at fault for the "violence," and that Palestinians need only make promises to earn statehood. The passage strongly suggests that Hillary's support for Israel is more "triangulated" than many have assumed.
Here is the passage in full:
Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians. The fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000: a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a declaration that the conflict is over, recognition of Israel's right to exist, guarantees of Israeli security, diplomatic recognition of Israel, and normalization of its relations with Arab states. U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping to resolve this conflict. In addition to facilitating negotiations, we must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace and willing to engage in a dialogue with the Israelis. Whether or not the United States makes progress in helping to broker a final agreement, consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.
THIS IS a carefully crafted paragraph, loaded with allusions and references that the casual reader is likely to miss, but that send a clear signal on the high frequency of the "peace process." The message is this: a Hillary administration would constantly busy itself with Israeli-Palestinians talks, regardless of their prospects, and would strive to avoid any appearance of partiality--toward Israel.
The hyper-activism is made explicit in the promise of "consistent U.S. involvement," "whether or not the United States makes progress."
This is exactly what the US did during the Clinton years, when Yasser Arafat visited the White House 11 times, and met with President Clinton 24 times. Not only did this "consistent involvement" at the highest level not produce any progress, it raised the expectations of Palestinians to an absurd level, leaving them more intransigent and belligerent than they were at the outset.
Obsessive US diplomacy eventually blew up in Washington's face when Arafat launched a so-called "intifada" against Israel in 2000.
IT IS ALL the more astonishing, then, that Hillary, who witnessed the debacle from up close, thinks "consistent US involvement," whatever its outcome, will "lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region." She ignores precisely the lesson inflicted upon us by the failed policy of the Clinton administration: If the US obsessively tinkers with this issue without result, it is bound to raise the level of violence and damage our credibility.
In this same sentence, Hillary makes another nod toward the Palestinian position. She imagines that all this busy "involvement" will somehow "reduce violence." Aside from the probability that it would have the opposite effect, the very choice of the word "violence" evokes the infamous phrase "cycle of violence," by which Israelis and Palestinians are deemed equally responsible for the bloodshed.
That the Palestinians have deliberately cultivated a culture of terrorism, celebrating suicide bombers, is entirely lost in this formulation. Instead of terrorism, there is only "violence," which includes both the suicide-bomb dispatchers and the Israeli operations to stop them. By avoiding the word "terrorism," Hillary adopts a position of studied neutrality.
WHAT HILLARY calls the "fundamental elements of a final agreement" are also carefully tailored to lower the bar for the Palestinians. They are to receive a state in return for a "declaration that the conflict is over," "recognition of Israel's right to exist," and "guarantees of Israeli security" (emphasis added). In other words, Palestinians are not expected to do anything, only issue a surfeit of declarations and promises.
During the Clinton administration, the White House collected a mountain of these Palestinian chits, which turned out to be worthless. Hillary makes no mention whatsoever of Palestinians actually fighting terrorism (not that word!), and says nothing at all about the need for good governance and accountability. In short, she would ask the Palestinians simply to make the sort of promises Arafat made to her husband, as though we had not learned the hard way to demand that Palestinians perform.
In fact, the entire premise of Hillary's statement is that we can go back to the innocence of 2000, before the crash. She deliberately evokes the legacy of her husband when she writes that the "fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000" (emphasis added), i.e., when Bill Clinton presented his "parameters" at Camp David.
Clear to whom? Arafat rejected them then, Hamas (now far stronger than it was in 2000) has always regarded a final settlement with Israel as anathema, and even Mahmoud Abbas cannot bring himself to make the necessary concessions.
Nor does Hillary consider that perhaps the Palestinians, having chosen to wage war against Israel in 2000, should be made to expect lessthan what they might have had in 2000. Instead, she implies that the game should be resumed precisely at the point where Arafat walked off the field and began to shoot. The Palestinians did not gain by war, she implies, but certainly they did not lose.
ONE OF THE things they should have lost is any serious consideration of the so-called "right of return" of Palestinian "refugees" (the large majority of whom are descendants of refugees) to Israel proper. President Bush said as much to Mahmoud Abbas at the Akaba summit in 2003, announcing that "a democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state" (emphasis added).
The Palestinians insist that they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, because this effectively negates their "right of return." Hillary herself, in a statement made in September, said she personally "believes that Israel's right to exist in safety as a Jewish state... must never be questioned." Yet Hillary's formula in the Foreign Affairs piece invites the Palestinians to do just that, asking them simply to "recognize Israel's right to exist." A Palestinian can only read this as an invitation to hold firm to the bogus "right of return" (and hold out against the Bush-Rice diplomatic surge in anticipation of a Hillary administration). THERE IS another nod to the Palestinians at the top of the passage: "Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians." This nicely exonerates the Palestinians of responsibility for ditching diplomacy and waging war. Instead, it is the US that must say a mea culpa for allowing itself to be distracted from the cause of Palestine by something as insignificant, in comparison, as the liberation of 27 million Iraqis. In fact, had the Palestinians, at any moment, shown themselves ready to fight terror and make the compromises necessary for peace, the Bush Administration would have taken up the burden. (Even absent that, President Bush greatly strengthened the US commitment to a Palestinian state.) The sentence seems to be an effort to enlist supporters of a renewed "peace process" behind the quit-Iraq agenda, although it is a mystery how simply "getting out of Iraq," as opposed to victory in Iraq, would position the US to play a "constructive role" anywhere in the Middle East. In September, Hillary issued a statement on Israel designed to bolster her standing among pro-Israel voters. Her Foreign Affairs piece, aimed at the wider foreign policy establishment, takes a very different line. Who is the real Hillary, behind the triangulation? Who knows? The Foreign Affairs article is intended to be the point of reference for any future Hillary administration. For supporters of Israel, it can only give rise to the most profound misgivings. These are not formulas used by Israel's friends.
The Palestinians insist that they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, because this effectively negates their "right of return." Hillary herself, in a statement made in September, said she personally "believes that Israel's right to exist in safety as a Jewish state... must never be questioned." Yet Hillary's formula in the Foreign Affairs piece invites the Palestinians to do just that, asking them simply to "recognize Israel's right to exist."
A Palestinian can only read this as an invitation to hold firm to the bogus "right of return" (and hold out against the Bush-Rice diplomatic surge in anticipation of a Hillary administration).
THERE IS another nod to the Palestinians at the top of the passage: "Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians." This nicely exonerates the Palestinians of responsibility for ditching diplomacy and waging war. Instead, it is the US that must say a mea culpa for allowing itself to be distracted from the cause of Palestine by something as insignificant, in comparison, as the liberation of 27 million Iraqis.
In fact, had the Palestinians, at any moment, shown themselves ready to fight terror and make the compromises necessary for peace, the Bush Administration would have taken up the burden. (Even absent that, President Bush greatly strengthened the US commitment to a Palestinian state.) The sentence seems to be an effort to enlist supporters of a renewed "peace process" behind the quit-Iraq agenda, although it is a mystery how simply "getting out of Iraq," as opposed to victory in Iraq, would position the US to play a "constructive role" anywhere in the Middle East.
In September, Hillary issued a statement on Israel designed to bolster her standing among pro-Israel voters. Her Foreign Affairs piece, aimed at the wider foreign policy establishment, takes a very different line.
Who is the real Hillary, behind the triangulation? Who knows?
The Foreign Affairs article is intended to be the point of reference for any future Hillary administration. For supporters of Israel, it can only give rise to the most profound misgivings. These are not formulas used by Israel's friends.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 7, 2007 - 01:58
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (11-6-07)
The surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad is succeeding but deeper structural problems continue to plague the American presence in Iraq. The country's largest dam, 40 kilometers northwest of Mosul, near the Turkish border, spectacularly symbolizes this predicament.
Just after occupying Iraq in April 2003, a report found that Mosul Dam's foundation was "leaking like a sieve and ready to collapse." A more recent, still-classified report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concludes that "The dam is judged to have an unacceptable annual failure probability." More explicitly, the corps finds the current probability of failure to be "exceptionally high." A senior aid worker calls the dam "a time bomb waiting to go off."
That's because the dam was built on unstable bedrock of gypsum that requires a constant infusion of grout to prevent the foundation from eroding and the giant earthen wall from collapsing. Over the years, engineers have pumped into the foundation more than 50,000 tons of a bentonite, cement, water, and air mixture. As the Washington Post explains, "Twenty-four clanging machines churn 24 hours a day to pump grout deep into the dam's base. And sinkholes form periodically as the gypsum dissolves beneath the structure."
Despite these efforts, the dam's condition continues to deteriorate, raising the prospect of its complete collapse. Were this to happen with a reservoir full of water, predicts Engineering News-Record, "as much as 12.5 billion cubic meters of water pooled behind the 3.2-km-long earth-filled impoundment [would go] thundering down the Tigris River Valley toward Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The wave behind the 110-meter-high crest would take about two hours to reach the city of 1.7 million." In addition, parts of Baghdad (population 7 million) would come under 5 meters of water.
The Army Corps estimates the flood would kill a half-million people immediately, while the aftershocks, such as power outage and drought, would kill many more. (Not coincidentally, Iraq was the site of Noah's Ark.) It would likely be the largest human-induced single loss of life in history.
Many Iraqi officials, unfortunately, exhibit a cavalier attitude toward these dangers, further exacerbating the problem. They reject as unnecessary, for example, the Army Corps recommendation to build a second dam downstream as a back-up.
Yet, were a catastrophic failure to take place, who would be blamed for the unprecedented loss of life? Americans, of course. And understandably so, for the Bush administration took upon itself the overhauling of Iraqi life, including the Mosul Dam. Specifically, the U.S. taxpayer funded attempts to shore it up by with improved grouting, at a cost of US$27 million. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has, however, judged these efforts mismanaged and ineffective.
Massive Iraqi deaths would surely spawn conspiracy theories about American malevolence, inspiring epic rage against the U.S. government and creating a deep sense of guilt among Americans themselves. Yet, this blame and remorse would be entirely misplaced.
Saudi and other Arab aid – not U.S. monies – funded what was originally called the "Saddam Dam." A German-Italian consortium headed by Hochtief Aktiengesellschaft built the US$1.5 billion structure in 1981-84. It had a primarily political goal, to bolster Saddam Hussein's regime during the Iran-Iraq war. The dam, in other words, had nothing to do with the United States – not in funding, construction, or purpose. Nonetheless, misbegotten American policy has made it an American headache.
Mosul's dam replicates a myriad of lesser problems in Iraqi life that have landed in the lap of Americans (and, to a much lesser extent, their coalition partners), such as provisioning fuel and electricity, working schools and hospitals, a fair political and legal system, and an environment secure from terrorism.
Since April 2003, I have argued that this shouldering of responsibility for Iraq's domestic life has harmed both Americans and Iraqis. It yokes Americans with unwanted and unnecessary loss of life, financial obligations, and political burdens. For Iraqis, as the dam example suggests, it encourages an irresponsibility with potentially ruinous consequences.
A change of course is needed, and quickly. The Bush administration needs to hand back responsibility for Iraq's ills, including and especially the Mosul Dam. More broadly, it should abandon the deeply flawed and upside-down approach of "war as social work," whereby U.S. military efforts are judged primarily by the benefits they bring to the defeated enemy, rather than to Americans.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 22:32
SOURCE: New Republic (11-5-07)
Just over half a century ago, the great historian J.H. Hexter set out to teach the world a modest lesson. In an essay titled "The Historian and his Day," he used the example of his own life to refute the claim--a common one in his era and ours--that historians, caught up in the passions and controversies of their own time, cannot view the past objectively. In fact, he explained, he usually worked in the opposite way. Hexter spent the bulk of his time not in the present but in the past, or at least in its remains: the records of earlier centuries that his job at Queens College required him to interpret. When called on to understand a contemporary political or social problem, he responded by marshalling his much deeper expertise about history: "Instead of the passions, prejudices, assumptions and prepossessions, the events, crises and tensions of the present dominating my view of the past, it is the other way about. ... I make sense of present-day welfare-state policy by thinking of it in connection with the 'commonwealth' policies of Elizabeth."
In recent weeks, I have found myself appreciating Hexter's work even more than when I first read it. Like him, I am a historian. Like him, I spend most of my time in the years between 1400 and 1700. And, like him, I have found that, if you devote yourself to reading early modern sources, you see a surprising number of things that illuminate our current situation.
Specifically, I have been working on a book about magic in Renaissance Europe. The subject could hardly seem more academic. And, yet, it has made me confront a body of fact and experience that speaks directly to the present. Magic was prestigious in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but it was also dangerous. Many of those who practiced it borrowed terms, ideas, and amulets from the Jews--a people often seen as particularly magical and suspect. Magicians claimed that they practiced a high, learned art, one that drew only on the natural powers of stones and plants and planets. But they were constantly mistaken for witches: the men and women, widely thought to be ubiquitous, who supposedly sold their souls to the devil in return for power to do harm. More than one magician, finally, convinced himself that he possessed substantial powers: powers so vast that he could challenge the church in the name of his own ability to bring about miracles more astounding than those of Jesus.
In exploring these risky beliefs and their consequences, I found myself abruptly transported, again and again, from the distant past to the present. As I followed the fates of Jews and magicians, I encountered a body of information about torture and its uses--information that was put down on the spot by sworn notaries and witnessed by others in an age when those who ordered torture did not pretend otherwise, much less claim that they could annul the practice by calling it "enhanced interrogation." The historians who assembled this evidence did so in order to understand the past. Nonetheless, they have helped me see the present in perspective.
Modern scholars have long been both fascinated and horrified by torture. The pioneering medievalist Henry Charles Lea--who, in the nineteenth century, penned the first systematic, documented history of the Inquisition--wrote at length about the ways in which inquisitors had used torture to make prisoners confess heretical views and actions. An enlightened man writing in what he saw as an enlightened age, he looked back in horror at these barbarous practices and condemned them with a clarity that anyone reading public statements now must envy. Lea's successors--the British social historian Henry Kamen, the Yale legal historian John Langbein, and the University of Pennsylvania medievalist Edward Peters, among others--have modified his account in many ways. They have shown that the Inquisition was both fairer and less brutal than he held, and they have explained the abolition of judicial torture as the result not of the new critical spirit of the Enlightenment but of changes in the law of proof. (That is, as a range of penalties lighter than execution became available, judges no longer felt they had to have a confession in order to convict a subject--the principle that had necessitated the widespread use of torture in the first place.) Yet scholars continue to admire Lea's immense learning, and they still cite his accounts of the actual instruments of torture and the ways in which these were applied.
Most recently, historians of a new generation have plumbed the archives, where they have discovered a much wider range of documents than Lea knew, including many transcripts of actual trials. They have taught us much about the effects of torture as inflicted by professionals who were trained to use pain as a tool of inquiry. And their research makes clear that torture--as inflicted in the past--was anything but a sure way of arriving at the truth....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 21:19
SOURCE: Salon (11-6-07)
In the fall of 1999, as he campaigned for the presidency, George W. Bush was asked by a reporter to name the leader of Pakistan. Bush could not. He famously replied: "The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected -- not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country, and I think that's good news for the subcontinent." Although Bush didn't know Gen. Pervez Musharraf's name and was confused as to how he got into office, the soon-to-be American president was sanguine about the anti-democratic developments in Pakistan.
More than seven years later, Bush's illusions about Musharraf -- and any illusion of democracy in Pakistan -- have been shattered by the dictator's declaration of a state of emergency. Tantamount to a coup, Musharraf's actions on Saturday have not only thrown Pakistan into turmoil but have also revealed the hypocrisy of Bush's foreign policy, including the proclaimed goal of fostering freedom and the rule of law in the Muslim world.
At a press conference on Monday, Bush said of the weekend coup, "We expect there to be elections as soon as possible." But while Bush admitted that Musharraf's actions would "undermine democracy," he insisted that the general is "a strong fighter" in the war on terror. That dual message was accompanied by the American president tepidly declining to say what he would do if Musharraf did not move toward elections. Also revealing was the fact that Bush had sent the weakest member of his team, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, out to warn Musharraf against the coup, indicating how little he was in reality worried about it. If he had been deeply anxious, he would have called the general himself. Many observers are viewing Musharraf's coup as a major setback for Bush's policy, but in fact it changes almost nothing.
Although the United States has given some $11 billion to Pakistan (mostly in military aid) since 2001, Bush needs Musharraf more than Musharraf needs the United States. The war in Afghanistan is a key reason: A major proportion of the war materiel for the 20,000 U.S. troops, and additional 20,000 NATO troops, in Afghanistan (a landlocked country) goes through Pakistan. U.S., British and Canadian troops on the front lines fighting a Taliban resurgence could be endangered if Pakistan were to cut off the flow of those supplies. On Monday, Rice appeared to back off from earlier warnings to Pakistan that a coup would jeopardize U.S. aid, saying that she doubted cooperation on the war on terror would be affected by Musharraf's actions.
Musharraf, who was brought up in part in Turkey and is representative of the secular stratum of Pakistan's middle class, is the Bush administration's ideal ally. They point to his successes: Musharraf has moved a lot of fundamentalist officers out of positions of power, removing them from any authority over the country's stockpile of nuclear bombs. Under his rule, Pakistani military intelligence has captured nearly 700 al-Qaida operatives in that country, including high-value figures such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. And Pakistani cooperation was key in breaking up a plot in summer 2006 by Britons of Pakistani heritage to blow up airplanes flying from London to New York.
But the 1999 interview revealed Bush's true stripes regarding the Pakistani dictator, and his knee-jerk support for authoritarianism over democracy. Bush was criticized then for applauding the overthrow of the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif government in the Oct. 12, 1999, military coup. His spokesperson at the time, Karen Hughes, said that Bush was encouraged by Musharraf's promise that he would hold early elections, restore "stability" to Pakistan, and ease tensions between India and Pakistan. (In fact, Musharraf had been a notorious hawk on India and may in part have carried out the coup because he saw his civilian predecessor as too dovish toward New Delhi.) What the world did not then know was that President Bill Clinton had negotiated a deal not long before with Prime Minister Sharif whereby Pakistan would deploy special operations troops to capture Osama bin Laden. When Musharraf took power in fall of 1999, he refused to honor the deal, since the operation was unpopular with the military's fundamentalist officers. Indeed, Bush was supporting a man who derailed the best chance the Clinton administration may have had to prevent Sept. 11....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 20:33
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (11-5-07)
In fact, the Muslim extremists are in the tribal areas, and in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the hardscrabble towns and villages of northern Punjab. If you were worried about the extremists, you'd declare martial law in the NWFP and the tribal areas. Instead, Musharraf is said to be planning to give in to the demand in these northern areas that sharia or Islamic canon law be implemented! This is a defender of secularism?
Down in Lahore and Faisalabad, no one could get more than a few hundred people even to protest Musharraf's frontal assault on the Red Mosque last summer. But Musharraf didn't make his coup in the NWFP, he arrested hundreds in Lahore and elsewhere in the deep Punjab, which is mostly traditional, conservative, Sufi, Shiite, or mildly reformist. There are extremists from the eastern and southern Pakistani Punjab, but they are a small fringe. That is why it is significant that Qazi Hussain of the Jama'at-i Islami could rally 20,000 persons near Lahore. When the Punjabis get excited about something in Pakistan, there is sometimes a political earthquake.
If Bush and Cheney are ever tempted into extreme measures in the United States, Musharraf has provided a template for how it would unfold. Maintain you are moving against terrorists and extremists, but actually move against the rule of law. Rubin has accepted the suggested term of "lawfare" to describe this kind of warfare by executive order.
Posted on: Monday, November 5, 2007 - 22:54
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (11-4-07)
How much does it matter that the Iraqi parliament has not yet passed an oil law? According to war critics, it is the only thing that matters: Iraqis' failure to complete "reconciliation" by passing "benchmark" legislation as required by Washington is evidence not only that the current strategy has failed, but also that any strategy will fail and the United States should simply leave now. Underlying this argument is the belief that a stable peace in Iraq can occur only after the Iraqis have worked out their own basic problems. This is a remarkably unrealistic claim.
The suggestion is that American forces must keep fighting in Iraq until the Arabs and Kurds have put aside their differences, resolved their internal tensions, and started singing "kumbaya" in Arabic. But even the president's most ambitious aims involved only establishing a stable and peaceful democracy in Iraq--which is very different from resolving all tensions, as anyone who knows anything about democracy can tell you. For the United States, reconciliation should mean persuading the peoples of Iraq to address their problems and power struggles peacefully, through a political process rather than through violence, and to reject and oppose those who seek to use force to gain leverage in the political process. That is exactly what we are now in the midst of doing.
To this day, not all outstanding political tensions have been resolved in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, or Kosovo, yet the civil wars and terrorist campaigns that once threatened to engulf those places have ended, and the competing factions are pursuing their agendas primarily by peaceful political means. After our own Civil War, Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House did not coincide with the resolution of the slavery problem, much less the racial problem generally. Violence and terrorism at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations continued to disrupt America's peace for decades--and are not unheard of to this day.
Balancing racial, ethnic, religious, and even regional tensions continues to be part of every national political campaign in the United States. Rather than being settled once and for all, core issues are addressed through politics, and the accompanying violence is limited and infrequent enough that police can handle it. If the standard for a successful end to the American Civil War had been passage of legislation that satisfied all parties, then the war would have been judged a failure. By that standard, even the civil rights legislation of the 1960s hasn't brought complete and final success. But achievement of perfect harmony was not the standard for the United States, and it should not be the standard for Iraq.
Iraqis, like the people of almost any modern state, are engaged in power struggles. Hitherto these struggles have been pursued largely by violence that has destabilized the country and threatened to destabilize the region. In particular, it has created an opportunity for al Qaeda and Iran to establish themselves in Iraq, either directly or through proxies. We are fighting to bring the violence under control as a means of driving al Qaeda and Iranian agents and proxies out of Iraq and keeping them out. Our aim is to create a stable government in Iraq that is able to govern its own people and drive violence down to a manageable level.
We have been remarkably successful in 2007 in reducing violence in Iraq. According to Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the operational commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, enemy attacks are at their lowest since January 2006 and continue to drop. There has been a 60 percent decrease in IED attacks in the past four months. The reduction in violence is partly a result of the presence of additional American forces and their adoption of a sound counterinsurgency strategy. This has allowed Iraqis to turn against al Qaeda and the Baathist insurgents and form their own local defense groups in concert with the Iraqi government. It even appears to have encouraged some Shias to turn against the Shia militias. Also driving these trends are the Iraqis' rejection of al Qaeda's ideology and, more profoundly, their exhaustion with the struggle--a key development in the winding down of any violent internal conflict. What these positive developments do not reflect is any expectation that Iraq's internal tensions can be quickly or comprehensively resolved. Nor do Sunni Arab tribesmen coming over to the coalition side ask when an oil law will be passed. They ask whether we will continue to help protect them.
As the violence recedes, leaders in all the contending Iraqi communities will naturally seek to address their internal differences. Our interest in the outcome is limited: As long as the Iraqis are committed to the principle of resolving their differences through a political process rather than violence, and as long as any settlement they reach is sufficiently fair so as not to reignite the violence, then our interests will have been secured. The Iraqis can continue to debate the oil law, provincial rights, federalism, and so on for decades (as Americans have debated civil rights, Social Security, immigration, health care, and states rights) with no harm to our interests, assuming their debates are channeled through a political process. And this is almost certainly what will happen. Even if the current Iraqi parliament passed all the benchmark legislation Americans desire tomorrow, Iraqis would continue to debate, argue, adjust, and press for reforms on these key issues, probably for generations. That is what a self-governing people does.
We therefore made an enormous mistake--one in which the Bush administration was complicit when it promulgated the benchmarks in 2006--by defining success as the resolution of Iraq's internal problems, rather than as the creation of a political system within which Iraqis could pursue their struggles peacefully.
Many believe that as long as major grievances remain, violence will persist. More likely, a point will be reached where contending groups are convinced that they will suffer more than they will benefit from resorting to force. At that point, political players will either moderate their objectives or find ways of pursuing them peacefully, or both. Which is what is happening among Iraq's Sunni Arabs today. Where previously Sunni hotheads believed that an alliance with terrorists would give them the leverage to insist upon a maximalist political solution, now local leaders, including leading sheikhs, recognize that the violence is hurting them far more than it is helping them, and that they must reduce their demands and find peaceful ways to pursue them.
There is still a long way to go. Shia extremists inside and outside the government continue to see force as a way to change the situation in their favor and so shape the ultimate political contest to suit them. The danger remains that these extremists will antagonize the Sunnis into renewed violence. More likely, outside actors with an interest in stirring trouble in Iraq will find their footing once again and either prevent the situation from stabilizing or destabilize it once it has.
No doubt the difficulty of resolving political issues will also seem to some extremists an opening to gain leverage by use of force. There are likely to be spikes in violence in the coming years, as outside actors and hardcore extremists maneuver and resist final defeat. The passage of legislation now would not change that. Any meaningful legislation would be a product of compromise, and it is the nature of extremists to reject compromise.
What matters more than any benchmark laws, then, is whether Iraqis believe they must work to resolve their differences through a political process and that they cannot resort to force because doing so would hurt their cause. That is the essence of the reconciliation we seek. The acceptance of a political process as the only legitimate means of resolving internal differences cannot be measured by any legislative checklist, but it is the measure that actually counts.
Posted on: Sunday, November 4, 2007 - 22:13
SOURCE: Nation (11-12-07)
One of the most dispiriting causes of the biggest strategic blunder in American history may be the least understood: from the run-up to the Iraq War in 2002 until at least the 2006 elections, it wasn't the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters who stampeded the chattering classes and liberal audiences toward our still-unfolding disaster. It was the "best" thinkers, writing in the New York Times Book Review and The New Republic, who cued the orchestra of high-minded opinion to play a medley of half-truths and hosannas in support of the war.
There had been nothing like it since John Dewey and The New Republic supported America's entry into World War I to "make the world safe for democracy"--a liberal intervention that won militarily but unleashed humanity's darkest disasters. The Iraq venture, too, has been backed by Wilsonian "tough liberals" fighting a "good fight" for democracy. Now they're trying to shift the burden of responsibility to dissenters, whom the war hawks marginalized so fully that they relieved them of any responsibility at all.
Before the first shot in the Iraq War was fired, its intellectual supporters--future Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus (then a contributing editor at Vanity Fair), New Republic editor Peter Beinart and literary editor Leon Wieseltier; and writers Paul Berman, Richard Brookhiser, David Brooks, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff, Joe Klein, George Packer and Jacob Weisberg--struck pre-emptively at many who foresaw reruns of the Vietnam War's trumped-up pretexts, overkill and quagmires.
The Iraq War would be different, its enthusiasts insisted, invoking the cautionary specter of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler in 1938 but never the equally ill-fated liberal war fevers of 1914. By the time Paul Bremer had to be spirited secretly out of the Green Zone, no antiwar movement or Congress had forced the United States to "fight with one hand tied behind our back," as Vietnam warriors had charged. No Jane Fonda had visited a Middle Eastern Hanoi to aid and comfort the enemy. The Iraq War's masterminds and cheerleaders had done all that themselves. (Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, for example, claimed the war's aftermath would require only 75,000 US troops and $16 billion a year, and he accused dissenters of harming the democracy crusade, even after Abu Ghraib guards, not war critics, had demoralized the effort.)
Yet intellectual hawks' assaults on leftists and liberals intensified in the Times Book Review and The New Republic. It was easy enough to condemn protesters who consider Islamist terrorists just anti-imperialists in a hurry and who ignore Norman Thomas's admonition not to burn the American flag but to wash it. But even the silliest protests were reactive, not causal, to the storm of intimidation and lies.
As storm damage rose, the Times's Tanenhaus published a steady stream of put-downs of dissenters. Some critics were simply ignored: Al Gore's The Assault on Reason wasn't reviewed; nor was former Harvard College dean Harry Lewis's Excellence Without a Soul, which argues that liberal education at Lawrence Summers's Harvard was compromised by too much money, power and public relations. Others received prissy put-downs, as has Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal in the October 21 Book Review. His The Great Unraveling, too, got condescending treatment, from Peter Beinart, in May 2003. Not all reviews of "political" books were unfair. But more typically we've had Berman sneering at Francis Fukuyama's apostasy from neoconservatism, Brooks lampooning an academic psychologist for urging Democrats to get tough, Klein coronating Beinart's term-paperish The Good Fight, Henry Kissinger coronating himself in a review about Dean Acheson and Brookhiser ruling that Hendrik Hertzberg's time had passed.
Some of the reviews staged anthropologically perfect re-enactments of the Salem witch trials, which enlisted prominent opinion-makers of their time to identify scapegoats for a community's sins and fears. The intellectual hawks, displacing their own terrors onto the left, fell into the arms of a dysfunctional militarism, without, of course, ever bearing arms themselves or, in most cases, even visiting Iraq.
Beinart greeted Krugman's The Great Unraveling in the Book Review by announcing that "most Americans do not consider the Bush Administration corrupt, and Paul Krugman cannot convincingly prove it is." Even when Beinart admitted, in The Good Fight, that he'd been wrong about the war, he leapt to cast Michael Moore as a greater danger to the Republic than Karl Rove. Tanenhaus assigned Beinart's book to the peripatetic journalist Klein, once a biographer of Woody Guthrie, later a scourge of the left, now Time magazine's apostle of civic virtue.
As Iraq fell apart, the Book Review became a neoconservative damage-control gazette, where Beinart atoned by hustling the embarrassing Norman Podhoretz's World War IV offstage. His sniffing that Podhoretz writes as if "dodging I.E.D.'s on his way to Zabar's" only highlighted the smallness of their differences.
No less embarrassing was the sophistical David Brooks, sometimes mentioned as liberals' favorite conservative. Writing for a Yale student publication in 2002, he'd chided those who feared that "if we try to champion democracy in Iraq we will only screw it up." Two years later, as we did screw it up, Brooks was writing, "Come on people, let's get a grip." By 2006 he was urging Americans to meet "savagery" with savagery in Iraq, where insurgents "create an environment in which it is difficult to survive if you are decent." His scapegoats included supporters of Ned Lamont's Senate race in Connecticut against Joe Lieberman--nihilists who "tell themselves that their enemies are so vicious they have to be vicious too." In August, in a review for Tanenhaus of Drew Westen's The Political Brain, Brooks lampooned liberal academics as would-be coup plotters.
Paul Berman, reviewing for Tanenhaus the ex-war hawk Francis Fukuyama's second thoughts about neoconservatism, succumbed to his own obsessions with war critics. Trying to distinguish between Fukuyama's neo-Wilsonianism and his own finer visions of apocalyptic struggle, Berman became diverted by his detractors: "The Nation has become The Weekly Purge," he complained, meaning that it was holding the war's deep thinkers accountable for its costs.
Berman is now shuttling in and out of the Times Book Review and Wieseltier's literary section of The New Republic, which has become a halfway house for penitent hawks. Too full of himself for penitence, Berman devoted 28,000 words there last spring to the insidious Islamo-fascism in Western common rooms, with a snide aside about a supposed enabler, New York Review of Books contributor Ian Buruma. Berman attacked in his familiar faux-French, faux-simple style, an intellectual's equivalent of "What part of that sentence don't you understand?"
That only recalled Wieseltier's own diatribe of August 2004, in Tanenhaus's Times Book Review, against a novel by Nicholson Baker about a man who wants to kill President Bush because of the war. Wieseltier departed from the novel to excoriate liberals for demonizing Bush; he didn't mention a letter to Bush he'd signed with forty neoconservatives in 2001 urging that "the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."
The New Republic recently published two pained elegies to American conservatism by Tanenhaus. In one, Tanenhaus insinuates himself retroactively into William F. Buckley Jr.'s early war skepticism. In another, he decides that anti-Communist crusader Whittaker Chambers escaped the "haunted air" of ideological certitude in his later years and would have dismissed Bush's Manichaean zeal "with the sly half-smile of a melancholy man who knows better."
Like other penitents, though, Tanenhaus still can't resist a little left-bashing. Quoting George Orwell's observation that English intellectuals' attraction to Stalinism "betrayed 'a secret wish...[to] usher in a hierarchical society where the intellectual can at last get his hands on the whip," Tanenhaus instructs readers that "It is no less true today. The intellectual left, most conspicuously in its Ivy League, Manhattan, and Hollywood variants, still clings to its dream of the whip handle, just as the educated right dreams of the day when the intelligentsia will be the first to feel the stinging cord." That closing gesture toward balance ("the educated right") seems only a fig leaf for a hawkish lust to catch leftists dreaming of whips.
Writers who consume themselves this way resemble George Santayana's fanatic, who redoubles his energy when he has forgotten his aim--and forgets that it is he, not his opponents, who lost the war. But to gloat would be to risk stumbling into the hawks' abyss. It would be better to urge Tanenhaus, Wieseltier et al. to rediscover Eugene V. Debs and Martin Luther King Jr., who understood that civic-republican crusades and rebellions are best when grounded in affirmations of civic trust that require a canny strength to sustain. Debs, King, Gandhi and Eastern European dissidents learned how to extend trust in ways that elicit it, even in the teeth of violent oppression. Why can't our war hawks learn it in New York and Washington?
Left and liberal wrongs acknowledged, the deeper danger now is American conservatism's inability to reconcile its keening for a sacred, ordered liberty with its obeisance to every whim of capital. Why keep blaming the consequences on enemies abroad and traitors at home or indulging a Grand Inquisitor's ritualized submission to whatever the national-security and corporate-consumer juggernauts are insinuating into our lives? Only someone denying the real dangers would give as much credibility and cachet as Tanenhaus and Wieseltier have to writers who can't stop blaming a "hate-America" left.
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, November 2, 2007 - 18:56
SOURCE: Nation (11-19-07)
All the major Republican presidential candidates have bought into George W. Bush's rhetoric of a central struggle against Muslim extremism and have thus committed themselves to a generational, often self-generating war. By foregrounding this issue, they have ensured that it will be pivotal to the 2008 presidential race. The Democratic candidates have mostly been timid in critiquing Bush's "war on terror" or pointing out its dangers to the Republic, a failing that they must redress if they are to blunt their rivals' fearmongering.
Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani in his recent Foreign Affairs article complains that the United States has been on the "defensive" in the war on "radical Islamic fascism" and says with maddening vagueness that it must find ways of going "on the offensive." He promises that "this war will be long." Giuliani is being advised on such matters by Representative Peter King, who has complained that "unfortunately we have too many mosques in this country"; by Daniel Pipes, who has questioned the wisdom of allowing American Muslims to vote; and by Norman Podhoretz, author of World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. Combining the word "Islam" with a European term like "fascism" is profoundly offensive; a subtext of anti-Muslim bigotry pervades Giuliani's campaign, a sop to the Christian and Zionist right.
John McCain depicts withdrawal from Iraq as "defeat," saying in Michigan on September 21 that it would "would strengthen Al Qaeda, empower Iran and other hostile powers in the Middle East, unleash a full-scale civil war in Iraq that could quite possibly provoke genocide there and destabilize the entire region.'' But continued occupation of Iraq, a major Muslim country, is just as likely to lead to the consequences McCain fears. Some front-runners, like Mitt Romney, argue for a big expansion in US military forces, without explaining how that would help with counterterrorism.
The Republican candidates have taken their cues from Bush and his Administration. They have continued to vastly exaggerate the threat from terror attacks (far more Americans have died for lack of healthcare or from hard drugs) and have demonized Muslims. India's Hindu-extremist RSS, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, the Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda and Colombia's FARC (a hard-drug smuggler) are seldom referred to by Republican politicians worried about terrorists, even though all these movements have been extremely violent and have threatened US interests.
Advocates of the "war on terror" fantasize about the Muslim world as a Soviet Union-type challenge to the United States. In fact, the dozens of countries with majority Muslim populations are mostly strong allies of the United States. One, Turkey, is a NATO ally, and six (Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Pakistan) are non-NATO allies. Only fourteen countries have this status, so Muslim states make up nearly half. The United States counts many other friends in the region, having significant frictions only with Sudan, Syria and Iran, and those are mixed pictures (Syria and Sudan helped against Al Qaeda, and Iran sought a strategic alliance with the United States against Saddam Hussein in early 2003).
The Republicans are playing Russian roulette with America's future with their bigoted anti-Muslim rhetoric. Muslims may constitute as much as a third of humankind by 2050, forming a vast market and a crucial labor pool. They will be sitting on the lion's share of the world's energy resources. The United States will increasingly have to compete with emerging rivals such as China and India for access to those Muslim resources and markets, and if its elites go on denigrating Muslims, America will be at a profound disadvantage during the next century.
Some Muslim extremist groups are indeed a threat, but they have not been dealt with appropriately. Bush has argued that terrorist groups have state backing, a principle that authorizes conventional war against their sponsor. In fact, asymmetrical terrorist groups can thrive in the interstices of states, and September 11 was solely an Al Qaeda operation. In his speech about the conquest of Iraq on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, George W. Bush announced, "We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding." It was a bald-faced lie.
Imperial occupations under the pretext of fighting terrorism suck up scarce resources and multiply terrorism, and so are self-defeating. They benefit only the military-industrial complex and political elites pursuing American hegemony. The backlash is growing. Sympathy bombings deriving from Muslim distress at brutal US military actions against Iraqis have been undertaken in Madrid, London and Glasgow, and a handful of formerly secular Iraqi Sunnis have suddenly expressed interest in Al Qaeda.
Worse, the hypocritical Bush Administration has ties to Muslim terror groups. The US military, beholden to Iraqi Kurds for support, permits several thousand fighters of the PKK terrorist organization, which bombs people in Turkey, to make safe harbor in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Bush Administration has used against Tehran the expatriate Iranian Mujahedeen-e-Khalq terror network, on which Saddam Hussein bestowed a base in Iraq. Democrats have mysteriously declined to denounce these unsavory alliances.
The Administration clearly is not very interested in doing the hard work of dealing effectively with small fringe terrorist networks. That is why Osama bin Laden is at large and the CIA unit tracking him disbanded. Successful counterterrorism involves good diplomacy and good police work. A case in point is the plot last summer by young Muslim men in London to bomb several airliners simultaneously using liquid explosives in innocent-looking bottles and detonators hidden in disposable cameras. Contrary to the allegations of skeptics, the techniques they envisaged were perfectly workable. The plotters were determined enough to make chilling martyrdom videos.
The plot was broken up in part because some of the conspirators were turned in to Scotland Yard by British Muslim acquaintances disturbed by their behavior. They had been alerted to the seriousness of radical views by the bombing of London's public transport system in July 2005. British police infiltrated an undercover operative into the group. The Pakistani security forces helped monitor a radical in that country, Rashid Rauf, who was in contact with the London group. That is, the foiling of this operation depended very largely on the good will of other Muslims. Such police and community awareness work has had proven results. In contrast, invading and occupying Muslim states risks reducing the fund of good will on which successful terror prevention depends.
Since resources are scarce, it is important that the magnitude of the threat not be exaggerated. Al Qaeda has at most a few thousand members. It holds no territory and its constituent organizations have been roundly defeated in Egypt, Algeria and other Muslim nations. Its command and control networks have been effectively disrupted. Most threats now come from amateur copycats. Al Qaeda has no prospect whatsoever of taking over any state in the Muslim world. It probably would be dead altogether if Bush had not poured gasoline on the flames with his large-scale invasions and occupations. For John McCain to proclaim that Al Qaeda is a bigger threat to US security than was the Soviet Union, which had thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at this country, is to enter Alice's Wonderland.
Very few Muslims are either violent or fundamentalist; most are traditionalist, mystic, modernist or secularist. Murder rates in the Muslim world are remarkably low. About 10 to 15 percent of Muslims throughout the world, or 130 million to 215 million, generally support a fundamentalist point of view, including the implementation of Islamic law as the law of the state. But they are not typically violent, and the United States has managed to ally with some of them, as with the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa Party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The fundamentalists are atypical. In a 2006 Pew poll, majorities in Egypt, Jordan and Indonesia were optimistic that democracy would work in their countries.
Because of its support for or acquiescence to Israel's creeping erasure of the Palestinian nation and for Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006, and because of Washington's own brutal war in Iraq, the United States is poorly positioned to win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. In the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency, some 75 percent of the population of Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) had a favorable view of the United States. By the time Bush had invaded two Muslim countries, in 2003, America's favorability rating there had fallen to 15 percent. It recovered a bit after US magnanimity during the tsunami but then fell back to less than half the pre-Bush level. In Turkey, the favorability rating has fallen from 52 to 12 percent in the same period (all polling figures from the Global Attitudes Project of the Pew Charitable Trust).
America does itself no favors by neglecting to promote knowledge of the United States, of its political philosophies and social and political system, in the Muslim world. The United States Information Service was gutted and folded into the State Department in the late 1990s. There are very few American Studies programs at Arabophone universities, and very little US political philosophy or history has been translated. Likewise, Congress funds the study of the Middle East at American Universities at shockingly low levels, given the need for Americans who understand the region and its languages.
Extremist Muslim networks have a specific history, almost entirely rooted in reaction to many decades of European colonial domination or in the Reagan jihad against the Soviet Union, during which the United States gave extremists $5 billion, pressured Saudi Arabia to do the same and trained the extremists at CIA facilities in Afghanistan. Much of their subsequent violence can properly be seen as a form of blowback--black operations that go bad and boomerang on the initiating country.
Marc Sageman, a CIA case officer in Afghanistan in the late 1980s who is now at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, has estimated the number of extremists who could and would do violence to the United States at less than a thousand. There is a larger group that supports the creation of Taliban-style rigid theocracies in their countries and who are willing to deploy violence to achieve that goal. While their ideology may be unpleasant, they do not necessarily pose a security threat to the United States.
American politicians should cease implying that Muslim nations and individuals are different from, or somehow more dangerous than, any other group of human beings, a racist idea promoted by the Christian and Zionist right. They should acknowledge that most Muslim nations are US friends and allies. A wise American policy toward the small networks of Muslim extremists would reduce their recruitment pool by the quick establishment of a Palestinian state and by a large-scale military drawdown from Iraq, thus removing widespread and major grievances. An increase in visible humanitarian and development aid to Muslim countries has a demonstrable effect on improving the US image.
The reconstitution of the United States Information Service as an independent body would allow better public diplomacy. Promoting American studies in the Muslim world, in its major languages rather than just in English, would help remove widespread misconceptions about the United States among educated Muslim observers. Increasing federal funding for Middle East studies at home would better equip this country to deal with this key region. More adept diplomacy with the Muslim states, most of which are as afraid of terrorism as we are, could lead to further cooperation in the security field. Better police work and cooperation with the police of Middle Eastern states would be much more effective than launching invasions. It would also help if we stopped insulting Muslims by calling their religion "fascist."
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, November 2, 2007 - 18:30
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-1-07)
This August, just as the first Santa Ana winds bent the boughs of the eucalyptus trees in Balboa Park, 500 wealthy business people and Republican Party donors raised their champagne glasses to salute "Mr. San Diego," Pete Wilson, as he unveiled a bronze statue of himself in downtown's Horton Plaza. Wilson, of course, was the controversial, immigrant-baiting governor of California during the nineties; but the statue specifically apotheosizes his role as the political catalyst for San Diego's "downtown renaissance" during his earlier three terms as mayor of the city (1971-1983).
The 74-year-old Wilson, whose preppy appearance leads strangers to mistake him for an aging member of the Kingston Trio, recalled the bad old days -- before million-dollar condos and billionaire developers took over downtown -- when the nearby "Gaslight District" was a "haven for saloons and tattoo parlors." He praised the memory of his friend and crucial ally in remaking downtown, developer Ernest Hahn, whose statue adjoins his. But it was difficult to make out his words since, across the plaza, several hundred demonstrators, an inspiring coalition of young Latinos and gays, were beating drums, blowing whistles, and chanting "racist!" Some of Wilson's admirers blistered, but Mr. San Diego was characteristically gracious about free speech: "Horses asses," he laughed.
He was cheered by a small group of counter-protestors belonging to one of the Minutemen sects. Although far too scruffy to be invited to join the champagne drinkers, they nonetheless idolize the former governor as the Paul Revere of the Brown Peril (especially for his notorious television reelection ad: "They keep coming…"), as well as the chief megaphone for the passage of Proposition 187 in 1994 which -- had it not been stopped in the courts -- would have expelled immigrant kids from their kindergartens and kicked their mothers out of maternity wards.
It is unclear, however, whether either the immigrant-rights activists or their Minutemen opponents were aware that what they were protesting or applauding was actually self-deification. As the San Diego Union-Tribune (the Copley franchise that has had a total monopoly of the city's daily newspaper market since 1938) reported the next day: "The land under the Wilson and Horton statues is owned by the Irvine Co., the Orange County real estate giant that bought the property recently. Wilson is a member of the company's board of directors."
Most of my friends dream of the day when we can give that statue the same shove that brought down the Colonne de Vendôme in Paris in 1871 or Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square in Baghdad in 2003, but I demur. I think we should simply chisel the word "arsonist" in large letters at the base of the Bronze Pete.
No, I am not suggesting that the ex-governor was seen lurking in the shadow of Palomar or hiding behind an oak at Witch Creek as the fires began to burn -- although who knows what he does with his time when he isn't recruiting for Rudy Giuliani? But, as the protestors rightly won't let the world forget, he deliberately ignited California's nativist underbrush in the early 1990s and started a conflagration of immigrants' rights that now engulfs Latino communities across the United States.
With unctuous arrogance, he mainstreamed Mexican-bashing and opened a Pandora 's Box of California's vigilante past. The Minutemen are one bastard legacy of his; another is public gullibility in the face of absurd rumors and bogus "CNN" press releases ("Mexicans with Molotov cocktails" and the like) that are currently being blogged back and forth across dirty cyberspace. And we should not forget that Wilson was personal trainer, sage, and guru to Schwarzenegger in those early days of 2003 and 2004 when Arnie was praising the Minutemen as "heroes." (The Gubernator, of course, has since been reprogrammed to the political center by Maria Shriver and her technicians.)
But the Wilson legacy also includes an important, if more complex, responsibility for the pattern of urban growth in the San Diego region that now collides so catastrophically with wildfire. As a so-called liberal Republican, even "green" San Diego mayor during the 1970s and early 1980s, he was the chief architect of an enduring system of trade-offs, elite alliances, and sleights of hand that has simultaneously gentrified the downtown area at the expense of the poor and overrun much of San Diego's countryside with pyrophiliac gated suburbs and elite estates -- all the while winning accolades for state-of-the-art "growth management."
In the wake of the auto-da-fé of the city's old guard in the early 1970s (including the arrest and conviction of its two most powerful business figures), Wilson -- initially allied with wealthy Democrats -- skillfully overhauled a geriatric City Hall and soothed the alienation of angry neighborhood homeowners. He slowed piecemeal growth at the urban periphery, which impressed the Sierra Club and environmental voters, although the real logic behind these moves was to transfer control over metropolitan growth from smaller developers to giant companies with the financial resources to undertake the phased construction of upscale suburbs and edge cities.
Wilson's 1976 masterstroke, however, was to horse-trade development rights along the city's northern flanks for new investment in the downtown's faltering redevelopment scheme. Thus, he bartered the beautiful mesas across Interstate 5 from the University of California, San Diego, to (fellow statue) Ernest Hahn (who promptly constructed "University City") in exchange for the latter's agreement to redevelop Horton Plaza downtown. A similar quid pro quo was negotiated for the development of an adjacent "protected" open space as the Pardee Company's "North City West."
These were not just a set of ad hoc deals but a consistent template for an unmatched fusion of real estate and politics. The typical American big-city pattern is chronic competition and political friction between downtown interests and edge developers; in San Diego, by contrast, Wilson brought the suburban builders downtown and so created a unitary and powerful growth machine which, in turn, has greased his wheels and those of his many protégés and successors. (Indeed, Wilson's reputation as the "strongest mayor in San Diego history" is attested by the continued zeal with which all white, male Republicans, including the present mayor and his predecessor, profess loyalty to his achievements.)
This hypertrophying of developer power, which Wilson institutionalized and willed to future generations, has easily survived small popular insurrections against the impact of sprawl and congestion, just as it has surmounted unremitting scandal and corruption in local politics. Pete Wilson's successors have specialized in giving away one priceless city asset after another -- the former Naval Training Center, the Broadway pier, the Fairbanks Ranch, Petco Park, among many others) to the same small elite of billionaires. They are even discussing privatizing the management of San Diego's incomparable Balboa Park.
The imbalance of power is greater yet at the county scale. In the wake of the last round of firestorms in 2003, a grassroots alliance of environmentalists and old-time rural residents tried to slow the subdivision and trophy-home juggernaut by limiting residential density to one home per 100 acres: an initiative inspired by the famous precedent of Oregon's Willamette Valley. They were, however, utterly crushed at the polls (65% to 35%) by a flood of developer money, which disguised itself in ads on television as the voice of embattled "small farmers."
More recently, on the very eve of the new firestorms, county supervisors endorsed a so-called "shelter in place" strategy that will permit developers to build in the rugged, high-fire-risk backcountry without having to provide the secondary roads needed to ensure safe evacuation. Instead residents would be encouraged to stay in their "fire resistant" homes while fire-fighters defended the perimeter of their cul-de-sac. As scores of fire experts and survivors have pointed out in angry op-ed columns and blogs, this is a lunatic, if not homicidal, scheme that elevates developers' bottom-lines over human life. Those who have actually confronted 100-foot-high firestorms, driven by hurricane-velocity winds, know that the developer slogan -- "It's not where you build, but how you build" -- is a deadly deception.
Meanwhile, the new fire cataclysm seems to be rewarding the very insiders most responsible for the uncontrolled building and underfunded fire protection that helped give the Santa Ana winds their real tinder. While conservative ideologues now celebrate San Diego's most recent tragedy as a "triumph" of middle-class values and suburban solidarity, the business community openly gloats over the coming reconstruction boom and the revival of a building industry badly shaken by the mortgage crisis. And the Union-Tribune -- like London papers after the slaughter that was the battle of the Somme in 1915 -- eulogizes the very generalship (all Republicans, of course) that led us into disaster. I suppose these heroes already envision their statues in Horton Plaza.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2007 - 16:09
SOURCE: LAT (9-28-07)
The effort by some California Republicans to alter the way the state's electoral votes are distributed in presidential elections has been miraculously resurrected.
The proposal -- which would replace the winner-take-all system with an allocation of electoral votes by congressional districts -- had stalled last month in the wake of a strangely surreptitious financial contribution to the cause from a Rudy Giuliani backer. The proposal had also faced a ferocious assault from Democrats (especially Clintonians) who fought it with money, focus groups, radio ads and red-hot rhetoric, insisting that the proposed reform was nothing but a "power grab" by Republicans, a dangerous and blatant ploy designed to rig an election through procedural trickery.
But now it's back. Last week, a new group of experienced organizers said not only was it reviving the initiative but it would spend "whatever it takes" to get the proposal onto the June ballot. Democrats began crying foul again, worried that Republican electoral votes from California in the 2008 election could go from zero (under the winner-take-all system in this majority Democratic state) to as many as 19 (the number of districts that have elected GOP members of Congress).
But this partisan battle for short-term advantage between Democrats and Republicans in California ought not obscure the larger truth: The strange method of electing presidents under which we currently operate needs to be fixed. The way the system works is, in fact, subject to partisan manipulation that could be decisive in a close election. Right now, any state legislature could legally decide to apportion its state's electoral votes in almost any way it wants -- "winner take all" (the system currently used in most states), or by district (as happens in Maine and Nebraska), or in some other as-yet-undetermined fashion. In late November 2000, for instance, Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature seriously considered ignoring the disputed popular vote altogether and choosing electors by itself.
A bit of history suggests that this should not surprise us. The winner-take-all system of allocating electoral votes -- which we now accept as normal and which awards all of a state's electoral votes to the candidate who wins a majority of the popular vote in the state -- was itself the product of partisan maneuvers, put into place by politicians of different parties, including our revered founding father and democratic hero, Thomas Jefferson.
The Constitution drafted in Philadelphia in 1787 said (and says) nothing about how a state should choose its electors or apportion electoral votes. It leaves that decision to the legislature of each state. Not surprisingly, when political leaders were first trying to erect the institutions that the founding fathers had sketched on paper in Philadelphia, different states adopted different methods of choosing presidential electors. In some, the legislatures appointed electors by themselves (without holding any popular election); others developed a winner-take-all system in which they held "general ticket" elections, granting the winning candidate all of the state's electoral votes; still others allocated the electors by district. Numerous states changed systems from one election to the next.
The most progressive political thinking of the era favored the district plan -- because it would most closely link the preferences of voters to the selection of electors. As Jefferson observed, "All agree that an election by districts would be best, if it could be general."
Yet Jefferson proved more than willing to let partisan advantage trump what "would be best." As the 1800 election approached, his Republican supporters in Virginia, mindful that their opponents in the Federalist Party had won five of the state's electoral votes in 1796, replaced the district system with "winner take all" -- thereby guaranteeing Jefferson all of Virginia's electoral votes. (Massachusetts, the home of Jefferson's rival, John Adams, retaliated by entrusting the selection of electors to the Federalist-dominated legislature.) A few years later, Jefferson, as president, backed away from supporting a constitutional amendment mandating a district system throughout the nation -- a strategy that would have eliminated the potential unfairness of having a district approach in some states and the winner-take-all system in others -- because "winner take all" appeared to be benefiting his party.
Indeed, "winner take all" became, and endured as, the primary method of choosing electors precisely because of partisan dynamics. Regardless of the broader democratic principles at stake, dominant parties in nearly all individual states had embraced the short-run advantages of "winner take all" by 1830; since then, few states have had an appetite for dividing up their electoral votes while everyone else was using "winner take all" -- in part because doing so would appear to lessen the state's clout in national politics. (Democrats in Michigan made the change in the 1890s and were severely punished for their pains after Republicans regained control of the state legislature.)
National efforts to impose a district plan (or a similar system that would allocate electoral votes in proportion to the distribution of the popular vote within a state) have occasionally garnered widespread support (several times winning passage through one branch of Congress), but, so far, partisan opponents of such a change have successfully prevented such a constitutional amendment from receiving the necessary two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress.
All of which has left us with a winner-take-all system that was never voted on or designed as a matter of national policy and has numerous intrinsic defects (such as transforming presidential elections into nonevents in the many states where candidates don't bother to campaign because the outcome is not in doubt). We are also left with a constitutional framework that remains vulnerable to partisan machinations. That framework, created by men of the 18th century who could barely imagine mass political parties, permits the rules of the game to be changed in midstream by any one state or any collection of states. The largest states, of course, would be particularly inviting targets.
If the Republicans truly believe that it would be fairer and more democratic to choose electors by district, then instead of introducing such plans piecemeal in states where they would benefit, they should introduce a constitutional amendment to create a national district system -- one that would apply to Texas and South Carolina as well as California. And if the Democrats truly want to prevent procedural "power grabs," they should sign on to such a proposal -- or offer a "proportional plan" or (better yet) actively back a national popular election that would eliminate the electoral college altogether.
If both parties worked together on such legislation, jointly committing themselves to remedy a design flaw in our Constitution, they might even succeed in dissipating a bit of the cynicism that the electorate so frequently expresses about political parties that seem far more interested in their own welfare than the fate of the nation.
Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2007 - 15:33
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (11-1-07)
It is not remarkable that Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress and its US enablers such as Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, John Hannah, David Wurmser, Scooter Libby, Richard Perle, Michael Rubin, Abram Schulsky, etc., should have been running a sting on US intelligence (and most of them have never even been investigated for criminal activity).
What is sad is that we pay $43 billion a year for intelligence, and intelligence analysis should have been about avoiding being stung, not about gullibly buying the horse manure and labeling it caviar to be consumed at all Washington's best cocktail parties.
Perle and Wolfowitz were big advocates in the 1970s of a Team B approach to intelligence on the Soviet Union, whereby you constitute a group of people to look again at the CIA estimates and see if you couldn't find evidence for a darker, more pessimistic picture.
It is obvious that would you actually need is a Team B that is skeptical from the Left.
Daily Kos, Talkingpointsmemo, Eschaton, many others listed below on the libads blogroll, and I, volunteer to do it for free. Is Washington listening?
First item: Let's Team B what is being said in the released official US intelligence on Iran.
It would be easy.
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2007 - 22:41