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: US Politics Today/The Naked Historian (1-23-08)
Hamas militants used explosives first, then Palestinian bulldozers cleaned the path for walkers, bike riders and donkeys. After 7 months of standoff between Israel and Hamas-led Gaza and 7 days of sealed border crossings, residents took their fate into their own hands and helped the militants literally blow their way into Egypt to buy groceries. The cement border wall separating Egypt from Gaza is a sensitive place and is heavily guarded by Israel, but most of the guards on both sides of the border seemed disinterested or bewildered by the menagerie. After a while, Egyptian forces gave up keeping the hole in the border plugged. In less than 24 hours, Palestinians by the thousands had replenished their cooking oil, stocked up on cigarettes and headed back over the border to wait for the lights to go back on, while the international community wagged their fingers at the IDF. The topic of Israeli-Palestinian relations is a mainstay of hundreds of chat rooms and blogs, but the Egyptian-Gaza relationship is seldom mentioned for fear of driving an ethnic wedge between the two peoples.
Gaza has never been a peaceful place in history, and the turmoil predates the biblical misfortune of Samson being delivered up in bondage by his lover, Delilah. The Territory is strategic for its position along the coastal road that connected Egypt with Syria in the north, and thanks to its international character it often drew a great amount of refugees fleeing political turmoil. It changed hands several times before falling to the Ottomans in 1517- after that, the political identity of the Gazans was directed toward Egypt first, and the Ottomans second. Interestingly, it was Great Britain that drove a literal wedge between Egypt and the rest of the crumbling Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century with the construction of the Suez Canal. After that, Egyptians began to look at anything beyond the Sinai Peninsula as external territory yet to be added to Egypt proper.
World War I brought an end to the Ottoman Empire, and the vast expanse was mostly partitioned between the two colonial powers of Britain and France. Because Egypt to the west was already territorially complete and semi-autonomous in the 19th century, it emerged after the war as a sovereign country with an eastern border that ended at the Gaza Strip, and from there Great Britain administered the entire territory as Palestine. During this period that ended with the 1948 emergence of Israel, the Gazans watched the Jewish dominance in the region expand in leaps and bounds while the British either didn't care or couldn't understand the demographic changes that would eventually make a peace settlement there close to impossible.
Enter the Egyptians. Once it became clear on the eve of World War II that the Jewish lands would soon declare statehood, Arabs within the mandate began to stage attacks on the British administration- and often these were conducted from safety of Egypt beyond the border. With the advent of the UN on the scene in 1947 a partition into Palestinian and Jewish territories was suggested as a first step to statehood. The Arabs rejected it, and when the Israelis declared independence in 1948, the "First Arab-Israeli War" was launched from Egypt. Most of the brunt of the fighting was born by the Palestinians who lived between the powers, and since then, this position has served to disadvantage the Gazan Palestinians considerably.
The Egyptians, despite Nasser's polemics about Arab Nationalism, never warmed to the Gaza Palestinians, although the territory was theirs, finally, to administer after 1948. The territory was never annexed into Egypt proper and the population was never given Egyptian passports. Nasser understood the public relations value of a martyred people and he misused it to advance his calls for unity in the Arab world. Even after he rallied the Arabs to his cause, the Palestinians in Gaza never enjoyed any of the rewards of being part of that "Arabism". Instead, their territory was used as a launch pad for armed attacks against Israel, and the more they suffered with each military retaliation from Israel, the more they fed into Nasser's propaganda machine.
For this reason Gaza is considerably more run-down and poverty-stricken than West Bank Palestine, and it also explains how Hamas was able to wrest control of the government so easily. With every day, the West Bank develops more in the direction of cooperation with Israel, while Gaza has fallen into nothing less than what is being called "the biggest prison camp" in the world.
The scene of Egyptian border guards reluctantly letting the Palestinians through a giant blast hole certainly sent shudders through Cairo, but there isn't much that the Egyptian government can afford to do. The sentiments of all Arabs are with the Palestinians in this case, so the most the government can do is practice disaster management. The border will be sealed up again- this time with Israeli cameras and guard towers- and the Gaza situation will likely disintegrate further unless Egypt rises to the opportunity to reverse its negative history vis a vis Gaza.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - 19:20
SOURCE: LAT (1-19-08)
A lively debate has developed in these pages and in the blogosphere about the viability of Barack Obama's politics of hope. Critics of Obama's promise to bring us together -- blue states and red, young and old, women and men, blacks and whites -- have described his vision as a naive pipe dream that would be dead on arrival if he were elected president.
Central to the critique is the claim that Obama's message flies in the face of U.S. history, that partisanship is, as one critic put it, "the natural condition of politics." Zero-sum, "I'm right, you're wrong" battles are fundamental to the republic. From the beginning of our history, so the argument goes, an Obama-like message has been a rhetorical veneer designed to obscure the less-attractive reality of irreconcilable division and an inherently adversarial party system.
While you can certainly marshal evidence to support this interpretation, very few of the so-called founding fathers (save perhaps Aaron Burr) would agree with it. And the first four presidents -- George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison -- would regard it as a perversion of all that they wished the American republic to become.
The watchword for all the founders was not "the people" but "the public," which they understood to mean the collective interest of the citizenry, more enduring than the popular opinion of fleeting majorities. The great evil, they all agreed, was "faction," which meant narrow-minded interest groups that abandoned the public in favor of their own sectarian agendas, or played demagogue politics with issues in order to confuse the electorate.
Take, for example, two of the classic texts of the founding era. Here is how Madison begins Federalist No. 10: "Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control faction," which he goes on to describe as "this dangerous vice."
And here is how Washington put it in his Farewell Address: The spirit of party "agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection." Sound familiar?
Jefferson is somewhat tricky on this score, because he, along with Madison, did create the first political party, known initially as Republicans but -- this is tricky too -- soon to morph into Democrats. But Jefferson could never admit, even to himself, that he was a political partisan because it violated the core definition of republicanism (i.e. res publica, public things) and the central political legacy of the American founding.
In fact, Jefferson made two of the most eloquent statements against party politics. "If I must go to heaven in a party," he claimed, "I prefer not to go at all." And in his first inaugural address, he stunned his partisan supporters by observing that "we are all Federalists, we are all Republicans."
Indeed, all the prominent founders regarded the bipartisan ideal as the essence of political virtue. Adams carried the ideal to such a length that he regarded his defeat in the presidential election of 1800 as evidence that he had so eschewed partisanship that he never abandoned the public interest for his own political gain....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - 01:43
SOURCE: Seattle Times (1-21-08)
As a backdrop to this year's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observance, Sen. Barack Obama has unleashed the mobilizing power of hope and raised expectations that America's dreadful years of racial apartheid may be coming to a close.
On his 39th birthday, another African American "in the heart-changing business" put the politics of hope in very personal terms: "If I didn't have hope, I couldn't go on," the Rev. Dr. King said.
In 1968, a cataclysmic time of upheaval, violence and polarization, what King hoped for was that Americans would put aside cynicism and defeatism to form a multiracial coalition to shift the country's resources from militarism and war to ending poverty in our lifetimes. He called it the Poor People's Campaign.
As we celebrate the late civil-rights leader's 79th birthday, the parallels and contrasts to the present deserve our attention, especially since moments of hope come rarely and do not last long.
From 1955 to 1965, King helped to create a powerful interracial coalition to pass the civil-rights and voting-rights acts. But by 1968, many considered King's strategy of nonviolence and interracial organizing outdated, and his goal of a beloved community impossible. When King condemned the war in Vietnam as a misguided, morally wrong, imperialist adventure, The New York Times editorialized that "King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people."
A bipartisan, anti-communist coalition of Democrats and Republicans had dragged the nation into a never-ending cycle of death in Southeast Asia. Until that stopped, King said, the U.S. could never exert moral leadership in the world nor alleviate poverty at home. He was virtually called a traitor for taking this stand. That may sound all too familiar today to Obama and others trying to get us out of the quagmire of Iraq.
Condemnations of King grew apace as he campaigned to bring poor people to sit in at the seat of government in Washington, D.C. He also joined a strike of 1,300 sanitation workers for union rights in Memphis. Constantly threatened with death, King felt under siege, yet continued to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless. He believed that ordinary people, when organized, could exercise extraordinary power.
King's moment of hope passed all too quickly, nearly 40 years ago, when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
It was a time of desperation much like our own. The gut-wrenching atrocities of the Bush administration in Iraq, its failure in New Orleans, and its disregard for constitutional rights have convinced many people that government cannot possibly do the right thing.
In defiance of the cynicism of our times, Obama says Americans can unite to move the country in a better direction. Obama is not willing to wait; he understands, like King, "the fierce urgency of now."
To take even incremental steps to rectify the disasters of the Bush regime, Obama must build a mighty movement. But we should be wary of entreaties (by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others) for "bipartisanship." We do not need more of the centrist politics that have led us into countless wars and gilded the rich.
To sustain the politics of hope, we still need King's vision of a coalition and a program that transcends the entrenched interests of wealth and power in both parties.
We still need to shift the country's resources to address the interrelated and international problems of racism, poverty and war, climate change and a host of other issues.
In the global economy of rich and poor, we still need King's "revolution of values" that would cause us to "shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society."
Neither Obama nor any other leading Democrat has yet promised to take us anywhere near King's demands for a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power. It is exciting to see this very hopeful moment in our political life, but even those politicians with the best intentions may not take us very far without a grass-roots coalition and movement making demands. King understood this and always tried to build that pressure.
Perhaps Obama's candidacy can help us launch a renewed popular movement to put human needs and an end to war at the core of our politics. That would be a politics of hope truly worthy of this country's promise to ensure that all people can pursue life, liberty and happiness, and to actually have a chance to obtain these goals.
That would be a politics of hope worthy of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - 21:42
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (1-22-08)
Why is the Middle East so at odds with modern life, laggard in everything from literacy to standard of living, from military prowess to political development?
A profound new book by Philip Carl Salzman, professor at McGill University, with the deceptively plain title Culture and Conflict in the Middle East (Prometheus), offers a bold and original interpretation of Middle Eastern problems.
An anthropologist, Salzman begins by sketching out the two patterns of rule that historically have dominated the Middle East: tribal autonomy and tyrannical centralism. The former pattern, he argues, is distinctive to the region and key to understanding it. Tribal self-rule is based on what Salzman calls balanced opposition, a mechanism whereby those Middle Easterners living in deserts, mountains, and steppes protect life and limb by relying on their extended families.
This immensely intricate and subtle system boils down to (1) each person counting on paternal relatives (called agnates) for protection and (2) equal-sized units of agnates confronting each other. Thus, a nuclear family faces off against another nuclear family, a clan faces a clan, and so on, up to the meta-tribal level. As the well-known Middle Eastern adage sums up these confrontations, "I against my brother, I and my brothers against my cousins, I and my brothers and my cousins against the world."
On the positive side, affiliation solidarity allows for a dignified independence from repressive states. Negatively, it implies unending conflict; each group has multiple sworn enemies and feuds often carry on for generations.
Tribal autonomy has driven Middle Eastern history, as the great historian Ibn Khaldun observed over six centuries ago. When a government faltered, large tribal confederations would form, leave their arid badlands and seize control of the cities and agricultural lands. Having seized the state, tribes exploited their power unabashedly to forward their own interests, cruelly exploiting their subject population, until they in turn faltered and the cycle started anew.
Salzman's tour de force lies in updating Ibn Khaldun, demonstrating how the dual pattern of tribal self-rule and tyrannical centralism continues to define life in the Middle East, and using it to explain the region's most characteristic features, such as autocracy, political mercilessness, and economic stagnancy. It accounts, likewise, for the war of annihilation against Israel and, more generally, Islam's "bloody borders" – the widespread hostility toward non-Muslims.
The dual pattern even explains key aspects of Middle Eastern family life. The imperative to aggregate more agnates than one's neighbors, Salzman argues, means developing tactics to outnumber their male progeny. This has several implications:
This last point suggests that balanced opposition largely accounts for the well-known Middle Eastern custom of "honor killing," whereby brothers murder sisters, cousins murder cousins, fathers murder daughters, and sons murder mothers. Significantly, the woman's indiscretions are tolerated within the family and lead to murders almost only when they become known outside the family.
More broadly, balanced opposition means the Middle East lacks abstract principles by which to measure actions "against general criteria, irrespective of the affiliation of particular actors." Instead, intense particularism requires a family member to support a closer relative against a farther one, regardless of who may be at fault. Tribesmen and subjects, not citizens, populate the region. That most Middle Easterners retain this us-versus-them mentality dooms universalism, the rule of law, and constitutionalism. Trapped by these ancient patterns, Salzman writes, Middle Eastern societies "perform poorly by most social, cultural, economic, and political criteria." As the region fails to modernize, it falls steadily further behind.
It can advance only by breaking the archaic system of affiliation solidarity. "This is possible not through the replacement of traditional groups by newly conceived groups [such as political parties], but by the replacement of groups by individuals." Individualism will make headway among Middle Easterners, however, only when "what they are for is more important than whom they are against."
That fundamental change may take decades or even centuries to accomplish. But Salzman's deep analysis makes it possible to understand the region's strange affliction and to identify its solution.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - 20:33
SOURCE: Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH blog) (1-22-08)
Lately it has been said that the Arabs are in a panic over the growing power of Iran. We are told that Arab rulers so fear the rise of Iran that this fear has eclipsed all others—it’s the sum of all fears. And it’s making a new Middle East
That is what David Brooks, New York Times columnist, wrote last November: “Iran has done what decades of peace proposals have not done—brought Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. together. You can go to Jerusalem or to some Arab capitals and the diagnosis of the situation is the same: Iran is gaining hegemonic strength over the region.” Martin Indyk of the Saban Center used the same language in a November interview. Iran, he said, was making “a bid for hegemony in the region.”
The Sunni Arab states, and…Israel, suddenly found that they were on the same side against the Iranians. And so that created a strategic opportunity which the [Bush] administration has finally come to recognize, and that’s, more than anything else, what’s fueling the move to Annapolis.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Just last month, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad was invited to attend the summit of Arab Gulf rulers (the Gulf Cooperation Council) in Qatar. That was the first time an Iranian president had ever attended a GCC summit. Two weeks later, Ahmadinejad arrived Mecca, for the haj pilgrimage, at the invitation of Saudi King Abdullah. It was the first pilgrimage by an Iranian president since Iran’s revolution. And as any travel log of Arab and Iranian ministers will show, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
What game are the Gulf Arabs playing? Pretend for a moment that you are ruler of a mythical state called Gulfistan, and I am your national security adviser. You have asked me to prepare a memo on our strategic situation. Page one:
- Your Majesty, these are good times, thanks be to God. With oil at $100 a barrel, you are awash in cash. You have built mega-projects, you have bought new weapons, you have put us on the map. An American university and a French museum have opened branches here. Our skyline flashes glitz and prosperity. And there is no end in sight to the strong demand for our oil. The developed countries are addicted, and China and India need us more every day.
- We are enjoying this boom under the protection of the greatest power on earth. The United States has built a front line of bases right through the Gulf, and not far from your palace. The Americans are here to protect the oil, and as long as we keep it flowing, we need not fear any enemy.
- But Your Majesty doesn’t reward me with a mansion in Aspen to tell you only good news. True, it never rains in Gulfistan, but you wish to know if I see clouds on the horizon.
- I see two clouds. There is President Bush, who thinks God has placed him on earth to make peace in the “Holy Land,” and bring so-called democracy to the Arabs; and there is President Ahmadinejad, who believes God has put him here to spread his Shiite perversion, and who wants nuclear weapons to turn Persia into a great power.
- These are dangerous men who threaten our security. Your Majesty, wisdom dictates that we not chose sides in their quarrel. We need good relations with the Americans: they are our biggest customers, they will defend us against any foreign enemy, and the weapons they sell us make us look stronger than we are. But we need good relations with the Iranians too. Iran is so close, we can feel its breath on our faces, from OPEC to Iraq. Were Iran to subvert us, by inciting our Shiite minority or encouraging terror, it could burst our bubble.
- Your Majesty, a nuclear Iran is undesirable. The Persians are pushy; nuclear weapons would only make them more arrogant. For a moment, we thought the Americans would bomb them to stop them. A few of us privately urged them to do that. But the Americans can’t make up their minds. Some think Iran should be bombed. Some think Iran has no weapons program. Others share the view of General Abizaid, the former U.S. commander here. “Iran is not a suicidal nation,” he’s said. “Nuclear deterrence would work with Iran.” The Americans would destroy Iran if it touched our oil, which is ultimately their oil. But if Iran is careful, it might get the bomb.
- In this uncertain situation, we should balance America and Iran. On the one hand, let us reassure Iran that we are good neighbors. Tell the Iranians we will oppose aggression against them, and we won’t boycott their business or freeze their assets. On the other hand, let us reassure the Americans that we are good allies. Tell them we will stabilize oil prices and let them build their big bases off in the desert. We must keep Washington and Tehran equally close—and equally distant.
- Your Majesty, the Americans want you to shake the hands of Jews and give a hand to Palestinians, to support the so-called “peace process.” We are fortunate: God gave us all the oil and no Jews. He gave the Palestinians no oil and all the Jews. If you join the “peace process,” the Jew will be at your door, demanding “normalization,” and the Palestinian, as usual, will repay generosity with ingratitude. The wise course is to keep this an American problem. Say you will help, but set impossible conditions; come to their “peace conferences” but make no commitments. True, many of your people are moved by the plight of the Palestinians. But this won’t weigh on us, so long as they blame only the Jews and the Americans. If we avoid commitment, the blame will never fall on us.
- If we are wise, we can keep up this game until Bush and Ahmadinejad fade into history. I, your humble servant, will continue to act as your adviser in these sensitive matters. Perhaps, then, I might be rewarded with that small estate outside London? My youngest wife very much fancies it…
Now obviously I’ve simplified things here. There is no typical Arab Gulf state like Gulfistan—different Gulf states have different interests and different policies. That is why we have Gulf experts.
But this isn’t the place to explore what distinguishes, say, Kuwait from Saudi Arabia. The point I want to make is this:
We all know how little fuel there is right here to keep the Annapolis process going. At this point, Israelis and Palestinians are running on fumes. That’s why Martin Indyk said that most of the fuel for Annapolis would have to come from a grand anti-Iran coalition. But the reality is that the coalition never formed, and now even its premises have disintegrated. Assembling this coalition was bound to be difficult; after the NIE, it has become impossible.
We have been here before. Every few years, a prophet arises to proclaim a new Middle East, including Israel. In the 1990s, peace between Israel and the Palestinians was supposed to turn the Middle East into a zone of economic cooperation—including Israel. Then we were told that Iraq’s liberation would turn the Middle East into a zone of democracy—including Israel. A few months ago, we were told that the Iranian threat would turn the Middle East into a zone of political and military alliance—including Israel.
This latest new Middle East has had the shortest life of them all. Apparently, new Middle Easts just aren’t what they used to be.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - 17:23
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (1-21-08)
Is anyone else bothered by the seemingly constant reference to what “normally,” “usually,” “always,” and “never” happens in presidential primaries? News reports seem to be filled with these adverbs-of-certainty.
The contemporary era of presidential primaries began in 1972, when both parties made big changes to their nominee-selection rules. Those rules weren’t truly settled until 1976. With some minor, but not insignificant, adjustments (think: increasingly front-loaded primary calendar), the rules are essentially the same today.
So what kind of ‘dataset’ does this give us? How much can we glean from the history of presidential primaries?
Well, not much.
We want to compare this year’s contest to like contests in the past – i.e., nomination battles where there wasn’t a clear front-runner. Unlike contests – where there was a sitting president running for reelection or a ‘presumptive’ nominee all the way through – won’t tell us much about the dynamics of this year’s races.
For the Republicans, there’s 1976, when Ford and Reagan had a serious contest for the nomination all the way through to the convention. In 1980, Reagan was the front-runner, but let’s be generous and count this one as an open contest, as the elder Bush gave the Gipper a good run for his money. Next came a string of ho-hum nomination contests. In 1984, Reagan was the incumbent. In 1988, George Bush was the Vice President and presumptive nominee. In 1992, Bush was the incumbent. 1996 wasn’t much of a fight – Dole was the ‘presumptive’ nominee in that one. 2000 wasn’t terribly exciting either, though it may have been the most exciting contest since 1980. But that’s not saying much, as George W. Bush amassed such a large campaign war-chest so early in the cycle that he was vaulted to front-runner status rather quickly. In 2004, Bush Jr. was the incumbent.
So when we look to the past to understand what ‘usually,’ ‘never,’ or ‘normally’ happens in the Republican primary contest, we’re really only talking about 1 good comparison (1976) and 1 pretty good comparison (1980). Note that both involve the Republican legend Ronald Reagan, and both took place over 25 years ago.
For the Democrats, 1976 was open, and should count as a good comparison. In 1980, Carter was the incumbent. 1984 is a good case. 1988, a pretty good case, too. 1992 might seem to be a good comparison, but it’s not — that Democratic primary fight was actually quite different from this one. True, Clinton didn’t lock up the nomination until the primaries were well underway, but he never faced the kind of credible challenge that his wife faces from Obama.
In 1996, Clinton was the incumbent. In 2000, despite Bradley’s best attempt, Gore was clearly ‘presumptive.’ 2004 was exciting until Iowa elevated Kerry to front-runner status, and then it got pretty dull pretty fast — nothing like two credible nominees heading into Super-Duper Tuesday and likely beyond that.
So on the Democratic side, when we try to use history as a guide to what’s happening – and going to happen – this year, we’re talking about three good comparisons (1976, 1984, and 1988). That’s better than on the GOP side of things, but it’s still only barely useful ‘data.’
I’m one of those historically-oriented political scientists who, as a general rule, eagerly consults the historical record to understand what’s going on today. But when it comes to the presidential primaries, there’s simply not a whole lot to learn from history.
But please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not cynical or completely dismissive of those news reports that purport to tell you what “usually” happens in open primary contests. I just think they’re overreaching.
And I just think we’d do better to sit back, relax, and enjoy the state-by-state process of determining each party’s nominee. What the primary voters decide actually matters this time around. It doesn’t get any better than this! (That is, unless we find ourselves with the tantalizing prospect of brokered conventions…but more on that later, if it should come to pass.)
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - 15:07
SOURCE: Oxford University Press (OUP blog) (1-22-08)
So much attention has gone to the news of a woman frontrunner for her party’s presidential nomination that it has obscured the parallel story about how much of that news is being reported by women. Not long ago, women were struggling to gain their place in both politics and journalism. One the pioneers in that effort, Fran Lewine, covered six administrations at the White House as an Associated Press correspondent, and spent the rest of her career as an editor and producer at CNN, where she was still working at the time of her death, on January 19, at age 86.
Women reporters in Washington actually date back to before the Civil War, but in 1880, when the congressional press galleries set formal rules for press accreditation, they eliminated the twenty women who until then had been admitted. Although gender was unmentioned, the new rules defined legitimate reporters as those who filed their stories by telegraph to daily newspapers. Since women in those days were assigned to cover social news rather than breaking political events, their papers required them to mail in their stories rather than pay high telegraph tolls. Male publishers, editors, and reporters, considered political news men’s work.
When Eleanor Roosevelt became First Lady in 1933, she broke precedence by holding formal press conferences–and admitted only women reporters. This forced the major news agencies to bend their rules and hire women to cover her. However, it was not until World War II, when many of the men went overseas, that regular political reporting opened for such women as Helen Thomas, Sarah McClendon, and Eileen Shanahan, who stayed on the Washington beat even after the men returned to reclaim their jobs.
When public interest in the Kennedy White House skyrocketed, the AP’s Fran Lewine and UPI’s Helen Thomas trailed Jacqueline Kennedy so persistently that she once alerted the Secret Service that two suspicious-looking women were following her. Competitors on the job, Lewine and Thomas became allies in the movement to overturn the men-only restrictions of the Washington press corps’ “twin fortresses,” the National Press Club and Gridiron Club. At the Press Club’s “newsmaker luncheons,” visiting dignitaries took questions from the press, but women could cover these events only if they sat in a balcony and not dine with the men below, and left as soon as the luncheons had ended. After a long campaign, the Press Club finally admitted women members in 1971, followed in 1974 by the prestigious Gridiron, which annually entertained the president and other leaders of government. Women reporters picketed Gridiron dinners, until they devised the more effective tactic of staging Counter-Gridiron events that drained away the Gridiron’s prominent guests. In 1978, Fran Lewine also joined six other women who filed a class-action suit against the AP, prompting major revision in the way the wire service hired, assigned, paid and promoted women on its staff.
The bylines of women correspondents and columnists now appear so routinely that readers take it as only natural that women as well as men should have a voice in the news. But that happened only because women reporters fought to be heard.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - 14:24
SOURCE: Progressive Historians (blog) (1-19-08)
As I write this, the good and decent people of Istanbul are marking the first anniversary of Disgust. This is not the ordinary disgust felt when people perceive the thousand injustices of daily life; it was the emotion they felt when, on 19 January 2007, the Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink was gunned down in front of his newspaper's office in central Istanbul. This was no ordinary crime. It was predictable, preventable, and easily solved. The police, who could have forestalled it, did not. Instead, some of them gathered around the crime's teen-aged perpetrator after his capture and congratulated him. (Two of the officers got in trouble for this--not for having congratulated the murderer, but for having leaked the images to the media.) The Istanbul police were warned of the killer's departure from Trabzon, his hometown on the Black Sea, and they were told of his mission. Yet they did nothing. Several officers have been charged, but serious consequences seem unlikely. In the aftermath, banner-waving football fans in central Turkey expressed solidarity with Hrant Dink's killer, and a nationalist singer wrote a song commemorating the deed.
It's all in a day's work for Turkey's nationalist thugs, its police, and the good people who are forced to live with them. Anyone looking at today's Turkey has to think wistfully of Al Gore and the Nobel Prize. Certainly I respect the man and his global warming campaign. But the more I look at the Turkish political scene, and the more I dig into websites and read news items, the more it seems to me that I could find a hundred better candidates for the Nobel just by flying to Turkey and taking a week to meet people. I've said before that in Turkey"the average liberal has more courage than a thousand Americans," and if anything this seems an understatement. Real courage has to be measured against the degree of danger it faces, and nowhere is that danger more extreme than in the Republic of Turkey.
People of the American"left" (for so it must be punctuated--there is no real Left in this country) are fond of pinning the"fascist" label on people like George Bush and his crowd, while the right (not in quotes) has come up with Islamofascists as their catch-word. In fact, neither side has a clue. If you want to meet real fascists, go East, young man. There, in any Turkish town you care to name, you can find the genuine article in half an hour.
Turkish nationalism must be experienced to be believed. Americans, always in search of a new catch phrase, may talk about someone's"take no prisoners" attitude, but they never stop to think what the phrase really means. It's a military order: it says,"Attack and kill. Even if someone tries to surrender, kill him anyway." In Turkey the soldiers of the Right, whether they call themselves Grey Wolves, Idealists, or Commandos, truly take no prisoners. Trained in camps, closely allied with the police and the army, they confront a hostile world with guns at the ready, their minds alert to the slightest hint of disrespect, their eyes always on the lookout for liberal traitors. Hrant Dink was only the latest in their string of hits.
To the Turkish ultra-nationalist, enemies lurk everywhere. He knows this because he learns it in school. Were there Kurdish revolts? No, there were only religious outbreaks fomented by the British. That's what it says in Turkish history books. Do the Greeks plan to re-invade Turkey? Of course. Everyone wants to attack Turkey: they're just waiting for the chance. The Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol recounts the plays he and his schoolmates performed. Rather than Outlaws or Indians, their bad guys were always the English, the French, or the Greeks. I remember one fanatic, a shop-owner whom I met in Amasya, an historic town in Anatolia. When he perceived that I was a foreigner, I replied that, yes, I was an American."There are lots of Armenians in America," he muttered."Not that many," I replied, looking around for the exit. He thought about this a moment."In America you have Jews," he said with contempt."In Turkey, we have Armenians." I shivered a bit as I scurried out.
Intellectuals as well participate in the national paranoia. One incident in particular comes to mind. One summer in the 1960s I and some 200 other college graduates found ourselves at an Ivy League college, training to become Peace Corps English teachers in Turkey. Visiting lecturers instructed us in language, history, and culture. One of the topics, inevitably, was the Cyprus problem. One professor, whose last name was obviously Greek, briefed us on the history of the controversy. The next night we got the"Turkish" side.
The man chosen to deliver this address (I'll call him Turan) was one of the kindest and most delightful of men. A scholar perfectly bilingual in Turkish and English, as well as a polished translator into both languages, Turan moved with aplomb in the worlds of academe, business, and literature. The PCVs, myself included, came to know him well, for he had assisted in our training from the beginning. I was, quite simply, in awe of the man.
On the night appointed for Turan's address I took my place in the lecture hall and waited with great interest, my pencil and notebook at the ready. Turan was introduced. Then, smiling, he strode to the lectern and proceeded to deliver the most appalling speech I have ever heard outside the documentaries of Leni Riefenstahl. When he began, Turan pitched his voice slightly below a scream. There, for the next thirty minutes, it remained. Occasionally it dipped somewhat in pitch; more often it rose into a keening wail. Never did it present the slightest coherent argument for a"Turkish position" on the Cyprus problem. Turkish babies were starving; this was clear. Turkish houses were destroyed. Turkish women were being violated. Turkish men were slaughtered. And, yes, Turkish babies were still starving. As a speech, it was quite effective at one thing: it kept the question-and-answer period to a minimum. No one had the least interest in asking questions of someone who had spent the last half hour shrieking at us. Imagine a press conference post-Nuremberg:"Excuse me, Mr. Hitler: could you explain a bit more your position on the Jews?" Afterward, as we stood in line for coffee and cookies, I spied Turan with several embarrassed-looking Volunteers. He smiled at me and nodded, seemingly eager to talk. Somehow I managed a smile, but I knew that talking was out of the question. With my empty notebook in hand, I found a convenient exit.
Turan, of course, was a gentleman. A tone-deaf and rather obtuse gentleman, perhaps, but there was little chance that he would use a knife in the ribs as a political argument. Turkish fascists aren't like that. Codes of behavior don't count when the very survival of the State is in question. [Note: the leader of their party, the Nationalist Action Party, even has"state" as a first name: Devlet Bahceli.] There is, of course, the murder of Hrant Dink to serve as an example, but this past year has seen a rash of nationalist attacks against Kurds, liberals, and Christians. In Turkey not a day goes by that the State security and judicial apparatus don't make a mockery of common sense. To this is now added the incident of the Blood Flag.
In Kirsehir, which I remember as a rather nondescript town in central Anatolia, twenty-one high school students, boys and girls, met after school in the autumn of 2007. There, using blood from their pricked fingers, they dyed a Turkish flag and sent it as a gift to the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit. In an accompanying letter they declared their willingness to shed their blood, all of it, in the service of the nation. The General was delighted and moved."Truly," he declared,"we are a great nation."
Others weren't so sure. Mustafa Akyol, writing in the Turkish Daily News, compared this banner to the Blutfahne, or"blood flag", of the Nazis, a relic of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch which was carefully preserved and presented at Nazi Party rallies. And the physicians and public health authorities, always spoilsports in this sort of thing, weighed in with horror at the notion of so much blood being mingled in such unsanitary conditions. All in all, it was the kind of incident that is all too common in a country where police power and nationalism reign supreme.
In my last post, I opined that Turkey, given its present balance of political power, has no chance whatever of joining the EU. Indeed, they can only succeed if the European Union gives in and does away with all its requirements for the respect of human rights, and the necessity for elected officials to exert control over the police and armed forces. If they do that, no problem: the Turks will get in whenever they want. And who knows? It may happen.
It takes an Iraqi Kurd, however--in fact, an Iraqi Kurd transplanted to the United States and anointed with a Ph.D. in English--to expose the full absurdity of this quest. Sabah Salih, a Professor of English at Bloomsburg (State) University in Pennsylvania, delivers the goods in the December 25 edition of the Kurdistan Observer. He calls it"The World's New-Year Message to Turkey," and those of us who enjoy invective, served piping hot, are in his debt.
"Your nationalism," he begins,"or what’s more grandly referred to in Turkey as state or national ideology, continues to behave as though the world begins and ends with Ankara." He continues:
The problem with this chest-puffing nationalism is not just that it is outdated and autocratic and stuck in the same kind of mindset that gave us two world wars; it is rapidly turning the word Turk into an ugly word.
The high horse of jingoistic self-righteousness that you’ve been riding for all these years is good only at self-deception, but self-deception cannot be a substitute for reality.
To this there is nothing to add. But of course Dr. Salih will also talk about his people, the Kurds:
You’ve got to understand that the Kurd is a Kurd for exactly the same reasons that a Turk is a Turk; Kurds are neither mountain Turks, nor Turks of any kind--they never have been, they never will be. And did I hear you use the term “people of Kurdish origin”? This is definitely not as nasty as the other term, but, as we all know, this term too is designed to misrepresent the Kurdish situation. How could it be otherwise? Your nationalist DNA is all over it. It is yet one more reminder that you still cannot bring yourself to treat the Kurds the way you yourself expect to be treated.
We can draw two conclusions from your treatment of the Kurds: one is that you have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to democracy; and two, it is obvious to us that your nationalism has been the incubator of your Kurdish problem. You have given the Kurds no choice but to fight back--and, unless you start treating them decently, fighting back they will.
Of course, none of this is helped when George Bush, fool that he is, praises Turkey for its"vigorous democracy" and does everything he can to perpetuate the Kurdish war.
Going on a bombing spree against Kurdish villages may satisfy your appetite for bloodletting; unleashing hate on Kurdistan may even make you feel better. But this will only confirm what the Kurds have been saying all along about you: that the solution to the Kurdish problem lies not really with the Kurds but with you; continue with your racist mindset and the problem will become bigger and bigger. It has already engulfed one generation of Kurds and Turks alike. Do you really want another generation of your people to be consumed by this conflict, day in and day out asking what W. H. Auden aptly asked decades ago: “What do you think about . . . this country of ours where nobody is well?”
And at last he strikes at the heart of the matter:
And another thing: You want to join Europe? Beyond the obvious, have you asked yourself what Europe means? Europe is first and foremost a state of mind: the product of two hundred years of fighting against and rejecting and ridiculing the very nationalism that still defines your way of thinking. You ask the Kurds who have taken up arms against you to “repent” and surrender. But isn’t repentance, with its roots in religious orthodoxy and bigotry, the very opposite of what the European consciousness has been all about? For to repent is not just a matter of admitting guilt; it is also committing oneself to a type of thinking that belongs in dictatorships and theocracies, not democracies.
To which I can only say: Bravo.
Posted on: Monday, January 21, 2008 - 20:48
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (1-21-08)
Americans were shocked at the photographs of tortured Iraqi prisoners incarcerated at Abu Ghraib. They were horrified by the assault on Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant molested with the broken end of a broomstick by New York City police officers in August 1997. A decade earlier, they were horrified by revelations that New York police officers had used stun guns to coerce confessions from young Hispanic and African-American suspects in 1985 and 1986.
Our outrage is predictable because we reject the idea that democracies engage in torture. That's something authoritarian states do — in the words of a World War II poster, "the method of the enemy." But torture has been documented in many modern democracies, not just our own.
So why is torture still occurring in democracies? Just bad people in power? Sadists in the police? Human nature? Think again: Whenever we ask ourselves why something is still happening, it's a sign that something's wrong with the way we understand our past.
It is tempting to think of democracies as inherently less likely to torture than authoritarian states are. After all, the people elect democratic governments, and the people don't want to be tortured themselves. Even if we view democracy cynically, as a game in which elites take turns running things, we believe that it has a quiet gentleman's agreement — we don't torture you when we are in power, you don't torture us, and we'll keep it all tidy. However you cut it, we think that democracies are bargains in leniency, and that until recently they had little to do with torture.
But that view is incorrect as a matter of historical record. Indeed, democracies often set the pace in torture innovation. Legalized torture was a standard part of Greek and Roman republics, our ancient models of democracy. Roman judges used various tortures, most famously the short whips, ferula and scutica, to coerce confessions and get information. Torture was also a standard part of Italian republics like Venice and Florence, our other historical models of democracy. Those city-states adopted some of the same techniques as the inquisitors of the Roman Catholic Church. They often used the strappado, a technique in which guards tied a victim's hands behind his back, hoisted him from the ground by means of a hook and pulley, and repeatedly dropped him to the floor. The political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli was subjected to that process thrice. Before World War II, the British, the Americans, and the French all practiced torture: the French in Vietnam, the British in their mandate of Palestine, the Americans in the Philippines, not to mention what our police were doing in cities large and small. Police in democratic states used electrotorture, water torture, painful stress positions, drugs, and beatings. They did so sometimes on their own, sometimes in collusion with local citizens, and sometimes with the quiet approval, if not explicit authorization, of their governments. All this before the Central Intelligence Agency ever existed.
Our memory, however, usually starts with World War II. Torture was something done by the Nazis and then the Stalinists. The good news is that we made sincere and often effective efforts to prevent torture at home and to encourage human rights abroad — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The bad news is that we came to believe that no one on our side was ever a torturer. Never had been. Being a winner was all about being morally pure.
By torture I mean the systematic infliction of physical torment on detained, helpless individuals by state officials for police purposes: that is, for confession, information, or intimidation. No doubt one could slice torture in other ways, but whatever you want to call these practices, they have a long history in the world's democracies.
Let me be clear: The democratic record of torture is not as bad as that of authoritarian states. Nevertheless, from a scholar's perspective, the relation of torture to democracy requires an explanation. The question is not, Is torture compatible with democracy? Obviously it has been for some time. The questions are: Under what circumstances is torture compatible with democracy? Why were democracies such powerful innovators of torture?...
Posted on: Monday, January 21, 2008 - 19:17
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (1-21-08)
Martin Luther King will be honored today throughout America as a champion of racial justice and racial harmony. That is a pivotal legacy for the United States of America, which for 87 long years was built on the lawful enslavement of one race by another, and for another century practiced the lawful Apartheid of Jim Crow.
But he was not the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize only because of his work on civil rights and integration. He was also a profound thinker in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi on peace. Not peace in the abstract, but peace as a practical political tool. Not only peace as a social movement but peace as a method in international relations.
King critiqued the typical use of"peace" by politicians as a distant ideal toward which they are working, even while they bomb and massacre and slaughter. In his Christmas Sermon, December 24, 1967, King made this point:
' And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace.
What is the problem?
They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal.
We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.
All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.'
The reply to such an assertion from politicians, generals and others is that peace as method (rather than as distant ideal) is impractical. That the enemy is deadly and determined and will slaughter us if we attempt to deal with him through the method of peace.
But King came to this conclusion at the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union had the US targeted with thousands of nuclear warheads. He came to this conclusion when the Vietnam War was raging. He was not naive. He was not a babe in the woods. He was not an impractical dreamer. He was a seer, and he saw the end of war.
He saw the end of war not because war could never achieve any good. He recognized that it had in recent history accomplished what he called a"negative good," of, say, keeping us from having to live under the jackboot of a tyrant. But the sheer destructiveness of contemporary warfare began to raise doubts in his mind, even as a young man in the late 1950s, as to whether this instrumental use of war to achieve a negative good was any longer possible.
Let us just review American wars since King began to have those doubts. There was Vietnam, where the US lost 58,000 dead and tens of thousands more wounded, where it spent billions and as a result suffered from an inflationary spiral, and where it lost. It did not lose, as the Right fondly imagines, because of a stab in the back by weak-kneed civilian politicians.
The US lost in Vietnam because it fought on the wrong side of history, because it took up a French colonial project of suppressing Vietnamese Left Nationalism. The US killed perhaps as many as 2 million Vietnamese peasants, which surely counts as a genocide, all to no avail, because the war was poorly chosen. Ironically, Dwight Eisenhower had told the French to give up on a similar fruitless war in Algeria, because he could see that it could not be won and risked pushing the Algerians into the arms of the communists. Three or four years later Kennedy began getting us more deeply involved in precisely the same sort of war, succeeding the French. My guess is that it was because the North Vietnamese had already embraced communism; if they had been bourgeois nationalists like the Algerians, even Washington would have had more sense than to get involved. But what that generation of Cold Warriors could not see was that" communism" could often just be a banner for nationalism.
Then there were Reagan's covert wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Afghanistan. Reagan won temporarily in Nicaragua, at the price of running nun-killing death squads. But if you check, you'll see that Daniel Ortega is president of Nicaragua, and left-leaning regimes of the sort Reagan attempted to destabilize are in power in Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil. Reagan's covert wars in Latin America caused a lot of trouble, harmed a lot of people, and had no long term success. In part that is because politics wells up from social and economic conditions, and is not just the creation of some individual an imperial power installs in power.
As for Reagan's Jihad in Afghanistan, it clearly was a world-historical blunder. Had the communists stayed in power in Afghanistan, their regime would probably have just evolved after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 into a Kazakhstan-style state. Not a democracy, but stable enough and with schooling for all and an investment in development.
Instead, Reagan and his Saudi and Pakistani allies funneled the lion's share of their covert war aid to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the most radical of the Mujahidin leaders. They forced the Soviet Union out, and destroyed the Afghanistan communists, but the ultimate result was a) the rise of al-Qaeda and b) the rise of the Taliban.
Reagan won the Afghanistan war, but it was a Pyrrhic victory that came around to bite the US on the posterior on September 11.
So you have to ask whether any of these wars -- Vietnam, Nicaragua, or Afghanistan-- should have been fought. Either we lost, or the victory was temporary, or we contributed to a blowback that hit our society on 9/11.
And of course, then there is the Iraq War.
But first, let's consider what King said about the negative good a war might have accomplished in the past. It is from"Pilgrimage to Nonviolence" in Strength to Love, 1958:
' More recently I have come to see the need for the method of nonviolence in international relations.
Although I was not yet convinced of its efficacy in conflicts between nations, I felt that while war could never be a positive good, it could serve as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force. War, horrible as it is, might be preferable to surrender to a totalitarian system.
But now I believe that the potential destructiveness of modern weapons totally rules out the possibility of war ever again achieving a negative good.
If we assume that mankind has a right to survive then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. '
And given the dismal record of the failure of US wars since King wrote that in 1958, he may well have been prescient.
The Iraq War failed for many reasons, but one important cause was that contemporary warfare is too destructive to achieve political and nation-building goals. The destructiveness of the US war helped to provoke the various Iraqi insurgencies. The killing of 17 civilians at a protest in Falluja in April of 2003 was the beginning of the end of Falluja. In November and December of 2004, the US military damaged 2/3s of the city's buildings and emptied it of its population, except for the unknown number it killed (hundreds? thousands?)
And for all the subsequent frantic US military actions, the US has not put humpty dumpty back together again, and almost certainly cannot.
The narrative of the warmongers is that war has become ever more precise, ever more useful in achieving specific diplomatic and political goals.
Need to remove a dictator? Well here is some Shock and Awe.
Need to restore human rights? Here, destroy this city to save it.
Fighting terrorism? You just need a hundred thousand more troops with more M16s!
But actually the nonviolent means of dealing with the Saddam Hussein regime turn out to have been completely effective. The United Nations inspections had actually worked, something that no one in the United States or Britain seems to want to acknowledge, even with all we now know. The inspections really did force Saddam to dismantle his WMD programs and destroy his stockpiles. The economic sanctions were useless for regime change. But as a means of destroying Saddam's power to menace his neighbors, they were completely effective. Too effective, to the extent that they ended up harming children and civilians.
The 2003 Iraq War was not necessary if its goal was to remove the Saddam regime as a threat to US or regional security. Iraq had been disarmed and contained.
And, the 2003 Iraq War was not effective if the goal had been to restore civil society and bring democracy. Iraq lacked the essential social and political prerequisites for such a transition, and the US military is a military, not a police force.
Let us consider whether King wasn't right in 1958, and whether contemporary warfare isn't too destructive, too blunt an instrument to achieve even negative good any longer.
Far more al-Qaeda operatives have been busted through good police work than were ever captured on a battlefield. And, the brutality of the Iraq war has created hundreds of little Bin Ladens, as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak predicted it would.
Three main sorts of security challenges face the United States.
There is the rivalry with other nuclear powers, where war cannot be used as a tool of diplomacy because it would be far too destructive.
There is conflict between the US and small weak third world annoyances such as Iran. What the Iraq War should have taught us is that elective war is a horrible policy tool for dealing with such conflicts.
And there is the problem of terrorism, which cannot be fought with big conventional militaries. The attempt to do so just provokes insurgencies that grow potentially even more formidable.
Bush and Cheney keep imagining that they are in 1928 or 1942 or 1947. Their mindset is that of the first half of the twentieth century. They are men of the past.
Martin Luther King was a man of the future. He saw clearly that humankind has a choice. It is the choice between continuing to wage war, and surviving as a species. King was also a man in a hurry. He did not have much time. Neither do we.
It is time to wrap up the Iraq War and to, as carefully and deliberately as possible, end the US military presence in Iraq. It is not a Japan or a Germany after WW II, both of which feared the Soviet Union and so could put up with foreign bases as protection. Iraqis fear no one, such that they would accept permanent bases. The Middle East is a postcolonial region inhospitable to the humiliations of foreign domination, which its peoples struggled hard and long to end.
And it is time to take the elective war option off the table, with regard to Iran, and to the Sudan, and to Somalia, and all the others on the Neoconservative hit list.
War does not work. It is too destructive. It creates too much blowback, as with Afghanistan and al-Qaeda. It leaves too much of the city destroyed, that it meant to save, as with Falluja. It cannot midwife rights or democracy, it is too gross, too indiscriminate, too brutal for that purpose. It produces Abu Ghraib and Falluja, not Monticello.
The US needs a defensive military, insofar as it can contribute to protecting us from asymmetrical or conventional challenges. But launching a war against a country that did not attack us, that is immoral and stupid. Let's listen to Dr. King and never do that again.
Posted on: Monday, January 21, 2008 - 14:38
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (1-20-08)
Andrew Bacevich eviscerates the Iraq War party with this passionate and clear-sighted essay on 'the Surge to Nowhere' in WaPo. He points out that the real motivation behind last year's troop escalation was to avoid popular outrage building in the US electorate to the point where the troops were pulled out. He observes that the argument for the 'success' of the 'surge' is purely a tactical one. When viewed from the vantage point of grand strategy, the Iraq War is as much a failure as it has always been.
If someone came to you six years ago and said that for only $2 trillion, you could have for your colony a burned out country, a failed state, and a semi-permanent incubator of terrorism and hatred against the US, would you have ponied up the money? That's what you've got , and that it what it cost you. Detroit could have used some of that money. New Orleans could have used some of that money. Appalachia has lots of schools that need to be painted.
The argument could be made that Israel is safer with Saddam Hussein out of power. But that argument does not hold water. Current Iraqi leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr and Adnan Dulaimi are not less anti-Israel than Saddam, and it turns out he did not have WMD with which to attack Israel anyway. The Shiites of Iraq will certainly side with Hizbullah against Israel, which may actually mean that Israel is less secure now than before. Moreover, to have substantial turmoil on their doorstep just cannot be good for the Israelis.
You could argue that US petroleum corporations are now well placed to bid on Iraqi oil development. But what with doomsday cults planning a takeover of the petroleum facilities, it will be some time before it is safe for US corporations to operate in I raq. China and Holland (Shell) are being looked upon favorably by the Iraqi government as investors.
And anyway, if the US government had thrown the $2 trillion and more that Iraq will end up costing at green energy development, both we and the earth would have been far better off. At a time when the US military is paying 60,000 Sunni Arab Iraqis $300 a month each not to fight us, it is pretty hard to justify letting the US working class sink, without any government help, into penury and homelessness in the face of the mortgage crisis and the recession. The Iraq War may or may not be good for Houston. It is certainly bad for Iraq and for everyone else.
The current round of optimism about Iraq in the Washington press corps will eventually falter against the country's hard realities, just as have previous such rounds. Or maybe worrying about Iraq and continued US troop deaths there is so yesterday for the punditocracy in DC.
The optimism is a planted story, a sleight of hand produced by looking at tactics rather than at strategy, or by making comparative statements (Iraq has less violence today than it did in the volcanic period a year ago) which obscure absolute reality (Iraq is very unstable and dangerous).
What the snake oil merchants like Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol (both of them hard right Zionists) are really saying is that if you just give them $2 trillion more, boy do they have a deal on a neo-colony for you.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice-- can't get fooled again.
Posted on: Sunday, January 20, 2008 - 23:40
SOURCE: WaPo (1-20-08)
As the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom nears, the fabulists are again trying to weave their own version of the war. The latest myth is that the "surge" is working.
In President Bush's pithy formulation, the United States is now "kicking ass" in Iraq. The gallant Gen. David Petraeus, having been given the right tools, has performed miracles, redeeming a situation that once appeared hopeless. Sen. John McCain has gone so far as to declare that "we are winning in Iraq." While few others express themselves quite so categorically, McCain's remark captures the essence of the emerging story line: Events have (yet again) reached a turning point. There, at the far end of the tunnel, light flickers. Despite the hand-wringing of the defeatists and naysayers, victory beckons.
From the hallowed halls of the American Enterprise Institute waft facile assurances that all will come out well. AEI's Reuel Marc Gerecht assures us that the moment to acknowledge "democracy's success in Iraq" has arrived. To his colleague Michael Ledeen, the explanation for the turnaround couldn't be clearer: "We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it." In an essay entitled "Mission Accomplished" that is being touted by the AEI crowd, Bartle Bull, the foreign editor of the British magazine Prospect, instructs us that "Iraq's biggest questions have been resolved." Violence there "has ceased being political." As a result, whatever mayhem still lingers is "no longer nearly as important as it was." Meanwhile, Frederick W. Kagan, an AEI resident scholar and the arch-advocate of the surge, announces that the "credibility of the prophets of doom" has reached "a low ebb."
Presumably Kagan and his comrades would have us believe that recent events vindicate the prophets who in 2002-03 were promoting preventive war as a key instrument of U.S. policy. By shifting the conversation to tactics, they seek to divert attention from flagrant failures of basic strategy. Yet what exactly has the surge wrought? In substantive terms, the answer is: not much.
As the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province abates, the political and economic dysfunction enveloping Iraq has become all the more apparent. The recent agreement to rehabilitate some former Baathists notwithstand ing, signs of lasting Sunni-Shiite reconciliation are scant. The United States has acquired a ramshackle, ungovernable and unresponsive dependency that is incapable of securing its own borders or managing its own affairs. More than three years after then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice handed President Bush a note announcing that "Iraq is sovereign," that sovereignty remains a fiction.
A nation-building project launched in the confident expectation that the United States would repeat in Iraq the successes it had achieved in Germany and Japan after 1945 instead compares unfavorably with the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina. Even today, Iraqi electrical generation meets barely half the daily national requirements. Baghdad households now receive power an average of 12 hours each day -- six hours fewer than when Saddam Hussein ruled. Oil production still has not returned to pre-invasion levels. Reports of widespread fraud, waste and sheer ineptitude in the administration of U.S. aid have become so commonplace that they barely last a news cycle. (Recall, for example, the 110,000 AK-47s, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets intended for Iraqi security forces that, according to the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon cannot account for.) U.S. officials repeatedly complain, to little avail, about the paralyzing squabbling inside the Iraqi parliament and the rampant corruption within Iraqi ministries. If a primary function of government is to provide services, then the government of Iraq can hardly be said to exist....
In only one respect has the surge achieved undeniable success: It has ensured that U.S. troops won't be coming home anytime soon. This was one of the main points of the exercise in the first place. As AEI military analyst Thomas Donnelly has acknowledged with admirable candor, "part of the purpose of the surge was to redefine the Washington narrative," thereby deflecting calls for a complete withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. Hawks who had pooh-poohed the risks of invasion now portrayed the risks of withdrawal as too awful to contemplate. But a prerequisite to perpetuating the war -- and leaving it to the next president -- was to get Iraq off the front pages and out of the nightly news. At least in this context, the surge qualifies as a masterstroke. From his new perch as a New York Times columnist, William Kristol has worried that feckless politicians just might "snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory." Not to worry: The "victory" gained in recent months all but guarantees that the United States will remain caught in the jaws of Iraq for the foreseeable future.
Such success comes at a cost. U.S. casualties in Iraq have recently declined. Yet since Petraeus famously testified before Congress last September, Iraqi insurgents have still managed to kill more than 100 Americans. Meanwhile, to fund the war, the Pentagon is burning through somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion per week. Given that further changes in U.S. policy are unlikely between now and the time that the next administration can take office and get its bearings, the lavish expenditure of American lives and treasure is almost certain to continue indefinitely.
But how exactly do these sacrifices serve the national interest? What has the loss of nearly 4,000 U.S. troops and the commitment of about $1 trillion -- with more to come -- actually gained the United States?...
Posted on: Sunday, January 20, 2008 - 23:33
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (1-18-08)
It is now conventional wisdom that the leading three candidates for the GOP nomination each represent one of the big three factions of the party - McCain represents the strong foreign policy hawks, Huckabee the evangelical social conservatives, and Romney the pro-business/corporate power. What is missing in all of this is the old idea of “small government” - unless you count Ron Paul’s fourth place showing in most of the states so far as creating a “big four.”
However, the three leaders all represent some type of “bigger government” and no one government vision is bigger than Mitt Romney’s. Consider the following exchange from CBS News’ Face the Nation on January 13:
“BOB SCHIEFFER: You’re talking about investing in science, and yet when we’ve just passed a law that has told the automakers to make these cars more fuel efficient, the idea being to make the country more energy independent, you were against that.
MITT ROMNEY: What I’m–what I’m against is saying to the automobile industry, `Here, you have this big problem. It’s an unfunded mandate. We’–I’d like to make sure that if we’re going to put a mandate to improve fuel economy on cars–and I want to see our average fuel efficiency go up, up, up–that’s important to all of us for energy independence–but I want the federal government to be part of the solution rather than mandating a change that the domestic auto industry is going to suffer from without providing any help. And the preferred way of providing help is in helping develop the new technologies and helping share the cost of that. But there are other ways, too, that we have to keep our mind open to.
But we simply can’t sit back and say, `Well, too bad for Michigan. They’ve got these new, big mandates that they’re going to get laid on them. It’ll really kill the domestic industry.’”
I had to go check the transcript to be sure, but there it was. Governor Romney is using the old Republican attack on an “unfunded mandate” in a novel context with startling ramifications.
Republicans have been against “unfunded mandates” for thirty years, and the construction has entirely negative connotations in Republican circles. As a policy diagnosis, the term appears to have roots in Reagan’s promise of a “New Federalism,” and it became central to the platform when a federal prohibition on “unfunded mandates” was one of the planks of the Contract with America. The trope has a deep Republican pedigree.
In its classic sense “unfunded mandate” refers to a federal law that imposes duties on state or local governments without providing the resources necessary to carry out these duties. In the 1990s, the Republicans ruthlessly attacked many “unfunded mandates” – like the Brady Bill giving local law enforcement a requirement to enforce federal gun laws without receiving resources to cover that enforcement.
This is not to say that Republicans always live up to their rhetoric. Recently, the Republicans have been more willing to impose certain types of duties on local authorities without paying for them. No Child Left Behind does not fully fund the educational programs and tests that states are now required to administer. New calls for tougher local law enforcement of federal immigration laws have not always been joined with promises to provide local authorities with the money for performing these new duties.
Romney’s suggestion, however, is that imposing a “mandate” on an industry (i.e. higher CAFÉ standards on automakers) without providing funds for meeting that requirement is an “unfunded mandate.” I thought we used to call these “mandates” “regulation,” and there has never been a guarantee that you will get reimbursed all the costs of being in compliance with the law.
It is true that the cost of being in compliance with the law is often passed on to the rest of us as higher prices, but generally speaking, industries facing new regulations try (and in time succeed) to meet the new regulations in the most cost effective way possible so as to keep competing with rivals (both inside and outside the U.S.) at an appropriate price point. If a federal subsidy covered the costs of meeting each new regulation, would industries have any reason to do the research that generates these efficiencies?
Romney appears to say that the government should not be able to regulate an industry unless government is willing to offer direct payments to cover the costs of the regulation. Romney’s invocation of “unfunded mandates” suggests that this is a general principle that should be applied to all regulations.
If government wants to set a minimum wage, it should have to pay employers the difference between the old prevailing wage and any newly mandated floor. If government wants to hold industries responsible for safe working conditions, government should be willing to pay out to employers the costs of any new safety equipment. If government wants to make industries cover employees’ family and medical leave necessities, government should have to pay back the industry for the costs of the employees’ absences.
Strangely enough the last example is what is done in some of the “nanny” states of the E.U. whom Republicans claim to disdain.
This little statement may be a slip of the tongue, but thinking through its ramifications says a great deal about the mindset of some of today’s Republicans. They like to suggest that Republican v. Democrat = Small Government v. Big Government. However, that is not at all true. Both parties now advocate some form of “big government,” the only question is who will this big government look out for - the classic, “cui bono?” I think we have Romney’s answer.
Posted on: Saturday, January 19, 2008 - 15:09
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-17-08)
The other day, as we reached the first anniversary of the President's announcement of his"surge" strategy, his"new way forward" in Iraq, I found myself thinking about the earliest paid book-editing work I ever did. An editor at a San Francisco textbook publisher hired me to"doctor" god-awful texts designed for audiences of captive kids. Each of these"books" was not only in a woeful state of disrepair, but essentially D.O.A. I was nonetheless supposed to do a lively rewrite of the mess and add seductive"sidebars"; another technician then simplified the language to"grade level" and a designer provided a flashy layout and look. Zap! Pow! Kebang!
During the years that I freelanced for that company in the early 1970s, an image of what I was doing formed in my mind -- and it suddenly came back to me this week. I used to describe it this way:
The little group of us -- rewriter, grade-level reducer, designer -- would be summoned to the publisher's office. There, our brave band of technicians would be ushered into a room in which there would be nothing but a gurney with a corpse on it in a state of advanced decomposition. The publisher's representative would then issue a simple request: Make it look like it can get up and walk away.
And the truth was: that corpse of a book would be almost lifelike when we were done with it, but one thing was guaranteed -- it would never actually get up and walk away.
That was in another century and a minor matter of bad books that no one wanted to call by their rightful name. But that image came to mind again more than three decades later because it's hard not to think of America's Iraq in similar terms. Only this week, Abdul Qadir, the Iraqi defense minister, announced that"his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq's borders from external threat until at least 2018." Pentagon officials, reported Thom Shanker of the New York Times, expressed no surprise at these dismal post-surge projections, although they were"even less optimistic than those [Qadir] made last year."
According to this guesstimate then, the U.S. military occupation of Iraq won't end for, minimally, another ten years. President Bush confirmed this on his recent Mideast jaunt when, in response to a journalist's question, he said that the U.S. stay in Iraq" could easily be" another decade or more.
Folks, our media may be filled with discussions about just how"successful" the President's surge plan has been, but really, Iraq is the corpse in the room.
"Success" as a Mantra
Last January, after announcing his"surge strategy," the President called in his technicians. As it turned out, Gen. David Petraeus, surge commander in Iraq, has been quite impressive, as has new U.S. ambassador to that country, Ryan Crocker. Think of them as"the undertakers," since they've been the ones who, applying their skills, have managed to give that Iraqi corpse the faint glow of life. The President asked them to make Iraq look like it could get up and walk away -- and the last year of"success," widely trumpeted in the media, has been the result. But just think about what the defense minister and President Bush are promising: By 2018, the country will -- supposedly -- be able to control its own borders, one of the more basic acts of a sovereign state. That, by itself, tells you much of what you need to be know.
In order to achieve an image of lifelike quiescence in Iraq, involving a radical lowering of"violence" in that country, the general and ambassador did have to give up the ghost on a number of previous Bush administration passions. Rebellious al-Anbar Province was, for instance, essentially turned over to members of the community (many of whom had, even according to the Department of Defense, been fighting Americans until recently). They were then armed and paid by the U.S. not to make too much trouble. In the Iraqi capital, on the other hand, the surging American military looked the other way as, in the first half of 2007, the Shiite" cleansing" of mixed Baghdad neighborhoods reached new heights, transforming it into a largely Shiite city. This may have been the real"surge" in Iraq and, if you look at new maps of the ethnic make-up of the capital, you can see the startling results -- from which a certain quiescence followed. Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a longtime opponent of the Bush administration, called a"truce" during the surge months and went about purging and reorganizing his powerful militia, the Mahdi Army. In exchange, the U.S. has given up, at least temporarily, its goal of wresting control of some of those neighborhoods from the Sadrists.
Despite hailing the recent passage of what might be called a modest re-Baathification law in the Iraqi Parliament (that may have little effect on actual government employment), the administration has also reportedly given up in large part on pushing its highly touted"benchmarks" for the Iraqis to accomplish. This was to be a crucial part of Iraqi political"reconciliation" (once described as the key to the success of the whole surge strategy). It has now been dumped for so-called Iraqi solutions. All of this, including the lack of U.S. patrolling in al-Anbar province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, plus the addition of almost 30,000 troops in Baghdad and environs, has indeed given Iraq a quieter look -- especially in the United States, where Iraqi news has largely disappeared from front pages and slipped deep into prime-time TV news coverage just as the presidential campaign of 2008 heats up.
The surge was always, in a sense, a gamble for time, a pacification program directed at the"home front" in the President's Global War on Terror as well as at Iraq itself. And if this is what you mean by"success" in Iraq, Bush has indeed succeeded admirably. As in the Vietnam era, when President Richard Nixon began"Vietnamizing" that war, a reduction of American casualties has had the effect of turning media attention elsewhere.
So another year has now passed in a country that we plunged into an unimaginable charnel-house state. Whether civilian dead between the invasion of 2003 and mid-2006 (before the worst year of civil-war level violence even hit) was in the range of 600,000 as a study in the British medical journal, The Lancet reported or 150,000 as a recent World Health Organization study suggests, whether two million or 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, whether 1.1 million or more than two million have been displaced internally, whether electricity blackouts and water shortages have marginally increased or decreased, whether the country's health-care system is beyond resuscitation or could still be revived, whether Iraqi oil production has nearly crept back to the low point of the Saddam Hussein-era or not, whether fields of opium poppies are, for the first time, spreading across the country's agricultural lands or still relatively localized, Iraq is a continuing disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent memory.
What Bush has done with his surge, however, is buy himself that year-plus of free time, while he negotiates with Iraq's inside-the-Green-Zone government to cement in place an endless American presence there. In the process, he may create a sense of permanency that no future president will prove capable of tampering with -- not without being known as the man (or woman) who"lost" Iraq. Forget the Republican presidential candidates -- Sen. John McCain, for instance, has said that he doesn't care if the U.S. is in Iraq for the next hundred years -- and think about the leading Democratic candidates with their elongated (and partial)"withdrawal" plans. Barack Obama, for instance, is for guaranteeing a 16-month withdrawal schedule, and that's just for U.S." combat troops," which are only perhaps half of all American forces in the country. Hillary Clinton's plan is no more promising.
The President's gamble, so far"successful," has been that the look of returning life in Iraq will last at least long enough for him to turn a marginally"successful" war over to the next administration. If the Democrats sweep to power, he hopes to stick them with that war. As Michael Hirsh of Newsweek put the matter recently, while discussing the President's trip to the Middle East:"Far away in the Persian Gulf, Bush is creating facts on the ground that the next president may not be able to ignore." (Of course, this assumes that the Iraqis will comply.)
In that case, here would be another piece of potential Bush"success": Nine months into any new presidential term and the Iraq War is yours. (Those of us old enough to remember have already lived through this scenario once with"Lyndon Johnson's war" in Vietnam, so how does"Barack Obama's war" sound?) Then, former Bush administration officials, Republicans of all stripes, neocons, and an array of pundits will turn on those uncelebratory Democrats who, they will claim, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of"success," if not victory. Wait for it.
Victory Laps and Other Celebrations
But folks, let's face it, despite the cosmetic acts of the President and his undertakers, America's Iraq is still a corpse. And yet, in this"post-surge" moment, everybody is arguing over just how"successful" the surge has been. All agree it has"lowered violence" in Iraq. The Democrats insist that the plan's"success" is limited indeed, because its main goal,"political reconciliation," has not been reached. On the other hand, Republicans, assorted neocons, and some in the administration are already doing modest victory dances. The newest New York Times columnist, William Kristol, a man previously known for being endlessly wrong on his Iraqi war of choice, just last week chided the Democrats in his typical way:"It's apparently impermissible for leading Democrats to acknowledge -- let alone celebrate -- progress in Iraq."
Let the celebrations begin! In the White House, anyway. After all, whatever Iraq news breaks out of the inside pages of the paper is now often framed by this ongoing dispute about the how much surge and post-surge success has happened, about how much to celebrate, and that is another sign of success for the President. No wonder, as Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post put it, Bush's recent meeting in Kuwait with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, as well as his comments to a rally of 3,000 hoo-ahing U.S. troops,"had the air of a victory lap for a president whose decision to raise the troop levels in Iraq last year was questioned not only by Democrats but also by many Republicans and even generals at the Pentagon."
But folks, George W. Bush can lap the Middle East, the planet, the solar system and America's Iraq is still never going to get up and walk away. Not even in 2018 or 2028. Don't forget, it's a corpse. (In fact, unlike the politicians and the media, recent opinion polls show that the American people generally have not forgotten this.)
In the meantime, the military in Iraq is preparing for something other than a simple victory lap, just in case the President's surge luck doesn't quite extend to 2009. Former brigadier general and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs Mark Kimmitt, for instance, recently suggested that there was"only a mild chance" that surge security gains would prove permanent:"[I]f I had to put a number to it, maybe it's three in 10, maybe it's 50-50, if we play our cards right."
In fact, General Petraeus and the rest of the U.S. military are faced with a relatively simple calculus for their exhausted, overstretched, overused forces among whom the rate of post-traumatic stress syndrome has tripled. Although the President recently insisted that he would be happy to slow down or halt an expected drawdown of 30,000 surge troops by July, the fact is that present military manpower levels there are literally unsustainable -- especially since 3,200 Marines are now being committed to the ever less successful Afghan War. Drawdowns are a must and"successful" Iraq, already experiencing signs of another uptick in violence and death (including of American troops) in the new year, is likely to need a dose of something else soon, if that faint glow of life is to be sustained.
One candidate for that, as American troop levels drop, is air power, a much underreported subject in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, according to a recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the use of air power took a striking leap forward in 2007. According to the study, the number of Close Air Support/Precision Strikes -- sorties that used a major munition -- in Iraq went up five-fold between 2006 and 2007 (not including December of that year), from 229 to 1,119 or, on average, from 19 per month to 102 per month. 2008 started with a literal bang, 40,000 pounds of explosives were dropped in ten minutes on 38 targets in a Sunni farming area on"the outskirts" of Baghdad. After 10 preceding days of intermittent air attacks, this was probably the largest display of air power since the 2003 invasion. It was also undoubtedly a harbinger of things to come and, of course, guaranteed to drive up the number of civilian dead.
Similarly, between January and October 2007, according to the Associated Press, the U.S. military more than doubled its use of armed and unarmed drone aircraft, which clocked 500,000-plus hours in the air (mainly in Iraq). This is undoubtedly a taste of what"success" means in the year to come.
Dancing on a Corpse
So, here's a simple reality check: The whole discussion of, and argument about,"success" in Iraq is, in fact, obscene. Given what has already happened to that country -- and will continue to happen as long as the U.S. remains an occupying power there -- the very category of"success" is an obscenity. If violence actually does stay down there, that may be a modest godsend for Iraqis, but it can hardly be considered a sign of American"success."
Every now and then, history comes in handy. In a previous moment, when the neocons and their allied pundits were feeling particularly triumphant, they began touting Bush's America as the planet's new Rome (only more so). That talk evaporated once Iraq went into full-scale insurgency mode (and Afghanistan followed). But perhaps Rome does remain a touchstone of a sort for administration Iraqi policies.
What comes to mind is the Roman historian Tacitus' description of the Roman way of war. He put his version of it into the mouth of Calgacus, a British chieftain who opposed the Romans, and it went, in part, like this:
"They have plundered the world, stripping naked the land in their hunger, they loot even the ocean: they are driven by greed, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor; neither the wealth of the east nor the west can satisfy them: they are the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal passion to dominate. They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace."
Folks, it's obscene. We're doing victory laps around, and dancing upon, a corpse.
[Note:I'd like to offer one of my periodic bows to the invaluable sites that give me special help in collecting information on Iraq, especially Juan Cole's Informed Comment, Paul Woodward's The War in Context, the daily Media Patrol summaries at Cursor.org, and the enormous range of pieces posted every day at Antiwar.com. In addition, thanks to Yasmin Madadi for research help and Michael Schwartz for advice. If you want to check out that CSIS airpower study yourself, click here (PDF file).]
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 2008 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Friday, January 18, 2008 - 20:06
SOURCE: Balkinization (blog) (1-8-08)
"We are in a constitutional crisis," Kenya opposition leader Raila Odinga said today, as the Kenya election crisis continues to unfold. There was much debate about whether a constitutional crisis was unfolding when the United States faced its own presidential election debacle in 2000. The Kenya news, in contrast, is often collapsed into a simpler story about tribal violence. This tends to reinforce the dominant narrative of Africa as a region of unending despair, where legal reform seems hopeless. South Africa, with courts that look familiar to us, is held out as an exception.
Although tribalism is an element of the Kenya story, with members of smaller tribes acting on age-old resentment toward the Kikuyu, who have dominated Kenya politics since independence, it is also a political crisis, and Kenya politics in the last decade have unfolded in the context of an on-going debate about constitutional reform. The branch of government at the center of constitutional debates has not been the judiciary, but the executive.
"Big man" politics dominated Kenya for decades. The release from detention of Jomo Kenyatta became a demand of the independence movement in 1960-61, and Kenyatta himself, who would become the nation’s first President, was a focus of Kenya nationalism as different tribes in the colony joined together as a nation for the first time. Kenyatta would lead the nation until his death in 1978, when Vice President Daniel Arap Moi took the reins of power, only to release them after two decades of autocratic rule when post-Cold War democratic reforms swept the world.
As Kwasi Prempehhas illustrated here and here, the most interesting story in contemporary African constitutional politics is not what courts are doing, but the role of structural constitutional limits on the executive, and the troublesome persistence of"imperial" presidencies.
The scope of presidential power was central to recent efforts to rewrite the Kenya constitution. President Mwai Kibaki, initially elected on a platform that endorsed constitutional proposals that would limit his power, stepped back from this pledge after his 2002 election. His constitutional proposals maintaining a powerful presidency were rejected by voters in a constitutional referendum in 2005. The 2007 elections occurred against this backdrop of national debate over the nature of the Kenya presidency.
"Many Kenyans thought that last week’s election would mark a watershed in the country’s political history," writes Robin Lustig,"the moment when leadership passed to a new generation. They feel robbed by the old guard, the elite who have held on to power for so long." Whether constitutionalism is on track in Kenya turns on whether presidents cede power following regular, multi-party elections. So it is not just tribal rivalries that are at stake in Kenya today, but whether the promise of constitutional reform, and the basic practice of democracy, has meaning in Kenya.
In recent news, African Union leader, Ghanaian president John Kufuor, is traveling to Kenya to mediate. As in the recent Pakistan crisis, lawyers are playing a role, with the Law Society of Kenyacalling upon Kibaki to step down.
What role does the United States play in this? During the Cold War, the United States turned a blind eye toward human rights abuses under Kenyatta, in the interests of maintaining ties with a Cold War ally. A question we must ask about current interventions in Africa and elsewhere is whether the"war on terror" drives the U.S. to support reliable friends and to ignore their failings. The U.S. appears to be playing a helpful role in the current crisis, with United States assistant secretary of state for Africa Jendayi Frazertraveling to Kenya to promote mediation between the parties."The people of Kenya were cheated," she said.
The U.S. aim of promoting democracy around the world is better served by promoting democratization, including fair elections, rather than the Cold War model of supporting loyal allies.
Posted on: Friday, January 18, 2008 - 18:47
SOURCE: Nation (1-18-08)
Shanghai is famous for many things, from eye-catching architecture to its historic role linking China to the world. But within the People's Republic of China, the city also is revered for its central role in twentieth-century protests.
In the early 1900's, Shanghai workers staged some of China's first strikes. The Cultural Revolution began in Beijing in 1966 with the Red Guards but peaked in the Shanghai uprising of 1967, when revolutionary groups, modeling themselves after the Paris Commune, took over the city government and the Communist Party Committee. And though the great upheaval of 1989's Beijing Spring is rightly associated with Tiananmen Square, the student-led protests that paved the wave for that epochal struggle took place two-and-a-half years earlier, in Shanghai's counterpart to that plaza, People's Square.
This is worth remembering in light of what's been happening lately in China's largest city. For the last two weekends, protesters opposed to plans to extend the city's fastest-on-earth magnetic levitation train--the maglev--took to the streets in marches that organizers dubbed "collective walks," to avoid seeming too controversial when confronting a regime that often deals harshly with acts of dissent.
The maglev, which can rocket passengers at record-breaking speeds well over 200 miles per hour, currently connects the Pudong airport at the eastern edge of the metropolis to a nearby subway station. The authorities want it to do much more. The first extension in the works would link Pudong's new airport to the old Hongqiao airport west of the city.
This has angered residents of some largely middle-class neighborhoods through which the new rail line would run. They claim that proximity to the path of noisy maglev trains would make their property values plummet, disturb the tranquility of their homes, and perhaps even pose health hazards to their children.
This is not the first time a novel mode of transportation has triggered a Shanghai protest. A century ago, rickshaw pullers smashed trams that threatened their livelihood. But as a longtime student of Shanghai protests, I can say with conviction that the anti-maglev protests aren't quite like anything seen in the early 1900s or even Tiananmen times. Describing mass actions as "collective walks" is new, as is coordinating actions via text messages and having videos of marches uploaded onto YouTube.
This decidedly twenty-first-century form of protest in Shanghai resonates with recent demonstrations in other Chinese cities--notably the 2007 protests in Xiamen, again mostly led by members of a burgeoning new middle class, that successfully blocked the opening of a chemical plant. Both protests involve specific goals being pursued by people who do not challenge the government's legitimacy, but simply call on it to do a better job of listening to those in whose name it claims to rule--and make good on its own stated goals, such as working to improve the material well-being and quality of life of the Chinese population.
It would be a mistake to ignore parallels between the current Shanghai protests and earlier events in the city's history that began with daily life concerns and calls simply for greater government responsiveness, yet ultimately swelled into broader movements that challenged the legitimacy of an authoritarian ruling party. Protests of this sort took place in the 1940s against the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-Shek, triggered by hyper-inflation. When students of the Tiananmen generation first took to the streets in Shanghai in the mid-1980s, their grievances were largely about the living conditions on campuses, but mushroomed into a much more radical set of demands that caught the world's attention in the Beijing Spring of 1989.
One enduring tendency in events of this sort, which is again seen in the anti-maglev agitation, is for protesters to play upon official slogans. The Communist Party has made a fetish of late of valuing "harmony" and "stability" and introducing reforms that improve the quality of life of ordinary people, in part by allowing them to own their own property. The anti-maglev protesters play upon these stated goals, insisting that the new rail line will undermine the "harmony" and "stability" of their neighborhoods and make their living conditions worse.
Protesters insist that what matters most to them is something very basic, which the regime has also promised to deliver--a government that will listen to the concerns of citizens and make a meaningful response.
The slogans of the Nationalists in the 1940s and the Communists in the 1980s were not identical, but the tendency of protesters to call on these regimes to live up to their stated ideals was the same. So, too, was the cry for officials to demonstrate a greater readiness to listen.
There are parallels here even with the Tiananmen protests, which Westerners often misremember as involving the same kind of demand for regime change that was heard that year in places like Poland. By contrast, in China even then the core demand of protesters was simply that the Communist Party make good on its promises--especially its promise to fight corruption--and engage in a true dialogue. Chinese students were willing to have Communist Party rule continue, but insisted that the country needed that organization to be run by people who would be more transparent, avoid nepotism (the most galling incidents of corruption often involve the family members of high-ranking officials), allow a greater degree of individual freedom, and show concern for the people's welfare.
If the current protests call to mind a single historical moment, it is not 1989, but 1986. And this is not just because protesters are again gathering in the same part of People's Square where I saw students congregate a generation ago.
Then, as now, protesters were largely members of a highly articulate group with reason to feel good about the overall direction the country was heading. But this didn't stop them from desiring a government less arbitrary and more willing to listen to their concerns.
The students of 1986 talked more about abstract ideals--including democracy--than the anti-maglev protesters have. But they also had specific grievances linked to daily life. Some complained about mandatory morning calisthenics. Others were angered that security guards had roughed up youths for dancing in the aisles at a recent concert by Jan and Dean, one of the first foreign pop groups to perform in China.
Chinese authorities today should keep in mind how things that happened in 1987 and 1988 worked to radicalize and alienate China's university students. Shanghai's students left the streets readily in 1986, once officials signaled that their patience was wearing thin and expressed concern that the demonstrations could end up harming the very reform process that the protesters wanted to speed up.
The youths felt pretty good, initially, about how things had gone. They had not accomplished anything specific, but had been allowed to express their opinions without major reprisals.
But the situation soon deteriorated. The regime launched a campaign against "bourgeois liberalization," viewed by the students as a step backwards in terms of personal freedom. And Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang was demoted for having treated the protests too lightly--something that transformed him into a hero in the students' eyes.
Even by 1989, many students viewed the Party as something that needed to be transformed, not toppled. But their regard for it had been damaged. This made it easy for protests to escalate quickly, once the unexpected death of Hu Yaobang brought them back out onto the streets.
Things are different now. Middle-class protesters in Xiamen and Shanghai have been more insistently focused on local issues with a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) dimension, such as the damaging effects that development can have to air quality and the danger of noise pollution, than were the students of two decades ago.
Still, China's rulers should remember how easily authoritarian regimes can lose the good will of even those who like some things that the government is doing. This happened when Deng Xiaoping and company alienated a generation of students in the 1980s, and four decades before, when the Nationalist Party lost the respect of many members of that era's urban middle class with brutal crackdowns, failing curb official corruption and caring for little other than maintaining their control of the reins of government.
The history of Shanghai protest is filled with reminders of how dangerous it can be for a regime to appear unwilling to listen. While there may be risks to an authoritarian regime in allowing protests to continue unchecked, they may end up more damaged by leaping too quickly to treating any form of criticism as an unacceptable affront to authority.
In the lead-up to the Olympics, commentators in the West and in China have tended to focus on big issues. Some foreign critics have called for a boycott of the Games due to Beijing's links to horrific actions taking place in Darfur and Burma. And Chinese Communist Party spokesmen assert that the Olympics will be a proud moment for all citizens of the PRC, since they will demonstrate that China is a major player on the global stage.
Thinking in international terms is certainly appropriate right now, given China's large global footprint. Still, it is important not to lose sight of the importance of local issues. While some outsiders anticipate 2008 as a year when protests with an international dimension could break out in China, it may be that the biggest challenge the government faces this year will turn out to be the one posed by a rapidly growing, highly articulate new social group with decidedly local concerns.
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, January 18, 2008 - 16:21
SOURCE: New Republic (1-18-08)
In 1788, the English jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote that most people erroneously believed that "the emotions of the body" were "probable indications of the temperature of the mind." But he didn't buy it. "Oliver Cromwell," he noted, "whose conduct indicated a heart more than ordinarily callous, was remarkably profuse in tears." Cromwell was widely believed to be a strategic weeper, using one of the oldest tricks in the political playbook--something Hillary Clinton is being accused of for coming close to shedding tears in the last days of her Iowa campaign.
The meaning of tears, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and a politician's enemies are always more likely to be skeptical than his or her friends. Most political tears probably lie somewhere between the two extremes, between what Bentham derides as the naïve belief in emotional sincerity and diabolically cynical Cromwellianism. Both Hillary's near-tears and Mitt Romney's waterworks--now that Romney has started crying once a week--are undoubtedly in part political calculation. But, paradoxically, they were also likely to have been fundamentally sincere. Tears are most often caused not by pure emotion, but by mixed feelings--something certainly not lacking in the flip-flopping, vote-pandering, identity-swapping world of campaign politics. No matter how calculated they may be, they help us understand the candidates who shed them.
Weepy oratory has been the norm in American history. Making people cry, sometimes by leading the way, has long been considered a basic political skill. Hamilton was famous for it, even Franklin sometimes indulged, and Jefferson used persuasive tears not just in political speeches, but in lovemaking, claiming that it was a "sublime delight." Throughout the 19th century, politicians wept on the stump; Lincoln and Douglas, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan--they all cried.
The lachrymose style gradually began to wane in politics as we entered the twentieth century, high-water years in American culture for the stoic, hardboiled, manly man. At the end of this tearless era, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie was run out of the Democratic presidential race in 1972 for shedding a tear about the newspapers abusing his wife. Leading the attack on Muskie was then-Republican National Committee chair Bob Dole, who said the tears proved that Muskie "lacked stability."
Thirty-five years later, such talk is unthinkable. Both the Bushes, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and most of the presidential also-rans took to shedding the occasional tear in public. No one helped usher in this new tearfulness than Bill Clinton, who led the charge while feeling our pain, making wet eyes such necessary political equipment that even Bob Dole, who managed to stay dry for his first forty years in public life, learned how to weep for his 1996 campaign against Clinton....
Posted on: Friday, January 18, 2008 - 15:14
SOURCE: historiae.org (1-18-08)
The tenth day of the first month of the Islamic calendar, Ashura, is commemorated by Shiites as the day of the martyrdom of their Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala in AD 680. In 2008, Ashura falls on 18 January, and, as usual, it will prompt many Shiite individuals to reflect on their relationship to wider communities – the sectarian Shiite one, as well as the national Iraqi one.
Historically, in Iraq, Ashura has been a special occasion for Shiites to assert their religious identity, but mostly without challenging the basic ideal of inter-sectarian Muslim coexistence within a unified administrative framework. In late Ottoman times, for example, Ashura would occasionally be restricted by the Sunni rulers rather than outlawed outright: there were sometimes bans on loud celebrations prior to the day of Ashura itself, at least in certain areas. After 1921, during the monarchy, a similar tendency of pragmatism on both sides of the sectarian divide prevailed. It is true that there were isolated instances of anti-Sunni agitation during the Muharram celebrations – the years of 1927 and, at least in the Basra area, 1928, belonged to these exceptions – but more often, Ashura was celebrated without incidents or sectarian tension.
In fact, there are frequent reports from the monarchy era about Sunnis and Shiites celebrating Ashura together. In 1932, Iraqi nationalist Shiites in Basra invited Sunnis, Christians and Jews to their nightly commemorative gatherings. Sunni newspaper editors in the 1920s often used the Muharram season to publish complimentary articles on “Shiite” subjects such as the life of Imam Hussein. And a 1950s lexicon of Basra’s Shiite husayniyyas (religious places of congregation that play an important role during the Muharram celebrations) by Muhammad Rida al-Kutubi emphasised the benevolent role played by Sunni, Christian and Jewish merchants who supported the Shiite Muharram and Ashura celebrations financially. It also showed that Ashura celebrations were frequently organised on the basis of membership in a particular occupational group or town quarter, so that the typically Iraqi multiplicity of identities came into expression also on this supposedly very sectarian festival.
In 2008, both these two themes – Iraqi nationalism and Shiite sectarianism – are in evidence among the Shiites of Iraq. On the one hand, projects that clearly have a sectarian edge to them are still favoured by some – such as the idea of a single Shiite federal region, as sponsored by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). It is deeply ironic that its leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim should use the occasion to claim that the process of national reconciliation in Iraq has been “delayed” by the pet projects of individual politicians: ISCI’s own ideas about a single Shiite federal entity is arguably the clearest possible example of such projects, and Iraqi national reconciliation could have made great strides if this divisive scheme had simply been taken off the table. Similarly, there is unwillingness by some (but not all) Sadrists to accept concessions associated with the Sunnis like the new de-Baathification law. Its recent adoption in the Iraqi parliament was hailed by a few vocal Sadrist MPs, but thoroughly condemned on websites that express a more sectarian Sadrist view such as Nahrainnet, which has highlighted negative reactions to the bill among some of the lower-ranking clergy of the Shiite holy cities.
But on the other hand, important non-sectarian trends are also blooming. The recent agreement by a majority of Iraqi parliamentarians (the coalition is said to number around 150 MPs) to work against radical decentralisation of the Iraqi oil sector and for a negotiated approach (rather than a referendum) to the Kirkuk question represents this kind of important inter-sectarian effort that brings Iraqi nationalists of all shades together, whether they be (Shiite) Sadrists, Sunni Islamists, or secularists. It may even be possible that this kind of nationalist alliance – which is the fruit of a process that started almost as soon as the Maliki government was formed in 2006 – will have better prospects now that a de-Baathification law has been agreed on and no longer will torpedo rapprochement along such lines in the way it has done so often in the past.
Still, few issues are clear-cut in Iraqi politics, and some details regarding the recent manoeuvring in the Iraqi parliament as well as in Basra may suggest that the sectarianism/nationalism dichotomy itself could be quite fluid. The Fadila party, which since 2006 has been part and parcel of most initiatives to create a broadly based, non-sectarian alternative to the Maliki government, was conspicuously absent from the list of signatories to the recent anti-federal demands. Indeed, the party has officially issued a statement to the effect that it does not support the initiative, albeit without stating the reason for this opposition. Conceivably this may have to do with the federalism issue, where at least some forces in Fadila are quite pro-federal, but disagree with ISCI on the size of future federal entities. But it also comes on top of a rather sudden calming of the chaotic political scene in Basra. Here, ISCI and Fadila have been at each other’s throat for two years straight, but have recently both signed up to some kind of city-wide truce – although without revealing any details that can corroborate the idea of a real political compromise. Increasingly, there is a growing contrast between Fadila and ISCI who now both claim the situation in Basra is improving, and independent politicians like Wail Abd al-Latif and Khayrallah al-Basri, who assert that there has been no real change. Moreover, it is noteworthy that Tanzim al-Iraq branch of the Daawa party – the Daawa faction most frequently hit by accusations of Iranian connections (but, due to its name, frequently misrepresented by commentators outside Iraq as the “home-grown” Daawa) – for the first time since the adoption of the law for implementing federalism in October 2006 now appears to be in the nationalist, anti-ISCI camp.
This could all suggest that there may be certain changes in the way Iran is playing its hand in Iraq, perhaps with an attempt to win over its old arch-enemy, Fadila – whose long-standing Iraqi nationalist/non-sectarian federalist positions may have reached a level of frustration due to the lack of external support. In view of the collective ignorance by the international community of the Iraqi nationalist alternative, this is unsurprising, and the very persistence of Iraqi anti-federalism is in fact quite remarkable given all the material and moral support the rest of the world extends to its opponents in the Maliki government. The UN special representative to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, recently avoided an opportunity to highlight the nationalist option when he instead chose to focus on the “lack of national reconciliation spirit” in Iraq, whereas President George W. Bush apparently intends to defer completely to General David Petraeus in all questions affecting US troop strength in Iraq and thereby seems to entirely overlook the potential of this kind of political bridge-building in terms of a different security climate.
Where in this landscape does the spiritual leader of most Iraqi Shiites, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, stand? With a few exceptions, Sistani has been markedly silent since late 2004 – at which point he lent his support to the Shiite coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) but then gradually began distancing himself from it. A much-anticipated new book by one of his many representatives, Hamid al-Khaffaf, does not really shed much new light on this question. In addition to the pronouncements (bayans) that have been publicly available on the Sistani website, Khaffaf also adds some interesting correspondence between Sistani’s office and various international players; however there is not much new material from 2006 and later. On a contentious issue like federalism there are no statements later than 2004, before the question of Shiite federalism was on the agenda. All in all, there is nothing in the book to suggest that Sistani has abandoned his traditional position, which has always been to emphasise the idea of national Iraqi unity and the key role of the central government in preserving it. It is also noteworthy that the often-quoted “fatwa” supposedly in favour of the 2005 constitution (it was in fact quite grudging in its support and unlike official pronouncements was not published on the Sistani website) also does not appear in this encyclopaedic work by one of his own assistants.
Finally, Ashura is also about the diversity of the Iraqi Shiites in theological terms. Last year saw dramatic challenges to the idea of Shiite orthodoxy through the increased activities of millenarianist Mahdist movements in the Muharram season, some of them militant. Increased tension related to this kind of intra-sectarian tension has been evident during the build-up to the 2008 Ashura celebrations as well – not least in Basra where followers of Ahmad al-Hasan (a Mahdist ideologue who shared many ideas with the “Soldiers of Heaven” cult implicated in the January 2007 conflict) were arrested in large numbers during the final days of 2007. Many newspapers misreported this as a case involving “Mahdi Army” (i.e. pro-Muqtada Sadrist) militants, but the followers of Ahmad al-Hasan (who always distanced themselves from the “Soldiers of Heaven” back in 2007) have angrily protested the arrests which allegedly also involved pro-Mahdist clerics who had travelled to Basra from Nasiriyya, Amara and Najaf. Recent clashes have been reported in Nasiriyya as well. Whilst the Shiite clergy historically have been quite successful in fending off this sort of internal challenge – from 2006 they have also enlisted the support of the central government in doing so – Mahdism remains an enduring force in Iraqi Shiite politics. It has changed the entire community more than once (as was the case with the Shaykhis, the Babis and the Baha’is in the nineteenth century), and it persists as an ideological current that is neither nationalist nor sectarian in the traditional sense.
Posted on: Friday, January 18, 2008 - 14:17
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (1-17-08)
George W. Bush's policies toward the Middle East and Islam will loom large when historians judge his presidency. On the occasion of his concluding his 8-day, 6-country trip to the Middle East and entering his final year in office, I offer some provisional assessments.
His hallmark has been a readiness to break with long-established bipartisan positions and adopt stunningly new policies, and by late 2005 he had laid out his novel approach in four major areas.
Radical Islam: Prior to 9/11, American authorities viewed Islamist violence as a narrow criminal problem. Calling for a"war against terror" in September 2001, Bush broadened the conflict. Specifying the precise force behind terrorism peaked in October 2005, when he termed it"Islamic radicalism,""militant Jihadism," and"Islamo-fascism."
Pre-emptive war: Deterrence had long been the policy of choice against the Soviet Union and other threats, but Bush added a second policy in June 2002, pre-emption. U.S. security, he said,"will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives." Nine months later, this new doctrine served as his basis to invade Iraq and eliminate Saddam Hussein before the latter could develop nuclear weapons.
Arab-Israeli conflict: Bush avoided the old-style and counterproductive"peace process" diplomacy and tried a new approach in June 2003 by establishing the goal of"two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, in peace and security." In addition, he outlined his final-status vision, specified a timetable, and even attempted to sideline a recalcitrant leader (Yasir Arafat) or prop up a forthcoming one (Ehud Olmert).
Democracy: Deriding"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East" as a policy that"did nothing to make us safe," Bush announced in November 2003"a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East," by which he meant pushing regimes to open up to citizen participation.
So much for vision; how about implementation? At the end of his first term, I found that the Bush policies, other than the Arab-Israeli one, stood"a good chance of working." No longer. Today, I perceive failure in all four areas.
George W. Bush and Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, hand in hand.
Pre-emptive war requires convincing observers that the pre-emption was indeed justified, something the Bush administration failed to do. Only half the American population and many fewer in the Middle East accept the need for invading Iraq, creating domestic divisions and external hostility greater than at any time since the Vietnam War. Among the costs: greater difficulty to take pre-emptive action against the Iranian nuclear program.
Bush's vision of resolving one century of Arab-Israeli conflict by anointing Mahmoud Abbas as leader of a Palestinian state is illusory. A sovereign"Palestine" alongside Israel would drain the anti-Zionist hatred and close down the irredentist war against Israel? No, the mischievous goal of creating"Palestine" will inspire more fervor to eliminate the Jewish state, especially if accompanied by a Palestinian"right of return."
Finally, encouraging democracy is clearly a worthy goal, but when the Middle East's dominant popular force is totalitarian Islam, is it such a great idea to rush head-long ahead? Yet rushing ahead characterized Washington's initial approach – until the policy's damage to U.S. interests became too apparent to ignore, causing it largely to be abandoned.
At a time when George W. Bush arouses such intense vituperation among his critics, someone who wishes him well, like myself, criticizes reluctantly. But criticize one must; to pretend all is well, or to remain loyal to the person despite his record, does no one a favor. A frank recognition of shortcomings must precede their repair.
I respect Bush's benign motivation and good intentions while mourning his having squandered a record-breaking 90 percent job-approval rating following 9/11 and his bequeathing to the next president a polarized electorate, a military reluctant to use force against Iran, Hamas ruling Gaza, an Iraqi disaster-in-waiting, radical Islam on the ascendant, and unprecedented levels of global anti-Americanism.
Conservatives have much work ahead to reconstruct their Middle East policy.
Posted on: Thursday, January 17, 2008 - 19:58
SOURCE: LAT (1-2-08)
The first time an American president's policies defied all the promises made during his campaign occurred in 1800. Thomas Jefferson's platform called for a reduction of federal, especially executive, power; fiscal austerity aimed at reducing the national debt; and strict interpretation of the Constitution. The opportunity to purchase the Louisiana Territory in 1803 threw all of these Jeffersonian principles into the proverbial cocked hat. As it turned out, in order to acquire an empire, one had to become an imperial president, and Jefferson, albeit reluctantly, did just that.
The same paradoxical pattern repeated itself on several notable occasions in the 20th century. Woodrow Wilson promised to keep the United States out of World War I in 1916, but took us to war in 1917. Lyndon Johnson vowed that American boys would never be sent to Vietnam, but reversed himself in 1965. Ronald Reagan described the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" that could not be trusted, then proceeded to negotiate the greatest reduction in nuclear weapons of all time.
Though the 21st century is just getting started, already the paradoxical pattern has continued. George W. Bush campaigned as a "compassionate conservative" in domestic policy and an opponent of any sustained American role as global policeman. But his domestic policies have been designed to appeal to the right-wing base of the Republican Party, and his response to 9/11 has made the United States a preemptive, unilateral world power with boundless global ambitions and responsibilities.
If you look at this pattern squarely, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, as often as not, what presidential candidates say to get elected has absolutely no predictive power about what they will actually do as president. If you push the pattern to its outer limits, it suggests that presidential policies often end up contradicting campaign promises. And if you apply this logic to the current presidential campaigns, voters who regard American withdrawal from Iraq as their highest priority should not vote for any of the three leading Democratic candidates -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards -- but instead for Republican John McCain.
There is something perverse about this way of thinking, and the pattern itself, though disarmingly frequent, is not sure-fire through history. But the reasons for its prevalence are rooted in two political realities that go all the way back to Jefferson's election.
First, campaigns are inherently exercises in propaganda and posturing, the posing of melodramatic choices usually defined by candidates' contorted exercises against stereotypical versions of the opposition. The real-world choices facing a president seldom fit into these operatic campaign categories. So picking a president is a little like picking a long-distance runner exclusively on the basis of his (or her) talent at running wind sprints.
A corollary is that it is almost impossible to know who can make the transition from candidate to president brilliantly, let alone successfully. Two presidents in the brilliant category, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, surprised all the experts and pundits of the day, who initially regarded them as superficial ciphers. Roosevelt was dismissed as "a second-rate mind" and Lincoln as "an Illinois hayseed."
Second, the world has a way of generating unforeseen predicaments that require unrehearsed choices. Even the broad issues that dominate a campaign are seldom synonymous with those a president must face. Jefferson had no way of knowing that Napoleon would impetuously decide to sell all the land from the Mississippi to the Rockies for a pittance. Wilson had no way of knowing that the Germans would decide to resume unrestricted submarine warfare against U.S. shipping. Roosevelt had no way of knowing that the Japanese would bet their future as an Asian power on a surprise attack against the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. And as a candidate, Bush had no way of knowing that Islamic terrorists would fly planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon....
Posted on: Thursday, January 17, 2008 - 14:03