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: Informed Comment (Blog) (2-20-08)
Barack Obama's spectacular win in Wisconsin has the GOP frightened. The Democratic turnout was much, much better than the Republican. The Democrats and independents are energized.
Senator John McCain could not get the independents out in Wisconsin, and the Republican turnout was lackluster. In politics, failure always produces bluster. McCain spoke after his primary victory in Wisconsin last night, casting himself as a voice of experience in foreign policy.
He said things like this:
' I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history . . .
Today, political change in Pakistan is occurring that might affect our relationship with a nuclear armed nation that is indispensable to our success in combating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. . .
Will the next President have the experience, the judgment experience informs, and the strength of purpose to respond to each of these developments in ways that strengthen our security and advance the global progress of our ideals? Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan, and sitting down without pre-conditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?'
These remarks were aimed at Barack Obama, and they are lies. McCain has repeatedly made this false charge, warning against sending troops to Waziristan. But Obama never advocated invading Pakistan with US ground troops. He said that the US should strike at al-Qaeda if it had actionable intelligence about its whereabouts in Pakistan, even if the Pakistani authorities refused to give permission.
This stance is US policy. In fact, George W. Bush implemented it with a Predator attack on an al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan just a couple of weeks ago, an attack that the Pakistani government declined to authorize. (Kevin Hayden concurs).
Actually, one of our overly deferential journalists should please get some backbone and just ask McCain what he would do if he had intelligence on Bin Laden's whereabouts in Pakistan and could not get authorization from Islamabad to strike at him.
I personally think that Obama was unwise to make the statement he did, because there are some things better left unsaid. But aside from pure pacifists, what American would not pull the trigger on that old monster Usamah if he or she had the chance? I mind McCain pulling a Rove and making hay with a policy stance of his opponent that he actually agrees with.
And I think there is good reason to ask whether McCain helped create al-Qaeda and the mess in Pakistan to begin with. It is time for someone to start holding the Cold Warriors who deployed a militant Muslim covert army against their leftist enemies accountable for the blow-back they created.
Moreover, does McCain really know much about how the world works? Does he really understand Middle Eastern history?
McCain thinks when"only' 4 US troops are wounded in a single day in Iraq, or when only 15 Iraqi police are killed in mortar strikes in a single day, that is a sign of 'calm' and that the 'surge is working' in Iraq, and it is all right for us to put up with these US casualties for the next 100 years and spend $9 billion a month on this boondoggle for his friends in Houston. He is part of a successful propaganda campaign, as Tom Engelhardt points out that has made Iraq disappear as an issue even though people die there every day and the US is hemorrhaging blood and treasure for goals that remain, to say the least, murky. McCain even manages to celebrate the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq at the same time as he insists the US has to stay in Iraq a hundred years to fight al-Qaeda! Which is it? Either the surge has failed in its goals or it has succeeded. If it has succeeded, why do we have to stay? If it has failed, when will it succeed?
And, let's just consider the shaky dictator Pervez Musharraf, who just suffered a sharp rebuke from the Pakistani electorate, as I wrote about today in Salon.com. McCain appears never to have met a rightwing dictator he didn't like. McCain defends the dictator. Here is what McCain said about Musharraf late last December:
"Prior to Musharraf, Pakistan was a failed state," McCain said."They had corrupt governments and they would rotate back and forth and there was corruption, and Musharraf basically restored order. So you're going to hear a lot of criticism about Musharraf that he hasn't done everything we wanted him to do, but he did agree to step down as head of the military and he did get the elections."
So in the building confrontation between democratic parties and the military dictator who trashed the rule of law, which would McCain support? What kind of relations will a president McCain have with the new prime minister of Pakistan if McCain is on record supporting the dictatorship that preceded?
The potted history McCain offers is wrong, and it points to the deep problems of authoritarianism and admiration for dictatorship in McCain's political philosophy. Pakistan was not a failed state before 1999, and in fact most of its political problems derived from repeated military coups such as the one spearheaded by Musharraf, as well as from the US government giving the Pakistani military gobs of money and enormous stockpiles of weapons, and winking at its nuclear program. In fact by"US government" above, we really could just substitute"Senator John McCain."
Pakistan's constitution prescribes a parliamentary government. When the military has allowed Pakistanis to go to the polls, they have elected moderate, centrist political parties such as the Pakistan People's Party and the Muslim League. Those parties have longstanding grass roots, cadres, canvassers, and loyal constituencies.
Bhutto was elected in 1971 as head of the PPP.
The PPP was overthrown in 1977 by Gen. Zia ul-Haq, a fundamentalist general who had his boss, PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto hanged on trumped-up charges in 1979 and who kept promising new elections that never came. Gen. Zia sponsored the Muslim fundamentalist Mujahidin that Ronald Reagan called"freedom fighters," and which included the early al-Qaeda. He also put enormous resources into making an atomic bomb. Nowadays a leader of that description would be part of Bush's axis of evil. But Reagan cozied up to Zia like a cat to catnip.
And McCain went out to cozy up to the military dictator himself, in February of 1984. McCain supported the Reagan jihad, cynically deploying radical Muslim extremists like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar against leftist secularists in Afghanistan.
Here is what McCain was up to when the radical Muslim extremist Gen. Zia was in power in Pakistan, according to UPI, Feb. 17, 1984:
'Senator John Tower, R-Texas, and Rep. John McCain, R-Ariz., arrived in the Pakistani capital Friday evening for the start of a three-day visit.
During their stay, the legislators will meet Pakistan's military president, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, and other top officials. . .
While in Pakistan, they will also visit an Afghan refugee tent village on the outskirts of Peshawar, near the border with Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
On arrival at Islamabad airport, they were received by U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton and Pakistani Defense Secretary Aftab Ahmad Khan.'
Now McCain is the big expert on problem solving in Pakistan. McCain is the Pied Piper of Hamelin; he'll be glad to get rid of your rat problem, but at the price of making your children disappear.
So lest we take any holidays from history, I have some questions for John McCain. Did you or did you not know about Gen. Zia's nuclear weapons program? Did you wink at it? If so doesn't that make you a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction to a radical Muslim extremist regime?
And what about this AP article from 1985:
' Rep. Tom Loeffler, R-Tex., presented the"Freedom Fighter of the Year" award to Afghan resistance leader Wali Khan on behalf of the U.S. Council for World Freedom on Oct. 3.
Loeffler called on Congress and the American people to"broaden support" for freedom fighters in Afghanistan, reminding listeners of America's own fight for freedom.
Congress has agreed to give $15 million in covert assistance to the Afghan cause, the first time the legislators have"stepped forward" with aid since the beginning of the conflict, according to Loeffler. . .
Accepting the award on behalf of Khan was Pir Syed Ahmed Gailani, head of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, for which Khan commands 20,000 resistance fighters.
Other congressmen who joined Loeffler included Rep. Eldon Rudd and Rep. John McCain, both Arizona Republicans. '
So how much support did John McCain give to the precursors of the Taliban in Afghanistan? To the budding al-Qaeda?
Despite what McCain says about military rule bringing stability, the opposite is the case. Never mind the dirty war in Afghanistan that led to the displacement abroad of 5 million Afghans, 3 million of them to Pakistan, and which helped destabilize Pakistan. Never mind the filling of Pakistan with machine guns and drug smuggling to support McCain's al-Qaeda"freedom fighters," which created a million heroin addicts in Pakistan. Karachi spiralled into virtual civil war in the mid to late 1980s under Zia. There were massive Shiite demonstrations against unfair Sunni fundamentalist policies of Zia. A Movement for the Restoration of Democracy began mobilizing political parties. Zia put Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People's Party under arbitrary house arrest.
Gen. Zia finally exited the scene in a summer, 1988, airplane crash. But he left behind 16 martial law amendments, among them a provision for the president, who is not popularly elected, to arbitrarily dismiss parliament and the prime minister. It would be as though Bush could fire Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and hold new elections whenever he liked, timing them so that the Republicans had an advantage.
That power of the president to just sack the prime minister was never legislated by any representative of the Pakistani people. It is a martial law amendment. It was legislated by Gen. Zia, friend of Muslim radicals.
So it was not the fault of the civilian political parties that the governments would"rotate back and forth," in McCain's words. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was never popularly elected president but rather got the post by a kind of default, kept dismissing the elected prime ministers.
As for there being corruption, la di da. The Republican Party, home of Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff, should talk about corruption. And as for that crack about civilian governments"rotating back and forth," isn't that a common thing in democracies? But the rotation wasn't anyway natural. It was a product of high-handed, dictatorial presidents exercising martial law powers and sometimes being blackmailed into doing so by powerful covert intelligence officials. The martial law amendment allowed presidents to dismiss three governments in a row.
And then the fourth civilian government, of Nawaz Sharif's second term, was overthrown.
The instrument was an illegal and extra-constitutional coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf was a hawk who backed the Taliban (and very likely al-Qaeda) in Afghanistan and who nearly provoked two wars with India. Yes, a pillar of stability, as McCain says. Quite right. Among the reasons alleged for his coup against Sharif was that he feared Sharif would back off from supporting the Taliban under Clinton administration pressure, and that Sharif would make peace with India at Washington's insistence. The very essence of stability.
Sharif had agreed to send in a special operations team to kill or capture Usama Bin Ladin in neighboring Afghanistan in 1999. When Musharraf made his coup, he reneged on the deal. I.e., Musharraf is indirectly implicated in the September 11 attacks insofar as he could have perhaps prevented them by taking out Bin Laden and he refused. Yes, as McCain says, a great pillar of stability.
The Pakistani military had created the political instability with its earlier coups and martial law amendments and creation of arbitrary, dictatorial powers vested in the president, which lightly disregarded the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box. And now in 1999, the military got rid of the civilian government altogether for a while, until in 2002 the US State Department pressured Musharraf to allow elections.
Musharraf did not dare actually run for office against a real opponent. He staged a"referendum," in which he got less that 50% of the vote, but since he had no opponent he could hardly lose. He rigged the parliamentary elections of fall 2002, ensuring that his Pakistan Muslim League-Q had a majority. He interfered with the PPP and the Muslim League-N so much that he let the Muslim fundamentalist parties take over two provinces and get 17% of seats in parliament. Some of these members of the provincial parliament from the fundamentalist parties were actually Taliban. Others had trained the Taliban or actively denied that al-Qaeda existed.
Far from"bringing stability" as McCain suggested, Musharraf has destabilized Pakistan in the past year, arbitrarily sacking the chief justice of the supreme court, provoking massive demonstrations, brutally invading the Red Mosque, and provoking a violent backlash in the northwest. This is stability?
And is this really the kind of government McCain supports? Are these judgments the fruit of his experience? Is this the kind of holiday from history he is going to take? Having backed the radical Muslim extremists in Afghanistan in the 1980s, having winked at Zia's dictatorship and nuclear program, having coddled Musharraf's authoritarianism, is McCain going to bring us more disasters like September 11, done by his good friends, Reagan's Freedom Fighters?
If so, by all means bring on the breath of fresh air instead.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 - 14:54
SOURCE: National Review Online (2-18-08)
1. The rise of radical Islam, especially in Europe, has made Western publics edgy about Muslim-identified states, especially inside Europe.
2. Russia is no longer a basket case, but rearming, aggressive, overflowing with petro-dollars, and eager to use oil — and more — as a weapon.
3. Milosevic is long dead.
4. For six years there has been a steady anti-American drumbeat in Europe and caricatures of the use of “preemption” and “unilateralism”; Euros have so turned off Americans that there is no support for reintervention to solve a “European” problem that should of course, if it worsens, be adjudicated at the Hague and other European Utopian agencies.
5. This was a Clinton thing, and predated George W. Bush. The current tension reminds us of our forgotten American Balkan presence, that seems to have been necessary for the past decade — and without a treaty no less! And did we ever ask Congress to bomb over there, or did we go to the sacrosanct U.N.? Suddenly there are few liberal Harry Reid/Nancy Pelosi talking points to be heard on Kosovo.
6. After Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no likelihood that Americans want a third war, especially for Kosovo. Can you imagine the EU begging the Texan, twangy Halliburtonite, bible-thumping George Bush to please do something now!? I imagine right now President Bush is getting a different sort of phone call from his European friends, “Yo George?”
7. Yet given NATO’s dismal performance in Afghanistan, it has little fides in the Balkans, and the American attitude might be ‘you didn’t want to fight much for Afghanistan, so why should we for Kosovo?’
8. There is some EU support, especially in Eastern Europe and among Orthodox and Greek-speaking communities, for Serbia. Perhaps unfaddish and most un-European, but support nonetheless.
Where does all this leave us? It might be a fine and noble thing for the Kosovars to have their own state like the rest of the regions of the former Yugoslavia. But let us pray that neither Serbia nor Russia calls the Western bluff about guaranteeing Kosovar autonomy, because in the present climate it really would be, well, a big fat bluff.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 - 21:29
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (2-19-08)
Think of the top officials of the Bush administration as magicians when it comes to Iraq. Their top hats and tails may be worn and their act fraying, but it doesn't seem to matter. Their latest"abracadabra," the President's"surge strategy" of 2007, has still worked like a charm. They waved their magic wands, paid off and armed a bunch of former Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists (about 80,000" concerned citizens," as the President likes to call them), and magically lowered"violence" in Iraq. Even more miraculously, they made a country that they had already turned into a cesspool and a slagheap -- its capital now has a"lake" of sewage so large that it can be viewed"as a big black spot on Google Earth" -- almost entirely disappear from view in the U.S.
Of course, what they needed to be effective was that classic adjunct to any magician's act, the perfect assistant. This has been a role long held, and still played with mysterious willingness, by the mainstream media. There are certainly many reporters in Iraq doing their jobs as best they can in difficult circumstances. When it comes to those who make the media decisions at home, however, they have practically clamored for the Bush administration to put them in a coffin-like box and saw it in half. Thanks to their news choices, Iraq has for months been whisked deep inside most papers and into the softest sections of network and cable news programs. Only one Iraq subject has gotten significant front-page attention: How much"success" has the President's surge strategy had?
Before confirmatory polls even arrived, the media had waved its own magic wand and declared that Americans had lost interest in Iraq. Certainly the media people had. The economy -- with its subprime Hadithas and its market Abu Ghraibs -- moved to center stage, yet links between the Bush administration's two trillion dollar war and a swooning economy were seldom considered. It mattered little that a recent Associated Press/Ipsos poll revealed a majority of Americans to be convinced that the most reasonable"stimulus" for the U.S. economy would be withdrawal from Iraq. A total of 68% of those polled believed such a move would help the economy.
Anyone tuning in to the nightly network news can now regularly go through a typical half-hour focused on Obamania, the faltering of the Clinton"machine," the Huckabee/McCain face-off on Republican Main Street, the latest nose-diving market, and the latest campus shooting without running across Iraq at all. Cable TV, radio news, newspapers -- it makes little difference.
The News Coverage Index of the Project for Excellence in Journalism illustrates that point clearly. For the week of February 4-10, the category of"Iraq Homefront" barely squeaked into tenth place on its chart of the top-ten most heavily covered stories with 1% of the"newshole." First place went to"2008 Campaign" at 55%."Events in Iraq" -- that is, actual coverage of and from Iraq -- didn't make it onto the list. (The week before,"Events in Iraq" managed to reach #6 with 2% of the newshole.)
True, you can go to Juan Cole's Informed Comment website, perhaps the best daily round-up of Iraqi mayhem and disaster on the Web, and you'll feel as if, like Alice, you had fallen down a rabbit hole into another universe. ("Two bombings shook Iraq Sunday morning. In the Misbah commercial center in the upscale Shiite Karrada district, a female suicide bomber detonated a belt bomb, killing 3 persons and wounding 10… About 100 members of the Awakening Council of Hilla Province have gone on strike to protest the killing of three of them by the U.S. military at Jurf al-Sakhr last Sunday, in what the Pentagon says was an accident… Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that officials in Baqubah are warning that as families are returning to the city, they could be forced right back out again, owing to sectarian tensions...") But how many Americans read Juan Cole every day... or any day?
On that media homefront, the Bush administration has been Houdini-esque. Left repeatedly locked in chains inside a booth full of water, George W. Bush continues to emerge to declare that things are going swimmingly in Iraq:
"…80,000 local citizens stepped up and said, we want to help patrol our own neighborhoods; we're sick and tired of violence and extremists. I'm not surprised that that happens. I believe Iraqi moms want the same thing that American moms want, and that is for their children to grow up in peace… The surge is working. I know some don't want to admit that, and I understand. But the terrorists understand the surge is working. Al Qaeda knows the surge is working…"
Having pulled the"surge" rabbit out of his hat -- even stealing the very word out of the middle of"insurgent" -- Bush then topped that trick by making Iraq go away for weeks, if not months, on end. Talk about success!
Forever and a Day
If you're wondering why in the world this matters -- after all, won't the Democrats get us out of Iraq in 2009? -- then you haven't come to grips with Bush's greatest magic trick of all. Though a lame-duck president sporting dismally low job-approval ratings, he continues to embed the U.S. in Iraq, while framing the issue of what to do there in such a way that any thought of a quick withdrawal has... Poof!... fled the scene.
Admittedly, somewhere between 57% and 64% of Americans, according to Rasmussen Reports, want all U.S. troops out of Iraq within a year. We're not talking here about just the" combat troops" which both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem prepared to withdraw at a relatively stately pace. (Obama has suggested a 16-month schedule for removing them; Clinton has only indicated that she would start withdrawing some of them within 60 days of coming into office.) Combat troops, however, represent perhaps half of all U.S. military personnel in Iraq -- and Republicans are already attacking even their withdrawal as cut-and-run-ism, if not outright treason.
Americans may not have noticed, but the policy that a large majority of them want is no longer part of polite discussion in Washington or on the campaign trail. The spectrum of opinion in the capital, among presidential candidates, and in the mainstream media ranges from Senator McCain's claim that even setting a date for withdrawal would be a sure recipe for "genocide" -- and that's the responsible right -- to those who want to depart, but not completely and not very quickly either. The party of"withdrawal" would still leave American troops behind for various activities. These would include the"training" of the Iraqi military. (No one ever asks why one side in Iraq needs endless years of"training" and"advice," while the other sides simply fight on fiercely.) In addition, troops might be left to guard our monstrous new embassy in Baghdad, or as an al-Qaeda-oriented strike force, or even to protect American security contractors like Blackwater.
Hard as it is for the audience to separate the mechanics of a magician's trickery from the illusion he creates, it's worth a try. Before the surge began in February 2007, as five combat brigades were dispatched mainly to Baghdad, there were perhaps 130,000 American forces in Iraq (as well as a large contingent of private security contractors -- hired guns -- running into the tens of thousands). The surge raised that military figure to more than 160,000.
The Bush administration's latest plans are to send home the five combat brigades, but not all the support troops that arrived with them, by the end of July. This will still leave troop levels above those of February 2007. At that point, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggested only last week, the administration is likely to "pause" for at least one to three months to assess the situation. In other words, when Americans enter their polling places this November 4th, there will probably still be more troops in Iraq than at the beginning of 2007.
TIME Magazine typically put the matter this way:
"The pause, which could last up to several months, would be designed to ensure that the smaller U.S. footprint in Iraq doesn't embolden insurgents to reignite the civil war that ripped the country apart in 2006 and the first half of 2007."
That smaller footprint, however, will be marginally larger than the one that preceded the surge. So consider this a year-long draw-up, not a drawdown. In the meantime, though the mainstream media has hardly noticed, the Pentagon has been digging in. In the last year, it has continued to upgrade its massive bases in Iraq to the tune of billions of dollars. It has also brought in extra air power for an"air surge" that has barely been reported on here -- and nobody in Washington or on the campaign trail, in the Oval Office or the Democratic Party, has been talking about drawing down that air surge, even though there has recently been a spate of incidents in which Iraqi civilians, and some of those" concerned citizens" backing American forces have died from U.S. air strikes.
The Bush administration is also quietly negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement with the weak Iraqi government inside Baghdad's Green Zone. It will legally entrench American forces on those mega-bases for years to come. In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied that the administration was trying to bind a future president to Bush's Iraq policies. ("In short, nothing to be negotiated in the coming months will tie the hands of the next commander in chief, whomever he or she may be.") This, however, is obviously not the case. The agreement is also being carefully constructed to skirt the status of a"treaty," so that it will not have to be submitted to the Senate for ratification. All of this, in the grand tradition of Vice President Cheney, might be thought of as the Bush administration's embunkerment policy in Iraq.
In the surge year, when administration officials and top commanders speculated about withdrawal, they increasingly emphasized the Herculean task involved and the need to take the necessary time to carefully remove every last piece of military equipment in-country."You're talking about not just U.S. soldiers, but millions of tons of contractor equipment that belongs to the United States government, and a variety of other things," Secretary of Defense Gates told Pentagon reporters last July."This is a massive logistical undertaking whenever it takes place."
As TIME Magazine's Michael Duffy described it, included would be"a good portion of the entire U.S. inventory of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, trucks and humvees… They are spread across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps," not to speak of"dining halls, office buildings, vending machines, furniture, mobile latrines, computers, paper clips and acres of living quarters." Some top military commanders claimed that it would take up to 20 months just to get part of the American force out. More recently, it has been suggested that it would take"as many as 75 days" for each combat brigade and all its equipment to depart -- and this would, of course, be done one brigade at a time.
When it comes to withdrawal, the highest priority now seems to be frugality in saving all U.S. property. In other words, as the Bush administration continues to dig in, each of its acts makes leaving ever more complicated.
If the subject at hand weren't so grim, this would be hilarious. An analogy might lie in an old joke: A boy murders his father and mother and then, arrested and brought to court, throws himself on the mercy of the judge as an orphan.
The administration that rashly invaded Iraq, used it as a laboratory for any cockamamie scheme that came to mind, and threw money away profligately in one of the more flagrantly corrupt enterprises in recent history, now wants us to believe that future planning for draw-downs or withdrawals must be based on the need to preserve whatever we brought -- and are still bringing -- into the country.
In the land the Bush administration"liberated," violence remains at a staggering daily level; electricity is a luxury; the national medical-care system has been largely destroyed; perhaps 4.5 million Iraqis have either fled the country or become internally displaced persons; approximately 70% lack access to clean water; and 4 million, according to the UN, don't know where their next meal is coming from. Yet, even with such a record before us, the logic of the moment in Washington and in the media remains clear: The last thing we should be doing is getting out of the country with any alacrity. After all, if we do, a disaster, a bloodbath, even genocide might happen.
Put another way, the most self-interested party in the"withdrawal" debate continues to set the terms of that debate. Imagine if, in football, the quarterback calling plays for his team also had the power to assess penalties, declare first downs, and decide whether a ball was caught in or out of bounds.
In the meantime, since the antiwar movement remains relatively moribund, there are no"out now" or"bring the troops home" chants ringing in the streets of our country. You have to look to the fringes for perfectly reasonable suggestions on getting out. Take Professor Immanuel Wallerstein, who wrote an essay,"Walking Away: The Least Bad Option," which you won't find in your local paper. To him,"walking away" would mean"a statement by the US government that it will withdraw all troops without exception and shut down all bases in Iraq within say six months of the date of announcement." He adds:"U.S. withdrawal would mark the first step on the long and difficult path to healing the United States of the sicknesses brought on by its imperial addiction, the first step in a painful effort to restore the good name of the United States in the world community."
Right now, however, any form of"walking away," itself a polite euphemism for retreat from a desperate stalemate or even a lost war, is off that"table" on which this administration has so often placed"all options." As a result, if either Clinton or Obama were to win the next election, enter office in January 2009, and follow his or her present plan -- a relatively long period of drawdown not leading to full withdrawal -- he or she would, within months, simply inherit the President's war. At that point, the present war supporters would turn on the new president with a ferocity the Democrats are incapable of mustering against the present one, attacking her or him as a cut-and-runner of the first order, even possibly even a traitor.
We Don't Do Permanent
Sen. John McCain made a small stir recently by saying that he doesn't care if American troops stay in Iraq"100 years" as long as"Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed." In fact, as Mother Jones' David Corn reported, the senator later elaborated on that statement, adding"a thousand years,""a million years." The President and various top administration officials have offered similar, if more restrained formulas, speaking vaguely of"years" in Iraq, or a"decade" or more in that country, or simply of the"Korea model," a reference to our garrisoning of the southern part of the Korean peninsula for well over half a century with no end yet in sight.
Of course, this administration has already built its state-of-the-art mega-bases in Iraq as well as a mega-embassy, the largest on the planet, to suit such dreams. Yet in April 2003, the month Baghdad fell to American forces, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld first denied that the U.S. was seeking"permanent" bases in Iraq. Ever since then, administration officials have consistently denied that those increasingly permanent-looking mega-bases were"permanent."
Just the other day, the President again toldFox News,"We won't have permanent bases… [but] I do believe it is in our interests and the interests of the Iraqi people that we do enter into an agreement on how we are going to conduct ourselves over the next years." Dana Perino, White House press spokesperson, offered further clarification by indicating that we do not actually have permanent bases on Planet Earth, even in Korea more than half a century later."I'm not aware," she said,"of any place in the world -- where we have a base -- that they are asking us to leave. And if they did, we would probably leave." (She made a singular exception for Guantanamo.)
Consider this a philosophic position. Evidently, we don't do permanent because all things are evanescent; everything must end. Where, after all, are the Seven Wonders of the World? Mostly gone, of course.
Such a position might be applied to far more than the permanency of bases. Let me offer two linked predictions based on impermanency:
As a start, the surge-followed-by-pause solution the Bush administration whipped up is a highly unstable, distinctly impermanent strategy. It was never meant to do much more than give Iraq enough of the look of quiescence that the President's war could be declared a modest"success" and passed on to the next president. It relies on a tenuous balancing of unstable, largely hostile forces in Iraq -- of Sunni former insurgents and the Shiite followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, among others. It is unlikely to last even until the November presidential election.
And let's remember that those on the other side(s) are just as capable of reading drawdown -- and election -- schedules, of gauging weakness and strength, as we are. It's likely that by the fall the surge effect will have worn off -- signs of this are already in the air -- and Iraq will be creeping back onto front pages and to the top of the TV news.
Given that Senator McCain is so tightly linked to the surge's"success," as well as the war itself, he is likely to prove a far weaker Republican candidate than now generally imagined. Similarly, it may be far harder to Swift Boat the Democrats over Iraq by this fall -- if, that is, the Democratic presidential candidate doesn't move so close to McCain on the war as to take the sting out of his situation. Already, as Gary Kamiya has written at Salon.com, the Democrats'"timid, Republican-lite approach to Iraq and the 'war on terror' has put the country to sleep… Indeed, polls show that the main reason the public has such a low opinion of Congress is that it failed to force Bush to change course in Iraq."
Iraq is a deeply alien land whose people were never going to accept being garrisoned by the military of a Western imperial power. It was always delusional to think that our situation there could be"enduring," no matter how many permanent-looking structures we built. It is no less delusional for Senator McCain to imagine a 100-year garrisoning -- in fact, one of any length -- in which Americans will not be"injured, harmed or killed."
The time for withdrawal from Iraq has long passed. In those endless years in which withdrawal didn't happen, the Bush administration definitively proved one thing: We are incapable of"solving" Iraq's problems,"building" a nation there, or preventing an endless string of horrific things from occurring. After all, it was under U.S. occupation and in the face of the overwhelming presence of American forces that Iraq devolved and massive ethnic cleansing occurred. It was during the months of the President's surge in 2007, with U.S. troops flooding the streets of the capital, that many of Baghdad's mixed neighborhoods were most definitively" cleansed."
It is a delusion to believe that the U.S. military is a force that stands between Iraqis and catastrophe. It is a significant part of the catastrophe and, as long as Washington is committed to any form of permanency (however euphemistically described), it cannot help but remain so.
Every day that passes, the Bush administration is digging us in further, even though surge commander General David Petraeus recently observed that"there is no light at the end of the tunnel that we're seeing." Every day that passes makes withdrawal that much harder and yet brings it ineradicably closer.
Getting out, when it comes, won't be elegant. That's a sure thing by now; but, honestly, you don't have to be a military specialist to know that, if we were determined to leave, it wouldn't take us forever and a day to do so. It isn't actually that hard to drive a combat brigade's equipment south to Kuwait. (And there's no reason to expect serious opposition from our Iraqis opponents, who overwhelmingly want us to depart.)
When withdrawal finally comes, the Iraqis will be the greatest losers. They will be left in a dismantled country. They deserve better. Perhaps an American administration determined to withdraw in all due haste could still muster the energy to offer better. But leave we must. All of us.
Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 - 17:56
SOURCE: AEI (2-19-08)
The conflict between Iran and the United States began in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution and the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran. Born partly of ideological differences and partly of real and perceived differing national interests, it has continued, alternately hot and cold, for almost three decades and seems unlikely to end soon. Like most previous conflicts, its conclusion cannot be foreseen. Many such struggles, like the Anglo-German tensions between 1871 and 1945 and the centuries-long tensions between Britain and France, lead to full-scale war. Others, like the Anglo-Russian or Russian-Ottoman tensions throughout the nineteenth century, lead to more limited conflict. And some, like the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, are resolved without direct armed confrontation. One key to resolving any such conflict is understanding both the nature of the enemy and the scope of the conflict--insights that have eluded most Americans and, indeed, many Iranians. This report addresses this lack of understanding and argues that while neither Americans nor Iranians desire full-scale military confrontation, Iranian activism and American passivity are contributing to a drift toward war.
Iran has been in the headlines on and off since 1979, but its significance for the United States increased dramatically after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran had long been recognized as the premier state sponsor of terrorism, but following 9/11, Americans were less willing than they had been to tolerate Iranian attacks, such as the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 U.S. troops and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and Iranian support for groups--like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza--with a history of killing Americans.
After Saddam Hussein was overthrown, it immediately became clear that Iran would have significant influence in post-Saddam Iraq. Indeed, mounting evidence of Iranian support for Shia and Sunni groups fighting American troops in Iraq generated deep concern in the United States, and sporadic reports of similar Iranian support to the Taliban in Afghanistan have received short bursts of attention. But Tehran ensured its place in the spotlight as it rapidly moved toward an escalation of tensions over its nuclear program.
The policy debate in the United States has generally centered around a single issue: will (or should) the Bush administration launch military strikes against Iran? Most have seen the Iranian nuclear program as the likeliest trigger for a U.S. attack. Those in the United States and Europe who oppose such a reaction have attempted to design a program of sanctions and diplomacy aimed at resolving the "nuclear issue." Fear that other points of conflict, particularly Iranian support of insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, might become another trigger has also led to controversy over and even obfuscation of events in those two important theaters. And Iran's continued support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups, while undisputed, is rarely mentioned--most likely out of fear that "war hawks" will use any evidence of Iranian wrongdoing to press for immediate military strikes.
The desire of the Bush administration--and even most of the supposed hawks--to attack Iran has always been overstated. Although some writers have advocated using military means to promote regime change in Tehran, few--if any--serious Iran analysts or defense specialists have recommended using force in the first instance. There has been no concerted effort within the administration--and very little pressure from the outside--for an attack. There is no comparison, for instance, between the bipartisan efforts to condemn, contain, or remove Saddam Hussein in the 1990s and again in 2003 and isolated attempts to promote military strikes against Iran since the start of the Iraq war. The reason is simple: Iran is more than three times as large as Iraq in every dimension, with daunting physical terrain, even more daunting human terrain, and a global terrorist network. The prospect of full-scale war has never been appealing, and the waning of enthusiasm for precision-strike regime change after 2003 has made that option relatively unattractive as well.
This is not to say that the Bush administration or its successors will not launch either limited or full-scale military operations against Iran. Unattractive as the prospect of military conflict is, the prospect of an Iranian nuclear arsenal is at least equally unappealing. Much as Americans might desire to avoid war with Iran, continued Iranian intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Middle East might ultimately make that option less repulsive than the alternatives. Western democracies do not go to war because they want to--they go to war when they determine that they have no other choice. The challenge in managing any cold war lies in ensuring that neither side ever feels that hot war is the lesser evil. And the key to that challenge is finding a modus vivendi, rather than insisting one side surrender to the other. This platitude is normally taken to mean that the United States should make sufficient concessions to Iran to mollify the mullahs. But the often-ignored converse is also true: stability will not result any more from an American surrender to Iran than from an Iranian surrender to America.
Sadly, there is very little prospect of success in this or any other endeavor unless the policy debate moves beyond the compartmentalization and hysteria that have characterized the discussion thus far. We must be able to recognize openly, fully, and objectively Iran's activities in the region that affect our interests without fearing that such recognition will lead to a foolish war. And we must also recognize that our conflict with Iran is regionwide, complex, and broad-based--it is not a simple misunderstanding over the nature of Iran's nuclear program or the threat Tehran feels from having U.S. troops deployed to its east and west. This report aims to present empirical evidence of Iran's actions in three critical areas: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank and Gaza). It does not address Iran's nuclear program, which is relatively familiar to most people who follow the issue, nor does it address Iranian activities beyond the broader Middle East and South Asia, although these are also worthy of study. Above all, it makes few claims about Iran's intentions.
The debate about the aims and even the nature and power of the Iranian regime is charged. The regime is unusually opaque. The combination of openness, rhetorical diversity, apparent internal schism, plausible and implausible deniability, and American neuralgia about Iranian intentions has made drawing firm conclusions about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government or its possible successors almost hopeless. In the end, the United States is not likely to achieve any important goals vis-à-vis Iran without addressing better than we have thus far the issue of who controls the levers of power in Tehran and what they intend to do. But the American debate has thus far been so short on facts and so compartmentalized that establishing a ground-truth of Iran's activities in its immediate environs, whatever their goals and whoever ordered them, is an important undertaking.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 - 17:53
SOURCE: NYT (2-17-08)
... To put it simply, the public this year will probably not vote itself into a much better or even much different economic policy. To be sure, the next president — whoever he or she may be — may well extend health care coverage to more Americans. But most of the country’s economic problems won’t be solved at the voting booth. It is already too late to stop an economic downturn. Health care costs will keep rising, no matter who becomes president or which party controls Congress. China is now a bigger carbon polluter than the United States, so don’t expect a tax or cap-and-trade rules to solve global warming, even if American measures are very stringent — and they probably won’t be, because higher home heating bills are not a vote winner. A Democratic president may propose more spending on social services, but most of the federal budget is on automatic pilot. Furthermore, even if a Republican president wanted to cut back on such mandates, the bulk of them are here to stay.
Yes, the election does matter. Even small differences on economic issues affect millions of Americans. But the record of the Bush administration should prove sobering to all those who expect the American political economy to turn around in the next four years.
Many conservative and libertarian economists supported President Bush, thinking they would be getting policy drawn from the work of Milton Friedman and Martin Feldstein, two respected market-oriented economists. Instead, in economics, the Bush years have brought an increase in domestic government spending, and some poorly-thought-out privatization plans. For all the talk of an extreme right-wing revolution, government transfer programs like Social Security and Medicare have continued to grow. And despite big mistakes involving the Iraq war, Mr. Bush wasn’t punished by voters in 2004.
Of course, an administration can make big economic changes. The New Deal brought about a revolution in economic policy — but those were special circumstances. The United States was in a very deep depression, and the concept of economic planning was sweeping the world. That period is an exception; it does not reflect the general tendency of the American political system, which usually operates by checks and balances. Shifts in economic policy are usually quite moderate.
The reality is that democracy is a very blunt instrument, and in today’s environment we are choosing between ways of muddling through. We may hear that the election is about different visions for America’s future, but the pitches may be more akin to selling different brands of soap.
We hear so many superficial messages precisely because most American voters have neither the knowledge nor the commitment to evaluate the pronouncements of politicians on economic issues. It is no accident that the most influential political science book of the last year has been “The Myth of the Rational Voter,” by Bryan Caplan. The book shows that many voters are ill-informed or even irrational; many economic issues are complex, and each voter knows that he or she will not determine the final outcome....
Posted on: Sunday, February 17, 2008 - 17:49
SOURCE: WaPo (2-17-08)
Something is seriously wrong with the way we pick our presidential candidates. But experts and pundits, caught up in the horse races, have been slow to point out the obvious -- or have come to accept our badly flawed system as immutable fact.
We were brought to our current mess by the best of intentions. Primaries and caucuses had been around for much of the 20th century, but until 1972, party bosses, not voters, ultimately had the most say in picking the nominees. In 1952, for instance, the Democratic barons selected Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson at the convention instead of the popular Sen. Estes Kefauver, who had won most of that year's primaries -- even beating President Harry S. Truman in New Hampshire. Kefauver, who had made his name by holding dramatic televised hearings into organized crime, was too outspoken to get the nod from a smoke-filled room.
The disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention shattered confidence in this efficient but undemocratic system. Instead of a dove such as Sen. Eugene McCarthy, party leaders from large, non-primary states tapped Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who had cravenly supported President Lyndon B. Johnson on the war in Vietnam and had sent surrogates to run in his place in the primaries. Outside the convention, young demonstrators howled in protest and were beaten by the police. Next time around, reformers led by Sen. George McGovern deliberately weakened the role of the conventions, making primaries the determining force in picking presidential candidates. The Republican Party, feeling some of the same frustration, soon followed suit.
The first people to test this new system were Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. The GOP's reforms gave a stronger voice to the Republican right, letting the upstart Reagan nearly upset President Gerald R. Ford in 1976 by winning the North Carolina and Texas primaries. On the Democratic side, Carter used his surprise victory in that year's Iowa caucuses to transform himself from an unknown peanut farmer and obscure governor ("Jimmy who?") into the front-runner -- without ever courting the party leaders. After Carter's defeat four years later, the Democrats worried that they had produced a process too favorable to weak "outsider" candidates. They then tried to restore some power to the party's operatives by establishing unpledged "superdelegates," including governors, members of Congress and former presidents -- a modest check that did little to gut the reforms.
The old ways were unfair and autocratic, of course. But the new ones have grave problems, too.
For one thing, caucuses can be highly undemocratic. They eliminate the secret ballot, forcing voters to declare their loyalties publicly, and are thus vulnerable to intimidation and manipulation. They also shut out many citizens who have to work during caucus times. If you can't show up at a specific hour, you can't vote -- a particular problem for people with fixed shifts, including many of the working poor. (The supposedly democratic caucuses can also discriminate, as happened to Sabbath-observant Jews who couldn't get to Nevada's Saturday caucuses.) And there are usually no absentee ballots, of course.
The magnified importance of the early showdowns also opens the door to abuse. This year, Democrats in Michigan and Florida moved up their contests, thereby drawing the ire of the national party, which vowed not to seat the delegates. Unless something changes, voters in these states will be unfairly removed from the decision-making process, and neither candidate will benefit from their support.
"Open" primaries and caucuses (in which anyone can vote, not just registered party members) let voters from the other party cause all sorts of mischief. A Republican convinced that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is too divisive to win in the fall could vote for her in some Democratic contests in the spring, hoping to saddle the Democrats with a losing nominee. Or, as Sen. Barack Obama's campaign did in Nevada, a candidate can openly appeal for votes from people outside his or her party in order to stop a rival. The winners are outsiders hoping to game the system; the losers are rank-and-file party members whose choices count less.
Another basic irony: Primaries tend to favor highly committed voters from the extremes of both parties, who are much more likely to turn up than moderates. So candidates have strong incentives to pander to their extremist flanks, throwing red meat that they may well regret in November or in the White House. For example, Reagan tacked far to the right during the 1980 primaries on abortion and other issues dear to religious conservatives, only to leave policies in these areas generally untouched after he won. Bill Clinton roused the Democratic base with populist themes during the 1992 primaries -- only to govern as a moderate centrist as the realities of the federal deficit left from the Reagan and Bush years sank in. Over time, the necessity of flattering the base during the primary season -- and of ignoring all that thunder in the fall -- only intensifies the sense of outrage, alienation and cynicism that has dogged American politics for decades.
Finally, while the primary system took power away from the party barons, it gave much of that clout to the news media -- now driven by national outlets that prefer sensationalism, scandal and sound bites to substance, nuance and balance....
In general, Democrats have had much more trouble than Republicans kicking good results out of the new primary system. The old bosses turned out to be strikingly skilled at nominating strong candidates, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman, John F. Kennedy and LBJ. Democrats haven't chosen nearly as well for themselves; more recent primary cycles have produced Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John F. Kerry and the one-term Carter. Bill Clinton stands as the exception rather than the norm. (Then again, this year, those much-maligned superdelegates may finally play a decisive role in selecting the candidate, finally redressing some of the excesses of the 1970s reforms.)...
The unintended consequences of the well-intended reforms of the 1970s are now glaringly clear. Perhaps now, both parties will agree to reform the nominating system once again: abolishing caucuses, regularizing a rigorous system of national debates, closing open primaries, grabbing power back from the media and so on. We could still get it right in 2012.
Posted on: Sunday, February 17, 2008 - 13:41
SOURCE: Martin Kramer at his blog: Sandbox (2-15-08)
As Hezbollah’s official funeral of Imad Mughniyah unfolded yesterday—Hezbollah’s leader eulogizied him over a coffin decked in Hezbollah’s flag—it was useful to recall the party’s denial of his very existence over all these many years. Mention of his name to Hezbollah officials would draw a blank stare or blanket denial. “Hezbollah professes no knowledge of the man,” the New York Timesreported in 2002. A journalist who interviewed a top Hezbollah official and parliamentary deputy, Abdullah Kassir, once asked him if he knew Mughniyah. “Kassir flashed a blistering look and responded curtly, ‘I have no answer.’”
Hezbollah’s leader, Hasan Nasrallah, followed a double tack: he would defend “freedom fighter” Mughniyah, but not acknowledge him. “The American accusations against Mughnieh are mere accusations,” he was quoted as saying. “Can they provide evidence to condemn Imad Mughnieh? They launch accusations as if they are given facts.” But when pressed, Nasrallah “refused to reveal whether Mughnieh has a role in Hizbullah.” Of course.
Another American academic wrote this precious paragraph in her book on Hezbollah:
For its part, Hezbollah has consistently denied the existence of any relationship with Mughniyeh, direct or indirect. As a matter of record, from the time of the party’s inception, all Hezbollah officials have emphatically denied ever knowing a person by the name of Imad Mughniyeh. The apparent avoidance of this issue is clear in an answer to a recent question about the party’s relationship with Mughniyeh. The response of a Hezbollah senior official was that Mughniyeh had never held a position in their organization, and was, in Deputy Secretary General Naim al-Qassim’s words, ‘only a name’.
The same author then spends a few embarrassing pages agonizing over this question: “Was Mughniyeh a member of Hezbollah?”
Now that Nasrallah’s eulogy has placed Mughniyah officially in the pantheon of Hezbollah’s greatest martyrs (with Abbas al-Musawi and Raghib Harb), this question looks absurd. That it ever arose is a testament to the discipline of Hezbollah in sticking to lies that serve its interests. One of its paramount interests is concealing from scrutiny that apparatus of terror that Mughniyah spent his life building. Hiding the clandestine branch protects it from Hezbollah’s enemies, and makes it easier to sell the movement to useful idiots in the West, who insist that the movement hasn’t done any terror in years, and maybe never did any at all. They produce statements of such mind-boggling gullibility that one can easily imagine Mughniyah chuckling to himself on reading them. The “literature” is rife with claims that Mughniyah didn’t really belong to Hezbollah, or he answered to Iran, or he had his own agenda—anything to dissociate his terrorist acts from the party.
The truth is (and always has been) a simple one. Hezbollah is many things, but it has always included within it a clandestine terrorist branch, and it probably always will. Indeed, Nasrallah’s threat in his eulogy—to commence an “open war” with Israel outside the Israel-Lebanon theater—alludes to the “global reach” that Mughniyah helped to build.
If Hezbollah were absolutely determined to distance itself from the terror tag, it wouldn’t have accorded an official send-off to a most-wanted terrorist. Nor would its leader have stood over his coffin and threatened “open war.” Assassinations of terrorists can boomerang, and so might this one. But it’s already had the one merit of exposing the core of Hezbollah that lies deep beneath the schools, the hospitals, and all the other gimmicks the party uses to get support and pass in polite company. On page one of the International Herald Tribune yesterday, there were photographs of the aftermath of the Beirut bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks (1983), the hijacked TWA Flight 847 (1985), and the ruins of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia (1996). That’s Hezbollah too, and that was Imad Mughniyah—and they were one.
Posted on: Saturday, February 16, 2008 - 15:43
SOURCE: Open Democracy (2-15-08)
China is continually part of the global news agenda, a tendency that is certain to accelerate in 2008 as its supercharged economy develops and as Beijing hosts the Olympic games on 8-24 August. This media coverage of China in the west is often dominated by emotionally charged stories, of which the reports of the film director Steven Spielberg's about-face on 12 February - from considering playing an advisory role in planning the spectacles that will accompany the Olympics to criticising the Chinese Communist Party for its policy in Africa - is but one example. In such times, it is important if not always easy to avoid the tendency to oversimplify contemporary China. But how can outside observers escape this trap?
In the Chinese history courses I teach, one of my goals is simply to get students to think of the country as an incredibly diverse place - and realise that popular western images of "China" thus often only have relevance for particular social groups or particular regions. Despite all the shots they have seen of Chinese people dressed in widely divergent ways, old visions of a monolithic country where everyone wears "Mao suits" linger. And even when notions of uniformity fall, they're sometimes replaced by new visions of China as divided neatly along a single axis.
The challenge in the classroom, and with people I encounter elsewhere who have just a passing interest in China, is to convey the idea that the People's Republic (PRC) is a complex social and geographic patchwork. This involves an effort to make tangible the ways that different social variables (class, ethnicity, gender, generation, location) all add distinctive elements to how individuals experience life. The sense that China is diverse not monolithic - with, for example, important divides not just between regions but between communities within a region and even sections within a city - is a vital route to understanding about the country.
Thus, I sprinkle my lectures with tidbits of information designed to undermine common, mistaken notions about what has united or currently unites all Chinese. I note that many people living in some northern provinces a century ago would have gone to their deathbeds never having tasted rice; that the dialects in far-flung regions can differ from one another in sound more than English does from German; that a friend of mine in Shanghai refers to having felt a sense of exile when she moved from her childhood home in the centre of the metropolis (known for its distinctive wide boulevards lined with plane trees and cosmopolitan air) to a university at the northern edge of the city (bordered by farmland); and that, though press coverage of China can leave the impression that most people in the PRC were shaped by life under Mao Zedong, some 40% of them were not even alive when he died (indeed, stringent caps on population growth notwithstanding, some 25% of residents of the PRC today were born after the massacre of 4 June 1989.
Yet it remains hard to get my students to take on board the degree of variation in life-experiences and attitudes within China, today as in the past (in fact, even during the heyday of Maoism, there was far less uniformity - dress-styles aside - than is often imagined). This is partly the result of two tendencies in establishment media coverage.
The two temptations
The first might be called the "totalitarian temptation": a tendency to slide into misleadingly presenting the PRC as a homogeneous place where the state decides everything and groupthink predominates. A classic case is the incident during the war for Kosovo in 1999, when American missiles hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three citizens of the PRC. In response, the Beijing government sanctioned anti-Nato student protests which, however, quickly acquired another dimension.
I happened to be in China at the time, and I knew that these protests were much more complex than simply government-orchestrated show-demonstrations. They were fuelled by genuine outrage (no country's residents like it when their embassies get blown up) and a generation's desire to affirm that it was as patriotic as any that had come before it. Yes, the regime sanctioned the displays of outrage and took pains to steer them in certain directions. At the same time, some western reporting of the events effectively stripped the students who took to the streets of any agency, presenting them as unthinking automatons - even though in some cases youths did things (like call for a boycott of British and American goods) that the government had explicitly directed them not to do.
A particular example of the totalitarian temptation from that time stays with me: the analogy drawn by the rightwing American periodical the Weekly Standard of China's young people as being shaped by a mode of groupthink reminiscent of the Borg, a character in the Star Trek universe.
The second tendency might be called the "dualistic temptation", the formulaic presentation of China as divided - but just into two. In a report on the Dalai Lama, for example, news agencies might focus on the division between frontier-zones like Tibet and the rest of the PRC. In stories on consumerism, the urban-rural split is the key binary. In coverage of economic disparities, the frame is the gulf separating Beijing and coastal cities such as Shanghai, where living standards have soared, from hinterland locales that are lagging behind.
This is a seductive approach for lazy or under-resourced journalists. Many who are neither of these things apply this China-divided-into-two template in another area, politics: by presenting the vision of a clear divide between free-thinking dissidents and those loyal to or cowed by the regime.
The China-as-dualistic method is certainly better than seeing everything as homogenous. But it does not go far enough.
The best PRC-based foreign journalists - and there are some superb ones in the field - understand well the limits of monolithic and even dualistic visions of China. They strive to present it as a mosaic, socially and geographically. But it can be hard for these astute reporters to get stories that go beyond the China-as-one or China-as-two models into circulation, since many media gatekeepers seem to assume that western audiences (perhaps particularly American ones) want simple answers to complex China questions.
What then is to be done?
The inside stories
The simplest things can help; for example, offering information that reveals the limits of monolithic images and simple binary divides. The news stories about largely middle-class protests in Xiamen (where people rallied against a chemical plant being built near their homes) and Shanghai (where people demonstrated to stop an extension of a Maglev railway) provide an opportunity to expose the limits of a dissident/non-dissident divide. Some of these protesters are people who, on the whole, are quite satisfied with where their country is headed, but are still ready to take action to assert their right to a greater say in things that directly affected the quality of their lives and value of their property.
Indeed, perhaps the single thing I've found most effective lately in countering the totalitarian or the dualistic temptation is just to tell stories about my time watching the anti-Nato protests of 1999 at firsthand. In my latest book, China's Brave New World - And Other Tales for Global Times (Indiana University Press, 2007), I've tried to give these classroom stories a wider impact, by using them as the basis for one of its chapters.
One story I've long told in class and repeat in that chapter is about observing a campus meeting, just as the protests were starting to wind down. The meeting began with a professor asking a room full of students how many of them had taken part in the recent demonstrations. About half put up their hands and about half didn't. This wouldn't have happened with a state-sanctioned movement in a truly totalitarian state: everyone would have either gone to the march, or at least been smart enough to claim later that they had.
A second story has to do with going from Beijing to Shanghai (two places often lumped in the same category of "places doing well") midway through the protests. I sensed a dramatic difference in mood when I got to Shanghai, a sense that there was much less antagonism toward me as an American than I had felt in the capital. When I mentioned this to Shanghai residents I had just met, they nearly always responded in the same way - using it as an excuse to launch into a spirited soliloquy about how much less dogmatic and more open-minded and practical Shanghai people were than their Beijing counterparts. (And had I gone to Beijing second and told people there how much more intense the protests there seemed to be, I'm quite confident some of them would have used this as an invitation to lecture me about how much more deeply patriotic residents of their city were than the money-grubbing and superficial denizens of Shanghai.)
If I could just transport my students back to 1999 and have them accompany me on my trip, I think I could make them immune to ever again thinking of the PRC in monolithic or even dualistic terms. It was, after all, a time when I met protesters who weren't dissidents, saw state-sanctioned rallies in which demonstrators called for tactics the government had expressly decried, and learned anew, even in this age of resurgent Chinese nationalism, that in China as in some other countries loyalty to one's city can often be as passionate as loyalty to the nation. But since time-travel is impossible outside a Star Trek world, I'll just hope that telling stories like those in the classroom and on the page can serve the purpose almost as well.
Posted on: Saturday, February 16, 2008 - 13:19
SOURCE: Open Democracy (2-12-08)
All twenty-seven member-states of the European Union are currently pondering Turkey's application for membership. A few are enthusiastic about the prospect; some worry about the economic and demographic consequences of such a move; others are more concerned about the effects on European security that an Islamic government more radical than the current moderate one in Ankara might have.
Of all these states, however, Austria has perhaps the most multi-layered perspective on the possibility of Turkey’s presence at the “heart of Europe”. Other current members, including recent arrivals such as Bulgaria and Romania, have their own national memory of conquest and colonisation during the Ottoman period. But this is very different from the intimate enmity of states and empires – Habsburg vs Ottoman - that for centuries battled one another for religious and territorial pre-eminence in central and east-central Europe. Memories, mental images, even some of the language of this historical conflict with the Muslim Turks still mark Austria (and Hungary, which was once ruled by the Austrian house of Habsburg). Can this experience offer insight into contemporary Europe’s struggle to understand the modern version of its great “other”, and to forge with it a new relationship that by taking account of this history in all its layers might avoid continuing the sorriest aspects of it?
The forge of enmity
Today's Austria and Hungary (taking account of the changes in national territory across recent centuries) were, unlike most of western and northern Europe, once on the frontlines of Ottoman – and Muslim - aggression. From the late 14th century to around 1700, the armies of the Ottoman Turks, marching under the green banner of the Prophet Mohammed, conquered and occupied a good part of the Danube valley, along with much of Balkan Christendom. great stretches of southeastern and east-central – and Christian - Europe. They were forced by bad weather to break their siege of Vienna in 1529, but they clearly intended to try again. By 1541, one of the greatest Ottoman sultans, Süleyman the Magnificent (1494-1566), occupied Buda and Pest (the city was consolidated only in 1872) and most of southern Hungary.
The task of resisting the Turks and the religion with which they became synonymous fell by default to the devoutly Catholic Habsburgs, the Austrian dynasty which itself was assembling a central-European empire that, after 1526, included the kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia. Thus, Ottoman expansion threatened both the Habsburgs’ faith and the complex of lands that gave them claim to political power in Europe.
Ottoman Muslim rule in Hungary was in important respects no more oppressive than its Christian equivalent. The sultan did not conscript boys to serve in his armies and his court as he did from other territories under his control. Tax collection was less rigorous. When rapacious army units under both Christian and Muslim command tormented civilians, as they often did, the victims could be on either side of the religious divide. Nevertheless, while there may have been a few Austrians and Hungarians who believed that Islam was a religion of peace, no one would have taken them seriously.
To contemporaries in central Europe, the process of Ottoman takeover was terrifying in ways not altogether unfamiliar in the present day. Massive campaigns out of Constantinople and up the Danube valley usually began only after repeated and sudden raids and skirmishes had softened up prospective targets. Men were often massacred on the spot, and women and children kidnapped into various forms of servitude. Settlements were looted, then burned. The Austrian village of Perchtoldsdorf, just beyond the city limits of modern Vienna, was the site of a massacre in 1683 that epitomised for many the bestiality of the Turks and the diabolic character of the religion that they professed.
The human effects of such assaults were devastating. Families were torn apart, sometimes forever, sometimes just long enough for one spouse to remarry, only to have a former partner reappear awkwardly after years of captivity. Diplomats from the Christian world, including Vienna, were often summarily jailed in filth-ridden Ottoman prisons for little more than reporting the views of their home governments. Even for people who survived such episodes, life could become living martyrdom.
Many of these experiences were recounted in gruesome, often physically disgusting, “captive narratives” by central Europeans (Austrians and Hungarians among them). The public that read them was both titillated, especially when the subject was the inner workings of harems, and alerted to what awaited Christians who fell into the hands of the Turks. Many of these were translated into several languages and reprinted well into the 18th century.
Such experiences - real and vicarious alike - gave rise in central and east-central Europe to views of the “Muslim-as-Turk” that would shock all but the most confirmed of today's Islamophobes. Indeed, it is distress over the political and social divisiveness of these images that prompts many western politicians of today to squelch them as fast as they can. Habsburg governments and the church they supported struggled with no such compunctions. They spread these notions that quickly hardened into stereotypes to impress upon their peoples the urgency of resisting an enemy that took land and life as well as religion. Popular songs and homilies, printed broadsides and various forms of visual arts – all were co-opted into making the Turk and his faith as loathsome and as frightening as possible.
From this complex emerged visions of the Muslim Turk that still lurk in the minds of many in Austria, Hungary, and elsewhere in eastern and southeastern Europe: the Turk as The Lecherous Brute, the Turk as The Child- (particularly Male Child-) Molester, the Turk as the Wanton Destroyer of Life and Property, the Turk as the Terror of the World - such epithets and many more like them became common usages in the speech and languages of the Habsburg empire. Scholars, aristocrats, and the vast range of common folk, literate and illiterate, all were familiar with them. These negatives, of course, were often contrasted with the virtues of Christianity and the dynasty that was defending it.
Flare-ups of these sentiments do reappear in Austrian public life even today. But these outbursts are considerably offset by the widespread belief that the Turks and their religion should be judged on the basis of informed understanding rather than inherited imagery. In light of the long-standing hostility between Muslim Turk and Christian, however, it might be enlightening to ask: how did such an attitudinal change take place? If nothing else, such a query may offer some guidance for modern leaders who believe that they must resist Islamist terrorism, but without demonising an entire faith and its believers.
A turn to the liberal
Ottoman military fortunes in central Europe began an irreversible downslide turn in the summer of 1683. After a destructive campaign in the environs of Vienna, the sultan's forces besieged the city from 4 July to 11 September. On 12 September, an international coalition of Christian armies put the Ottoman troops into flight. One decisive victory led to more; by 1700 virtually all of Hungary was free of Turkish overlordship. In the next two decades, Habsburg armies had descended the Danube far enough to contest Belgrade in 1717.
It is always easier to think more objectively about one's enemies when they are no longer a threat. The response in the territories of the Habsburg empire to the defeat of the Turks was no exception.
Indeed, routinely malicious stereotyping of the Turks and their faith faded so quickly in the18th century in Vienna and other parts of the Habsburg monarchy as to provoke extensive contemporary commentary. The educated elites and those in high government service began looking at their onetime foe in much more nuanced ways. While very few forgot or diminished Ottoman-inspired torments and the role of the house of Austria in bringing them to an end, Habsburg rulers and imperial ministers saw that they had to work with the sultans in Constantinople and - when necessary - to accommodate their culture. In this sense the regimes of the erstwhile Muslim enemy, while decisively restrained in Europe, were not to be humiliated in perpetuity, at least at the level of state relations. The motives on both sides, however, were far more practical than moral. Ottoman support was needed for the Habsburgs to check Russian expansion into the Balkans and toward the Black Sea, and the Turkish rulers required Habsburg help for the same reason.
But power politics alone did not revise stereotypes. Even at their most aggressive, the Turks had received some favourable press in central Europe. The captives who wrote so pathetically of their own miseries and those of fellow Christians as prisoners in the Ottoman lands, had good things to say about their enemy too. It was possible for Christians to interact cordially with Turks at public baths in Hungary or even in some prisons. There was a stereotype of the Turk that emphasised his positive, admirable qualities: particularly as a fighting man, who was disciplined, clean, and brave beyond many of his European counterparts. Furthermore, although the house of Habsburg was fervently Roman Catholic, it had not set out to exterminate Islam as a faith: curbing Ottoman territorial appetites was quite enough. Once that mission had been accomplished, rulers in Vienna saw no principled impediment to dealing with the Turk as he was rather than, under the pressures of self-defence, he had been imagined to be.
Vienna's willingness to establish closer economic ties to the Ottoman-ruled Balkans also moderated views of its former enemy and his culture. Trade had often had tamed confessional antagonisms. Even at the height of the Habsburg-Ottoman conflict, Hungarian towns and markets where Christian and Muslim did business with one another were often free of religious tensions. And merchants from Constantinople, though not necessarily Muslims ([Christian] Armenians, for example, played a prominent role in Ottoman business life), had been plying their wares in the Habsburg Austrian lands to great effect. The most notable import to come with them was coffee, drunk ceremonially at the Ottoman court by Christian and Muslim alike long before it had made its way into central Europe.
Moreover, 18th-century ideals of the oneness of mankind and the commonalities of all religions made such rapprochement even easier. Austria's version of the Enlightenment, it is true, encouraged new stereotypes of Turks and Muslims; but these were far less threatening and more reassuring than the vicious images of the past. Two of the most important and influential examples perform in Mozart's comic opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio: the humanitarian Pasha Selim, who sounds like a contemporary European moralist despite his turban, and his overseer, the irascible, lecherous, and arrogantly stupid Osmin. Neither figure comes out of Ottoman cultural realities, but both are recognisably human, a quality that earlier Christian visions of the Muslim-Turk barely admitted.
But it was educational and cultural policies in the Habsburg empire that did the most to cultivate more objective views of the Turks and Islam in the Habsburg empire. By the middle of the 17th century, the dynasty's government had recognised that all too many negotiating sessions with the Turks had collapsed because of linguistic slips and cultural misunderstandings. As the Habsburg–Ottoman border in the Balkans grew after 1700, Vienna's customs and diplomatic officials encountered speakers not only of Turkish but of several other languages too. The house of Austria and its advisors therefore embarked upon a systematic programme to train a small group of talented boys who would serve as translators and interpreters in Constantinople and other outposts if need be. In 1754, Empress Maria Theresa (1717-80) opened the Imperial Oriental Academy, modelled on the French institute founded by Louis XIV. At first expected to produce only interpreters and translators, the Vienna academy soon became a selective finishing-school for diplomats and other emissaries to be sent to the east.
Thus, by the end of the 18th century, the Vienna government had decided once and for all that solid information about the Ottoman empire was far more informative than distorted polemic. The plan of study at the Oriental Academy developed accordingly. The study of the culture and history of the Ottoman empire quickly became as important in the curriculum as linguistic training. Without both, or so the view of the faculty ran, no one could deal effectively with alien cultures. Out of this education came not only unusually learned foreign-service personnel, but a school of Austrian “Orientalists” who were instrumental in sharpening European awareness of Ottoman and eastern civilisations alike. A figure central to this enterprise was Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856), whose ten-volume history of the Ottoman empire (1827-35) remained a basic work for Ottomanists well into the 20th century. An outstanding student at the Oriental Academy, he was also heavily influenced by Enlightenment universalism and its Austrian equivalent, the historical realism of the German scholar Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), and by the cultural pluralism at the basis of Johann von Herder's (1774-1803) philosophy of history.
Hammer-Purgstall worked tirelessly as a researcher, editor, translator, and publicist to make fact-based scholarship a norm for Oriental studies. Driving this commitment, however, was a much more expansive programme, for which uncovering new primary sources and accumulating information were only the beginning. His final goal was to persuade others to understand cultures on their own terms. In order to do this, it was necessary to clear one's own mind of prejudice and the slipshod thinking that it fostered.
Neither Hammer-Purgstall, his immediate circle of friends and supporters, nor his natural successor in the Austrian school of Oriental scholarship, Alfred von Kremer (1828-89), were uncritical of Islamic and eastern civilisations even ast hey tried to study them free of the biases of the past. The after-effects of Ottoman aggression in central Europe were still visible in Hammer-Purgstall's lifetime. Both men deplored the religious obscurantism that, as they saw it, pervaded the Islamic lands of their day. These societies and governments were far too repressive for progressive European tastes as well. Kremer quite emphatically preferred the relative liberalism of his native environment to the stifling intellectual environment that he found in the east. Both men realised that without Habsburg government and theinstitutions it promoted, they would not have received the education that had made their careers.
Nevertheless, neither Hammer-Purgstall nor Kremer were indiscriminate yes-men of their regimes. Both of them were quick to train their critical sights on negative features of Habsburg political, social (and in Kremer's case, economic, life). Hammer-Purgstall viscerally disliked the reactionary government and constricting religiosity of post-Napoleonic Austria. Kremer's views of his government and its Ottoman counterpart were about as far from pro-Habsburg propaganda of the early-modern era as one could get. Both states, he thought at the end of the 19th century, had something to teach the other about the problems of ruling multinational domains.
Then and now
Orientalists today do not command great scholarly respect, thanks in good part to the late Edward Said (1935-2003). His hugely influential Orientalism (1978) laid out an eloquent brief against European writers on the east who, for all of their passion they poured into their work, were conscious, or at best, unwitting handmaidens of European global expansion. Their literature, art, and learning reinforced the linguistic and cultural infrastructure of imperialism in the east and gave rise to demeaning stereotypes of eastern civilisations and their religions that took firm hold of Europeans. Once entrenched among elites and interested governments, he went on to say in his later writing, these negative ideas could only be dislodged from a groundswell of protest from the less powerful.
Both Hammer-Purgstall and Kremer willingly served their ruling dynasty in several official positions. One of the former's great disappointments was that he was never made Austrian resident ambassador in Constantinople (Kremer had several consular assignments in the middle east). Both men realised that putting their linguistic expertise and sophisticated training at the disposal of their government gave support to the house of Habsburg's political and economic ambitions. Hammer-Purgstall even observed at one point that British willingness to learn something about the culture and languages of India had helped bring the Raj to the sub-continent.
Such involvement with established power would seem to open them to Said's general criticism of Orientalism, though he himself confessed in his book that he had bypassed the German side of the question. If he had ventured over the Rhine, he might have written a more qualified story. The work and career of Hammer-Purgstall testifies much less to scholarly subservience than to human willingness to reject intellectually barren clichés about alien and even hostile cultures in the name of serious learning.
Nor was it the resentful underclasses of Habsburg society that promoted the spread of his ideals to gradually widening circles throughout the empire. It was the Habsburg regime itself, on grounds that had little to do with high principle and a great deal to do with reasons of state. That government probably never intended that Austrian Orientalism acquire the philosophical commitment that it did; indeed, the development from start to finish had the air of the accidental about it. But accidents occur; and once they do they are fair game for history, to be studied both for content and occasionally for advice.
Posted on: Saturday, February 16, 2008 - 12:08
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (2-12-08)
The memory of Ronald Reagan looms large in the current presidential race. At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Senator McCain invoked him several times. Reagan was an even greater presence at the last Republican presidential debate before Super Tuesday – and not just because it took place at the Reagan Library. According a New York Times analysis of the debate transcript, there were 53 references to his name.
The GOP candidates were invoking Reagan to shore up their conservative credentials. But they were talking about the mythical Reagan, not the historical one. His approach to government was more complex than they would admit.
True, he said in his 1981 Inaugural Address: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” His admirers quote that line to demonstrate his passion for cutting wasteful spending and excessive government power.
Most quotations of the line lop off the first four words, distorting its meaning. By “this present crisis,” he meant the unusual mix of high unemployment and inflation that was plaguing the nation in 1981. Reagan was not speaking of government in general but of specific policies that were worsening these problems.
And those who quote “government is the problem” usually omit what he said moments later: “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work — work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.”
Reagan’s deeds were as balanced as his words. In his first year as governor of California, he learned that state finances were worsening badly. To balance the budget, he agreed to the largest tax increase in the state’s history. In his first year as president, he did persuade Congress to cut income tax rates. During the following year, however, concern about deficits prompted him to sign the largest peacetime tax increase in American history up to that time. In reacting to the measure, a junior House member spoke for many conservatives:
The fact is, on this particular bill, the President is trying to score a touchdown for liberalism, for the liberal welfare state, for big government, for the Internal Revenue Service, for multinational corporations, and for the various forces that consistently voted against this President.
The speaker’s name was Newt Gingrich.
Reagan followed suit several more times. In inflation-adjusted dollars, federal revenues grew 21 percent between 1981 and 1989. Spending grew 23 percent, so the deficit got bigger.
The increase in spending may surprise those who remember Reagan as the scourge of big government. At the start of his administration, some of his supporters talked about scrapping some Cabinet departments. By the end, all the departments were still standing, along with a new one: the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Conservatives rightly remember Reagan for winning the Cold War. But they forget that the endgame entailed friction between Reagan and his political base. In an interview with television broadcasters, he complained about conservative opposition to an arms pact. “Now, I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting any understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the two superpowers.”
Conservative senators reacted angrily. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming said: “Almost as offensive as his calling us warmongers was his apology for the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.” (Reagan had said that Mikhail Gorbachev had merely “inherited” the occupation.) Dan Quayle of Indiana added: “I’ll have to be honest that I was particularly appalled by the rhetoric last night, by the president of the United States, directed to those who would raise concerns about this treaty.”
One could many other differences between gauzy memory and hard history. In 1986, for instance, Reagan issued a statement endorsing “amnesty to certain qualified aliens.” He later signed an immigration reform bill including such a provision.
Ronald Reagan did much to advance the conservative cause. Nevertheless, conservatives do him no honor by airbrushing his many compromises.
Posted on: Friday, February 15, 2008 - 20:53
SOURCE: Statement by Louis Fisher before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary (2-13-08)
Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to testify on the “state secrets privilege.” I want to express my appreciation to Senators Kennedy and Specter for their leadership in drafting remedial legislation, S. 2533. It is a very thoughtful, constructive bill. The state secrets privilege is now a central issue and Congress is the appropriate branch of government to supply much needed procedures and governing principles.
My interest in state secrets is a natural one. For the past 38 years I have helped Congress with separation of power issues, working first with Senator Sam Ervin in the early 1970s on the impoundment of funds dispute. In recent decades I have focused my research on questions of presidential power in the field of national security. My book on the state secrets case, United States v. Reynolds (1953), was published in 2006 and I have worked closely with the Constitution Project on its efforts to reform the state secrets privilege.1
What Constitutional Principles Guide Us?
Reforming the state secrets privilege is necessary to protect constitutional principles, particularly the system of checks and balances. It is critical that we be able to rely on an independent judiciary to weigh the competing claims of litigants and preserve the adversary process. No litigant, including the executive branch, should be presumed in advance to be superior to another. A sense of fairness in the courtroom is essential in protecting the integrity and credibility of the judiciary.
We all understand the need to protect state secrets and recognize an appropriate role for the state secrets privilege. The U.S. Code is filled with penalties to be applied to those who misuse classified information. That value, however, is balanced by another. We know that the executive branch regularly overclassifies documents. We have seen documents stamped “secret” and “top secret” that, once released, should never have been classified in the first place. Moreover, whichever party is in power, the executive branch has a pattern of presenting false and unreliable information to the judiciary. The Japanese-American cases of 1943-44 and the Pentagon Papers Case of 1971 are examples of administrations making misrepresentations to federal judges. Other countries, such as Canada, recognize that there is a natural tendency for executive officials to exaggerate the sensitivity of government documents in order to hide embarrassments (Appendix A).
Some court decisions and private studies date the state secrets privilege to the Aaron Burr trial of 1807 and the Totten case of 1875. For reasons I provide at the end of this statement, those precedents have no application to the kinds of state secrets cases that concern us today and that prompted the need for this hearing and a legislative remedy (Appendix B).
How the Judiciary was Misled in Reynolds
The executive branch made misrepresentations in United States v. Reynolds (1953), the very case in which the Supreme Court first recognized the state secrets privilege. In that lawsuit, the widows of three civilian engineers killed in the crash of a B-29 sought production of an Air Force accident report. The trial court and the Third Circuit gave the government a choice: either turn over the requested documents to the trial judge, to be read in chambers, or you lose the case. The lower courts understood that Congress, in the Federal Tort Claims Act, had established the policy that when private individuals sue the United States, the government is to be treated like any private party. When the government chose to withhold the documents, the district court and the Third Circuit ruled in favor of the three widows (Appendix C).
Those decisions were reversed by the Supreme Court, which produced a decision with many inconsistent principles. It claimed that judicial control over evidence “cannot be abdicated to the caprice of executive officers,” but did precisely that by holding for the government without ever looking at the disputed documents, including the accident report. Instead, the Court relied entirely on assertions by executive officials about the content of the documents (Appendix D). We now know, by looking at the documents, that they contain no state secrets (Appendix E). The Court was misled by the executive branch and allowed itself to be misled.
In state secrets cases, federal judges have at times treated executive assertions about state secrets with “deference” or “utmost deference.” Either standard undermines the principle of judicial independence, the essential safeguard of checks and balances, and the right of private litigants to have a fair hearing in court. Unless federal judges look at disputed documents, we do not know if national security interests are actually at stake or whether the administration seeks to conceal not only embarrassments but violations of law.
Executive officials have unquestioned expertise and experience in the field of national security, but they also have a record of making misleading and false claims to the public, to Congress, and the courts. Executive claims inevitably have a quality of self-interest, as would be expected of any litigant. The duty of a federal court is to assure that all litigants to a lawsuit are properly heard and that the judge is sufficiently informed before reaching a judgment. The executive branch already has a decided advantage in state secrets cases when judges look at documents in camera and ex parte, with private parties and their counsel excluded. There is a need to restore the independence and integrity of court proceedings when state secrets are involved. As noted in the statement by William Webster, former CIA Director, FBI Director, and federal judge: “It is judges, more so than executive branch officials, who are best qualified to balance the risks of disclosing evidence with the interests of justice. . . . Granting executive branch officials unchecked discretion to determine whether evidence should be subject to the state secrets privilege provides too great a temptation for abuse.”2
There have been many state secrets cases over the years. The stakes today are much higher. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the administration has invoked the state secrets privilege to block efforts in court by private litigants who claim that the government, in such cases as NSA surveillance and extraordinary rendition, has violated statutes, treaties, and the Constitution. The use of the privilege is no longer limited to efforts to prohibit disclosure of particular documents, as in the Reynolds case. It is now relied on to bar challenges to government national security programs. The executive branch argues that the President possesses certain “inherent” powers in times of emergency that override and countervail limits set by the other branches. Even if it appears that the administration has acted illegally, the executive branch advises federal judges that a case cannot allow access to secret documents without jeopardizing national security.
Deference has several meanings. It can imply a partiality and favoritism toward someone or an agency. That should not be the position of federal courts in state secrets cases. It has been suggested that the proper standard for deference is the Chevron standard, used by courts to review the reasonableness of agency regulations. Yet unlike the field of administrative law, in which Congress plays an active role in monitoring and checking executive actions, the sole check over state secrets is the judiciary. State secrets are not part of an open, public political process, as is the case with agency regulations.
Deference has a second meaning: indicating respect toward a party. That is the appropriate posture for the courts in state secrets cases, respect not only toward the executive branch but respect toward private parties bringing a case.
Defining “State Secret”
These comments lead me to some thoughts about the definition of “state secret” that appears in S. 2533. Section 4051 provides: “In this chapter, the term ‘state secret’ refers to any information that, if disclosed publicly, would be reasonably likely to cause significant harm to the national defense or foreign relations of the United States.” Even with these qualifiers (“reasonably likely” and “significant harm”), I think the definition favors executive power over private plaintiffs. Few judges, reading this definition, will feel comfortable in substituting their opinions about national defense or foreign relations for those of the executive branch. The very solid sections later in the bill, giving judges access to evidence and establishing procedures for redacted and non-privileged substitutes, do not erase the advantage the definition gives to the executive branch. As a result, the principles of judicial independence, checks and balances, and fairness in the courtroom are endangered.
I would prefer to add a second sentence to the definition: “The assertion of a state secret by the executive branch is to be tested by independent judicial review.” I think those two sentences accurately reflect the content and purpose of the bill. Courts would be directed to treat executive claims about state secrets initially as an assertion, subject to independent judicial analysis. This definition protects the integrity of the courtroom and gives private parties the hope of fair treatment. Even those who generally support a broad view of executive power over state secrets, such as recent testimony by Patrick Philbin, recognize that the “mere assertion of the privilege by the Executive does not require a court to accept without question that the material involved is a state secret.”3
I would also like to see a third sentence added to the definition: “The ‘state secrets privilege’ may not shield illegal or unconstitutional activities.” We all recognize the need for state secrets. I see no reason why the state secrets privilege should sanction violations of statutes, treaties, or the Constitution (violations either by the government or by private parties). If I read Section 4055 of S. 2533 correctly, it seems to open the possibility that the state secrets privilege could be used to shield and immunize illegal conduct. The section authorizes a federal court to dismiss a claim or counterclaim brought by a private party against the government if continuing with the litigation “in the absence of the privileged material evidence would substantially impair the ability of a party to pursue a valid defense to the claim or counterclaim.” The language appears to allow private parties like the telecoms to violate FISA or other laws and be immunized on the ground that the existence of state secrets in the case prevents them from mounting a valid defense. Is that the intent or effect of the bill?
Our experience with state secrets cases underscores the need for judicial independence in assessing executive claims. Assertions are assertions, nothing more. Judges need to look at disputed documents and not rely solely on how the executive branch characterizes them. Affidavits and declarations signed by executive officials, even when classified, are not sufficient.
For more than fifty years, lower courts have tried to apply the inconsistent principles announced by the Supreme Court in Reynolds. Congress needs to enact statutory standards to restore judicial independence, provide effective checks against executive mischaracterizations and abuse, and strengthen the adversary process that we use to pursue truth in the courtroom. Otherwise, private plaintiffs have no effective way to challenge the government through lawsuits that might involve sensitive documents or evidence. Judges, not the executive branch, must have the final say about whether disputed evidence is subject to the state secrets privilege.
Congress has constitutional authority to provide new guidelines for the courts. Article III, section 2, of the Constitution specifically grants Congress the power to enact “regulations” regarding the jurisdiction of federal courts. Article I empowers Congress to “constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court” and to enact all laws necessary and proper to carry into effect that power. Congress has full authority to adopt rules of evidence and to assure private parties that they have a reasonable opportunity to bring claims in court. What is at stake is more than the assertion by the executive branch regarding state secrets. Congress has a duty to protect the health of a political system that depends on separation of powers, checks and balances, and safeguards to individual rights.
In the past-half century, Congress has repeatedly passed legislation to fortify judicial independence in cases involving national security and classified information. Federal judges now gain access to and make judgments about highly sensitive documents. Congressional action with the FOIA amendments of 1974, the FISA statute of 1978, and the CIPA statute of 1980 were conscious decisions by Congress to empower federal judges to review and evaluate highly classified information. Congress now has an opportunity to pass effective state secrets legislation.
Concealing Executive Mistakes
Administrations have invoked the claim of state secrets to hide misrepresentations and falsehoods. In the Japanese-American cases of 1943 and 1944, the Roosevelt administration told federal courts that Japanese-Americans were attempting to signal offshore to Japanese vessels in the Pacific, providing information to support military attacks along the coast. Analyses by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Communications Commissions disproved those assertions by the War Department. Justice Department attorneys recognized that they had a legal obligation to alert the Supreme Court to false accusations and misconceptions, but the footnote designed for that purpose was so watered down that Justices could not have understood the extent to which they had been misled. Scholarship and archival discoveries in later years uncovered this fraud on the court and led to coram nobis (fraud against the court) lawsuit that reversed the conviction of Fred Korematsu.4
A second coram nobis case was brought by Gordon Hirabayashi, who had been convicted during World War II for violating a curfew order. The Justice Department told the Supreme Court in 1943 that the exclusion of everyone of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast was due solely to military necessity and the lack of time to separate loyal Japanese from those who might be disloyal. The Roosevelt administration did not disclose to the Court that a report by General John L. DeWitt, the commanding general of the Western Defense Command, had taken the position that because of racial ties, filial piety, and strong bonds of common tradition, culture, and customs, it was impossible to distinguish between loyal and disloyal Japanese-Americans. To General DeWitt, there was no “such a thing as a loyal Japanese.”5 Because this racial theory had been withheld from the courts, Hirabayashi’s conviction was reversed in the 1980s.6
Insights into executive secrecy also come from the Pentagon Papers Case of 1971. This was not technically a state secrets case. It was primarily an issue of whether the Nixon administration could prevent newspapers from continuing to publish a Pentagon study on the Vietnam War. Solicitor General Erwin N. Griswold warned the Supreme Court that publication would pose a “grave and immediate danger to the security of the United States” (with “immediate” meaning “irreparable”). Releasing the study to the public, he warned the Court, “would be of extraordinary seriousness to the security of the United States” and “will affect lives,” the “termination of the war,” and the “process of recovering prisoners of war.” In an op-ed piece, published in 1989, he admitted that he had never seen “any trace of a threat to the national security” from the publication and that the principal concern of executive officials in classifying documents “is not with national security, but rather with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another.”7
During a October 18, 2007 hearing before the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary subcommittees, Kent Roach of the University of Toronto law school reflected on similar problems in Canada of executive misuse of secrecy claims. He served on the advisory committee that investigated the treatment by the United States of Maher Arar, who was sent to Syria for interrogation and torture. Mr. Roach said the experience of the Canadian commission “suggests that governments may be tempted to make overbroad claims of secrecy to protect themselves from embarrassment and to hinder accountability processes.” The commission concluded that much of the information about contemporary national security activities “can be made public without harming national security.” A court decision in Canada authorized the release “of the majority of disputed passages.”8 The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) described Arar and his wife as “Islamic Extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist movement.” The Canadian commission concluded that the RCMP “had no basis for this description.”9
Aaron Burr and Totten
There are many reasons why the Aaron Burr trial of 1807 has no application to current state secrets cases. A main reason is that he was tried in a criminal case for treason. Lawsuits over state secrets are civil cases. It is true that at one point the Jefferson administration claimed that some of the letters sought by Burr for his defense contained “state secrets,” but the administration and the court understood that a defendant in a criminal case had a right to gain access to evidence used against him. If the government declines to surrender the evidence, it must drop the charges against the defendant. The administration took steps to place the documents in the hands of the court and his attorneys. In the end, Burr was found not guilty.10
Totten involves a very narrow and special category of cases where individuals enter into secret agreements with the government to spy. President Lincoln had agreed to a contract with William A. Lloyd to have him proceed south and collect data on the number of Confederate troops stationed in different places, plans of forts and fortifications, and other information that might be useful to the Union government. For his services, he was to be paid $200 a month, but he received funds only to cover his expenses. His heirs tried to collect for the monthly allowance. The Supreme Court held that any individual who enters into a secret contract cannot expect relief from the courts.11 A distinction exists between ordinary contracts (enforceable in court) and secret contracts (which are not). The Totten type of case is not justiciable; state secrets cases are.12
Totten was recently at issue in the case of Tenet v. Doe (2005).13 Once again private parties alleged that they had not received promised assistance for espionage work. The Court found that the lawsuit was barred by Totten. In the current NSA cases, there have been arguments that the telecoms had entered into a secret espionage agreement with the government, but in the Totten/Tenet cases the private parties are plaintiffs; the telecoms are defendants.14
Reynolds: Trial Court and Third Circuit
The pattern of misrepresentations by executive officials described above applies to the Supreme Court decision that first recognized the state secrets privilege, United States v. Reynolds (1953). On October 6, 1948, a B-29 plane exploded over Waycross, Georgia, killing five of eight crewmen and four of the five civilian engineers who were assisting with secret equipment on board. Three widows of the civilian engineers sued the government under the recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946. Under that statute, Congress established the policy that when individuals bring lawsuits the federal government is to be treated like any private party. The United States would be liable in respect of such claims “in the same manner, and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, except that the United States shall not be liable for interest prior to judgment, or for punitive damages.”15 Thus, private parties who sued the government were entitled to submit a list of questions (interrogatories) and request documents. The wives asked for the statements of the three surviving crewmen and the official accident report.
District Judge William H. Kirkpatrick of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania directed the government to produce for his examination the crew statements and the accident report. When the government failed to release the documents for the court’s inspection, he ruled in favor of the widows.16 The Third Circuit upheld his decision. The appellate court said that “considerations of justice may well demand that the plaintiffs should have had access to the facts, thus within the exclusive control of their opponent, upon which they were required to rely to establish their right of recovery.”17 In so deciding, the Third Circuit supported congressional policy expressed in the Federal Tort Claims Act and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, all designed to give private parties a fair opportunity to establish negligence in tort cases. Because the government had consented to be sued as a private person, whatever claims of public interest might exist in withholding accident reports “must yield to what Congress evidently regarded as the greater public interest involved in seeing that justice is done to persons injured by governmental operations whom it has authorized to enforce their claims by suit against the United States.”18
In addition to deciding questions of law, the Third Circuit considered the case from the standpoint of public policy. To grant the government the “sweeping privilege” it claimed would be contrary to “a sound public policy.” It would be a small step, said the court, “to assert a privilege against any disclosure of records merely because they might be embarrassing to government officers.”19 The court reviewed the choices available to government when it decides to withhold information. In a criminal case, if the government does not want to reveal evidence within its control (such as the identity of an informer), it can drop the charges. To the court, the Federal Tort Claims Act “offers the Government an analogous choice” in civil cases. It could produce relevant documents under Rule 34 and allow the case to move forward, or withhold the documents at the risk of losing the case under Rule 37. In Reynolds, at the district and appellate levels, the government decided to withhold documents.
On the question of which branch has the final say on disclosure and access to evidence, the Third Circuit summarized the government’s position in this manner: “it is within the sole province of the Secretary of the Air Force to determine whether any privileged material is contained in the documents and . . . his determination of this question must be accepted by the district court without any independent consideration of the matter by it. We cannot accede to this proposition.”20 A claim of privilege against disclosing evidence “involves a justiciable question, traditionally within the competence of the courts, which is to be determined in accordance with the appropriate rules of evidence, upon the submission of the documents in question to the judge for his examination in camera.”21 To hold that an agency head in a suit to which the government is a part “may conclusively determine the Government’s claim of privilege is to abdicate the judicial function and permit the executive branch of the Government to infringe the independent province of the judiciary as laid down by the Constitution.”22
Were there risks in sharing confidential documents with a federal judge? The Third Circuit dismissed the argument that judges could not be trusted to review sensitive or classified materials: “The judges of the United States are public officers whose responsibility under the Constitution is just as great as that of the heads of executive departments.” Judges may be depended upon to protect against disclosure those matters that would do damage to the public interest. If, as the government argued, “a knowledge of background facts is necessary to enable one properly to pass on the claim of privilege those facts also may be presented to the judge in camera.”23
The Supreme Court’s Opinion
The government’s insistence in the Reynolds case that it has a duty to protect military secrets came at the height of revelations about Americans charged with leaking sensitive and classified information to the Soviet Union. During this period Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were prosecuted for sending atomic bomb secrets to Russia. They were convicted in 1951, pursued an appeal to the Second Circuit the following year, and after a failed effort to have the Supreme Court hear their case they were executed on June 19, 1953. The years after World War II were dominated by congressional hearings into communist activities, the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations, loyalty oaths, security indexes, reports of espionage, and counterintelligence efforts. Alger Hiss, convicted of perjury in 1950 concerning his relationship to the Communist Party, served three and a half years in prison. The government pursued J. Robert Oppenheimer for possible espionage, leading to the loss of his security clearance in 1954.
In Reynolds, the government argued that it had exclusive control over what documents to release to the courts. Its brief stated that courts “lack power to compel disclosure by means of a direct demand on the department head” and “the same result may not be achieved by the indirect method of an order against the United States, resulting in judgment when compliance is not forthcoming.”24 It interpreted the Housekeeping Statute (giving department heads custody over agency documents) “as a statutory affirmation of a constitutional privilege against disclosure” and one that “protects the executive against direct court orders for disclosure by giving the department heads sole power to determine to what extent withholding of particular documents is required by the public interest.”25 Congress had never provided that authority and earlier judicial rulings specifically rejected that interpretation.26
In its brief, the government for the first time pressed the state secrets privilege: “There are well settled privileges for state secrets and for communications of informers, both of which are applicable here, the first because the airplane which crashed was alleged by the Secretary to be carrying secret equipment, and the second because the secrecy necessary to encourage full disclosure by informants is also necessary in order to encourage the freest possible discussion by survivors before Accident Investigation Boards.”27
The fact that the plane was carrying secret equipment was known by newspaper readers the day after the crash. The fundamental issue, which the government repeatedly muddled, was whether the accident report and the survivor statements contained secret information. Because those documents were declassified in the 1990s and made available to the public, we now know that secret information about the equipment did not appear either in the accident report or the survivor statements. As to the second point, about the role of informants in contributing to an accident report, that issue had been analyzed in previous judicial rulings and dismissed as grounds for withholding evidence from a court.28
Toward the end of the brief, the government returned to “the so-called ‘state secrets’ privilege.”29 The claim of privilege by Secretary of the Air Force Finletter “falls squarely” under that privilege for these reasons: “He based his claim, in part, on the fact that the aircraft was engaged ‘in a highly secret military mission’ and, again, on the ‘reason that the aircraft in question, together with the personnel on board, were engaged in a highly secret mission of the Air Force. The airplane likewise carried confidential equipment on board and any disclosure of its mission or information concerning its operation on performance would be prejudicial to this Department and would not be in the public interest.”30
Nothing in this language has anything to do with the contents of the accident report or the survivors’ statements. Had those documents been made available to the trial judge, he would have seen nothing that related to military secrets or any details about the confidential equipment. He could have passed them on the plaintiffs, possibly by making a few redactions.
At various points in the litigation the government misled the Court on the contents of the accident report. It asserted: “to the extent that the report reveals military secrets concerning the structure or performance of the plane that crashed or deals with these factors in relation to projected or suggested secret improvements it falls within the judicially recognized ‘state secrets’ privilege.”31 To the extent? In the case of the accident report the extent was zero. The report contained nothing about military secrets or military improvements. Nor did the survivor statements.
On March 9, 1953, Chief Justice Vinson for a 6 to 3 majority ruled that the government had presented a valid claim of privilege. He reached that judgment without ever looking at the accident report or the survivor statements. He identified two “broad propositions pressed upon us for decision.” The government “urged that the executive department heads have power to withhold any documents in their custody from judicial review if they deem it to be in the public interest.” The plaintiffs asserted that “the executive’s power to withhold documents was waived by the Tort Claims Act.” Chief Justice Vinson found that both positions “have constitutional overtones which we find it unnecessary to pass upon, there being a narrower ground for decision.”32 When a formal claim of privilege is lodged by the head of a department, the “court itself must determine whether the circumstances are appropriate for the claim of privilege, and yet do so without forcing a disclosure of the very thing the privilege is designed to protect.”33
That point is unclear. If the government can keep disputed documents from the judge, even for in camera inspection, how can the judge “determine whether the circumstances are appropriate for the claim of privilege”? The judge would be arms-length from making an informed decision. Moreover, there is no reason to regard in camera inspection by a judge as “disclosure.” As pointed out by Judge Kirkpatrick and the Third Circuit in Reynolds, judges take the same oath to protect the Constitution as do executive officials. In the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Vinson said that in the case of the privilege against disclosing documents, the court “must be satisfied from all the evidence and circumstances” before accepting the claim of privilege.34 Denied disputed documents, a judge has no “evidence” other than claims and assertions by executive officials.
Chief Justice Vinson stated that judicial control “over the evidence in a case cannot be abdicated to the caprice of executive officers.”35 If an executive officer acted capriciously and arbitrarily, a court would have no independent basis for perceiving that conduct unless it asked for and examined the evidence. Chief Justice Vinson said that the Court “will not go so far as to say that the court may automatically require a complete disclosure to the judge before the claim of privilege will be accepted in any case.”36 He anticipated circumstances where there would be no opportunity even for in camera inspection: “the court should not jeopardize the security which the privilege is meant to protect by insisting upon an examination of the evidence, even by the judge alone, in chambers.”37 On what grounds would in camera inspection jeopardize national security? It is more likely that national security is damaged by executive assertions that are never checked and evaluated by other branches.
Chief Justice Vinson further stated: “On the record before the trial court it appeared that this accident occurred to a military plane which had gone aloft to test secret electronic equipment.”38 There was nothing sensitive about that information. On the day following the crash, newspaper readers around the country knew that the plane had been testing secret electronic equipment.39 Chief Justice Vinson concluded that there was a “reasonable danger” that the accident report “would contain references to the secret electronic equipment which was the primary concern of the mission.”40 There was no reasonable danger that the accident report would discuss the secret electronic equipment. The purpose of the report was to determine the cause of the accident. There were no grounds to believe that the electronic equipment caused the crash. Instead of speculating about what the accident report included and did not include, the Court needed to inform itself by examining the report and not accept vague assertions by the executive branch. Without access to evidence and documents, federal courts necessarily abdicate their powers “to the caprice of executive officers.”
The Declassified Accident Report
Judith Loether was seven weeks old when her father, Albert Palya, died in the B-29 accident. On February 10, 2000, using a friend’s computer, she entered a combination of words into a search engine and was brought into a Web site that kept military accident reports. By checking that site, she discovered that the accident report withheld from federal courts in the Reynolds litigation was now publicly available. Expecting to find national security secrets in the report, she found none. After contacting the other two families, it was agreed to return to court by charging that the government had misled the Supreme Court and committed fraud against it.41
Unlike the successful coram nobis cases brought by Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi, Loether and the other family members lost at every level. Initially they went directly to the Supreme Court. Later they went to district court and the Third Circuit. Their appeal to the Court was denied on May 1, 2006. When the Third Circuit ruled on the issue, only one value was present: judicial finality. The case had been decided in 1953 and the Third Circuit was not going to revisit it, even if the evidence was substantial that the judiciary had been misled by the government.42 There appeared to be no value for judicial integrity and judicial independence.
The Third Circuit pointed to three pieces of information in the accident report that might have been “sensitive.” The report revealed “that the project was being carried out by ‘the 3150th Electronics Squadron,’ that the mission required an ‘aircraft capable of dropping bombs’ and that the mission required an airplane capable of ‘operating at altitudes of 20,000 feet and above.’”43
If those pieces of information were actually sensitive, they could have been easily redacted and the balance of the report given to the trial judge and to the plaintiffs. They were looking for evidence of negligence by the government, not for the name of the squadron, bomb-dropping capability, or flying altitude. As for the sensitivity, newspaper readers the day after the crash understood that the plane was flying at 20,000 feet, it carried confidential equipment, and it was capable of dropping bombs. That is what bombers do.
Posted on: Friday, February 15, 2008 - 19:37
SOURCE: TPM Cafe (2-13-08)
As a political movement gathers what seems to be irresistible force, it rides currents of anger as well as affirmation. How it balances and channels those currents determines its fate. A movement can be fired up by outraged decency, but it will come to little -- or worse -- if its participants spend more time and energy venting the outrage than advancing the decency.
Barack Obama understands this unusually well. But how will he help his supporters understand it, when the going gets tough? Answering that question requires knowing a little history, knowing Obama, and knowing ourselves, whether we are his supporters or not.
Outraged Germans had legitimate grievances in the early 1930s, but those grievances were rebuffed by the powers of the time, then stoked and perverted by a movement that became irresistible but was doomed because it subordinated its affirmations to its fears and rage.
Outraged African-Americans had pent-up grievances then, too. But in the 1950s and early 60s the civil-rights movement did not subordinate its affirmations to its rage. When Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery and young men in clean shirts sought service at a lunch counter in Greenville, they did so with the disciplined dignity of citizens lifting up American civil society, not trashing it as inherently racist and damned. Their movement became irresistible, but because it emphasized positive liberty, it also endured against fierce crosscurrents and undertows that emerged against and even within it.
In the late 1960s, in another movement, outraged young Americans of all races had legitimate grievances against the Vietnam War, and many of us petitioned for redress of those grievances at first with a kind of innocent nobility that perhaps only young white Americans of the time could expect to sustain. But our movement imploded when some among us forgot the activist Norman Thomas' admonition not to burn the American flag but to wash it and tried, instead, to "Bring the War home" against a republican spirit of trust that should have been our strongest defense against powers that were otherwise greater than ourselves.
Outraged pro-lifers, aggrieved by the violation of their belief that life is a sacred, intergenerational thread that must not be broken by individuals or states, sometimes practiced the dignified civil disobedience of the best anti-war and civil-rights activists. But some acted like the other movements' most nihilist renegades, making demagoguery and murder seem more irresistible than faith and moral witness.
Finally, outraged Americans had compelling grievances against terrorism after 9/11, but our yearning to bond and be worthy of the courage we were witnessing in New York was swiftly misdirected against the wrong targets in an orchestrated storm of fear, intimidation and lies. This time, no anti-war movement destroyed the balance of anger and decency; it was the Iraq warmakers themselves, and their cheerleaders, who did that.
They made the war seem irresistible during the run-up to it late in 2002 and early in 2003. Yet Barack Obama resisted it, in part because he had good reason to know that it was doomed. He knew this, because he had let Rosa Parks and Norman Thomas teach him why and how to balance anger with disciplined love, something the pro-war movement wasn't even trying to do. And his recognition of that bodes well for the political movement he is now trying to build.
That he still has some dark forebodings about what he is trying to build bodes well for it, too The morning after the New Hampshire primary he warned supporters that harsh, underhanded attacks were coming.Two nights ago,on winning the Potomac primaries, he warned, "Change is hard" and sketched the odds against undoing the failed politics of recent years -- the politics that protects CEOs' bonuses rather than pensions, for example.
But Obama hasn't said much about the inevitable temptations to self-congratulation and self-righteousness that also come with success, the almost irresistible seductions of power that accompany cascades of money and applause. Overcoming such temptations will test his faith and prowess and his supporters' character in new ways.
The ancient historian Thucydides is often touted by the grand strategists who are destroying this republic in their misguided efforts to save it by stampeding Americans into wars and other mobilizations of a national-security state. But Thucydides cautioned Athenian democrats that
"The idea that fortune will be on one's side plays as big a part as anything else in creating a mood of over-confidence for sometimes she does come unexpectedly to one's aid, and so she tempts men to run risks for which they are inadequately prepared. And... each individual, when acting as part of a community, has the irrational opinion that his own powers are greater than in fact they are. In a word it is impossible... for human nature, when once seriously set upon a certain course, to be prevented from following that course by the force of law...."
That is the secret of any movement's irresistible power, but also the secret of its great peril to its members' and others' dignity. It is no small point in Obama's favor that he knows this secret and has declined to trade cynically on illusions of power in crowds: "Cynicism is a sad kind of wisdom," he said, almost offhandedly, in his speech the other night. Would that fear-mongering neoconservatives were secure in themselves enough, and sophisticated enough, to understand that..Would that they could understand columns like Michael Tomasky's beautiful "The Wisdom of Crowds," just posted at The Guardian online.
Now Obama will have to teach the secret of the dangers of collective power to his supporters, and they to one another. His movement needs teachers, mentors, and lieutenants who can strengthen it in a faith deep enough to transcend power's illusions. A movement's and a republic's power lies not only in its armies, lawyers, and wealth, indispensible though they are, but, ultimately, in the very vulnerability a republic sustains in a canny ethos of trust.
That's what people have managed to sustain in movements that have been successful. If they can't sustain it now, what seems irresistible in the movement of this moment will not endure, and what seems powerful in it will not leave its supporters free.
Posted on: Friday, February 15, 2008 - 19:13
Is it possible? At least we have found a likely leader. The Battle of the Potomac is over. Despite the name that resembles the bloody exchanges of the Civil War, the mini civil war of the U.S. Democrats will hopefully not last very long. I am watching Obama’s victory speech from Madison, Wisconsin, a famous left wing university town. It is his best yet, combining the thoroughness of Harvard Law School and the emotional fervor of the Black Protestant church. Because McCain wants to stay in Iraq a hundred years, we should not give him four years…..The post-imperial candidate laid down his markers. The students (and myself even more) loved what we heard, expressed so clearly and so eloquently. Is it possible for an imperial Republic, after the failure of Athens and Rome, , for the second time in history after the lone British case, to willingly divest itself of a significant part of its imperial possessions that have become so dangerous for what makes the republican core still great? Yes we can is the Obama slogan, even if coined not exactly for the project that I have in mind. His personality and foreign policy ideas fortunately embody it. He was always against the Iraq war. He wants comprehensive negotiations with all regional powers of the Middle East. He wants to withdraw from Iraq relatively rapidly. But, and it is a big but, despite a series of successful battles, he has not yet won. Not yet against Clinton, and more importantly not yet against the other America, against McCain.
If Clinton loses it is not because she is a woman. In the Democratic Party that fact is rather a plus, ideologically and also because there are more women voters and more woman Democrats. It is because she is a woman, that she is still a serious contender in the race. She is losing instead, aside from Obama’s own strengths, because of her unforgivable two votes on the Iraq War in 2002 that already cost John Kerry (now an Obama supporter) the presidency. Making things worse, she still defends not only her positive vote on the Authorization of the Use of Force, but also the negative one on the Levin Amendment that would have required that the U.S. President go to the UN Security Council first, and, in case failure to get Chapter VII authorization under the Charter, to go back to Congress for explicit authorization to go to war. While in case of the Authorization itself, Clinton now says that knowing everything she knows today (i.e. that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that Bush would abuse the authorization) she would have voted no, she does not say why it was right to trust this particular President and his circle at all, given all the planning for war. But in the case of the Levin Amendment the issue is even more serious. The proposal was eminently sensible as well as deeply constitutional. It is Congress’ constitutional power to declare war. This power cannot be delegated, because it is given by the constituent power. The only possible exception is a Chapter VII war, where under a binding international treaty signed by the U.S. the Security Council is the source of the authorization. This is what happened in the Korean War; the first time the Congressional right to Declare was seriously bypassed. Recently Congressional declarations have been replaced by Authorizations that however do not leave it up to the president to decide whether to go to war or not, as did the Iraq authorization in question. The aim of the Levin Amendment was to replace a “blank check” authorization, clearly unconstitutional, by the choice: either authorization by the Security Council or a more specific, Congressional re-authorization. It is this choice that Hillary Clinton still repeatedly represents in speeches, quite wrongly, as surrendering the powers of the United States to the United Nations. In reality however, she like Bush, wishes to keep the presidential prerogative free of both international and constitutional restraints.
We have seen the consequence of such a liberation from both types of law in Iraq, in Guantanamo, and all places where extraordinary rendition, kidnappings, torture, and detentions without due process have been practiced by U.S. authorities. Hillary Clinton may be an opponent of all that, but she does not attack the problem at its roots even if she goes further than McCain in the one and only case of Iraq. The empire is not only Iraq, and presidential power in an imperial setting would remain a danger also after an Iraqi withdrawal, assuming she would carry it out. As the famous colonel in the film Battle of Algiers said to the assembled French journalists: if you want an Algerie Francaise, you must put up with all that. If you want to protect the American empire as is . . . if you are unwilling to negotiate with all our adversaries without pre-conditions that is of course the pre-condition of orderly withdrawal…then you must put up with the means necessary to protect it. Clinton’s positions on negotiations with Iran indicate that she has not yet learned much from the past, indeed from the war in Iraq itself. And McCain is one of the most aggressive American politicians with respect to both continuing the war in Iraq and risking a new one with Iran. Only Obama, not Clinton, nor McCain in spite of his loud verbal opposition to torture is ready to do what it would take to end the situation in which there is any kind of imperial rationale (however mistaken technically) for torture. Obama (tutored here by Zbigniew Brzezinski) is the only realist among the three candidates still standing, in spite of his soaring rhetoric.
All polls currently indicate that the great majority of the country is with Obama on questions of foreign policy, and has been for two or more years, though they may not yet correctly identify his views on all the issues. But given the threat of recession, the issue of external affairs retreated behind that of the economy. In general this would be an advantage to the Democrats. It is also to Hillary Clinton’s advantage, because of the superior track record of the Clinton administration, her own obvious competence, and better thought out position on very much needed health care reform – where she is an expert paradoxically enough because of her dramatic failure in 1993, that led to the so-called “Republican Revolution in 1994. The Obama idea of “change” has to do mostly with the large issue of identity and foreign policy posture in the world, while Clinton’s slogan experience refers to her managerial abilities in the domestic sphere where there is very little difference between the two equally liberal (in the American sense = social liberal) Democratic candidates. In spite of small, probably tactical differences, they both have dramatic health care reform as the centerpiece of their social program, and they would both pay for it the same way, by refusing to make the outrageous Bush tax cuts that produced huge deficits permanent for the wealthy. They are lucky, because unlike Kerry in 2004 they don’t have to promise to pass new legislation to finance health expenditures . . . all they have to do is the much easier thing, namely to oppose new legislation to make reduction of governmental resources permanent. This will still be called raising taxes by the Republicans; but the stress will be on rescinding tax cuts to the wealthy! In any case, the Democratic electorate is asked to decide whether the more experienced but more polarizing Clinton, or the more novice Obama who is willing to work with Republicans is likely to accomplish a similar domestic agenda. And we still do not know how they will decide this question.
So far, before the three Potomac Primaries, the young, the educated, men and most dramatically blacks were with Obama, older voters, the less well educated, women, and Hispanic-Americans were with Clinton. Obama could win the majority of whites in caucus states where the politically active vote in a kind of township meeting setting that suggests participatory democracy, and where the young and the educated have an advantage. Clinton won the whites in the primary states, where normal elections with secret ballots take place, the form also favoring the Brady (a former losing black Mayor candidate in Los Angeles) effect: the voter tells the pollster that he or she votes for the black but does not do so under the veil of secrecy. This was probably the reason for the huge discrepancy between polls and results in New Hamphshire and California, lost by Obama. Now in Virginia and Maryland, two primary states, the white vote was evenly split and there was no Brady effect! (There may be now a Haile Berry effect, still racist of course: “she is the one black that I would marry”). Admittedly there is also Hillary hatred, but this is measured by the polls; since we still allow substitute languages for misogyny but not for racism: as “she is so aggressive” or “she is such a know it all”. It seems however that her collapse in Virginia and Maryland where she is liked and where she used to be leading is due simply to the rise of Obama.
Obama will most likely take Wisconsin, powered by the young and the educated. Then the big three hurdles will be Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. If his current momentum is real he may take all three or two out of three. If he takes both Ohio and Texas on March 4, or one of them and later Pensylvania he has won, and the so-called super delegates will have to fall into line with Carter, Gore and Pelosi leading the pack. If Clinton takes all three she will win, narrowly perhaps depending on the size of her win in proportional elections, to the tremendous disappointment of Obama’s young army, and the super-delegates whose majority is now with her will also fall into line. She would do well in that case to offer the vice-presidency to Obama in a convincing manner, if she wants to win against McCain. If Obama wins only one of the three, and is narrowly ahead, the super-delegates may still want to decide for Clinton. There may even be attempts to illegitimately give Clinton the delegates from the Florida and Michigan primaries where Obama chose not to compete on the orders of the DNC. In either case, in August we will have riots in Denver, the site of the Democratic Convention, that will resemble the siege of Chicago in 1968, and with Clinton playing the role of Hubert Humphrey the Democrats will go on to lose the election. So if Obama has a narrow majority in the end, the party leaders better quickly shift to him and manage some deal. Their choice will be also motivated by electability (that does not = Hillary hatred, pace Stanley Fish!) as an issue, namely the legitmate concern regarding who does better against McCain in the polls. Today it clearly seems to be Obama, but how much of a Bradley effect is hiding in the numbers? Noone knows. Clinton however is more vulnerable on the question of Iraq, exactly like Kerry was, than is Obama with his far greater consistency on the issue.
The electoral results will in any case be all important. Conventionally two things are said: First, that the one with momentum wins and that is now Obama, and, second, the one who can break through his or her prior demographic constraints wins, and that is Obama too, though only marginally. Clinton cannot hope to get the young, or the blacks or the educated to vote against Obama. But in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas she may not have to. If she can continue to get huge majorities among white women, the less educated, and among Hispanic Americans that may be enough. It is Obama who needs to break through his previous demographics, and he has not yet done so enough. Whether the momentum will do it for him remains to be seen.
If he does make it, the Democrats, unlike last time, will have a great convention, one for all the ages. And then debates will be incredibly exciting. McCain already admitted he knows little about the economy and economics, but has read Alan Greenspan’s book. Now that two bubbles (finance and real estate) Greenspan helped to create have burst, that should not be enough. Flip-flopping on taxes (first I was against them as unfair and unwise, before I was for making them permanent) and staying in Iraq permanently will not go over well in the debates with a clever lawyer like Obama. Just one issue remains for McCain: that of commander in chief in wartime, if we are willing to forget that we should not be in any war at all. And here McCain with his military experience looks more like such a figure, however wrong his policies! Obama will undoubtedly show that staying in Iraq even 5 and not 10 or 100 years makes the United States weaker in Afghanistan, weaker against the terrorists, less able to deal with new crises, more and more unpopular in the world and especially the Islamic world. What he then must be ready for is two things. To give a convincing answer to the question of how to withdraw from Iraq in a way that is not catastrophic for Iraq itself, and to deal with crises situations, external or internal, real or manufactured that probably will arise during the campaign, and do so in a very effective and presidential manner. He should be able to do these two things, but the other side that should have certainly lost in 2004 already cannot be underestimated.
We are not there yet. But it is already another country. I did not think I would say it so soon. After years of shame, I am proud of our democracy again. To nominate a very liberal black or a liberal woman, to force even the other America to choose someone with a human face, though largely the wrong policies that are not yet sufficiently known, is a clear repudiation of the politics of 2001-2008. The driving force behind all this is American civil society, and mostly the self-organizing young, and the gods of history have given us a perfect candidate to carry their message and their hope. The activists must not be disappointed by the eventual victory of McCain, or even Clinton. But the future is actually in their own hands. It is they who need to take their country back!
Posted on: Friday, February 15, 2008 - 16:07
SOURCE: New Republic (2-14-08)
Last week the Bush administration reached its Nixonian climax, as CIA director Michael Hayden confirmed that the government had nearly drowned some people on purpose using techniques that American military men have long known as torture. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said the Department of Justice could not investigate these alleged crimes. White House spokesman Tony Fratto explained why the President may authorize them again. Vice President Dick Cheney declared them a good thing. The administration is saying in effect, We do as we please, and care nothing for the laws; now, show us, Congress and loyal subject, er, citizens, what are you going to do about it? And Americans, frankly, face a strong temptation not to do anything: We will have a new president soon, and the race is exciting. But hard choice though it is, we need to recognize the constitutional crisis to which this administration has brought us, and as its officers now openly refuse to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, Congress must do all it can to expose, with the patience of the prosecutor the administration will not appoint, the wrongs done in our name. Otherwise we will forfeit what we painfully won from the Nixon era: our right to a government bound by law.
The Bush administration has been following a Nixonian script since its opening act. Like Richard Nixon, the President entered office declaring himself a new kind of Republican, a compassionate uniter of feuding factions, then immediately began to stigmatize dissent and wall himself off from the public. The Nixon administration had no intention of seeking national unity in the fractious atmosphere of 1969; soon after taking office, the President declared that antiwar protests were a symptom of decadence: "It is not too strong a statement to declare that this is the way civilizations begin to die." His Vice President Spiro Agnew promoted this project more openly: "I say it is time for a positive polarization. ... It is time to rip away the rhetoric and divide on authentic lines." Before long, it had become Nixon's deliberate strategy to drive wedges through the Democratic Party along the lines of race, class, and position on the war, with the goal of breaking the country into pieces on the assumption that the Republicans could have "far the larger half," as Patrick Buchanan wrote. Likewise, President Bush followed his "uniter, not a divider" and "president of all the people" pledges by shutting Democrats out and restricting public access to the White House even before September 11 gave him a much freer hand to invoke national security and assert that anyone not with us was against us.
The Nixon administration used the Vietnam War to claim increased executive power, including the authority to wiretap, without warrants and in defiance of the Constitution, anyone whom they believed was intending to "attack and subvert the government by unlawful means." The Bush administration has likewise used the War on Terror to claim that the President has an unlimited power to wage war, violate treaties and legislation, spy on, lock up, interrogate, and not "torture"--because Americans do not torture--but deprive of sleep, food, and air (short of death) anyone whom it sees fit, American citizen or not.
But above all, the Nixon administration seduced large swathes of the country into supporting its increasingly open villainy. Nixon's men browbeat the press, produced fake letters to the editor, and choreographed responses to the president's speeches to ensure that--as Jonathan Schell noted--the public image of the administration corresponded not at all to the real policies it pursued. In concept, Nixon stood for peace and order; in reality, the war continued throughout his first four years in office, and his agents pursued power ever more lawlessly. Yet he swept to a landslide in 1972, despite the increasingly obvious evidence of his perfidy. Likewise, Bush took the 2004 election, despite the increasingly obvious evidence of his perfidy.
Or perhaps he won not despite but because of that increasingly obvious evidence. There is something attractive in forthright wickedness. Ordinary villains excuse themselves or seek plausible deniability. Shakespeare (of course) knew the two types. Consider the dull Henry who gives a lengthy wink-wink to his lackeys: "Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?" he asks, trying to get his friends to kill the king. As Exton says, "He spake it twice"--hint, hint--"And speaking it, he wistly look'd on me, As who should say, 'I would thou wert the man.'" Boring, Bolingbroke. Just come out and say it. Compare Richard of Gloucester, who declares openly, "I am determined to prove a villain." Richard is more exciting to watch, as is his namesake Nixon. Remember, it was Richard of Yorba Linda who told his aides, "Goddamn it, get in and get those files. ... Blow the safe and get it."
On balance, the evidence suggests we like to cheer on the thugs who claim to represent us until we belatedly and painfully realize we've become complicit in something we truly despise....
Posted on: Thursday, February 14, 2008 - 22:41
SOURCE: Special to HNN (2-13-08)
Mr. Woods, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, is the author of LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (paperback, 2007).
Last week the conservative political cartoonist, Michael Ramirez, ran a two panel caricature of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson respectively. Under the JFK rendering was the inscription “Obama’s rhetoric” and under LBJ’s “Obama’s policies.” Given Ramirez’ political leanings, I gather this was meant as an indictment.
I wonder which of the Kennedy-Johnson programs conservatives wished had not seen the light of day: Medicare and Medicaid, federal aid to education, Head Start, public television and radio, the Civil Rights Acts of 1963, 1964, and 1968, the first real clean air and water legislation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Food Stamp Act, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, the Automobile Safety Act, and/or the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities? They probably would have objected to Johnson’s plan in 1968 to admit that the United States and its president had erred in its massive troop buildup in Vietnam and then turn the war over to the Vietnamese, but you can’t have everything. The Great Society was as important to the America’s middle class as to its working class. The combination of Medicare and the Higher Education Act of 1965 relieved families of having to choose between caring for their aging parents and sending their children to college. And until Vietnam began inflating defense spending, all of this on a balanced budget. Obama and the Democratic party could do worse. It is time for Democrats to reclaim their heritage.
Johnson did not like the term “liberal” – “they want to control your mind,” he confided to a lieutenant; he preferred the terms left, right, and center with himself situated at the center left. One thing he would have agreed with Robert Taft on is that the policies of the current administration are neither conservative or liberal; left, right, or center; they defy definition, seeming to reside outside history itself.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - 19:44
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (2-13-08)
Beneath the deceptively placid surface of everyday life, the British population is engaged in a momentous encounter with Islam. Three developments of the past week, each of them culminating years' long trends – and not just some odd occurrence – exemplify changes now underway.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith describes terrorism as"anti-Islamic."
Second, and again culminating several years of evolution, the British government now recognizes polygamous marriages. It changed the rules in the"Tax Credits (Polygamous Marriages) Regulations 2003": previously, only one wife could inherit assets tax-free from a deceased husband; this legislation permits multiple wives to inherit tax-free, so long as the marriage had been contracted where polygamy is legal, as in Nigeria, Pakistan, or India. In a related matter, the Department for Work and Pensions began issuing extra payments to harems for such benefits as jobseeker allowances, housing subventions, and council tax relief. Last week came news that, after a year-long review, four government departments (Work and Pensions, Treasury, Revenue and Customs, Home Office) concluded that formal recognition of polygamy is"the best possible" option for Her Majesty's Government.
Third, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, endorsed applying portions of the Islamic law (the Shari‘a) in Great Britain. Adopting its civil elements, he explained,"seems unavoidable" because not all British Muslims relate to the existing legal system and applying the Shari‘a would help with their social cohesion. When Muslims can go to an Islamic civil court, they need not face"the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty." Continuing to insist on the"legal monopoly" of British common law rather than permit Shari'a, Williams warned, would bring on"a bit of a danger" for the country.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says that Islamic law in Great Britain"seems unavoidable."
Although widely denounced (and in danger of losing his job), Williams may be right about the Shari‘a being unavoidable, for it is already getting entrenched in the West. A Dutch justice minister announced that"if two-thirds of the Dutch population should want to introduce the Shari‘a tomorrow, then the possibility should exist." A German judge referred to the Koran in a routine divorce case. A parallel Somali gar courts system already exists in Britain.
These developments suggest that British appeasement concerning the war on terror, the nature of the family, and the rule of law are part of a larger pattern. Even more than the security threat posed by Islamist violence, these trends are challenging and perhaps will change the very nature of Western life.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 - 22:47
SOURCE: AlterNet (2-11-08)
The results from the CA Dem primary show that no serious candidate for the presidency can ignore the potential of multiracial voting coalition.
Sixty years ago, Carey McWilliams, the well-traveled writer/activist and soon to be editor of The Nation, described California as "our nation's racial frontier." As the West Coast's multiracial makeup posed new problems and challenges, it also offered America "one more chance, perhaps a last chance, to establish the principle of racial equality." In this regard, it blessed California's residents and observers with "a ringside seat in the great theatre of the future."
In stunning fashion, the California Democratic primary signaled that the future has arrived with dramatic implications for the entire nation. There has never been an important election like this where a candidate failed to win African Americans and whites but won overall-as Clinton did in California. Once again, California flipped the script. Latinos and Asians carried Hillary to victory in California on their backs and quite likely salvaged her entire campaign. The national media has now come around to the idea of Latinos as a "sleeping giant," and the Clinton strategists deserve credit for their attentiveness to the Latino vote. While I am not holding my breath waiting for the media to overcome decades of ignorance of and marginalization of Asian Americans, the Clinton campaign has undoubtedly benefited from the significant involvement of Asian American donors, staffers, and volunteers.
This is a turning point in U.S. political history: no serious candidate for the presidency from here on out can ignore the mandate to build a multiracial coalition. Obama built an impressive biracial coalition in California, winning overwhelmingly among African Americans and splitting the white vote equally. As a result, California may help forestall the media's misguided obsession with Obama's failure to overcome the black/white racial divide. Obama may have lost, but it was not because of the "Bradley effect." Still, his defeat exposed the inadequacy of biracial thinking in the face of a multiracial reality. ...
Casting Obama as a "colorblind" politician, the pundits and his left skeptics have largely missed the significance of what he represents. Getting "beyond race" today is not about ignoring the problem of racism or moderating ones politics to appease whites. Instead, it means thinking about America as a multiracial nation that dispels old notions of both white normativity and majority/minority identities. Culturally and demographically, millions of Americans -- especially youth -- already live in a world where that notion of white majority has been displaced by a multiethnic reality. Obama is helping us to envision what a new majority will look like politically.
For this reason, the Obama campaign is the only one with movement building potential and why we all have a stake in its efforts to build a multiracial coalition on new ground. Following the dictates of pollsters and consultants, traditional Democrats carve us all up into "interest groups," so they can push the hot buttons that reinforce our sense of victimization and vilify the other side. Obama has learned -- both from his study of what historian Charles Payne has called the black freedom struggle's "organizing tradition" and from his experience organizing against the depths of despair in Chicago's deindustrialized South Side -- that such an approach is not only ineffective but also spiritually bankrupt. If you are just a "minority leader," then you're not really a leader at all. If you are only fighting for your "fair share" of the riches controlled by those in power, you'll never address the root causes of oppression. Above all is the sense that none of us can be free in America or face the global crises of our lifetime until we change the whole country. That is why Obama has the "audacity" to think he is the best person to lead the entire nation. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 - 13:19
Now that Governor Romney is off the campaign trail—we don't do any Sightings of candidates on the trail—we can, without commenting on him or the part his church and faith played in his demise, do a retrospective on the Mormon-hate that blighted air waves, the internet, and some printed quotations while he was spotlit. The locus classicus of the hate, one that has plenty of company, is the on-air MSNBC spewing by Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr., "pundit and actor," on the McLaughlin Group TV show. I quote: "Romney comes from a religion founded by a criminal who was anti-American, pro-slavery, and a rapist. And he comes from that lineage and says, 'I respect this religion fully.' . . . He's got to answer." The other religion that gets treated that way with impunity is Islam. O'Donnell was not treated with total impunity; he was knuckle-rapped with a feather-duster suspension. That could change by the time you read this, but for now the remark was not treated with the seriousness that an anti-black or anti-Semitic comment by the merest sportswriter would elicit.
One needs hold no brief for (or against) the Latter-day-Saints or the Muslims and their founders to find occasion to ask what went wrong, what goes wrong, when in a United States where so many good things are happening on the inter-religious, racial, ethnic, and gender front, this underground of "anti"s so frequently emerges. I've had numerous Latter-Day-Saint Ph.D. students, know some leaders, have spoken at some of their scholarly gatherings, have learned and taught much about their history, and can't find anyone who can find something that would rule out a Mormon as Mormon from being Chief Executive. (Curiously, the issue did not even come up, so far as I can remember, when Mitt Romney's father ran for President in a generation that putatively was more prejudiced than our enlightened generation is.)
Let the O'Donnells rant on as they present their bill of particulars: The Mormons have secrets. So do the Masons, who met lethal prejudice one hundred and fifty years ago, but get a free ride now along with your friendly neighborhood fraternities and sororities. Mormons are too clubby and do favors for each other. So are the Notre Dame (or any other strong college of your choice) grads. Or they are too successful. That's not a blight elsewhere in capitalist America. Finally: their founding story is really weird. Let's stop right there: I like to quote George Santayana, who wrote that "every living and healthy religion has a marked idiosyncrasy. Its power consists in its special and surprising message. . ." One notices: Every religion looks "idiosyncratic" and its stories are "surprising" to all others. We Christians and Jews are empowered, motivated, and—hey! I'm a Christian!—are "saved" by those stories and messages. We spend decades and energies helping fellow-citizens and ourselves live creatively with people who, again in Santayana's terms, propound "another world to live in."
Taking testimony about the evils of Mormonism by ex-Mormons is likely to be as objective as it is if it comes against Catholicism by ex-Catholics. Were it our calling, we could find profound fault with many policies and actions of some Latter-Day-Saints or members and leaders of other faiths. My own company, that of historians, is in the business of telling stories about others' stories. No one is to be uncritical, where there is often much to criticize. But criticism is one thing; hate-speech and untruths are another.
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2008 - 18:39
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (2-11-08)
[Seth Perry is a Ph.D. student in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School.]
Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who passed away January 27, spent a lot of his unusually long life trying to get non-Mormons to stop seeing people of his faith as strange. As he told Mike Wallace in 1996, "We're not a weird people." Hinckley spent an equal amount of time, though, getting his flock to remain "peculiar." Like the author of 1 Peter, whose words he often cited, Hinckley believed that Christ's chosen would stand out from the world, and that "peculiarity" would only grow as society declined. Hinckley was relentless in pursuing those two seemingly opposed goals.
If Mitt Romney's campaign accomplished anything, it was to remind us that political speech is a blunt instrument, incapable of registering distinctions like that between weird and peculiar: He worked so hard to avoid the stigma of weirdness that he lost any shot at the benefits of peculiarity.
As immigrant groups have discovered throughout American history, assimilation comes at the risk of losing the essential self that one is trying to define. That has not been lost on the LDS Church, and, particularly in the last 40 years or so, it has pursued a double strategy of accommodation and what scholars call "retrenchment." The 20th-century church has emphasized the Christian nature of Mormonism, aligned politically with evangelical Protestants, and pursued ecumenical cooperation.
Meanwhile, among the faithful, leaders have renewed emphasis on uniquely Mormon elements such as dedication to the Book of Mormon as revealed scripture, the prophetic status of the church's leader, and the essential importance of temple attendance and all that goes with it — the lifestyle required to earn entry into the temple and the significance of the ordinances and work performed there.
The challenge is that the two audiences, the wider public and church members, inevitably intersect. The church's public-relations efforts are not disingenuous — it is impossible to read much LDS theology honestly without seeing that Jesus is at its center (despite repeated charges during the campaign that Mormons are not Christian). But like all exercises in what communications theorists call "impression management," those efforts emphasize elements known to be more agreeable to outside audiences at the expense of others less so. And that means that when elements of the retrenchment thread reach the wider public, rumor and innuendo can make it look like the church is hiding something — something weird.
That is where Romney's religion played a role in his campaign's failure. As a candidate for president, Romney was required to negotiate the distinction between weirdness and peculiarity, a distinction to which he appeared to remain tone-deaf throughout the campaign. Worried about perceptions of Mormon weirdness, Romney was determined not to discuss the details of his religion — and details were what the news media and facetious fellow candidates wanted to talk about.
The pointed questions started before Romney was officially in the race. In the September 2005 Atlantic Monthly, a reporter asked him, "How Mormon are you?" Then, "Do you wear the temple garments?" Romney's response — a civil answer to what Mormons consider a very rude question — was a hallmark of the campaign's initial strategy on the subject of religion: "I'll just say those sorts of things I'll keep private." An interviewer on CBS's The Early Show last July asked about the Mormon belief that Missouri will play a role in the end times and got the response Romney came to use most often: "You know, why don't you talk to my church about the doctrines of my church." On Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer picked up a similar thread about Missouri and got a similar response. The opening of a Newsweek profile in October showcased what had developed into a real problem: As Romney sensed that religion questions were coming, the reporter commented, "Never has a man so polished looked so uncomfortable."
In December, when Romney gave what was called his "religion speech" in Texas, commentators inside and outside the campaign presented it as a concession: Tired of being hounded, he would talk about his religion. In reality, there wasn't much new in the speech. Romney continued to swear never to distance himself from his faith while making it abstract by calling on all of the resources available to an American candidate: the supposed religious devotion of the founders, Lincoln's "political religion," a generic set of Judeo-Christian "values," and the "nation's symphony of faith."
What could possibly have been gained with such platitudes? Because the church has, in fact, retained its peculiarity in details that voters have repeatedly heard about, Americans weren't going to be convinced that Romney's faith was interchangeable with their own. The suspicion of weirdness was always there.
The church has rightly defended its public-relations strategies by asking its own question: Other than in missionary activity, what can be gained by going into details with the public? Why belabor points of sacred doctrine with a world that misunderstands and mocks them?
The church is not running for office, though. The church is doing what it sees as God's work, and it conducts public relations only to ensure that the public doesn't hamper that work any more than is unavoidable. A politician is doing something very different.
I think Romney was entirely correct when he said, repeatedly, that no candidate should be expected to go into the kind of details he avoided. But then I don't think — as one of the "secularists" he railed against — that his ideas about Jesus have much to do with him being president. It seems that by appealing to those who do believe such things matter, on their own terms, he put himself in the position of owing them the details....
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2008 - 18:31
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (2-4-07)
The events of 9/11 were a particularly lethal expression of the globalization of religious passion. Yet those events were something else, and something more. War had been declared upon us by an enemy whose motivations were utterly alien to the 21st century sensibility of the West.
It has taken us some time to grasp this new and dominant fact of international public life. But now, six and a half years after 9/11, we cannot not understand. For unless we grasp the character of this new kind of war, our chances of prevailing against an adversary with a very different view of the future—and a willingness, even eagerness, to die for the sake of hastening that future—are weakened.
The war is now being fought on multiple, interconnected fronts, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon/Syria, North Africa, Gaza, Somalia, Sudan, southeast Asia; there is an intelligence front, a financial-flows front, an economic front, an energy front, and a homeland security front. My purpose here is to identity what we should have learned by now about the enemy and about ourselves.
Understanding the Enemy
Lesson 1. The great human questions are ultimately theological.
How we think— or don’t think— about God has a great deal to do with how we envision the just society and determine the best means with which to build it. This means taking theology seriously, which includes others’ theologies as well as our own. We certainly should have learned this over the past six years. Yet commentators and statesmen continue to use “theology” or “theological” as synonyms for “superstition” or “mindless.” Such glib usages are an impediment to clear thinking about our situation.
Lesson 2. The trope that describes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as “the three Abrahamic faiths” obscures more than it illuminates, and ought to be permanently retired.
Of course the three faiths all trace their origins to Abraham, but in fact the theological parallelisms are rather limited, especially with regard to Islam.
It is often suggested that there is an affinity between Christianity and Islam that is virtually identical to what Rabbi David Novak calls the “common border” between Judaism and Christianity; Islamic regard for Abraham and Moses, Jesus and Mary, is often cited as an example of this affinity. Yet as Alain Besancon has pointed out, “The Abraham of Genesis is not the Ibrahim of the Quran; Moses is not Moussa…. Jesus is indeed granted a position of honor in the Quran, but this Jesus is not the Jesus in whom Christians proclaim their faith.”
Moreover, Islam’s deep theological structure includes themes that render the notion of “three Abrahamic faiths” unhelpful in understanding Islam’s faith and practice. Take the question of Islamic supersessionism—Islam’s claim that the revelation to Muhammad unveiled Judaism and Christianity as false religions. Despite the supersessionist claims that some Christians have historically made vis-a-vis Judaism, no orthodox Christian holds that God’s self-revelation in Christ negates God’s self-revelation in the history of the People of Israel.
Then there is the nature of the Quran itself. The mainstream Christian understanding of biblical inspiration was expressed by Vatican II in the 1960s: “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who… made full use of their own powers and faculties so that… it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.” That theological understanding of biblical inspiration provides for the possibility of interpreting the sacred texts and for developing doctrine in light of an evolving understanding of the full meaning of Scripture. The Quran, by contrast, is understood to have been dictated by its divine source, word for word, so that there is much less question of exegesis or of a post-scriptural development of doctrine. Thus the Quran is described by an influential Egyptian Islamic activist in these terms: “the Quran for mankind is like a manual for a machine.”
Thus Islam is “other” in relationship to Christianity and Judaism in a way that Christianity and Judaism cannot be to one another. The late Pope John Paul II recognized this. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he observed:
“Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Quran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God with us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and ... the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.”
That theological anthropology yields a view of the just society that is dramatically different from that of Judaism and Christianity. Islamic theological anthropology is one root of what Efraim Karsh has termed “the fusion of religious and temporal authority” in Islam. That fusion has, in turn, led to what Karsh calls “Islam’s millenarian imperial experience”—and, one might add, the millenarian political expectations of some Muslims today. Islamic theological anthropology also helps explain Islam’s difficulties in creating the cultural preconditions for social pluralism. Whether Islam can evolve into a religion capable of providing religious warrants for genuine pluralism is thus one of the great questions on which the future of our century will turn.
Lesson 3. Jihadism is the enemy in the multi-front war that has been declared upon us.
There are many forms of Islam. Some of them, often called “fundamentalism” or “Islamism,” stress the need for a deep religious and moral reform within the House of Islam and for the reestablishment of Islamic political power. The specific form of Islamism which threatens the West is best described as jihadism.
Richard John Neuhaus recently defined jihadism as a “religiously inspired ideology” which teaches that “it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means necessary to compel the world’s submission to Islam.”Its adherents are, de facto, in a state of belligerency against the rest of the world. Neuhaus goes on to note, “It will be objected that, in the Quran, jihad can also mean peaceful spiritual struggle. That is true, as it is true that those Muslims who believe jihad means peaceful spiritual struggle are not the enemy.” Indeed, much of the history of this century will turn on the question of whether the jihadists’ definition of jihad becomes the most culturally assertive definition within the many worlds of Islam.
Lesson 4. Jihadism has a complex intellectual history, which must be grasped in order to understand the nature of the threat before us.
Modern jihadism is rooted in a profound Islamic sense of Islamic failure. One can see traces of that sense of failure in the inertia of the Ottoman Empire before World War I. That inertia has a far longer pedigree, which involved a kind of turning-off of intellectual inquiry in a Muslim world that once found ample room within itself for an incorporation of the wisdom of the classical world and helped transmit that wisdom to the medieval West.
The causal chain that takes us from medieval debates about Islamic law and theology to the caves of Tora Bora and 9/11 involves numerous figures, among them Ahmad ibn Abd al-Halim ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328), Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703/4–1792), and two contemporary theorists, Hasan al-Banna (1906–1949) and Sayyid Qutb (1903–1966).
To make a long story desperately short: At a time when the Mongols had conquered much of the Islamic umma, ibn Taymiyya taught that the survival of Islam required political power; that the pursuit of that power should be undertaken by means of armed force; and that jihad involved both an absolute love of God and an “absolute hatred” for all that God proscribes, which includes “not only heretics, apostates, hypocrites, sinners, and unbelievers (including Christians and Jews)...but also any Muslim who tried to avoid participating in jihad.” Ibn Taymiyya thus adumbrated the intra-Islamic civil war that has now spilled over into jihadism’s struggle against the rest of the world.
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab emphasized that God’s relationship to the world is that of an absolute lawgiver: God is will, and there is no spiritual wrestling with the divine will. Yet Wahhab had little influence in his own time, or indeed for centuries afterwards; it would take a vast transfer of western wealth to Saudi Arabia to make Wahhabism a potent force in the world.
Hasan al-Banna, Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, condemned the “mental colonization” of Islam under colonial rule and urged a struggle against a West that he perceived as having thus far won a “ruthless war whose battlefield has been the spirits and souls of Muslims.” Al-Banna proposed an Islamic social reformation. The educational, social, economic, religious, and charitable activities of the Muslim Brotherhood would be one form of this reformation. Jihad would be another, for God had given Muslims the privilege and duty of saving the world. After cleansing the House of Islam, true Muslims would cleanse their territories of infidels, beginning with Egypt.
Sayyid Qutb, whose formative experiences included being scandalized at the “decadence” he perceived at a church social in Greeley, Colorado, in 1949, brought these various lines of jihadist thought together in a singularly influential way. He, too, stressed the idea of God as Absolute Will, God as the unique lawmaker; thus, for Qutb, liberal political thought—even conservative liberal political thought—was a false religion, not simply bad politics. In a harsher way than others before him, Qutb stressed that those Muslims who did not live authentic Islamic lives were enemies to be fought and, if necessary, killed, as were Jews, Christians, and unbelievers. Here was a mind frozen in time, in which the Crusades and the Spanish Reconquista were present realities, summoning forth a perpetual struggle, violent if necessary, until the final global triumph of Islam.
The power of jihadism derives from its theological roots. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his Regensburg Lecture in September 2006, the key theological move that underwrites today’s jihadism is the identification of God as Absolute Will. If God is absolute will, God can command anything – even the irrational. And so, in an extension of Qutb’s thought, contemporary jihadists believe that the murder of innocents is not simply morally acceptable, but morally required, if such murders advance the cause of Islam. Mercy comes to be understood as weakness. Justice is traduced into revenge. Given Qutb’s conviction that Islam and modernity were “utterly incompatible,” and given the defective theology that undergirds Qutb’s worldview, what seems incomprehensible to many westerners—the death cult that forms the core of Al Qaeda and similar entities—begins to make a certain perverse sense. As Fouad Ajami writes, jihadism thus creates a “world without limits” in which, the battlefield “spans pizzerias, buses, public squares, commuter trains, and subway stations.”
The line from Taymiyya and Wahhab that would later influence al-Banna and Qutb came to one conclusion when Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, an Egyptian and a Saudi, a veteran political operator and propagandist and a somewhat dreamy charismatic leader, joined forces to form Al Qaeda: the result was global jihad.
Lesson 5. Jihadists read history and politics through the prism of their theological convictions, not through the prism of western assumptions about the progressive dynamic of history.
Jihadists read the 1990s as a moment that revealed fatal western weaknesses. To them, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan (even if it was made possible by western aid and technology) meant that modernity was on the run. This provoked new patterns of aggression, which were reinforced when the generally feckless U.S. response led to bin Laden’s apotheosis as the jihadist champion who had taken on the Great Satan and prevailed. Then, when the U.S. failed to respond to the attack on the USS Cole in such a way as to ignite the war in Afghanistan in which bin Laden hoped to trap the Americans, he decided that something else was required: as Lawrence Wright puts it, “he would have to create an irresistible outrage.” The result was a vast hole in the ground in Lower Manhattan, the loss of almost 3,000 lives, and an economic cost of billions of dollars.
Lesson 6: Necessary truth-telling is the prerequisite to genuine interreligious dialogue.
In Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture, the Holy Father gave the world an interreligious and ecumenical vocabulary to engage in a genuine conversation about the threat jihadism poses: the vocabulary of “rationality and irrationality.” Criticized at the time as a diplomatic “gaffe,” the Pope’s proposal has now drawn responses from international groups of Muslim leaders, and a meeting in March at the Vatican is planned. This newfound interest within senior Islamic circles in serious theological conversation with the Pope about the right ordering of society followed, not the exchange of banalities and pleasantries that too often characterizes interreligious dialogue, but a robust critique of the theological roots of jihadism. Surely there are lessons here for the future.
One is that the western media acquiescence to Muslim complaints about “Islamophobia” should stop: it is not “Islamophobic” for the Pope, or anyone else, to pray in the presence of Muslims; to defend religious freedom; or to condemn violence in the name of God—suggestions made by NPR, the New York Times, the AP, and the New York Daily News during Benedict XVI’s December 2006 visit to Turkey. It would also be helpful if the western press would call things by their right names: murderers in Iraq are murderers and terrorists, not insurgents or sectarians; suicide bombers are, in fact, homicide bombers; and so forth.
Lesson 7. This is a multi-generational struggle.
The below-replacement-level birthrates that prevail throughout virtually the entire western world are another factor in this global struggle. As the inimitable Mark Steyn puts it, given present demographic trends, soon “the Belgian climate-change lobbyist will be on the endangered species list with the Himalayan snow leopard”—a fact that, given Belgian parallels in the Netherlands, France, Spain, and elsewhere, has already changed the political landscape of western Europe.
Yet Steyn notes that birthrates are already declining in some Islamic countries, such that the jihadists’ demographic advantage will eventually decrease as well. So the historical window for the achievement of the jihadists’ most ambitious goals will likely begin to close in, perhaps, twenty-five years or so. The demographics of the Islamic world, coupled with the staying power of the passions unleashed by jihadist ideology, thus suggest that the current phase of the contest for the human future will last at least two or three generations. This is, indeed, a long war. We must understand that and plan both strategy and tactics accordingly.
Lesson 8. Genuine realism must avoid premature closure in its thinking about the possibilities of human agency in the world.
Grasping the inevitable irony, pathos, and tragedy of history; being alert to unintended consequences; maintaining a robust skepticism about schemes of human perfection; cherishing democracy without worshiping it—these elements of the Christian realist sensibility associated with Reinhold Niebuhr remain essential intellectual furnishing for anyone thinking about U.S. foreign policy in the war against jihadism. Yet realism must be complemented by a commitment to the possibility of human creativity.
As Dean Acheson said at another moment when history’s tectonic plates were shifting, the task he and Harry Truman faced “only slowly revealed itself. As it did so, it began to appear as just a little bit less formidable than that described in the first chapter of Genesis. That was to create a world out of chaos.” Our task today is not dissimilar. In carrying it out, we would do well to remember the counsel of Charles Frankel: “The heart of the policy-making process...is not the finding of a national interest already perfectly known and understood. It is the determining of that interest: the reassessment of the nation’s resources, needs, commitments, traditions, and political and cultural horizons – in short, its calendar of values.”
The Bush administration’s efforts to accelerate change in the Arab Islamic world were determined by a realistic assessment of the situation after 9/11. Mistakes in implementation notwithstanding, the attempt to accelerate the transition to responsible and responsive government in the Middle East was a realistic objective, given an unacceptable status quo that was inherently unstable; that was unstable because it was corrupt; and that was producing terrorists and jihadists determined to challenge those corruptions.
Lesson 9. The objective in the Middle East is the evolution of responsible and responsive government, which will take different forms given different historical and cultural circumstances.
Bernard Lewis is, as usual, a wise guide here. As he recently wrote, “Different societies develop different ways of conducting their affairs, and they do not need to resemble ours... Democracy is not born like the Phoenix. It comes in stages, and the stages and processes of development will differ from country to country.”
The difficulties of post-Baathist political transition in Iraq should not, however, blind us to the fact that the war against jihadism and the quest for freedom are linked, and neither can succeed without the other. Moreover, Lewis encourages us to think that there is enough in both the traditional culture of Islam and the modern experience of the Muslims to provide the basis for an advance toward freedom, rightly understood. Trying to support and perhaps even accelerate that advance is the only realistic course of action.
Lesson 10. In the war against global jihadism, deterrence strategies are unlikely to be effective.
This is perhaps most evident in Iran, or at least among Iranians like President Ahmadinejad who believe that they can hasten the messianic age by unleashing nuclear holocaust in Jerusalem. As Adam Garfinkle asks, how does one deter people who are willing and even eager to turn their country and their entire religious sect into a suicide bomb?
Any deterrence value or dampening of jihadist enthusiasms that we might have expected to gain from Iraq will be lost if the outcome there is perceived to be an American defeat. Such an outcome would be little short of a catastrophe. It may be that the final outcome in Iraq is not, ultimately, of our determining—that the immediate future of Iraq will inevitably reduce itself to the question of whether Iraqis want even a loosely federal state more than they want to kill each other. But the premature abandonment of the effort to prevent that nightmare scenario from playing itself out would be read by global jihadists as a sign of fecklessness that will have untold, but surely awful, consequences.
I keep in my study a postcard copy of a World War II poster in which Winston Churchill points a finger at you over the emblazoned slogan “Deserve Victory!” What must we do to deserve victory in the war against global jihadism?
Lesson 11. Cultural self-confidence is indispensable to victory in the long-term struggle against jihadism.
The second part of Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture was a reminder to the West that, if irrational faith poses one grave threat to the human future, so does a loss of faith in reason. If the West loses its faith in the human capacity to know the truth of anything with certainty, it will have disarmed itself intellectually, culturally, and morally, unable to give an account of its commitments to civility, tolerance, the free society, and democratic self-government. Saying “No” to radical skepticism and moral insouciance is very much part of homeland security.
Lesson 12. Small concessions in the name of a false idea of tolerance inevitably lead to further concessions and erosions of liberty.
This process is well-advanced in Europe, where enclaves of sharia law exist in Great Britain, France, the low countries and elsewhere—enclaves where the writ of local law does not run, even in the matter of “honor” killings. The path to legal surrender was paved by cultural surrender, as when “Piglet” mugs disappeared from some British retailers after Islamists complained that the Winnie the Pooh character offended Muslim sensibilities. The Danish cartoons controversy of 2006 was the most ominous expression of the problem to date, for here, kowtowing to Islamist agitations led directly to the infringement of classic civil liberties.
The European experience of accommodation to Islamist and jihadist threats and demands has shown where the first concessions lead. Becoming a dhimmi, a second-class citizen, is not always a matter of accommodating to an imposed Islamic law. As the European experience demonstrates, self-dhimmitude is a danger when the nature of tolerance is misunderstood. Not only must the West defend its core values at home; it should intensify its efforts to promote religious freedom around the world.
Lesson 13. We cannot continue to finance those who attack us.
Global jihadism would not be the threat it is had the West not transferred some $2 trillion in wealth to the Arab Islamic world since World War II—which, among other things, has allowed Saudi Arabia to spend an estimated $70-100 billion spreading Wahhabi doctrine all over the globe. The national security threat of oil dependency is obvious and self-demeaning.
Setting aside the details of various alternative energy strategies, there ought to be broad agreement on former CIA Director James Woolsey’s argument that U.S. energy independence is preponderantly a problem related to oil and its dominant role in fueling vehicles. Woolsey proposed two policy directions to reduce this vulnerability: (1) encouraging a shift to far more fuel-efficient vehicles, and (2) encouraging biofuels and other alternative and renewable fuels.
A nation that created the global revolution in information technology surely can de-fund global jihadism by drastically cutting the transfer of funds related to petroleum imports. It beggars belief that peoples who did not discover a resource, much less the means to exploit it and make it the source of vast wealth, have profited by its development in ways that now threaten the very possibility of world order. This is dhimmitude of a global economic sort, and it must stop.
Lesson 14. Victory in the war against global jihadism requires a new domestic political coalition.
If we are indeed “present at the creation” once again, we would do well to adopt a lesson from Truman, Acheson, Marshall, and Vandenberg and create a domestic political coalition that understands global jihadism and is broadly agreed on the measures necessary to defeat it. There is a serious question, though, as to whether the kind of coalition that was assembled in the late 1940s can be replicated today. But were such a coalition to be formed, it should take as one of its tasks a rationalization of our homeland security policy. We have not yet reached the point of Great Britain, where one of the country’s most wanted terrorists slipped through Heathrow in 2006 by wearing a burka, as Scottish grandmothers bent over to remove their shoes at x-ray machines. But we could get there, unless we decide that effective counterterrorism is more important than political correctness in devising airport screening measures. Risk-profiling and the development of trusted-traveler identification cards would be two important elements in rationalizing homeland security.
Rationalizing homeland security will also require effective measures to rein in those parts of the federal judiciary that put irrational obstacles in the way of detecting terrorism plots. On a 2005 ruling by a federal district court, the NSA can alert MI-5 if it intercepts a phone call from Peshawar to London in which jihadists plot to attack London, but any NSA intercept of a call between Kandahar and Chicago in which terrorists plot to attack Washington is unconstitutional. This is insanity, and it, too, must stop.
Lesson 15. There is no escape from U.S. leadership.
The challenge of global jihadism can be neither avoided nor appeased. The war that has been declared against the West can only be engaged, and with a variety of instruments, many of them not military.
Whatever our incapacities, the fact remains that there is no alternative to U.S. leadership in the war against global jihadism. As Michael Gerson has put it, “There must be someone in the world capable of drawing a line—someone who says, ‘This much and no further.’” That someone can only be the United States. President Bush must insure that, whatever else happens, he leaves the American people, at the end of his term, with a clear understanding of the nature of the threat, and the magnitude of the stakes on the global table. There is no escape from the burden of American leadership, but that burden can be an opportunity for national renewal.
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Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2008 - 17:54