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: Open Democracy (3-27-08)
The Chinese government’s plans for the Olympic games did not include a revolt in Tibet. The immediate aftermath of the widespread demonstrations and riots in Tibetan-inhabited areas in mid-March 2008 - from Lhasa in the Tibetan Autonomous Region to Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces to the east - has seen intense efforts by the authorities to restore control and manage access to information. The disruption by monks at the Jokhang temple in Lhasa of a choreographed visit of foreign journalists on 27 March indicates that the strategy is not working.
Beijing’s worried officials will do their best to defuse the potential of these unfolding events to subvert their larger understanding of what the event in their city on 8-24 August means for China. It is notable in this respect that China has avoided stressing the precedent of the Olympic games in Tokyo in 1964, and has at best only suggested in passing that there might be a parallel in the impact of the respective events on the countries’ global profile.
In principle, one attractive way for the Beijing authorities to think about the 2008 Olympics is that they will come to be seen as comparable to 1964. The Tokyo games - and the Osaka world Expo that followed in 1970 - globally promoted a vision of a Japan that had bounced back from a period of extremism and defeat to become a stable country with modern cities and forward-looking aspirations. These two high-profile international gatherings also symbolised the concurrent processes of economic development that would see Japan’s own rise to its current status as the world’s second biggest economy.
China’s leaders might consider the Tokyo 1964/Beijing 2008 analogy at least privately compelling on several levels - even if their suspicion of a historic adversary (and present competitor) might make them reluctant to voice this senti-ment too openly. China too has been climbing rapidly in the global economic hierarchy and wants to move still higher. It is preparing to follow its hosting of the Olympics with its own Expo - set to start in Shanghai on 1 May 2010, the country’s first-ever world fair. Its own modern history has seen moments of destructive extremism (the “great leap for-ward” and resulting famine, for example) and moments of defeat (including the foreign occupation of Beijing in 1900 and Japanese invasions of the 1930s) that it has good reason to want to put far behind it.
The Manchukuo lens
At the same time, a very different analogy can be drawn between China in 2008 and Japan at another moment in its past (as Howard W French points out, in one of the most thoughtful and historically minded commentaries on the current crisis in Tibet; see “Beijing's claims of an ‘unwavering stand’ in support of Tibet are groundless”, International Herald Tribune, 20 March 2008). This alternative line of argument, however, would be much less palatable to the Chinese regime than the 1964/2008 one. Why? Because the other era in Japanese history that has lessons for China today is the 1930s - a decade that is remembered in China as one when Tokyo acted in despicably aggressive ways towards it.
Howard W French’s background as an experienced reporter of Africa, a continent that has been ravaged by many forms of imperialism, may inform his emphasis on a time when Japan was an imperial rather than a post-imperial power to highlight the colonialist aspects of Chinese policy in Tibet; in so doing, he evades the common trap in commentary on Tibet that Pankaj Mishra identifies in another insightful article - namely that of viewing any confrontation between the Chinese leadership and those challenging its policies through a distorting cold-war lens (see “At war with the utopia of modernity”, Guardian, 22 March 2008).
For both these authors, the place to start in unravelling the Tibetan crisis is not with communist ideology or Leninist state structures, but rather by appreciating what often happens when any power justifies its control by saying that it is bestowing modernity on a backward people - a view of the Tibetans held by many everyday Chinese as well as their rulers.
Beijing insistently claims to be delivering the benefits of progress and modernity to Tibetans. The recurrent problem it faces is that (in French’s words) “few indigenous people want progress ‘given’ to them”. This is not only because “they don't see themselves as inferior, as such patronage would require”, but also because “they know of the many strings attached and of the slippery road to losing one's soul.”
More specifically, French points out that the “Chinese, of all people, should understand” the outrage that colonial pro-jects of this sort can engender. After all, they were “offered the ‘gift’ of modernization by Imperial Japan under its erstwhile Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere”. There are even, he points out, “eerie echoes of Japan's Manchukuo with its bogus Emperor Puyi in China's attempts to pick religious leaders on Tibetan's behalf.”
The Chinese regime’s official Xinhua news agency seemed to confirm the thrust of this argument by issuing a statement on 22 March that, inadvertently, buttressed the Manchukuo parallel. The piece - entitled “China Garners Broad Interna-tional Support Over Tibet Riots” - provides a list of countries that had issued official declarations expressing solidarity with Beijing over its handling of Tibet; they ranged from nearby lands such as North Korea and Kyrgyzstan to distant ones such as Syria and Serbia.
The list is reminiscent of the ones that the Japanese authorities and the rulers of Manchukuo circulated in the 1930s when trying to convince local and international populations that the newly formed state was widely viewed as legitimate. To distract attention from all of the statements by world leaders dismissing Puyi as a puppet of Japan, those 1930s pronouncements trotted out a list of eleven countries - Poland, El Salvador, Romania, Spain, among them - that recognised him as a legitimate ruler (on the larger Manchukuo background, see Prasenjit Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern [Rowman & Littlefield, 2003]).
But lest anyone jump to the conclusion that there is something distinctively “east Asian” about this particular ploy, it is worth remembering what George W Bush and Tony Blair did in 2003: namely, use smoke-and-mirrors talk of a broad “coalition of the willing” to encourage people to overlook the lack of United Nations support for the invasion of Iraq. It is interesting too to see how far the set of countries that lined up behind Washington in 2003 had in common with that which once viewed Puyi as a true ruler rather than just a puppet. The above-mentioned four states - Poland, El Salvador, Romania and Spain - were all there again, for example, notwithstanding the great discontinuities in their own political development across the decades.
Brothers in arms
George W Bush has belatedly expressed concern over events in Tibet in a lengthy phone conversation on 26 March with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao. If the discussion between the two presidents is extended, one relevant topic would be the troublesome nature of historical analogies involving 1930s Japan in relation to another contemporary issue, Iraq.
Here, it was post-war Japan that was again supposed to be the key reference-point (in this case for the United States). The influential neo-conservatives who provided the Iraq adventure with ideological varnish built upon the strained but prevalent comparison of 9/11 to Pearl Harbour by arguing that the American occupation of Japan, by leading to the emergence of a grateful democratic ally to the US, provided a preview of what would happen after Saddam Hussein fell.
It is not just retrospect that undermines this perspective - for anyone who really knew their history would not have ex-pected events on the ground to develop in this way. John Dower, the leading American historian of mid-century US-Japanese interaction, expressed such a view in various periodicals just before and during the early stages of the invasion, highlighting a host of specific ways in which the situation in Iraq differed from that in post-war Japan (see, for example, "A warning from history", Boston Review [February/March 2003]).
But Dower went a step further, arguing that the best Japanese parallels for contemporary US policy and rhetoric lay in how much Bush and company seemed to have in common with the militarists who led Japan in the 1930s. As he wrote in mid-2003 in an online publication linked to the Nation: “Regime change, nation-building, creation of client states, control of strategic resources, defiance of international criticism, mobilization for ‘total war,’ clash-of-civilizations rhetoric, winning hearts and minds, combating terror at home as well as abroad - all these were part and parcel of Japan's vainglorious attempt to create a new order of ‘co-existence and co-prosperity’ in Asia” (see “The other Japanese occupation”, TomDispatch.com, 20 June 2003).
When Bush and Hu meet in Beijing in August, the subject-matter of their conversation is more likely to be a new record in the high-jump or pole-vault than about Pu Yi’s similarities to the Panchen Lama; which country heads the medals-table than parallels between American actions in Iraq and Japan’s in Manchukuo.
That is a pity, since a modicum of historical self-awareness - perhaps especially among the powerful - is one of the best defences against political misjudgment.
But even if the exchange between the leaders of an actual and an aspiring global power remains focused only on current affairs, they may find some common ground. Each man, thinking of a different quagmire, could commiserate with the other about how vexing it can be when people you “liberate” aren’t properly grateful for what you’ve done for them.
Posted on: Monday, March 31, 2008 - 01:30
SOURCE: Providence Journal (3-14-08)
NO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION since 1800 has taken place without an attempt to damage at least one candidate’s reputation by innuendo, rumor or ridicule. Too often, the weapon of choice has been religion.
No campaign has more brutally combined these tactics than when President John Adams, a New England Puritan, faced off against his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, a Deist. Jefferson’s narrow victory left the country divided for decades.
In the first knock-down, drag-out campaign, Federalists pilloried Jefferson, who had written the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. With the aid of James Madison, he had waged a 10-year battle in the Virginia legislature to strip clergy of tax support — and many clergymen never forgave him.
It had been the bitterest fight of his life, Jefferson said as he coined the phrase “separation of church and state.” But the 1800 presidential campaign proved worse. Adams’s supporters attacked Jefferson’s religious views from the pulpit, in the press, in the drawing room. In the Massachusetts legislature, he was tried in absentia for heresy.
Jefferson, like fellow Deists George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, believed that it was reason that led to social morality better than any single religion.
Yale University President Timothy Dwight set the tone in a Fourth of July sermon attacking the author of the Declaration of Independence. If Jefferson were elected, Dwight worried, if “our churches become temples of reason,” the Bible “would be cast into a bonfire.” The Philadelphia Gazette, the flagship Federalist paper, asked the question “to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart, ‘Shall I continue in allegiance to God and a religious President [Adams], or impiously declare for Jefferson — and NO GOD!!!”
If Jefferson won, the Hartford Courant warned, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will all be openly taught and practiced.” A Federalist woman reader was so terrified about what would happen to her family Bible that she took it to the only Democrat she knew and asked him to hide it. “It will be perfectly safe with you. They’ll never think of looking in the house of a Democrat.”
The first president, George Washington, had done all he could to keep religion separate from politics. Through revolution and two terms as president, he clung to his faith in God but scrupulously, like the Hebrews of old, declined to use the name of God, usually substituting “Providence.” Unlike most modern presidential candidates, he tried to keep his religious views private.
Washington grew up accompanying his mother to Anglican services. As an adult, he was an Anglican vestryman. He jolted 12 miles in a carriage over unpaved roads to church, but he never stayed for communion and never knelt during services because he wouldn’t bend the knee to the king and his established church’s authority.
As General Washington, he believed religion was important to maintain morality among his troops. If he couldn’t find a chaplain, he himself read the prayers aloud to his men. As president, he was always aware of his enormous influence. He refused to conform to any one religion for fear that whatever he espoused would become the new national church.
When he spoke, however rarely, he was taken seriously. As president, he extended his friendship and tolerance to the Jews of Touro synagogue in Newport, the nation’s oldest. All Americans, he wrote to them, “possess alike liberty of conscience.” The U.S. government, he wrote, “gives bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Madison all opposed tearing down the wall they painstakingly erected between church and state. Today, no American should have to worry about a candidate’s religion, or that, if elected, a president would transform his private religious views into a public agenda.
Maybe it would be better to keep religion off the campaign trail, too.
Posted on: Monday, March 31, 2008 - 01:29
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (3-30-08)
Quietly, the storm over the hateful views expressed by Sen. Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has blown away the most insidious myth of the Democratic primary campaign. Obama and his surrogates have charged that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has deliberately and cleverly played the race card in order to label Obama the "black" candidate.
Having injected racial posturing into the contest, Obama's "post-racial" campaign finally seems to be all about race and sensational charges about white racism. But the mean-spirited strategy started even before the primaries began, when Obama's operatives began playing the race card - and blamed Hillary Clinton.
Had she truly conspired to inflame racial animosities in January and February, her campaign would have brought up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his incendiary sermons. But the Clinton campaign did not. And when the Wright stories and videos finally did break through in the mass media, they came not from Clinton's supporters but from Fox News Network.
Although Wright had until recently been obscure to the American public, political insiders and reporters have long known about him. On March 6, 2007, the New York Times reported that Obama had disinvited Wright from speaking at his announcement because, as Wright said Obama told him, "You can get kind of rough in the sermons." By then, conservative commentators had widely denounced Wright. His performances in the pulpit were easily accessible on DVD, direct from his church. But Clinton, despite her travails, elected to remain silent.
Instead, she had to fight back against a deliberately contrived strategy to make her and her husband look like race-baiters. Obama's supporters and operatives, including his chief campaign strategist David Axelrod, seized on accurate and historically noncontroversial statements and supplied a supposedly covert racist subtext that they then claimed the calculating Clinton campaign had inserted.
In December, Bill Shaheen, a Clinton campaign co-chair in New Hampshire, wondered aloud whether Obama's admitted youthful abuse of cocaine might hurt him in the general election. Obama's strategists insisted that Shaheen's mere mention of cocaine was suggestive and inappropriate - even though the scourge of cocaine abuse has long cut across both racial and class lines. Pro-Obama press commentators, including New York Times columnist Frank Rich, then whipped the story into a full racial subtext, charging that the Clintons had, in Rich's words, "ghettoized" Obama "into a cocaine user."...
Posted on: Monday, March 31, 2008 - 00:47
SOURCE: Prospect (UK) (4-1-08)
What is it about Russia that drives the Anglo-American world mad? Soviet communism collapses, the empire is relinquished. Then come the wild hopes and failures of the 1990s—including the 1993 half-coup and the tank assault on Russia's legislature, the results-adjusted referendum on a new constitution (still in force), the dubious privatisations, the war in Chechnya and the financial default in 1998. But after all that, in December 1999 Boris Yeltsin apologises, steps down early—and names his prime minister and former secret police chief Vladimir Putin as acting president. To widespread consternation, Yeltsin predicts that the obscure spy is the man to "unite around himself those who will revive Great Russia." Incredibly, this is exactly what transpires.
And this is a grand disappointment, even a frightening prospect? The elevation of Putin—a secret deal promoted by Yeltsin's personal and political family, motivated less by patriotism than self-preservation—will go down as one of the most enduring aspects of Yeltsin's shaky legacy. Now, Putin, just like his benefactor, has selected his successor, Russia's new president Dmitri Medvedev. Sure, Putin has no plans to retire to a hospital-dacha, where Yeltsin had spent much of his presidency. Still, in his crafty way Putin has abided by the constitutional limit of two presidential terms. In May, Medvedev will acquire the immense powers of the Russian presidency (a gift of Yeltsin) in circumstances whereby the Russian state is no longer incoherent (a gift of Putin). And this is grounds for near universal dismissal in the west?
Two clashing myths have opened a gulf of misunderstanding towards Russia. First is the myth in the west that the chaos and impoverishment under Yeltsin amounted to a rough democracy, which Putin went on to destroy. When something comes undone that easily, it was probably never what it was cracked up to be. Still, the myth of Russia's overturned democracy unites cold war nostalgists, who miss the enemy, with a new generation of Russia-watchers, many of whom participated earnestly in the illusory 1990s democracy-building project in Russia and are now disillusioned (and tenured).
Second is the myth, on the Russian side, that the KGB was the one Soviet-era institution that was uncorrupted, patriotic and able to restore order. This credits Putin's stooge entourage for the economic liberalisation that was actually pushed through by the non-KGB personnel around him.
Each of these myths deeply rankles the other side. When a big majority of Russians accept or even applaud Putin's concentration of power, Anglo-American observers suspect not just ignorance but a love of authoritarianism. (Unfortunately, Russians have never been offered genuine democracy and the rule of law alongside soaring living standards.) When foreign-based commentators and academics celebrate Yeltsin's Russia, which was worth a paltry $200bn and suffered international humiliation, while denouncing Putin's Russia, which has a GDP of $1.3 trillion and has regained global stature, most Russians detect not just incomprehension but ill-will.
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2008 - 22:14
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (3-27-08)
No one was prepared for the storm when it hit. The levees meant to protect us had long since been breached and key officials had already left town. The well-to-do were assured of rescue, but for everyone else trapped inside the Superdome in a fast-flooding region, there was no evacuation plan in sight. The Bush administration, of course, claimed that it was in control and the President was already assuring his key officials that they were doing a heck of a job.
No, I'm not talking about post-Katrina New Orleans. That was so then. I'm talking about the housing and credit crunches, as well as the Bear Stearns bailout, that have given the term"bear market" new meaning.
Now, don't get me wrong -- when it comes to the arcane science of economics, like most Americans, I'd benefit from an"Economics for Dummies" course. What I do know something about, though, is history, a subject that hasn't been on the Bush administration's course curriculum since the President turned out not to be Winston Churchill and conquered Iraq refused to morph into occupied Germany ‘n Japan 1945.
History may not repeat itself, but the administration's repetitive acts these past seven years make an assessment of our economic situation possible, even if you are an economics dummy.
Just consider the record: Administration officials proved incapable of rebuilding two countries that their military occupied and damaged. In Afghanistan and Iraq, while talking up the President's"freedom agenda," they were the equivalent of a natural disaster, a whirlwind of destruction.
In the case of Iraq, in disbanding its military, its government, and even its economy, they were literal nation-wreckers. On taking Baghdad, their first act of omission was to let the capital be looted. ("Stuff happens," commented Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the time.) Soon after, the administration's new viceroy in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, promptly plunged the country into the equivalent of the Great Depression -- without a Bear Stearns bailout in sight.
In the case of Afghanistan, only a staggering boom in opiate growing -- the country now supplies an estimated 93% of the global market in illegal opiates, bringing about four billion dollars into the country -- has slightly offset the disaster of"liberation." By just about any other measure, Afghanistan is a wreck.
In the case of New Orleans, the Bush administration not only couldn't rebuild an American city that nature (and the Army Corps of Engineers) damaged, but turned a natural disaster into a man-made catastrophe that has yet to end.
Despite a reputation for being the most disciplined, tough, and focused administration in memory, Bush's men and women couldn't even secure their fondest inside-the-Beltway dream: constructing a generation-long Pax Republicana in Washington. In fact, it looks suspiciously as if Republicans in the House and Senate, fleeing Congress as if it were New Orleans -- it's politely called "retirement," not cutting and running -- could even be swept into minority status for a generation.
And now, with a mere ten"lame duck" months to go, comes the American economy…
You don't faintly need to understand economics to grasp the immediate danger. The people overseeing the handling of this crisis have done little these last years but hand money over to the rich, while running American power into the dirt.
Let me review our history lesson for a moment: No to nation-rebuilding, no to city-rebuilding, no to Congressional majority-building…
Who dares imagine that the people who brought you Iraq, the war, could begin the rebuilding of an economy, or even successfully caulk the cracks in the levees of a system that, in its complexity, puts Iraq's feeble economy to shame?
In some ways, an administration -- whatever its periodic changes of personnel -- can be compared to an individual. At a certain age, its urges become predictable, its habits set, its limits largely known. While change may be possible, you wouldn't want to bet your house on it.
So what exactly has the Bush administration proven itself good at? The twin skills of destruction and looting would stand at the top of any list. Perhaps that's because it chose to put its"eggs" in only two baskets -- those of the U.S. military and crony corporations.
Awed by the shock-and-awe force of forces that fell into their hands, administration officials moved to transfer as many powers of civil governance as possible to the Pentagon. From diplomacy to disaster relief, nation-building to intelligence gathering, an organization built only to destroy was designated as the go-to outfit for activities normally associated with those who have building in mind.
At the same time, the government was being staffed, top-to-bottom, with ill-prepared political pals, while a small set of crony corporations, of which Halliburton is certainly the best known, was given the nod in every rebuilding situation. It really didn't matter where you looked, they were the ones camped out, making money, on the landscape of destruction. With their no-bid, cost-plus contracts, these companies ran up the hours and then tended to jump ship when the going got bad. The same corporations that had essentially looted Iraq -- it was labeled"reconstruction" -- were the first ones called in when New Orleans went down. (Of the initial six contracts the Bush administration offered for the reconstruction of the city, five went to companies previously involved in Iraq's reconstruction program.)
Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration has proved serially incapable of building anything, even -- in the long run -- their own machine. And, from the Enron moment to the Bear Stearns one, whenever it looked like the Titanic might have hit an iceberg, it was a lock that those passengers assigned to the limited places in the lifeboats wouldn't be from steerage (or be weighed down with subprime mortgages).
So rebuilding. No. Saving people who aren't already friends. No. Doing a heck of a job in a crisis. No. Now, our latest and greatest crisis is upon us, the sort that, in a matter of weeks, has sent media commentators and pundits from reluctant discussions of whether we might be heading into a recession straight to references to the"d" word, "1929," and the Great Depression. And they're not alone. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll indicates that a startling 59% of Americans already believe we're heading for a long-term depression, not a recession (and 79% are worried about the possibility). Leave the definitional details to the experts. Most Americans have undoubtedly assessed the Bush administration's proven incapacity in perilous times and drawn the logical conclusions.
Ten months is a long, long time when only their hands are near the pilot's wheel of the ship of state and water's already seeping through the hull. It's an eon for an administration capable of sinking New Orleans in a matter of days, and Iraq in little more than months. Or, thought of another way, it's plenty of time if your expertise happens to lie in deconstruction. After all, barring a miracle, you're talking about the little administration that couldn't, no matter how hard Ben Bernanke may try.
So, even if you, like me, know next to nothing about economics, you already know enough to be afraid, very afraid.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2008 - 21:45
SOURCE: New Republic (4-9-08)
These skirmishes have yielded no discernible advantage. But the bickering has, troublingly, validated a piece of conventional wisdom among a liberal commentariat that was already tilting heavily toward Obama: that Clinton is "ruthless," "vicious," even "Nixonian"--an unscrupulous appendage of her husband's "machine" (a word seldom used about the far better oiled Obama apparatus). As Obama's guru David Axelrod would have it, "They are literally trying to do anything to win this nomination." You hear it said everywhere, from blogs to high-toned op-ed pages. But this virulent meme is untrue, and--quite apart from the current contest--anyone who cares about liberalism and its future should be worried by its spread.
To begin with, the charge that Clinton is Nixonian is as scurrilous as the smears that Obama is a closet Muslim or that John McCain sired a bastard child. Her campaign, simply put, is not categorically different from any other hard-driving presidential bid, including Obama's own. It should be recalled that, back in the fall, when Obama trailed in the polls by double digits, friendly columnists positively begged him to go after the front-runner. In an October 30 debate, Obama charged that Clinton was "changing positions whenever it's politically convenient" and that "she has not been truthful" about her Social Security plans. The jibes grew so strident that Bill Richardson called a time-out in the middle of the debate, declaring, "It's pretty close to personal attacks that we don't need."
The point isn't to taunt, as if in the schoolyard, that Obama "started it"; the point is that no presidential aspirant enters the arena an innocent. Both candidates have flip-flopped, ducked questions, taken potshots, made dubious campaign promises, and spun the facts in disingenuous ways. They have done so for the same reason that fish swim and birds fly: It's in the nature and job description of politicians to do so. To plead that one or the other has done these things more, or more nefariously, is to launch a litany of tit-for-tat charges that would outrun the pages of this magazine.
Besides, objectively quantifying the cheap shots is impossible at this fraught moment, when any incident is read through the distorting lens of candidate preference. In a famous experiment from the 1950s, the public opinion analysts Hadley Cantril and Albert Hastorf had fans of Princeton and Dartmouth's football teams watch a film of a rough game between the two--in which, most egregiously, Princeton's star player was injured--and tally up the penalties. Dartmouth fans were more likely to judge the game as rough but fair, with penalties committed almost equally on both sides. Princeton fans said Dartmouth was responsible for more than two-thirds of the infractions. Team loyalty shaped or dictated perceptions. It is doing so today among Democrats and pundits....
Nor should Clinton's tactics be faulted for giving ammunition to the Republicans for the fall campaign. Harping on a rival's weaknesses is part and parcel of any campaign. Al Gore denounced Michael Dukakis's prison furlough program in 1988. Bill Bradley branded Gore a serial exaggerator in 2000. Whether these attacks serve to toughen or soften up the eventual nominee can't be proved either way. But historically Republicans have needed no help in finding ways to bash Democrats. And, while it's not the job of journalists and intellectuals to look after the Democrats' interests, a single standard should prevail. If questioning Obama's readiness for prime time is to be shunned lest it abet John McCain, Democrats should likewise avoid the potentially destructive notion that Clinton is an unusually dirty campaigner....
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2008 - 00:15
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (3-26-08)
(Nationally syndicated columnist, classicist, and military historian Victor Davis Hanson gave the following speech to the Wednesday Morning Club on Thursday, March 20, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara, California. The Wednesday Morning Club regularly invites conservative speakers to speak in the Hollywood area.)
I saw a startling statistic that said that 24% of all stories in the New York Times until last year were devoted to Iraq, and this year, 3% were. I saw a column the other day, and it said, "How to resolve the quagmire." And I looked down, it was about the Democratic race.
What's happened is that the surge has changed things -- not that 30,000 men and a force of 130,000 in a country of 26 million can itself change the pulse of the battlefield, but it came as a culmination of a lot of other things. We had been fighting for four and a half years when it took hold. And we've killed over 20,000 insurgents. In the aggregate, that total is impressive.
Remember, in post-modern war, we're only allowed to talk about how much we suffer, not what we do to the enemy. For the first time in history of warfare that's been true. But we have done enormous damage to the enemy, and it's starting to now take its toll.
I read a column the other day by a really idiotic writer who said, “it’s like the kamikazes, an endless stream of insurgents.” But there was not an endless stream of them in Japan. There was about 7,000 of them; that was it. Finally, at Okinawa, they had to get people inebriated and draft English majors by force out of the university. And at least 30% of them did not reach the target, because they turned back.
There's only a finite supply of people who want to kill themselves, and we've killed a lot of them, and they kill themselves. That's helped. More importantly, we sent a message to the Iraqis. We've sent a message to the Iraqis and to the insurgents that we're not going to leave. John McCain is over there, for all of the controversies that surround him -- he does get the image across that he's a little crazy, and he does not want to leave in defeat. And that sends a powerful message.
We also know that when oil is $108 a barrel, like it or not, that means if you're pumping two and a half million steadily, which they are, that suddenly their revenues are as if you were pumping 10 million at the old price. And to fly over Iraq today – and I did in October, and traveled all over the country for 10 days -- it's a country awash in money -- plasma TVs in Fallujah, etc. I can remember walking in Ramadi, and having people come up and want to sell sophisticated CD players that are better than the ones I see in Selma, California. And believe me, I would have rather walked in Ramadi than East L.A. in the evening.
So things are improving. And we've changed our tactic from – I guess we'd call it counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency, which helps.
What does all this mean? It means that we're in yet another re-evaluation of the war. I think it's the fifth one. Now if this were a typical American audience, 75% of it would have been for the war. And after the statue of Saddam fell, 77% would have said, “Wow, that was my war. That's what I wanted. It was conducted brilliantly according to my own deep thinking.”
And then, when the insurgency started in 2003, especially at the end of the year, they would have said, “Wow, my perfect war was screwed up by somebody else's lousy peace.” And we got down to 55%, 50% approval by mid-2004. Then we had these unintended consequences from the disbanding of the Iraqi army, the pullback from Fallujah, the reprieve giving Muqtada Sadr free reign, et cetera. Support fell.
And then we had the Lebanon revolution, Cedar revolution, the Spring of Hope in 2005, the purple fingers, a decline in violence. And suddenly everybody was back on board; at least, the majority was.
Then we had the outbreak at the Dome of Samara in February of 2006. I was there then, too, and it was amazing to see the discouragement. And now everybody said, “No, it's not my war.” When you added Katrina and everything, Bush never recovered. And suddenly, it was an albatross; an orphaned war.
And now suddenly, the approval – I just saw the latest polls – 53% do not want a withdrawal, as the Democrats suggest. That's not unusual. If we were talking right now in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, it would have been almost exactly the same.
In February of 1862 or March of 1862, after Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson were taken, Ulysses S. Grant, the Petraeus of that era, would have been considered a genius. And this was a great idea – you could not let a separate Confederate nation exist side-by-side to a free, non-slaveholding North. Had you had this same conversation April 8th, a day after the Battle of Shiloh – a battle in which the Union and Confederate armies suffered more dead and wounded than every battle in the history of the republic from its inception in 1776, people had turned on the war. If we had had the conversation nearly a year later, July 5th, 1863, with that brilliant victory of Grant at Vicksburg and Meade at Gettysburg, suddenly you couldn’t find anybody who had not been for that war all along.
If you fast-forward another year to that horrendous summer of 1864, when the North knew that it was one thing to repel a Southern invader and quite another to take and occupy a country the size of Western Europe, especially when that country had some of the best cavalry officers in the history of civilized warfare, and men like Nathan Bedford Forrest – but anyway, if you'd looked at that summer, think of it – Cold Harbor, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania – in that period of 90 days, the army of the Potomac was essentially wrecked, destroyed – 100,000 casualties. And you had Horace Greeley and other Northern opportunists saying the problem was not that Lincoln was going to lose to McClellan; it was that he shouldn't even run for reelection.
If you fast-forward to September 2nd, Uncle Billy Sherman took Atlanta, Phil Sheridan said he was going to turn the Shenandoah into a place where even the crows could not land and find food, and he did. Suddenly the South was humiliated, demoralized. You couldn't find anybody who was not for Lincoln all along.
That is what happens in wars. We could do the same thing with the Korean War. Everybody thought it was a great idea to draw the line against Communism, in June and July of 1950. By the time we were down to the Pusan Peninsula, they thought it was a terrible idea. It was not who didn't up-armor the Humvees, and who didn't have enough body armor; but who in his right mind would put an American in a Sherman tank against a T-34 when he had Pershing tanks? And who was responsible? We had four secretary of defenses in a period of 24 months – there was so much recrimination over that war.
And then suddenly, Douglas MacArthur does Inchon that nobody thought would work. And within two months, we're 100 miles from the Chinese border. And the question is not saving South Korea but unifying both Koreas, and home for November. Then suddenly, 750,000 Chinese come. And whose fault was that? And it's a terrible thing for the next two years, and Harry Truman's going to leave office with 22% approval rating.
And then they send another Petraean figure, General Matthew Ridgway. And suddenly it's restored, and now we think that Truman was the architect of containment and a great man.
And that's what happens in wars. Our problem is that in our utopian generation, a generation that is the beneficiary of the work of past generations whom we rarely credit, we've achieved a level of affluence and freedom and license that no other generation can even imagine. And so we feel that if things are not perfect, they're not good – so high are our expectations.
And that's how we've looked at this war. We've changed as often as we have about Hillary's chances. Remember she was a shoe-in, then she imploded after Iowa, then she was back, and it was Clinton, Incorporated. It's sort of like that killer in "No Country for Old Men" – nobody could stop her. And then suddenly, now she's toast. And now she's just sitting there with that Cheshire grin, knowing that a guy like Obama's going to mess up sometime. And that's what war is like.
So here we are, then, after the surge, with a renewed consensus that we should not withdraw precipitously, and that we probably can obtain our objectives. And what are our objectives? It was to create a constitutional state, not like Santa Barbara here, but something analogous to Kurdistan, Turkey. It may, in fact, have an elected government that doesn't like us but would not transform oil wealth into a base for terrorists, or a promulgate al-Qaeda ideology, or a state that attacked four of its neighbors, as was true in the past; or a state that would require perennial no-fly zones and corruption like Oil for Food. That's what the goal is.
And I think it's obtainable. Just look for a second at what has happened. People say, “Well, WMD weren't found, and therefore the war is illegitimate.” But we still know that they were killing the Marsh Arabs. We still know they were paying $25,000 for suicide bounties in Israel. We still know that Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas, and Zarqawi and Kurdistan had al-Qaeda people there. We still know that they violated the 91 accords. We still know that they violated the UN, the $50 billion boondoggle. We still know all that.
So it achieved that strategic aim of fulfilling almost all of the Senate and House requisites for the war. We know that even in the case of WMD, whatever you want to say, we established a new barometer. You don't have to prove that you do have it; you have to prove that you don't have it.
And so what happened was, immediately Libya gave it up. I know that the Europeans are saying that careful diplomacy resulted in that. (laughter) But Quaddafi gave it up three weeks after Saddam emerged from a spider hole. And almost the same time – literally, within that six-week window – Pakistan’s Dr. A. Q. Khan shut down that nuclear laboratory and that proliferation business that had given nuclear technology to Libya, to Iran; and in collusion with Syria and North. That was shut down.
I don't believe the National Intelligence Agency estimate. But according to what it says, at almost the same time, a third strange phenomenon occurred and Iran foreswore the proliferation arm of their nuclear enterprises.
Now, the funny thing about that is, the Left says, “That can't be true; it was due to diplomacy.” But what was the diplomacy that was going on? There was none. The only diplomacy was going on was 160,000 Americans were in Iraq. And so, even that has proven to be of some advantage.
We could argue all day over what the recent Pentagon evaluation of al-Qaeda and terrorism in Iraq actually means. I think Steven Hayes has sort of resolved that al-Qaeda was in Iraq. But nevertheless, think a minute. Who in their right mind would have said, “You're going to go into the heart of the ancient Caliphate, 7,000 miles from the United States, and you're going to on neutral ground engage al-Qaeda, and you're going to kill 20,000 insurgents, ex-Baathist al-Qaedas -- but more importantly, you're going to establish the principle that Wahabism is not only unpopular, but its natural constituency in Iraq – that is, the Sunnis of Anwar Province--will reject it to such a degree that they will join you in eradicating it.”
But that's where we are today.
That's a phenomenal development. And it's had a very positive effect on our own security. Think for a minute – when this war broke out, the Europeans said, “This is stupid, we want no part of it.” Jacques Chirac toured North Africa to assure everybody of his pro-Arab bona fides, Schroeder in Germany said things that were almost as critical of us as what bin Laden had said. And the Europeans said, “You're going to pay a big price.”
In the last five years of war, we have not been hit. The Europeans have been hit from Madrid to London. Today, they're burning effigies of Europeans; there are protests all across the Middle East over the Danish cartoons. If you're a European today, the very notion that you can write a novel, you can put on an opera, that you can draw a cartoon, that you can have an honest, free expression in a philosophy class in France, or yes, a Pope, symbol of Christendom – that you can talk about all this without fearing for your life – is all of that suspect? In other words, the whole fruit of the Western enlightenment that so many thousands of Europeans have died for is now put in jeopardy by people who in 2003 said that that onus would fall on us, not them.
Because there's an older law in human nature that says, if you give the impression that you're affluent and you're indulgent, and you're weak, and you don't really want to defend your culture or your civilization, you're more vulnerable, not less. Whatever we think – this is what gets somebody fired at any university in the United States – the truth is, if you talk to somebody in the Middle East and they see the United States not only believes in something, but is crazy enough to defend it, it is a less likely, not a more likely, target.
It almost refutes the whole engine of modern liberalism that says that the more therapeutic and the more conciliatory, and the more diplomatic you express yourself, the more likely you're going to be safe. There's an older law that's primordial – I guess it's in the limbic system of our brain – that says that's not true.
I gave a talk not long ago at a university, and somebody said, “Well, look at the cost: 4,000 lives – you got blood on your hands – and a trillion dollars.” I think that's terrible that we have these costs. But let's talk about the terrible cost. And it is terrible. But we lost as many people in Iraq in five years that this country lost in two weeks at the Battle of Guam in World War II. We lost as many in five years as we did in 10 days at Sugar Loaf Hill in Okinawa. I know we spent $1 trillion -- that's a terrible amount of money. But this economy is a $13 trillion economy per year. Since the moment we invaded Iraq, we have created $60 trillion in wealth. So we spent one 60th of our national wealth these last five years as an investment to change the entire landscape of the Middle East and to make ourselves safer. And I think we have. And the proof of the pudding is we have not been attacked. The people who said that we would be attacked, and that we would lose popularity in the Middle East, have been wrong, because the people who are the natural constituents of al-Qaeda have rejected them.
The latest Pew poll in June, 2007 was quite astounding. The countries where we're most unpopular are the countries whose dictators we subsidize the most – Saudi Arabia and Pakistan –not Iraq and Afghanistan, the only two countries in the world where people get up every day and join a constitutional process to kill terrorists.
And more importantly, if you look at the same poll, bin Laden's favorable rating fell – not rose – 30 points. You don't hear anybody talking about that. We were told that if we went into the heart of Iraq, we were going to so offend Muslims that they're going to naturally flock to al-Qaeda. Maybe in the short term, but then why in the Pew poll did the favorable rating across 21 Middle Eastern countries of bin Laden fall from 55% to 31%, and more importantly the approval of suicide bombing fall even more precipitously? Only in Palestine is there a majority of people who approve of suicide bombing. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see why that's true.
So almost every complaint against this war is not accurate. And this leads us to the domestic political reaction.
It has been the misfortune of the Democrats that despite the support of all of the popular culture – the New York Times, PBS, National Public Radio, Hollywood, the universities, the foundations, the Europeans – they have given us a drumbeat of doom and gloom and defeat, and even more of Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan and Code Pink. But despite all of that, they have not been able to translate that into a political movement that says, “You have to get out of Iraq, and here's a timetable, and this is what we're going to do.”
To understand what we're seeing now let's examine the three candidacies. Hillary Clinton – if you want to support this war, I urge you all to go on YouTube and listen to her first speech. It was the best comprehensive speech in reason and exegesis about why to go into Iraq. Really was. She outlined how she had been in the White House when her husband was there, and the dangers of these weapons of mass destruction, and how we had to show, after 9/11, that we're going to be resolute, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
So then she switched gradually. And now she wants to be on the left of Obama. But she wants to be to the left of Obama right when it would be politically expedient to be on the right. She's a day late and a dollar short. And it's really hurting her candidacy.
I saw that she had a press conference on Iraq – a monumental, landmark speech – and the room was half empty. Nobody was listening to her, because it didn't square with reality. Meanwhile, John McCain is over there, and he's visiting these various regional capitals. And people are saying, you know, for all the furor, please don't leave; you're trying to achieve something that's starting to work. And then Clinton's saying, “It's hopeless, we got to get out.”
We all secretly know – we don't suspect; we know – that when she's President, no matter what she says now, she's not going to withdraw precipitously. There's too many sober minds still in the Democratic Party – there are a few – that will tell her, “You can't do that.”
Go to John McCain – he has a special advantage. I know a lot of people in this room were suspicious of this candidacy. I didn't like his position on open borders, I didn't like his position on ANWR, I didn't like his position – I thought it was simplistic – on global warming, I didn't like his position on McCain-Feingold, I don't – stop there. (laughter)
But I did like his position on other areas – and that's why I endorsed him kind of early. Because you see, I thought of all the candidates, in a bad year for Republicans, he had the best chance of running competitively in 50 states for a variety of reasons. One, he had been for the war, but then he had been very sharp in his criticisms of the management of it. I thought he was very cruel and unfair to Donald Rumsfeld. But nevertheless, politically that worked out to his advantage. And with the surge that he supported, and the good news of the war, that's what he's running on.
And then he has two other advantages – that he has a long history of animosity with Bush, whom I like. I know I may be the only person in the United States that does. (laughter) But he does have a history of antagonism, and that will work to his advantage, especially as we're going to see in a minute -- that's going to help with the Hillary people. Twenty five to 30% of them will not vote for Obama.
And more importantly, what we're all worried about right now – when we look at the dollar, at 1.56 on the euro and gold at $1,000, and oil at $108, and gas in some places in California $4 a barrel -- $12 trillion held by foreign creditors – we start to ask ourselves, do we need to be taxed more?
I just paid my taxes. I realize that in California when you pay 10% income tax, and property tax, and 34% federal income tax, and Social Security, you're up to 55% very easily. And when you hear Obama talk about lifting the Social Security limits off, you're going to be -- that's a $40,000 or $30,000 tax increase for a lot of people.
So I mean, is the problem that we don't have enough revenue? No. We know what the problem is: we spend 30% more on federal government now than we did when Bush took office. And the person who's been most vocal about capping that is McCain. And that helps him as well.
So what that means is that on the war and these other issues, he's about as best as a conservative is going to get with any chance of winning. I think he has a good chance because of Mr. Obama. That he can speak better, that he's more Ciceronian, is to [Obama’s] advantage. But it doesn't mean that he necessarily tells the truth any more than Hillary. He said in 2004 in December that there was not much difference between his position on the war and George Bush's. In fact, he seemed reasonable, until recently when he had to cater to the Daily Kos and the MoveOn.org constituencies.
But if you look at his problem now – we all know what it is; there's no reason to go over it – he just dropped, I think it was eight points in his favorable ratings. He's 12 to 15 points behind Hillary in Pennsylvania. There's a good chance he could lose North Carolina.
I've been in Southern California this last week. And I said to myself, I'm going to ask 10 people who look like they're from the working classes. I was at a hotel, and I saw a Mexican-American fellow working there, I saw a couple of Asians. I got in a cab, talked to some whites. I went out on a construction crew and just talked to people. And I asked this question – “Did the speech about Obama change anything?” The reaction: “I don't care about his speech; I'd never vote for the SOB anyway.” (laughter)
They all said that. What they meant was: I didn't really listen to the speech, but I listened to enough of Reverend Wright that I don't want to vote for him. And I would imagine that many of these might have earlier.
So what happened? Well, ultimately what happened was that this is a person who was Barry Dunham – half African – not African-American – half African, half white, with a libertine mother who'd married a polygamist from Kenya.
And then, one great thing happened in his life. Because he did have it rough. He had grandparents from Kansas who moved to Hawaii. We all now know one of them – Mrs. Madeline Dunham who’s 85 and when she dies, she will be known as the racist who snickered and hurt Barack Obama, the messiah, not the person who moved to Hawaii and put him in a high-rise and raised him, and paid a very expensive private tuition so he could go to prep school in Honolulu, that gave him the education to allow everything else that transpired.
But the problem is that from that prep school to his Occidental years, to his Columbia years, to his Harvard Law School years, to his regional Illinois political career, to his landscape of Chicago black political groups – when he gets up on a podium like this, and he talks to everybody here, he's accustomed to say whatever he wants. And the more anti-American, the more provocative, the better. Nobody's going to challenge him, nobody's going to say that's insensitive. His problem was cementing that base, and he did.
And now he is out in a different milieu. He's going to places like Bakersfield, he's in Ohio. And he's discovering, apparently for the first time in his life, that America is bigger than, you know, Harvard Yard and South Chicago. And he doesn't understand that nobody cares about that old constituency. It's a very small constituency.
So when Michelle Obama was the deer in the headlights, she said it twice – first time I've been proud of America. The problem wasn't that she said it; she's said that thing her entire life. She has told white audiences it's a crime that she has a pay back a Harvard Law School loan. And everybody would nod their head, and say, Wow, this is an articulate black woman. She can say whatever she wants about me or my culture – I could care less; I'm just so happy that I don't feel guilty when she's here. (laughter)
She gets out of that environment. And you go talk to somebody, as I said, in Bakersfield, and they look at this woman, they say, “Wait a minute. This woman makes $350,000; got a $200,000 raise when her husband was elected. You know, together they make $1.1 million. They have a beautiful home. Life's been pretty good for them. Why are they whining, and why are they saying these things?”
And then she says, Well, this is racist that people are ganging on. No, it's not. It's just average Asians and Hispanics and other African Americans and working white that don't believe that whine; they don't feel that they owe them anything. And that's coming home to roost.
The second thing is that for a long time, there have been ideologies in the university, in the black church, that have been filtered down from what I would call the postmodern pantheon – Foucault, Derrida, Lacan – all of these – Fannon. We think they’re outrageous. But people in the universities which the Obamas frequented, and in the church, have filtered the message of these postmodernists down, and take it as gospel. One of their principles, of course, is moral equivalence – that Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman is just as important as Ulysses S. Grant in winning the Civil War, or that Hiroshima is equivalent to the Holocaust. There's no scrutiny of that fact. It's just that one bad is always the same as any other bad. And once you believe that, then almost anything becomes possible.
So you announce you're going to give this great speech on race to solve the problems. And what do you do? You say, Well, Reverend Wright on the one hand was insensitive. But on the other – then you come up with all the misdemeanors that will balance the felony. And what are the misdemeanors? My grandmother once muttered something that was racially insensitive to me. There was a Reagan coalition that once was insensitive. Ah, talk radio is insensitive. Ah, Geraldine Ferraro was insensitive.
But the net effect for someone who's not taking an English literature course at Harvard is, “Wait a minute. I just heard what this guy said. He's trying to excuse this. He's trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink to excuse this, when all he had to do was come out and say, It's time for Reverend Wright and myself to part ways. His view of present- and future-day America is not mine. I apologize for not being more candid and forceful, but my relationship with him is over.”
He could not or would not do that. So when he does the moral equivalence, that turns off people. But that is like his mother's milk in that milieu that he's inhabited, that area that he has frequented for most of his life.
The second postmodern tenet is black liberation theology – that the victim gets a pass; that what is racist or what is incentive has to be constructed or contextualized – in other words, that somebody who's white and privileged is a racist for saying something like Geraldine Ferraro said – that is racist. But what Reverend Wright said could not be racist, because he's a victim.
But the problem with that – besides that it's an esoteric, academic discourse and narrative that no one in their right mind believes – is that most people are not necessarily wealthy and white. This is an assimilated, integrated, intermarried society, where you have Hispanics and Asians, and one quarter – and people don't really believe – in California especially, there's that monolithic "they" and then a poor underprivileged "us" that can rewrite the rules of the game.
So that backfired when he did that in the speech. Because remember—and don’t you try this yourselves, - I warn you, do not say, as Barak did, that the black church is giddy, and people dance and laugh. That's something right out of a movie in the 1930s. That caricature of happy-go-lucky, singing blacks comes right out of that scene in "Gone with the Wind," or "Birth of the Nation." Don't try that.
But that's exactly what Barack Obama did in that speech. He said, “You don't understand how the blacks look at the world.” And he did it in a very caricatured way. That was a mistake.
And then he tried to, what the university calls, contextualize. And that means that every time somebody says something, what he says is not what he says. You have to deconstruct it. In the case of Reverend Wright, he did a lot of other good. He helped AIDS patients – not that he said AIDS was a government plot, but he helped AIDS patients.
And then the person, this typical American who's driving to work when he hears this speech, he says, Well, wait a minute. Wait a minute. This is the guy who said Don Imus had to be fired. So let me get this straight. The new Barack Obama confronts Don Imus Two. What's he going to say? He's going to say this -- we have to understand Don. We have to understand the peculiar genre of the shock-jock radio genre, where this is easy to call somebody "ho." We have to understand Don Imus and his ranch, and all the good that he's done before. Oh, you don't understand, the new Barack Obama would have to say, I had a black uncle who once made fun of white people, just like Don Imus made fun of black people. Therefore, they've cancelled each other's out.
And that's not going to fly. What essentially Barack Obama has done – he's rewritten the American reaction to racism in the public forum. What he said was, Don Imus, or whoever the next person who comes out and says something racial, is going to get a pass. Because we're going to contextualize it, we're going to sum up all the bad and good. We're going to talk about our own racists in our own family, and we're going to excuse it. He's created, in other words, the landscape, in a way that no one else could, that he will live to regret.
Where does that leave us on Iraq and the election? Think of it. I don't think that Hillary is going to win by a 70 or 80% margin, which would be necessary for her to win the delegate count on the delegates that are up for grabs through elections. She's going to make the argument – and it's not going to be successful, I think, although it's a very persuasive argument – that all of the big states, the purple states, the states that matter – New Jersey, New York, California, even Michigan and Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania – she won. And how can you nominate a candidate that couldn't carry any of those? But more importantly, she's going to say – and the ones he did carry either aren't going to be in play, or they were done through caucuses, which are not democratic and egalitarian.
But Barak is wounded. And he's going into the convention losing, losing, losing. And after this Wright disaster, this catastrophe, he's running behind McCain. Therefore all you delegates who humiliated yourself – super-delegates – on television, you gave these tearful press releases, where you abase yourself, and you said, “I was for Hillary, but that was then, this is now. I'm for Obama.” Now you got to go back and say, “That was then, and this is now, and now I'm back for Hillary again.” (laughter) But I don't think that's going to quite work.
So what you're left with is somebody that the Democrats are going to find as the election goes on has a problem with racism. “Typical white person” is something that he probably says every day in a black church, every day in the Harvard Library; nobody would care. But out in the general public domain, the average American says, Can I call someone “a typical black person”? No. Why can he say that, and I can't?
And it's going to be very hard for his handlers to say to Barack and Michelle, “Wait a minute. Erase the first 30, 40 years of your existence. You can't do this anymore. You have to censor everything you say. And the audience is going to suspicious. And you're now a mainstream candidate. Because if you keep doing this, you're not just going to lose the election, but you're going to tell every Democratic Senator and House of Representative candidate that when they run in Alabama, and they run in Michigan, they're going to have to tell people at the bar, ‘Yeah, Barack's my man, I'm all for him. Vote for me and Barack. That's going to be a hard message.’”
And so, to finish, I think that is going to weaken Obama's message on the war. I think that the Democrats are faced with a dilemma – they either have to take the election away from the delegates and give it to Hillary, and face a mass defection, or they have to stick with Obama and expect that 25 or 30% of the white working classes are going to vote for McCain.
And then, lo and behold, the thing that nobody in their right mind imagined – if we had this talk just a year ago, everybody would be saying that Giuliani was going to run against Hillary, and Giuliani was going to lose by eight points. And I think now people understand that the Democratic Party has done the impossible. (laughter) They have -- they've ensured a way for the Democratic candidate to lose the presidency and damage, in a way that nobody would imagine, Democratic candidates for Congress. And they have flipped so many times on the war it's going to be this misfortune that the last flip was at exactly the wrong time on Iraq.
Thank you very much. I'll be happy to answer questions.
Unidentified Audience Member: You've talked about the presidential candidates. Who do you think will be a vice presidential candidate for McCain, and for the Democrat nominee? Who do you think is going to be kind of that swing person?
Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah. Well, I don't think you're going to see Obama and Clinton reconcile. They've crossed the Rubicon on that.
I guess this game, as we all know the profile for Obama – it's going to have to be somebody with executive experience, who is white and conservative. And what that means in the Democratic Party – probably a governor of a state. And there's six or seven names that come up. In the case of McCain – remember, I'm not going to whitewash things -- we're going to elect a person – if McCain gets elected – who would be the oldest President inaugurated; be 71 years old. We've never done that before, we've never done it with somebody's who's recovering from malignant melanoma.
I was reading about the McCain medical history. It's pretty considerable. So he's going to have to pick somebody who also have executive experience, especially economic experience; who's younger, who's vigorous and who's more conservative. When you talked to Laura Ingraham or Hugh Hewitt or Dennis Prager just six weeks ago, you ended in despair that there was no way that they were going to endorse McCain, or that their rhetoric had been so sharp that they would have put themselves in a position where they could not, in all fairness, go back and support somebody. But they stopped, I think, right before that.
And so even Rush Limbaugh will – I think when they saw the Obama and the Wright tapes, they realized the truth – that McCain is light years ahead of the two Democratic candidates. So I think that we're going to have to have a younger governor who – I don't know if it'll be Romney or not. I think -- I kind of doubt that. It'll be some Southern governor probably.
Somebody else have a question?
Unidentified Audience Member: I was interested in your description of the pathetic state of Europe, and wondering if you agree with the Mark Steyn-Bruce Thornton idea that Europe is basically finished.
Victor Davis Hanson: I do, if we realize that there are short-term advantages to what Europe is doing. Remember, they're not spending 4% GDP on defense. They have a complete guarantee of their safety from the United States. They will do business with anybody. They don't have restrictions on the Sudan or, you know Swiss businessmen were in Iran yesterday.
So they have certain advantages. They're trying to integrate and make more efficient that economy, and that's given short-term benefits. Therefore, the euro is high, et cetera, et cetera.
But the problem with Europe is what Steyn and Thornton have talked about – that they are not able to assimilate, intermarry or integrate people as we are. They define success by birth, accent, education, in a way that we do just by ability to make money. Plutocracy's always a better barometer of success than aristocracy. You can come from Mexico and, you know, have a landscaping business. But believe me, if you make $5 million a year, Cal State Fresno will want you on the Board of Directors. You could not have a Condoleezza Rice – anybody like her – in France as a foreign minister.
So they have these impediments that are not only socially problematic, but economically as well. So they're going to be – I think, as we know about Europe in the 20th Century, any time they're at the crossroads, they always take a hard right. I mean, they all profess Marxism and Communism and socialism, but then when the rubber hits the road, bam. And we're already seeing that.
If you look right now, and you collate European immigration law and rules of jurisprudence, and antiterrorism legislation against the so-called shredding of our Constitution, it's not even close. The Europeans have suspended things like habeas corpus and rules of evidence. They wiretap. They investigate in ways that we just couldn't imagine. And they're going to do more and more on that. They have to. I hate to say that, but when you have a Turkish prime minister who goes into Germany and says to Turks inside Germany that assimilation is equivalent to annihilation, then you have a problem.
Unidentified Audience Member: Two very quick questions -- considering how problematic both Democratic candidates are, could they decide on Gore? And also, being a big Bush fan myself – George W. Bush fan – how do you see him being looked at in the next five, 10, 20 years?
Victor Davis Hanson: To your first question – I don't think so. I know that that's been popular among op-eds writers – that Gore will be the candidate that steps in. But after all of the rhetoric about Florida and stealing the election, and they're the egalitarian party, I really don't think they can broker a convention and give it to an outside candidate, especially when you read these stories on global warming. I was listening to a story on NPR that said that scientists went out to confirm global warming and the temperature of the oceans had increased by two degrees, and they found that it had gone down. (laughter)
People might be convinced that there is global warming, but they're not convinced it's completely human-induced. And that's basically what you get with Gore, so I don't see that happening.
As far as George Bush – I've had three or four meetings with him, along with other historians. And it seems to me that he's convinced that he's Trumanesque – that by being unpopular, that that works to his advantage, because he reminded America that he'd set a particular agenda – that he was not just a realist, balance-of-power, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Larry Eagleburger guy – that he was idealistic, and that he just didn't go over there and defeat a dictator, as we had done in '91; but he stayed for the tough work of offering some type of constitutional alternative to theocracy on the one hand, and dictatorship on the other – and that that will be ultimately – for all the slurs about neoconservatism – that'll be ultimately to our advantage. And we have not been attacked, God willing, since 9/11.
And so I think he will feel that in the long term, he will be judged favorably. I think he will. The tragedy of George Bush was that we're all given certain skills. And the skills of a Roosevelt or a Lincoln or Churchill come across once in a century. And unfortunately, I mean, he had a lot of really good skills. He was forceful – and one of the best things is he just didn't listen to the last guy he talked to, which so many politicians do.
So he was willing to be unpopular and disliked. Nobody could have got up every morning and be hated to the same degree he was and have it not affect him. But he didn't have the eloquence, and he didn't have a lot of the advisors that we've had in the past that could have advised him, I think, a little better. And he could have articulated a little bit better the problem—winning a war that was postmodern, surrealistic, Orwellian, and needed careful explanation. So he suffered for that reason.
But historians will sort it out, and I think they'll look favorably on him.
Unidentified Audience Member: Victor, you realize that the people who are interested in immigration reduction, and very much against amnesty, are quite upset with the McCain President candidacy. Now, there's been some idea that if he is the President, our allies in the Congress, in the Senate and in the House, are going to want to be supportive of him and will back off on some of the strong positions that they have taken during the Bush Administration. And that is very worrisome, because we have kept amnesty at bay, at least, in the last several years.
Victor Davis Hanson: Yes, well, that's a worry. And that's why I mentioned it specifically at the beginning of my remarks. But we live in a world of the practical and the pragmatic, not of the utopian.
The problem is, look at the alternatives. We know that Obama and Clinton are basically for open borders. We know that Rudy Giuliani had sanctuary cities. We know that George Bush was even further to the left on this issue than McCain was, in the comprehensive immigration proposals that he submitted. We know that Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty and immigration legislation that caused a lot of the problems that we have today. We know that Romney, before his incarnation to a more conservative candidate, was very weak on immigration.
All I can do is take McCain at his word – that he said he's learned, he's been chastised, and he will close the borders first. What does that mean? That means if he were to ensure that 700 miles of the border were fortified, that with a biometric ID, it would be possible to fine employers for hiring illegals. That would mean that he would try to evolve us to an integrated policy – English-only and people assimilate, rather than this separatism.
And all of that combined would – once the border were closed – mean that the people here illegally – while we argued over all of these issues – whether a person can have earned citizenship, and if he did have earned citizenship, would that be amnesty; whether you could have guest workers – all of these things, while you're arguing – the pool is finite; it's static.
And the formidable powers of popular culture and assimilation – if we went back to the melting pot – would mean that some people would want to go back, because they wouldn't like that. They would – the people who wanted to live in Mexico in the United States – they wanted to live as a Mexican national, but with all the benefits of an American – they saw that that wasn't possible anymore, that they had to learn English and assimilate – they would go back. The felons could be deported. But the people who, say, wanted to acquire citizenship – then we could argue over whether they had to go back, how long it would be, how much of a fine. But all of that could transpire when the pool was not getting larger.
You cut off the borders and that one million people per year, and then the art of the possible starts to become a reality. Right now it's impossible. Because whatever you can do, it doesn't matter; it's going to be canceled.
The problem with illegal immigration is that when you have nine to 10 illegal aliens for each new arrival in the immediate vicinity, they're not going to be exposed to American values or protocols or language, and they're not going to assimilate. So we need to stop that influx.
And then every good thing happens – wages raised, people can unionize, people can organize; they're the only game in town. More people start to learn English. Mexican nationalist politicians don't come up here to try to campaign for expatriate communities. Mexico doesn't have a safety valve anymore that dumps a million people a year, so they have to reform their economy. We get rid of this identity-separatist politics that's destroying our cohesiveness. Just shut the borders.
And I think McCain finally got that message – shut the borders. He may have some unpalatable ideas down the road. But for now, I think conservatives – if anybody can just shut the borders, they'll be happy. That's a lot better than the alternative.
Unidentified Audience Member: One of the reasons why I enjoy reading you – and I'm sure everyone else here – is I think you take a lot of the things that we sort of feel, you sort of bring it into relief. Given all that, and everything you're going over, and especially on this, are you optimistic in general?
Victor Davis Hanson: You know, I just wrote a column today; it should come out this morning in the Chicago Tribune. It was called, "Hope and Change Amid Despair." Because I looked at the paper the other day, and this is what the headlines were. Over here on the left -- $1.56 of euros, gold $1,000, oil $108, gasoline $4, $12 trillion in foreign debt held by Bear Stearns collapse. And then Eliot Spitzer (laughter), crusading moralist, paying for call girls – Eliot Spitzer's successor, each hour it seems, confessing to yet another new girlfriend. Barack Obama's, I thought, disingenuous and racialist speech being praised as the next Gettysburg address by everybody from Andrew Sullivan to David Brooke. I thought, Jeez – mortgage crisis – then I thought, Take a deep breath, and don't look at the symptoms, the cold or flu of the patient; look at the Constitution. Are we a 90-year-old person that has heart congestive – no. Why? Because we're still – even with the dollar, we're still the largest economy, we have [as I said] $12 trillion to $13 trillion in goods and services. We could make up that debt within a year. We're the third-largest oil producer in the world. We have the largest coal reserves. We're the people who created the nuclear power industry. If we needed to, we could build coal and nuclear power within 10 years, and people could have a second plug-in flex-fuel thing that would save us the $600 billion that we send overseas to these rogues.
We have the largest, best, most experienced, creative military in the entire world; larger than the next 26 militaries combined. The top 17 universities in the world are in the United States, and they're not just Harvard, Yale, Princeton – places like University of Texas, U.C.L.A., U.S.C., Michigan.
And the demography – 2.1 – 2.3 with immigration – but among the native-born, thanks for Utah -- (laughter) 2.1 on the reproductive rate. Church attendance 65%, that's a positive. So almost everything that we look at – the types of innovation, the new industries, the new discoveries, the new theories – all of these things are happening in United States, because we are still a meritocracy.
What would make me be less optimistic? If we would get a socialistic candidate who would increase taxes, increase spending, increase what I would call equality of result, not of opportunity legislation; and adopt a pacifistic foreign policy and confiscatory government policy on land income. I think that would destroy what we've seen. I don't see that happening. I don't think that Barack Obama, A, will be elected; and B, if he were to be elected and try to implement such an agenda, that he'd be successful.
The other thing that gets me really encouraged is that I think – despite the optimism of the Democratic Party -- we're coming to the end of what I would call the throat-clearing, pompous, over-judicious, left-wing monopoly on the news. The real grassroots is talk radio, the Internet, cable TV. It reminds me of the Athenian Agora or Aristophanes. It's loud, it's boisterous, it's creative, and it represents people. And that expression is not only a counterweight to that left-wing, old-style monopoly, but it's more democratic. It's more energized.
Unidentified Audience Member: My question is two-part. Did I hear you correctly that Barack Obama used to be named Barry Wright?
Victor Davis Hanson: Dunham.
Unidentified Audience Member: Barry Dunham, excuse me.
Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah, I didn't think – that was Reverend Wright – I don't think they were quite that close. (laughter) I should say – let me clarify that – his grandparents – I think her name was Madeline Payne, his grandmother, and she married a fellow named [Wright]. They produced a very smart, creative daughter, who was an anthropology graduate student, who met Barack Obama Sr., the father, who left her. I think he had another wife in Kenya. Then she married a second person, who was an Indonesian; he went to Indonesia. And then they sent Barak back when they separated. And he was raised, I think, from age 10 to 18 by the grandmother that he suggested was insensitive. But whatever he suggests, from his own words, she and her husband came out to Honolulu and bought a condominium, and raised him. And he was known as Barry Obama – or Barry Dunham, I guess, because he lived with the Dunhams. I think legally his name was still Obama, but I know that he was called Barry by all – I mean, he was raised as Barry Dunham, absolutely. And then the Barack came back at Occidental.
And anybody who knows what undergraduate liberal education is like today could imagine the opportunities that open up for someone who can claim that his name is Barack Hussein Obama. (laughter) Because – no, I'm being serious now – he was very angry when people repeat “Hussein” to scare us about Islam, but by the same token, when he was in graduate school, that was a badge of honor; that was a multicultural medal of honor to have that name. That name could get almost what you needed; it was perfect.
I've been on too many faculty meetings where we discuss things like that. I have too many Chilean aristocrats who we hired as Chicanos because they had too many accents on their first name.
Unidentified Audience Member: The second question is, what do you think, A, the possibility would be, and B, the effectiveness would be, of eliminating birthright citizenship as a way to cutting down on illegal immigration and alien issue?
Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah, the idea that we have anchor babies – I talked to a surgeon in the Selma Hospital, and I talked to other people in Selma, where they are known in Juahaca, Mexico. In other words, people far, far away in Mexico by mileage, but maybe only 10 hours by distance in car travel, will say, Go to Dr. X in Selma, and she will treat you, like she has all my other patients I refer, even though Dr. X doesn't know who she is.
Or, I saw a sticker once on a pole, a telephone pole near my home, in Spanish, made in Juahaca, advertising a housing project right next to my house, which said, “Come to Selma, California and buy a house with HUD financing.”
I broke my arm, went in the Selma emergency room, I saw a doctor after three hours. And he said, “This is a wonderful country.” I said, “Why is that?” And he said, “It's the only country in the world you can come in your third trimester from Juahaca, get free, top-flight medical care as good as anybody in San Francisco or New York, and you can be an illegal alien, and your son or daughter can be a citizen that can then sponsor you and your whole family.”
Will that change? I'm not a lawyer. I researched it a couple of times, and I've ended in despair, because it requires, some people think, a Constitutional amendment; some reinterpretation of a Constitutional amendment. And I think that most European countries don't do that. I know Mexico doesn't. So, I think if we just had the same immigration policy as Mexico does, we wouldn't have a problem. (laughter)
One final question, then.
Unidentified Audience Member: There is a bill right now in Congress that addresses birthright citizenship. So if we all look around, there are always bills. For instance, there's a package of bills in Sacramento in the legislature that would address employment sanctions, and criminals that – for easier deportation. Senator McCain says that he listened, and he learned, but what about amnesty?
Victor Davis Hanson: The problem with that is, look, we have 11 – when I wrote "Mexifornia," we had 11 million. Nobody knows how many. But if the aggregate number of people who are coming across illegally is any indication, we may have 17 million now. And if you were to sort out those who had committed felonies – even misdemeanors – those who are on public assistance, those who wanted to go back to Mexico, those who just arrived two years ago – you might be able to deport four or five million.
But what are you going to do with 11 to 12 to 13 million who, A, have been here longer than five years, many of whom are working among us today – have been here five years, have not committed a crime, have paid taxes? If you were going to deport all of them, we're going to have the biggest separation of population since the creation of India and Pakistan. And it's going to be a gift for the Left. You'll see on CBS every night, you know, people being yanked out by the hair and put in a green van.
So what we're saying is that you have to have some mechanism where you have a quid pro quo. You say to the person who's here illegally, “Do you really want to stay in the United States? Because if you do, you're going to have to learn English. And there's not going to be separate court reporters, there's not going to be separate instruction in Spanish. But since you've been here x number of years, and you have not committed a felony, and you have paid taxes, you are different than the other people who have not qualified. And here's a mechanism for you to apply for citizenship.”
Then the $64,000 question that will be fought over is, A, to what degree are they in the back of the line, front of the line – we have to sort that out. And there's no answer I've seen that would sort it out. And B, how much are you going to have to pay for breaking the law? Because we have to respect the sanctity of the law. And C, do you have to go back to Mexico to do that, or can you stay here as a resident and get a green card? Those three issues, I think, can be adjudicated once the border's closed. I think McCain understands that now.
Thank you very much.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - 17:12
SOURCE: http://www.realclearpolitics.com (3-25-08)
Some are saying that Senator Obama cannot be held responsible for what his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, said. In their version of events, Barack Obama just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time -- and a bunch of mean-spirited people are trying to make something out of it.
It makes a good story, but it won't stand up under scrutiny.
Barack Obama's own account of his life shows that he consciously sought out people on the far left fringe. In college, "I chose my friends carefully," he said in his first book, "Dreams From My Father."
These friends included "Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk rock performance poets" -- in Obama's own words -- as well as the "more politically active black students." He later visited a former member of the terrorist Weatherman underground, who endorsed him when he ran for state senator.
Obama didn't just happen to encounter Jeremiah Wright, who just happened to say some way out things. Jeremiah Wright is in the same mold as the kinds of people Barack Obama began seeking out in college -- members of the left, anti-American counter-culture.
In Shelby Steele's brilliantly insightful book about Barack Obama -- "A Bound Man" -- it is painfully clear that Obama was one of those people seeking a racial identity that he had never really experienced in growing up in a white world. He was trying to become a convert to blackness, as it were -- and, like many converts, he went overboard....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - 23:52
Public Pulpits by friend Steven M. Tipton of Emory is a timely, historically-informed analysis of "Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life." The "pulpit" is largely metaphoric here, because Tipton's accent is on policy-making and headquarters' involvements in politics, but these inform preachers. The book will provide background for discussions of the role of preachers and, yes, pulpits, in the political side of public life. (I prefer to hear political discourse in the lecture hall or classroom, where there can be give-and-take, while the sermon is in most ways monological.)
Preachers seldom have had it so good, or so bad, as they have it during the current campaign, as treated not so much by campaigners as by media commentators. So good? The commentators propagate the idea that preachers have enormous and spellbinding power. This implies that if a preacher says something, everyone will hear and, unless restrained, act upon what they heard, for good or evil. During a campaign, that means "for evil." They also never had it so bad because they have not gotten the point across, culture-wide, that congregants are smart enough to filter, discreet enough not to tear the sermons apart, and hungry enough that they want to hear "the gospel," messages of faith and hope and love as they try to put their week or part of their lives together.
If they would consult their friendly neighborhood historians of American Christianity—Protestantism in particular—they would get ample evidence. My students have heard that, were I to carve a Mt. Rushmore of twentieth-century preachers, it would include five: Walter Rauschenbush, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Jr., and William Sloane Coffin. They all preached to many classes of people, including those powerful enough to get their names in print. Some hearers were alienated and walked away to receive sweeter messages (as some blacks now do, too, with the non-biblical "Prosperity Gospel"). Some did not. Start with John D. Rockefeller, who traipsed and slogged through the mud of the slummy West Side in New York, in support of the "Social Gospel" preacher Rauschenbush and his church and charities. His "Gospel" was near-socialist and we may presume that Rockefeller was capitalist. Yet they never broke. The magnate admired the preacher/theologian and stayed with him.
Next generation: John D. Rockefeller, Jr., admired modernist Harry Emerson Fosdick enough to basically fund cathedral-like Riverside Church in New York. We have records of the give-and-take contentions between preacher and hearer, often about the place of the businessperson, one of which Rockefeller was. When Reinhold Niebuhr was a Detroit pastor he had no notable members, but he challenged all on issues of labor; not all of them agreed with him, but they stayed and cried when he left. King was in his own pulpit briefly, but later he was in many pulpits, sometimes all but cursing racist America before he preached the gospel of reconciliation. His test: Who stuck with him when he radically criticized the Vietnam War? Many were conflicted, but stayed.
William Sloane Coffin, a man of legends, told various versions of how a "right-wing" friend raved about his pastor and beckoned Bill to church to hear him. They heard a sermon that had to be classified "left." How did this work? "Listen, he held my wife's hand during her last twenty-four hours and mine the next twenty-four. I'd show up even if he only read the Yellow Pages." We have a lot to learn about pulpit-pew transactions, so little understood within the sanctuaries and, for sure, beyond them "in public."
Posted on: Monday, March 24, 2008 - 22:31
SOURCE: National Review Online (3-24-08)
Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times stated Thursday: “Barack Obama this week gave the best political speech since John Kennedy talked about his Catholicism in Houston in 1960.… It was not a sound bite, but a symphony.” Effusions of this sort have been common in the last few days, so in that respect the comment is not particularly noteworthy. But I was struck by the reference to then-Senator Kennedy’s September 12, 1960, speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in which JFK addressed the question of whether a good Catholic can also be a good president. Would he take orders from Rome? Would he be a shill for the Vatican? Or could he maintain the wall between church and state, between private faith and public policy? The issue had arisen in 1928 campaign of Al Smith, who tried not to talk about it, to his disadvantage. Kennedy took the issue head on.
A group of leading Protestants, including Norman Vincent Peale, had organized a group called “Citizens for Religious Freedom” to bring the matter to public attention. Peale backed Richard Nixon, but Nixon had no ties to the group. Indeed the vice president, a Quaker, stated that it would be best to take the issue of religion out of the race altogether. “I would hope we could have a cutoff on this discussion,” Nixon said. “I would hope Senator Kennedy would feel the same. If the two candidates do not discuss it, it won’t be in the news.”
Kennedy agreed with Nixon, and said in response, “I wish we could cut off debate on this subject right now. I think we’d all be better off.” This was the context in which Kennedy went before 500 of Houston’s men of the cloth.
That raises one important point of contrast to the Obama speech. Kennedy went before an audience that he knew could be hostile, and was at best neutral. Some newspaper headlines invoked the image of Daniel in the lion’s den. Obama, on the other hand, spoke to a small group of invited supporters. Both received applause during their appearances, but that was not exactly the achievement for Obama that it was for Kennedy. Had Obama appeared before a gathering of critics of Reverend Wright’s general orientation, or, more dramatically, before Rev. Wright’s congregation, the analogy would hold better. As it was Senator Obama did not assume anywhere near the risk that Senator Kennedy did.
A second critical difference that magnifies the first point is that after Kennedy delivered his remarks he engaged in a question-and-answer session with the ministers. He answered every question that was put to him, as many as they wanted — approximately 18 total, depending on how one counts follow-ups and comments. The questions and answers tended to be very lengthy and detailed. Kennedy answered without notes, keeping his temper even when the questions were a bit arch. ...
Posted on: Monday, March 24, 2008 - 16:12
SOURCE: Columbia Spectator (3-23-08)
[HNN Editor: This spring marks the 40th anniversary of the Columbia University sit-in that ended in violence.]
... Anyone who wants to change the world needs to appraise the world lucidly and think of militancy as a means, not an end. The insurgent, communal moments of 1968 were giddy, moving, indelible. They were also delusory, for the militant surge masked the movement’s fractional nature and weakness. The sequence of 1968, revved up at Columbia, culminated in the Chicago Democratic Convention demonstrations of August, when the police ripped into antiwarriors who, tasting the heady and desperate power of negation, couldn’t quite decide whether they were on the brink of a police state or a revolution (or, confusingly, both at once). That week, proverbially, the whole world watched, but the whole of watchful, fretful America did not side with the demonstrators. To the contrary: they sided with the working-class police against what they thought of as overeducated brats abusing their privilege.
The tragic side of 1968 followed from the fact that the party which organized power and the movements which agitated for justice were at loggerheads. The responsibility for the fatal breach was chiefly Lyndon Johnson’s, since it was he who gambled the party’s future on a phantasmagorical war. But still, given Johnson’s grievous sins, the leadership of the movement was not wise. The confrontation politics of 1968 took for granted a decades-old Democratic consensus that was in the process of dissolving. Hell-bent on going-it-alone, it drastically underestimated the Right. The upshot was that movement helped sabotage the party, which collapsed in the November election and ushered in two generations of Republican domination. For decades since, those who have celebrated the clashes have breezily overlooked the denouement.
In a frenzy of polarization, 10 weeks later, Richard Nixon won the election by applying artful pressure on a cracked Democratic alliance. With Nixon’s election came five years plus more of war, leaving a million more Vietnamese deaths along with some 21,000 more Americans. How can there be a remembrance that does not also remember that awful denouement?
For years, observers have deplored (or celebrated!) the apparent acquiescence of America’s youth, so much less committed and colorful than the insurgents of yore. But it seems to me, more often, that the practicality of today’s students is worthy and justified, though sometimes extreme. They are self-preoccupied, true. Sometimes beyond reason or empathy, they are too cynical even if they disguise their detachment as “irony.” But there is also a graceful compensation. Most of the more idealistic activists want results more than self-expression. They gravitate toward service—a healthy impulse. But “making a difference” is largely something that individuals do when they pool their commitments. And so it is bracing to watch students reinvigorate party politics by putting movement-style energy and principle to work in institutions previously as fossilized as the Democratic Party. In 2004 and 2006, recognizing that no progress was imaginable as long as the Bush alliance of plutocrats, theocrats, and empire-builders ruled Washington unimpeded, thousands of them volunteered in favor of antiwar Democrats. Now, legions enlist in the focused insurgency of the Obama campaign.
The ’00s can’t be the ’60s and ought not to be, any more than the ’60s could be, or should have been, the ’20s. The present campaign makes plain that the commitments of 40 years ago are still working their way through our imperfect union. No wonder: what erupted then was incendiary, deep and long-burning. What was at stake, what remains at stake, were and are long-buried conflicts over American principles, over the meaning of freedom, race, nation, sex, and obligation. Since the past only exists in the present, retro politics are not what we need. We do not have ceremonies of innocence to commemorate. If we aspire to clarity and ingenuity, we do not need them.
Posted on: Monday, March 24, 2008 - 13:50
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (3-20-08)
Cassandra and Yogi Berra are an unlikely pair, but I hear both of their voices today. Cassandra, like some of us, was cursed to be always disbelieved as she correctly predicted the future while baseballer Yogi Berra will be remembered for his penetrating insight into the flow of history, “This is like deja vu all over again."
It is through the unlikely medium of U.S. News and World Report that Cassandra speaks. The March 12 issue gives us “6 signs the U.S. may be headed for war in Iran.” The first tip the magazine highlights is the firing of Admiral William Fallon. While Fallon is hardly a “dove,” he apparently – to judge by hints he gave in an interview with Thomas Barnett published in the March issue of Esquire – had argued that an attack on Iran made no military sense. If this really was his judgment, he obviously was not the man to be “CINC [Commander-in-chief] Centcom.” That is, if the Bush administration really is intent on an attack.
Among other straws U.S. News and World Report found in the wind blowing out of Washington was the projected trip by Vice President Dick Cheney to what the magazine correctly described as a “logistics hub for military operations in the Persian Gulf,” Oman, where the Strait of Hormuz constitutes “the vulnerable oil transit chokepoint into and out of the Persian Gulf that Iran threatens to blockade in the event of war.”
Here is where Yogi Berra begins to come into the picture. As the U.S. News and World Report notes, “Back in March 2002, Cheney made a high-profile Mideast trip to Saudi Arabia and other nations that officials said at the time was about diplomacy toward Iraq and not war…” It was, as we now know, one of the concerted moves in the build-up to the already-decided-upon plan to attack Iraq. Is Cheney’s 2008 trip “like deja vu all over again?" That certainly is the inference drawn by U.S. News and World Report.
Then, U.S. News and World Report introduces the Israeli card. It reports the widely held belief that the Israeli air attack on Syria, analyzed by Sy Hersh in one of his insightful pieces of investigative reporting on February 11, 2008 in The New Yorker, was not what it was proclaimed to be, an attack on a presumed nuclear site, but a means to force the Syrians to activate their anti-aircraft electronics – as America used to do with the Russians – to detect gaps along what might be a flight path from Israel toward Iran.
Why a flight path across Syria? Both because Turkey might not allow the use of its airspace and because using Jordan’s airspace, as Israel did in its June 7, 1981 strike on the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osiriq, might seriously weaken the Jordanian regime which Israel would like to keep in place, at least for the time being.
Is a flight across Syria and Iraq to attack Iranian targets feasible? The short answer is yes: the aircraft the United States has supplied to Israel have the range and presumably could be refueled on their return at a remote base among the 14 or so bases the U.S. has built and maintains in Iraq.
U.S. News and World Report also drew attention to the stationing of a guided missile destroyer off the Lebanese coast as another indication of preparations for war. The article does not explain why but points out that the destroyer has an anti-aircraft capability; so, the inference is that it would shoot down any Syrian aircraft attempting to hit Israel.
The article curiously passes over in silence the much more impressive build-up of naval power in the Persian Gulf. As of the last report I have seen, a major part of the U.S. Navy is deployed in and around the Persian Gulf. The numbers are stunning and include not only a vast array of weapons, including nuclear weapons, cruise and other missiles and hundreds of aircraft but also “insertion” (invasion) forces and equipment. Even then, these already deployed forces amount to only a fraction of the total that could be brought to bear on Iran because aircraft, both bombers and troop and equipment transports, stationed far away in Central Asia, the Indian Ocean, Europe and even in America can be quickly employed .
Of course, deploying forces along Iran’s frontier does not necessarily mean using them. At least that is what the Administration says. However, as a historian and former participant in government, I believe that having troops and weapons on the spot makes their use more likely than not. Why is that?
It is because a massive build-up of forces inevitably creates the “climate” of war. Troops and the public, on both sides, come to accept its inevitability. Standing down is difficult and can entail loss of “face.” Consequently, political leaders usually are carried forward by the flow of events. Having taken steps 1, 2 and 3, they find taking step number 4 logical, even necessary. In short, momentum rather than policy begins to control action. As Barbara Tuchman showed in her study of the origins of the First World War, The Guns of August, even though none of the parties really wanted to go to war, none could stop the process. It was the fact that President Kennedy had been reading Tuchman’s book just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, I believe, that made him so intent on not being “hijacked by events.” His restraint was unusual. More common is a surrender to “sequence” as was shown by the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It would have taken a major reversal of policy – and considerable political bravery -- to halt either invasion once the massive build-up was in place. No such effort was made then. Will it be now? I think the odds are against it.
In fact, moves are being made, decisions are being taken and rationale has been set out that point in the opposite direction. Consider just a few of these in addition to what U.S. News and World Report highlighted:
* The strategic rational for preëmptive military action was set forth in the 2005 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America. It proclaimed that “America is a nation at war…[and] will defeat adversaries at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing…[rather than employing] A reactive or defensive approach…Therefore, we must confront challenges earlier and more comprehensively, before they are allowed to mature…In all cases, we will seek to seize the initiative and dictate the tempo, timing, and direction of military operations.” In short, as Henry Kissinger pointed out in The International Herald Tribune, April 14, 2006, it is an assertion of the intention to engage in preëmptive or “first strike” warfare. So, the process that began in Afghanistan and was then carried to Iraq and (on a smaller scale) to Somalia points toward action against Iran.
* Why Iran? Iran is not the only target. American “Special Ops” forces are engaged in a number of countries, at last count about twenty. A “training” force (an echo of Vietnam) is being deployed in Pakistan to help fight the Pathan hosts of the Taliban and Usama bin Ladin along the frontier with Afghanistan and another is in India to help the action against the Naxalite insurgents, but Iran is the major target.
* Among the reasons that the Bush administration has proclaimed are that Iran is supporting terrorism by supplying arms, training and encouragement both to anti-American insurgents in Iraq and to anti-Israeli Hizbullah militants in Lebanon and that it is moving toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Doubts have been expressed on both of these contentions. Iran played a positive role in against the Taliban (and against the drug trade) in Afghanistan and evidence on Iraq is, at best, sketchy. On the nuclear issue, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reported in November 2007 the consensus of all the American intelligence agencies “with high confidence” that Iran is not actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
* Additionally, there is a psychological or political motivation. President Bush proclaimed on January 29, 2002 that Iran was part of the “Axis of Evil.” He and others have conjured the memory of the seizure of the American embassy and taking of our officers hostage and have condemned the lamentable Iranian government record on civil liberties and particularly on the treatment of women. With Iraq under occupation and presumably incapable of mounting a credible threat outside its own territory and with North Korea immune to attack (as it already has nuclear weapons), Iran is the major perceived adversary capable of doing what National Defense Strategy of the United States of America termed “adopting threatening capabilities, methods, and ambitions…[to] 1) limit our global freedom to act, 2) dominate key regions, or 3) attempt to make prohibitive the costs of meeting various U.S. international commitments.”
Decoded and applied to Iran, the Strategy paper defines Iranian actions as disrupting American objectives in the Middle East and has the potential to dominate what is believed to be the largest still-only-partially-developed pool of oil and gas in the world.
Thus, as defined by the National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, Iran is an obvious target.
Apparently, President Bush’s firing of Admiral Fallon was meant to signal to the Iranians that “all options remain on the table.” This is the publically proclaimed policy of the Bush administration and has also been adopted by the Democratic Party aspirants to the White House, notably even by Barack Obama who recently said, “all options, and I mean all options, are on the table.”
Leaving aside the issue of international law – which defines the conditions under which military action is defense (and so is legal) rather than aggression (and so is illegal) and which, having been adopted by the United States government, is American law also -- is a preëmptive military strike against Iran feasible? Allegedly, Admiral Fallon did not think so. I certainly do not either. The reasons are both evident and unambiguous. They include the following:
* However they may feel about their government, Iranians are a proud and nationalistic people who have suffered for generations from meddling, espionage and invasions by the Russians, the British and the Americans. They are even less likely than the Cubans (as the organizer of the CIA Bay of Pigs task force, Richard Bissell, predicted) or the Iraqis (as the Neoconservatives fantasized in 2003) to welcome foreign intrusion. If attacked, they undoubtedly would fight.
* While the United States could almost certainly quickly destroy the Iranian regular army, as it did the Iraqi regular army, the Iranians are better prepared for a guerrilla war than were the Iraqis. They have in being a force of at least 150 thousand dedicated and appropriately armed members of the Pasdaran-i Inqilab (Revolutionary National Guard) on land and at sea a numerous assortment of small, maneuverable and lethal speedboats stationed all along the Persian Gulf coast. Use of the boats would probably be suicidal but it would be a miracle if they failed to inflict heavy casualties among the American fleet. They almost certainly could interdict oil tankers.
* War is always unpredictable – except that it is always worse than expected. No one thought that the First World War would last more than a few months. The cost is also always unestimated. Before the American invasion of Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld thought it would cost only about $50 billion; his deputy (and later president of the world bank) Paul Wolfowitz thought it would cost nothing because the Iraqis would pay for it; and when Larry Lindsay, the White House economic adviser, predicted it might cost $200 billion, President Bush fired him. Estimates now run between $2 and $6 trillion. To shield this reality from the public, the Bush administration resorted to massive borrowing abroad – U.S. Treasury obligations amounted to $2.7 trillion as of early this year and are now higher – and to a massive increase -- up 70% during this Administration -- in national debt.
Almost no casualties were expected in Iraq; now American dead number about 4,000 and a realistic figure for various categories of “wounded” – officially put at about 20,000 – actually runs in the hundreds of thousands. Just coping with the American wounded is expected to cost half a trillion dollars.
But, Iraq is a small country while Iran is large, diverse and populated by about three times as many people as Iraq. The costs, human, material and monetary would certainly be a multiple of those suffered in Iraq. It is not unlikely that war with Iran would effectively “break” the American volunteer army and bankrupt America.
* Given this unattractive scenario, military planners have reportedly emphasized their intent to use mainly or even solely “surgical” air strikes. But the fact that CENTCOM has positioned ships to “insert” troops may be taken as a tacit admission by military planners that air strikes alone would be unable to destroy either Iran’s nuclear facilities (which are believed to be widely scattered, often located in heavily populated urban areas and/or in protected underground locations) or to crush the nation’s will to resist. Almost certainly, military commanders would demand permission to follow up air strikes with some form of “boots on the ground.” Presumably and at least initially these would likely be Special Forces, but, inevitably (I would assert from my observation and study of past military adventures) some of these forces, even if intended only for limited action and quick withdrawal, will get caught and have to be rescued. Thus, what is planned and begun as restricted action is extremely unlikely to be containable.
· Military action is also likely to result in various military, paramilitary and economic and other responses by Iranians and others outside of the immediate theater of combat. Consider the following:
1. The Iraqi government, although installed by the United States, is predominantly culturally and religiously allied to Iran; in the shock of an American invasion of Iran, it would almost certainly collapse or intensify the struggle against American personnel in Iraq. Guerrilla forces of Muqtada as-Sadr’s “Mahdi Army,” now observing a ceasefire, would turn on the Americans;
2. What the Hizbullah forces in Lebanon could do other than firing rockets is, to me at least, unclear, but a renewed round of savage fighting with Israel would appear likely;
3. Those Middle Eastern governments allied with or thought to be subservient to the United States (Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt) might either be overthrown by their own military, have to fight civil wars or, at least would become even more unpopular;
4. Elsewhere, Muslims of all sects would probably almost universally turn against the United States so that much of Asia and Africa would be convulsed and Americans and American interests would suffer; but
5. It is the economic consequences of an invasion that are, perhaps, the most predictable and the most damaging to America. Iran produces about 8% of the world’s flow of energy and roughly 40% of the world’s energy is conveyed by tanker down the Persian Gulf. Iran’s own production – and possibly much of the Saudi production which is worked by Saudis of Shia persuasion – would be drastically curtailed or even halted, and as a result of naval action tankers are likely to be laid up or sunk in the Gulf. With oil already at over $105/bbl, the price is likely to soar with the predictable result of a major world economic catastrophe. Just for the United States, every $1 rise in the price of oil diminishes the national income by some $3 billion.
Such might be the results of a decision to attack Iran. But, what if the current actions and pronouncements are just threats, intended only to frighten the Iranians into doing what the United States wants?
* First, to be effective, threats must be credible. I imagine that the Iranians must view our threats in something like the scale I have just set out. If they have, I imagine that they will have concluded that the United States government would have to be mad to attack Iran when the costs of doing so are so evident and so large. In short, they probably would have reached the same conclusion Admiral Fallon is said to have reached.
* Second, it does not seem clear to me what the Iranians could do, even if they wished to do so, to satisfy the United States’ demands unless Iran were occupied. Absent a large and intrusive American presence, how could an Iranian government prove that it does not have or at least seek nuclear weapons? Proving a negative has always been logically impossible and any attempt to do so would certainly be politically unsatisfactory to America and probably politically impossible for Iran. This, we should remember, is roughly the situation we (and the IAEA) reached in Iraq.
* Third, having received a credible threat to destroy their country, the Iranians almost certainly would seek as rapidly as secretly possible to acquire the only sure means to deter such an attack, possession of a nuclear weapon. This also was the conclusion that Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA reached. (Interview in the Argentinian newspaper Clarin on November 29, 2007) Thus, a policy of threat that falls short of actual attack must result in a long-term defeat even if seemly producing a short-term victory for the United States.
Since we must assume that both the Iranian and American governments will realize the logic of these points, I think we must conclude that a policy of threat would slide almost inevitbly into conflict.
Moreover, war does not occur only by design. During the long years of the Cold War, many of us worried over the danger of accidental war. Dozens of incidents illustrated the danger – and at least some were avoided more by luck than by cleverness. One in which I was involved was averted during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As careful as we on the Crisis Management Committee then were, we could see that an unpredictable and even a rather trivial event could happen and could have disastrous consequences. One I luckily caught was this: one of our destroyers was positioned above a Soviet submarine, intent on embarrassing it when the submarine surfaced. When I received notice of the situation, my mind went back to the June 28, 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo. I could imagine a sailor throwing a bottle and his counterpart firing a pistol. Accidents happen despite all attempts at control: most are immediately contained as was the submarine incident in the Missile Crisis, but luck cannot be guaranteed. War is a weapon with many triggers.
Of course, we must factor into our estimates the fact that some Americans, notably the Neoconservatives who have set much of the policy of the Bush administration, have actively espoused a war policy. (See, for example, Norman Podhoretz’s article “Stopping Iran: Why the Case for Mililtary Action Still Stands,” February Commentary.) Their position has been encouraged and echoed by the current Israeli government. Less known is the fact that the American and Israeli “hawks” have their counterparts in the Iranian government, as the former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations admitted to me privately. Consider their positions:
* The Neoconservatives began almost twenty years ago to advocate what has come to be called “the long war,” in the vortex of which the world would be recast. One of them, the former CIA Director James Woolsey, tried to be optimistic, saying he hoped this world-wide and cataclysmic conflict would not last more than 40 years.
* Religious fundamentalists – Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus – share an eschatological vision. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that each faith includes groups who actually yearn for apocalypse during which time the world is destroyed to be reborn as a messiah or mahdi appears. To the “true believers,” hurrying toward the end of the world is a race not toward horror but a fulfilling spiritual experience in which it is only the enemies of the true faith who will suffer (as St. John so graphically portrays in The Revelation). In their version of messianism, the Shiis believe that the righteous will be delivered from the tyranny of the corrupt, the Shiis believe, and the earth will be filled with justice and happiness.
Thus, one need not fear but actually should embrace actions that lead toward “the end.” We know this eschatology is the mind-set of Christian fundamentalists; less well known is that it is also the mind-set of Shia fundamentalists. What we think of as fatalism, is not just acceptance of destiny but often is proactive. This may shape at least some Iranian attitudes toward the terrible destruction that would come from an American attack. My impression is that the Iranian Shia fundamentalists, presumably including their mujtahid leadership, believe that the ensuing war would hasten the way toward the Last Day when the Twelth Imam, The Mahdi, would reappear to cleanse the world of evil.
* If the mujtahid leadership, which is obviously deeply religious and obviously incorporates the central dogma of Shiism, holds these views then a policy of threat or even of brutal military action will produce effects different from those we thought shaped the attitude of the Russian leadership during the Cold War. Then, we shared with the Russians a salutary vision of horror -- as set out, for example, in Cormac McCarthy’s recent novel, The Road. The absolute need to avoid war was the ultimate brake on us because we knew that if we really went to war millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of people would be made refugees, wounded or incinerated. But, if one really believes in the Last Day, then this brake is loosened. Thus, I think we should factor into our calculations on American policy toward Iran, a reaction very different from that we expected from the Russians.
* Moreover, even among secular Iranians (and others), I detect a belief that while America would win battles it would lose the war, that over time, Western society, seen as corrupt, materialistic and selfish, would give way, exhaust itself or retreat to its home ground while those who have no place to which to retreat are kept “pure” by their very poverty and are inspired by their faith or nationalism cannot and will not surrender.
* Thus, even short of a nuclear Armageddon, the “Long War” advocated by the Neoconservatives would spread misery, violence, starvation, disease and death. The “fabric” that holds societies together would be shredded so that a chaos even Hobbes could not have imagined would become common over much of the world. The worst affected would be the poor nations but even rich societies would be corrupted and crippled. Reacting over a generation or more to fear of terrorism and the emotional “blow-back” of war, they would lose faith in law, civil liberties, indeed civil society in general. Strong men would come to the fore proclaiming that survival justifies giving up the civic, cultural and material good life. Step by step along the path of the long war, we could fall into the nightmare George Orwell laid out in his novel 1984.
If this is even a remote and unlikely danger, and I believe it is far more than that, we would be foolish indeed not to try to find means to avoid taking any steps – of which war with Iran would be not a step but a leap -- toward it. So what might those means be? I begin with the nuclear issue:
Since obviously means should be tailored to the issue to be solved, we must begin by asking why Iran would want nuclear weapons.
* If I were an Iranian, I would point to President Bush’s formulation of the “Axis of Evil.” I would note that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons and was virtually destroyed while North Korea which had them and was left in peace. Having a nuclear weapon is the surest form of defense in our dangerous world. There are, of course, other reasons for becoming a nuclear power – access to advanced technology, national prestige, cheap power, etc. – but the bottom line is national defense.
* It follows that threats must encourage the Iranian leadership to acquire a nuclear capacity. If I were an Iranian, that is what I would certainly advocate. And, if America attacks Iran, even if it manages to completely destroy all the production facilities and kill all the technicians, as an Iranian I would do all in my power to beg, borrow or steal a bomb. We can be sure that that would be the aim of any future Iranian government. It was, after all, also the aim of the government of the Shah, and had he lived a few more years the current Iranian government would have inherited nuclear weapons. So, threats and certainly any military action can only be ultimately self-defeating even if temporarily successful.
The second question we should address is what is the consequence of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and what we should do about it. There are, I suggest, four interlocking answers:
* first, from personal experience during the Cuban Missile Crisis and from my study, I firmly believe that the existence of nuclear weapons anywhere constitutes a danger to people everywhere. Thus, we should do all we can to get all nations to phase them out with all deliberate speed. For the first half century of the nuclear age, as McGeorge Bundy describes it in Danger and Survival, we have been both prudent and lucky, but we have little reason to think we can count on either as former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara argues in “Apocalypse Soon” (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2005).
* Second, if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, it will not be able to use it or threaten to use it aggressively for fear of an almost certain attack. This has been true of all the nuclear powers -- the US, the Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan, Britain, France, North Korea and Israel. While dangerous and costly, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) has worked. Ironically, this ultimate weapon is employable only as a deterrent. Therefore, I think that the near hysteria evoked by the nuclear issue as applied to Iran is overblown or as put forward by some even meretricious. But,
* Third, if Iran does acquire a weapon, it is likely that other countries in the area would follow its (and Israel’s) lead and move toward acquisition. These might include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the richer of the Gulf states and conceivably even Syria. Today, acquisition is largely a matter of allocation of resources and in changed circumstances might be achieved without having to actually make them.
* Fourth, it seems to me that this, I judge predictable, course of events offers us a rare opportunity to move toward nuclear sanity. We must not forget that crises are also times of opportunity. This could be so crucial to our life on this planet that I will dilate on it:
1. The reason why states acquire nuclear weapons (as distinct from why they seek to acquire nuclear technology) is fear of attack. The Soviet Union did because of fear of us, China did largely out of fear of the USSR, India and Pakistan did out of fear of one another, Israel did in fear of the Arabs. However, as more and more states acquire weapons, parity or balance is replaced by growing unpredictability. Arguably, Israel, for example, gained security when it alone in the Middle East had the bomb. But if, as I believe is inevitable, other states acquire them, its security will be diminished and its danger increased. Therefore, arguably, since it already has the strongest army and air force in the area, it would be to Israel’s interest to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. It is probably not possible to force the Israelis into such a policy, if it is directly solely at them, but overall considerations I have mentioned argue that the United States should revert to the policy we espoused in the 1960s which foresaw the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide. The Iranian crisis could thus be a catalyst in a move toward a safer world.
2. Since threat or attack would lead to disaster, and since it is to the fundamental interest of the United States to move toward peace, a part of the solution to the Iranian “crisis” should involve the revocation of the 2005 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America which causes other nations to fear us and which is more likely to embroil us in wars than to enhance our national security. Highlighting this issue, the Iranian crisis thus gives us an opportunity to readjust our goals and our means of action.
3. Included in our means of action is an awesome military force, which we have painfully learned does not always and necessarily enhance our security and well-being but can, itself, be a cause of danger and impoverishment. This is the lesson of history: great powers seldom fail on the battlefield but often lose sway by exhaustion or hubris. Our military machine is grossly out of proportion both to our needs and to what the world will peacefully tolerate. And some pieces of it, particularly the legacy of Secretary Rumsfeld, the “Special Operations Command,” are a clear and present danger to us. As we recognize the dangers inherent in the Iranian crisis, we can use the opportunity for a clear-headed reëvaluation of our real security needs and best means to achieve them.
4. Involved also in the Iranian crisis is our conception of the world order. As a piece of the settlement of the Iranian crisis, both we and the Iranians have a chance to come to grips with reality: we cannot remake other cultures and should not try to do so. The harder we press, the more ugly the process becomes both for us and for them. Specifically in Iran, our threats bring out the worst in the ruling group. Once the pressure is removed, Iranians will have the breathing room to reffirm their obvious desires for “the good life.” Then a more humane order will have a chance. That is the course of events we have seen, for example, in Vietnam.
5. Also coming out of this crisis we have seen that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has made a major contribution to our security and well-being. It has served our purposes not by being our rubber stamp but by being professional and independent. We should learn from this experience. But, American administration after administration has purposefully made the United Nations weak and has deliberately picked weak men to lead it. We would be well advised to use the process of solving the Iran crisis to reconsider how it and other international institutions, such as the world court, could enhance our national interest.
In conclusion, I believe that we are at one of those rare points in history when great nations find themselves, as Shakespeare put it so memorably at the changing of the tide:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries,
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
I hope and trust we will use the tide of the Iranian “crisis” to lead on to fortune rather than getting bound in shallows and miseries.
Posted on: Monday, March 24, 2008 - 00:08
SOURCE: Japan Focus (3-21-08)
In an opinion piece, which appeared in the March 20, 2008 issue of the Asahi Shimbun, Jayantha Dhanapala—the distinguished former Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations—not only makes the case for a nuclear-free world, but argues that it is a viable possibility.
In Dhanapala's view, the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons has acquired significant momentum thanks to the initiative of four former senior U.S. government officials: George Shultz (Ronald Reagan's secretary of state), Henry Kissinger (Richard Nixon's secretary of state), William Perry (Bill Clinton's secretary of defense), and Sam Nunn (former chair of the senate armed services committee). In January 2007 and, again, in January 2008, they published powerful opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal that outlined the need for a nuclear-free world, as well as steps in that direction. Since that time, Dhanapala notes, there has been important follow-up to this initiative by other former national security officials and nuclear experts.
As none of these former U.S. government officials showed much interest in the idea of abolishing nuclear weapons in the past, how should we account for their newfound zeal? Part of the answer seems to lie in their fear that terrorists will acquire and use nuclear weapons. As they stated in the first paragraph of their 2008 article: "We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands." Of course, many people believe (and have believed for decades) that nuclear weapons are already in "dangerous hands." Nevertheless, it is hard not to agree that adding terrorist bands—or additional nations--to the list of the nuclear-armed will raise the level of nuclear danger.
A second factor that might explain why portions of the U.S. national security elite are keener on nuclear abolition than in the past is that U.S. conventional military power is far superior to that of any other nation. In reality, as U.S. scientists began warning in 1945, U.S. national security can be maintained better in a non-nuclear world than in a world bristling with nuclear weapons. Even so, people of good will might still welcome the Shultz-Kissinger-Perry-Nunn initiative for, although it appears to contain an element of self-interest and to return us to the pre-nuclear era debate over the broader issue of using military force to maintain national security, it does enhance the prospects for human survival.
A more telling objection to this focus on a group of former national security managers is that they might not be sufficient for the task at hand. For one thing, there are plenty of national security officials who are not at all interested in nuclear abolition—or at least nuclear abolition for their country! And these people are in power. As Dhanapala observes, at present "there are no ongoing negotiations for nuclear weapons reductions."
Conversely, there is plenty of pro-nuclear activity by government officials. Although the Bush administration has focused on nuclear projects in Iran and North Korea, it has consistently supported the building of new nuclear weapons by the United States. Moreover, it has winked at the development of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan. Indeed, it recently pushed through Congress a nuclear technology sharing agreement with the Indian government that will upgrade the ability of that government to churn out nuclear weapons.
The leaders of many non-nuclear nations, of course, are less enthusiastic about the ongoing nuclear arms race. Even so, there has been an erosion of their willingness to challenge the policies of nuclear-armed nations. The emergence of the nonaligned movement during the 1950s provided powerful international pressure upon the great powers for an end to the testing, development, and deployment of nuclear weapons. For decades, Third World nations played a key role in the nonaligned movement, and were particularly sharp in their condemnation of the Soviet-American nuclear confrontation. Today, however, relatively little antinuclear rhetoric seems to emanate from these nations.
Furthermore, although there was substantial nuclear disarmament in the past, that progress toward a nuclear-free world was based heavily on massive popular pressure from peace and disarmament organizations. In the United States, groups like the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), Women Strike for Peace, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, and Physicians for Social Responsibility helped create a national uproar over the nuclear arms race. They were joined in their protest ventures by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain, the Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikin) and the Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo) in Japan, Project Ploughshares in Canada, the Trust Groups in the Soviet Union, and hundreds of similar organizations around the world. This activist pressure, plus the antinuclear sentiments of the general public, led politicians in numerous nations to abandon many of their nuclear ambitions. But, although polls show that popular sentiment remains antinuclear, that previous massive campaign against nuclear weapons is largely absent today.
Thus, ironically, when portions of the national security elite have finally come around to championing a nuclear-free world, much of the popular antinuclear movement is dormant.
Can it be revived? Perhaps so. Groups like Peace Action (the successor to SANE and the Freeze), Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Faithful Security are among those striving to spark a resurrection of the nuclear disarmament campaign in the United States. And others are at work abroad. But popular protest against nuclear weapons remains far from its peak in the mid-1980s.
At present, then, Dhanapala—and all other people committed to human survival—should certainly welcome the recent antinuclear activities of a portion of the national security elite. But, as he implies, substantial progress toward a nuclear-free world remains dependent on a revival of pressure from non-nuclear nations and from the public.
Posted on: Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 17:06
SOURCE: Open Democracy (3-17-08)
Forty years ago, on 16 March 1968, United States armed forces committed their most notorious massacre. In the course of one morning in My Lai, a hamlet in Vietnam, approximately 504 civilians - men, women and children - were slaughtered by Charlie Company of the 1st battallion, 20th infantry. A number of the victims were raped before they were murdered; the thatch-roofed huts and red-brick homes of the village were burned; livestock was killed, wells were poisoned. It took over three days for survivors to bury the dead.
There was nothing unusual about Charlie Company compared to other US forces: it was "very average" according to authors Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim (see their Four Hours in My Lai [Penguin, 1992]). Most of the men, historians James Olson and Randy Roberts note, "were high school graduates between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two; there was a fairly even division between black and white soldiers; and the company had the look of a cross-section of American society" (see their My Lai: A Brief History with Documents [Bedford Books, 1998]).
But the company had experienced the realities of combat against their elusive Vietcong and North Vietnamese enemies, who often melted into the rural population. US soldiers could not easily distinguish between civilians and combatants, and violence against civilians was commonplace.
The massacre took place against the background of the comprehensive attack (the "Tet offensive") launched during the Vietnamese new year in January 1968, which had inflicted mounting casualties on American troops. Charlie Company had been ordered to attack the hamlet known as My Lai. Captain Ernest Medina told his men that 250-280 enemy were outside the village, neutral civilians would be away at market, and any remaining civilians would probably be Vietcong supporters. Medina's commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Barber, had ordered the village destroyed - the burning of houses and killing of livestock were fairly standard policy. The orders that Medina gave his men are still vague, but many certainly interpreted them to mean that no one was to be spared.
When Charlie Company entered the village, there was no sign of the enemy. The nervous soldiers shot everything that moved. The only people who died were civilians - later testimony singled out scores of horrors and brutalities: old people, babies and children shot, people mutilated, women raped. One officer, Lieutenant William Calley, was responsible for the most horrific incidents, ordering mass executions of civilians whom other soldiers had herded together. An army photographer, Ronald Haeberle, took pictures of the killings all morning long. Some soldiers, however, refused to fire; others only did so when directly ordered. A pilot, Hugh Thompson Jr, landed his helicopter between soldiers and a group of defenceless villagers to protect them, and later reported the atrocity to his superiors.
Yet there was what Olson and Roberts call a "coldly calculated" cover-up. Thompson's charges were dismissed right up the chain of command, and it was over a year later that a letter from another soldier to his congressman finally forced a full military investigation by Lieutenant-General William Peers, leading to charges and a massive scandal. Twenty-two officers were charged, but military tribunals acquitted everyone except Calley; sentenced to "life", he was free within three and a half years.
War crimes or degenerate war?
Even after the 1969 revelations, many Americans continued to excuse My Lai on the grounds of the pressure that the soldiers were under, or saw it as an isolated incident. However the massacre was the nadir of the extensive violence that United States troops inflicted on Vietnamese civilians. Napalming and torching villages to clear out the enemy, and shooting civilians suspected of being or harbouring Vietcong, were policy. Rape and abuse of prisoners were rife. The Peers investigation and Calley's conviction indicate that the US officially distinguished civilians from the enemy; but in practice the military regularly treated all Vietnamese as Vietcong suspects and condoned almost all violence against them.
Thus the massacre was treated as a matter of "war crimes" by individuals, but it was actually the outcome of a degenerate war - civilians were systematically targeted as part of the US's ultimately futile attempt to defeat communism in Vietnam. War is supposed to be a contest of two armed opponents. But states and insurgents alike mobilise society, so that the temptation to strike at the enemy's presumed civilian supporters is a built-in danger of all war. In some wars, like the Falklands-Malvinas war of 1982, civilians are left alone by both sides, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. And in modern total war, both interstate and guerrilla, the systematic mobilisation of civilian society has led in turn to systematic targeting of civilians. In counterinsurgency war, this targeting always involves murderous excesses, and even degenerates into genocide. My Lai was not genocide, but soldiers like Calley showed a genocidal mentality in their facile murder of so many innocent Vietnamese.
After decades, indeed centuries, of degenerate wars, publics too easily ignore these atrocities. Vietnam was traumatic for most Americans despite rather than because of My Lai. The failure of US policy, and the 58,000 American soldiers' lives it cost, weighed much more heavily with US public opinion than the millions of Vietnamese deaths and the atrocities they involved. When the US started to fight wars differently in the 1990s, with even greater reliance on airpower, it was mainly to stop its own soldiers being killed, rather than to save civilians.
However the "new western way of war" of the post-cold-war era, promising a "cleaner" war precision-guided to exclusively military targets, also proclaimed a more caring attitude to civilians. But these claims rang hollow in Kosovo in the war of March-June 1999; there, not a single Nato soldier was killed while hundreds of Serb and Albanian civilians died because, from 15,000 feet, it was difficult for US pilots to discriminate between them and the Serbian army. By protecting its own forces, the US transferred risks to civilians. And in Afghanistan and Iraq, aerial targeting of the "enemy" in places where civilians congregate, together with troops on the ground shooting first and asking questions later, have caused tens of thousands of casualties.
The dam resists
Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has seen an American massacre on the scale of My Lai. But intimations of cruelty (Abu Ghraib), brutality (various rape cases) and murder of civilians have never been far away, and very serious accusations have been made against British as well as United States forces. Most notoriously, on 19 November 2005 in the town of Haditha, US marines killed twenty-four Iraqis, most if not all of them civilians, allegedly in retaliation for an attack on a US convoy which had killed a soldier.
These killings, the subject of Nick Broomfield's film Battle of Haditha, have led to military charges against the marines, though none has been accused of murder. As at My Lai, in the few cases in which US - and British - soldiers have been accused over atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, convictions have been few and far between. Plus ça change, c'est la même chose?
Posted on: Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 16:27
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (3-16-08)
Imagine, for a moment, that you live in a small town somewhere near the Southern California coast. You're going about your daily life, trying to scrape by in hard times, when the missile hits. It might have come from the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) -- its pilot at a base on the outskirts of Tehran -- that has had the village in its sights for the last six hours or from the Russian sub stationed just off the coast. In either case, it's devastating.
In Moscow and Tehran, officials announce that, in a joint action, they have launched the missile as part of a carefully coordinated"surgical" operation to take out a"known terrorist," a long-term danger to their national security. A Kremlin spokesman offers the following statement:
"As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we may find them. We share common goals with respect to fighting terrorism. We will continue to seek out, identify, capture and, if necessary, kill terrorists where they plan their activities, carry out their operations or seek safe harbor."
A family in a ramshackle house just down the street from you -- he's a carpenter; she works at the local Dairy Queen -- are killed along with their pets. Their son is seriously wounded, their home blown to smithereens. Neighbors passing by as the missile hits are also wounded.
As it happens, there are no terrorists in the vicinity. Outraged, you organize your neighbors and march angrily in protest through the town, shouting anti-Russian, anti-Iranian slogans. But, of course, there is nothing you can really do. Iran and Russia are far away, their weaponry powerful, your arms nonexistent. The state of California is incapable of protecting you. This is, in fact, at least the fourth time in recent months that a"terrorist" has been declared"taken out" from the air or by a ship-based cruise missile, when only innocent Californians have died.
As news of the" collateral damage" from the botched operation dribbles out, the Russian and Iranian media pay next to no attention. There are no outraged editorials. Official spokesmen see no need to comment further. No one is held responsible and no promises are made in either Tehran or Moscow that similar assassination strikes won't be launched in the near future, based on"actionable intelligence," possibly even on the same town. In fact, the next day, seeing UAVs once again soaring overhead, you load your pick-up and prepare to flee.
Swatting Flies in Somalia
Philip K. Dick meet George W. Bush. When it comes to such a thing happening in the United States, we are, of course, at the wildest frontiers of science fiction. The U.S. is a sovereign nation. We guard our air space and coastal waters jealously. Any country violating them for purposes of aggressive action, no less by launching a missile against an American town, would be committing an act of war and would certainly be treated accordingly.
If, somehow, such an event did occur, it would be denounced in Washington and on editorial pages across the country as a shocking contravention of international legal conventions and a crime of war… unless, of course, we did it in a country where sovereignty has been declared meaningless.
In fact, an almost exact replica of the above fictional incident -- at least the fourth of its kind in recent months -- did indeed take place at the beginning of March in the embattled failed state of Somalia. (For that country's most recent abysmal collapse, the Bush administration, via an invasion by Ethiopian proxy forces, can take significant credit.) One or two houses in Dobley, a Somali town, were hit, possibly by two submarine-launched Tomahawk Cruise missiles in what a U.S. official termed"a deliberate strike against a suspected bed-down of known terrorists."
The missiles were evidently meant for Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an al-Qaedan suspect in the bloody bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. He was, however, not in Dobley, despite the"actionable intelligence" on hand. Accounts of the dead and wounded in the town vary. One report claimed only wounded Somalis (and two dead cows); most spoke of anywhere from four to ten dead civilians. Local district Commissioner Ali Nur Ali Dherre told CNN that three women and three children had been killed and another 20 people wounded; while a"U.S. military official said the United States is still collecting post-strike information and is not yet able to confirm any casualties. He described [the] strike as 'very deliberate' and said forces tried to use caution to avoid hitting civilians."
For the dead Somalis, not surprisingly, we have no names. In stories like this, the dead are regularly nobodies and, though the townspeople of Dobley did indeed march angrily in protest yelling anti-American slogans, just about no one noticed.
In our world, only the normal smattering of small news reports dealt with this modest sidebar in the President's Global War on Terror (GWOT). On the GWOT scorecard -- if you remember, for a long time George Bush kept "his own personal scorecard" of top terror suspects in a desk drawer in the Oval Office, crossing off al-Qaedan figures as U.S. forces took them down -- this operation hardly registered. One terrorist missed, and not for the first time, possibly a few dead peasants in some god-forsaken land. Please, move on…
In a recent Pentagon briefing for reporters featuring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen, who had just returned from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, 4,500 words of back-and-forth were interrupted by this question from a reporter:
"Secretary Gates, the strike on Somalia two days ago -- did the missiles that were fired -- did they strike their target? And was the target Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan? Do you have a report back from the field? And Admiral Mullen, what message did you give to President Musharraf, and why did you meet with him?"
Gates responded to the Somali part of the question in eight words:"You know we don't talk about military operations." He might have added: ...unless they're successful.
That was evidently all that the incident and its minor" collateral damage" deserved in such a global war. So Gates and Mullen moved on immediately. So many matters more important than a single"decapitation" strike that didn't succeed to consider.
The Decapitation Strike as Global Policy
Minor as that Somali mis-strike might seem, this is not, in fact, a small matter. Think of that strike and the many like it around the world over these last years as reflections of George Bush's post-9/11 update of globalization. After all, the most basic principle of his Global War on Terror has been the erasure of global boundaries and whatever international agreements about war-making might go with them.
Across the Islamic world, in particular, boundaries simply no longer matter. In fact, in such regions no aspect of sovereignty can now constrain a U.S. president from acting as he pleases in pursuit of whatever he may personally define as American interests.
"Assassinations by air" are, writes David Case in Mother Jones magazine,"a relatively new tactic in warfare." By the beginning of 2006, however, U.S. Predator drones"bearing Hellfire missiles -- the preferred weapon in decapitation [strikes] -- had already hit 'terrorist suspects overseas' at least 19 times since 9/11." Such strikes and other similar operations by air, land, and sea have been a crucial follow-on to the Bush administration's proclamations, immediately after 9/11, that there would be no"safe havens" for terrorists on the planet, nor safety for those countries which housed them, inadvertently or otherwise. Within days of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, Bush administration officials were already identifying up to 60 countries-cum-targets.
This aspect of the Bush Doctrine, of what the President likes to call staying"on the offensive," when mixed with a couple of decades of"advances" in air warfare, including the development of sophisticated, missile-armed drones,"smart bombs,""precision-guided munitions," and the like, has resulted in a lethal globalizing brew of assassination and destruction. It recognizes neither boundaries, nor sovereignty across much of the planet. With all its"actionable" possibilities, it will surely be with us long after George W. Bush has left office.
Of course, those few nameless dead or wounded Somali civilians -- swatted like so many flies and forgotten as quickly as flies would be -- don't faintly match up against the"dozens" of Iraqi civilian deaths that, according to Human Rights Watch, were caused by 50 decapitation strikes launched against the top officials of Saddam Hussein's regime back in March 2003. (Not a single official was harmed.) Nor do they quite make it into the company of the"Afghan elders" being taken to President Hamid Karzai's inauguration back in 2001, who were mistaken"for a Taliban group" and bombed, with 20 killed; nor the 30 or more guests at an Afghan wedding party back in 2002 blown away by 2,000-pound bombs after celebratory gunfire was evidently mistaken for an attack (no apologies offered); nor that wedding party in the Western desert of Iraq near the Syrian border wiped out in 2004 with 42 deaths, including 27 in one extended family, 14 children in all. They were, of course, taken for terrorists. (As U.S. Major General James Mathis put the matter in offering an explanation:"How many people go to the middle of the desert... to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?") And these are just a few prominent cases, not including the civilians killed in periodic Predator and other strikes in Pakistani border areas, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere about whom no fuss is ever made -- not here, anyway.
After all, there's always going to be" collateral damage" when you keep your eye -- and your 2,000-pound bomb or Hellfire missile -- focused on the prize.
The"Right" to Kill Civilians
Remember back in the 1990s, when the glories of an economically borderless world were being limned? Just after September 11, 2001, the Bush administration proudly declared us to be in a far darker world without borders (except, of course, when it came to our own). In this new world, whether we knew it or not, whether we cared or not, we granted our highest officials -- specifically our military and intelligence services -- the full powers of prosecutor, defense counsel, judge, jury, and executioner, as well as the right to report on such events only to the extent, and as, they wished. This was the sort of power that monotheistic religions normally granted to an all-powerful god, that kingdoms generally left to absolute rulers, and that dictators have always tried to take for themselves (though just, of course, in the domains under their control).
Our domain, it seems, is now much of the globe, when it comes to the bloody work of assassinating individuals via bombs or missiles that, however precise, surgical, and smart, are weapons meant to kill en masse and largely without discrimination.
There are still limits of sorts on such actions. These put bluntly -- though no one is likely to say this --- are the limits imposed, in part, by racism, by gradations, however unspoken, in the global value given to a human life.
The Bush administration has, so far, only been willing to carry out"decapitation" strikes in countries where human life is, by implication, of less or little value. It has yet to carry one out in London or Hamburg or Tokyo or Moscow or the Chinese countryside, even though"terrorist suspects" abound everywhere, even (as with the anthrax attacks of 2001) in our own country. On the other hand, given the impetus of this kind of globalization, who knows when such a strike might come. After all, the CIA has already carried out clearly illegal, sovereignty-violating"extraordinary rendition" operations (kidnappings of terror suspects) on the streets of European cities.
In this country, we still theoretically venerate the sovereign self ("the individual") and that self's right to"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Despite George Bush's"Freedom Agenda," however, the sovereignty, not to say the life, liberty, and happiness of other peoples, individually or collectively, have not really been much on our minds these last years. Our freedom of action, our safety, has been the only freedom, the only"security," to which we have attached much global value. And don't for a second think that, when the"actionable intelligence" comes in to John McCain's, Hillary Clinton's, or Barack Obama's Oval Office, those Predators won't be soaring or those cruise missiles leaving subs lurking off some coast -- and that innocent civilians elsewhere won't continue to die.
In places like Somalia, we deliver death, and every now and then an American bomb or missile actually obliterates a terrorist suspect. Then we celebrate. The rest of time, it's hardly even news. When the deeper principle behind such global strikes is mentioned in our papers, in some passing paragraph, it's done -- as in a recent Washington Post article about a Predator strike, piloted from Nevada, that killed a suspected"senior al-Qaeda commander" in Pakistan -- in this polite way:"Independent actions by U.S. military forces on another country's sovereign territory are always controversial…" (Imagine the language that the Washington Post would use, if that had been a Pakistani drone strike in Utah.)
This version of globalization is already so much the norm of our world that few here even blink an eye when it's reported, or consider it even slightly strange. It's already an American right. In the meantime, other people, who obviously don't rise to the level of our humanity, regularly die.
And here's the thing: In our world, there is a chasm that can never be breached between, say, a Sunni extremist clothed in a suicide vest who walks into a market in Baghdad with the barbaric intent of killing as many Shiite civilians as possible, and an air or missile attack, done in the name of American"security" and aimed at a"known terrorist," that just happens to -- repeatedly --- kill innocent civilians. And yet, what if you know before you launch your attack, as American planners certainly must, that the odds are innocents (and probably no one else) will die?
Not so long ago in the United States, presidentially sanctioned assassinations abroad were illegal. But that was then, this is so now. Nonetheless, it's a fact that the"right" to missile, bomb, shell,"decapitate," or assassinate those we declare to be our enemies, without regard to borders or sovereignty, is based on nothing more than the power to do it. This is simply the"right" of force (and of technology). If the tables were turned, any American would recognize such acts for the barbarism they represent.
And yet, late last week, like clockwork, the Associated Press brought us the latest notice:"In Afghanistan, a spokesman for the American-led coalition said troops had used 'precision-guided munitions' to strike a compound about a mile inside Pakistan..." This operation was, as they all are, said to be based on"reliable intelligence"; in this case,"senior" Taliban commanders were said to be in residence.
As it happened, according to the Pakistani military and the AP reporter who made it to Tangrai, a village of about forty houses, the residence hit was that of"Noor Khan, a greengrocer who said the house was his family home." The AP reporter added that"only one of its four walls was standing amid a tangle of mud bricks, bedding and cooking pots." And Noor Khan, who was quoted saying,"We are innocent, we have nothing to do with such things," claimed that six of his relatives, four women and two boys, had been killed. (The Pakistani military, on investigating, reported that two women and two children had died.)
This was but the latest minor decapitation strike, and -- we can be sure of this -- not the last. Philip K. Dick move over. We're already in your future.
Posted on: Friday, March 21, 2008 - 20:02
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (3-21-08)
The most influential sentence in the most influential book about the presidency of the past 50 years is seven words long. "Presidential power," the political scientist Richard Neustadt declared in his 1960 book Presidential Power, "is the power to persuade."
Persuade whom? Chiefly members of Congress, without whose support presidents cannot pass laws; and the general public, without whose approval the task of persuading Congress becomes much more difficult. Persuade them of what? That supporting the president's legislative agenda is in their interest as well as the president's.
Neustadt's thesis was itself persuasive because it aligned presidential studies with the recent behavioral revolution in political science, which treated power as a relational entity that flows from the interactions of leaders and the led. Not some "literary theory of the Constitution," Neustadt argued in dismissal of previous generations of presidential scholarship, but rather "personal power and its politics" lie at the heart of influence for those presidents who strive skillfully to persuade Congress and the people to support their initiatives.
Influential as it has been, however, Presidential Power leaves scholars incapable of explaining the presidency of George W. Bush, especially its second term. Bush is wildly unpopular: His public-approval rating has been troughed at 30 percent longer than any other modern president's. In Congress, Bush's post-re-election efforts to enact landmark legislation concerning Social Security and immigration have failed utterly. By Neustadt's standard, the president's inability to persuade almost anybody to support almost anything should have rendered him nearly powerless.
And yet Bush remains one of the most powerful presidents, well, ever. ...
Posted on: Friday, March 21, 2008 - 18:56
SOURCE: Nation (3-21-08)
We might wonder why no Democratic Party contender for the presidency has invoked the memory of the New Deal and its unprecedented series of laws aimed at helping people in need. The New Deal was tentative, cautious, bold enough to shake the pillars of the system but not to replace them. It created many jobs but left 9 million unemployed. It built public housing but not nearly enough. It helped large commercial farmers but not tenant farmers. Excluded from its programs were the poorest of the poor, especially blacks. As farm laborers, migrants or domestic workers, they didn’t qualify for unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, Social Security or farm subsidies.
Still, in today’s climate of endless war and uncontrolled greed, drawing upon the heritage of the 1930s would be a huge step forward. Perhaps the momentum of such a project could carry the nation past the limits of FDR’s reforms, especially if there were a popular upsurge that demanded it. A candidate who points to the New Deal as a model for innovative legislation would be drawing on the huge reputation Franklin Roosevelt and his policies enjoy in this country, an admiration matched by no President since Lincoln. Imagine the response a Democratic candidate would get from the electorate if he or she spoke as follows:
“Our nation is in crisis, just as it was when Roosevelt took office. At that time, people desperately needed help, they needed jobs, decent housing, protection in old age. They needed to know that the government was for them and not just for the wealthy classes. This is what the American people need today.
“I will do what the New Deal did, to make up for the failure of the market system. It put millions of people to work through the Works Progress Administration, at all kinds of jobs, from building schools, hospitals, playgrounds, to repairing streets and bridges, to writing symphonies and painting murals and putting on plays. We can do that today for workers displaced by closed factories, for professionals downsized by a failed economy, for families needing two or three incomes to survive, for writers and musicians and other artists who struggle for security.
“The New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps at its peak employed 500,000 young people. They lived in camps, planted millions of trees, reclaimed millions of acres of land, built 97,000 miles of fire roads, protected natural habitats, restocked fish and gave emergency help to people threatened by floods.
“We can do that today, by bringing our soldiers home from war and from the military bases we have in 130 countries. We will recruit young people not to fight but to clean up our lakes and rivers, build homes for people in need, make our cities beautiful, be ready to help with disasters like Katrina. The military is having a hard time recruiting young men and women for war, and with good reason. We will have no such problem enlisting the young to build rather than destroy.
“We can learn from the Social Security program and the GI Bill of Rights, which were efficient government programs, doing for older people and for veterans what private enterprise could not do. We can go beyond the New Deal, extending the principle of social security to health security with a totally free government-run health system. We can extend the GI Bill of Rights to a Civilian Bill of Rights, offering free higher education for all.
“We will have trillions of dollars to pay for these programs if we do two things: if we concentrate our taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population, not only their incomes but their accumulated wealth, and if we downsize our gigantic military machine, declaring ourselves a peaceful nation.
“We will not pay attention to those who complain that this is ‘big government.’ We have seen big government used for war and to give benefits to the wealthy. We will use big government for the people.”
How refreshing it would be if a presidential candidate reminded us of the experience of the New Deal and defied the corporate elite as Roosevelt did, on the eve of his 1936 re-election. Referring to the determination of the wealthy classes to defeat him, he told a huge crowd at Madison Square Garden: “They are unanimous in their hatred for me–and I welcome their hatred.” I believe that a candidate who showed such boldness would win a smashing victory at the polls.
The innovations of the New Deal were fueled by the militant demands for change that swept the country as FDR began his presidency: the tenants’ groups; the Unemployed Councils; the millions on strike on the West Coast, in the Midwest and the South; the disruptive actions of desperate people seeking food, housing, jobs–the turmoil threatening the foundations of American capitalism. We will need a similar mobilization of citizens today, to unmoor from corporate control whoever becomes President. To match the New Deal, to go beyond it, is an idea whose time has come.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Friday, March 21, 2008 - 18:53
SOURCE: Madmanofchu (blog) (3-21-08)
In today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer offers a denunciation of Obama's recent speech on race relations that is exemplary of its reception by many Americans. According to Krauthammer, the speech is a"brilliant fraud." This judgment hangs on two points. Firstly, Obama asserts a false"moral equivalence" between the private sentiments of his white grandmother and leaders like Harry Truman (who was known to use racial and ethnic epithets) to the public sentiments of Jeremiah Wright. In doing so, Obama confuses"the moral difference between the occasional private expression of the prejudices of one's time and the use of a public stage to spread racial lies and race hatred." Secondly, Obama relies on what Krauthammer calls"white guilt" in falsely contextualizing Wright's speech:"By context, Obama means history. And by history, he means the history of white racism....But Obama was supposed to be new. He flatters himself as a man of the future transcending the anger of the past as represented by his beloved pastor."
These arguments will no doubt be persuasive to many white Americans who are shocked at the level of anger expressed in Jeremiah Wright's sermons. This is unfortunate, as Krauthammer mischaracterizes Obama's assertions and offers up an analysis built on flawed logic. What strikes me as most objectionable in Krauthammer's analysis is his misuse of history. On the one hand Harry Truman's racial views may be dismissed as"the prejudices of his day," while on the other any attempt to explain black anger as a response to white racism is invalid. This is clearly a double standard. By contrast, Obama's speech expressed a much more nuanced and coherent historical sensibility:
"Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety...The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America. And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright."
Obama does not claim, as Krauthammer would have him do, that Wright's attitudes are the natural product of white racism. He does, however, admit that Wright's"bitterness and bias" are an organic gauge of the state of public discourse in the black community today; not in the sense that all or most blacks agree with Wright, but that a critical portion of the community is at least willing to overlook his biases in assessing his leadership. In other words, to use Krauthammer's phrase, Wright was guilty of no more than expressing"the prejudices of his time." Thus Obama" could no more disown [Wright]" than he could"disown the black community."
Still, Krauthammer's argument about the moral distinction between"public" and"private" expressions of racially charged sentiments might be cited by way of rebuking Obama. This ignores, however, the ways in which the nature of"public" and"private" discourse changes over time. Harry Truman might have felt constrained in the expression of his views in ways that Jeremiah Wright did not, but this is more a gauge of the historical state of race relations than the moral status of either man. One fair test might be to search for a genuine moral equivalent, for a white leader that Americans revere despite their publicly expressed views on race.
In a speech in Springfield Illinois, the"Great Emancipator" Abraham Lincoln declared,"There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people to the idea of indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races ... A separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation." In his debates with Steven Douglas, Lincoln asserted,"...I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people...There is physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality..."
These sentiments are naturally abhorrent to our present-day sensibilities, and despite being tolerated in the political discourse of nineteenth century were, in absolute terms, as morally deficient then as now. Do such realities invalidate the present-day reverence in which Americans hold Lincoln? Are we wrong to build monuments to him, place his picture on our currency, to count him among the greatest Americans who have ever lived? I would argue not, and Barack Obama would agree. What he indicates, however, is that to be American is and was to inhabit a social reality that chronically and violently distorts our orientation towards issues of race, no matter what side of the racial divide we inhabit (or whether, like Obama himself, we stand astraddle that divide). There are many points on which one might protest the comparison of Jeremiah Wright to Lincoln, but in this one respect they are equal: in their problematic orientation toward questions of race (and here one must note that Wright has not, to my knowledge, said anything as personally disparaging of whites as those remarks about blacks quoted above) they are equally American.
Barack Obama launched his campaign for the presidency in Springfield, Illinois, on the steps of the same state house where both he and Abraham Lincoln served as legislators. Obama speaks with frequent pride about his historical connection with Lincoln, and wrote with passion about the inspiration he draws from Lincoln in an essay in Time. In assessing Obama's response to the Jeremiah Wright controversy, one must ask what a reasonable response would be if one were to confront Obama with the words of Lincoln's Springfield speech (of which Obama himself evinces being aware). Would anything less than a complete denunciation of Lincoln and repudiation of Obama's former praise amount to a betrayal of the black community? Or, could he reasonably reject and denounce Lincoln's abhorrent statements while persisting in his judgment that Lincoln had been"our greatest president?" If one accepts that the latter response to Lincoln's flawed legacy would be understandable, it is difficult to explain why Obama's current response to the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright is not.
Posted on: Friday, March 21, 2008 - 17:46
SOURCE: China Beat (3-21-08)
As American attention is captivated by the war in Iraq and, more recently, our own upcoming national election, another important event is about to take place on the other side of the Pacific Ocean: the presidential election of Taiwan on March 21 (March 22 local time). This event is of great importance to the United States for a number of reasons. First, there is the economic significance of Taiwan, which has emerged in recent decades as an important player in the global economy, especially in the IT sector. For instance, over 90% of the world’s OEM notebook PCs comes out of Taiwan factories, and Taiwan companies have also developed their own brand names, such as ACER. Besides, the island boasts companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker. America’s ninth largest trade partner in 2007, Taiwan has also been an important buyer of American weapons and other goods. Second, there is the geopolitical significance of Taiwan. U.S. links to Taiwan are a vital factor in the often fragile but increasingly mutually dependent relationship between China and the United States, countries that are widely viewed as the world’s two superpowers.
The election will decide who will lead Taiwan for the next four years. The choice is between two candidates: Frank Hsieh and Ma Ying-jeou. The Former represents the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the latter the Kuomintang (KMT). A crucial difference between the two parties is their respective policy on Taiwan’s relationship with mainland China. The PPD advocates independence, while the KMT wants to maintain the status quo. Ma, the KMT’s candidate, is widely projected to win the election. The leadership of the DDP, which came to power eight years ago, has become increasingly unpopular, facing accusations of corruption and a prolonged economic slowdown. But as we have learned from the numerous dramatic last-minute developments in recent elections in Taiwan, any projections remain mere educated guesses at best.
Under the uncharacteristic pre-election calmness lurks a potentially explosive danger that could engulf the Taiwan Straits and much of the world. It is commonly accepted that a declaration of independence on the part of Taiwan will mean war, a war that could threaten to involve the United States. The United States is already fighting a costly war in Iraq with no end in sight, a war that has cost the United States hundreds of billions of US dollars and the lives of nearly 4,000 soldiers. The prospect of being dragged into a military confrontation with a much more formidable opponent is the last thing it needs at this moment. Therefore, geopolitically speaking, maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Straits is in America’s interest. In recent years, it has benefited, not only geopolitically but also economically, from that status quo. There is no reason to think that the United States should change its course at this movement. The danger of breaking the strategic balance, therefore, does not lie in public opinion or rational policy but in unpredictable political maneuvers that are more likely to happen at election time than any other moment.
If public polls in Taiwan are any indication, it is clear that a majority of voters in Taiwan also prefer the status quo, which has benefited Taiwan as well, at least economically. Trade with China’s thriving economy has become a life line for Taiwan’s ailing economy. In 2007 trade across the Taiwan Straits exceeded $100 billion US dollars, and such trade activities gave Taiwan an annual surplus of over $46 billion US dollars. Meanwhile in its effort to develop its growingly modern and global economy, China continues to need the investment dollars and the technological and managerial know-how that pours into the PRC from Taiwan.
There appear to be reasons to believe that if Hsieh is elected, he would not immediately move closer to declaring independence because he has vowed not to take any politically provocative actions. But he will continue to face pressure from the DDP, a party that has adopted independence as its platform. If Ma wins this weekend, as widely projected, he will certainly not declare independence. But it would be naive to expect him to move closer to mainland China politically. Because of the political baggage of his party, the KMT, which initially fled to Taiwan in 1949, Ma is more likely to maintain a greater distance from mainland China as either a choice or due to expedience.
Reminiscent of enthusiastic participation in homeland politics by members of other ethnic communities throughout American history, the election in Taiwan has also been a heated issue among Chinese Americans, dividing them in recent years. Forums and rallies have been conducted in major Chinese American communities. Voters are going back to cast their vote. Chinese-language TV programs will carry the election live. At the end of the day, however, when the noise of election quiets down, ordinary people will realize that it is peace and prosperity, not political rhetoric, that best represents their interest.
Posted on: Friday, March 21, 2008 - 16:49
SOURCE: Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH blog) (3-21-08)
Barry Rubin is a member of MESH. In 2002, he wrote: “A post-Saddam Iraq seen as reasonably democratic, independent of American control, and improving its people’s lives might become a model, promoting the cause of representative government and human rights in the region. If so, the United States would get credit and not blame for its actions.” (Read his full prediction here.)
From Barry Rubin
I was quite worried at the time about the decision to invade Iraq. There was no doubt that the United States and its allies could win the war militarily, but the key problem was what would happen afterward. Why should one believe that Iraq would become democratic—and stable as well—virtually overnight? Given the country’s history, political culture, and divisions this seemed unlikely.
And there was also the problem of risk. What if things went wrong? The existing situation was about as good as one could expect. The failure of the Arab-Israeli peace process, due to Syria and the Palestinian leadership, as well as September 11 and other events had led many more people in America and the West to understand how the region actually worked. They came to comprehend that the region’s problems were not the fault of the United States or Israel, but were due to the nature of the regimes and their ideologies.
I thought—and so did almost everyone in Israel I heard on this issue—that there was a huge amount of naiveté in the U.S. policy. The general consensus was that as long as sanctions remained on Iraq, Saddam was not going to be much of a threat. The real concern was Iran. Yet if things went wrong in Iraq, America’s political capital would be squandered and Israel would be called upon to pay a large part of the price.
But there were two other factors to be considered. First, there was the situation of the Iraqi people. How could one in good conscience advocate a policy in which they continued to live under such a brutal dictatorship, especially if an alternative was available? The other was the point that America was at war. And while this should not still criticism, it should also engender support.
How do things look five years later? It is easy to reach a conclusion but hard to be sure it is the right one. Would it have been better if the invasion had never taken place? I can see arguments on both sides. Regrettably, my worst fears about the cost in American prestige and credibility, as well as a return to the old, bad analysis of the region, have come true.
I don’t think the United States can really win in Iraq, though it also cannot lose. What I mean by this is that the U.S. effort, most recently the Surge, has improved the situation within Iraq, a state of affairs that many see as a victory. Yet all U.S. forces can do is to create a situation of relative calm after which the Iraqi political system and military capability will decide what happens next. The United States can only create suitable conditions for this—and it has—but how is the turnover to take place? If U.S. troops cannot be withdrawn or even significantly reduced, what does this tell us?
And there is also another question about who will ultimately reap the benefits of victory within Iraq. Does the added aspect of heightened Iranian influence mean the whole policy was a mistake? The internal situation is difficult, not only in terms of Sunni-Shia divisions but also due to internal Shia splits, the strength of Islamist sentiments, the ability of Iran and Arab neighbors to disrupt the society, and many more.
What of the regional situation? The war in Iraq has had close to zero effect on the Arab-Israeli conflict, as the removal of Iraq as a factor is in part balanced by the increase of Islamist power, though this might well have happened any way. And it probably did not have any meaningful effect either on Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, the next big issue in Gulf security.
My prediction at the time was that the attack, if successfully carried out, would lead Arab governments to see the United States as a more dangerous enemy—and hence one not to be trifled with—and a more serious security asset. If one looks at public opinion polls, it would seem the United States is more unpopular in the Arabic-speaking world. But popularity is not the point. It makes us feel better or worse but is simply not the way Middle East politics work where it counts. And regarding what counts, I am not sure one can say that these events have materially worsened U.S. relations with Arab regimes at all. The ultimate result will depend on whether American intervention seems successful and if the United States is seen as steadfast.
Finally, consider the tremendous irony of the situation and U.S. policy: the United States is supporting an Iraqi government whose number-two ally is Iran while fighting proxies of its own allies, the Sunni countries who oppose an expansion of Iranian influence!
There were no easy answers in 2003; there are none now.
Posted on: Friday, March 21, 2008 - 16:44