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: Nation (4-10-08)
Ten years ago, Barack Obama went to a lecture by Edward Said, the prominent Palestinian intellectual. Should that be page one news now? The LA Times thinks so – they ran a story on their front page on Thursday on the event, headlined "Campaign '08: Allies of Palestinians see a friend on Obama."
Obama's attendance at that speech is news today, of course, because of the Jewish vote. The Times made that clear when it quoted Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who expressed "concern" about Obama's "presence at an Arab American event with a Said."
Said, who was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University before his death in 2003, is identified by Times reporter Peter Wallsten as "a leading intellectual in the Palestinian movement." It would be more accurate to call him "a Palestinian and a leading American intellectual." The author of more than a dozen books, his 1978 book "Orientalism" became the founding work of the new field of cultural studies, and is now assigned at hundreds of colleges and universities and has been translated into more than 30 languages.
Said also published political essays in The Nation and elsewhere. He was a fierce critic of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, but also an outspoken secularist who opposed both the doctrine and the tactics of Hamas. In his later years he was also a critic Yasser Arafat's leadership of the PLO.
And what did Edward Said say in that speech ten years ago that Barack Obama heard? He "called for a nonviolent campaign" – note "nonviolent" – against Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
That this would be considered page one news today is a sign of just how low American politics – and political reporting – has fallen.
And there's more: Edward Said was not the only Palestinian intellectual Obama had contact with in Chicago! He was friends with Rashid Khalidi, a distinguished professor at the University of Chicago. Khalidi and his wife held a fundraiser for Obama in 2000 when he ran for the House; when Khalidi left Chicago for a chair at Columbia University in 2003, the Obamas went to his going-away party.
Here reporter Peter Wallsten scored a journalistic coup of sorts: he got hold of a videotape of the going-away party. On the tape he found "a young Palestinian American [who] recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians."
And Obama was at the party where the poem was read! -- page one news for the LA Times.
Who exactly is Rashid Khalidi? Small world: he now holds the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University, and he's the author of The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. The Times piece calls him "highly visible" – that can't be good. It does report that "he is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a ‘war crime' and criticized the conduct of Hamas." That, however, is buried in the story in paragraph 30.
Times reporter Wallsten called Rashid Khalidi, and found out he had been "out of touch" with Obama "in recent years." Khalidi "added that he strongly disagrees with Obama's current views on Israel, and often disagreed with him during their talks over the years." (Obama says he is a "stalwart" supporter of Israel and its security needs, and opposes any US dialogue with Hamas.)
Khalidi added that, because of Obama's "family ties to Kenya and Indonesia, he would be more understanding of the Palestinian experience than typical American politicians."
A Palestinian says Obama "would be more understanding": here's another story for page one.
Posted on: Thursday, April 10, 2008 - 18:15
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (4-10-08)
Let's start with a few simple propositions.
First, the farther away you are from the ground, the clearer things are likely to look, the more god-like you are likely to feel, the less human those you attack are likely to be to you. How much more so, of course, if you, the"pilot," are actually sitting at a consol at an air base near Las Vegas, identifying a"suspect" thousands of miles away via video monitor,"following" that suspect into a house, and then letting loose a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone cruising somewhere over Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, or the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Second, however"precise" your weaponry, however"surgical" your strike, however impressive the grainy snuff-film images you can put on television, war from the air is, and will remain, a most imprecise and destructive form of battle.
Third, in human terms, distance does not enhance accuracy. The farther away you are from a target, the more likely it is that you will have to guess who or what it is, based on spotty, difficult to interpret or bad information, not to speak of outright misinformation; whatever the theoretical accuracy of your weaponry, you are far more likely to miscalculate, make mistakes, mistarget, or target the misbegotten from the air.
Fourth, if you are conducting war this way and you are doing so in heavily populated urban neighborhoods, as is now the case almost every day in Iraq, then civilians will predictably die"by mistake" almost every day: the child who happens to be on the street but just beyond camera range; the"terrorist suspect" or insurgent who looks, at a distance, like he's planting a roadside bomb, but is just scavenging; the neighbors who happen to be sitting down to dinner in the apartment or house next to the one you decide to hit.
Fifth, since World War II, air power has been the American way of war.
Sixth, since November 2001, the Bush administration has increasingly relied on air power in its Global War on Terror to"take out" the enemy, which has meant regular air strikes in cities and villages, and the no less regular, if largely unrecorded, deaths of civilians.
Seventh, in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq (as well as in the tribal areas along the Pakistani border), the use of air power has been"surging." You can essentially no longer read an account of a skirmish or battle in one of Iraq's cities in which air power is not called in. This means (see propositions 1-4) a war of constant"mistakes," and of regularly mentioned"investigations" into the deaths of"militants" and"insurgents" who, on the ground, seem to morph into children, women, and elderly men being pulled from the rubble.
Eighth, force creates counterforce. The application of force, especially from the air, is a reliable engine for the creation of enemies. It is a force multiplier (and not just for U.S. forces either). Every time an air strike is called in anywhere on the planet, anyone who orders it should automatically assume that left in its wake will be grieving, angry husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, relatives, friends -- people vowing revenge, a pool of potential candidates filled with the anger of genuine injustice. From the point of view of your actual enemies, you can't bomb, missile, and strafe often enough, because when you do so, you are more or less guaranteed to create their newest recruits.
Ninth, U.S. air power has, in the last six and a half years, been an effective force in a war for terror, not against it.
What does this mean in practice? It means something simple and relentless; it means dead people you might not have chosen to kill, but that you are responsible for killing nonetheless -- and even if you don't know that, or are unwilling to acknowledge it, others do know and will draw the logical conclusions.
What does this mean in practice? Consider just a typical collection of some of the small reports on air strikes in Iraq that have slipped into our world, barely noticed, in recent days:
Six U.S.-allied Sunni fighters from the"Awakening" movement were reportedly killed in strikes by an AH-64 Apache helicopter on two checkpoints in the city of Samarra on March 22. ("The U.S. military denied the checkpoint it attacked… was manned by friendly members of the so-called awakening councils and said those killed were behaving suspiciously in an area recently struck by a roadside bomb… It… said the incident was under investigation… AP Television News footage of the aftermath showed awakening council members loading bodies into a pickup.")
Fifteen people in a single family were reportedly killed by U.S. helicopters in the city of Baquba in northern Iraq on March 23rd. ("The US military forces were not available to comment on the reports…")
In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, five civilians, including a judge, Munaf Mehdi, were reportedly killed and ten wounded from strikes by"fixed-wing aircraft" in a"battle with suspected al-Qaeda Sunni Arab militants" on March 26. ("Preliminary assessment," according to the U.S. military,"indicates that despite coalition forces' efforts to protect them, several civilians were injured or killed during the ensuing gunbattle.")
According to the Iraqi police, a U.S. plane strafed a house in the southern city of Basra, killing eight civilians, including two women and a child on March 29th.
According to Iraqi police sources, five people, including four policemen were killed and three wounded when U.S. helicopters struck the city of Hilla in southern Iraq. According to another report, two police cars were also destroyed and an ambulance fired upon.
A U.S. F/A-18 carried out a"precision strike" against a house in Basra, reportedly killing at least three civilians, two men and an elderly woman, while burying a father, mother, and young boy in the rubble on April 3rd. ("'Coalition forces are unaware of any civilians killed in the strike but are currently looking into the matter,' the military said… Associated Press Television News showed cranes and rescue workers searching for survivors in the concrete rubble from the two-story house that was leveled in the Shiite militia stronghold of Qibla.")
In most of these cases, the facts remain in dispute (if anyone, other than the U.S. military, even cares to dispute them); the numbers of dead may, in the end, prove inaccurate; and the equivalent of he says/she says is unlikely to be settled because, most of the time, no reporter will follow up or investigate. Such cases generally follow a pattern: The U.S. military issues a brief battle description in which so many militants/insurgents/terrorists have been taken out from the air; local officials or witnesses claim that the dead were, in part or whole, ordinary citizens; the U.S. military offers a denial that civilians were killed; if the story doesn't die, the military announces that an investigation is underway, which no one generally ever hears about again. Only on rare occasions, in our world, do such incidents actually rise to the level of real news that anyone attends to.
There may be an Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website and an Iraq Body Count website, but there is no Afghan version of the same, nor is there a global body count (www.gbc.com) to consult on such War on Terror civilian deaths from the air. Usually, when such events recur, there aren't even names to put with the dead bodies and the reports themselves drop almost instantaneously beneath the waves (of news) without ever really catching our attention. Even if you believe that ours is the only world that really matters, that we are the only people whose lives have real value, that doesn't mean such deaths won't matter to you in the long run.
After all, what we don't know, or don't care to know, others care greatly about. Who forgets when a loved one is suddenly killed in such a manner? Even if we aren't counting bodies in the air-war subsection of the President's Global War on Terror, others are. Those whom we think of, if at all, as" collateral damage" know just what's happened to them and to their neighbors. And they have undoubtedly drawn the obvious conclusions.
Our"Strike Weapons" and Theirs
Here's the sorry reality: Such occurances in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the"arc" of territory that the Bush administration has, in a mere few years, helped set aflame are the norm. Our"mistakes," that is, are legion and, in the process of making them, our planes, drones, and helicopters have killed villagers by the score, attacked a convoy of friendly Afghan"elders," and blown away wedding parties. For us,"incidents" like these pass by in an instant, but not for those who are on the receiving end.
The attacks of 9/11 are usually not placed in such a context. We consider ourselves special, even unique, for having experienced them. But think of them another way: One day, out of the blue, death arrives from the air. It arrives in a moment of ultimate terror. It kills innocent civilians who were simply living their lives.
This happened to us once in a manner so spectacular, so devastating as to make global headlines. But small-scale versions of this happen regularly to people in that"arc of instability" -- and, if there were to be a global body count organization for such events, it would long ago have toted up a death toll that reached past that of September 11, 2001.
Let's remember that, after 9/11, Americans, from the President on down, spent months, if not years in mourning, performing rites of remembrance, and swearing revenge against those who had done this to us. Do we not imagine that others, even when the spotlight isn't on them, react similarly? Do we not think that they, too, are capable of swearing revenge and acting accordingly?
The above list of incidents covers just a couple of weeks in one embattled country -- and just the moments that made it into minor news reports that I happened to stumble across. But if you read reports from Iraq carefully these days, few describing U.S. military operations in that country seem to lack at least a sentence or two on air operations -- on what is really a little noticed"air surge" over that country's cities and especially the heavily populated slum"suburb" of eastern Baghdad, Sadr City (once known as Saddam City) largely controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. With perhaps two and a half million inhabitants, if it were a separate city, it would be the country's second largest.
Here, for instance, are a few lines from a recent Los Angeles Timespiece by Tina Susman on escalating fighting in Baghdad:"American helicopters fired at least four Hellfire missiles and an Air Force jet dropped a bomb on a suspected militia target… A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Steven Stover, rejected Iraqi allegations that U.S. airstrikes and gunfire have killed mainly civilians. 'There might be some civilians that are getting caught, but for the most part, we're killing the bad guys.' 'We're very precise,' he said, adding that many airstrikes had been called off when it was not possible to get a 'clean hit' that would avoid hitting noncombatants." Or this from Sameer N. Yacoub of the Associated Press:"The U.S. military said one of its drones launched a Hellfire missile during the night at two gunmen shooting at government forces in a different part of Sadr City." Or this:"Three US airstrikes in northeastern Baghdad have killed 12 suspected gunmen and wounded 15 civilians, Iraqi police and US military say."
Each of these came out while this piece was being written, as did this: According to the AP, air strikes in a remote province of Afghanistan aimed at a warlord allied with the Taliban may have killed numerous civilians. ("Other provincial leaders said many civilians were killed in the hours-long clash, which included airstrikes in the remote villages of Shok and Kendal… U.S. officials and the Afghan Defense Ministry have denied that any civilians were killed.")
Whatever happened in these latest air attacks, the deaths of civilians are not some sideline result of the War on Terror; they lie at its heart. If your care is safety -- a subject brought up repeatedly by Senators who wanted to know from U.S. commander General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker this week whether the surge had made"us" safer -- then, the answer is: This does not make you safer.
And yet, don't expect this counterproductive way of war to end any time soon. After all, the Air Force already has underway its "2018 bomber," due for delivery the same year that, according to the chief American trainer of Iraqi forces, Lt. Gen. James Dubic, the Iraqi army will theoretically be able to guard the country's frontiers effectively. And don't forget the 2018 bomber's successor,"a true ‘next generation' long-range strike weapon" that"may be a traditional bomber or an exotic 'system of systems,' with features such as hypersonic speed." Maybe by then, the Iraqis will actually be successfully defending their borders.
Until then, think of the U.S. air war for terror as a Catch 2,200 -- every application of force from the air resulting in the creation of a counterforce on the ground, another kind of"strike weapon" for the future, while those collateral bodies pile ever higher. Perhaps, by 2018 or 2035, worldbodycount.com will be operative.
[Note:The invaluable website Antiwar.com was especially invaluable this time around when it came to tracking news accounts of recent U.S. air attacks. Please note, though, that the dates given in the piece for the attacks are approximate. All I had were the datelines on news stories, which may not reflect the actual day of each attack.]
Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Thursday, April 10, 2008 - 11:46
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (4-9-08)
Gen. Petraeus is clearly convinced that Iraq needs US troops to shore up the government and security. He has done the most responsible job yet seen by an American official in Iraq in trying to end the carnage. He has made bazaars no drive zones to stop the car bombings. He has surrounded city districts with blast walls to keep out insurgents. He has reached out to the Sunnis (though alas the Shiite government has not). He has done what he could, but it hasn't been enough. There really is little sign of political reconciliation.
Al-Maliki started out with a national unity government. He had Sunnis in his cabinet. He had Sadrists in his cabinet. Islamic Virtue Party. Iraqi National List. All gone. His government is more fractured and less representative than before the surge began!
What if the US military presence is juvenilizing the Iraqis and prolonging the civil war? Over 900 Iraqis were killed in political violence in March, the highest number since September.
Some of the March death toll was from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's abrupt attack on the Sadr neighborhoods of Basra, which was repulsed. But surely al-Maliki rejected negotiations and attacked frontally because he knew that if he got into trouble he could call down US close air support. If the US were not in Iraq, might al-Maliki not have dickered instead?
Might it not be the same between al-Maliki and the Sunnis? Al-Maliki objected vehemently to the US arming the Sunni Awakening Councils. He declines to incorporate them into the Iraqi security forces in any numbers. But his standoffishness comes from knowledge that if the Sunnis give him too much trouble, he can have his American friends bomb them.
If we make an analogy to Lebanon, we can see that a foreign military occupation never resolved Lebanon's problems. Kissinger greenlighted a Syrian/ Arab League force for Lebanon in 1976. Although the Syrians invaded and kept tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, they either did not want to or could not end the Lebanese civil war, which sputtered on.
The Israeli attempt in 1982 to install a Phalangist strongman failed. The US Marines tried to come in to do peace-keeping after the Israeli invasion, and they faced a still-sullen population, and got hit by Islamic Amal.
The Syrians could not help but play one Lebanese faction off against another.
Only in 1989, after 14 years of fruitless fighting, did the Lebanese agree to end the war. The big clan and sect leaders negotiated an end to the war. Some had been in or associated with the militias that had fought the civil war.
What if Iraq has been lebanonized, but not in the sense that Ambassador Crocker alleged, of heavy Iranian influence? (And by the way, I was in south Lebanon in December, and the influence of Iran strikes me as over-stated in the US. The UN, the EU and other funding sources are also important).
What if the US is playing the Syrians here, and the Iraqis the Lebanese?
In this analogy, the war is not ended by foreign occupation troops. If anything, the Syrian policies just keep the pot boiling.
It is ended by a conference at the resort town of Taef in Saudi Arabia among the big Lebanese politicians, who make key compromises with one another and begin practically disbanding militias.
Maybe the Iraqis need to be left on their own militarily, and maybe what they need is a big conference at Taef.
Maybe the US in Iraq is not the little boy with his finger in the dike. Maybe we are workers with jackhammers instructed to make the hole in the dyke much more huge.
Just something to think about.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 - 13:19
SOURCE: Guardian (blog) (4-9-08)
In the first few days after the end of the "shock and awe" campaign, from April 10-12 2003, Iraq's main museums, libraries and archives were looted and extensively damaged by fire. A Bradley tank and a number of US troops were in the area. At one point a curator from the Iraq Museum staff walked over and asked for assistance but was told by the tank commander (who to give him credit, actually radioed his superiors to request permission) that no orders had been given to help.
At the time, Donald Rumsfeld appeared on our television screens in the US and declared these events a positive sign of the liberation of an oppressed people, "stuff happens" he said.
Those of us who opposed the war from the start, and who implied that the US bore some responsibility for its negligence were dismissed as anti-American radicals even in the mainstream press. But by 2007, Barbara Bodine, the US ambassador at the time, revealed to Charles Ferguson in his documentary film No End in Sight that direct orders had come from Washington stating no one was to interfere with the looting.
The events of that April are still lamented everywhere as the unfortunate collateral damage of war, another consequence of the occupation that was not foreseen, like so many other aspects of the occupation, due to the lack of foresight of the Bush administration. But the looting spree in the museums and libraries was just the tip of the iceberg of a catastrophic destruction of historical treasures that was to come in the following five years, and it was not simply the result of poor planning or the inadvertent damage of war.
Even if the original looting of the museums and libraries could not have been avoided, or was not foreseen (an excuse that I personally find rather weak given the fact that numerous archaeologists and other scholars had warned both US and UK governments against exactly such as scenario months before the war), there are areas of cultural destruction that were entirely avoidable and sometimes pre-planned.
First, there was the Pentagon's strategic decision to use the main cultural heritage sites of the country as military bases. These sites include Ur, the legendary birthplace of Abraham; Babylon, the famed capital of Mesopotamian antiquity; and Samarra, the Abbasid Islamic imperial city. The digging, bulldozing, filling of sand bags and blast-barricade containers, the building of barracks and digging of trenches into the ancient sites; all this has destroyed thousands of years of archaeological material, stratigraphy and historical data. Walls and standing structures have collapsed as a result of shootings, bombings and helicopter landings.
At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to remind readers that such activities are against both Iraqi cultural heritage law and against international laws of war and occupation. In other words, like human rights abuses, the destruction of a people's cultural heritage and history has elsewhere been regarded as a war crime. To be precise, similar to the case of torture, international law has regarded such activities as war crimes when people or states other than the US have been responsible for them.
Imagine, if you will, that Stonehenge was taken over as a military barracks that housed thousands of troops and required the digging of the earth in order to provide plumbing and sewage in the middle of the ancient site itself, while trenches were dug around the megaliths and perhaps some of the smaller monoliths were relocated, and used as blast walls to protect the troops at the checkpoint entries to the base. When leading archaeologists came to point out the damage, they were asked: "Are you suggesting that we risk the lives of our troops?" This is the situation today at some of the most important cultural sites of Iraq.
At other locations we have a second type of massive but preventable destruction. This is the ongoing looting of countless Mesopotamian archaeological sites, looting that continues because the state board of antiquities and heritage has little money or equipment for site guards like those in other countries rich in antiquities such as Egypt, Italy, Turkey or Greece, and because the US and UK governments have had little interest in including such site protection in the multi-trillion dollar budget of the occupation. Despite the noble pledges of commitment to the rescue of cultural heritage and rebuilding of the museum and libraries that were made in 2003, the reality is similar to that of the situation with electricity and water. Almost nothing has been done. The Iraqi government is no better. It has shown a remarkable lack of interest in preserving historical sites, whether they are of the pre-Islamic or Islamic eras. More recently, the Maliki government has actually cut what little money had been allocated for these sites. Worse yet, last summer Iraqi troops marched into the National Library and physically assaulted librarians and other staff.
At the time when the first news of the Iraq Museum looting emerged, there were also allegations made in the western press and media that the curatorial staff had been responsible. These charges were never substantiated, although people's lives and reputations were seriously damaged as a result. In the de-Ba'athification plan of Paul Bremer, qualified curators, archaeologists and professors were removed from their positions. In the following five years, many more scholars left the country, forced into exile because of direct threats to their lives; others were not so fortunate and have just become part of the collateral damage of war.
So on this fifth anniversary of the looting I will repeat what I wrote in April 2003. The destruction of history, which has become a prominent aspect of this violent occupation, is not simply the unfortunate damage of some art objects.
As in other wars at other times and places, the destruction of monuments and historical archives works to erase the historical landscape and the realms of memory around which people define their collective identities. The fact that people's relations to monuments, history and landscape are always and everywhere constructed does not make cultural destruction any more ethical or legal. It is precisely through such destruction that empires have usually re-mapped space.
The continuing destruction of historical sites in Iraq must be addressed more seriously as one of the distinctive aspects of the current occupation of Iraq. History and archaeology are never untainted by politics. If ethnic groups or nations construct identities through monuments and historical narratives, the opposite is also true. In the words of George Orwell, "who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past".
Posted on: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 - 12:16
SOURCE: National Review Online (4-7-08)
The hyper-sophisticates of the American foreign-policy and intellectual establishment direct their invective at the whole notion of winning or losing. What’s the definition of winning? If we choose to withdraw from an ill-conceived and badly executed war, that’s not really losing, is it? We can and should find ways to use diplomacy rather than military power to handle the consequences of any so-called defeat. Less-sophisticated antiwar leaders on both sides will ask simply why the U.S. should continue to spend its blood and treasure to fight in “a far-off land of which we know little,” as Neville Chamberlain famously said in defense of his abandonment of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. We have, after all, more pressing problems at home to which the Iraq war is only contributing. As is often the case, there is a level between over-thinking and under-thinking a problem that is actually thinking. Yes, in the world as it is, whatever line we sell ourselves, there really is victory and there really is defeat, the two are different, and their effects on the future diverge profoundly. And yes, the reason we must continue to spend money and the lives of the very best Americans in that far-off land is that the interests of every American are actually at stake.
We will consider below just how much of a diversion of resources away from more desirable domestic priorities the Iraq war actually is, but the more important point is simply this: Unless the advocates of defeat can show, as they have not yet done, that the consequences of losing are very likely to be small not simply the day after the last American leaves Iraq, but over the next five, ten, and 50 years, then what they are really selling is short-term relief in exchange for long-term pain. As drug addicts can attest, this kind of instant-gratification temptation is very seductive — it’s what keeps drug dealers in business despite the terrible damage their products do to their customers. “Just end the pain now and deal with the future when it gets here” is as bad a strategy for a great nation as it is for a teenager.
The antiwar party has continually adapted its arguments, but not its conclusions, to the changing circumstances on the ground. At the end of 2006, the argument was that Iraq was in full-scale sectarian civil war, that no conceivable additional American forces could reduce the violence, that the whole notion of having American troops try to do so was foolish, and that we should instead slash our forces dramatically and turn to diplomacy with Iraq’s neighbors. When the surge began, the antiwar party crowed loud and long that success was impossible, rising violence inevitable, and the whole business doomed to failure. When Coalition operations brought the violence under control, the antiwar party admitted that security had improved but insisted that the political progress the surge was supposed to enable had not occurred and would not occur. Additional arguments popped up to explain that the fall in violence had nothing to do with the surge anyway — it resulted from the Anbar Awakening, which had preceded the surge; or, alternatively, from the fact that American troops were simply buying and arming former Sunni insurgents; and from Moqtada al Sadr’s ceasefire that he could lift at any moment, plunging Iraq right back into complete chaos. The antiwar party rather gleefully seized upon recent Iraqi Security Forces operations against Sadr’s militia and other illegal gangs as proof of this — the general glee with which the antiwar party has greeted any setback in Iraq is extremely distasteful and unseemly, whatever domestic political benefits they believe they will receive from those setbacks. Even if one believes that defeat is inevitable and withdrawal necessary, no American should take pleasure in the prospect of that defeat. But the key talking points now seem to be two: that the war costs too much, and that it is already inevitably lost whatever temporary progress the surge may have achieved. What follows is an exploration of these and a few other key antiwar talking points....
[This article extends over another 5 website pages.]
Posted on: Tuesday, April 8, 2008 - 21:00
SOURCE: Salon (4-7-08)
The continuing contest for the Democratic presidential nomination has become a frenzy of debates and proclamations about democracy. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has been particularly vociferous in claiming that its candidate stands for a transformative, participatory new politics. It has vaunted Obama's narrow lead in the overall popular vote in the primaries to date, as well as in the count of elected delegates, as the definitive will of the party's rank and file. If, while heeding the party's rules, the Democratic superdelegates overturn those majorities, Obama's supporters claim, they will have displayed a cynical contempt for democracy that would tear the party apart.
These arguments might be compelling if Obama's leads were not so reliant on certain eccentricities in the current Democratic nominating process, as well as on some blatantly anti-democratic maneuvers by the Obama campaign. Obama's advantage hinges on a system that, whatever the actual intentions behind it, seems custom-made to hobble Democratic chances in the fall. It depends on ignoring one of the central principles of American electoral politics, one that will be operative on a state-by-state basis this November, which is that the winner takes all. If the Democrats ran their nominating process the way we run our general elections, Sen. Hillary Clinton would have a commanding lead in the delegate count, one that will only grow more commanding after the next round of primaries, and all questions about which of the two Democratic contenders is more electable would be moot.
Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats in primary states choose their nominee on the basis of a convoluted system of proportional distribution of delegates that varies from state to state and that obtains in neither congressional nor presidential elections. It is this eccentric system that has given Obama his lead in the delegate count. If the Democrats heeded the "winner takes all" democracy that prevails in American politics, and that determines the president, Clinton would be comfortably in front. In a popular-vote winner-take-all system, Clinton would now have 1,743 pledged delegates to Obama's 1,257. If she splits the 10 remaining contests with Obama, as seems plausible, with Clinton taking Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Puerto Rico, and Obama winning North Carolina, South Dakota, Montana, Oregon and Guam, she'd pick up another 364 pledged delegates. She'd have 2,107 before a single superdelegate was wooed. You need 2,024 to be the Democratic nominee. Game over. No more blogospheric ranting about Clinton "stealing" the nomination by kidnapping superdelegates or cutting deals at a brokered convention.
But Clinton does not now have 1,743 delegates. According to CNN estimates, Clinton has about 1,242 pledged delegates to Obama's 1,413. Most of that total is based on the peculiar way that delegates are apportioned in 2008. Some of it is because Obama's backers are using the same kind of tactics as George Bush's camp used in Florida in 2000.
Crucially, Team Obama doesn't want to count the votes of Michigan and Florida. (And let's note that in a winner-take-all system, Clinton would still be leading in delegates, 1,430 to 1,257, even without Michigan and Florida.) Under the existing system, Obama's current lead in the popular vote would nearly vanish if the results from Michigan and Florida were included in the total, and his lead in pledged delegates would melt almost to nothing. The difference in the popular vote would fall to 94,005 out of nearly 27 million cast thus far -- a difference of a mere four-tenths of 1 percentage point -- and the difference in delegates would plummet to about 30, out of the 2,024 needed to win. Add those states' votes to the totals, and take a sober look at Clinton's popular-vote victories in virtually all other large states, and the electoral dynamic changes. She begins to look like the almost certain nominee....
Posted on: Monday, April 7, 2008 - 15:14
SOURCE: http://thegspot.typepad.com/blog (3-27-08)
In a piece in the current New Republic, historian (and Nixon scholar) David Greenberg takes exception to the notion that Hillary Clinton is "Nixonian":
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 ... Unlike Tricky Dick, Hillary Clinton hasn't tapped her rival's phones or broken into his psychiatrist's office. She hasn't stolen his debate briefing book or convened a mob of rioters to shut down a vote count. She hasn't used the machinery of impeachment for partisan gain. It's been just words.
He's right, of course -- Hillary's run a rough, sometimes nasty campaign, but anyone who smears her as "Nixonian" needs to go back to the history books. Richard Nixon, of course, broke the law, violated the Constitution, and subverted the democratic process. Hillary has never done anything anywhere near as corrupt.
That said, I actually think that Hillary does resemble Richard Nixon in some important respects -- only not in the ways you might think. Hillary actually shares many of Ole Tricky Dick's positive qualities (yes, he did have a few).
Like Nixon, she's by no means a natural politician, but has gotten very far on
the strength of her formidable intellect and her grinding work habits (in law
school, they called Nixon "old Iron Butt" because of similar traits).
Also like Nixon, her political strength to a large degree rests on
being hated by all the right people. Nixon was, and Hillary is, an
outsider who was never quite accepted by the DC establishment
(remember Broder's famous words on the Clintons (I'm quoting from
memory here so I may have mixed it up): "it's not their place"), and
was deeply loathed by the press. Yet both of them rather brilliantly
turned those weaknesses into strengths. Red-baiting aside, Nixon was
never super-conservative, and Hillary, in spite of her image, is not
all that liberal. Yet conservatives loved Tricky Dick, and liberals
love Hillary, because of the shellacking each has taken from (those
who are perceived to be) their ideological opposites.
Each of them rode to power on the strength of a populist,
everyman/everywoman image, and each had a gift for getting their
intensely identify with them. There's the Nixon of the Checkers speech,
for example, the all-American middle-class striver crucified
by nasty elites and those meanies in the press. Hillary, similarly, has
an everywoman image: a striver, a hard-working woman trying to make it
in a man's world where she can't catch a break. All that, plus
a hubby with a roving eye -- what modern woman couldn't relate?
Finally, as much as Nixon bitched endlessly about his enemies in the press, he brilliantly controlled them. And Hillary, too, has some pretty mad skillz in the media manipulation department.
Okay, now that I've said some nice things about Hillary, I will add that at this point I don't think she is doing either herself or her party any favors by remaining in the race. And though I trust things will work themselves out and predictions of a bitterly divided party and disaster in November are overblown, I do wish she 'd leave the race after Pennsylvania -- or at least cut out the negative campaigning from here on in.
Posted on: Friday, April 4, 2008 - 23:38
SOURCE: American Thinker (3-30-08)
With McCain you get the real thing while with Obama you may get an audacity of rhetoric based on nothing but political expediency and imagined racial grievances. Recent polls reveal that the American people are beginning to get it and that scares not only McCain's Democrat opponents but also European leftists, especially following his successful stops in Britain and France.
These European McCain foes recognize the inherent weakness of the main ammunition their American counter parts have been using, his age. Late night comedians' tasteless jokes aside, in an era where 60 is the new 40 and 70 the new 50, too many Americans can look at the vitality of their own 72 year old parents, aunts and uncles or grandparents, as well as McCain's own performance on the campaign trail, and recognize the absurdity of the feebleness charge.
It is this context that we should read the Financial Times column written by Cambridge historian and New American Foundation senior fellow, Anatol Lieven entitled: Why we should fear a McCain presidency? His intriguing answer which appears in bold print in the paper edition is: "Some of the worst 20th century catastrophes were caused by brave men with passionate sense of national mission."
Really? I was curious. Who could he mean? I could not think of an example. Apparently, neither could he. The closest he came to naming names is comparing McCain to Andrew Jackson, a highly regarded 19th century Democrat president and not a particularly scary one. He does tell us that so extreme is the McCain presidency going to be that it will make leftists look back with nostalgia at George W. Bush....
World War II hero and two term president Dwight Eisenhower was another military man with a lightning temper. In her book First Mothers, Bonnie Angelo describes his mother's failure to teach him temper control. "From childhood those lightning flashes were as much a part of Ike as the contagious smile," she writes.
Biographer Carlo D'este describes instances when "he totally lost his self-control -- whether beating an apple tree with his fists as a child, banging his head against a wall when playing poor tennis, or punching his fist through the wall of a cafe." White House seamstress Lillian Rogers Parks tells how his wife Mamie lived in constant fear of his outbursts. Angelo reports that presidential aides became most familiar with a vein in his forehead which would noticeably stand out during press conference he found annoying as signaling, "Caution: high voltage temper."
White house advisor Merlo Pusey wrote: "Sometimes his anger is aroused and it may set off a geyser of hot words. The President's emotions are close to the surface and his irritations are registered on his face almost as readily as his general good humor."
That said, Eisenhower did help win World War II but did not start World War III. He, merely, ended the Korean War and presided over 8 years of relative peace and prosperity. Not a bad record for a brave honorable, if temperamental, warrior. If temperamental McCain does as well we should all be very happy....
Posted on: Friday, April 4, 2008 - 19:13
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (3-28-08)
To paraphrase Talleyrand, the invention and recognition of a “state” called Kosovo by the United States and Brussels in February was worse than gross ignorance, it was a mistake. Every Western political delusion since the end of the Cold War was at the root of the disaster, and, to make matters worse, those delusions have been shared by otherwise unlikely partners: the Clinton administration and George Bush, the usually anti-American Europeans, the “human rights” establishment and “progressive” media here and in Europe. A brief analysis makes it clear that there is and should not be a state named “Kosovo.”
- The initial motivation for NATO’s (read America’s) 1999 intervention in Kosovo, stopping “genocide,” was based on false premises and images, largely created by CNN and similar media outlets, and vocally supported by the “human rights” chorus led by Amnesty International and the like. There was no genocide in any serious definition. There was a massive, disproportionate Serbian military response to the sporadic and often indiscriminate attacks against authorities and civilians by a ragtag combination of Leninists, Maoists, thugs, drug runners and misguided members of the Albanian diaspora, going under the grand name of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). It took a combination of overexcited CNN sympathizers of the Albanian secessionist cause, a mass exodus of scared Albanians, and a skilled Albanian lobby in Washington to convince a human rights obsessed Clinton administration that a new Auschwitz was in the making.
- Most Europeans at the time, even more influenced by their human rights lobbies and put off by the Serbs’ old-fashioned use of religious and historic arguments for their claim on Kosovo, supported the military intervention—mostly by holding our coat.
Kosovo, a bit larger than Delaware but, with 2.4 million people (in 2001), three times the population, has proclaimed its statehood, the newest and so far the latest “country” created on the ruins of the former Yugoslavia. Other than the stubborn support of the majority Albanians, it has none of the basic necessary qualifications of statehood—functioning institutions, human or natural resources, ethnic and historic arguments.
Nonetheless, Washington and most European countries are prepared to take the bet that somehow Kosovo will be something else—say, a Luxembourg or Monaco. Is this serious? And if not, as common sense and experience suggest, why the pressure to take the bet, indeed why the decade-long encouragement of such development?
To begin with, as far as Washington is concerned, the blame is clearly bipartisan, with Democrats like Richard Holbrooke being and remaining staunchly and indiscriminately pro-Albanian for more than a decade, and the Bush administration mysteriously following the same misguided path. True enough, some Republican veterans of foreign affairs, such as former Secretary of State and former ambassador to Belgrade Lawrence Eagleburger, do know better and have made their opposition clear, but they remain a minority.
It is very hard, if not impossible, to have much sympathy for the Serbs, now claiming the role of victims in Kosovo after years of overreacting to excessive Albanian demands there; it is even harder to do so now, after an opportunistic Russia decided to support Belgrade’s position and to suddenly become a stalwart defender of “national integrity.” That, after more than a decade of supporting illegal, indeed Mafioso-type secessionist regions of Transnistria in Moldova, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. It is clear that Russia supports Serbia’s hopeless claim to Kosovo out of sheer hypocrisy—and a more general policy of showing the West that Moscow is to be taken seriously again, after its internationally weak presence since the end of the Soviet Union. Simply put, Moscow is right on Kosovo for all the wrong and dishonest reasons—but correct nonetheless. As they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Washington is politically, ideologically and strategically mistaken on Kosovo for all the “right” reasons. The Albanian lobby in the U.S. managed to convince enough members of Congress of their “right” cause ever since the late 1990s, to earn uncritical sympathy for Albanian “victimhood” at Serb hands, to convince them of their alleged “right,” historically unheard of, to independence; so that Washington is now the main engine behind the international bandwagon to recognize Kosovo’s statehood. The Europeans—Spain, Slovakia, Romania, all knowledgeable of or threatened by separatism and reluctant subscribers to a “common” policy of recognition for Kosovo’s independence aside - are ready to be bullied by larger Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The Serbs’ lack of an organized (or large) diaspora in the West and their steady preference for unsavory politicians, like Milosevic, did not help their cause either.
Now that things seem to be decided—in the West as much as in the capital of Pristina, and in a Moscow determined to oppose independence, including at the United Nations—what next? The answers are disturbingly negative.
- Even today, after the sad examples of artificially created and failed postcolonial countries (mostly in Africa), it remains unfashionable to admit that there are unviable states. Nevertheless, if there is a case study of such an unpromising future “state,” Kosovo is the one. Perhaps, with Kosovo being in Europe, the usual obstacle to a serious assessment of political dysfunctionality and economic backwardness elsewhere—the Pavlovian accusation of “racism”—may finally be purged from serious public debate. That would be good news.
- Ethnically, after the massive expulsion of most non-Albanians following the 1999 NATO intervention (which, ironically, was conducted to prevent “ethnic cleansing” of Albanians by Serbs), the population is now 95 percent or more ethnic Albanian. Worse still, the large Macedonian ethnic Albanian areas and the smaller Albanian majority regions of Montenegro and Serbia’s Presevo, Bujanovac and Medveda are all already infiltrated by irredentists from or supported by Kosovo Albanians. It does not require much imagination to see a collapsing Kosovo “state’ seek a diversion in demanding “human rights” for ethnic kin—i.e. encouraging secessionism in those areas.
- Ethnic homogeneity may be helpful, but only when complete, and that is not the case, not with Serbian enclaves around Pristina, the second-largest town, Prizren and, especially in the northern border region of Mitrovica—on the Serbian border and functioning as a de facto province of Serbia, complete with common currency, communication and economic ties. All of this, notwithstanding NATO’s dubious promise of protection for the Serbs outside Mitrovica, amounts to certain trouble, and it came on March 17.
- By itself, Kosovo, always the poorest area, despite massive subsidies from the rest of the former Yugoslavia, is an economic basket case. Its few and now mostly closed mines remain the only possible source of income, other than European and American economic aid. The Trepka mining complex of lignite, lead, zinc, and nickel happens to be of dubious economic value now and, on top of that, is located in the Serbian majority area of Northern Kosovo.
- In theory, of course, the extraordinary Serbian 14th-century monasteries of Peć, Decani and Gracani, with their valuable interior and exterior late-Byzantine frescoes, could be major tourist attractions—for Serbs and the Orthodox, all unlikely visitors to an Albanian Muslim-majority site—not to mention their possible destruction by local Albanians.
- The rest of the would-be state’s revenues come from the diaspora’s remittances and, even more, from the only flourishing “industry”—organized crime. That is mostly centered on international prostitution rings, narcotics (heroin), and smuggling of arms, cigarettes and other items, bring the Kosovars into competition, often deadly, with their Albanian kin and explain the latter’s reluctance to accept Kosovo as a normal part of their country. All these realities should also be seen on the background of Europe’s largest population growth rate by far!
- Kosovo Albanians have consistently demonstrated their allegiance to the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), even though that organization never amounted to anything but a glorified armed mafia, inept and ineffective against the Serbian military prior to 1999, but very good at public relations (at home, in Europe, and in Washington) and nationalist propaganda. The latest elections, in November 2007, in fact brought the KLA and its leader Hashim Thaçi to power in Pristina. Thaçi was a founder of the 1993 People’s Movement of Kosovo (LPK), a Switzerland-based “political party” seeking a greater Albania. A very probably dysfunctional Kosovo state would naturally seek a greater cause—by supporting irredentist causes in neighboring countries, or unification with the mother country, Albania. We have seen that movie before—dysfunctional Somalia still seeking annexation of regions of Ethiopia or, worse still, Chechnya during its de facto independence in 1996–99 seeking an Islamist Northern Caucasus and thus provoking another war.
- In a nutshell, this is the likely future of Kosovo—a resentful, poor and well armed area with a population 90 percent Muslim. And that is the trouble, as we have seen, in part, in neighboring Bosnia and Chechnya—poverty, an international criminal established link, a sense of victimhood (real or imagined) and transnational connections inevitably attract, like moths to a lamp, international jihadis. Of course, we are told, Albanians are pro-American, a rare case in today’s Europe. But that could change. Indeed, Albanians were pro-Ottoman when it fit their interests, pro-Nazis during the Second World War, without being Nazis, Maoists during the Tito years of old Yugoslavia, and so on. Now they are pro-American because the GIs and Secretary Condoleezza Rice seem to offer them more than anybody else—but all that could, indeed will, change once circumstances change. Albanians are no different from anyone else, especially in the Balkans.
- Finally, there is the cost. Many Americans complain about the cost of the Iraq war, but few even mention the cost of the U.S. presence in and aid to Kosovo, an area of no strategic interest, running in the hundreds of millions of dollars since 1999. As for the Europeans, they paid much more and promise more still. NATO, i.e. Europe with some U.S. military presence, pretends to offer protection for the isolated Serb enclaves, for the vocal Albanians against a possible Serb threat, and promises to prevent a likely secession by the Mitrovica Serbs—none with much credibility.
But how about the other side—Serbia, most of its neighbors, and Russia? As mentioned, Moscow is only accidentally, rather than morally or legally, on the realistic side of the Kosovo issue. That is not, as many in the West believe, because of some Orthodox solidarity (Socialist, anti-Catholic Spain and mostly Catholic Slovakia are also opposed to independence for Kosovo), but for practical reasons.
- For the same reason Moscow sells weapons to anti-American Hugo Chávez, protects Iran’s mullahs against Western economic threats, keeps in power Europe’s only open dictator in Belarus, etc.—because it shows muscle. If that has to be done at the UN, so much publicity.
- Because a Moscow-dependent and thus weak Serbia is a useful bridgehead in Europe—just as the Transnistria enclave between Moldova and Ukraine keeps both countries on their toes;
- Third, because legal ambiguity serves Russia’s interests. If Kosovo’s situation remains unclear, manipulation opportunities are rife—just as they are in Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, all areas Moscow controls and/or manipulated for years in order to dominate neighboring former Soviet colonies.
All of this suggests that Kosovo independence is a mistake, that support for it (indeed its creation) by the Europeans and the United States is a greater mistake, and that it should not have been done. But what is the alternative, considering the present reality? Clearly, the Marti Ahtisaari plan of a “supervised sovereignty” is neither horse nor donkey, nor acceptable to anyone. More honest and wiser would be direct support for the unification of Kosovo to Albania—minus the Serb enclave of Mitrovica, and permanent autonomy for historic Serb/Orthodox enclaves around historic monuments. That would give responsibility for Kosovo to an admittedly reluctant Albania—a country interested in becoming a NATO and European member—rather than create a black hole in the central Balkans; it would also create a precedent, to be sure, but a less damaging one. Instead of mini-mafia states, responsibility would be transferred to established ones.
True enough, neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan would be happy with the loss of a South Ossetia or Nagorno-Karabakh, but history and reality should force them to live with it.
On the other hand, Transnistria is “legally” part of an artificial Stalinist creation—“Moldova,” a depressed area of sad, confused people of Romanian ethnicity, with only one major export—people, mostly with Romanian passports. Transnistria never was a legitimate part of the Romanian ethnic or historic area, and Moldova’s claims to it are as self-damaging as they are artificial. As for Abkhazia, it is a Georgian territory occupied by Russia, period, where the issue is foreign occupation, rather than self-determination. Prior to the Russian-supported forced separation and associated ethnic cleansing of Georgians, the local Abkhaz were only 17 percent of the population.
So much for the precedents an independent Kosovo would create, and so much for the worries in Madrid, Bratislava, or Bucharest, if the issue is treated as a general problem rather than as it is now—a balm for the allegedly victimized Albanians.
In addition, and certainly in the long term, one has to consider the “feelings” of relevant peoples (message to Foggy Bottom!) in the Balkans rather than of the Washington lobbyists. The Serbs are, perhaps unique among Europeans, born with a chip on their collective shoulder (just as Albanians are born with a victimhood obsession), but for those who believe centuries of historical experience are worth nothing, it should be recalled that Albanians are unpopular with all their neighbors (Greeks, Macedonians, Serbs, Montenegrins) and some further away—Romanians and Bulgarians. It may not be politically correct but the general opinion of all those is that Albanians are (even more) nationalist and violent—and that in a historically violent and nationalist area.
Seen in this context, the recent violence in Mitrovica should be no surprise. Whether manipulated from Serbia (as is likely) and/or rooted in local sentiments, the fact remains that unless major force is repeatedly applied by the foreign troops—i.e. the Europeans, since the UN, especially without Russian and Chinese support, is unlikely to even remain there for long—the area will secede. Whether the Europeans have the will, or even the means, to use such force is doubtful, especially as that would only offer more opportunities for Russian involvement. At best, an ambiguous situation will develop, with Pristina complaining, Brussels pretending that nothing serious is happening and Serbia treating the area as its own.
Another possible scenario, equally hopeless, is that the Serbian area of Bosnia will use the Kosovo precedent and organize a referendum to join Serbia—especially if, as is probable, the coming parliamentary elections of May 11 in the latter country bring nationalists to power in Belgrade. Then, once again, despite Washington’s claims that Kosovo is a unique case, the options will again be heavy use of force or de facto secession, making Bosnia even less viable than is now. Ultimately, it appears that the Serbs have learned from the Albanian methods: provoke reprisals, claim victimhood and raise the cost of any solution unacceptable to them. What started a decade ago as a policy of emotions based on CNN’s lachrymose images has boomeranged into a smoldering fire in Southeastern Europe.
Posted on: Friday, April 4, 2008 - 19:03
SOURCE: Jamie Glazov at frontpagemag.com (4-4-08)
Fred Siegel: is a contributing editor of City Journal and a professor of history at the Cooper Union for Science and Art.
Jeff Herf, a professor of modern European and German political and intellectual history at the University of Maryland in College Park. His most recent book is The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust (Harvard University Press, 2006). He has been a frequent contributor to The New Republic and was one of the authors of American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto of fall 2006. He is currently writing a history of Nazi propaganda aimed at the Arab world during World War II.
Thomas Cushman, Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College, and the founder and Editor-at-Large of the Journal of Human Rights. He is a Fellow of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University and the editor of A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq (California, 2006).
FP: Fred Siegel, Jeff Herf and Thomas Cushman, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Thomas Cushman, how would you begin a discussion on the Unknown Obama?
Cushman: I should begin with an affirmation that I am impressed with Barack Obama for many reasons. He is charismatic and charming, Harvard trained and astute on many issues, especially constitutional law, which is his area of expertise. On the latter, he has offered many surprising comments, the most interesting one being his declaration the Second Amendment guarantees gun ownership as an individual right, a trend which is on the rise and which counters the liberal orthodoxy on that issue which emerged in the 1960s and has led to what I consider to be unconstitutional regulations on gun ownership. He seems to be representative of a new generation of African-American elites who have put paid to the demagogic excesses of people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who have done severe damage to the Democratic Party by alienating the broad base of moderates (although I shall end my comments by questioning whether this is really the case). A large number of Americans are sincerely disenchanted with the current leadership and policies of the United States, as it should be in a healthy democracy, and Obama serves a very useful function in invigorating and re-enchanting the public sphere.
And I would add further, that the successes of Barack Obama, especially among white voters, is an indication that many Americans do, indeed, feel badly about the African-American experience in the United States, and lacking any real means to effect "reparations", they see casting a vote for him as a way to show that they really have moved beyond the racism of the past and wish to truly show that Americans have changed for the better. The fact that Geraldine Ferraro was released from the Clinton campaign for saying what is so obviously true -- that many people are voting for him precisely because he is an African-American - is regrettable, because it should be stressed in no uncertain terms that his race is a very important variable in the calculus of many voters.
Having opened with what I consider to be the best things about the Senator, though, I want to begin answering the question of "The Unknown Obama" by focusing on some particular points about what is known about him, but which few people have dared to bring up for fear of political correctness. To cut right to the chase, the first issue has to do with the religious status of Obama. In my response, I want to avoid the kind of cheap propaganda tricks that have appeared thus far, such things as the releasing of the photo of Obama dressed in the garb of a Muslim tribal leader, or the tendency of people to refer to the Senator as "Barack Hussein Obama", tactics which try to infer that he is some kind of Islamic "Manchurian candidate."
Now it is entirely clear that Senator Obama is a Christian, and as we now know a member of a congregation with a particularly strident and apoplectic pastor who is given to expressing the kind of anti-American sentiment that gives aid and succor to America's enemies (more on that in a moment). Since the beginning of this campaign, I have many times wanted to raise the question of Obama's religious status in a strictly disinterested, sociological way, but even being of iconoclastic disposition, I have hesitated given the abuse that has been hurled at people who raise the issue. But it is important now to raise it, because we are talking about the presidency of the United States and it is attendant to raise some important questions about how it is that people might interpret the "meaning" of Barack Obama, given his particular biography, which is extremely anomalous in relation that of previous candidates for the presidency, and particularly important given the tension between the United States and the "Islamic world".
The real question of "who one is", whether in a political, religious, or more general sense, is seldom defined solely in terms of who the person says he is. It is certainly objectively true that Barack Obama is not a practicing Muslim. It is certainly the case that he is practicing Christian, and apparently a quite devout one at that. In the United States, we are free to choose our religion, and so there is nothing problematic about his religious status if we consider it in relation to our own society which places great value on the fundamental right to practice the religion of one's choosing. But the question that has nagged me from the very outset -- and it is a provocative and controversial one -- is how Obama's religious status is looked at by the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world. The fact of the matter is that there are about 1 billion Muslims in the world, many of them who are fundamentalists. According to the law of the Koran, if your father is a Muslim, you are considered to be a Muslim, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a Muslim. In fact, if you do not assent to this ascribed religious identity, then in a literalist interpretation you are considered an apostate, the penalty for which is death. So by inference, we can surmise that a good proportion of the Muslim world considers Obama to be a Muslim and for many an apostate as well.
This interpretation has nothing whatsoever to do with Obama's self-professed religion or whether we in the United States consider him to be a Christian. It has to with the fact that for many Muslims, religion is an ascribed identity, so that whatever it is that Obama thinks he is there are a lot of people in the world who live by the rule that religion is ascribed at birth, and that the individual has very little choice in the matter. Islam, in particular, is a religion in which this is a central belief. One of the most powerful theorems in my field, put forward by W.I. Thomas (often called the "Thomas Theorem"), is that" if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences." It doesn't matter so much what you believe yourself to be, but what others believe you to be that is crucially important. Objective renderings of one's self are strongly mediated by subjective meanings over which the "objective self" has very little control.
I myself do not have any indication of the actual empirical sociological data about what Muslims think about Obama's religious status, but it is very likely that if many people in the world who live by the literal word of the Koran, then they will have their own meanings as to "who" (or should I say "what") Barack Obama is that have very little to do with what he says he is, or what we in the US think he is. Now the consequences of this could play out in any number of ways. For many of the world's Muslims, an American President with a Muslim heritage could be seen as a source of pride, an affirmation that people of Muslim background are not all fanatics and fundamentalists, and that even in the much-scorned US, a man of Muslim background can be elected to the highest office in the land. The election of such an impressive man with a Muslim heritage could lead people to look at America in a different light and Obama could be an inspiration for many ordinary Muslims to reject the pernicious road that the Islamists fundamentalists have forced upon them. The most important positive consequence could be that "one of ours" has succeeded in becoming the leader of the nation that our leaders tell us is the "Great Satan." It would create a legitimation crisis of the first order for the Islamists who have hijacked Islam and done it such a great injustice in recent years. Liberal-minded and moderate Muslims could take great succor in having such a role model interacting with Muslim leaders in the world, someone who represented American interests, but also would be seen as symbol of pride. I often imagine this legitimation crisis by considering Osama bin Laden sitting in a cave somewhere asking his advisors, with some consternation and apprehension, "Is his name really Obama?"
On the other hand, it is easy to imagine an alternative scenario of negative consequences based on the the Muslim practice of ascribing religious identity at birth and expecting a lifelong commitment to that religion and its beliefs and practices. It is entirely clear that radical Islam is on the ascendancy in the world today and it is the elites in this movement who have immense power to define all manner of things, including the "meaning" of Barack Obama. Look how successful they have been in defining the US as the source of all evil, of George Bush as the devil incarnate, meanings which find sympathetic audiences among many liberals and leftists in the US and the rest of the world. There is the very real possibility that Obama could be labeled as an apostate, rather than simply an "infidel" outside of the faith such as George W. Bush. Radical Islamist terrorists consider it right and just to kill any American, and we also know that apostates are a particular object of scorn, the opprobrium of which there is no escape. The case of Salman Rushdie is particularly instructive, although The Satanic Verses qualified Rusdhie as a more offensive apostate, and not just “guilty” of the "simple apostasy" of leaving Islam.
Surely, for the extremists, killing any American president would be the hallmark of glory, but killing an apostate would surely be a step even beyond that. If Obama were elected, would the radical Islamists issue a fatwah against him for the crime of defecting from his ascribed status as a Muslim? Would America become even more engorged with evil by virtue of being led by an apostate who serves the interest of America over the interests of the Muslim world? I do think it is important to raise these questions, and I am endeavoring to do it in the most disinterested way by thinking about the "meaning" of Barack Obama in a sociological way. And his "meaning" to the Muslim world is a vitally important issue to raise. Naturally, one would hope that his election, if it were to be the case, would serve to temper and moderate the views of the Muslim word -- that would be the very best consequence. But in a world where Islamic fundamentalism is ascendant, I think it is extremely important to consider also the more negative consequences of what it means to have a president who hundreds of millions of people - rightly or wrongly -- think of in religious terms over which a President Obama, or anyone else, would have little control.
It is troubling, I might add, to consider that candidate Obama has already indicated his willingness to negotiate and barter with some of the more despotic leaders of the Islamic world. This is something which is "known" about Obama. The great unknown is what the consequence of such friendliness toward these leaders might be. In a recent controversy, Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King raised a perfectly valid question, not quite realizing that he was being quite a good sociologist in asking it: "When you think about the option of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States -- I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world?
What does it look like to the world of Islam?" His answer, "terrorists would be dancing in the streets", was infelicitous in the extreme, at least in a world where politicians always have to watch their words. But one must ask: in the upcoming elections, who would the Islamic world prefer to win? It is reasonable to think that it would be the man who wants to surrender Iraq, make peace with and appease dictators who wish harm to the United States, and work within the United Nations and the illiberal blocs who dominate that institution. In my speculations above, I've tried to offer various answers to these questions, with the hope that, provocative as they might seem, people will be willing to discuss them because they are perfectly valid questions. This is especially the case, given the fact that opponents of George W. Bush have spared no energy in constantly declaiming about the negative meanings of the president in the world at large, and in the Muslim world in particular. If we get to ask what George Bush "means" in the world at-large, despite whatever it is he thinks he means, we get to ask the same about Barack Obama.
Since I have focused on religion, it is important also, since the news has just broken, to mention the recent controversy over Barack Obama's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Their close relationship has been known for some time, but it is only recently that the videos of the Reverend Wright declaiming against Hillary Clinton, damning the United States, and blaming 9/11 on America have become known. One wonders why this has taken so long; one would have expected the Clinton machine to have trotted the Reverend out a long time ago. The real controversy here is not so much that Reverend Wright presents as something like a Noam Chomsky on drugs, but Obama's claim that he wasn't present to see these performances and that he did not know about them. Even granting him the shady evasion that he wasn't there, it is impossible to imagine that he could not have known about them. In church, everyone knows what the pastor says, either by direct observation or word-of-mouth.
What is even more troubling is that Obama would appoint the pastor to a high position in his campaign and describe him as his spiritual advisor knowing that he was prone to apoplectic fits of political rage. Obama's (very Christian) condemnation of the sin, but not the sinner, was quite noble as well as tactical manoeuvre, for to condemn the man himself would have completely destroyed his claims to authenticity in his interpersonal relationships. So the issue is less about the "unknown Obama" than the fact of what Obama must have known, but would not and could not address. The best he could do was to champion the good qualities of the pastor, likening him to an uncle who has "lost it" and thereby reasserting the fact that Obama considers this political charlatan still to be like a member of his own family and his spiritual mentor. It's not quite like the situation of Jimmy Carter, who had to tolerate his drunken redneck brother Billy because they happened to share a mother and father. For Obama's association with Reverend Wright was a choice and it says a lot more about the man, his worldview, and his judgment than his charismatic personality and leadership skills seem to imply. The Senator may have figured out how to act like a moderate, how to charm people, and how to appeal to their disenchantment by invoking the slogan of "hope" and "change", but this new "unknown" relationship strips off some of that fine veneer. It is truly troubling that Obama knew about the Reverend Wright and that he was either 1. Too stupid to realize the political damage this fanatic could do to his campaign or 2. He thought we were too stupid to discover that his spiritual advisor is a fanatic, or that we wouldn’t care.
I began my thoughts here praising Obama’s abilities as a public performer and a charismatic figure in politics. He will retain those, yet behind this front stage performance of a new kind of African-American leader, it is clear that Obama remains closely tied to the most retrograde and reactionary elements of the African-American community. Backstage, the “unknown Obama” may be closer to people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson than we were at first led to believe. The truly frightening prospect is that the current infatuation with the Senator might occlude concern with his choice of spiritual advisors. This might especially be the case among young people who, led by their radical professors who support Obama en masse, might think that Rev. Wright is “right on.” There is nothing that Wright has said in his various tirades that I have not heard in the groves of academe.
What remains to be seen are the other unknown, or hidden affiliations and sentiments of the Senator, which may indicate that behind his effective and charming performances there lies a man who is deeply connected to some of the most radical and reactionary elements in American politics. And this is not purely in relation to those elements in the African-American community. It has recently come to light that Obama enjoys a close relationship to Bill Ayers a former member of the Weather Underground, whose professed aim (for which he is not apologetic) was to overthrow the American government through armed force. I suppose it is entirely reasonable and even necessary to judge a man, especially a candidate for the presidency of the United States, by the company he keeps. The main concern is whether or not rank-and-file moderates who seem to have fallen in love with Obama can look beyond the charm and charisma to take a deeper look at who the Senator really is.
Siegel:: In his widely discussed speech on the rantings of his South Side of Chicago “spiritual mentor” The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Presidential candidate Barak Obama never apologized for his own failings in never having chastised Wright. This is particularly problematic for a man whose only deeds of consequence are words. Evidently, Barak Obama wants to be the nation’s conscience without having one himself. The disparity between Obama’s rhetoric of transcendence and his conventional Chicago racial and patronage politics is the leitmotif of his political career.
One of the unwritten rules of the civil rights movement in its mid-1960s glory was that when people told insulting racial jokes or speakers engaged in defamatory rhetoric, you needed to register your immediate disapproval - not 20 yrs later when you're running for president. But not even Pastor’s Wright’s trip with Louis Farrakhan, to pay homage to Libyan dictator Momar Khadafy, elicited a response from Obama. Perhaps that’s because as Tom Cushman points out - and I disagree with little of what Tom said - while Obama is most definitely not a Muslim, he has a strong third wordlist view of international relations that he probably imbibed from his hard left grandparents and mother. It’s probably that viewpoint with its authentication of his blackness that, in part, produced his adulation of Wright.
There are no virgin births in politics, particularly Chicago politics. For all of his Camelot-like rhetoric, Obama is a product, in significant measure, of the deeply corrupt politics of Chicago and Cook County. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass bitterly described “The Chicago Way: “We've had our chief of detectives sent to prison for running the Outfit's jewellery-heist ring. And we've had white guys with Outfit connections get $100 million in affirmative action contracts from their drinking buddy, Mayor Richard Daley. . . That's the Chicago Way. At no point did the would be savior of American liberalism challenge this corruption. He was, in his own Harvard Law way, a part of it.
When he had the opportunity to back “clean” candidates for The Cook County Board of Supervisors and Governor, he stayed with the allies of The Outfit. The Gubernatorial candidate he backed, Rod Blagojevich, is now under federal investigation, in part because of his relationship with Tony Rezko, the man who helped Obama buy his house. “Some strangers to our lands,” notes Kass of the Syrian born Rezko, have used the Chicago Way with perfect pitch. Rezko's buddy, former Iraqi electricity minister (under Prime Minister Alawi), Aiham Alsammarae, escaped an Iraqi prison after he had been convicted on corruption charges. A reporter asked Alsammarae, the most senior Iraqi official arrested on corruption charges -- How did you escape? "The Chicago Way," he said upon return to his palatial Chicago home. So perhaps experience in Chicago politics provides a useful orientation for Third World politics.
Buried in the glamour of the Obama campaign is a rather conventional candidate. Obama was first drawn to Wright’s Afro-Centric church because it provided a political base for his already well developed ambitions. Writing in the Huffington Post after the Wright furor had erupted, the Illinois Senator insisted that the “The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments.” Clear to whom? “Obama,” notes the left-wing netzine Salon quoted Wright at length in his book "The Audacity of Hope" -- and took the name of his book from one of the first sermons he heard Wright deliver. “That first sermon included a comparison of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, which claimed 69 lives, to Hiroshima.”
Obama, deeply tied to Wright, planned to have him deliver the blessing when he was announcing for president. Only the press of ambition has separated them. In The Speech he obliquely acknowledged that he might have been present when some controversial statements were made. Delivered from Mitt Romney this would be called a flip-flop. In the words of ABC’s Brian Ross, “Buried in his eloquent, highly praised speech on America's racial divide, Sen. Barak Obama contradicted more than a year of denials and spin from him and his staff about his knowledge of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's controversial sermons.” In the same conventional vein, Obama initially insisted that he had taken only $60,00 from Rezko, a figure accepted by most of the national press. But when pressed on the matter by local reporters, the campaign acknowledged that $60,000 was more like $250,000, and that contrary to his earlier assertions that Rezko, Obama’s sometime business associate, had only been casually involved in the home purchase, it turns out that they had toured the house together. None of this is in and of itself definitively damning, but by no means can it represent moral leadership.
Nor is it moral leadership to play traditional South Side of Chicago racial politics. The morning after Obama’s surprise loss in New Hampshire and in anticipation of the then upcoming South Carolina, South Side Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr, Obama’s National Co-Chair appeared on Obama’s very own network MSNBC to argue, in a prepared statement, that Hillary Clinton’s teary moment on the Campaign trail reflected her deep seated racism. “Those tears,” said Jackson,” have to be analyzed," Jackson said, "they have to be looked at very, very carefully in light of Katrina, in light of other things that Mrs. Clinton did not cry for, particularly as we head to South Carolina where 45 percent of African-Americans will participate in the Democratic contest ... we saw tears in response to her appearance, so that her appearance brought her to tears, but not Hurricane Katrina, not other issues."
This brought no media rebuke. In other words, in anticipation of Rev. Wright affair, much of the press has accepted the implicit assumptions of Chicago style racial politics. Whites, who are at odds or who haven’t delivered for Chicago pols, can be accused of racism on the most oblique basis, but pillars of local black politics like Rev. Wright preaching an exclusivist racial theology are beyond criticism. Chicago is, after all, the city where Farrakhan is a respected political figure.
Shortly after the Jesse Jackson Jr. Speech, Emanuel Cleaver, an African- American Congressman and Clinton supporter from Kansas City, described the attempt by Obama supporters to smear him and other Clinton Black super-delegates as an “Uncle Tom” for not switching to Obama. “African-American superdelegates are being targeted, harassed and threatened,” Cleaver explained. They are, he went on getting “nasty letters, phone calls, threats they’ll get an opponent, being called an Uncle Tom. “This is the politics of the 1950s.”
The man who savors his intellectual ability to make interesting distinctions has shown none of that ability in his own Chicago career. Obama, his verbal fluency aside, is a clever but conventional Chicago left-liberal party hack. The legatees of the media elites who denounced former mayor Richard Daley Sr. as a racist for the way he played ethnic and patronage politics, find that similar game entirely admirable when it comes from a Harvard intoned a mixed-race, black identified candidate.
Herf: Tom Cushman and Fred Siegel: raise a host of important points. I want to focus on the known, not the unknown Obama. We know, based on his public positions, that he is a conventional left-liberal, closer on most issues to The Nation and The New York Review of Books than The New Republic or The Washington Post. Yet he has won many Democratic primaries and leads in the delegate count in part because he has convinced millions of voters that this is not the case and that he is, instead, a unifying, not only post-racial, but post-partisan candidate for the Presidency.
While he has huge support in the black electorate, his early and oft-repeated opposition to the war in Iraq contributes to his support among the young, and college educated who give his campaign energy and dollars. As the course of the war shattered early optimistic predictions, opposition to it became the heart and soul of the activist base and much of the congressional representation of the Democratic Party. Support for Obama became the logical expression of this broad sentiment, especially in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s more ambiguous stance on the war. In other words, support for Obama is indicative of the fact that the base and leadership of the Democratic Party has moved to the left.
In a recent edition of the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer published, in my view, an excellent column about Obama’s speech on race. As I agree with Krauthammer’s point regarding moral equivalence, I will save time by presenting the URL link and suggesting that readers read it themselves. See: A Brilliant Fraud.
As Krauthammer rightly notes, it is remarkable that Obama would equate his white grandmother’s privately expressed fears of black men who passed her on the street with Jeremiah Wright’s public, political statements about, for example, the government’s responsibility for the spread of Aids in black neighborhoods. Bill Bradley, now an Obama supporter, gave an excellent speech in the Senate around 1991 in which he contrasted the deep admiration, respect and affection he felt for his black New York Knick teammates with the fear he–a very tall, very big, very strong guy–felt about crime. Jesse Jackson once expressed similar fears. There is no denying that such fears have been exploited at times by conservative politicians for electoral gain.
As Obama knows very well, the overwhelming majority of the victims of crimes committed by blacks are other blacks. This is a fact that is most inconvenient. In 2005, I published an essay in The New Republic online (“True Crime”) in which I presented crime statistics collected by the Department of Justice and placed on the website. From the mid-1960s to 2002, about 850,000 people have been murdered in the United States. Of them, about 220,000 were African-Americans. Over 90% of those murders were black-on-black crimes. By any measure this is the greatest catastrophe to befall African-Americans since slavery. The chances of a black man being a perpetrator or a victim of a violent crime were about 6 to 7 times greater than were those of whites. So the fear that Obama’s white grandmother expressed must be rather mild compared to the fully realistic fears of crime that African-Americans in the inner cities and now close in suburbs live with.
This age of murder is one of the great disasters in the history of this country. Given that its causes are complex, it is no surprise that demagogic arguments and conspiracy theories have flourished in black neighborhoods and, as Jeremiah Wright’s sermons indicate, in some black churches as well. The facts of these murders have been on the evening television news and in the local pages of newspapers in American cities for the past half-century. Not to express fear in the face of such a cataclysm would be a form of denial. So to equate Obama’s grandmother’s fears with the political views of Jeremiah Wright is mistaken.
The problem raised by the revelation of Reverend Wright’s sermons is thus not only or even primarily the problem of race. It is that he has distinct political views that, as Obama acknowledged, badly distort the causes of the problems facing African-Americans. Obama has known of those views for many years and nevertheless decided to remain close to Wright. The question will linger: why did he continue to have a relationship, and a close relationship, with a man whose views he now finds unacceptable?
Cushman: I am grateful for the comments of Fred Siegel: and Jeffrey Herf, two of the most astute scholars and commentators I know.
In my first comments, I suggested that a man who chooses someone like Reverend Jeremiah Wright to be his spiritual mentor simply lacks the good judgment necessary for high office. And this is not simply because of his political statements, but because it suggest a close relationship to a kind of self-serving and coarse black liberation theology, which is way outside the margins of conventional religion in the US. It is ironic in the extreme, because for years now, the left-liberal critics of Bush have gone practically insane over Bush’s religious fundamentalism, which seems even somewhat mild in comparison with the Rev. Wright’s particular brand of apocalyptic and divisive theological poison. Because Obama presents himself in such a much more articulate and rational way, are we supposed to imagine that his alignment with black liberation theology is to have no bearing on his conduct as President? If liberals are so concerned about the separation of church and state, why have they not raised this question?
As all of us have indicated, Obama has been successful precisely because of he presents himself as a messianic figure, preaching “hope” and “change”. It comes out a lot more eloquent than the way he heard in church, but it is clear that Obama understands Americans’ constant need for salvation of some sort or the other. Sociologists have been telling us for years about the cynicism which characterizes American society. The most affluent society on earth is constantly unhappy about something, no matter what its material circumstances (I recall with irony that Americans, in public opinion polls have consistently registered around 30% when asked if they are hopeful about the future, in contrast to 70% of Iraqis, in national polls in 2006, admittedly a figure which has declined in the last two years). Obama has charged headlong into the cynical society with rhetoric of hope and change, and this has had great appeal, even beyond the boundaries of the most idealistic parts of the population, especially youth, as Fred Siegel: points out. There is a demagogic aspect to this, I think, even when considered in light of Bush’s flawed presidency, because Obama’s strategy is to objectify the generalized pessimism of Americans in a rhetoric which shields him from real scrutiny.
And lest someone actually scrutinize the Senator, there is always the race issue to be played, which Obama clearly did in his famous speech on race in America, even after demanding that Geraldine Ferraro be fired for bringing the issue of race into the campaign. His speech, much touted as one of the most brilliant speeches in American history, masterfully resurrected the “sacred evil” of slavery and racial oppression, the best possible weapon against white people who cannot say a word in the defense of these practices and a surefire way to exponentially increase white guilt, which as I have noted is probably playing a role in the Senator’s popularity. What was truly brilliant about the speech was not the words themselves, but the strategy of countering the “shame” of the Reverend Wright with the “ur-trump” of the national shame of the historical treatment of African-Americans in US history. This is a vast pool of cultural capital which can be drawn on for political eternity without running dry. Not only Jeremiah Wright can be contextualized, but indeed, any manner of deviance among African-Americans. Jeff Herf pointed out the vastly disproportionate homicide statistics among African-Americans and this too is almost always contextualize as a result of history rather than agency. The problem with such contextualizations is that they rob African-Americans who have transcended the past, rejected violence, and become ordinary and in many cases extraordinary Americans – of their agency and status as individuals. This is all the more ironic because if what Obama says is true, he shouldn’t be the leading the contender for the Democratic nomination.
The real problem with Obama’s speech, though, is that it has called into question his so-called progressive agenda for America. It does a great disservice to the African-American community at large, since he doesn’t mention any positive social outcomes that the latter have experienced since the civil rights movement. Black incomes have grown, as has the black middle-class. Are there still problems? Of course: black incomes have grown less than those of whites, and blacks have more difficulty passing on their social mobility to the next generation.
This gets to the more fundamental issue of Obama’s status as a “progressive.” For in his association with Wright, and his recent proclamations about slavery and the negative black experience, he is taking us backwards to things that cannot be forgotten, to be sure, but should not be at the center of a progressive agenda for black Americans or for any other Americans for that matter. It is like hoping for a better past, rather than imagining a better future. This man of great “hope” got the future has now stepped backwards, purely for political advantage, when what he should be pointing out is how it can be that more people like him can be produced in the future.
One could also point out the existence of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and even Justice Clarence Thomas, but that is taboo in most of black America because they don’t have the right kinds of politics. Rev. Wright, it will be remembered, referred to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as “Condoskeezza”, from the urban slang word “skeeze”, one of the most derogatory terms for a woman imaginable. He regularly refers to Justice Thomas as “Clarence Colon.” Here is real injustice to upstanding African-Americans, and the Senator never brought such things up at all. He generally slides out of perverse comments by fellow African-Americans by invoking the First Amendment and then changing the subject. I think we have yet to see what the real consequences of Obama’s retrogression on the race issue. If he loses the election, one can expect the level of racial tension and possibly even racial violence, to skyrocket, and some part of the blame can be laid at Obama’s feet for that should these occur.
I’d like to end this round by noting that, in my opinion, the Senator is actually quite politically retrograde in inverse proportion to his rhetoric of hope. I’ve already discussed why this is on the race issue, but it is true of his more general politics as well. Fred Siegel: masterfully pointed out that Obama has very little political experience and is, in fact, “a clever but conventional Chicago left-liberal hack”. Surely one can understand why supporters of Obama would be silent about Obama’s real political credentials and lack of experience. After Bush, he may be a hack, but at least he’s “our hack”. And he makes us feel good. Such is politics.
Obama remains mired in the past, as well, on the issue of Iraq. The dominant message of his campaign is that we never should have gone to war in the first place (another demagogic feint to anti-war sentiment). This is about as backward a form thinking as one can get, since the new president must imagine and carry out a solution that protects the nascent Iraqi society, which is a fundamental duty that we have taken on ourselves as a nation, whether we like it or not. He must also protect American interests in the region, regardless of whether he agreed with the war or not.
The other central part of his campaign message on Iraq is that the war is a lost cause – a fact with which most Iraqis and General Petraeus would not concur. He is, in effect, consigning America to defeat against al-Qaeda, which can only benefit the latter and enable radical Islam to new heights globally. It is hard to see any “hope” in Obama’s plans for Iraq. In fact, I have strained myself to find any indication whatsoever of what exactly a President Obama would do about the war on terror. I suppose, like most left-liberals, he imagines that it only exists as a creation of George W. Bush, rather than something which was there before Bush and will be with us a long time, especially if Iraq is lost. The astute Paul Berman has recently pointed out in The New York Times that the silence of the left on radical Islam is one of the most troubling hallmarks of the discourse of modern times. Like his preacher, one gets the sneaking suspicion that Obama, like many left-liberals, really do think that we are the cause of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, as if the agents of the latter are simply reflexes of our “evil empire.”
This is the Unknown Obama that strikes fear into my heart. So-called liberals think that everything will just be better when George Bush goes away and think that someone with no political experience, armed with “the audacity of hope” and the spiritual guidance of a black liberation theologist, and with a little dash of charisma and charm, is qualified to be Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces and to protect our national interests and national security. What is even more troubling is that so many Americans, distanced as they are from the realities of the world, see this self-appointed messiah and political hack as their national savior.
Siegel:: Tom Cushman asks why Rev Wright’s Church with its profoundly political perspective and Obama’s close relationship with it haven’t raised the standard issues of the separation of church and state among liberals. It’s a good question. Part of the answer is surely that darker skinned people are given a special dispensation by liberals. But in this case it’s also a matter of an ongoing love affair with Obama in the press.
In the wake of the Reverend Wright flap and Obama’s evasive response, the New York Times went out of its way to praise Obama. The Times editorial, which is entitled “Profiles in Courage,” compares Obama’s race speech to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Writing about the Church that Obama joined in large measure to launch his political career, the Times said “Obama drew a bright line between his religious connection with Mr. Wright, which should be none of the voters’ business, and having a political connection, which would be very much their business.” Would the Times even begin to accept such a verbal assertion as a statement of fact from a candidate they didn’t love? Then again this is part of the broader leitmotif of the Obama campaign, words as illocutionary actions
Jeff Herf rightly wrote that “support for Obama is indicative of the fact that the base and leadership of the Democratic Party has moved to the left.” This is true, but it’s also true that the underlying tension produced by globalization, the failures of the Bush administration and the failures of the oh-too-clever market for exotic financial instruments has pushed the center towards the left.
But even on this turf, Obama is a windbag. I sat a few seats away from Paul Volcker for Obama’s recent talk on the economy at Cooper Union. The Obama speech was thoughtful and well delivered. His plan for dealing with the sub-prime mortgage crunch is far less heavy handed that Hillary Clinton’s. But the problem as almost always with Obama is the disparity between his words and deeds.
In his speech, he denounced in no uncertain terms the "special privileges" regarding the taxation of people on Wall Street (from whence he derives many funders) But when he had an opportunity to push the repeal of the privileged tax treatment of private equity firms as the matter was before Charles Grassley's Senate finance sub-committee, he made a pro forma statement and then disappeared into the wood work. He attacked predatory lenders in the Cooper Union speech, but has taken roughly 1.3m in contribution from companies in that business.
On the more general matter of regulating brokerage houses in the wake of the Fed’s bail out/liquidation of Bear Stearns, Obama presented himself as a fearless pioneering foe of Wall Street’s special privileges. But as always with this silver tongued Chicago-hack, he fools himself and the press into believing that it’s the rustling of the leaves that moves the winds. The substance of Obama’s reform proposal followed inevitably from the bailout and had already been put in motion, in part, by none other than Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson
The theme of both Obama’s and Rev Wright is Do As I Say Not As I Do. Obama is the Chicago politician who speaks of post-racialism but belongs to a black nationalist church, the man who says he's post-partisan but has a 100% partisan voting record. He and his wife are quite well off with an estimate income of $1.2 million dollars from 200 to 2004. But the man who preaches compassion and mutuality gave all of 1% of that income to charity in that period. This the guy who says he represents ethics in government, but when given a chance to back reformers in Illinois supported the party hacks, including the current famously unethical governor who is under federal investigation and is likely to be indicted. And to complete matter his beloved Rev Wright who has preached against “middle classism” and its “materialism” and rants that “White folks greed runs a world in need,” this same humble servant of the Lord, has just bought 10,340 square foot $1.6 million dollar home-in a gated community. No doubt, he’s looking for protection from Obama’s grandma.
Herf: Thomas Cushman is right to raise the issue of liberals’ double-standards regarding the issue of religions fundamentalism and of separation of church and state. It is clear that if a conservative politician belonged to a church whose minister, for example, said that 9/11 was punishment for the “sins” of homosexuality and abortion, he would be finished as a viable political candidate for national office. The issue of Barack Obama’s willingness to sit in the pews of Jeremiah Wright’s church for over twenty years is not going to go away. Conspiracy theories are not only, as Christopher Hitchens wrote, “wicked and stupid.” Conspiracy theories are also dangerous. Barack Obama is a sophisticated, highly educated person who must know how dangerous conspiracy theories and theorists are. Yet for twenty years he listened to them, uttered no public criticism and then compared his white grandmother’s fears of black crime to Jeremiah Wright’s nonsensical notions about the causes of the condition of blacks on the South Side of Chicago.
As Fred Siegel: notes, this reluctance to antagonize or offend is something many politicians do. It is not a new, different or post-racial politics. Given that Obama’s experience on the national stage is so brief, his political activities in Chicago and Illinois should, and I think will, assume a larger significance in the election. I agree with both Cushman and Siegel: that Obama’s now famous speech on race fell far short of what was needed. The critique came too late and it was too mild.
Obama, and Hillary Clinton as well, are competing with one another about who will be a most convincing advocate of an exit from Iraq. Obama has a peculiar optimism about the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq. Here, as Fred Siegel: notes, the press has been easy on him. A President Obama would argue that such a withdrawal was really in the American national interest. Yet if the United States does leave Iraq before it succeeds, radical Islamists of varying hues, Shiites as well as Sunnis, in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and in many other places where radical Islam has adherents will all see this exit as the greatest victory for radical Islamism since the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In the wake of an American defeat in Iraq, why would Ahmadinejad’s Iran feel any hesitation about proceeding even more quickly to development of nuclear weapons or intensifying its threats against Israel and, for that matter, the Arab states? What incentive would a President Obama create for Iran to change its ways?
If a President Obama implemented the views in foreign policy of candidate Obama, I think the result would be snatching defeat from the jaws of uncertain, tenuous and potential, modest success in Iraq. If the worst happened, political turmoil in Washington would be intense and the hopes for bipartisan policy would collapse in bitter recriminations about who “lost Iraq.” The prospect for bipartisan consensus on domestic issues would also be undermined.
Candidates for President like to talk about the marvellous, soaring future they will make for us all. Sometimes avoiding catastrophe needs to be a larger part of the campaign speech. This is one of those times. We need a President who knows the reality of evil in international politics but does not see that as a license for American self-righteousness, one who will continue a fight that, no matter who is President, will be unpopular in many quarters. While Obama articulates a full catalogue of American miscues, he has not tried to create a mandate to continue American leadership in the–call it what you will–war, confrontation, struggle, fight–with radical Islam. This issue will not go away. It will continue to be a defining element of American foreign policy for the next President. From what Obama has said and what he has not said, I conclude that his mind and heart are not in this fight.
FP: Fred Siegel:, Jeff Herf and Thomas Cushman, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
Posted on: Friday, April 4, 2008 - 14:31
SOURCE: TPM Cafe (4-1-08)
Academics and some belletrists are especially prone to this danger, perhaps even moreso if they’re on the left and have made their careers creating, promoting and defending certain paradigms in conference after conference, as the world rushes by. Yesterday’s liberation becomes tomorrow’s dead hand. Just look at what became of romantic “third worldism” that celebrated “people’s liberation movements” but found itself tongue-tied by 9/11 and has gone to Gaza to die.
And look at what’s become of some leftist wisdom about race in America, right alongside Steele’s wisdom about the left. I wrote a couple of books about all this long enough ago for them, too, to bear reassessing. I've done that recently on a new website, but the interesting and fruitful discussion here of Obama's recent speech prompts me to add a few observations now.
Steele was right in the 1990s to note that many racial remedies promoted by anti-racist liberals – from cookie-cutter “diversity” in higher education to congressional districting along race lines – were exercises in what he called “iconography,” by which he meant feel-good symbolism over substantive gain.
Democratic justice in education and elections in a republic requires incredibly heavy lifting in early schooling and in voter registration. It does not gain from racial “rotten boroughs” (whose voter turnouts are notoriously low) or number-fudging in college admissions that embarrasses and thereby segregates too many of its intended beneficiaries.
Steele understood this. He noted that upscale white liberals who’ve done well in the corporate capitalist dispensation have no serious intention of tackling its deepening inequities; yet they can't bring themselves to defend them very wholeheartedly, either. So they grasp at a politics of moral posturing and tokenism that makes them feel better but doesn’t curb inequities that, thanks partly to their dodging, now divide blacks from blacks as well as blacks from whites, and women from women as well as women from men.
As a conservative, Steele wasn’t going to do anything more about these inequities besides urge blacks to burn the midnight oil and vote. Yet the more glaring these inequalities became, even in the 1980s and 1990s, the more that liberals and facile leftists – the latter ideologically inclined yet daunted by the challenges of class more than of race -- cut class (as in “economic class”) to wave colorful banners of racial and sexual identity, thereby offering fat targets to tongue-clucking conservatives more partisan than Steele.
In gilded liberal precincts such as Michelle Obama’s undergraduate Princeton and Barack Obama’s ( and her) Harvard Law School one saw periodic revival meetings where everyone from freshmen to deans swooned gratefully under the rhetorical lash of some iconic black speaker who posed as a tribune for all blacks while tapping vast stores of liberal white guilt and good intentions.
Steele had these racial bargainers’ numbers. He showed how they put whites through rituals of racial penitence before granting them absolution for racism, letting them reassure themselves that they once were been blind but now could see. In return, whites, in convulsions of gratitude, granted the blackbargainer absolution for his or her own painfully obvious inferiorities, which were simply not acknowledged.
Steele observed this not gloatingly, but mournfully. He’d drawn his racial wisdom from his innards, not calculation. In The Closest of Strangers I was glad to quote him on the perils of what he called “integration shock,” which. replacing racial stigma with white friendship, frightens some blacks by holding them responsible for personal shortcomings that had been written off as consequences of “racism.” Fright produced flight or fight, not serious reassessments all around.
Steele was right to warn that the scam of trading a grant white racial innocence for a cheap certificate of black equality offers no way out of racism, That dishonest bargain openly violates and subtly eviscerates the civic-republican virtues of candor, truth-telling, trust, and tough-minded optimism that true liberation demands but that leftists often rebuff as bourgeois mystifications of oppressive social relationships.
No wonder that Steele was obsessed with Obama, who as editor of the Harvard Law Review in those days, had all the lineaments of a cosmopolitan leftist racial bargainer.
Not only that; Steele, like Obama, had a white mother and a black father. And not only that: Obama became an organizer in the same Southside of Chicago where Steele had grown up -- and the maddening irony is that Obama had actually chosen to go there, as Steele never would have, to claim an African-American identity that was Steele's at birth.
You can perhaps imagine how Steele thought he had Obama's number. He would explain his voluntary immersion in Southside Chicago as calculated preparation for racial bargaining with guilt-ridden whites on a national scale. Steele could shoehorn Obama into that paradigm because, truth to tell, it still reigns officially and unofficially at Harvard and Princeton and among some of Obama’s supporters.
.The problem is that it doesn't reign among most of them anymore. This phony bargaining strategy, still beloved of brainless and weak deans on privileged campuses, has been shed quietly not only by Obama but also by more Americans in their 20s than Steele’s crusty pride in his hard-won (and well-rewarded) wisdom allows him to notice or acknowledge.
What Steele’s “iconography” and “racial bargaining” models obscure is that Obama has liberated himself in certain important ways from the black identity politics he explored in Chicago. He has done it not by running away from it or dancing around it, or by being trapped in it but denying it, as Steele variously imagines. He has outgrown it by going straight through it with some good old fashioned conservative introspection, making a Pilgrim’s Progress that tested his faith in himself and society in the Slough of Despond, the Village of Legality and of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and all the seductions of Vanity Fair.
The elephant in the room which Steele's paradigm obscures is that Barack Obama is running for the most trans-racial job in the country while Steele, by contrast, has written, is writing, and always will write essays about race. It is Steele who has become the racial bargainer, offering whites racial innocence at the conservative Hoover Institution, where he is a fellow and iconic black conservative, and at the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, where, the day after Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race, he published a churlish musing about Obama as the archetypal racial bargainer-- an essay that, he acknowledges, was written and locked into print before he’d read or heard Obama’s speech.
As Don Wycliff, a black Chicagoan older than Steele, observed in reviewing A Bounded Man for Commonweal a week before the speech, “Steele sounds… like a man whose head is full of music that he alone can hear…. [I]f anyone is bound, it is Steele himself… to a set of ideas and theories that he formulated in reaction to his experiences in the 1960s. They once sounded like wisdom, but today they tinkle suspiciously like the bells on a fool’s cap.”
I’m sorry to have to add that the same civic-republican standards of candor, truth-telling, trust, and tough-minded optimism that are discrediting both guilt-ridden racial bargaining and Steele’s critique of it are also discrediting certain leftist, racialist critiques of Obama.
Here I'll just say that the left, instead of mirroring Steele by criticizing Obama for bargaining too readily with whites to assure them of their innocence, would be wiser to acknowledge Obama's constraints as a candidate.
One way to do that is to recognize that even the New Deal and even some elements of LBJ's Great Society were borne of political compromises with racists reminiscent of the U.S. Constitution's original compromise with slavery. To argue, as leftists do, that racism endures and remains ubiquitous and deep is to acknowledge, as some leftists don't, that it's not enough to mount barricades -- or, more likely, a conference podium -- or to rush to court uttering denunciations of racism.
Times have changed, of course, and so can strategies. But it's important to be realistic rather than self-righteous. At the Constitutional Convention and in the bargaining for the New Deal and Great Society, powerful Southerners had to be placated for a Constitutional provision or statute to pass. FDR had to play ball with "the solid [Democratic] South," whose representatives chaired important congressional committees.
Well into the 1950s, Senator Jack Kennedy courted and compromised with segregationists; it was Richard Nixon, a member of the "Party of Lincoln," who was a card-carrying member of the NAACP.
The hope behind the compromises of the 1930s was that some New Deal programs would at least draw into public solidarity the nation’s still fractious, often warring, white-ethnic camps (then still called "races," as in the Slavic race, the Hebrew race, etc.). In that way, even the “racist” New Deal was arguably a step toward legitimizing civil rights for blacks, especially after the war against Nazi racism.
To understand better the compromises the political situation required of politicians who hoped to deflect it somewhat toward better ends -- in other words, to distinguish wise strategies from a futile politics of moral or ideological posturing -- some American historians might benefit from the perspectives of the British historian Anthony J. Badger, a lifelong student of the American New Deal and civil-rights movement who comes to both without the hang-ups I've been sketching,
Badger doesn't succumb to the simplifications of the strangely apolitical Marxism or the leftist identity politics that have doomed much anti-racism to defeat after defeat, as in the over-racialization of mandated busing, congressional districting, and heavily subsidized neighborhood “integration,” blunders I chronicled in Liberal Racism.
Stilted academic calls to "deconstruct" even-handed analyses like Badger’s and mine don't acknowledge that ideologically and self-righteously motivated people wind up helping opportunists who fan racist fears for short-term gain.
The market forces that trap innocent whites as well as blacks are amoral, and the social currents they generate, are so swift and deep that it's folly to challenge them by shouting about racism. Capitalism is proving more subtle, protean and absorptive of race and sex than even its conservative defenders ever expected in the days when leftists were assuring us that capitalism depended on racism and sexism. On the contrary, it is shuffling the our racial and sexual decks and shifting the burdens of oppression elsewhere, a frightening subject for another time.
The constraints Obama faces as he struggles to position himself amid these crosscurrents should be appreciated against the backdrop of past progressive blunders. Moral witness, organized protest, and court fiats are indispensable elements of a broad strategy, but if they are brandished in a campaign like this one, they will fail. For Obama, de-politicizing race is not only a necessity but a big tactical step forward toward racial justice. Whether Shelby Steele calls that "racial bargaining" or leftists call it opportunism, I hope he'll go right on doing it through November.
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2008 - 19:30
SOURCE: Global Politician (3-26-08)
In his articles “Is Putin’s Russia fascist?” published on the site of The National Interest Online on December 3, 2007 (http://www.nationalinterest.org/Article.aspx?id=16258) and “Surviving Russia’s drift to fascism” published in the Kyiv Post, January 17, 2008 (http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/oped/28182/), Professor Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University seems to argue that Putin’s Russia can be classified as a fascist state.
Many observers of Russia will be sympathetic to Prof. Motyl’s concern about the decline of democracy in Russia, and unsympathetic to the Kremlin`s policies of the last years. Nevertheless, Motyl`s comment on “Russia`s drift to fascism” appears as unhelpful, if not misleading. Motyl obfuscates the issue of Russian fascism in so far as, indeed, there are representatives of fascism in Russia today. Yet, Putin is not among them.
Motyl is crying wolf too early. By Motyl`s standards, not only Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but a number of other non-democratic regimes of the 20th century would have to be classified as fascist. In fact, if we would apply Motyl´s loose conceptualization of fascism to contemporary world history, we might find so many “fascisms” that the term would loose much of its heuristic and communicative value.
Most people associate fascism with military conquest, total war and ethnic cleansing. While the Kremlin´s current rhetoric is imperialistic, bellicose and nationalistic, this is still far from amounting to an ideology of revolutionary ultra-nationalism – the most consensual definition of fascism available in international comparative fascist studies today (see, for instance, Fascism Past and Present, West and East: An International Debate on Concepts and Cases in the Comparative Study of the Extreme Right. Stuttgart & Hannover: ibidem-Verlag 2006). To be sure, it would be also wrong to argue – as Russian observers frequently do – that Russian fascism is identical with marginal neo-Nazi groups like Russkoe Natsional´noe Edinstvo (Russian National Unity). Without any doubt, Russian fascism, represented by such figures as Vladimir Zhirinovskii or Alexander Dugin, reaches deeply into the mainstream of Russian high politics and public discourse. Yet, neither Zhirinovskii nor Dugin are members of the Russian presidential administration or government. While it cannot be excluded that a person like them might one day enter Moscow`s Kremlin or White House, this has not yet happened.
In this context, Motyl`s comment is in so far unconstructive as he deprives researchers of Russian nationalism of an important analytic tool. If Putin´s administration is fascist: How should one label all those Russian right-wing extremist who complain that its policies are still too liberal and pro-Western? If Russia is already fascist: What is the whole fuss about “Weimar Russia”? The Weimar Republic was, in its early phase, an unstable and unconsolidated, and its last years a declining and subverted democracy. But it was not fascist. While most researchers agree that the Weimar Republic was, after the World Economic Crisis, destined to collapse, it was until January 1933 unclear where this collapse would lead.
In Russia too, the outcome of Putin`s gradual destruction of democracy is still open. A regime inspired by fascist ideology is one of Russia´s, but, perhaps, not her most likely future. In assessing Russia´s fate today and in the next years, we should reserve the label “fascist” for only those scenarios that indeed deserve this most value-laden term of the 20th century.
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2008 - 19:05
SOURCE: Seattle PI (3-28-08)
ACCRA, Ghana -- Mary K. Letourneau. Debra Lafave. Lisa Lynette Clark.
Wherever you look, there's a U.S. teacher having sex with a student. Or so it would seem, if you read the tabloids or watch late-night TV. Lafave had trysts with a 14-year-old student in her apartment, car and classroom; Clark was impregnated by her son's 15-year-old friend, whom she wed the day before she was arrested; and Seattle's own Letourneau did seven years in prison before marrying Vili Faualaau, who was all of 13 when their affair began.
Contrary to what you might believe, however, there's no "epidemic" of teacher-student sex in the U.S. And the best way to see that is to come to Africa.
According to a widely publicized 2004 study released by the Department of Education, up to 10 percent of U.S. students had suffered "sexual abuse or misconduct" in school. But the study included everything from off-color jokes and gestures by teachers to nasty comments from other children. Nobody knows the prevalence of teacher-student physical abuse, which is far less common than media reports would suggest.
In Ghana, by contrast, we do know. And the abusers are almost always men. According to a 2003 study, 27 percent of surveyed schoolgirls admitted they had been propositioned by a male teacher; 25 percent said they knew of at least one teacher having sex with a female student.
Ghanaian law proscribes sex with children younger than 16, while the school code bars "immoral relations" between teachers and students. But the rules are rarely enforced.
Earlier this month, local newspapers reported that a teacher had impregnated one of his students. His penalty? Colleagues made him buy new chairs for the school.
To be sure, some students choose to enter sexual relationships with their teachers. But there's always an element of coercion involved. Girls exchange sex for their school fees or living expenses, sometimes with the blessing of their financially strapped parents. Others are promised higher grades if they sleep with a teacher.
To hear many teachers tell it, though, the fault lies entirely with the girls themselves. According to a 2005 U.N. report on violence against children, African teachers "justified sexual exploitation of female students by saying that their clothes and behavior were provocative, and that they were far from home and in need of sex."
Others simply blame the West, which allegedly has infected Africa with the virus of licentiousness. Once upon a time, the story goes, Africans practiced sexual continence and restraint. But then risqué music videos and hip-hop music spawned prostitution, homosexuality and, yes, teacher-student sex.
Never mind that Africans practiced polygamy long before Westerners came here, or that the sexual abuse of students predates MTV and Puff Daddy. As early as 1964, Ghanaian newspapers reported that "Classroom Cassanovas" -- that is, male teachers -- were impregnating their female students. Then, the papers went on to charge the usual suspects: the hypersexual West, and the abused girls.
"What has encouraged these tendencies in our people?" the Ghanaian Times asked. "Before the arrival of the white man, we accepted the taboos which our societies placed on sex. These kept us free from many immoral deeds."
But now the damage was done, the Times continued, contaminating teenage girls most of all. "Modern medical facilities have encouraged immorality," it declared, in a backhanded swipe against contraceptive services. "Many of our girls misuse these, to their own eternal regret and remorse in later life."
Back in the U.S., too, conservatives have been quick to blame our own teacher-student sex scandals on contraceptives, sex education and an overall decline in social morality. " 'Right' and 'wrong' just aren't real to us anymore," wrote one commentator on the Christian Web site WorldNetDaily, in the wake of news reports about Letourneau and Lafave.
In fact, these scandals show just the opposite: In the U.S., we have a remarkably strong consensus against the sexual abuse of students. And the consensus extends to the abuse of boys by female teachers. According to the 2004 Department of Education study, 40 percent of educators charged with sexual misconduct were women.
Yet there's really no evidence that teacher-student sex in U.S. schools is on the rise. If anything, the news reports have made educational officials ever more vigilant in preventing it.
So the next time you see a lurid headline about "Hands-on Sex Education" or "Hottie Pedophiles," don't just snicker in outrage--or tut-tut in titillation. Instead, be thankful that your own kids are so well protected from predatory teachers. In Africa, many children aren't so lucky.
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2008 - 18:59
SOURCE: TruthDig.com (3-29-08)
With our economic and financial crises deepening, government insiders reportedly are debating whether we need to restore some regulation—or not. Given the state of things, we can expect further woes and no regulation.
Why have regulation when JPMorgan can gobble up Bear Stearns for peanuts, with the backstage encouragement and acquiescence of the Federal Reserve Board? The Fed’s concern for the big investors is no surprise, and it needed no cue from John McCain to reject any thoughts of helping the victims of the banks’ sting operations. Meanwhile, JPMorgan has offered bonuses to Bears Stearns’ top brokers to stay on, though many of them are probably responsible for the subprime loans Bear Stearns so aggressively pursued.
George W. Bush and his cohorts have quietly dismantled more than a century of regulatory history—and good history at that. If we truly are to have “change” in Washington, the “changers” must begin by restoring those proven, efficient and protective elements of the regulatory state.
Last week also brought news of a “passport scandal,” and it reflects the other side of the Bush administration’s coin of the realm. Accounts of the incidents consistently say that the perps involved were “contractors.”
Not until later did we learn the names of several District of Columbia-area State Department private contractors in the case, and the information reflects the exponential explosiveness of private contract work in the public sector.
Perhaps the unauthorized scrounging around in the passport files is merely an instance of mischievous political elves and fairies anxiously seeking to expose controversy. Imagine an Ann Coulter acolyte: “Let’s riffle through Obama’s files.” Or a Rush Limbaugh Dittohead: “Let’s find the dirt on Hillary, and don’t forget McCain.” That is the benign view. Just as likely, they were planted political apparatchiks—who probably never heard the word—deliberately deputized to seek out political “intelligence.” Here we have private “contractors” working for the State Department in a sensitive area. Why not? The Bush administration has substituted a vigorous program of “privatization” to both replace and expand government programs. Top-secret security clearances are routinely granted to private companies that now do “analyses,” “reviews” and “critical studies” for the Pentagon or the CIA.
We are now familiar with DynCorp International and Blackwater USA and their operations as a private, free-booting, unaccountable arm of government. We talk of a “surge” to provide security within Iraq, but it is clear that the security will be maintained by Blackwater and others to shore up an undermanned, overworked American military. The last eight years have profoundly altered the nature of government operations. Coincidentally, with the passport news we learn that the State Department’s use of private contractors has grown on an immense scale.
Much of that has been for Iraq operations for which the State Department maintains oversight functions, though not too well as it turns out. The State Department has created the Office of the Procurement Executive. Its Web site, written in advanced bureaucratese, portrays itself as the facilitator, not the auditor, for all dealings with private contractors—without mentioning them, however. Its self-proclaimed mission is “to ensure the timely delivery of quality goods and services that directly results in creating a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.” Enter the keepers of passport files in this Brave New World.
Privatization is a prevailing creed for this administration. It readily takes credit for “limiting” the growth of government by freezing or depleting the mandated bureaucracy, but at the same time it provides boundless largess to the private sector. Meanwhile, less than sensational stories expose the myth that privatization is a cost-saving venture. A new report of Pentagon auditors found excessive reliance on outside contractors, who often cost more. Last year, the Defense Department spent $158.3 billion on services, a 76 percent increase over the past decade. Buried in that report was the observation that private contractors assume unintended responsibilities.
The dismantling of government programs and regulation with the concurrent growth in privatization goes beyond the present regime. The Bush administration merely has implemented a radical extension of a process long under way. For 30 years, so-called centrist Democrats, anxious to shed any scarlet mark of liberalism, have eagerly sought consensus and accommodation with conservatives, largely by adopting their creed of small, cheap government—government that would fuel the private sector. Thus the seduction of “deregulation” and the accompanying creed of “privatization.” How and why they abandoned a faith that had served them and the nation so well and for so long is a mystery.
The irony is that the failures and crimes of Richard Nixon so discredited, so debilitated the ideology of their opponents. Anyway, the result has been the prominence of the Democratic Leadership Council, the crippling compromises of the Clinton administration, and the spectacle of Good Old Joe Lieberman accompanying John McCain on his foreign tour—as what, vice president in waiting? Secretary of state-designate? Sancho Panza?
We always have recognized the place of the “Fourth Branch” of government—meaning the plethora of alphabet-soup agencies with an admixture of executive, legislative and judicial functions, which exist largely to regulate the economy. Now, it appears, 20th century political science is mostly consigned to the dustbin of history. As always, “reform” and “change” have had their unexpected consequences.
The unwarranted search of private passport files raises important issues for the future of government and our familiar constitutional order. Juvenal’s timeless conundrum will not go away: Quis custodet ipsos custodes?—Who will guard these self-same guardians? What is the future of all this privatization? Will we insist on the accountability—the checking and the balancing—which has been the hallmark of our constitutional system? Or will we continue the administration’s weapon of choice: a blanket policy of legal immunization, such as is enjoyed by Blackwater?
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2008 - 18:43
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (4-3-08)
Yes, their defensive zone is the planet and they patrol it regularly. As ever, their planes and drones have been in the skies these last weeks. They struck a village in Somalia, tribal areas in Pakistan, rural areas in Afghanistan, and urban neighborhoods in Iraq. Their troops are training and advising the Iraqi army and police as well as the new Afghan army, while their Special Operations forces are planning to train Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps in that country's wild, mountainous borderlands.
Their Vice President arrived in Baghdad not long before the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched its recent (failed) offensive against cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in the southern oil city of Basra. To"discuss" their needs in their President's eternal War on Terror, two of their top diplomats, a deputy secretary of state and an assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, arrived in Pakistan -- to the helpless outrage of the local press -- on the very day newly elected Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was being given the oath of office. ("I don't think it is a good idea for them to be here on this particular day… right here in Islamabad, meeting with senior politicians in the new government, trying to dictate terms..." was the way Zaffar Abbas, editor of the newspaper Dawn, put it.)
At home, their politicians have nationally televised debates in which they fervently discuss just how quickly they would launch air assaults against Pakistan's tribal areas, without permission from the Pakistani government but based on"actionable intelligence" on terrorists. Their drones cruise the skies of the world looking for terrorist suspects to -- in the phrase of the hour -- "take out." Agents from their intelligence services have, these last years, roamed the planet, kidnapping terrorist suspects directly off the streets of major cities and transporting them to their own secret prisons, or those of other countries willing to employ torture methods. Their spy satellites circle the globe listening in on conversations wherever they please, while their military has divided the whole planet into" commands," the last of which, Africom, was just formed.
As far as they are concerned, nowhere do their interests not come into play; nowhere, in fact, are they not paramount. As their President put it recently,"If [our] strategic interests are not in Iraq -- the convergence point for the twin threats of al Qaeda and Iran, the nation Osama bin Laden's deputy has called 'the place for the greatest battle,' the country at the heart of the most volatile region on Earth -- then where are they?" (And you could easily substitute the names of other countries for Iraq.)
Their President makes a habit of regularly telling other countries what they"must" do."At the same time," he said recently,"the regimes in Iran and Syria must stop supporting violence and terror in Iraq." It's especially important to him and his officials that other nations not"interfere" in situations where, as in Iraq, they are so obviously"foreigners" and have no business; no fingers, that is, are to be caught in other people's cookie jars. Their Vice President made this point strikingly in an exchange with a TV interviewer:
"Q: So what message are you sending to Iran, and how tough are you prepared to get?
"Vice President: I think the message that the president sent clearly is that we do not want them doing what they can to try to destabilize the situation inside Iraq. We think it's very important that they keep their folks at home."
A range of other countries, all with a natural bent for"interference" or"meddling," must regularly be warned or threatened. After all, what needs to be prevented, according to a typical formulation of their President, is"foreign interference in the internal affairs of Iraq."
None of this advice do they apply to themselves for reasons far too obvious to explain. Wherever they go -- sometimes in huge numbers, usually well-armed, and, after a while, deeply entrenched in bases the size of small towns that they love to build -- they feel comfortable. They are, after all, defending their liberties by defending those of others elsewhere. Though there are natives of one brand or another everywhere, they consider themselves the planet's only true natives. Their motto might be: Wherever we hang our hats (or helmets) is home.
Others, who choose to fight them, automatically become aliens, intent as they are on destroying the stability of that planetary"home." So, for years, their military spokespeople referred to the Sunni insurgents they were battling in Iraq as "anti-Iraqi forces." It mattered little that almost all of them were, in fact, Iraqis; for the enemy is, by nature, so beyond the pale as to be a stranger to his or her own country or, just as likely, a cat's-paw of foreign forces and powers. Only when the very same"anti-Iraqi forces" suddenly decided to become allies were they suddenly granted the title, " concerned citizens," or even, more gloriously, "Sons of Iraq."
When off duty, their luckier soldiers have the option of taking"rest and recreation" in"the homeland" at places like the Hale Koa ("House of the Warrior") Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii, or in the extended homeland at, say, the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in the Bavarian Alps or the Dragon Hill Lodge near thrilling downtown Seoul, South Korea -- all part of their global system of Armed Forces Recreation Centers.
This is their world -- and welcome to it.
It's not exactly a mystery what country I'm talking about. You knew from the beginning. Since the Soviet Union vanished in 1991, only one nation has made itself at home everywhere on Earth; only one nation has felt that the planet's interests and its own interests were essentially one; only one nation's military garrisons and patrols our world from Greenland to the tropics, from the sea bed to the edge of space; only one nation's military talks about its vast array of bases as its"footprint" on the planet; only one nation judges its essential and exceptional goodness, in motivation if nothing else, as justification for any act it may take.
Putting an Iraqi Face on Iraq
Soon, U.S. surge commander General David Petraeus will return to Washington to report to Congress on our"progress" in Iraq -- and he'll do so with the worst crisis in that country in almost a year still unresolved. He'll do so, in fact, shrouded in yet another strategic disaster for the Bush administration. With that in mind, let's take a moment to look back at just how, militarily at least, the Bush administration first made itself at home in Iraq.
In the U.S., the administration's lack of planning for the occupation of Iraq -- starting with the wholesale looting of Baghdad after American troops had taken the capital -- has been the subject of much debate and discussion in Congress and the media. While it's usually noted in passing that, amid the chaos, orders had in fact been issued to American troops to guard the Oil Ministry, little is made of that. In fact, orders for U.S. troops to guard that ministry and the Interior Ministry, and nothing else, were indeed given, which simply indicates that administration planning was extremely focused -- on oil and the secret police (and perhaps Saddam Hussein's secret archives).
In addition, we know that the administration ignored the 13-volume"Future of Iraq" project put together by the State Department to guide an occupation -- largely because its neocon officials were so intent on sidelining the State Department more generally. On the other hand, the Pentagon did plan for what it thought would matter. Specifically, from a front-page April 19, 2003 New York Times article, we know that, by the time the invasion began, the Pentagon already had on the drawing boards plans for building four permanent mega-bases in Iraq. (They were meant to replace our bases in Saudi Arabia.) And these were indeed built (along with others and the largest embassy on the planet) in more or less the locations originally described. From the beginning, whatever planning it didn't do, the Bush administration was certainly planning to make itself at home in Iraq in a big way for a long, long time.
Much has also been made of the disastrous, seat-of-the-pants decision by the administration, in the person of L. Paul Bremer III, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) then ruling Baghdad, to disband the Iraqi army. But few now recall what the administration, the CPA, and the Pentagon had in mind (and leaked to the press soon after the invasion) for a future Iraqi military of their dreams.
They had, in fact, reconceived the Iraqi army as a force of perhaps 40,000 lightly armed, largely border-guarding troops. Keep in mind that Saddam Hussein had a military of 400,000 heavily armed troops and -- until the First Gulf War in 1990 -- a powerful air force (as well as copious supplies of chemical weapons). In the Middle East, for a country to have only a 40,000 man military without tanks, artillery, or an air force to call on meant but one thing: that the U.S. military and the U.S. Air Force, from bases in Iraq and in the region, were to be Iraq's real fighting force in any crisis. This was the true planning message of the Bush administration and it indicated just how"at home" its officials thought they would be in occupied Iraq.
By the time it became obvious that such thinking was fantastical and George Bush was starting to repeat the mantra,"As Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down," the idea of a 40,000-man force had been long forgotten. By then, the U.S. military was at work creating a large Iraqi army and national police force. But the effects of such planning remain debilitatingly present, even today.
After all, the" crack" Iraqi units sent into Basra by Prime Minister Maliki were still relatively lightly armed. (Hence, their complaints that the Sadrist militia they came up against were often better armed than they were.) They still had no significant Iraqi air force to call on, because as yet it hardly exists. When they got desperate, they had to call on U.S. and British air support as well as U.S. Special Forces units. And, of course, in the fighting in Basra, as in Baghdad where American units quickly entered the fray, they showed no particular flair for"standing up." In fact, according to the Associated Press's fine reporter Charles J. Hanley, the chief American trainer of Iraqi forces, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, now estimates that Iraq's military will not be able to guard the country's borders effectively until, at the earliest, 2018.
There was a period, back in 2004-05, when the Bush administration regularly wielded a telling image. They talked often about the importance of putting"an Iraqi face" on various aspects of the situation in that country. Here's a typical passage from the New York Times from that period:"By insisting that they not be identified, the three officers based in Baghdad were following a Pentagon policy requiring American commanders in Baghdad to put 'an Iraqi face' on the war, meaning that Iraqi commanders should be the ones talking to reporters, not Americans." This caught something of the strangeness of that moment, a strangeness that has yet to disappear. After all, as an image, to put a"face" on anything actually means to put a mask over an already present face, which was (and, even today, in military terms largely remains) American power in Iraq.
The presentation of the recent Maliki government offensive, launched on the eve of Petraeus's return, also represented, in part, an attempt to put an Iraqi face on American at-homeness in that country. The fictional story put out as the"Iraqi" offensive was launched -- printed up quite seriously in our media -- was that Maliki had only informed the American high command (and the British in Basra) of his prospective move in the hours just before it was launched. This was, on the face of it, ludicrous. The"Iraqi" army has been stood up -- trained, that is -- by U.S. advisors; some of its units have U.S. advisors embedded in them; it is almost totally reliant on the logistical support of the U.S. military. It could not move far offensively without the significant prior knowledge of U.S. commanders (and this was later admitted by the President's National Security Council Advisor Stephen J. Hadley).
While Maliki had his own reasons for launching his forces (and allied militias) against Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra, the Americans certainly imagined a triumphant moment for Petraeus in his upcoming hearings, thanks to new evidence that the Iraqi government was finally, in George Bush's words,"in the lead" and its military shaping up well. As Leila Fadel of the McClatchy Newspapers reported,"Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the Iraqi operation was a 'byproduct of the success' of the year-old U.S. troop surge." This was a fantasy, of course. And the result was the success of Sadr's forces from Basra to Baghdad -- and ongoing American attempts to disavow any real involvement in the planning of the offensive.
The United States is hardly the first empire whose representatives have felt at home anywhere in its world (if not, in past times, in the world). When you are at the peak of your imperial powers, you can ignore the problems and contradictions that such a feeling, such an attitude, naturally calls up. This is no longer the situation for the United States and so the contradictions ripen, the problems only grow, and the plunge into delusional thinking deepens.
Take just the seeming conundrum of the recent battle in Basra. On one side, you have an Iraqi army, trained for years by the Americans, to the tune of approximately $22 billion in U.S. funds. On the other side, you have an (at best) partially trained"militia" -- an"army" in name only. It may be that the Iranians have put some effort or money into equipping the Mahdi Army -- though the evidence for this is slim indeed -- but, if so, this would be minor by comparison.
When the two forces clashed, what was the result? Some Iraqi soldiers and policemen simply put down their weapons and, in certain cases, surrendered or went over to the other side, or deserted, or fought half-heartedly; while the Mahdis fought fiercely, cleverly, and, in the end, successfully, until called off in triumph by their leader. They"stood up" (just as they had against the full might of the American military in the southern holy city of Najaf back in 2004). Could there, then, be two different races of Iraqis, one set willing to fight with or without training or outside help, the other unwilling, no matter the support?
The American military faced a similar situation four decades ago in Vietnam, where American advisors training the South Vietnamese military regularly swore that they would turn in their brigades of Vietnamese troops for just a few platoons of Vietcong, who would stand and fight as if their lives depended on it.
Of course, the answer here is anything but mysterious. On the one hand, you have a foreign-trained, foreign-advised, foreign-supplied force with confused and divided loyalties that is only partially an"Iraqi" army; on the other, you have a local force, fighting in a community, for the safety and wellbeing of its own sons and wives, friends and relatives. The Mahdi Army members know why they fight and who they fight for. They have"faith," and not just in the religious sense. They are, in a word, at home.
The history of the last 200 years has regularly piled up evidence that this matters far more than firepower. Human beings, that is, regularly"stand up" for something other than shiny weapons or the interests of a foreign power, no matter how at home its leaders may think they are in your country. The inability to see this obvious point -- repeatedly and over decades -- represents delusional thinking stemming, at least in part, from an inability of Americans to imagine their own foreignness in the world.
In such cases, you misperceive who is on your side, why they are there, and what, exactly, they are capable of. You misunderstand what the actual natives of a place think of you. You don't grasp that, whatever the brute force and finances at your command, you, as a foreigner, may never understand the situation you believe you should control. Even the Maliki government itself, after all, is only"on our side" thanks to its abysmal weakness. (Otherwise, it would be far more closely allied with that other foreign power, Iran.) Sooner or later -- usually sooner -- you simply delude yourself. You mistake your trained army for an"Iraqi" or a"Vietnamese" one and so come to believe that, if only you adjust your counterinsurgency tactics correctly, it will fight like one. Then you act accordingly, which is, of course, disastrous.
Whatever General Petraeus says before Congress next week, however sane and pragmatic he sounds, however impressive looking his charts and graphs, it's worth keeping in mind that his testimony cannot help but be delusional, because it stems from delusional premises and it can lead only to further disaster for Americans and Iraqis.
Yes, of course, American planes and drones will continue to cruise the skies of the globe"taking out" enemies (or missing them and taking out citizens elsewhere whom we could care less about); American diplomats and high military officials will continue to travel the planet in packs, indicating, however politely, what politicians, military men, and diplomats elsewhere"must" do; and American military men will continue to train the Iraqi army in the hopes that, in 2018 if not sooner, it will stand up.
And yet, as long as we mistake ourselves for"the natives," as long as we are convinced that our interests are paramount everywhere, and feel that we must be part of the solution to every problem, our problems -- and the world's -- will only multiply.
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2008 - 17:38
SOURCE: Dissent (Winter) (4-3-08)
Many people remember the courageous civil rights activists who in the early 1960s risked their lives to challenge Jim Crow laws by riding racially integrated buses into the South. But few people know that southern universities expelled dozens of these young people for participating in what are now remembered as the “Freedom Rides.”
To atone for these politically motivated expulsions, which denied activists their college degrees, at least six southern universities have granted former activists honorary degrees. Having denied these young people the opportunity of an education, it was the least they could do.
But “The New South” doesn’t include Tennessee State University, which has refused to grant honorary degrees to 13 African-American students who were expelled in 1961 for their participation in the freedom rides. On March 28, the governing board of the university, formerly called Tennessee A&I State University, voted against awarding honorary degrees to them.
In the words of the local paper, the Tennessean, the Regents expressed their concern “about denigrating the value of an honorary degree by awarding so many at one time and recognizing a ‘one-time act of courage’ with what is intended to be a life-achievement award.”
“There is something sacred about an honorary degree,” Richard Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, told the newspaper. “The board, in their judgment, did not feel like this was an instance where you should grant an honorary degree.”
U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia), who as a Freedom Rider suffered serious physical beatings from mobs, was among those who wrote to Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and the Regents, asking them to award the honorary degrees to the former students. "Unfortunately,” he wrote, “more than two people were required to tear down the walls of legalized segregation. It took nothing short of raw courage for the hundreds of participants in the movement to stand up to the governor, mounted police, tear gas, fire hoses, attack dogs, and yes, even their colleges and universities."
Faced with such pressure, a board spokesman, Mary Morgan, told the press that the university would organize and host a special event to honor the Freedom Riders, and would create a new honor, the Regent’s Medallion, for the expelled students. ...
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2008 - 15:02
SOURCE: Daily Standard (4-3-08)
As the reduction in violence in Iraq has become incontestable (the insistence of early critics that no such reduction was possible notwithstanding), war opponents have fallen back on their next line of defense--that the military progress has not been matched by the political progress it was supposed to enable. This talking point, however, is also outdated and invalid. The Bush administration, commanders and ambassadors in the field, and supporters of the effort to win in Iraq have long pointed to evidence of grassroots reconciliation and political progress. This evidence is growing and the importance of these developments is becoming increasingly apparent. But critics have long dismissed these developments on the grounds that they meant nothing if the central government did not meet the key benchmarks established in 2007 as the basis for continued American support. For most of 2007, such critics at least had some facts on their side--the Iraqi Government quickly moved to achieve most of the security-related benchmarks, but key legislative benchmarks remained stalled. The facts no longer support this argument, however. As a recent study by the U.S. Institute of Peace noted, "It may be that February 13, 2008 will be remembered as the day when Iraq's political climate began to catch up with its improved security situation--or, more to the point, when Iraqi leaders discovered the key to political compromise and reconciliation."
As the tally below shows, the Government of Iraq has now met 12 out of the original 18 benchmarks set for it, including four out of the six key legislative benchmarks. It has made substantial progress on five more, and only one remains truly stalled. One can argue about the scoring of this or that benchmark, but the overall picture is very clear: before the surge began, the Iraqi Government had accomplished none of the benchmarks and was on the way to accomplishing very few. As the surge winds down, it has accomplished around two-thirds of them and is moving ahead on almost all of the remainder. To say in the face of these facts that Iraq has made "little" or "no" political progress is simply false-to-fact.
Some critics more willing to wrestle with unpleasant (to them) realities have argued that the laws that have been passed and the steps taken to meet the non-legislative benchmarks are flawed (and, therefore, don't count). This argument is highly disingenuous. Opponents of benchmarks (including the author) always argued against them on the grounds that simply getting Iraqis to "check the box" was not an appropriate way to measure progress. Defenders of the benchmarks insisted that we needed clear metrics. Well, the metrics they demanded and wrote into law are pretty clear, and the Iraqis have met most of them. Last year, critics accused the Bush administration of "moving the goalposts" by pointing to local reconciliation rather than national benchmark legislation. Now the shoe is on the other foot--those who most shrilly demanded a set of arbitrary benchmarks are now insist that the Iraqi Government's achievements in meeting them aren't enough. Who's moving the goalposts now?
[Click on the SOURCE link above to view the table.]
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2008 - 12:09
SOURCE: Salon.com (4-1-08)
Despite the cease-fire called Sunday by Shiite leader Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the millions-strong Sadr Movement, last week's battles between the Mahdi army and the Iraqi army revealed the continued weakness and instability of al-Maliki's government. Al-Maliki went to Basra on Monday, March 24, to oversee the attack on city neighborhoods loyal to al-Sadr. By Friday, the Iraqi minister of defense, Abdul Qadir Jasim, had to admit in a news conference in Basra that the Mahdi army had caught Iraqi security forces off guard. Most Sadrist neighborhoods fought off the government troops with rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire. At the same time, the Mahdi army asserted itself in several important cities in the Shiite south, as well as in parts of Baghdad, raising questions of how much of the country the government really controls. Only on Sunday, after the U.S. Air Force bombed some key Mahdi army positions, was the Iraqi army able to move into one of the Sadrist districts of Basra.
By the time the cease-fire was called, al-Maliki had been bloodied after days of ineffective fighting and welcomed a way back from the precipice. Both Iran, which brokered the agreement, and al-Sadr, whose forces acquitted themselves well against the government, were strengthened. As of press time Tuesday morning in Iraq, the truce was holding in Basra, and a curfew had been lifted in Baghdad, though sporadic fighting continued in the capital. Estimates of casualties for the week were 350.
The campaign was a predictable fiasco, another in a long line of strategic failures for the sickly and divided Iraqi government, which survives largely because it is propped up by the United States. So why did al-Maliki do it? With no obvious immediate crisis in Basra that called for such desperate measures, what could have motivated the decision to attack?
Three main motivations present themselves: control of petroleum smuggling, staying in power (including keeping U.S. troops around to ensure it), and the achievement of a Shiite super-province in the south. A southern super-province would spell a soft partition of the country, benefiting Shiites in the long term while cutting Sunnis out of substantial oil revenues, both licit and illicit. But all of the motivations have to do with something President Bush established as a benchmark in January 2007: upcoming provincial elections.
The Sadr Movement leaders themselves are convinced that the recent setting of a date for provincial elections, on Oct. 1, 2008, and al-Maliki's desire to improve the government's position in advance of the elections, precipitated the prime minister's attack. It is widely thought that the Sadrists might sweep to power in the provinces in free and fair elections, since the electorate is deeply dissatisfied with the performance of the major incumbent party in the southern provinces, the Islamic Supreme Council of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. ...
Posted on: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 - 21:18
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (4-1-08)
With an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question any more of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.
However, the very idea that the United States was an empire did not occur to me until after I finished my work as a bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, and came home. Even as I began to have second thoughts about the purity of the"Good War," even after being horrified by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even after rethinking my own bombing of towns in Europe, I still did not put all that together in the context of an American"Empire."
I was conscious, like everyone, of the British Empire and the other imperial powers of Europe, but the United States was not seen in the same way. When, after the war, I went to college under the G.I. Bill of Rights and took courses in U.S. history, I usually found a chapter in the history texts called"The Age of Imperialism." It invariably referred to the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines that followed. It seemed that American imperialism lasted only a relatively few years. There was no overarching view of U.S. expansion that might lead to the idea of a more far-ranging empire -- or period of"imperialism."
I recall the classroom map (labeled"Western Expansion") which presented the march across the continent as a natural, almost biological phenomenon. That huge acquisition of land called"The Louisiana Purchase" hinted at nothing but vacant land acquired. There was no sense that this territory had been occupied by hundreds of Indian tribes which would have to be annihilated or forced from their homes -- what we now call"ethnic cleansing" -- so that whites could settle the land, and later railroads could crisscross it, presaging" civilization" and its brutal discontents.
Neither the discussions of"Jacksonian democracy" in history courses, nor the popular book by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Jackson, told me about the"Trail of Tears," the deadly forced march of"the five civilized tribes" westward from Georgia and Alabama across the Mississippi, leaving 4,000 dead in their wake. No treatment of the Civil War mentioned the Sand Creek massacre of hundreds of Indian villagers in Colorado just as"emancipation" was proclaimed for black people by Lincoln's administration.
That classroom map also had a section to the south and west labeled"Mexican Cession." This was a handy euphemism for the aggressive war against Mexico in 1846 in which the United States seized half of that country's land, giving us California and the great Southwest. The term"Manifest Destiny," used at that time, soon of course became more universal. On the eve of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Washington Post saw beyond Cuba:"We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle."
The violent march across the continent, and even the invasion of Cuba, appeared to be within a natural sphere of U.S. interest. After all, hadn't the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 declared the Western Hemisphere to be under our protection? But with hardly a pause after Cuba came the invasion of the Philippines, halfway around the world. The word"imperialism" now seemed a fitting one for U.S. actions. Indeed, that long, cruel war -- treated quickly and superficially in the history books -- gave rise to an Anti-Imperialist League, in which William James and Mark Twain were leading figures. But this was not something I learned in university either.
The"Sole Superpower" Comes into View
Reading outside the classroom, however, I began to fit the pieces of history into a larger mosaic. What at first had seemed like a purely passive foreign policy in the decade leading up to the First World War now appeared as a succession of violent interventions: the seizure of the Panama Canal zone from Colombia, a naval bombardment of the Mexican coast, the dispatch of the Marines to almost every country in Central America, occupying armies sent to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As the much-decorated General Smedley Butler, who participated in many of those interventions, wrote later:"I was an errand boy for Wall Street."
At the very time I was learning this history -- the years after World War II -- the United States was becoming not just another imperial power, but the world's leading superpower. Determined to maintain and expand its monopoly on nuclear weapons, it was taking over remote islands in the Pacific, forcing the inhabitants to leave, and turning the islands into deadly playgrounds for more atomic tests.
In his memoir, No Place to Hide, Dr. David Bradley, who monitored radiation in those tests, described what was left behind as the testing teams went home:"[R]adioactivity, contamination, the wrecked island of Bikini and its sad-eyed patient exiles." The tests in the Pacific were followed, over the years, by more tests in the deserts of Utah and Nevada, more than a thousand tests in all.
When the war in Korea began in 1950, I was still studying history as a graduate student at Columbia University. Nothing in my classes prepared me to understand American policy in Asia. But I was reading I. F. Stone's Weekly. Stone was among the very few journalists who questioned the official justification for sending an army to Korea. It seemed clear to me then that it was not the invasion of South Korea by the North that prompted U.S. intervention, but the desire of the United States to have a firm foothold on the continent of Asia, especially now that the Communists were in power in China.
Years later, as the covert intervention in Vietnam grew into a massive and brutal military operation, the imperial designs of the United States became yet clearer to me. In 1967, I wrote a little book called Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. By that time I was heavily involved in the movement against the war.
When I read the hundreds of pages of the Pentagon Papers entrusted to me by Daniel Ellsberg, what jumped out at me were the secret memos from the National Security Council. Explaining the U.S. interest in Southeast Asia, they spoke bluntly of the country's motives as a quest for"tin, rubber, oil."
Neither the desertions of soldiers in the Mexican War, nor the draft riots of the Civil War, not the anti-imperialist groups at the turn of the century, nor the strong opposition to World War I -- indeed no antiwar movement in the history of the nation reached the scale of the opposition to the war in Vietnam. At least part of that opposition rested on an understanding that more than Vietnam was at stake, that the brutal war in that tiny country was part of a grander imperial design.
Various interventions following the U.S. defeat in Vietnam seemed to reflect the desperate need of the still-reigning superpower -- even after the fall of its powerful rival, the Soviet Union -- to establish its dominance everywhere. Hence the invasion of Grenada in 1982, the bombing assault on Panama in 1989, the first Gulf war of 1991. Was George Bush Sr. heartsick over Saddam Hussein's seizure of Kuwait, or was he using that event as an opportunity to move U.S. power firmly into the coveted oil region of the Middle East? Given the history of the United States, given its obsession with Middle Eastern oil dating from Franklin Roosevelt's 1945 deal with King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, and the CIA's overthrow of the democratic Mossadeq government in Iran in 1953, it is not hard to decide that question.
The ruthless attacks of September 11th (as the official 9/11 Commission acknowledged) derived from fierce hatred of U.S. expansion in the Middle East and elsewhere. Even before that event, the Defense Department acknowledged, according to Chalmers Johnson's book The Sorrows of Empire, the existence of more than 700 American military bases outside of the United States.
Since that date, with the initiation of a"war on terrorism," many more bases have been established or expanded: in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, the desert of Qatar, the Gulf of Oman, the Horn of Africa, and wherever else a compliant nation could be bribed or coerced.
When I was bombing cities in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and France in the Second World War, the moral justification was so simple and clear as to be beyond discussion: We were saving the world from the evil of fascism. I was therefore startled to hear from a gunner on another crew -- what we had in common was that we both read books -- that he considered this"an imperialist war." Both sides, he said, were motivated by ambitions of control and conquest. We argued without resolving the issue. Ironically, tragically, not long after our discussion, this fellow was shot down and killed on a mission.
In wars, there is always a difference between the motives of the soldiers and the motives of the political leaders who send them into battle. My motive, like that of so many, was innocent of imperial ambition. It was to help defeat fascism and create a more decent world, free of aggression, militarism, and racism.
The motive of the U.S. establishment, understood by the aerial gunner I knew, was of a different nature. It was described early in 1941 by Henry Luce, multi-millionaire owner of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, as the coming of"The American Century." The time had arrived, he said, for the United States"to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit, and by such means as we see fit."
We can hardly ask for a more candid, blunter declaration of imperial design. It has been echoed in recent years by the intellectual handmaidens of the Bush administration, but with assurances that the motive of this"influence" is benign, that the"purposes" -- whether in Luce's formulation or more recent ones -- are noble, that this is an"imperialism lite." As George Bush said in his second inaugural address:"Spreading liberty around the world… is the calling of our time." The New York Times called that speech"striking for its idealism."
The American Empire has always been a bipartisan project -- Democrats and Republicans have taken turns extending it, extolling it, justifying it. President Woodrow Wilson told graduates of the Naval Academy in 1914 (the year he bombarded Mexico) that the U.S. used"her navy and her army... as the instruments of civilization, not as the instruments of aggression." And Bill Clinton, in 1992, told West Point graduates:"The values you learned here… will be able to spread throughout the country and throughout the world."
For the people of the United States, and indeed for people all over the world, those claims sooner or later are revealed to be false. The rhetoric, often persuasive on first hearing, soon becomes overwhelmed by horrors that can no longer be concealed: the bloody corpses of Iraq, the torn limbs of American GIs, the millions of families driven from their homes -- in the Middle East and in the Mississippi Delta.
Have not the justifications for empire, embedded in our culture, assaulting our good sense -- that war is necessary for security, that expansion is fundamental to civilization -- begun to lose their hold on our minds? Have we reached a point in history where we are ready to embrace a new way of living in the world, expanding not our military power, but our humanity?
Posted on: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 - 21:08
SOURCE: New Yorker (3-31-08)
Lippmann likened the average American—or “outsider,” as he tellingly named him—to a “deaf spectator in the back row” at a sporting event: “He does not know what is happening, why it is happening, what ought to happen,” and “he lives in a world which he cannot see, does not understand and is unable to direct.” In a description that may strike a familiar chord with anyone who watches cable news or listens to talk radio today, Lippmann assumed a public that “is slow to be aroused and quickly diverted . . . and is interested only when events have been melodramatized as a conflict.” A committed élitist, Lippmann did not see why anyone should find these conclusions shocking. Average citizens are hardly expected to master particle physics or post-structuralism. Why should we expect them to understand the politics of Congress, much less that of the Middle East?
Lippmann’s preferred solution was, in essence, to junk democracy entirely. He justified this by arguing that the results were what mattered. Even “if there were a prospect” that people could become sufficiently well-informed to govern themselves wisely, he wrote, “it is extremely doubtful whether many of us would wish to be bothered.” In his first attempt to consider the issue, in “Liberty and the News” (1920), Lippmann suggested addressing the problem by raising the status of journalism to that of more respected professions. Two years later, in “Public Opinion,” he concluded that journalism could never solve the problem merely by “acting upon everybody for thirty minutes in twenty-four hours.” Instead, in one of the oddest formulations of his long career, Lippmann proposed the creation of “intelligence bureaus,” which would be given access to all the information they needed to judge the government’s actions without concerning themselves much with democratic preferences or public debate. Just what, if any, role the public would play in this process Lippmann never explained.
John Dewey termed “Public Opinion” “perhaps the most effective indictment of democracy as currently conceived ever penned,” and he spent much of the next five years countering it. The result, published in 1927, was an extremely tendentious, dense, yet important book, titled “The Public and Its Problems.” Dewey did not dispute Lippmann’s contention regarding journalism’s flaws or the public’s vulnerability to manipulation. But Dewey thought that Lippmann’s cure was worse than the disease. While Lippmann viewed public opinion as little more than the sum of the views of each individual, much like a poll, Dewey saw it more like a focus group. The foundation of democracy to Dewey was less information than conversation. Members of a democratic society needed to cultivate what the journalism scholar James W. Carey, in describing the debate, called “certain vital habits” of democracy—the ability to discuss, deliberate on, and debate various perspectives in a manner that would move it toward consensus.
Dewey also criticized Lippmann’s trust in knowledge-based élites. “A class of experts is inevitably so removed from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge,” he argued. “The man who wears the shoe knows best that it pinches and where it pinches, even if the expert shoemaker is the best judge of how the trouble is to be remedied.”
Lippmann and Dewey devoted much of the rest of their lives to addressing the problems they had diagnosed, Lippmann as the archetypal insider pundit and Dewey as the prophet of democratic education. To the degree that posterity can be said to have declared a winner in this argument, the future turned out much closer to Lippmann’s ideal. Dewey’s confidence in democracy rested in significant measure on his “faith in the capacity of human beings for intelligent judgment and action if proper conditions are furnished.” But nothing in his voluminous writings gives the impression that he believed these conditions—which he defined expansively to include democratic schools, factories, voluntary associations, and, particularly, newspapers—were ever met in his lifetime. (Dewey died in 1952, at the age of ninety-two.) ...
Posted on: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 - 20:28