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: Edge of the American West (blog) (3-31-08)
Seventy-five years ago today Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to create the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the New Deal’s most popular programs. In his address to Congress, Roosevelt was obviously concerned with the twenty-five percent unemployment rate then gripping the nation. Yet a second crisis also worried the President. Noting severe flooding occurring along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, due in large part to deforestation along their banks, Roosevelt warned Congress that the country faced an environmental emergency as well. To combat simultaneously both crises — one economic, the other environmental — FDR called for the creation of the CCC.
During its nine-year existence the Corps helped battle both of these national problems. On the economic front, from 1933 to 1942 the CCC provided jobs for more than three million young men between the ages of 18 and 25. The Corps was as successful environmentally. Enrollees in the New Deal program planted more than two billion trees, slowed soil erosion on forty million acres of Dust Bowl farmland, and developed more than 800 new state parks that provided outdoor recreation to millions of Americans. All told, CCC work projects altered more than 118 million acres across the United States, an area approximately three times the size of Connecticut.
Today we face a similar pair of predicaments. News of Bear Stearns’ possible collapse last week was all too reminiscent of the wave of bank runs that cascaded across America during the early 1930s, and suggested to many economists that the looming recession may intensify into a full-blown depression. Meanwhile, record rainfall across much of the Midwest during the past few weeks not only caused river flooding, similar to that which alarmed Franklin Roosevelt back in the spring of 1933, but also highlighted once again the serious environmental consequences of global warming. While in the United States these two contemporary crises — one economic, the other environmental — are not often linked in the minds of most citizens, they are very much connected in other parts of the world.
Brazil has recently begun looking back to Franklin Roosevelt’s CCC to help solve that country’s economic and environmental problems. Plagued by high unemployment rates approaching ten percent, local, state, and federal governments in cooperation with non-governmental organizations and corporations have begun putting jobless Brazilians to work planting trees. The goal of Brazil’s CCC-like program, which the Nature Conservancy helped initiate, is to plant one billion trees over the next ten years across the country’s Atlantic Forest. Rather than funding the program by increasing taxes, Brazil will rely on novel market mechanisms including the sale of sequestration vouchers on the international carbon market, obtained through the program’s reforestation efforts, as well as the collection of water use fees in the reforested regions. Similar tree-planting programs reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt’s CCC are also now operating in China along the Yangtze River and through Wangari Maathai’s Greenbelt Movement in Kenya. Even war-torn Afghanistan has created its own “Afghan Conservation Corps.”
The United States needs to follow suit, and the upcoming election is a good place to start. Hillary Clinton openly calls for the creation of a “green economy” centered on a cap and trade system for carbon emissions that will help create five million new jobs. Barack Obama wants to develop a program that rewards those who plant trees, restore grassland, or undertake farming practices that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even John McCain, who claims fellow Republican and early conservationist Teddy Roosevelt as his hero, proposes to limit carbon emissions as president. A new and improved Civilian Conservation Corps, one which enrolls women as well as men and focuses its efforts on fighting global warming, would allow all of these candidates to turn campaign rhetoric into post-election reality.
Seventy-five years ago today Franklin Roosevelt began putting millions of unemployed Americans to work conserving natural resource. Since that time, the CCC has become a model for other nations around the world in an age of economic and environmental uncertainty. The United States should join this movement, and use its past to help safeguard the planet’s future.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 - 21:53
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (4-1-08)
Some analysts of Islam in Western Europe argue that the continent cannot escape its Eurabian fate; that the trend lines of the past half-century will continue until Muslims become a majority population and Islamic law (the Shari‘a) reigns.
I disagree, arguing that there is another route the continent might take, one of resistance to Islamification and a reassertion of traditional ways. Indigenous Europeans – who make up 95 percent of the population – can insist on their historic customs and mores. Were they to do so, nothing would be in their way and no one could stop them.
Indeed, Europeans are visibly showing signs of impatience with creeping Shari‘a. The legislation in France that prohibits hijabs from public school classrooms signals the reluctance to accept Islamic ways, as are related efforts to ban burqas, mosques, and minarets. Throughout Western Europe, anti-immigrant parties are generally increasing in popularity.
That resistance took a new turn last week, with two dramatic events. First, on March 22, Pope Benedict XVI himself baptized, confirmed, and gave the Eucharist to Magdi Allam, 56, a prominent Egyptian-born Muslim long living in Italy, where he is a top editor at the Corriere della Sera newspaper and a well-known author. Allam took the middle name Cristiano. The ceremony converting him to the Catholic religion could not have been higher profile, occurring at a nighttime service at St. Peter's Basilica on the eve of Easter Sunday, with exhaustive coverage from the Vatican and many other television stations.
Allam followed up his conversion with a stinging statement in which he argued that beyond "the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive." In other words, the problem is not just Islamism but Islam itself. One commentator, "Spengler" of Asia Times, goes so far as to say that Allam "presents an existential threat to Muslim life" because he "agrees with his former co-religionists in repudiating the degraded culture of the modern West, and offers them something quite different: a religion founded upon love."
Second, on March 27, Geert Wilders, 44, released his long-awaited, 15-minute film, Fitna, which consists of some of the most bellicose verses of the Koran, followed by actions in accord with those verses carried out by Islamists in recent years. The obvious implication is that Islamists are simply acting in accord with their scriptures. In Allam's words, Wilders also argues that "the root of evil is inherent" in Islam.
Unlike Allam and Wilders, I do distinguish between Islam and Islamism, but I believe it imperative that their ideas get a fair hearing, without vituperation or punishment. An honest debate over Islam must take place.
If Allam's conversion was a surprise and Wilders' film had a three-month run-up, in both cases, the aggressive, violent reactions that met prior criticisms of Islam did not take place. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Dutch police contacted imams to gauge reactions at the city's mosques and found, according to police spokesman Arnold Aben, "it's quieter than usual here today. Sort of like a holiday." In Pakistan, a rally against the film attracted only some dozens of protestors.
This relatively constrained reaction points to the fact that Muslim threats sufficed to enforce censorship. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende denounced Fitna and, after 3.6 million visitors had viewed it on the British website LiveLeak.com, the company announced that "Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, … Liveleak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers." (Two days later, however, LiveLeak again posted the film.)
Three similarities bear noting: both Allam (author of a book titled Viva Israele) and Wilders (whose film emphasizes Muslim violence against Jews) stand up for Israel and the Jews; Muslim threats against their lives have forced both for years to live under state-provided round-the-clock police protection; and, more profoundly, the two share a passion for European civilization.
Indeed, Allam and Wilders may represent the vanguard of a Christian/liberal reassertion of European values. It is too soon to predict, but these staunch individuals could provide a crucial boost for those intent on maintaining the continent's historic identity.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 - 20:45
SOURCE: Commentary (4-1-08)
Americans have regularly changed their minds in the midst of their ongoing wars—and not just once, but often. War is a volatile enterprise. Tactics, strategies, and commanders must be sorted out amid death and destruction before the proper combination is found to defeat the enemy. In the meantime, the reasons for going to war, the manner in which the war is fought, and the objectives for which it is waged are constantly being weighed at home against the costs of conducting it. As a result, impatient democracies—and Americans are nothing if not impatient—are liable to suffer alternating fits of unrestrained optimism and utter despair.
This volatility has certainly characterized our current engagement in Iraq, but it has been no less true before. In the early days of the Civil War, a confident North was sure of quick victory in a righteous cause. After the slaughters of 1862 at Shiloh, Antietam, and Frederickburg, the North then fell into collective querulousness and despair. By the summer of 1863, the North was ebullient again as its armies won crushing, near-simultaneous victories at both Gettysburg and Vicksburg. A year later, after the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, Lincoln and all he stood for were reviled. Stalemate or concession seemed imminent—until General Philip Sheridan ran wild in the Shenandoah Valley and William Tecumseh Sherman took Atlanta on September 2, 1864.
Lincoln’s war aims were largely the same in April 1865 as they had been in April 1861. It was not his policies per se that lost, regained, lost, and once more gained public support but rather the perceived progress, or lack thereof, of Union arms. And these mercurial reactions have likewise been the norm in our later history. In World War II, well after the initial gloom of 1939-42 had disappeared with the turnaround in 1943 and 1944, near-shock set in over the horrendous Allied slaughters at the Bulge and Okinawa—only to be set aside within a matter of months when the war ended victoriously.
In the Korean war, to take another example, Seoul changed hands four times. Harry Truman, who had won support for the deployment of American troops in the summer of 1950 and then lost it with the massive Chinese invasion of December, left office in January 1953 with a 22-percent approval rating. But his successor Dwight Eisenhower, without materially changing American strategy or war aims, mustered fresh support for stabilizing the situation once General Matthew Ridgway had succeeded in restoring an autonomous South Korea below the 38th parallel, and in preventing further Communist aggression.
In the first two years of the Vietnam war (1963-65), the struggle was generally deemed to be essential to our national interest and, what is more, winnable. By 1967, however, the war was beginning to be seen as a quagmire; by mid-1968, it had been written off by many as a disaster. Then, five years later, in 1973, it was grudgingly judged to have been settled by the Paris peace accords—before being lost in 1975.
And Iraq? Three-quarters of Americans favored the initial decision in October 2002 to remove Saddam Hussein. In the wake of our brilliant three-week victory in April 2003 and the initial, relatively quiet months of the postwar occupation, the public maintained its strong support. This remained the case even after it became clear that we had not found arsenals of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), one of the chief reasons offered by the Bush administration for going to war....
Posted on: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 - 20:17
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (4-1-08)
MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION about recent Iraqi operations against illegal Shia militias has focused on issues about which we do not yet know enough to make sound judgments, overlooking important conclusions that are already clear. Coming days and weeks will provide greater insight into whether Maliki or Sadr gained or lost from this undertaking; how well or badly the Iraqi Security Forces performed; and what kind of deal (if any) the Iraqi Government accepted in return for Sadr's order to stand down his forces. The following lists provide a brief summary of what we can say with confidence about recent operations and what we cannot.
What We Know:
* The legitimate Government of Iraq and its legally-constituted security forces launched a security operation against illegal, foreign-backed, insurgent and criminal militias serving leaders who openly call for the defeat and humiliation of the United States and its allies in Iraq and throughout the region. We can be ambivalent about the political motivations of Maliki and his allies, but we cannot be ambivalent about the outcome of this combat between our open allies and our open enemies.
* The Sadrists and Special Groups failed to set Iraq alight despite their efforts--Iraqi forces kept the Five Cities area (Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, and Kut) under control with very little Coalition assistance; Iraqi and Coalition forces kept Baghdad under control.
* Sadr never moved to return to Iraq, ordered his forces to stop fighting without achieving anything, and further demonstrated his dependence on (and control by) Iran.
* Maliki demonstrated a surprising and remarkable commitment to fighting Iranian-backed Special Groups, JAM fighters, and even criminal elements of JAM. The Iraqi Government has loudly declared that "enforcing the law" applies to Shia areas as well as Sunni. Maliki has called Shia militias "worse than al Qaeda." These are things we've been pressing him to do for nearly two years.
* We've said all along that we did not think the ISF was ready to take care of the security situation on its own. Maliki was overconfident and overly-optimistic. But for those who keep pressing the Iraqis to "step up," here's absolute proof that they are willing. Are we willing to support them when they do what we demand? Can anyone reasonably argue that they will do better if we pull out completely?
* On March 30, Sadr ordered his followers to stop fighting. This decision contrasts with his 2004 decision to fight on, and his continued presence in Iran combined with this surrender results from weakness, rather than strength.
* The ISF operation did not clear Basra or destroy either Special Groups or the Mahdi Army.
* But the ISF performed remarkably well, moving numerous units to Basra on short notice, establishing them in the city, engaging in hard fighting, and stopping only when Sadr caved.
* Special Groups launched concerted attacks in Baghdad and in the Five Cities area (the Shia heartland), but were repulsed by ISF forces acting almost alone in the Five Cities area and by a combination of ISF and Coalition forces in Baghdad.
* Throughout the operation, the Iraqi Government acted calmly and purposefully, the ISF reported for duty (the number of reported "defectors" etc. was trivial compared to the tens of thousands of forces that fought loyally), moved and fought as directed, mostly with minimal Coalition support.
What We Don't Know
* Why did Maliki launch the operation when he did?
* What was his precise aim? He continually spoke about fighting "criminal elements," but then issued an ultimatum for the disarmament of all JAM (a task clearly beyond the means of the forces he sent to Basra).
* How well did the ISF fight in Basra and, in general, what actually happened there? The absence of partnered Coalition Forces in the city makes it extremely difficult to understand the nature of the fighting and the Iraqi forces' performance--long experience in the limitations of stringers and "eyewitnesses" or hospital sources in places where we did know what had actually happened should leave us skeptical of all initial reports of combat coming out of Basra.
* Who will gain or lose more credit in the eyes of the Iraqi people, and particularly the Shia-Maliki or Sadr? The answer to this question probably depends on what happens next.
* Did Maliki accept a deal with Sadr in return for his stand-down order and, if so, what was involved? We know what Sadr's demands were (at least publicly), but he ordered his forces to stop fighting before Maliki publicly accepted his terms.
* Will Maliki persist in his efforts to disarm JAM and Special Groups or will he lose his nerve? The answer to this question probably depends in large part on whether or not the United States shows a willingness to support the Iraqi Government.
* How will JAM and Special Groups react? Will they continue with or accelerate the offensive they had already been conducting since the start of the year, or has this operation blunted that offensive and thrown them off-balance?
* What does the agreement between tribal leaders in Dhi Qar Province and the Iraqi Government portend? Will the government accept "sons of Iraq" in Shia areas? This development could be the start of a significant shift in the political sands in southern Iraq--or not.
* There are already signs of increasing tension between Sadr and Iran--will they increase or decrease after this conflict?
This operation offers a number of extremely positive signs about the willingness of the Iraqi Government to address a fundamental challenge that has been plaguing it (and us) since 2004, the ability of the ISF to absorb country-wide efforts to light up the Shia community, and the increasingly overt malign role Iran is playing in the conflict. It can provide us with a critical opportunity to increase our influence in Shia Iraq and help encourage the development of local political movements there as we have done in Sunni areas. Most of all, it is the most overt and decisive recent engagement between our Iraqi allies and their Iranian foes. We should have no doubt about where our interests lie.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 - 20:14