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: Salon (5-12-08)
Al-Jazeera's coverage of the primary focused on the facts and avoided editorializing, and its interpretation of the meaning of last Tuesday's events was squarely within the mainstream of U.S. political reporting. The only exceptional things about it were the language spoken by the on-air talent and the fact that a satellite channel based halfway around the world in a tiny Gulf emirate had the means and the interest to report from Indiana and Washington on the complexities of the U.S. primary system to Arabic-speaking viewers.
Many Americans incorrectly think of Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language network as al-Qaida Central because it occasionally broadcasts excerpts from videotapes of the terror organization's leaders. Nowadays, however, viewers are far more likely to see images of the American presidential candidates on the channel's screens. As the United States, always an interested party, has become a dominant on-the-ground player in the Middle East, residents of the region increasingly feel that their own fate depends on the outcome of this election. I was in Qatar earlier this month and stopped by the office of Ahmed Sheikh, editor in chief of Al-Jazeera's Arabic service, to ask him about his network's coverage of the campaign.
Al-Jazeera's Arabic service studios in the rapidly growing metropolis of Doha have been expanded but are still relatively modest. The facilities at the new English-language Al-Jazeera International across the street are far more state-of-the-art. The correspondent who welcomed me said that when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited, he was taken aback by how small the studio was, remarking, "So this is the matchbox that has caused all that trouble!"
Safely delivered to Sheikh's office, I was plied with strong Arab tea. Soon our conversation turned to the U.S. presidential campaign. Why, I asked, give such distant events air time? "Because the United States is occupying Iraq and it is an ally of Israel and a power broker in the region," Sheikh replied. "The United States is the only superpower on the planet. Events in Iraq and Palestine affect this area."
He revealed that the station would be preparing 40 more stories between now and November covering the American elections. "We are interested in the Arab-American vote, but also in the black and Hispanic votes. Arab-Americans may be trending Democratic, largely because of the Iraq situation." (When I later spoke to Gaven Morris, the Australian head of planning at Al-Jazeera International, he said his service had not been covering the primaries intensively, but would ramp up coverage closer to the general election for its audiences in Asia, Africa and Latin America. I had the impression that the Arabic channel was more interested in the primary season.)...
Posted on: Tuesday, May 13, 2008 - 21:38
SOURCE: Inside Higher Ed (5-12-08)
Even as Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee last Tuesday, his continuing failure to win white working-class voters clouds his prospects for November. The inability to connect with noncollege educated whites also undercuts his claim to being a truly transformative candidate — a Robert F. Kennedy figure — who could significantly change the direction of the country. In the fall campaign, however, Obama’s suggestion that he may be ready to change the focus of affirmative action policies in higher education — away from race to economic class — could prove pivotal in his efforts to reach working-class whites, and revive the great hopes of Bobby Kennedy’s candidacy.
Affirmative action is a highly charged issue, which most politicians stay away from. But nothing could carry more potent symbolic value with Reagan Democrats than for Obama to end the Democratic Party’s 40 years of support for racial preferences and to argue, instead, for preferences — in college admissions and elsewhere — based on economic status. Obama needs to do something dramatic. Right now, while people inside and outside the Obama campaign are making the RFK comparison, working-class whites aren’t buying it. The results in Tuesday’s Indiana primary are particularly poignant. Obama won handily among black Hoosiers, but lost the non-college educated white vote to Hillary Clinton by 66-34 percent. Forty years earlier, by contrast, Kennedy astonished observers by forging a coalition of blacks and working class whites, the likes of which we have rarely seen since then.
On May 6, 1968, the day before the Indiana primary, Kennedy participated in an iconic motorcade through industrial Lake County, with black mayor Richard Hatcher sitting on one side of Kennedy and boxer Tony Zale, the native son hero of Gary’s Slavic steelworkers on the other. On primary election day, running against Eugene McCarthy and a stand in for Hubert Humphrey, Kennedy
swept the black vote but also white working-class wards which four years earlier had supported Alabama Governor George Wallace’s presidential bid. Author Robert Coles told Kennedy, “There is something going on here that has to do with real class politics.”
Of course, Obama’s skin color may have made it more difficult for him to attract these voters than it had been for Kennedy. But in some ways RFK had it harder: The May 1968 primary came on the heels of widespread urban rioting spawned by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April. Blue
collar whites and blacks were at each others throats, and Kennedy was the one national politician most closely associated with black America....
Posted on: Monday, May 12, 2008 - 20:50
SOURCE: Nation (5-12-08)
Already climate change--in the form of a changing pattern of global rainfall--seems to be affecting the planet in significant ways. Take the massive, almost decade-long drought in Australia's wheat-growing heartland, which has been a significant factor in sending flour prices, and so bread prices, soaring globally, leading to desperation and food riots across the planet.
A report from the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia makes clear that, despite recent heavy rains in the eastern Australian breadbasket, years of above normal rainfall would be needed"to remove the very long-term [water] deficits" in the region. The report then adds this ominous note:"The combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to 10 years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent and is, at least partly, a result of climate change."
Think a bit about that phrase --"without historical precedent." Except when it comes to technological invention, it hasn't been much part of our lives these last many centuries. Without historical precedent. Brace yourselves, it's about to become a commonplace in our vocabulary. The southeastern United States, for instance, was, for the last couple of years, locked in a drought -- which is finally easing --"without historical precedent." In other words, there was nothing (repeat, nothing) in the historical record that provided a guide to what might happen next.
Now, it's true that the industrial revolution, which led to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at historically unprecedented rates, was also, in a sense,"without historical precedent"; but most natural events -- unlike, say, the present staggering ice melt in the Arctic -- have been precedented (if I can manufacture such a word). They have been part of the historical record. That era--the era of history--is now, however, threatening to give way to a period capable of outrunning history itself, of outrunning us.
Just as this week begins, scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii have released new information on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere--and it's at a record high of 387 parts per million (ppm),"up almost 40% since the industrial revolution and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years." 650,000 years. Think of that. The historical era is well less than 10,000 years old. According to a recent study by renown NASA climatologist Jim Hansen published in Science magazine,"if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed," we need to create the necessary conditions that will return us to 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere--and soon. Environmentalist Bill McKibben, who has started a new website called 350.org calls that 350 "the most important number on Earth."
The planet in its long existence may have experienced the extremes to come, but we haven't. The planet, unlike much life on it, may not--given millions or tens of millions of years to recover--be in danger, but we are.
When you really think about it, history is humanity. It's common enough to talk about some historical figure or failed experiment being swept into the"dustbin of history," but what if all history and that dustbin, too, go… well, where? What are we, really, without our records? Once we pass beyond them, beyond all the experience we've collected, written down, and archived since those first scratches went on clay tablets in the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates--now being stripped of their cultural patrimony -- at least two unanswerable questions arise. Once history has been left in the dust, where are we? -- and, who are we? If Hansen, McKibben, and other scientists are correct, can we stop just short of the cliff of the post-historical era?
Posted on: Monday, May 12, 2008 - 19:45
SOURCE: TruthDig.com (5-8-08)
Who are these powerful insiders? Why are they there? The story goes back 40 years, to when the party, battered by the bloody debacle of the 1968 convention and subsequent loss to Richard Nixon, revised its method of selection to bring in more delegates who were outside the official circles of power, particularly women and people of color.
But in 1972 George McGovern lost 49 states. In 1976 Jimmy Carter squeezed out a close win over Gerald Ford, who was still floundering in the blowback from Watergate, and in 1980 Carter was buried under a Reagan landslide. In 1982, looking at this record of three losses in four tries, the party leaders decided to reform their earlier reform and bring back seasoned veterans familiar with the unlovely sausage-making machinery of actually choosing a candidate who can win.
The list now includes all Democratic members of Congress and of the Democratic National Committee, all sitting Democratic governors, all living former Democratic presidents and vice presidents and all past Democratic majority or minority leaders in both houses of Congress. They make up about 20 percent of all the delegates—but 40 percent of the 2,025 needed to nominate.
If the Clinton team can persuade these men and women by summer that Obama is unable to win the general election and they choose her despite primary vote numbers in his favor, there is sure to be a loud and anguished protest about the violation of the democratic process. Delegates who have sweated their way through grueling primaries to win votes for their favorite don’t want to feel that they simply took part in a nonbinding beauty contest. But the “supers” (a term the Democratic Party officially dislikes) could bristle equally at the idea of simply rubber-stamping the decision of delegates swept into the convention hall on a possibly short-lived wave of enthusiasm for a charismatic candidate. Either way, when the winner’s hand is raised on the platform amid the bands and the balloons, it’s going to be a wounded Democratic Party that finally gets down to contesting John McCain. And there’s a possibility that disgruntled stay-home supporters of the loser could hand the election to the Republicans.
The party’s in a pickle for which reformers and counter-reformers prepared the vat and the spices.
The problem didn’t arise sooner because in all the Democratic nomination contests from 1984 on, the winners had the victory sewed up before the opening gavel fell. The new formula yielded only two wins in six elections. Actually, three, for Al Gore would have clearly won in Florida but for the questionable denial of ballots to large numbers of African-Americans and the confusion of many elderly Democratic voters by a “butterfly ballot” that made it hard to pick out Gore’s line. The Supreme Court’s fiat, however, confirmed the theft.
In all it appears that the post-1968 reforms as modified by the post-1980 reforms have not been lucky for the Democrats. The law of unintended consequences that often dogs reformers may be at work.
Open primaries, first introduced at the start of the last century, were a wonderful democratizing idea. But no one could foresee how, a century later, the primaries themselves would suffer the debasements of the general election—too much money required simply to enter the race, let alone win; too much media attention to personalities and too little to policies, principles and programs.
Certainly it was heartening after 1968 to see faces on the Democratic convention floor more representative of the variety of American voters. And most people do not yearn for the era of nominations made at 2 a.m. by the old (and white) boys in the smoke-filled rooms. Yet look at what the old system produced, contrasted with the new. In the 10 elections ending in 1968 the Democrats nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt four times, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson twice, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. In the nine since then, McGovern, Carter twice, Walter Mondale, Bill Clinton twice, Gore and John Kerry. Whatever their individual virtues, it would be hard to argue that they represent a major improvement on those seven predecessors.
It does seem as if the arranged marriage between a system of popularly chosen committed delegates and a small but potentially decisive cadre of unpledged and unelected but highly experienced delegates has struck a snag. Whatever happens this November, thoughtful Democrats of all persuasions need to take another look, perhaps another stab, at reconciling the two—or expediting a divorce.
Posted on: Friday, May 9, 2008 - 12:24
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (5-9-08)
In 2002, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic nominee for governor in my home state of Maryland, declined to make a path-breaking choice for Lieutenant Governor on her ticket by tapping an African-American nominee. She instead chose a conservative white male. This decision drained the enthusiasm from her campaign. It cost her crucial support within the Democratic base vote and contributed to her upset defeat by RepublicanRobert Ehrlich in the general election.
Barack Obama, who is nearly the presumptive Democratic nominee, should not make the same mistake of choosing a conventional, white male running mate. Rather, he should complete the Democratic dream ticket by making Hillary Clinton his vice presidential choice. Likewise, if Clinton should pull off an improbable upset and gain the nomination, she should choose Obama as her running mate.
It is unusual but not without precedent for presidential nominees to tap a competing candidate as their choice for vice president.
In 1960, Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas campaigned vigorously against Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts for the Democratic nomination for president. The struggle continued to the convention, where Kennedy and Johnson took part in an unprecedented debate in front of the Texas and Massachusetts delegations. John Kennedy and Johnson didn’t especially like one another and Bobby Kennedy and Johnson detested one another. But Kennedy still chose Johnson as his running mate to put together a dream North-South ticket.
In 1980, conservative Ronald Reagan and moderate George H. W. Bush waged a bitter struggle for the Republican presidential nomination and the ideological soul of their party. Still, Reagan picked Bush as his running mate to unite his party, even though Bush had derided Reagan’s economic plan as “voodoo economics” and opposed Reagan on issues such as abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment.
I am not suggesting that the Democrats should put together their dream ticket in order to help the party beat John McCain. Given that the Republican opposition is suffering from an unpopular war, a sour economy, and a president with the highest disapproval rating in the history of scientific polling, the Democrats should be able to win with a vice presidential candidate plucked from the phone booth.
Rather, I think the Democratic dream ticket would be good for the party and even better for the nation. So far the intense primary contest has yielded many benefits for Democrats. Millions of new voters have signed up with the Democratic Party, Democratic primary turnout has hit record levels, and Democrats have attained their largest lead in decades in party identification. A ticket that includes both Obama and Clinton would help sustain this momentum and produce a record Democratic turnout in November.
The two candidates also appeal to different segments of the electorate. Obama is strong among African-Americans, young voters, and more affluent and educated voters. Clinton appeals to older voters, women, and blue-collar voters. Of course, some Clinton backers have said that they would not vote for Obama and vice versa. But those heat-of-the-battle sentiments will surely change once the general election campaign begins, especially if their first choice for president is on the ticket.
The Democratic dream ticket would also inspire young people and demonstrate convincingly that no one is excluded from the American dream of opportunity and success. The ticket might even contribute to expanding the representation of women and African-Americans in the second highest set of offices in the land: governorships and US Senate seats. At present there is but one African-American Senator (Obama) and two governors, including David Paterson of New York, who assumed the office after the resignation of Eliot Spitzer. There are only 16 women Senators and 8 women governors.
Six years ago in a small place called Maryland the Democratic Party failed to present the voters with a ticket that included both a woman and an African-American. Democrats can only hope that their party will not make the same mistake on a much larger stage in 2008.
Posted on: Friday, May 9, 2008 - 11:13
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (5-8-08)
Nineteen years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall effectively eliminated the Soviet Union as the world's other superpower. Yes, the USSR as a political entity stumbled on for another two years, but it was clearly an ex-superpower from the moment it lost control over its satellites in Eastern Europe.
Less than a month ago, the United States similarly lost its claim to superpower status when a barrel crude oil roared past $110 on the international market, gasoline prices crossed the $3.50 threshold at American pumps, and diesel fuel topped $4.00. As was true of the USSR following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the USA will no doubt continue to stumble on like the superpower it once was; but as the nation's economy continues to be eviscerated to pay for its daily oil fix, it, too, will be seen by increasing numbers of savvy observers as an ex-superpower-in-the-making.
That the fall of the Berlin Wall spelled the erasure of the Soviet Union's superpower status was obvious to international observers at the time. After all, the USSR visibly ceased to exercise dominion over an empire (and an associated military-industrial complex) encompassing nearly half of Europe and much of Central Asia. The relationship between rising oil prices and the obliteration of America's superpower status is, however, hardly as self-evident. So let's consider the connection.
Dry Hole Superpower
The fact is, America's wealth and power has long rested on the abundance of cheap petroleum. The United States was, for a long time, the world's leading producer of oil, supplying its own needs while generating a healthy surplus for export.
Oil was the basis for the rise of the first giant multinational corporations in the U.S., notably John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company (now reconstituted as Exxon Mobil, the world's wealthiest publicly-traded corporation). Abundant, exceedingly affordable petroleum was also responsible for the emergence of the American automotive and trucking industries, the flourishing of the domestic airline industry, the development of the petrochemical and plastics industries, the suburbanization of America, and the mechanization of its agriculture. Without cheap and abundant oil, the United States would never have experienced the historic economic expansion of the post-World War II era.
No less important was the role of abundant petroleum in fueling the global reach of U.S. military power. For all the talk of America's growing reliance on computers, advanced sensors, and stealth technology to prevail in warfare, it has been oil above all that gave the U.S. military its capacity to"project power" onto distant battlefields like Iraq and Afghanistan. Every Humvee, tank, helicopter, and jet fighter requires its daily ration of petroleum, without which America's technology-driven military would be forced to abandon the battlefield. No surprise, then, that the U.S. Department of Defense is the world's single biggest consumer of petroleum, using more of it every day than the entire nation of Sweden.
From the end of World War II through the height of the Cold War, the U.S. claim to superpower status rested on a vast sea of oil. As long as most of our oil came from domestic sources and the price remained reasonably low, the American economy thrived and the annual cost of deploying vast armies abroad was relatively manageable. But that sea has been shrinking since the 1950s. Domestic oil production reached a peak in 1970 and has been in decline ever since -- with a growing dependency on imported oil as the result. When it came to reliance on imports, the United States crossed the 50% threshold in 1998 and now has passed 65%.
Though few fully realized it, this represented a significant erosion of sovereign independence even before the price of a barrel of crude soared above $110. By now, we are transferring such staggering sums yearly to foreign oil producers, who are using it to gobble up valuable American assets, that, whether we know it or not, we have essentially abandoned our claim to superpowerdom.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the United States is importing 12-14 million barrels of oil per day. At a current price of about $115 per barrel, that's $1.5 billion per day, or $548 billion per year. This represents the single largest contribution to America's balance-of-payments deficit, and is a leading cause for the dollar's ongoing drop in value. If oil prices rise any higher -- in response, perhaps, to a new crisis in the Middle East (as might be occasioned by U.S. air strikes on Iran) -- our annual import bill could quickly approach three-quarters of a trillion dollars or more per year.
While our economy is being depleted of these funds, at a moment when credit is scarce and economic growth has screeched to a halt, the oil regimes on which we depend for our daily fix are depositing their mountains of accumulating petrodollars in "sovereign wealth funds" (SWFs) -- state-controlled investment accounts that buy up prized foreign assets in order to secure non-oil-dependent sources of wealth. At present, these funds are already believed to hold in excess of several trillion dollars; the richest, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), alone holds $875 billion.
The ADIA first made headlines in November 2007 when it acquired a $7.5 billion stake in Citigroup, America's largest bank holding company. The fund has also made substantial investments in Advanced Micro Systems, a major chip maker, and the Carlyle Group, the private equity giant. Another big SWF, the Kuwait Investment Authority, also acquired a multibillion-dollar stake in Citigroup, along with a $6.6 billion chunk of Merrill Lynch. And these are but the first of a series of major SWF moves that will be aimed at acquiring stakes in top American banks and corporations.
The managers of these funds naturally insist that they have no intention of using their ownership of prime American properties to influence U.S. policy. In time, however, a transfer of economic power of this magnitude cannot help but translate into a transfer of political power as well. Indeed, this prospect has already stirred deep misgivings in Congress."In the short run, that they [the Middle Eastern SWFs] are investing here is good," Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) recently observed."But in the long run it is unsustainable. Our power and authority is eroding because of the amounts we are sending abroad for energy…."
No Summer Tax Holiday for the Pentagon
Foreign ownership of key nodes of our economy is only one sign of fading American superpower status. Oil's impact on the military is another.
Every day, the average G.I. in Iraq uses approximately 27 gallons of petroleum-based fuels. With some 160,000 American troops in Iraq, that amounts to 4.37 million gallons in daily oil usage, including gasoline for vans and light vehicles, diesel for trucks and armored vehicles, and aviation fuel for helicopters, drones, and fixed-wing aircraft. With U.S. forces paying, as of late April, an average of $3.23 per gallon for these fuels, the Pentagon is already spending approximately $14 million per day on oil ($98 million per week, $5.1 billion per year) to stay in Iraq. Meanwhile, our Iraqi allies, who are expected to receive a windfall of $70 billion this year from the rising price of their oil exports, charge their citizens $1.36 per gallon for gasoline.
When questioned about why Iraqis are paying almost a third less for oil than American forces in their country, senior Iraqi government officials scoff at any suggestion of impropriety."America has hardly even begun to repay its debt to Iraq," said Abdul Basit, the head of Iraq's Supreme Board of Audit, an independent body that oversees Iraqi governmental expenditures."This is an immoral request because we didn't ask them to come to Iraq, and before they came in 2003 we didn't have all these needs."
Needless to say, this is not exactly the way grateful clients are supposed to address superpower patrons."It's totally unacceptable to me that we are spending tens of billions of dollars on rebuilding Iraq while they are putting tens of billions of dollars in banks around the world from oil revenues," said Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), chairman of the Armed Services Committee."It doesn't compute as far as I'm concerned."
Certainly, however, our allies in the region, especially the Sunni kingdoms of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that presumably look to Washington to stabilize Iraq and curb the growing power of Shiite Iran, are willing to help the Pentagon out by supplying U.S. troops with free or deeply-discounted petroleum. No such luck. Except for some partially subsidized oil supplied by Kuwait, all oil-producing U.S. allies in the region charge us the market rate for petroleum. Take that as a striking reflection of how little credence even countries whose ruling elites have traditionally looked to the U.S. for protection now attach to our supposed superpower status.
Think of this as a strikingly clear-eyed assessment of American power. As far as they're concerned, we're now just another of those hopeless oil addicts driving a monster gas-guzzler up to the pump -- and they're perfectly happy to collect our cash which they can then use to cherry-pick our prime assets. So expect no summer tax holidays for the Pentagon, not in the Middle East, anyway.
Worse yet, the U.S. military will need even more oil for the future wars on which the Pentagon is now doing the planning. In this way, the U.S. experience in Iraq has especially worrisome implications. Under the military"transformation" initiated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2001, the future U.S. war machine will rely less on"boots on the ground" and ever more on technology. But technology entails an ever-greater requirement for oil, as the newer weapons sought by Rumsfeld (and now Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) all consume many times more fuel than those they will replace. To put this in perspective: The average G.I in Iraq now uses about seven times as much oil per day as G.I.s did in the first Gulf War less than two decades ago. And every sign indicates that the same ratio of increase will apply to coming conflicts; that the daily cost of fighting will skyrocket; and that the Pentagon's capacity to shoulder multiple foreign military burdens will unravel. Thus are superpowers undone.
If anything demonstrates the critical role of oil in determining the fate of superpowers in the current milieu, it is the spectacular reemergence of Russia as a Great Power on the basis of its superior energy balance. Once derided as the humiliated, enfeebled loser in the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, Russia is again a force to be reckoned with in world affairs. It possesses the fastest-growing economy among the G-8 group of major industrial powers, is the world's second leading producer of oil (after Saudi Arabia), and is its top producer of natural gas. Because it produces far more energy than it consumes, Russia exports a substantial portion of its oil and gas to neighboring countries, making it the only Great Power not dependent on other states for its energy needs.
As Russia has become an energy-exporting state, it has moved from the list of has-beens to the front rank of major players. When President Bush first occupied the White House, in February 2001, one of his highest priorities was to downgrade U.S. ties with Russia and annul the various arms-control agreements that had been forged between the two countries by his predecessors, agreements that explicitly conferred equal status on the USA and the USSR.
As an indication of how contemptuously the Bush team viewed Russia at that time, Condoleezza Rice, while still an adviser to the Bush presidential campaign, wrote, in the January/February 2000 issue of the influential Foreign Affairs,"U.S. policy… must recognize that American security is threatened less by Russia's strength than by its weakness and incoherence." Under such circumstances, she continued, there was no need to preserve obsolete relics of the dual superpower past like the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; rather, the focus of U.S. efforts should be on preventing the further erosion of Russian nuclear safeguards and the potential escape of nuclear materials.
In line with this outlook, President Bush believed that he could convert an impoverished and compliant Russia into a major source of oil and natural gas for the United States -- with American energy companies running the show. This was the evident aim of the U.S.-Russian"energy dialogue" announced by Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in May 2002. But if Bush thought Russia was prepared to turn into a northern version of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela prior to the arrival of Hugo Chávez, he was to be sorely disappointed. Putin never permitted American firms to acquire substantial energy assets in Russia. Instead, he presided over a major recentralization of state control when it came to the country's most valuable oil and gas reserves, putting most of them in the hands of Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas behemoth.
Once in control of these assets, moreover, Putin has used his renascent energy power to exert influence over states that were once part of the former Soviet Union, as well as those in Western Europe that rely on Russian oil and gas for a substantial share of their energy needs. In the most extreme case, Moscow turned off the flow of natural gas to Ukraine on January 1, 2006, in the midst of an especially cold winter, in what was said to be a dispute over pricing but was widely viewed as punishment for Ukraine's political drift westwards. (The gas was turned back on four days later when Ukraine agreed to pay a higher price and offered other concessions.) Gazprom has threatened similar action in disputes with Armenia, Belarus, and Georgia -- in each case forcing those former Soviet SSRs to back down.
When it comes to the U.S.-Russian relationship, just how much the balance of power has shifted was evident at the NATO summit at Bucharest in early April. There, President Bush asked that Georgia and Ukraine both be approved for eventual membership in the alliance, only to find top U.S. allies (and Russian energy users) France and Germany blocking the measure out of concern for straining ties with Russia."It was a remarkable rejection of American policy in an alliance normally dominated by Washington," Steven Erlanger and Steven Lee Myers of the New York Timesreported,"and it sent a confusing signal to Russia, one that some countries considered close to appeasement of Moscow."
For Russian officials, however, the restoration of their country's great power status is not the product of deceit or bullying, but a natural consequence of being the world's leading energy provider. No one is more aware of this than Dmitri Medvedev, the former Chairman of Gazprom and new Russian president."The attitude toward Russia in the world is different now," he declared on December 11, 2007."We are not being lectured like schoolchildren; we are respected and we are deferred to. Russia has reclaimed its proper place in the world community. Russia has become a different country, stronger and more prosperous."
The same, of course, can be said about the United States -- in reverse. As a result of our addiction to increasingly costly imported oil, we have become a different country, weaker and less prosperous. Whether we know it or not, the energy Berlin Wall has already fallen and the United States is an ex-superpower-in-the-making.
Posted on: Thursday, May 8, 2008 - 21:58
[The author is the general counsel of the non-profit, non-governmental National Security Archive (the Archive) at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org). The Archive was a plaintiff in American Historical Ass’n v. Nat’l Archives and Records Admin., Civ. No. 01-2447 (D.D.C.), which challenged Bush Executive Order 13,233 regarding the Presidential Records Act, resulting in invalidation of a portion of the executive order. It is also a plaintiff in National Security Archive v. Executive Office of the President (EOP), Civ. No. 07-1577 (D.D.C.) (challenging the destruction of White House e-mails).]
The president of the United States is often called the leader of the free world. It is no wonder that historians and political scientists consider the records related to presidential activities, policy, and decisionmaking so valuable for analyzing U.S. government policy at home and abroad. But over the last seven years there have been a series of moves by the current administration that may ensure that the records of the White House and the federal offices and agencies that work closely with the White House will not be available to historians.
The problem is twofold. First, the Bush administration does not value (or may even be hostile to) the preservation and disclosure of records. Second, we have seen advances in technology that have transformed the way in which we all communicate. The juxtaposition of these circumstances may mean that primary sources on the most important decisions and activities in the government may be lost, destroyed, or closed to the public.
This administration’s hostility towards public access to records has deep roots. Soon after becoming governor of Texas in 1995, George W. Bush signed a law that newly permitted former governors to send their records to institutions other than the Texas State Library and Archives, which had received the records of every former Texas governor since 1846. When the time came for Governor Bush to make use of the law at the end of his term, he sent his gubernatorial records to his father’s presidential library at Texas A&M University. That move would have delayed and limited access to the records under Texas law. It was necessary for then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn to rule that the records belonged to the state of Texas and remained subject to Texas open-government laws. As a result, the records were returned to the Texas State Archives in Austin to prepare them for research use.
Other senior administration officials have exhibited a similar attitude about the records of the presidency. In a tribute speech in honor of former President Gerald R. Ford, delivered at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum on September 14, 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney told an audience that
this Museum, and the Ford Library in Ann Arbor, mean a great deal to me--not just personally but from the standpoint of history, because I was chief of staff in the Ford White House. I'm told researchers like to come and dig through my files, to see if anything interesting turns up. I want to wish them luck--(laughter)--but the files are pretty thin. I learned early on that if you don't want your memos to get you in trouble some day, just don't write any.
The decision not to create records documenting government decisionmaking is in itself troubling. Its impact is compounded by the proliferation of BlackBerries, instant messaging, and other new means of communication that often do not leave traces unless specific efforts are made to preserve the communications. This issue came to light most prominently in news stories about White House officials’ use of BlackBerries and e-mail accounts issued by the Republican National Committee. But the problem is not limited to hot-button controversies at the White House. The use of BlackBerries, voicemail, instant messaging and other emergent technologies is spreading, while records management policies may not be keeping pace.
The risk of disappearance and destruction has also arisen with electronic communications that most people think are safely recorded and maintained for future disclosure—e-mails. The apparent large-scale loss of White House e-mails was first publicly disclosed on January 23, 2006, when prosecutors investigating the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA agent informed “Scooter” Libby’s defense attorneys that “not all email records from the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of President for certain time periods in 2003 were preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.” In April 2007, it became clear that the problem was much larger, with potentially as many as five million e-mails deleted from the Executive Office of the President servers. These may include e-mails from the Office of Management and Budget, the United States Trade Representative, the Council on Environmental Quality, and others, including the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the National Security Council.
For records that may have survived these poor information management policies, there is a significant risk that they may never be accessible to historians because of a concerted campaign to impede the release of the remaining records with various hurdles, any one of which may prevent them from being subject to disclosure. For instance, records marked as classified—whether properly or improperly—will be less likely to be released, or their release will be delayed by the need to conduct declassification reviews, and there is evidence that at least within the OVP, classification-like markings were routinely used on materials that may not have merited classification under the terms of Executive Order 12,958, as amended by Executive Order 13,292.
In addition, this administration is attempting to transform agencies and records that would ordinarily be subject to disclosure laws into non-agencies and non-federal records that are no longer subject to requests under the principle public disclosure law, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For example, the White House Office of Administration has long been acknowledged as a federal agency subject to the FOIA. It has processed FOIA requests for many years, has published its own FOIA regulations since 1980, had—until recently—an FOIA website, and submitted annual FOIA reports to Congress. Yet when the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued the Office of Administration under the FOIA for records about the White House e-mail system, the office changed its tune and argued that it was not even an “agency” under the terms of the FOIA, so the suit should be dismissed. The tactic of redefining a government entity’s status is not entirely new. During the Clinton administration, the White House successfully took the position that the National Security Council (NSC) was not an “agency” under the Federal Records Act or the FOIA, resulting in NSC records being thereafter considered presidential in nature and managed under the requirements of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 (PRA).
The OVP is also attempting to redefine itself. After traditionally reporting data about its records classification practices to the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is charged with oversight of the government-wide national security classification system, the OVP stopped providing the data in 2003 and refused to subject itself to an onsite audit by the ISOO. The rationale for evading records management oversight? The OVP contended it was not a part of the executive branch of government.
A similar tactic has been attempted with respect to categories of records. In response to suits brought by the Washington Post and CREW, the administration has taken the position that Secret Service visitor logs, which are created and maintained by the Secret Service and have traditionally been considered agency records, instead should be considered presidential records.
White House records that are not missing, destroyed, misclassified as secret, or withdrawn from federal record status should eventually be considered for disclosure under the terms of the PRA. The administration, however, has set up new hurdles for those records as well. This article addresses only one of these hurdles in depth—the undermining of the Presidential Records Act. The PRA merits particular attention now because, mere months away from a presidential transition, the time left to preserve remaining records is limited. Moreover, this issue has been raised in relation to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the presidency and her view about the release of presidential records from President Bill Clinton’s term. Finally, at the time this article was written, a bill to return the PRA to its original standards for release of presidential records was pending in Congress. Despite overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, however, the bill has been subject to three holds, the most recent by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), thus preventing a vote in the Senate.
These controversies should matter to historians. As time marches on, the documentary records that reflect agency decisionmaking may be the best evidence of how decisions were reached, who made those decisions, whether they were good or bad decisions, and how they impacted the nation and the world. Without original source materials concerning the White House role in instituting a war or transforming intelligence policy and military policy, the only story to tell will be the one the politicians in office choose to share with the public. That story is not the one that will help future leaders learn how to make better decisions or that will give the American public the information it needs to be informed voters.
Background: Executive Privilege
Although the phrase “executive privilege” does not appear in the Constitution of the United States, presidential administrations often use it to explain why the president and his advisors have the right to withhold information from the courts, the Congress, and the public. It was used by our first president and in all administrations since, including the current one. It is the basis for the White House resisting subpoenas, refusing to testify in Congress, and refusing to disclose records of who visited the White House and when. And it lies at the heart of disputes regarding presidential records.
According to Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University who has authored two books on executive privilege, the term “executive privilege” was first used during the Eisenhower administration, when the president had an expansive view of its reach. Most scholars describe the privilege as implied by Article II of the Constitution, although at least one scholar, Raoul Berger, has called it a myth. Today, with the privilege entrenched in case law, statutes and executive orders, it has become a potent weapon for the White House and high-level executive branch officials to fight off inquiry into their conduct.
It is, however, a conditional privilege, so it can be overridden if there is a strong reason to dispense with it, such as when the president is under investigation for a crime. Thus, when President Nixon sought to protect the Watergate tapes that had been subpoenaed by the special prosecutor, the Supreme Court turned him down. The Court acknowledged “the valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.” Nevertheless, it held that the privilege is neither absolute nor strong enough to withstand the needs of the government and the defendants in a criminal prosecution. The tapes were turned over, and President Nixon resigned soon afterward.
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 (PRA)
The fallout from the Watergate scandal changed the nation in many ways. Among congressional reactions to the scandal was the passage of the Presidential Records Act of 1978. The PRA alters the practice that had been in place for much of our nation’s history, which left the documentary materials generated during a president’s term in office largely subject to the president’s control both during and after his presidency. The PRA makes it clear that the records of the presidency belong to the public and must be turned over to the Archivist of the United States at the end of the president’s term. It limits a president’s control over White House records and provides for public access to them after the president leaves office.
Although the PRA does not provide any public access for the first five years after the presidency, after that period the records become subject to information requests through the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The outgoing president has the right to restrict certain categories of information for up to an additional seven years (twelve years in full). These categories include:
1. Classified national security information
2. Information about federal appointments
3. Information exempt from disclosure by statute
4. Trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information
5. Confidential communications between the president and his advisors
6. Information that would invade personal privacy
If the president extends the restriction on disclosure for these categories of information, then those records become subject to the provisions of the FOIA after twelve years. Though subject to the FOIA, the records are not subject to withholding under Exemption (b)(5) of the FOIA, which protects against disclosure of deliberative process or privileged information. Thus, after twelve years, presidential materials—including confidential communications between a president and his advisors or among his advisors—may not be withheld as deliberate executive branch communications, but instead must be released to the public unless the FOIA provides a different basis for withholding them (such as the national security classification of the materials).
The PRA does not leave former presidents without any safety valve concerning the release of information, however. It requires the Archivist of the United States to notify the former president if any planned disclosure of records might “adversely affect any [of his] rights and privileges.” To implement its notification function, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) issued a regulation allowing the former president or his designated representative thirty days to assert any rights or privileges regarding the records. Under the regulation, as under the PRA, the Archivist is not bound to withhold the records on the basis of the former president’s assertion of rights or privileges. However, the regulation requires written notice to the former president if the Archivist rejects the assertion and provides time for him to seek judicial review. It also requires notice to the incumbent president.
The PRA took effect on January 20, 1981, making the records of President Ronald Reagan the first to be subject to its rules. Shortly before his term ended in 1989, President Reagan issued Executive Order 12,667, which set forth additional procedures regarding implementation of the PRA. That order required the Archivist to identify any possible executive privilege issues, gave the incumbent president the authority to extend the review time for the records of a former president and asserted the right of the incumbent president to block the release of the records unless otherwise ordered by a court or sitting president.
Applying the Presidential Records Act to the Records of Former Presidents
When President Reagan left office on January 20, 1989, the Archivist received his presidential records, which include almost forty-four million pages of documents, electronic records such as e-mail messages, and photographs and audiovisual materials. Before leaving office, Reagan exercised his right under the PRA to restrict for the maximum period of twelve years all materials falling within the restricted categories enumerated in the law. During the twelve-year period NARA opened up many records that did not fall into the categories of restricted information.
The twelve-year restriction period expired on January 20, 2001. By that time NARA had identified sixty-eight thousand pages of documents that were restricted solely because they were considered “confidential communications”—i.e., they were not classified or otherwise subject to continued withholding. Because the PRA provides that the “confidential communications” restriction only applies for twelve years, at the end of the twelve-year restriction period NARA notified both Reagan and the sitting president, George W. Bush, that the sixty-eight thousand pages were scheduled for disclosure.
NARA’s notice prompted then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to twice instruct the Archivist to postpone any action regarding the sixty-eight thousand pages. A third communication from Mr. Gonzales to NARA indicated that the White House was considering various “constitutional and legal questions” and that NARA should continue to postpone any action. Then, on November 1, 2001, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13,233 (the “Bush Order”), which superseded the Reagan executive order. The Bush Order sets forth procedures and standards governing the assertion of claims of executive privilege over “confidential communications” by both former and incumbent presidents following the expiration of the twelve-year restriction period. It specifically describes constitutional executive privilege as including the common-law attorney-client and work-product privileges, the deliberative process privilege, and the state secrets privilege. It also places a burden on individuals seeking such records to demonstrate their need for them.
Procedurally, the Bush Order permits former presidents and the sitting president to delay indefinitely their review of the records scheduled for release by NARA. Essentially, it grants the former president the power to make the decision to withhold records absent “compelling circumstances.” And even if the sitting president finds compelling circumstances for releasing the records, they still cannot be released unless the former president agrees or a court mandates their release. The sitting president also has the authority to independently prevent disclosure of the records. Not only can the public be denied access to the records under this scheme, but the Archivist is not permitted to provide the records in response to a congressional or judicial subpoena unless the former president and the sitting president agree or a court orders access. The Bush Order also stipulates that former presidents can pass along their power to prevent disclosure to family members or designated representatives, and it grants former vice presidents the right to claim executive privilege independently and to prevent access to vice-presidential records on that basis.
The Bush Order led to a storm of controversy in the historical community. A lawsuit was filed by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, Vanderbilt University Professor Hugh Graham, University of Wisconsin Professor Stanley Kutler, the National Security Archive, Public Citizen and the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press in November 2001. The lawsuit sought to challenge the Bush Order’s provisions permitting indefinite review of records that NARA determined were subject to release and the extension of authority to assert executive privilege to the heirs and designees of a former president and vice president.
Over many months, the original sixty-eight thousand records that NARA had scheduled for release were released, but it became apparent that additional records had been withheld from release. Parties to the lawsuit continued to seek access to these records. Eventually, the government announced that President Reagan’s representative had claimed a constitutional executive privilege to bar the release of seventy-four pages of the documents. The incumbent president concurred in the decision to assert privilege because there was no circumstance that would have compelled him not to do so.
Meanwhile, in addition to Reagan presidential records, the presidential and vice-presidential records of George H.W. Bush have been subject to review under Executive Order 13,233, as have the records of Bill Clinton. The effect of the reviews called for by the Bush Order has been to delay substantially the release of materials in response to such requests. For instance, the Reagan Library’s estimated completion time frames increased from eighteen months in 2001 to an estimated seventy-eight months (six and a half years) in 2007.
In October 2007, the court ruled that one part of the Bush Order is invalid. Specifically, the court held that the Archivist of the United States acts arbitrarily, capriciously, and contrary to law by relying on E.O. 13,233 in delaying the release of the records of former presidents. Unfortunately, the court did not consider the issue of whether it was permissible for President Bush to extend the authority over disclosure of presidential papers to a former president’s heirs or to former vice presidents, nor did it rule on the substantive changes effected by the Bush Order, such as its expansive notions of executive privilege. The court put those issues off for another court at another time, holding that they are not ripe for review. For historians and political scientists, this is bad news. It has long been understood that executive privilege is not only conditional; it also dissipates over time. Indeed, this is the basis for the PRA provision that allows confidential communications of the former president to be subject to release under the FOIA after twelve years. Furthermore, the possibility that some records could be withheld forever on the basis of private citizens asserting executive privilege is alarming, and the creation of vice presidential privilege dramatically expands the universe of potentially withheld records.
Challenging these provisions may have to wait until a former president, former vice president, or their children or grandchildren overreach and claim the privilege for materials that should not be protected. Until then, the Bush Order, like the law he signed in Texas that allowed him initially to send his records to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library instead of the Texas Archives, puts a gaping hole in the United States’ records disclosure mandates.
The Presidential Records Act was designed to ensure that the records of the presidency would ultimately be turned over to the American people and made available through the orderly procedures of the FOIA. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the law is not sufficient. President Bush’s executive order has delayed the release of presidential records, and Congress’s attempt to override it is stuck in the Senate because one senator objects to it being voted on. There are very limited controls on how presidential records should be maintained prior to the end of a presidency. The White House e-mail problems of the Clinton and now the Bush administration demonstrate that without some standards and oversight for the preservation of records, a critical part of the documentary history of the U.S. government may remain forever beyond reach.
“Interpretation of Texas Government Code section 441.201 concerning the official records of a former governor,” Opinion No. JC-0498 (May 3, 2002), available at HYPERLINK "http://www.oag.state.tx.us/opinions/op49cornyn/jc-0498.htm" http://www.oag.state.tx.us/opinions/op49cornyn/jc-0498.htm (all website references herein were last checked on February 11, 2008).
See Texas Archival Resources Online, Texas Governor George W. Bush: An Inventory of Executive Office Records at the State Archives, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/60007/tsl-60007.html" http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/60007/tsl-60007.html.
Text available at HYPERLINK "http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/09/20070914-3.html" http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/09/20070914-3.html.
Tom Hamburger, “GOP-issued laptops now a White House Headache,” Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2007, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-na-laptops9apr09,0,4563806.story?coll=la-home-headlines" http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-na-laptops9apr09,0,4563806.story?coll=la-home-headlines.
Letter of Patrick J. Fitzgerald to Libby Defense Counsel, January 23, 2006, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2006/02/fitz012306.pdf" http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2006/02/fitz012306.pdf.
“Without a Trace: The Missing White House E-mails and the Violations of the Presidential Records Act, April 12, 2007,” available at HYPERLINK "http://www.citizensforethics.org/node/27607" http://www.citizensforethics.org/node/27607; see also National Security Archive, “White House Admits No Backups Tapes for E-mail Before October 2003,” January 16, 2008, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20080116/index.htm" http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20080116/index.htm.
Michael Isikoff, “Challenging Cheney: A National Archives Official Reveals What the Veep Wanted to Keep Classified—and How He Tried to Challenge the Rules,” Newsweek, December 24, 2007, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.newsweek.com/id/81883/output/print" http://www.newsweek.com/id/81883/output/print
“CREW Files Opposition Brief in Office of Administration Suit,” September 4, 2007, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.citizensforethics.org/node/30038" http://www.citizensforethics.org/node/30038.
Michael Isikoff, “Challenging Cheney: A National Archives Official Reveals What the Veep Wanted to Keep Classified—and How He Tried to Challenge the Rules,” Newsweek, December 24, 2007, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.newsweek.com/id/81883/output/print" http://www.newsweek.com/id/81883/output/print. Similarly, it has been reported that the OVP has exempted itself from reporting travel and related expenses to the Office of Government Ethics. See HYPERLINK "http://www.publicintegrity.org/lobby/report.aspx?aid=760" http://www.publicintegrity.org/lobby/report.aspx?aid=760.
Michael Abramowitz, “Secret Services Logs of White House Visitors are Records, Judge Rules,” Washington Post, December 18, 2007, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/17/AR2007121701397.html" http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/17/AR2007121701397.html.
Michael Isikoff, “Papers? I don’t see any papers,” Newsweek, Oct. 29, 2007, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.newsweek.com/id/57351" http://www.newsweek.com/id/57351.
“Senator Sessions Places Hold on Presidential Records Bill,” National Coalition for History, January 23, 2008, available at HYPERLINK "http://historycoalition.org/2008/01/23/senator-sessions-placest-hold-on-presidential-records-bill/" http://historycoalition.org/2008/01/23/senator-sessions-placest-hold-on-presidential-records-bill/.
United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 705 (1974).
44 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2207.
Those seventy-four pages included several duplicates. Among the unique records were: March 13, 1986, Alfred H. Kingon, “The White House, Washington, Memorandum for Donald T. Regan, ‘International Economic Issues’” (four pages); November 22, 1988 and December 1, 2988 memoranda, Arthur B. Culvahouse, Jr., Counsel to the President, Memorandum, for the President, “Pardon for Oliver L. North, John Poindexter, Joseph Fernandez” (two records, one totaling four pages and one totaling two pages).
“Court Rules Delay in Release of Presidential Papers is Illegal,” The National Security Archive, October 1, 2007, available at HYPERLINK "http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20071001/index.htm" http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20071001/index.htm.
See Nixon v. Adm’r of Gen’l Servs., 433 U.S. 425 (1977) (allowing the transmission of recordings to archivists less than three years after Nixon left office); Nixon v. Freeman, 670 F.2d 346 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (permitting Nixon recordings to be made available to the public eight years after he left office).
Posted on: Thursday, May 8, 2008 - 21:18
SOURCE: Special to HNN (5-7-08)
Since Darwin published Origin of Species a century and a half ago, biologists have puzzled over when incremental changes in a life form add up to a brand new species. Mother Earth… Gaia… poses the same challenge. “The Gaia hypothesis,” Wikipedia tells me, “is an ecological hypothesis that proposes that living and nonliving parts of the earth are a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.” If so, then this organism has undergone a species shift in the first decade of the 21st century. Three fundamental changes mark this shift.
The first is climate change. The evidence is now overwhelming. Those who continue to deny or question this phenomenon are whistling in the dark.
The second is resource scarcity. National Geographic heralded the change last year, when its cover story told us, “Say goodbye to cheap oil.” Recent record highs may back down, but we will never see cheap petroleum again. Reserves are identified, finite, and declining. Demand is rising exponentially as China, India, and others emerge as red hot economies, while our thirst remains insatiable.
Other fundamental resources are also at risk of scarcity. The cost of rice is soaring. Corn prices also are climbing due in part to the demand for ethanol as a petroleum replacement. Water, too, is a precious commodity in many parts of the world. As populations continue to grow, and as we blithely develop arid areas such as the American Southwest, the pressure on fresh water supplies will intensify. The more farmland we pave over for ubiquitous housing developments and shopping malls, the less remains to meet the world’s growing appetite.
The third is violence. The century was barely eight months old when the World Trade Center towers imploded. Since September 11, 2001, we have been at war. Regardless of what any presidential candidate tells us, no end is in sight.
Meanwhile, on the home front, the Virginia Tech massacre is emblematic of the new violence that has entered our culture like a virus. When a police officer was shot to death last weekend in Philadelphia, comrades wondered out loud how young men, armed to the teeth, could fire on a police officer, seemingly oblivious of the consequences to themselves. Try factoring into your analysis the 49% high school graduation rate in the Philadelphia School District and you begin to see why these desperados act with wanton abandon. The VTU event indicates that alienated college students are capable of even more irrational acts. At the least the Philly cop was killed by professional crooks with few obvious alternatives. VTU’s Cho was an angry little nut who finally cracked; he was supposed to be living the American dream denied to inner city dropouts.
The weather has always been unpredictable. Resources have always been scarce. Violence is a hallmark of the human condition. So what’s so special about now?
Well, magnitude is one thing: the largest population in world history and still growing, plus the unprecedented resource demands and sense of desperation that go along with it.
But I’m arguing for recognition of qualitative change. For the first time, humans apparently have caused global climate change. For the first time we face the possibility of worldwide exhaustion of critical resources.
And for perhaps the first time we face forms of lethal human behavior on a grand scale which can be attributed only tangentially at best to traditional human aspirations and needs. I mean, what did Cho want? What does a suicide bomber want? What does a cop killer want? When certain death for each of them is in the equation, traditional political and social solutions to crime and civil unrest are beggared.
This is why I say that Planet Earth has undergone a species shift in this first decade of the new century. Gaia is qualitatively a different beast than it was in the late, great 20th century, which (for Americans, at least) will be remembered and revered someday soon as a Golden Age.
Posted on: Thursday, May 8, 2008 - 21:06
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (5-1-08)
My book The Much Too Promised Land had a very strange origin in the sense that I really never intended to write it. I “resigned” from the State Department in January 2003. Only two secretaries of state in the history of the republic have ever “resigned” over matters of principle: William Jennings Bryan because he opposed Woodrow Wilson’s policies in the run-up to World War I and Cyrus Vance because he was fundamentally against President Carter’s abortive hostage rescue mission in April 1980. One doesn’t resign from the Department of State easily. I left because I had concluded rightly—and nothing has changed my mind in the past five years—that the road to Arab-Israeli peace was going to be a long and bumpy one. It had come time for me to take a break after 25 years of providing varying degrees of advice, some good, some bad, to a number of secretaries of state. I have a new trope which is that there ought to be term limits imposed on former advisors to presidents and secretaries, particularly those whose advice perhaps doesn’t lead to success.
I went on to run Seeds of Peace, which brings young Arabs and Israelis, Indians and Pakistanis together, to try to forge understanding and respect. As I watched over the past five years, I was disturbed by the fact that America, a country I care a great deal about, was failing. It was failing at a time and in a part of the world that made that failure extremely risky for our interests.
The primary threat to our national security will not come from an ascending China, however competitive and powerful it may be, or from an economically powerful and united Europe. It’s not even going to come from a former USSR seeking to regain its past glory. It’s going to come from an area of the world that is divided, dysfunctional, and angry, filled with rage and conflicts that cannot be resolved.
September 11 was the second bloodiest day in U.S. history, surpassed only by September 17, 1862 at Antietam. So what happens in the part of the world from which the 9/11 attacks emanated is critical to our national interests. Our interests there cannot be measured in terms of administrations. While serving in government, I divided my life in terms of administrations. That’s not the right way to calibrate time. That’s not the way our friends calibrate it, nor our adversaries. They calibrate time in terms of generations. We need to start thinking that way, too.
Both of the Democratic presidential candidates are willfully deluding either themselves or us if they believe that the road out of Iraq will be quick, easy, and fixed according to a neat time period. America has to assume responsibility for what it does. We invaded a country roughly the size of the state of California, with 28 million people. We ripped the lid off it and dismantled the army and other Baath institutions of governance. What makes us believe that somehow we can simply turn around and exit? Some would argue that that’s the morally and ethically right thing to do. But the question is, when the Republican or Democratic successor to the current administration confronts the reality of this investment trap into which this administration has put us, from which we cannot extricate ourselves or fix the situation, what is he or she going to do? Can we really leave Afghanistan and Iraq as failed states?
If Iraq over time ends up being a stable democratic polity, that would be great. But that’s not really the question, is it? The question is, what has Iraq cost us? My friend Thomas Friedman says, you don’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. Fair enough. But there are some tickets in life that just aren’t worth buying—they are too risky.
All of this prompted me to think about the reasons for both America’s success and primarily its failures in this region. For eight years under Bill Clinton, we stumbled at Arab-Israeli peacemaking; for eight years under President Bush we stumbled at how to make war, at least in this part of the world. What is it about America, the greatest power on earth, that accounts for this situation? Why can’t we seem to get it right?
When I say “get it right,” I don’t mean “fix this region.” Most of the problems there are not caused by America. And this region is not going to be “fixed” by us. The history of this region is the history of great powers who over 1,000 years, over the sweep and arc of history, have tried to impose their will on small tribes. Good luck! This region is littered with the schemes, dreams, ambitions of great powers who believed they could have their way and impose their will. We can’t for one simple reason: we don’t live in the neighborhood. However powerful we think we are, these small tribes, these tiny powers, will always have a greater stake in the outcome of their struggles than we ever will. Because for us it is not an existential conflict.
In light of all this, I came to two realizations. First, we don’t pay attention to the past. A.J.P. Taylor, the great British historian, said that the only lesson of history is that there are no lessons. But do you want to ignore history? If you ignore it completely, history will be a very cruel and unforgiving teacher.
America occupied Japan for seven years, from 1945–52. How many Americans were killed by Japanese in hostile actions during that seven-year period? None. Japan was a defeated nation. Despite all his imperfections, General MacArthur understood the importance of preserving Japanese institutions that were very controversial, including the emperor himself. What were we thinking when we went to war in Iraq with insufficient forces to even have a chance of subduing an insurgency? And what did we expect would happen in the wake of our own incapacity and the determination of the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to settle scores?
So that was the first problem. As William Faulkner observed in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That is certainly how Arabs and Israelis see it; we need to see it that way, as well.
Second, we don’t read the present correctly. We don’t see the world the way it is. We want to see the world the way we want it to be. Why? It’s related to where we are. We have attained a degree of physical security and detachment unprecedented, unparalleled, unrivaled in history for a great power. We have non-predatory neighbors to our north and south, and fish to our east and west. No other great power has ever had this kind of physical security. In my opinion, it explains why we behave the way we do. It explains our boundless optimism. Our political system was the first in the world to be founded on the basis of an idea—the primacy of the individual. We believe in individuals’ capacity to transform themselves and to change the world around them, with all the imperfections, deficits, and problems that America has.
I lived with this practical, we can fix anything, split-the-difference worldview for 20 years. The eighth day of the Camp David summit of July 2000, Jerusalem, this extraordinarily complicated city, was to become the focus. A piece of it: what to do about the Haram al Sharif, 35 acres, on which sit two mosques holy to Islam. Below are the remains of the first and second Jewish temples. Talk about overlapping sacred space, that’s what this is. Here we are trying to convince the Israelis and Palestinians, who both assert sovereignty, that we’ll take sovereignty from them and we’ll reposit it with God. That’s a logical fix—they’re holy sites, after all. Or, when they rejected that idea, “We’ll give you Palestinians sovereignty above ground, and you Israelis sovereignty below.” They rejected that as well. Jerusalem, history teaches us, is not to be shared, it’s to be possessed. In the name of God, and the tribe. It need not be so, but Americans need to understand the attachments of each side to it.
Where we are also explains our naivete and our capacity to believe that the rest of the world is like us. Twelve years ago, my daughter and I were at a movie theater outside of Washington, D.C. watching Sean Connery in The Rock. I noticed several muscular men in the theater talking into their lapels, a sure sign they were security and someone of real importance was there. Sure enough, eight rows in front of us were King Hussein and Queen Noor. He had on blue jeans, a blazer, and a polo shirt. We knew each other, so we chatted. I said later to my daughter, “Isn’t this great? It’s me and you and the King of Jordan in Washington watching Sean Connery in The Rock.” As if we were all part of the same family. We were not. When he was 12, this man saw his grandfather Abdullah murdered. He presided for forty-five years over one of the most fragile enterprises in the Middle East, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and made it work. Or Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Madeleine Albright declared to be the Israeli Newt Gingrich. Netanyahu’s high school education in Philadelphia and his American mother gave him a superb capacity in the American vernacular. I remember on one trip being summoned, along with my colleagues, to be yelled at by him. When I closed my eyes, I heard my college tennis coach yelling at me. I didn’t hear Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, graduate of one of Israel’s elite paratrooper brigades, brother of Jonathan, who had been killed in the rescue mission at Entebbe; son of a prominent revisionist historian. I have nothing in common with Benjamin Netanyahu. We don’t understand what it’s like to live on a knife’s edge.
So I decided to try to apply these principles to the 20-plus years I participated in Arab-Israeli diplomacy. I did not write this book only for the Beltway crowd and policy wonks. I tried to make it accessible, building on anecdotes and stories from my experience. Then I set about interviewing everyone I could find who had participated in the earlier diplomacy. I interviewed all of our former presidents, even Gerald Ford before he died, with one exception: Bill Clinton. All nine secretaries of state from Henry Kissinger to Condoleezza Rice, national security advisors; there’s a chapter on domestic politics that seeks to answer the much misunderstood and hijacked question, how does domestic politics in America really influence our Arab-Israeli policy? For that I went out and interviewed all the evangelicals—the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, John Hagee—a lot of sitting senators, representatives, American Jews and Arabs. I tell the story of why America succeeds and why it fails in Arab-Israeli diplomacy, bearing in mind one basic fact. I borrow a line from Michael Jackson, not known as a great philosopher. But he got it right when he said that if you want to make a change, start with the man in the mirror.
I could cite a thousand reasons why Yassir Arafat was the primary obstacle, followed closely by Ehud Barak, in the failure of Camp David. But ultimately Bill Clinton and the rest of his advisors bear a measure of responsibility. We need not self-flagellate in some maudlin, gratuitous way, but we do need to identify our role in the summit’s failure and learn from it.
A few observations. First, as to objectivity, I argued with my editor for a week about how much personal information to include. He said, if you want people to believe you, you had better come clean. “Tell them who you are and where you came from, how your views changed.” I concluded that there is no objectivity. We are all sum totals of our experiences—our political, religious, and ethnic DNA. You can’t change who you are, but you can look to see where your predispositions, prejudices, and biases lie and set them aside in an effort to try to understand the needs, narratives, and requirements of both sides to a conflict. I’m from a wealthy Jewish real estate family in Cleveland, Ohio. My grandparents were on a first-name basis with David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. My parents were very close to Yitzhak and Leah Rabin as well as Menachim Begin. My story is an interesting one in terms of an evolution in views. It’s absolutely critical that some evolution occur, some learning about both sides’ needs, because this is not a morality play that pits the forces of goodness on one hand against the forces of darkness on the other.
Second, there can be no bricks without straw. No matter how much America wants Arab-Israeli peace, unless the raw material is there, the political will and the urgency among the Arabs and Israelis, we can try all day long without success. Every breakthrough that has occurred in this conflict—Egypt-Israel, Jordan-Israel, Palestinians-Israel, came as a consequence of secret diplomacy about which the Americans were informed afterwards. That is very instructive.
Third, you need a brickmaker. Every successful negotiation that has endured involved an American role at some point. In my book, I nominate for the “Peace Process Hall of Fame” three Americans, all of whom I interviewed: Jimmy Carter, who during his presidency delivered something extraordinary—an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty—that would not have happened without him; Henry Kissinger, and James Baker. They were all effective brickmakers, effective because they combined the 4 Ts of successful diplomacy: they were Tough; they gained the Trust, to a degree, of the Arabs and Israelis they were working with; they were incredibly Tenacious; and they had an exquisite sense of Timing. They knew how not to overengage (as Bill Clinton did) or underengage or disengage (George W. Bush). Not since 1991 have we seen, in my judgment, an effective policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Fourth, there is tremendous misunderstanding on the issue of domestic politics, where there is a dishonest debate. Too many American Jews want to believe that domestic politics are irrelevant to the case for Israel; too many of Israel’s detractors in America want to believe that it’s all attributable to domestic politics. Unlike professors Walt and Mearsheimer, I actually went out to talk to the lobby and the lobbied. Among the conclusions I reached is that the pro-Israeli community in America today (5.3 million American Jews, along with millions of evangelical Christians who for reasons of eschatology and value affinity have become stunningly pro-Israel) has a powerful voice. It’s time we stop deluding ourselves. But it does not have a veto.
The U.S.-Israeli relationship is not some sort of mushroom harvested in some dark closet by a handful of conspiratorially minded Jews and evangelical Christians who hold the American foreign policy establishment hostage. The U.S.-Israeli relationship has inculcated itself into American culture, psychology, politics and foreign policy. When we maintain the special relationship, which I think is in American interests, and not allow it to become exclusive, it actually can serve our interests. This is both because it is in our interests to support like-minded societies and because our special ties with Israel give us a primary role and ability to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Since 1950, only 22 countries in the world have maintained their democratic character continuously. The notion of an emerging democracy—Kenya, for example—is a concept that may be legitimate, but the ultimate arbiter of everything is time. Israel is a democracy. We can argue about the West Bank and Gaza, I’m a vocal critic of Israel’s policies there. But this is important, because supporting societies that share our values represents the broadest conception of what constitutes our national interests.
Fifth, regarding the Clinton years. Clinton was one of the most empathetic, talented, brilliant presidents and negotiators you’d ever want to meet. No one cared more or tried to do more on this problem. But empathy alone is not enough. Achieving the conflict-ending agreements he sought required a toughness he and we didn’t have during his tenure.
Sixth, regarding George W. Bush. Governing is about choosing. You come to Washington, you decide what’s important to you, you pursue it. Arab-Israeli peace wasn’t important to Bush throughout the first administration; he had another agenda. It may still not be that important to him. There’s a chance that between now and the end of the year something positive could happen between Omert and Abbas, but this is really no longer primarily an American story. My friend Larry Sommers, the former president of Harvard University, said that in the history of the world, nobody ever washed a rental car. You only care about what you own. If a U.S. president doesn’t invest in this or whatever other issue he or she chooses, opponents both at home and abroad will quickly figure this out. That will make success impossible.
Finally, to end on an optimistic note, John F. Kennedy said something very important. He described himself as an idealist without illusion. That’s what America needs to be. I don’t care if it’s health care or the Arab-Israeli conflict. We can’t tell our young people never, we can’t mortgage the future and give in to cynicism and despair. But as you seek to change the world, you have to do so with your eyes open. Because the stakes now are much higher than they’ve ever been before.
Posted on: Thursday, May 8, 2008 - 21:04
SOURCE: Real Clear Politics (5-8-08)
It's been enough to drive most of us mad, but if there's one person in particular suffering the most, it may be President Bush.
It's been noted here before that we have not had an election since 1952 in which an incumbent president or vice president was not running in at least partial defense of an existing administration's record.
That means Bush is not just a lame duck but an easy target for all three current candidates -- none of whom have any investment in the president's legacy.
Consider that the last president in a similar position was Harry Truman. He left office with an approval rating in the 20s, and it took years before historians revised the standard negative and mostly unfair view of him.
When there is no incumbent in a long race, almost everything of the last four years becomes fair and uncontested game. In 2004, Bush defended his record for months on the stump; now it has become almost second nature for all three candidates to denounce it daily.
John McCain has distanced himself from Bush as much as he can, even as his Democratic opponents dub him John McBush -- when they are not outdoing each other in their denunciation of the president.
Last week, I asked a fierce Bush critic what he thought were the current unemployment rate, the mortgage default rate, the latest economic growth figures, interest rates and the status of the stock market.
He blurted out the common campaign pessimism: "Recession! Worst since the Depression!"
Then he scoffed when I suggested that the answer was really a 5 percent joblessness rate in April that was lower than the March figure; 95 to 96 percent of mortgages not entering foreclosure in this year's first quarter; .6 percent growth during the quarter (weak, but not recession level); historically low interest rates; and sky-high stock market prices....
Posted on: Thursday, May 8, 2008 - 20:48
SOURCE: AmericanThinker.com (5-7-08)
Sen. Barack Obama's recent fallout with Rev. Jeremiah Wright transcends daily news. The gravity of their broken friendship commands larger perspective. Now that they have separated into opposing camps, it is possible to see their argument replaying Black America's central conflict: Booker T. Washington vs. Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.
Every Black American is either Washington or Dr. DuBois. He either aspires to self-reliance, or feeds off white guilt. He either proactively affirms himself, or he perpetually reacts against his imagined white master. If Washington's disciples must show restraint, lest self-reliance corrupt into pride, then Dr. DuBois's followers are consumed by the deadly sin of envy.
Washington's philosophy of self-reliance and Dr. DuBois' sophisticated resentment are contradictions, not contraries. One is true and the other is false. For the modes of existence available to Black America -- self-help or protest -- are not mutually inclusive, like yin or yang. Black existential choice comes down to Washington or Dr. DuBois. Lately, that dilemma has manifested thus -- Sen. Obama or Rev. Wright.
By founding Tuskegee Normal & Industrial Institute in 1881, Booker T. Washington established the prototype for modern Black civilization. His school encouraged enterprise and industry. Washington founded the National Negro Business League, in 1900, to comprehend the socio-economic organization that had Tuskegee for its base of operations. He understood that property rights, to wit "life, liberty and property," are the soul of citizenship; that protection of property is the US government's basic purpose. He designed his educational system and economic policy to build a nation within a nation of property-owners.
Dr. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk (1903) dismissed Washington's emphasis on property rights as a sellout. He libeled the Black capitalist as an "Uncle Tom." Capital formation drove Washington's "Tuskegee machine," but Dr. DuBois discarded it in favor of protest. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded by white liberals in 1909, has presided over the civil rights movement ever since. Dr. DuBois's followers, the Black bourgeoisie vanguard, the so-called "Talented Tenth," do resent their liberal white masters. But they most passionately hate the Black who would master the universe. They exemplify the crabs that Washington once described, jealously combining to pull back into the barrel the one crab that would climb out.
But climb out Washington did. He picked up where the great freedom fighter, Frederick Douglass, had left off. Douglass, a former slave, had demanded "equality." Washington commanded "equity." Douglass had justly fought for "freedom and equality." Washington encouraged responsible citizenship via acquiring property. He taught self-help and self-reliance. He instilled discipline.
Sen. Obama's politics evoke those values. It therefore comes as no surprise that Talented Tenth preacher Rev. Wright is now trying to pull Sen. Obama back into the crab-barrel, just as Dr. DuBois had tried to pull Washington a hundred years ago.
What is this crab-barrel today? It is the slave mentality that resents the white man and envies the Black upstart. It is the netherworld wherein the Talented Tenth, for their role as middleman between white mastery and Black unrest, earn honorary white status and token privileges. It is where the Talented Tenth feed as parasites off white guilt. It is the limbo between white bourgeois heaven and Black proletarian hell.
White guilt is the crab-barrel's necessary condition. ...
Posted on: Thursday, May 8, 2008 - 20:44
SOURCE: National Post (5-6-08)
Two religiously-identified new states emerged from the shards of the British empire in the aftermath of World War II. Israel, of course, was one; the other was Pakistan.
They make an interesting, if infrequently-compared pair. Pakistan's experience with widespread poverty, near-constant internal turmoil, and external tensions, culminating in its current status as near-rogue state, suggests the perils that Israel avoided, with its stable, liberal political culture, dynamic economy, cutting-edge high-tech sector, lively culture, and impressive social cohesion.
But for all its achievements, the Jewish state lives under a curse that Pakistan and most other polities never face: the threat of elimination. Its remarkable progress over the decades has not liberated it from a multi-pronged peril that includes nearly every means imaginable: weapons of mass destruction, conventional military attack, terrorism, internal subversion, economic blockade, demographic assault, and ideological undermining. No other contemporary state faces such an array of threats; indeed, probably none in history ever has.
The enemies of Israel divide into two main camps: the Left and the Muslims, with the far Right a minor third element. The Left includes a rabid edge (International ANSWER, Noam Chomsky) and a more polite centre (United Nations General Assembly, Canada's Liberal Party, the mainstream media, mainline churches, school textbooks). In the final analysis, however, the Left serves less as a force in its own right than as an auxiliary for the primary anti-Zionist actor, which is the Muslim population. This latter, in turn, can be divided into three distinct groupings.
First come the foreign states: Five armed forces that invaded Israel on its independence in May 1948, and then neighboring armies, air forces, and navies fought in the wars of 1956, 1967, 1970, and 1973. While the conventional threat has somewhat receded, Egypt's U.S.-financed arms build-up presents one danger and the threats from weapons of mass destruction (especially from Iran but also from Syria and potentially from many other states) present an even greater one.
Second come the external Palestinians, those living outside Israel. Sidelined by governments from 1948 until 1967, Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization got their opportunity with the defeat of three states' armed forces in the Six-Day War. Subsequent developments, such as the 1982 Lebanon war and the 1993 Oslo accords, confirmed the centrality of external Palestinians. Today, they drive the conflict, through violence (terrorism, missiles from Gaza) and even more importantly by driving world opinion against Israel via a public relations effort that resonates widely among Muslims and the Left.
Third come the Muslim citizens of Israel, the sleepers in the equation. In 1949, they numbered merely 111,000, or 9 percent of Israel's population but by 2005, they had multiplied ten-fold, to 1,141,000, and to 16 percent of the population. They benefited from Israel's open ways to evolve from a docile and ineffective community into a assertive one that increasingly rejects the Jewish nature of the Israeli state, with potentially profound consequences for that the future identity of that state.
If this long list of perils makes Israel different from all other Western countries, forcing it to protect itself on a daily basis from the ranks of its many foes, its predicament renders Israel oddly similar to other Middle Eastern countries, which likewise face a threat of elimination.
Kuwait, conquered by Iraq, actually disappeared from the face of the earth between August 1990 and February 1991; were it not for an American-led coalition, it would quite certainly never been resurrected. Lebanon has been effectively under Syrian control since 1976 and, should developments warrant formal annexation, Damascus could at will officially incorporate it. Bahrain is occasionally claimed by Tehran to be a part of Iran, most recently in July 2007, when an associate of Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, Iran's supreme leader, claimed that"Bahrain is part of Iran's soil," and insisted that"The principal demand of the Bahraini people today is to return this province … to its mother, Islamic Iran." Jordan's existence as an independent state has always been precarious, in part because it is still seen as a colonial artifice of Winston Churchill, in part because several states (Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) and the Palestinians see it as fair prey.
That Israel finds itself in this company has several implications. It puts Israel's existential dilemma into perspective: If no country risks elimination outside of the Middle East, this is a nearly routine problem within the region, suggesting that Israel's unsettled status will not be resolved any time soon. This pattern also highlights the Middle East's uniquely cruel, unstable, and fatal political life; the region ranks, clearly, as the world's worst neighborhood. Israel is the child with glasses trying to succeed at school while living in a gang-infested part of town.
The Middle East's deep and wide political sickness points to the error of seeing the Arab-Israeli conflict as the motor force behind its problems. More sensible is to see Israel's plight as the result of the region's toxic politics. Blaming the Middle East's autocracy, radicalism, and violence on Israel is like blaming the diligent school child for the gangs. Conversely, resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict means only solving that conflict, not fixing the region.
If all the members of this imperiled quintet worry about extinction, Israel's troubles are the most complex. Israel having survived countless threats to its existence over the past six decades, and it having done so with its honor intact, offers a reason for its population to celebrate. But the rejoicing cannot last long, for it's right back to the barricades to defend against the next threat.
Posted on: Thursday, May 8, 2008 - 18:18
SOURCE: Special to HNN (5-8-08)
Here's a thought for a Mother's Day gift that would go beyond the complimentary flowers passed out by restaurants and the complementary speeches churned out by politicians every May: Affordable child care that is operated in accord with high-quality national standards.
It's a gift long overdue. In 1971 the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a Comprehensive Child Development Act to provide quality child care for working parents. The bill mandated extensive training for child care workers and strict standards, written and enforced with extensive input from parents. But on December 9, 1971, President Nixon vetoed the bill, declaring that publicly-provided child care would be "a long leap into the dark" that might weaken American families.
Since then, American families have indeed taken a "long leap" into an unanticipated world. Forty-five years ago, just 14 percent of working women who bore a child returned to work by the baby's first birthday. Today, 83 percent of working moms do, 70 percent of them at the same hours they worked before the child's birth.
Ten million families of children under 14 pay for child care. And they often pay a lot, with no guarantee of quality care. Less than 10 percent of day care centers and 1 percent of in-home day cares in the private sector are accredited. In contrast to the child care centers run by the military, there is no national accreditation or training standard in place for civilian child care.
In 2005, average child care costs ranged from a low of $58 per child per week for a pre-school aged child in Alabama to a whopping $259 per week for infant care in Massachusetts. Parents in Massachusetts spend an average of $802 per month on child care for a four year old, and $1,123 for infant child care. While their average monthly mortgage bill of $1,645 may seem staggering, if they have two children, the $1,926 monthly day care bill exceeds it by nearly $300.
Meanwhile, the approximately 2.5 million daycare workers in this nation made an average of just $8.65 an hour in 2004. This totals $346 a week, an amount that would not give a child care worker enough money to put her own child in day care in many states. Three-fourths of all child care workers work in a home care setting, and they make even less. This doesn't leave much money for the kind of training that was envisioned by the 1971 bill.
On August 22, 1996 President Clinton, 25 years after the Comprehensive Child Care Act was first proposed, signed The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which allocated $14 billion dollars in funding for child care subsidies for low income workers. But budget cuts led to the loss of child care funding for 200,000 children in 2003 and 2004, and President Bush has proposed another freeze on child care funding for fiscal year 2009. This will represent a loss of benefits for an additional 200,000 children over two years. Meanwhile little progress has been made in regulating the quality of child care even for families that can afford to purchase it on the open market.
If politicians and businesses would initiate a serious discussion of how to provide quality child care to America's families, that would be one Mother's Day gift that wouldn't be tossed in the drawer with the guest soaps and tea towels of Mother's Days past.
Posted on: Thursday, May 8, 2008 - 14:35
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (5-6-08)
When I first joined the Air Force, its mission statement was straightforward: to fly and fight. The recruiting slogan was upbeat: the Air Force was"a great way of life," and the ROTC program I enrolled in was the"gateway to a great way of life."
Mission statements and slogans are easy to poke fun at and shouldn't, perhaps, be taken too seriously. That said, the people who develop them do take them seriously, which is why they can't be ignored.
Consider the Air Force's new slogan:"Air Force -- Above All."
Okay, I admit it's catchy, even cute, if, that is, you can get past the"high ground" conceit and ignore the Germanic über alles overtones. Its literal meaning is obvious enough and it does fit with the Air Force's most basic precept, that mastery of the air means mastery of the ground. Yet today's Air Force seeks more than that. It wants to extend its"mastery" to space ("the new high ground") and even to cyberspace. This is yet another disturbing manifestation of our military's quest for"full spectrum dominance," achieved at debilitating cost to the American taxpayer -- and a potentially destabilizing one to the planet.
Striving to be"above all" everywhere is ambitious to the point of folly. By comparison, the slogans of the Air Force's sister services seem modest. The poor, embattled Army is simply"Army Strong." The Navy now promises to"Accelerate Your Life." Yawn. The Marines, always faithful, refuse to tinker with their slogan, which remains:"The Few. The Proud. The Marines." Meanwhile, the Air Force soars above such slavish adherence to tradition -- as well as any reasonable sense of boundaries or restraint.
The new slogan may also serve as a reminder to airmen to keep their service branch"above all" in their hearts and minds -- despite the fact that the Air Force is currently shedding 40,000 airmen as it tries to pay for a new generation of high-tech fighter jets. It most certainly is a measure of the service's determination to deny the use of space to powerful rivals, whether China, Russia -- or the U.S. Navy.
Perhaps the slogan even expresses a certain moral superiority -- as in an Air Force pilot's comment I once overheard that, when aloft, he felt"morally superior" to the little people scampering around on the ground below him. High ground, indeed.
Flying and Fighting, Everywhere!
So much for slogans. The Air Force's new mission statement begins -- and do bear with me for a moment --
The Mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests to fly and fight in air, space and cyberspace.
Flying and fighting in cyberspace sounds exciting -- think Neo in The Matrix. And flying and fighting in space -- which might yet come to pass -- is so Star Wars, especially if the"good" side of the Force is with you, which it must be if you're defending America.
But wait. The Air Force mission statement makes an instant, and anything but defensive u-turn, and promptly lays out a"vision" of"Global Vigilance, Reach and Power," which, it claims,"orbits around three core competencies: Developing Airmen, Technology-to-Warfighting and Integrating Operations." How a vision can orbit three cores I don't know -- and I once completed the"Space Operations Short Course" at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Nonetheless, this trinity of core competencies somehow enables six" capabilities," which are unapologetically offensive.
The first of the six is"air and space superiority" with which we" can dominate enemy operations in all dimensions: land, sea, air and space." Capability #2 turns out to be"global attack," enabling us to"attack anywhere, anytime and do so quickly and with greater precision than ever before." (In Bush-speak, we'll kill them there, so they don't kill us here.)
And when we attack, capability #4,"precision engagement," theoretically ensures that we put bombs on target, as we used to say in simpler times. Today's"precision" vision is more prolix:"the essence [of precision engagement] lies in the ability to apply selective force against specific targets because the nature and variety of future contingencies demand both precise and reliable use of military power with minimal risk and collateral damage."
I pity the recruits who have to recite that mouthful of gobbledygook. As bloodless and evasive as such prose may be, however, the mission statement doesn't pull punches about just what"above all" really means. It wields words like"attack,""force,""power," and, most revealingly,"dominate." They reflect what matters most in the new Air Force vision -- and by extension, of course, that of our country. And if you don't believe me, go to the Air Force website and click on the icons for"air dominance,""space dominance," and" cyber dominance."
Death at a Distance
Our capability to deliver damage and death across the globe -- at virtually no immediate risk to ourselves -- gives extra meaning to the words"above all." But with great power comes great responsibility, a tagline I learned as a teen from Spider-Man comic strips, but which is no less true for that. The problem is that our"global reach" often exceeds the grasp of our collective wisdom to employ"global power" responsibly.
Listen to the Air Force's own pitch for its"global reach" and"global power," and you know that today's service is indeed an imperial instrument focused on"power projection" and"dominance" (with nary a thought of how others may respond to being dominated). Worse yet, our" capabilities" have so detached us from delivering death that it's become remarkably close to a video-game-like exercise.
Twenty-five years ago, I watched a recruiting film that predicted the coming age of remote-control warfare. And where would the Air Force find its new"pilots," the narrator asked rhetorically? The film promptly cut to a 1980s video arcade, where young teens were blasting away with abandon in games like"Missile Command."
I remember the audience laughing, and it tickled my funny bone as well, but I'm not so amused anymore. For what was prophesied a generation ago has come true. Using unmanned drones, armed with missiles and"piloted" by joystick-wielding warriors, often thousands of miles away from the targets being attacked, the Air Force need not risk any aircrew in"battle." Our military speaks blithely, even with excitement, of"killing 'Bubba' from the skies"; but, in actuality, what that means is: from air bases tucked safely far behind the lines, whether in Qatar on the Arabian peninsula or outside of Las Vegas. (In this case, what happens in Vegas definitely does not stay in Vegas.)
I'm not suggesting that our Global Hawk, Predator, and Reaper (What a name!) pilots are anything less than dedicated to their assigned missions, including minimizing" collateral damage." Rather, the technology of unmanned aerial vehicles itself serves to detach them from their targets. Tracking the enemy, often with infrared sensors that show people as featureless blobs of heat-light, how can they not become human versions of the ruthless alien hunter that blasted its way through Arnold Schwarzenegger's unit in a movie coincidentally named Predator?
As our weapons technology weakens ground-level empathy and understanding, it simultaneously emboldens the Air Force to seek (deceptively)" clean" kills. It's well known, for example, that, in the opening days of the invasion of Iraq, in March 2003, the Bush administration tried to"decapitate" Saddam Hussein and his inner circle with precision weapons. (In fact, only Iraqi civilians were killed in these coordinated attacks aimed at the Iraqi leadership as the war began.)
Terrorist networks like Al Qaeda provide even fewer and more elusive"high-value" targets than do organized governments. Yet, when the U.S. succeeds with"decapitation" strikes against such networks, new heads often emerge, hydra-like, especially when" collateral damage" includes dead civilians -- and live avengers.
Control Fantasies in Space
The Air Force's vision of total domination used to stop at the stratosphere. Yet, according to its grandiose website, it now extends"to the shining stars and beyond." I hesitate to ask what lies beyond. God? Certainly, there's something unbounded, almost god-like, in the Air Force's space fantasy.
When it turns to space, the Air Force readily admits its desire to dominate all potential foes. As Peter B. Teets, a former Air Force undersecretary and director of the National Reconnaissance Office, declared back in 2002:"If we do not exploit space to the fullest advantage across every conceivable mode of war fighting, then someone else will -- and we allow this at our own peril."
There's nothing surprising about this"king of the hill" mentality. A decade ago, as a uniformed officer, I attended a space conference in Colorado Springs. Major topics of discussion included space weaponry already on the drawing board and being funded. Included were space-based directed energy weapons ("ten to twenty years away" was the prediction back then) and "Brilliant Pebbles," a constellation of thousands of miniature killer-satellites, proposed in the 1980s, that would be used to intercept ballistic missiles and which, fortunately, went unfielded, though not for want of lobbying to revive the project.
Much of the argument then -- undoubtedly abstruse to outsiders -- was about whether space represented a"revolution in military affairs" or a"strategic center of gravity." It turned out that it didn't matter. Either way, we clearly had to seize it and dominate it first, since space, as"the ultimate high ground," was going to be critical in future wars.
Several enthusiasts called for a new, separate, and independent space force, a fifth service, with its own unique doctrine -- an idea the Air Force has, so far, fought off valiantly. Among my notes from the occasion was a statement by General Howell M. Estes III, then Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Space Command, that the Air Force simply couldn't afford to lose the space mission -- not just to"the enemy," but to the dreaded U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, both of which were, he claimed, already exploiting space assets more skillfully than the Air Force.
Dominating space (and again the other services) certainly sounds seductive. Having worked in the Space Surveillance Center in Cheyenne Mountain, however, I can tell you that near-earth orbital space is already overcrowded with satellites and space junk -- and the delicate sensors on these satellites are highly vulnerable to space shrapnel traveling at 17,000 miles per hour. Explosive battles in space would degrade, rather than enhance, any existing advantage in space-based intelligence and communication the U.S. does have. Demilitarizing space is the only sensible strategy, yet it's the one that promises few lucrative contracts for aerospace firms and no new command billets for an Air Force seeking global (and supra-global) dominance.
Closing the Empathy Gap
As the Air Force flexes its earth, space, and cyber muscles, we rarely stop to think of the asymmetrical advantages enjoyed by the military -- the overwhelming advantage in firepower, mobility, and technology. This has created what can only be called an empathy gap.
Fortunately, Americans have never been on the receiving end of a sustained bombing campaign in this country. Two shocking days excepted -- December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor (where my uncle dodged aerial strafing at Schofield barracks), and September 11, 2001 in New York City and Washington -- the skies have always been friendly to us, even the repository of our hopes and dreams. When fighter jets scream overhead, our first thought isn't"death," it's display. We look up in curiosity or wonder; we don't panic and run for our lives. We expect the opening of a sporting event or aerial acrobatics, not the arrival of"precision guided munitions."
As a result, we have trouble realizing that our ability to soar"above all" and rain death from the skies generates resistance and revenge, rather than awe and retreat, or submission and rapprochement. We marvel that our enemies just don't get the message -- but our signals are mixed, and our receivers flawed.
Flying and fighting so far above it all has proven deceptive indeed. It leaves us with little idea of the new realities we are creating down below, and blind to the disturbing inequities and resentments generated by our global/galactic/cyber power.
It turns out that the higher you soar -- the more"above all" you perceive yourself to be -- the less likely it is that you'll understand the little people beneath you, and the more likely it is that those same"little people" will resent being dominated. And the solution to that problem lies not in dominating the stars or some other higher physical realm, but in looking within to a higher moral realm."Above All" in moral courage -- now there's a slogan toward which I'd willingly soar.
Posted on: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 - 20:25
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (5-4-08)
The last war won't end, but in the Pentagon they're already arguing about the next one.
Let's start with that"last war" and see if we can get things straight. Just over five years ago, American troops entered Baghdad in battle mode, felling the Sunni-dominated government of dictator Saddam Hussein and declaring Iraq"liberated." In the wake of the city's fall, after widespread looting, the new American administrators dismantled the remains of Saddam's government in its hollowed out, trashed ministries; disassembled the Sunni-dominated Baathist Party which had ruled Iraq since the 1960s, sending its members home with news that there was no coming back; dismantled Saddam's 400,000 man army; and began to denationalize the economy. Soon, an insurgency of outraged Sunnis was raging against the American occupation.
After initially resisting democratic elections, American occupation administrators finally gave in to the will of the leading Shiite clergyman, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and agreed to sponsor them. In January 2005, these brought religious parties representing a long-oppressed Shiite majority to power, parties which had largely been in exile in neighboring Shiite Iran for years.
Now, skip a few years, and U.S. troops have once again entered Baghdad in battle mode. This time, they've been moving into the vast Sadr City Shiite slum"suburb" of eastern Baghdad, which houses perhaps two-and-a-half million closely packed inhabitants. If free-standing, Sadr City would be the second largest city in Iraq after the capital. This time, the forces facing American troops haven't put down their weapons, packed up, and gone home. This time, no one is talking about"liberation," or"freedom," or"democracy." In fact, no one is talking about much of anything.
And no longer is the U.S. attacking Sunnis. In the wake of the President's 2007 surge, the U.S. military is now officially allied with 90,000 Sunnis of the so-called Awakening Movement, mainly former insurgents, many of them undoubtedly once linked to the Baathist government U.S. forces overthrew in 2003. Meanwhile, American troops are fighting the Shiite militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, a cleric who seems now to be living in Iran, but whose spokesman in Najaf recently bitterly denounced that country for"seeking to share with the U.S. in influence over Iraq." And they are fighting the Sadrist Mahdi Army militia in the name of an Iraqi government dominated by another Shiite militia, the Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, whose ties to Iran are even closer.
Ten thousand Badr Corps militia members were being inducted into the Iraqi army (just as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was demanding that the Mahdi Army militia disarm). This week, an official delegation from that government, which only recently received Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with high honors in Baghdad, took off for Tehran at American bidding to present"evidence" that the Iranians are arming their Sadrist enemies.
At the heart of this intra-sectarian struggle may be the fear that, in upcoming provincial elections, the Sadrists, increasingly popular for their resistance to the American occupation, might actually win. For the last few weeks, American troops have been moving deeper into Sadr City, implanting the reluctant security forces of the Maliki government 500-600 meters ahead of them. This is called"standing them up,""part of a strategy to build up the capability of the Iraqi security forces by letting them operate semi-autonomously of the American troops." It's clear, however, that, if Maliki's military were behind them, many might well disappear. (A number have already either put down their weapons, fled, or gone over to the Sadrists.)
How the Reverse Body Count Came -- and Went
The fighting in the heavily populated urban slums of Sadr City has been fierce, murderous, and destructive. It has quieted most of the talk about the"lowering of casualties" and of"violence" that was the singular hallmark of the surge year in Iraq. Though never commented upon, that remarkable year-long emphasis on the ever lessening number of corpses actually represented the return, in perversely reverse form, of the Vietnam era"body count."
In a guerrilla war situation in which there was no obvious territory to be taken and no clear way to establish what our previous Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once called the "metrics" of victory or success, it was natural, as happened in Vietnam, to begin to count. If you couldn't conquer a city or a country, then there was a certain logic to the thought that victory would come if, one by one, you could"obliterate" -- to use a word suddenly back in the news -- the enemy.
As the Vietnam conflict dragged on, however, as the counting of bodies continued and victory never materialized, that war gained the look of slaughter, and the body count (announced every day at a military press conference in Saigon that reporters labeled"the five o'clock follies") came to be seen by increasing numbers of Americans as evidence of atrocity. It became the symbol of the descent into madness in Indochina. No wonder the Bush administration, imagining itself once again capturing territory, carefully organized its Iraq War so that it would lack such official counting. (The President later described the process this way:"We have made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team.")
With the coming of the surge strategy in 2007, frustration over the President's unaccomplished mission and his constant talk of victory meant that some other"metric," some other"benchmark," for success had to be established, and it proved to be the reverse body count. Over the last year, in fact, just about the only measure of success regularly trumpeted in the mainstream media has been that lowering of the death count. In reverse form, however, it still held some of the same dangers for the administration as its Vietnamese cousin.
As of April, bodies, in ever rising numbers, American and Iraqi, have been forcing their way back into the news as symbols not of success, but of failure. More than 1,000 Iraqis have, by semi-official estimate, died just in the last month (and experts know that these monstrous monthly totals of Iraqi dead are usually dramatic undercounts). Four hundred Iraqis, reportedly only 10% militia fighters, are estimated to have died in the onslaught on Sadr City alone.
American soldiers are also dying in and around Baghdad in elevated numbers. U.S. military spokesmen claim that none of this represents a weakening of the post-surge security situation. As Lieutenant General Carter Ham, Joint Staff director for operations at the Pentagon, put the matter:"While it is sad to see an increase in casualties, I don't think it is necessarily indicative of a major change in the operating environment. When the level of fighting increases, then sadly the number of casualties does tend to rise." This is, of course, unmitigated nonsense.
In April, of the 51 American deaths in Iraq, more than twenty evidently took place in the ongoing battle for Sadr City or greater Baghdad. Among them were young men from Portland, Mesquite, Buchanan Dam, and Fresno (Texas), Billings (Montana), Fountain (Colorado), Bakersfield (California), Mount Airy (North Carolina), and Zephyrhills (Florida) -- all thousands of miles from home. And many of them have died under the circumstances most feared by American commanders (and thought for a time to have been avoided) before the invasion of Iraq -- in block to block, house to house fighting in the warren of streets in one of this planet's many slum cities.
For the Iraqis of Sadr City, of course, this is a living hell. ("Sadr City right now is like a city of ghosts," Abu Haider al-Bahadili, a Mahdi Army fighter told Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post."It has turned from a city into a field of battle.") As in all colonial wars, all wars on the peripheries, the"natives" always die in staggeringly higher numbers than the far better armed occupation or expeditionary forces.
This is no less true now, especially since the U.S. military has wheeled in its Abrams tanks, brought out its 200-pound guided rockets, and called in air power in a major way. Planes, helicopters, and Hellfire-missile-armed drones are now all regularly firing into the heavily populated urban neighborhoods of the east Baghdad slum. As Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Timeswrote recently,"With many of Sadr City's main roads peppered with roadside bombs and its side streets too narrow for U.S. tanks or other heavy vehicles to navigate, U.S. forces often call in airstrikes or use guided rockets to hit their targets."
Buried in a number of news stories from Sadr City are reports in which attacks on"insurgents,"" criminals," or"known criminal elements" (now Shiite, not Sunni) destroy whole buildings, even rows of buildings, even in one case recently damaging a hospital and destroying ambulances. Every day now, civilians die and children are pulled from the rubble. This is brutal indeed.
And it no longer makes any particular sense, even by the standards of the Bush administration; nor, in the post-surge atmosphere, is anybody trying to make much sense of it. That rising body count has, after all, taken away the last metric by which to measure"success" in Iraq. Even the small explanations (and, these days, those are just about the only ones left) seem increasingly bizarre. Take, for instance, the convoluted explanation of who exactly is responsible for the devastation in Sadr City. Here's how military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Stover put it recently:
"'The sole burden of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the militants who care nothing for the Iraqi people…' He said the militiamen purposely attack from buildings and alleyways in densely populated areas, hoping to protect themselves by hiding among civilians. 'What does that say about the enemy?... He is heartless and evil.'"
Mind you, this comes from the representative of a military that now claims to grasp the true nature of counterinsurgency warfare (and so of a guerrilla war); and you're talking about a militia largely from Sadr City, fighting "a war of survival" for its own families, its own people, against foreign soldiers who have hopped continents to attack them. The Sadrist militiamen are defending their homes and, of course, with Predator drones and American helicopters constantly over their neighborhoods, it's quite obvious what would happen to them if they" came out and fought" like typical good-hearted types. They would simply be blown away. (Out of curiosity, what descriptive adjectives would Lt. Col. Stover use to capture the style of fighting of the Predator pilots who"fly" their drones from an air base outside of Las Vegas?)
By the way, the last time such street fighting was seen, in the first six months of 2007, the U.S. military was clearing insurgents ("al-Qaeda") out of Sunni neighborhoods of the capital, which were then being further cleansed by Shiite militias (including the Sadrists).
So, to sum up, let me see if I have this straight: The Bush administration liberated Iraq in order to send U.S. troops against a ragtag militia that has nothing whatsoever to do with Saddam Hussein's former government (and many of whose members were, in fact, oppressed by it, as were its leaders) in the name of another group of Iraqis, who have long been backed by Iran, and… uh…
Hmmm, let's try that again… or, like the Bush administration, let's not and pretend we did.
In the meantime, the U.S. military has tried to partially "seal off" Sadr City and, in the neighborhoods that they have partially occupied with their attendant Iraqi troops, they are building the usual vast, concrete walls, cordoning off the area. This is being done, so American spokespeople say, to keep the Sadrist militia fighters out and to clear the way for government hearts-and-minds"reconstruction" projects that everyone knows are unlikely to happen.
Soon enough, if the previous pattern in Sunni neighborhoods is applied, they and/or their Iraqi cohorts will start going door to door doing weapons searches. As a result, the American and Iraqi prisons now supposedly being substantially emptied -- part of a program of"national reconciliation" -- of many of the tens of thousands of Sunni prisoners swept up in raids in Sunni neighborhoods, are likely to be refilled with Shiite prisoners swept up in a similar way. Call it grim irony -- or call it a meaningless nightmare from which no one can awaken. Just don't claim it makes much sense.
As in Vietnam, so four decades later, we are observing a full-scale descent into madness and, undoubtedly, into atrocity. At least in 2003, American troops were heading for Baghdad. They thought they had a goal, a city to take. Now, they are heading for nowhere, for the heart of a slum city which they cannot hold in a guerrilla war where the taking of territory and the occupying of neighborhoods is essentially beside the point. They are heading for oblivion, while trying to win hearts and minds by shooting missiles into homes and enclosing people in giant walls which break families and communities apart, while destroying livelihoods.
Oh, and while we're at it, welcome to"the next war," the war in the slum cities of the planet.
"There Are No Exit Strategies"
Remember when the globe's imperial policeman, its New Rome, was going to wield its unsurpassed military power by moving from country to country, using lightning strikes and shock-and-awe tactics? We're talking about the now-unimaginably distant past of perhaps 2002-2003. Afghanistan had been"liberated" in a matter of weeks;"regime change" in Iraq was going to be a" cakewalk," and it would be followed by the reordering of what the neoconservatives liked to refer to as"the Greater Middle East." No one who mattered was talking about protracted guerrilla warfare; nor was there anything being said about counterinsurgency (nor, as in the Powell Doctrine, about exits either). The U.S. military was going to go into Iraq fast and hard, be victorious in short order, and then, of course, we would stay. We would, in fact, be welcomed with open arms by natives so eternally grateful that they would practically beg us to garrison their countries.
Every one of those assumptions about the new American way of war was absurd, even then. At the very least, the problem should have been obvious once American generals reached Baghdad and sat down at a marble table in one of Saddam Hussein's overwrought palaces, grinning for a victory snapshot -- without any evidence of a defeated enemy on the other side of the table to sign a set of surrender documents. If this were a normal campaign and an obvious imperial triumph, then where was the other side? Where were those we had defeated? The next thing you knew, the Americans were printing up packs of cards with the faces of most of Saddam's missing cronies on them.
Well, that was then. By now, fierce versions of guerrilla war have migrated to the narrow streets of the poorest districts of Baghdad and, in Afghanistan, are moving ever closer to the Afghan capital, Kabul. And even though the"last war" in Iraq won't end (so that troops can be transferred to the even older war in Afghanistan that is, now, spiraling out of control), inside the Pentagon some are thinking not about how to get out, but about how to get in. They are pondering"the next war."
With that in mind, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently gave two sharp-edged speeches, one at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, the other at West Point, each expressing his frustration with the slowness of the armed services to adapt to a counterinsurgency planet and to plan for the next war.
Now, there's obviously nothing illogical about a country's military preparing for future wars. That's what it's there for and every country has the right to defend itself. But it's a different matter when you're preparing for future"wars of choice" (which used to be called wars of aggression) -- for the next war(s) on what our secretary of defense now calls the"the 21st century's global commons." By that, he means not just planet Earth in its entirety, but"space and cyberspace" as well. For the American military, it turns out, planning for a future"defense" of the United States means planning for planet-wide, over-the-horizon counterinsurgency. It will, of course, be done better, with a military that, as Gates put it, will no longer be"a smaller version of the Fulda Gap force." (It was at the Fulda Gap, a German plain, that the U.S. military once expected to meet Soviet forces invading Europe in full-scale battle.)
So the secretary of defense is calling for more foreign-language training, a better"expeditionary culture," and more nation building -- you know, all that"hearts and minds" stuff. In essence, he accepts that the future of American war will, indeed, be in the Sadr Cities and Afghan backlands of the planet; or, as he says, that"the asymmetric battlefields of the 21st century" will be"the dominant combat environment in the decades to come." And the American response will be high-tech indeed -- all those unmanned aerial vehicles that he can't stop talking about.
Gates describes our war-fighting future in this way:"What has been called the 'Long War' [i.e. Bush's War on Terror, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq] is likely to be many years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world in differing degrees of size and intensity. This generational campaign cannot be wished away or put on a timetable. There are no exit strategies."
"There are no exit strategies." That's a line to roll around on your tongue for a while. It's a fancy way of saying that the U.S. military is likely to be in one, two, many Sadr Cities for a long time to come. This is Gates's ultimate insight as secretary of defense, and his response is to urge the military to plan for more and better of the same. For this we give the Pentagon almost a trillion dollars a year.
The irony is that, in both speeches, Gates praises outside-the-box thinking in the military and calls upon the armed services to"think unconventionally." Yet his own thoughts couldn't be more conventional, imperial, or potentially disastrous. Put in a nutshell: If the mission is heading into madness, then double the mission. Bring in yet more of those drones whose missiles are already so popular in Sadr City. This is brilliantly prosaic thinking, based on the assumption that the"global commons" should be ours and that the"next war" will be ours, and the one after that, and so on.
But I wouldn't bet on it. John McCain got a lot of flak for saying that, as far as he was concerned, American troops could stay in Iraq for"100 years... as long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed." Our present secretary of defense, a"realist" in an administration of bizarre dreamers and inept gamblers, has just cast his vote for more and better Sadr Cities. In a Pentagon version of an old Maoist slogan: Let a hundred slum guerrilla struggles bloom!
It's a recipe for being bogged down in such wars for 100 years -- with the piles of dead rising ever higher. No wonder some of the top military brass, whom he criticizes for their bureaucratic inertia, have been unenthusiastic. They don't want to spend the rest of their careers fighting hopeless wars in Sadr City or its equivalent. Who would?
The rest of us should feel the same way. Every time you hear the phrase"the next war" -- and journalists already love it -- you should wince. It means endless war, eternal war, and it's the path to madness.
Vietnam… Iraq… Afghanistan… Don't we already have enough examples of American counterinsurgency operations under our belt? The American people evidently think so. For some time now, significant majorities have wanted out of Baghdad, out of Iraq. All the way out. In a major survey just released by the influential journal Foreign Affairs, similar majorities have, in essence, "voted" for demilitarizing U.S. foreign policy. In their responses, they offer quite a different approach to how the United States should operate in the world. According to journalist Jim Lobe, 69% of respondents believe"the U.S. government should put more emphasis on diplomatic and economic foreign policy tools in fighting terrorism," not"military efforts." (Sixty-five percent believe the U.S. should withdraw all its troops from Iraq either"immediately" or"over the next twelve months.") But, of course, no one who matters listens to them.
And yet, the path to Sadr City is one that even an imperialist should want to turn back from. It's the road to Hell and it's paved with the worst of intentions.
Posted on: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 - 20:22
SOURCE: Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center (5-3-08)
If I would choose one article in the Western media that I have read over many decades as the worst piece of anti-Israel propaganda of all, it might well be Karin Laub’s April 26, 2008 piece, “Palestinian plight is flip side of Israel's independence joy.”
Why? Because many articles have slandered Israel on various points or told falsehoods ranging from the disgusting to the humorous or been based on assumptions that were at odds with the truth. But in this case, the article encapsulates the way in which much of the world has turned from admiration to loathing of Israel, and the way in which Israel’s destruction—which in other contexts would be seen as genocidal—has been justified.
Sound exaggerated? No doubt, reading the above two paragraphs would shock the author who, I believe, had no conscious intention of perpetuating such a verbal atrocity. It is, once again, the unchallenged myths that are blithely assumed, that do so much damage.
Let me explain, first briefly and then at length. Israel is the only country in the world which is regularly slated for extermination and it is certainly the one most reviled. Without entering into a discussion of why such extraordinary double standards are maintained the core issue is that Israel is allegedly an illegitimate country because it is founded on the theft of other’s property and the suffering of other people.
This is the modern equivalent of the blood libel, which held that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood for the Passover matzoh. But if that myth is too exotic for people remember that its “secular” equivalent was responsible for even more anti-Semitic persecution. That was the idea that any Jewish prosperity was based on the blood-sucking of Christian peasants or of society at large.
In this case, Israel is said to have murdered, ethnically cleansed and otherwise persecuted the Palestinians. Therefore, nothing it does can be good, no achievement of itself counts, and it has no right to self-defense. Obviously, such claims are often greatly diluted but nonetheless rest on this basis.
The Laub article is a systematic restatement of this thesis. To begin with, it is extraordinarily long for an AP article, 1,724 words. If this isn’t a record for an AP dispatch, it must be up near the top. Obviously, this is a message that the AP editors are especially eager to convey: that everything Israel has is at Palestinian expense.
That this is a lie can be explained on many levels but at least two must be presented here. First, why is this measure applied only to Israel, and certainly only to Israel on an existential basis? It is well-known, certainly, that Germany has taken responsibility for Nazi crimes, and also there are applications for reimbursement of Jewish property seized in eastern Europe during the Nazi period.
Yet most countries are founded on expropriation, often of Jewish property. For example, Oxford University, where recently debates were conducted calling for Israel’s destruction, was started on property stolen from Jews expelled in 1290. Far more recently, many Arab states received a huge infusion of capital from the expropriation of Jewish property after Israel’s creation. Does France’s or Britain’s or Belgium’s independence day require discussion of colonial depredations? We don’t read articles that Japan’s independence day is blighted by Chinese or Korean suffering, though the Japanese did engage in mass murder of those people. What about the fact that every country in the Western Hemisphere is based on the suffering of the indigenous natives? Or even in the case of Russia, given Czarist and Soviet behavior? In no case, however, is far worse behavior said to have poisoned any other country’s very existence.
But perhaps even more important is the question of where true responsibility for Palestinian suffering lies.
Here is how Laub’s article begins:
“JALAZOUN REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank - Mohammed Shaikha was 9 when the carefree rhythm of his village childhood, going to third grade, picking olives, playing hide-and-seek , was abruptly cut short. Uprooted during the 1948 war over Israel's creation, he's now a wrinkled old man. He has spent a lifetime in this cramped refugee camp, and Israel's 60th independence day, to be celebrated with fanfare on May 8, fills him with pain.
"For 60 years, Israel has been sitting on my heart. It kicked me out of my home, my nation, and deprived me of many things," he said. And each Israeli birthday makes it harder for 70-year-old Shaikha and his elderly gin rummy partners in the camp's coffee house to cling to dreams of going back to Beit Nabala, one village among hundreds leveled to make way for the influx of Jewish immigrants into the newborn Jewish state.”
Well, let us ask the following questions: How did Shaikha leave his “carefree” utopia of Palestine? Most likely because his parents decided to get out of the way while, they expected, the Jews were exterminated by Arab armies. He was in fact “kicked out” by an Arab decision to reject partition—in which case at worst he would be living as an Arab citizen of Israel and at best, depending on where he lived, be a citizen of Palestine celebrating its own sixtieth birthday.
Consider a worst-case alternative history:
Mohammaed Shaikha sat in his nice house and recalled how in 1948 his familyleft its village and moved a few miles into a village in the new state of Palestine. “It was rough for a while,” he said. “But with the compensation money we got for making peace and aid from Arab states I was able to build a very nice life for myself.”
In fact, it was the Palestinian and Arab leadership which—in contrast to every other refugee situation in modern history—insisted on keeping these people suffering and in refugee camps to use as political pawns. They, too, rejected every offer of peace and resettlement.
For example, if Yasir Arafat had negotiated a solution on the basis of the framework proposed at Camp David in 2000, Shaikha and the other refugees would have shared out over $20 billion in compensation and a Palestinian state might be celebrating its seventh birthday. The PLO refused—a policy pursued since 1993 by the Palestinian Authority—to move people out of refugee camps. They must be kept there as tools with which to blame Israel and also to continue the fires of hatred and violence burning.
A hint of the truth is inadvertently given in the article—though not explained—by a Palestinian ideologue:
“Anthropologist Sharif Kaananeh urges his fellow Palestinians to take the long view and learn from Jewish history: "If they waited 2,000 years to claim this country, we can wait 200 years."
During those 2,000 years, however, Jews whenever possible built up their own lives and acted peacefully and productively. In Kaananeh’s version, he is willing to keep Shaikha and his descendants in refugee camps for 200 years. And why not since the media will blame their suffering on Israel and provide it as a reason why Israel should disappear or make endless concessions or be denied full support despite the assault on itself.
By the way, this is what the author prettifies as “perseverance” as if it were something admirable. Don’t make a peaceful compromise; keep fighting and spilling blood unless or until you achieve total victory. In any other situation, this would be decried as a foolish, bloodthirsty, and fanatical world view.
If the Palestinians want to make this their strategy they certainly should not be allowed to blame this on Israel.
The true nakba (catastrophe) was not Israel’s creation but the Arab failure to create Palestine and their continuation of conflict to this day.
But only Israel is branded, in effect, as a war criminal nation. In this light, the hateful and vicious attacks on it make sense.
Yet why don’t we see the following headline: “Israeli plight a flip side of Palestinian celebration,” or substitute “Israeli plight is flip side of [insert name of any Arab state name or Iran]” or “Israeli [or Jewish] plight is flip side of [insert name of any European state]”?
This could be followed with interviews of displaced Jews (living in poverty since they never left post-World War Two refugee camps in Europe or the transit camps built in Israel to house Jewish refugees from the Arab world. Or interviews with Israelis who were maimed or whose families were murdered in wars or terrorist attacks?
For, indeed, Israeli misery is built on the support of terrorism and hatred by Arab states, the incitement to murder and appeals for genocide among Palestinian groups.
Even in direct Palestinian terms, the irony doesn’t stop. The same week as this article was written, it was reported (by Reuters) that while Arab states have promised $717.1 million in aid to the Palestinians, only $153.2 million, that is a bit more than 20 percent, was actually delivered. If Palestinians are not well-off perhaps this is what one must examine, or at least acknowledge.
How about this: “The 1948 war had largely separated Israelis and Palestinians, except for some 150,000 Palestinians who stayed put and became Israeli citizens.” No mention of the fact that those Israeli Palestinians have prospered.
And this: “The symbols of occupation, settlements, army bases, roadblocks, are visible across the West Bank.” No mention of the fact that Israel has withdrawn from large parts of the West Bank, in all the populated areas (except a section of Hebron) Palestinians have had self-government, with massive international aid for 14 years!
And this: “Palestinians under Yasser Arafat took to bombings and hijackings to make the world notice their existence….” So the sole purpose of terrorism was as a misguided public relations’ campaign so the world would take pity on Palestinian suffering, not an attempt to destroy Israel.
Or this, “Few refugees can realistically expect to go home again, because Israelis fear being swamped by a mass repatriation.” That makes the Palestinian predicament especially harsh, said Karen Abu Zayd, commissioner of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency which helps the Palestinian refugees.” While at least a motive is given for Israel’s refusal (though not that the problem here is not just a massive influx of Palestinians might overwhelm social services but that the “returnees” goal would be turning Israel into a Palestinian Arab nationalist or Islamist state through violence), no other alternative is presented, not even resettlement in an independent Palestine. That last point was, after all, the whole idea of the 1990s’ peace process. But the reporter collaborates with the Palestinian line: the only two choices are suffering or total victory, wiping out all other options.
I could literally write a book on the misstatements and misleading basis of this article. But it can be summarized as follows:
This is the Palestinian narrative adapted by a large sector of the American media, as well as academia: It is a zero-sum game in which either Israel must be eliminated or poor Palestinians suffer. That the continued conflict—and their own suffering--is due to Palestinian actions or that it could be resolved by the kind of compromises Israel has long been advocating (and Palestinians rejecting) and taking risks to bring about is not mentioned. Equally, the perspective that Palestinian radical leadership (by both Fatah and Hamas) and doctrine must be eliminated as the source of Israeli suffering is understated or ignored.
The real victim here is both Israelis and Palestinians. The real cause of the suffering is Arab state intransigence and the kind of Palestinian leadership, strategy, goals, ideology, and behavior that this and so many media stories extol.
Remember that the poisonous forest of hatred and violence grow from the acorns of articles like this.
Posted on: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 - 20:11
SOURCE: TPM Cafe (4-27-08)
If Martin Amis is the self-styled bad boy of English letters, Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, is the rabbinic scourge of"fine" writers who stray into public intellection. No surprise, then, that in the April 27 New York Times Book Review Wieseltier condemns Amis' The Second Plane, a collection of essays, reviews, and stories about September 11 written across six years and re-published in America now in a slim volume.
What is surprising is that Wieseltier's review is itself so preening and melodramatic, an opera bouffe of a literary attack, showing mainly that it takes one to know one. Anyone who's read Amis' book as well as the review will know that Wieseltier isn't as brave or honest as his often-stumbling target. And thereby hangs a tale.
The faults in Amis' book are manifold, but Wieseltier's puzzling envy and all-too-explicable bad faith are borne of bad conscience about his own continuously bad judgment about how to respond to September 11. Amis has gotten under his skin, as bad boys will, because his very badness embarrasses Wieseltier, who actually shares many of his views but loathes and envies Amis' brazenness in flaunting them.
Wieseltier shows (as I did in the Los Angeles Times) that Amis is too often grandiloquent and preening, his virtuosity sometimes outrunning reason and even reporting.
But Amis has to be credited with two kinds of courage. First, by making few revisions in these pieces, he lets us watch him learning about September 11, fitfully, over time -- as we all did -- through under-informed, over-determined generalizations and contradictory, fragmentary insights that sometimes became hobby horses. His courage to be messy would seem exhibitionist only to the compulsively tidy and self-regarding.
Second, Amis is brazen as well as brave in shoving our snouts into harsh realities which he thinks too many readers (perhaps especially British readers, for whom most of these pieces were first written) have sanitized or ideologized away, in excesses of political correctness, or have simply forgotten with the passage of time.
So determined is he to make us taste suicide bombing's depravity, for example, that he sketches the perpetrators' psycho-sexual perversities, their"self besplatterment," the bloody"pink haze" forming above the bodies of World Trade Center victims plunged to their deaths. His review of"United 93" credits that film for making viewers feel the passengers'"state of near-perfect distress -- a distress that knows no blindspots. . . . the ancient flavor of death and defeat. You think: this is exactly what [the terrorists] meant us to feel." Amis makes you ashamed of trying to feel anything else.
Wieseltier, that dark prophet of unblinking confrontation with malevolence, is affronted."What is gained by preferring 'horrorism' to 'terroism', except perhaps a round of applause?" he complains. Surely there is answer enough in the paragraph just above. Yet Wieseltier insists that"Amis is the sort of writer who will never say 'city' when he can say 'conurbation.'".
Really? Read the book and the review, and decide who strains more for virtuosity. And if it's a more sober depth you're looking for, tell me whether the following wisodm about dealing with Islamist terrorists was offered by Martin Amis or by Leon Wieseltier:"We are not dealing in reasons because we are not dealing in reason."
It is by Amis, actually. And Wieseltier nearly admits to feeling upstaged as much as affronted, but only after nearly 2000 words of insults:
"Pity the writer who wants to be Bellow but is only Mailer.""What we have here is a hormonal unbeliever.""Amis will say almost anything, because being noticed is as important to him as being right.""Amis seems to regard his little curses as military contributions to the struggle.""I wish only to suggest that the simpleton's view of the world that Amis is angrily promoting contributes not very much to the study of the passions that are scalding the planet."
Only after all that does Wieseltier acknowledge"the complication" that"there is considerable justice on Amis' side:
"[Amis] is correct in insisting upon the moral and historical primacy of the battle against theocracy and terror. He is correct that... that the defense of western conceptions of freedom and equality is not an exercise in ethnocentrism. He is correct that the skeptical discussion of religious ideas and practices must not be abrogated by the skinlessness of multiculturalism.... He is correct that opinions that seem not only spectacularly false, but also lethally false, do not have to be intellectually respected even if they have to be politically tolerated. He is correct that in Islamism the many doctrines of antimodernism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Semitism are one doctrine.
"I have never before assented to so many of the principles of a book and found it so awful," Wieseltier concludes - or nearly does, leaving himself room for a dig at the egregious and, here, irrelevant Nicholson Baker, whose Checkpoint drove Wieseltier into paroxysms of rage against anti-war liberals four years ago in a ranting review for the same New York Times.
Wieseltier allows that even"Martin Amis would despise" Baker's new book, Human Smoke, yet he finds the two writers"peculiarly alike" in that they treat"the most fundamental matters of politics and philosophy... as occasions for the display of artifice and the exhibition of temperament." But it is not only Baker and Amis who fill that bill. There is a third writer, the one who is obsessed with them.
Didn't Wieseltier just inform us that Amis has principles? Why, then, does he emphasize that Amis is"untouched by the atrocity" because"he is still busy with the glamorous pursuit of extraordinary sentences."? The problem is that Wieseltier, knowing that he's writing in bad faith, is even busier comforting himself with alliterative cadences:
Of Amis' writing, he insists,"the ingenuity of the image is an interruption of attention, an ostentatious metaphorical digression from the enormity that it is preparing to reveal, an invitation to behold the prose and not the plane." Here Wieseltier invites us to behold his prose and not his point.
Seldom has a reviewer hoisted himself on his own petard so shamelessly with so many grasps at faux paradoxes, sustained by his telltale, compulsive alliteration:
"Nothing creates confidence like catastrophe.""[Amis] has a hot, heroic view of himself.""In Amis' universe, you are either religious or you are rational.""The results of Amis' clumsily mixed cocktail of rhetoric and rage can be eccentric, or worse""For this reason, such writings will have more impact than influence.""[Amis] appears to believe that an insult is an analysis."
Yet it is Wieseltier, we've seen, who delivers more insult than analysis. He sounds like one who is rather too enthroned in the seat of judgment, but you can trace the rudiments of an analysis among the insults, in three parts.
First, as we've seen, Wieseltier rules that virtuosity has overcome virtue in Amis' writing.
Second, he decides that Amis is monocausally obsessed with the terrorists' frustrated libidos and warped masculinity, the polluted wellspring or mainspring of Islamism. Wieseltier tells us that Amis"believes that 2,992 more people would be alive today if 19 Middle Eastern men had only found some satisfaction of the flesh."
Wieseltier doesn't actually believe that Amis believes this. He has written the sentence for effect. That points us back to the first part of his"analysis," in which the pot calls the kettle black.
Only a few paragraphs later, Wieseltier decides, thirdly, that Amis' problem lies less in an obsession with sex than in the fact that his"antipathy to Islamism is based upon a more comprehensive antipathy to religion. In Amis' universe, you are either religious or you are rational." And perhaps not so sexual.
What's in Wieseltier's own clumsily mixed cocktail of rhetoric and rage? There is, of course, that gift for prophetic scourging, nowhere more evident than in a column he wrote in The New Republic just after September 11:
"Is it a little laughter that we need now? Then behold the contrition of yesterday's frivolous, the new fashion in gravity. The man who edits Vanity Fair has ruled that the age of cynicism is over. He would know. I always wondered what it would take to put a cramp in the trashy mind, and at last I have my answer: a mass grave in lower Manhattan. So now depth has buzz. The papers are filled with hip people seeing through hipness, composing elegiac farewells to the days of Gary Condit and Jennifer Lopez. The on dit has moved beyond the apple martini. It has discovered evil and the problem of its meaning. No doubt about it, seriousness is in. So it is worth remembering that there are large swathes of American society in which seriousness was never out. Not everybody has lived as if the media is all there is. Not everybody has been consecrated only to cash and cultural signifiers. Not everybody has been a pawn of irony."
This is the rod of instruction, which Wieseltier's forefathers and mine brought forth out of the land of Egypt and passed on to the prophets and jeremiadic Puritan divines and that arose often in the homiletics of my own childhood rabbi, Samuel H. Dresner.
There is another ingredient in the cocktail: Wieseltier, a child of Holocaust survivors who grew up in Brooklyn as it was changing racially in the 1950s and '60s, pulls insights about identity and atrocity from out of his innards, as did the black writer Shelby Steele before he, too, grew comfortable in a seat of judgment funded by others. In The Closest of Strangers I was grateful to be able to quote Wieseltier's wisdom about both the defensive Jews and angry blacks I was writing about:
"The memory of oppression is a pillar and strut of the identity of every people oppressed.... [It] imparts an isolating sense of apartness... Don't be fooled, it teaches, there is only repetition. ...In the memory of oppression, oppression outlives itself. The scar does the work of the wound. That is the real tragedy: that injustice retains the power to distort long after it has ceased to be real. .... This is the unfairly difficult dilemma of the newly emancipated...: an honorable life is not possible if they remember too little and an honorable life is not possible if they remember too much."
All the self-comforting, quasi-liturgical cadences are there, but so is the prophetic truth, and Wieseltier wields it well against a generation of lost, WASP preppie gatekeepers from Exeter and Yale and their sweaty sycophants at The Times, The New Yorker and hipper Manhattan and online publications, most of them staging and watching debates more for entertainment value than to satisfy any deep craving to clarify our murky horizons. In Wieseltier, upper-middling thinkers like Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus find a kind of deliverance, gravitas for hire.
At his best, Wieseltier keeps and sometimes rouses their consciences.In the New Republic column already quoted, he scourged writers who'd responded to"atrocity with sensibility." Quoting John Updike's"Smoke speckled with bits of paper curled into the cloudless sky, and strange inky rivulets ran down the giant structure's vertically corrugated surface," Wieseltier noted rightly that"such writing defeats its representational purpose, because it steals attention away from reality and toward language. It is provoked by nothing so much as its own delicacy. Its precision is a trick: it appears to bring the reader near, but it keeps the reader far. It is in fact a kind of armor: an armor of adjectives and adverbs. The loveliness is invincible."
But so is Wieseltier's own tidy prose, lovely as the Rose of Sharon even when justice is not on his side. For there is something more, or less, than prophecy and personal pain in Wieseltier's curiously mixed cocktail of rhetoric and rage. You can sense it when you note the staleness that enters into his jeremiads against fine writing and stiffened memories of oppression when he turns them against writers like Amis, accusing them of meeting atrocity only with virtuosity, not anger and insight.
Here is Wieseltier, rummaging through his old grab bag, warming up to condemn Amis as he did Updike:"After the mind breaks, it stiffens in the aftermath of grief, it lets in only certainty. In a time of war, complexity is suspected of a sapping effect, and so a mental curfew is imposed. From the maxim that we must know our enemy, we infer that our enemy may be easily known."
Well, not quite. Amis does not infer any such thing, and Wieseltier, as we've seen, will eventually admit that Amis is not simple but complex. His inability to stand by his own grudging admission suggests the deeper problem in his review of Amis' book.
Here is the problem: Even as Ground Zero lay smoking, Wieseltier signed a letter to President Bush, dated September 20 and written by neo-conservative Field Marshall Bill Kristol on the letterhead of his Project for the New American Century. The letter's 42 well-known neconservative and Vulcan signers informed Bush that ''even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.''
It wasn't by fluke that Wieseltier signed. He is as comfortable with Kristol's crowd as he is in the seat of literary judgment. In 2007 he wrote one of 200 letters urging clemency for his friend I. Lewis"Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney who had been convicted on charges of lying, perjury, and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame affair.
In his letter, the scourge of preeners departed from praising Libby to praise his own integrity, assuring the judge,"I am in no sense a neoconservative, as many of my neoconservative adversaries will attest. I am, to the contrary, the kind of liberal who many neoconservatives like to despise, and that's fine with me."
It would have been fine with the court, too, had Wieseltier forgone such stylized bleating on his own behalf, but he did have tracks to cover after serving with Richard Bruce (Dick) Cheney, Carl Christian Rove, and others as an unlikely member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a now-defunct cousin of Kristol's PNAC and the American Enterprise Institute.
Wieseltier was an"adversary" of neoconservatives only in the way that he is an adversary of Martin Amis: He wishes these bad boys would stop embarrassing him by saying so brazenly what he would say blamelessly.
Wieseltier is nowhere more dishonest than when he tells us that Amis"writes as if he, with his wrinkled copies of Bernard Lewis and Philip Larkin, is what stands between us and the restoration of the caliphate." Wieseltier knows well that the essay in which Amis quotes Lewis and Larkin --"Terror and Boredom: The Dependent Mind," written on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 -- pivots on Amis admiration for the insights of Paul Berman, whose Terror and Liberalism he quotes more often that the work of Lewis or Larkin.
Yet, to acknowledge this, Wieseltier would have to credit Amis with the discernment he thinks he showed in publishing Berman's excoriations of liberals'"naïve rationality" about terrorism in The New Republic. Wieseltier cannot condemn Amis honestly without condemning himself . So he condemns him dishonestly. And his writing assumes the flat, vacant intensity he imputes to Amis.
The only credible explanation for this dirge-like denunciation of a"bad boy" is that, since 9/11, it is Wieseltier who has stiffened. The Holocaust, the horrors in Israel and Palestine, and the horrors of his own misbegotten crusading after 9/11 have become scar upon scar, opening an ancient and terrible wound. Here is a man who will wander through life intoning his epitaph wordlessly as well as wordily:
I am so wise,
That my wisdom makes me weary.
It's all I can do
To share my wisdom with you.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 - 17:20
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (4-29-08)
As Barack Obama's candidacy comes under increasing scrutiny, his account of his religious upbringing deserves careful attention for what it tells us about the candidate's integrity.
Obama asserted in December,"I've always been a Christian," and he has adamantly denied ever having been a Muslim."The only connection I've had to Islam is that my grandfather on my father's side came from that country [Kenya]. But I've never practiced Islam." In February, he claimed:"I have never been a Muslim. … other than my name and the fact that I lived in a populous Muslim country for 4 years when I was a child [Indonesia, 1967-71] I have very little connection to the Islamic religion."
"Always" and"never" leave little room for equivocation. But many biographical facts, culled mainly from the American press, suggest that, when growing up, the Democratic candidate for president both saw himself and was seen as a Muslim.
Obama's Kenyan birth father: In Islam, religion passes from the father to the child. Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. (1936–1982) was a Muslim who named his boy Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. Only Muslim children are named"Hussein".
Obama's Indonesian family: His stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was also a Muslim. In fact, as Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng explained to Jodi Kantor of the New York Times:"My whole family was Muslim, and most of the people I knew were Muslim." An Indonesian publication, the Banjarmasin Post reports a former classmate, Rony Amir, recalling that"All the relatives of Barry's father were very devout Muslims."
Barack Obama's Catholic school in Jakarta.
The public school: Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times learned from Indonesians familiar with Obama when he lived in Jakarta that he"was registered by his family as a Muslim at both schools he attended." Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star visited the Jakarta public school Obama attended and found that"Three of his teachers have said he was enrolled as a Muslim." Although Siddiqui cautions that"With the school records missing, eaten by bugs, one has to rely on people's shifting memories," he cites only one retired teacher, Tine Hahiyari, retracting her earlier certainty about Obama's being registered as a Muslim.
Barack Obama's public school in Jakarta.
Mosque attendance: Obama's half-sister recalled that the family attended the mosque"for big communal events." Watson learned from childhood friends that"Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque." Barker found that"Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers." One Indonesia friend, Zulfin Adi, states that Obama"was Muslim. He went to the mosque. I remember him wearing a sarong" (a garment associated with Muslims).
Piety: Obama himself says that while living in Indonesia, a Muslim country, he"didn't practice [Islam]," implicitly acknowledging a Muslim identity. Indonesians differ in their memories of him. One, Rony Amir, describes Obama as"previously quite religious in Islam."
Obama's having been born and raised a Muslim and having left the faith to become a Christian make him neither more nor less qualified to become president of the United States. But if he was born and raised a Muslim and is now hiding that fact, this points to a major deceit, a fundamental misrepresentation about himself that has profound implications about his character and his suitability as president.
Apr. 29, 2008 update: This article builds on two prior ones on the matter of Barack Obama and Islam. First,"Was Barack Obama a Muslim?" considered the implications of his Muslim childhood; second,"Confirmed: Barack Obama Practiced Islam" responded to a critique of the first article. This third one brings the evidence together in a single place.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 - 13:36
SOURCE: New Republic (5-5-08)
Seventy years ago, back when John McCain was a toddler babbling nonsense, the U.S. turned toward international cooperation on economic issues. With the Anglo-American Trade Agreement in 1938 America started down the road to the great success of the post-World War II era--the policies that led to recovery from war, a return to global prosperity, and the containment of communism. McCain is now a senior citizen, but he's back to babbling nonsense, as when he confuses the G-8 with NATO. Senator McCain is a leading proponent of macho unseriousness in foreign affairs--and while, yes, it's a campaign year, and silly stuff is in season, the foolish things he's been saying still matter. Perhaps especially in the international arena, such unthinking talk isn't cheap. It's a costly corrosive, and it has the potential to rob us of much that our country has achieved.
The 1938 trade agreement reversed both the older American tradition of protective tariffs and the more recent, Depression-fostered stance of autarky. Its architect, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, always meant the agreement to amount to more than a mere bilateral trade agreement; as Hull said, it marked a first step toward a "world program" that, as market-oriented programs should, "would emanate from many centers." With it, the U.S. and U.K. set an example that other countries--first the other democracies, but eventually, Hull hoped, even the more autocratic nations--would want to follow, of negotiating economic stability and deriving political stability from it. For decades, Hull had been promoting the idea that American leadership and international cooperation would be necessary for "world economic rehabilitation" before he achieved even the partial success of 1938, and even then, it was clear that the establishment of world peace remained a distant hope. But within ten years, Hull's dreams had become reality in statements of Allied war aims, in the Bretton Woods and United Nations agreements, in the Marshall Plan and the American determination to underwrite international development and economic stability wherever it could.
The G-8 began life when it became clear the U.S. alone couldn't stand behind this system, after Richard Nixon in 1971 let the dollar float free from the golden anchor to which Franklin Roosevelt had tethered it. But the emergence of the group of seven or G-7, which in the 1990s became the G-8, reflected an international commitment to preserving the global system the Americans and their allies had created. Like the Roosevelt-era institutions, it was set to work on an experimental basis, addressing problems using consensus. Its informality and flexibility marks a contrast with other international bodies, and suits it to the furthering of "common values."
For the entirety of the Bretton Woods and G-8 eras, this system of international cooperation has coexisted with the policy of containment and military threat, directed against the Soviets and the communist countries outside the market economy. International cooperation, development aid, market prosperity, a place in the counsels of major nations--these were the carrots to containment's stick. Nor were the two mutually exclusive; the offer of community membership and its benefits always entailed the threat of ostracism and its punishments. NATO was the international system's constant companion.
That the details of G-8 management were, like those of the Federal Reserve, a bit too boring and complex for theatrics has probably served all of us well; the more economics is a competent, humble pursuit like dentistry, as Keynes said, the better off we are. But now McCain has dragged the G-8 to center stage, saying on March 26, "We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India, but exclude Russia. Rather than tolerate Russia's nuclear blackmail or cyber attacks, Western nations should make clear that the solidarity of NATO, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is indivisible and that the organization's doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom."
Expanding the G-8 might not be terrible, but McCain goes well beyond the legitimately debatable question of whether it turned out to be a good idea to invite Russia into the G-8, to a confusion of the G-8 with NATO, an absorption of the carrot into the stick. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 - 00:37
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (5-5-08)
'MR. RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton was asked about if Iran launched a nuclear attack against Israel, and this is the answer she gave. Let's listen.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): (From"Good Morning America") Well, the question was,"If Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, what would our response be?" And I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that.
We would be able to totally obliterate them.
MR. RUSSERT:"Obliterate them."
SEN. OBAMA: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you think of that language?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it's not the language that we need right now, and I think it's language that's reflective of George Bush. We have had a foreign policy of bluster and saber-rattling and tough talk, and, in the meantime, we make a series of strategic decisions that actually strengthen Iran. So--and, you know, the irony is, of course, Senator Clinton, during the course of this campaign, has at times said,"We shouldn't speculate about Iran." You know,"We've got to be cautious when we're running for president." She scolded me on a couple of occasions about this issue, and yet, a few days before an election, she's willing to use that language. But in terms of... terms of...
MR. RUSSERT: But would you...
SEN. OBAMA: ...in terms of...
MR. RUSSERT: Would you respond against Iran?
SEN. OBAMA: It--Israel is a ally of ours. It is the most important ally we have in the region, and there's no doubt that we would act forcefully and appropriately on any attack against Iran, nuclear or otherwise. So--but it is important that we use language that sends a signal to the world community that we're shifting from the sort of cowboy diplomacy, or lack of diplomacy, that we've seen out of George Bush. And this kind of language is not helpful. When Iran is able to go to the United Nations complaining about the statements made and get some sympathy, that's a sign that we are taking the wrong approach."
I had complained at the time that this diction is monstrous. I mean, it is surreal to have Democrats discussing whether it is appropriate for the US to"totally obliterate" another country. It would be one thing if she had threatened the Iranian military. Targeting civilians, who would be included in the"total" obliteration, is a war crime.
Clinton stood by her remarks:"I don't think it's time to equivocate. [Iran has] to know they would face massive retaliation. That is the only way to rein them in." The premise that"they" only understand the language of massive violence is in fact a rightwing premise more characteristic of W. and Ariel Sharon than of the Democratic Party tradition.
Clinton's remarks would not be unusual if she had confined herself to saying that the US would forcefully retaliate for any WMD attack on Israel (though the US has no treaty obligations that would require such a response, unlike in the case of NATO). It was the"totally obliterate" phrase that that was objectionable, insofar as it implied the commission of a crime against humanity.
Posted on: Monday, May 5, 2008 - 14:25