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: American Prospect (8-18-08)
Progressive political change in American history is rarely incremental. With important exceptions, most of the reforms that have advanced our nation's status as a modern, liberalizing social democracy were pushed through during narrow windows of progressive opportunity -- which subsequently slammed shut with the work not yet complete. The post–Civil War reconstruction of the apartheid South, the Progressive Era remaking of the institutions of democratic deliberation, the New Deal, the Great Society: They were all blunt shocks. Then, before reformers knew what had happened, the seemingly sturdy reform mandate faded and Washington returned to its habits of stasis and reaction.
The Oval Office's most effective inhabitants have always understood this. Franklin D. Roosevelt hurled down executive orders and legislative proposals like thunderbolts during his First Hundred Days, hardly slowing down for another four years before his window slammed shut; Lyndon Johnson, aided by John F. Kennedy's martyrdom and the landslide of 1964, legislated at such a breakneck pace his aides were in awe. Both presidents understood that there are too many choke points -- our minority-enabling constitutional system, our national tendency toward individualism, and our concentration of vested interests -- to make change possible any other way.
That is a fact. A fact too many Democrats have trained themselves to ignore. And it sometimes feels like Barack Obama, whose first instinct when faced with ideological resistance seems to be to extend the right hand of fellowship, understands it least of all. Does he grasp that unless all the monuments of lasting, structural change in the American state -- banking regulation, public-power generation, Social Security, the minimum wage, the right to join a union, federal funding of education, Medicare, desegregation, Southern voting rights -- had happened fast, they wouldn't have happened at all?
I hope so. Because if Barack Obama is elected president with a significant popular mandate, a number of Democrats riding his coattails to the House, and enough senators to scuttle the filibuster of his legislative agenda -- all of which seem entirely possible -- he will inherit a historical opportunity to civilize the United States in ways not seen in a generation. To achieve the change he seeks -- the monumental trio of universal health care, a sustainable energy policy, and a sane and secure internationalism -- he has to completely reverse the way Democrats have habituated themselves to doing business. If they want true progress, they have to be juggernauts. American precedent gives them no other way.
Let Franklin Roosevelt be our guide. We take for granted now one of his signature political innovations: the idea of an executive "legislative agenda," a specific set of White House proposals, by which the success or failure of a presidency can be judged. FDR's was the first and most spectacular. He understood that the New Deal would pass quickly or it would not pass at all. And so, politically, he yoked Congress' willingness to pass his program without obstruction to Congress' willingness to address the national emergency tout court.
We're not facing a Great Depression–level emergency now. But with an unprecedented 77 percent of respondents in an Associated Press poll saying they believe the nation is on the "wrong track," and 9 percent telling the Gallup organization they approve of Congress' job performance, Obama is not without leverage. Ideally, Obama's Washington would resemble FDR's in 1935. "The stories of that period always seemed to follow the same pattern," Thomas Frank writes in his new book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, "how the bright young man arrived in the city, fresh from law school, where he was put to work immediately on business of utmost urgency; how he went for days without sleep."...
Posted on: Friday, August 22, 2008 - 07:21
SOURCE: national review online (8-20-08)
The most grotesque aspect of Russia’s aggression in Georgia is the repeated Russian claim that Georgia poses a threat to Russia and its citizens. In language harking back to the Orwellian rhetoric of the Cold War, all Russian troops are “peacekeepers” and all Georgian forces are “diversionaries” and “terrorists.” Russian troops are now openly occupying Georgian territory on the grounds that law and order in Georgia has collapsed. Of course it has. Russian tanks and airplanes crushed it underfoot. Moscow bemoans the absence of “legitimate political leadership” in Georgian territories like Gori even as its troops occupy Gori without the slightest shred of legitimacy in international law. And, yes, this is in contrast with American actions in Iraq, which took place on the legal basis of the U.N. resolutions that followed (and ended) the first Gulf War.
The Russian occupation of Georgia has no such legal basis at all — not even the legality of a declaration of war. Yet Moscow continues to portray this occupation as an unfortunate necessity imposed upon Russia by Georgian “genocide” and incapacity to govern. The poor Russian general staff officers complain that they cannot even plan properly for the pull-back (as they explained in detail, Russian forces are not “withdrawing” from Georgia) since the Georgians can’t seem to get their act together despite the assistance of Russian soldiers, tanks, and combat aircraft in their country. The most Orwellian claim of all came today, when the spokesman for the Russian general staff explained that Georgian troops were attempting to reconstitute their combat capabilities and were concentrating around Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. What an outrage! How dare the Georgians prepare to defend their capital! It is nothing less than an act of provocation, according to the Russians.
Comparing the current Russian rhetoric to the Cold War is, to some degree, unfair — to the Soviet Union. When the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Moscow was meticulous about creating a fictitious Afghan government that “requested” the “fraternal assistance” of its socialist ally to the north, even if the leader of that government, Babrak Karmal, was not in Afghanistan at the time. Soviet operations to crush dissent in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland also followed “requests” from the leadership of those countries to their “fraternal socialist allies” to the east. Since the Soviets went to great lengths to explain the theory whereby they were always the “peaceloving peoples,” even when they invaded other countries, they also worked hard to preserve a veneer, however thin, to support the theory.
Putin, by contrast, feels no such obligation...
Posted on: Thursday, August 21, 2008 - 20:02
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (8-20-08)
In the early 1970s, Walter Laqueur described the then existing detente between the United States and the Soviet Union as “the Cold War by other means—and sometimes by the same means.” Russia’s attack on Georgia, although superficially an outburst of ill temper over a minor issue, reflects the increasingly muscular foreign policy of the Putin era. Put plainly, the Russian Prime Minister and his circle do not regard the post-Cold War settlement in Europe as legitimate. They mean to contain and then roll back Western influence, preferably through diplomatic and economic pressure and, failing that, if possible, by the threat or use of military force. Putin’s demand for greater respect of Russian interests has become the Cold War by other means—and sometimes by the same means. The United States and its European allies are now forewarned. Will they be forearmed?
The Post-Cold War Settlement and NATO Expansion
At the beginning of 1989, the Soviet Union’s writ ran into the middle of Germany and, through the Warsaw Pact, incorporated most of the historic capitals of Central and Eastern Europe. Its Central Asian holdings took it to the borders of Turkey and Iran; further east, Moscow’s realm bordered China and Alaska. But three years later much of this, including the Soviet Union itself, was gone. In Europe, Russian power receded to the eastern reaches of the Ukraine. The anemic Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), consisting largely of the Central Asian republics whose neo-Stalinist dictators still looked to Moscow for survival, replaced the Warsaw Pact. And it had all happened without a shot being fired by Russia’s Cold War enemies.
This history is important because it was neither expected nor intended, not by the Russians or by the Western powers. The “Two Plus Four” process (1990) that allowed the peaceful reunification of Germany did not—and could not—broach the subject of what might happen to the Warsaw Pact or the rest of the Soviet Union. Indeed, Bush the father’s Administration, while managing the peaceful conclusion to the Cold War, was transfixed by the potential of a democratic Russia and anxious not to humiliate Moscow as it lost its empire. Washington was therefore happy enough to take the new Germany into NATO while supporting Mikhail Gorbachev’s internal reforms without further deconstruction of the Soviet state. After Boris Yeltsin upended Gorbachev and engineered the end of the Soviet Union, nonetheless Bush still did not want the lead. The multilateral International Monetary Fund, rather than Washington, was expected to manage Russia’s economic transition from communism to capitalism.
This was prudent had it all worked according to plan after 1992. But it did not. The critical events that set the scene for today’s frictions were set in motion in 1993-94 when the fate of both the Russian experiment and the nearly free countries of Central and Eastern Europe came into question. In summer 1993, Yeltsin got into a smash-up with the communist-dominated Duma, fired on the parliament building, and called for new elections that December. But the communists emerged as the largest party and lots of soldiers had voted for them. Vice President Al Gore and a large party of American officials had gone to Moscow to celebrate the impending success of democracy. They returned shaken.
This immediately called into question the U.S. decision in October 1993 not to accept new members into NATO but rather to establish a Partnership for Peace (PfP), which Yeltsin believed would be a substitute for alliance expansion. Following the Russian elections, Clinton himself toured Central and Eastern Europe in early 1994. The leaders of the so-called Visegrad Group—Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic—pressed him hard with the logic of history. For the 120 million people unfortunate enough to live between Germany and Russia, only one organization had successfully kept both problems at bay, namely, NATO. Clinton was convinced. If Russia was taking a turn for the worse, then NATO, in lieu of any other solution, had to stake its defensive line further to the east before it was too late.
How far east? Over the next decade, it turned out to cover not only the Visegrad Group but also the Baltic states that hosted large Russian populations, and in Lithuania, even a major Russian naval base. NATO would set up a liaison organization with Russia in 2002, intended to assuage the pain. But it did not help.
There was a further offense in the Balkans. Yugoslavia, a shared client of the Soviets and the Americans during the Cold War, fell victim to its competing nationalisms shortly thereafter. The Russians took the Serbian side in the horrific war that followed. But the Serbs lost and Yeltsin seemed unable to influence the United States and its European allies as they belatedly tackled the Bosnia and Kosovo crises. In a sudden operation that might have turned tragic, the Russians seized Pristina Airport and its hangars of advanced jets ahead of NATO in the final act of the 1999 Kosovo War, the first ever waged by the Western Alliance. Moscow then stood strongly against any change in the province’s status on the grounds of national sovereignty.
When Yeltsin resigned on the eve of the millennium, he left a country weakened, impoverished and demoralized. Many Russians believed that the West had sold them a bad bill of goods: chaos disguised as democracy and an even crueler corruption called capitalism. As for NATO and the Americans, they had no business after the Soviet threat evaporated. Why was the alliance expanding into Russia’s sphere of influence? The myth sprang up that German unification had been predicated on NATO’s not moving east.
These views found fresh expression under Russia’s new leader, the previously unknown Vladimir Putin. Putin had been a KGB agent at the frontiers of Soviet Europe, the neo-Stalinist East German regime. Possessed of a law degree, he served subsequently as a close assistant to the late Mayor Anatoly Sobchak of St. Petersburg, a leading democrat of the Gorbachev and early Yeltsin period. By Putin’s own account, his administrative talents took him from municipal to national affairs. After heading the reorganized security services (the FSB), he became a key assistant to Yeltsin himself.
The new president was only forty-eight, yet his experience had already encompassed both failed reform eras. Putin grasped that the old Soviet state was no longer workable; modern methods were needed. But the ideology of state power remained; the task was to rebuild it. Hence, the new slogan “sovereign democracy”: Russia must chart its own special course, a “democracy” best suited for its people. Here was an idea—Russia’s unique destiny—quite compatible with the well-known tradition of tsardom’s “Third Rome” and a revived Russian Orthodox Church.
Putin became the anti-Yeltsin. He did not drink. He had a hard body, a tough mind and a tart tongue. His New Year’s addresses to the Russian people berated them in unprecedented language: too many Russians were drunk; there were too few children; the army could hardly put 50,000 men in the field; the economy might soon drop to the level of a minor state; public assets had been plundered. Surrounding himself with “Siloviki” loyalists drawn from the young ranks of the old KGB, Putin set about retaking the elements of state power. No Stalin he, but no democrat either.
The new leader quickly became popular because he seemed to restore order even if by rough methods. Still, it was the oil bonanza that revived Russia’s confidence. Dependence on raw material exports, normally an undesirable fate, turned into great fortune when the global economy boomed on all fronts, notably unexpected demand from China. Putin’s enterprise rose with it.
And enterprise it was. Yeltsin-era oligarchs had to yield to “Kremlin Inc” as Putin regained control of resources that made Russia a “super-petro-state.” Those who resisted lost their assets, sometimes their liberty and, most ominously, their lives. This included the mysterious deaths of several critical journalists and most notoriously the assassination of former KGB man Alexander Litvinenko in London.
By all accounts, Putin accelerated infringements on Russian democracy after two serious mishaps in what Moscow’s strategists called the “near abroad.” One was in Georgia, a small state blessed with coasts on the Black and Caspian Seas, where a “Rose Revolution” in November 2003 brought the flamboyant and openly anti-Russian Mikheil Saakashvili to power. More significant was the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” in December 2004 when a reliable pro-Moscow candidate lost to Viktor Yushchenko—a westward looking nationalist nearly poisoned to death in the course of a campaign of contested votes and mass demonstrations. Moscow had lost control of its “nearest” near abroad, the historic gateway to the Russian heartland.
Henceforth Putin would further curtail both potential opposition candidates, their access to the media, and independent monitoring of the vote. And Putin’s increasing prickliness towards the Western powers reflected a popular Russian nationalism. His real competitors were not the divided and discredited democrats but the “reds” (neo-communists) and the “browns” (anti-foreign nationalists).
Central Asia and the War on Terrorism
Putin also faced a large challenge in Central Asia. Stalin (and earlier the Tsars) had “divided and ruled,” equipping each of the states there with troublesome minorities dependent on Moscow. The Soviet demise upset the ethnic hierarchies but left the borders unchanged. Various well-armed but needy dictators were struggling to survive, their situation complicated further by Islamist revolutionaries anxious to set the region aflame from their redoubt in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. Russia’s botched war in Chechnya was also a bleeding wound on Moscow’s forces.
Then came 9/11, when Putin was among the earliest to console Bush. The two had already made a friendship of sorts. At their first meeting in June, Bush said, “I looked the man in the eye….I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Now Putin would do more than offer consolation.
Overruling advisors, the Russian leader facilitated the American assault on Afghanistan, allowing the United States to establish military bases in nearby countries responsive to Moscow’s influence. This was a calculated gamble that the United States would weaken the Islamists, Russia would gain a free hand in subduing the Chechen terrorists and Bush would owe Putin.
Washington’s appearance in force heartened all the Central Asian regimes. They were eager to rent themselves; the cash flow increased with the number of bidders. American and other western energy companies, already busy in the 1990s trying to develop Caspian oil, were reinforced by a new U.S. diplomatic and military presence.
Putin, however, was prepared to go only so far. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, founded in 2001 by Russia, China and other Central Asian states, gradually became an anti-American forum, demanding by 2005 that the United States withdraw from the military bases of all members. By that time, Uzbekistan had already expelled the Americans when its dictator’s violent handling of his opposition angered Washington. A year later, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was allowed to address the meeting. The United States had clearly overstayed Russia’s welcome in Central Asia.
The limits of Moscow’s relationship with Washington were even more visible when it came to Iraq and Iran. Disappointing Bush, Putin could not resist aggravating the split in NATO, a traditional Soviet objective, and sided with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in opposing the war on Saddam. As for Iran, Russia had an important tie through its nuclear reactor at Bushehr. Putin used this relationship to become a kind of intermediary between the United States, the Europeans, and the ayatollahs in the controversy over Iran’s nuclear enrichment plan. The Russian leader even devised a solution that would put him in the catbird seat: enrichment might be conducted under Moscow’s control outside Iran thereby assuring both a supply of fuel for Tehran and relief for those who feared an Iranian bomb. Bush accepted the proposal but the Iranians refused, angering Putin and justifying his participation in more U.N. sanctions. Still, he would not agree to more draconian steps; he refused to suspend the Bushehr project entirely and he readily sold Iran advanced air defenses.
The Munich Manifesto
The most sensational of Putin’s foreign policy pronouncements were reserved for the Western front. Already in 2002, he declared in a New Year’s address that the end of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century. It was not until February 10, 2007, however, that he gave the fullest public expression to Russian resentments at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, a longstanding gathering of American and European officials and analysts.
Putin began by attacking the “international architecture” dominated, as he said, by one nation as inherently unjust. Then he turned to Europe, arguing that U.S. plans for missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic against an incipient Iranian threat were really part of a broader anti-Russian policy. “I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe,” Putin asserted. “On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation….against whom is this expansion intended?”
The Americans and the Europeans had already been aware of Putin’s complaints and even more exercised over a pattern of Russian behavior. It was not only less freedom in Russia itself but also Moscow’s use of energy supplies to hamper Ukraine’s new government; similar pressures on Belarus; an economic boycott of Georgia; and the cyber warfare against Estonia when that government dared to move a Soviet era war monument. On top of this was Putin’s aggressive dismantling of economic arrangements in the Yukos case.
Until the Munich outburst, the Western powers sought to assuage the Russians primarily through inclusion of Moscow in the “clubs”: the Group of Seven industrial democracies plus Russia (hosted by Moscow in July 2006); the NATO-Russia Council (2002); and support for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization. The Europeans also invited Russia to join an E.U. energy pact designed to increase transparency and to preserve independent supplies and pipelines, a response to Moscow’s demands for participation in downstream operations.
Putin’s wholesale assault on the post-Cold War settlement in Europe was therefore all the more disturbing. Newly appointed American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former CIA director and Russian specialist, refused to rise to the rhetorical bait, allowing only the sly remark that “old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.” After a few more volleys, Secretary of State Rice, herself a Russia expert, arranged a verbal cease-fire in May. Then on July 2, 2007, Bush treated Putin to the family compound at Kennebunkport where, after a fishing expedition, both leaders suggested amends had been made. They spoke expansively about raising U.S.-Russian relations to a new strategic partnership. Meanwhile, the Georgian and Ukraine applications to join NATO on a “fast track” were subject to increased scrutiny.
Back to the Future
Whatever the United States meant by “Strategic Partnership,” however, it did not encompass the Balkans. Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 after a failed multilateral negotiation where Russia took Serbia’s side once more. In a double blow, the United States and major Western powers recognized the new state while the Serbs elected a pro-Western government despite the loss of their historic province.
Putin immediately threatened retaliation, not in Europe but in the Caucasus. Reversals in the Balkans would be revenged at the expense of the Rose Revolution.
The Georgians and Russians had scores to settle dating back to tsarist times and this colorful and often cruel history entered their political genes. After the Soviet Union fell, Georgia had been wracked by a vicious war when the ethnic autonomy of Georgia’s Ossetian and Abkhazi minorities was abolished. Moscow protected the separatists. Eventually, the Russian troops were relabeled peacekeepers and passports extended to the residents, a near de facto annexation.
This ring was held for some years by Georgia’s President, Gorbachev’s former foreign minister, Edward Shevardnadze, often blamed by his critics as the co-author of Moscow’s humiliation. Shevardnadze was cautious, his successor, Mikheil Saakashvili, much less so. Personal animosity between Putin and the new leader further poisoned the brew.
Saakashvili’s strategy was to “invest” the United States in Georgia’s independence. Georgian troops therefore took up posts in Iraq alongside Americans; Americans trained the Georgian army in small war tactics. The new president by all accounts made a fair if not unblemished start on a democratic transition. Secretary of State Rice and eventually President Bush (May 2005) himself came to Tbilisi to hail Georgia’s progress.
The Georgians took another step. They hosted a new pipeline that could take potentially a million barrels a day of Caspian Sea oil to Turkey, the only line not running through Russia. By 2008, Saakashvili could tell himself that the United States had crucial moral and strategic interests in his country’s independence. But was he also telling himself that he could snatch South Ossetia from Russian control?
The Bush Administration warned the Georgian leader not to provoke Putin, a warning reinforced by the Russian anger over Kosovo. These warnings were made more pointed because of rising incidents along the Ossetian territories and Russian military rehearsals clearly intended for Georgia.
In the event, Saakashvili would claim that he acted on August 7, 2008, because Russian tanks had begun to move into South Ossetia. Putin asserted, however, that Russia intervened after the Georgians began “genocide” against the Ossetians. A heavy Russian armor and air offensive soon forced the Georgians to retreat in defense of Tbilisi. Moscow’s forces then seized critical towns and ports throughout the country, wrecking infrastructure and seizing valuable military equipment, some of it American.
A Clarifying Act of Ciolence
Russia’s effective dismemberment of Georgia ends a phase of American and Western involvement in the Caucasus that, in Moscow’s view, threatened its sphere of influence. Medvedev and Putin have declared that only Russia can secure the peace and prosperity of the region. That part of the message is unmistakable.
But is there more? Astonishingly, only four months ago, on April 6, 2008, Bush and Putin had offered their boldest rhetorical exercise yet to codify a U.S.-Russian “partnership.” Called a “Strategic Framework Declaration,” it was unveiled by both leaders in Sochi, a Black Sea resort not far from Georgia; it covered cooperation on nonproliferation, missile limitations, energy, Iran and North Korea, global terrorism, climate change and economics. Moreover, a month earlier, France and Germany had rejected quick inclusion of Georgia and the Ukraine in NATO on the grounds that they needed to resolve their problems with Russia. These overtures now seemed to belong to another world. Georgia fit the pattern of Putin’s Munich manifesto, not the hopeful notes of Sochi.
Moscow’s clarifying act of violence suggests much more conflict to come. After all, 25 million Russians live abroad, many in Ukraine and the Baltics. Not all are happy with their current rulers. Will the Orange Revolution be the next target? Or Vilnius?
There are also strategic issues. The Russian naval lease in the Ukraine’s Crimea will be up soon as the treaty with Moscow on borders expires this December. Kaliningrad, another naval base on the Baltic, is accessible by land only through Lithuania. And in Poland, the Georgia crisis brought negotiations over the U.S. missile defense to a quick conclusion on a distinctly anti-Russian note. By hosting important military installations, Prague and Warsaw have now increased NATO’s stake in defending them against Russian pressure.
Looming still larger lies Moscow’s general complaint about the reach of NATO beyond the German border. Putin has already surfaced the idea of a new pan-European institution that would supersede such Cold War “relics” as the CSCE or even NATO itself. Russia’s motives are easy enough to discern: render the old Warsaw Pact states, if not formally neutral, then far more responsive to Moscow’s preferences.
The United States and its European allies are thus confronted by the unwelcome prospect of defending the post-Cold War settlement against a determined and even violent Russian effort to overturn it. The very foundations of Western relations with Russia over the last fifteen years—kinship with fellow democracies and similar geopolitical conceptions—now look like illusions. And all of this comes at a most awkward moment. Europe needs Russian oil and gas. European NATO can barely put 50,000 troops in the field; most of those and the American army are preoccupied in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. The United States needs Russian cooperation on several issues, not least Iran. But then why would Moscow act at Western convenience?
A new and urgent item has redefined the transatlantic agenda: where and how to draw the line against Putin’s Russia, saving democracy where it can be saved and deterring war through superior strength. Such a policy does not exclude cooperation with Moscow where interests overlap. But it does sound very much like containment by other means, and sometimes by the same means.
Posted on: Thursday, August 21, 2008 - 11:27
The other day, I was eating dinner with a friend of mine, one of New York;s top criminal defense attorneys, when he shared a story about the racial attitudes of some of the people he does business with. " Several attorneys I know, highly educated people, were absolutely shocked when I told them I planned to vote for Barack Obama," my friend told me. "They told me they couldn't believe I was voting for a Black guy for President."
These comments, which speak for a significant portion of the white electorate, show how racial categories still have a life of their own independent of the attributes of the people those categories are being applied to. In the minds of the men (and they were all men) who spoke to my friend, Barack Obama's "Blackness" trumped everything else about him, from his academic background and political experience to his family values and the position he took on the issues of the day. They were not even willing to discuss any of those questions. That Obama was "Black" was reason enough not to vote for him
The existence of such pure, unexamined racism is the wild card in this election year. Many Americans harbor racial stereotypes; some of them passed on from generation to generation, some of them reinforced by popular culture and mass media. But what happens when a Black peoples character and behavior clearly contradict those stereotypes? Are white Americans willing to modify their prejudices in the face of such evidence, or are they threatened
that their racialized strategies for sorting people out don;t work anymore?
This is the dilemma white Americans confront in the increasingly globalized, racially hybrid world we live in. More and more, whites are going to find,out that someone "Black" ( however you define it) is someone they would admire respect, and love if race were not in the equation. In those situations, will whites be able to "get beyond" race or is their investmenet in white superiority so powerful that it will totally inhibit identification based on common values and
Barack Obama candidacy raises that issue. But so does the play of the US Men's Olympic Basketball team. Here is an all Black team that plays basketball in a way that would thrill the most demanding "old school" purist and has conducted itself with a dignity on and off the courty that embody the Olympic spirit. Unlike the 2004 Olympic team, which couldn't hit an outside shot, never set a pick, and played no defense at all, this team plays the most ferocious team defense I have ever seen, at the college or professional level, and prides itself on brilliant passing that gets teammates dunks, layups and open three point shots. Every player on the team plays hard on both ends of the floor, looks to pass before they shoot, and roots for their teammates enthusiastically when sitting on the bench. If you have a child and want to show them how basketball ! should be played, you could have no better example than this year's Men's Olympic team. Not only are they beating every team they play- including teams the US lost to in the 2004 Olympics- by over 40 points, they are doing so without showboating, trash talking or insulting their opponents. This unselfish, team oriented behavior not only characterizes the veterans and role players on the team(players like Jason Kidd, whose goal was to go through the Olympics without taking a single shot) it has been embodied by the young superstars on the team like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony who have played better defense than they ever did in the NBA and have taken more pride in their rebounding and passing than their scoring. But the players who have brought me the most joy have been Kobe Bryant, whose defensive intensity and hard work in the weight room and in practice have set a standard for the entire squad, and the two young point guards, Chris Paul and De ron Williams who have played with a grace and efficiency reminiscent of Bob Cousy, Lenny Wilkens, Tiny Archibald, Magic Johnson and John Stockton,basketball legends who perfected the point guard tradition.
And the team has been equallly impressive off the court. Lebron James and Kobe Bryant have been in the stands rooting for American swimmers, gymnasts and beach volleyball players and have gone out of their way to be gracious to their Chinese hosts.
No one who knows the individuals selected for this team would be surpised by their exemplary behavior, but it totally deconstructs the stereotype of the young, "thugged out" Black athlete which has been so effectively marketed by advertisers and glorified in commercial hip hop
But can white Americans root for this amazing team with the same joy and enthusiasm that they reserve for swimmer Michael Phelps or gymnast Shawn Johnson.? Or is Blackness alone, Blackness in the abstract, Blackness divorced from performance or character or comportment, too great an obstacle for them to overcome in making an identification with people whom embody some of our society's most cherished values
The answer to that question will tell us a great deal about our country during the year 2008
Posted on: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 - 06:32
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (8-18-08)
Oh, the spectacle of it all -- and don't think I'm referring to those opening ceremonies in Beijing, where North Korean-style synchronization seemed to fuse with smiley-faced Walt Disney, or Michael Phelp's thrilling hunt for eight gold medals and Speedo's one million dollar"bonus," a modernized tribute to the ancient Greek tradition of amateurism in action. No, I'm thinking of the blitz of media coverage after Dr. Bruce Ivins, who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, committed suicide by Tylenol on July 29th and the FBI promptly accused him of the anthrax attacks of September and October 2001.
You remember them: the powder that, innocuously enough, arrived by envelope -- giving going postal a new meaning -- accompanied by hair-raising letters ominously dated"09-11-01" that said,"Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great." Five Americans would die from anthrax inhalation and 17 would be injured. The Hart Senate Office Building, along with various postal facilities, would be shut down for months of clean-up, while media companies that received the envelopes were thrown into chaos.
For a nation already terrified by the attacks of September 11, 2001, the thought that a brutal dictator with weapons of mass destruction (who might even have turned the anthrax over to the terrorists) was ready to do us greater harm undoubtedly helped pave the way for an invasion of Iraq. The President would even claim that Saddam Hussein had the ability to send unmanned aerial vehicles to spray biological or chemical weapons over the east coast of the United States (drones that, like Saddam's nuclear program, would turn out not to exist).
Today, it's hard even to recall just how terrifying those anthrax attacks were. According to a LexisNexis search, between Oct. 4 and Dec. 4, 2001, 389 stories appeared in the New York Times with"anthrax" in the headline. In that same period, 238 such stories appeared in the Washington Post. That's the news equivalent of an unending, high-pitched scream of horror -- and from those attacks would emerge an American world of hysteria involving orange alerts and duct tape, smallpox vaccinations, and finally a war, lest any of this stuff, or anything faintly like it, fall into the hands of terrorists.
And yet, by the end of 2001, it had become clear that, despite the accompanying letters, the anthrax in those envelopes was from a domestically produced strain. It was neither from the backlands of Afghanistan nor from Baghdad, but -- almost certainly -- from our own military bio-weapons labs. At that point, the anthrax killings essentially vanished… Poof!... while 9/11 only gained traction as the singular event of our times.
Those deaths-by-anthrax ceased to be part of the administration's developing Global War on Terror narrative, which was, of course, aimed at Islamist fanatics (and scads of countries that were said to provide them with"safe haven"), but certainly not military scientists here at home. No less quickly did those attacks drop from the front pages -- in fact, simply from the pages -- of the nation's newspapers and off TV screens.
Unlike with 9/11, there would be no ritualistic reminders of the anniversaries of those attacks in years to come. No victims, or survivors, or relatives of victims would step to podiums and ring bells, or read names, or offer encomiums. There would be no billion-dollar (or even million-dollar) memorial to the anthrax dead for the survivors to argue over. There would be little but silence, while the FBI fumbled its misbegotten way through an investigative process largely focused on one U.S. bio-weapons scientist, Steven J. Hatfill, who also worked at Fort Detrick and just happened to be the wrong man. (Bruce Ivins, eerily enough, would work closely with, and aid, the FBI's investigation for years until the spotlight of suspicion came to be directed at him.)
This essentially remained the state of the case until, as July ended, Ivins committed suicide. Then, what a field day! The details, the questions, the doubts, the disputed scientific evidence, the lists of kinds of drugs he was prescribed, the lurid quotes, the "rat's nest" of an anthrax-contaminated lab he worked in, the strange emails and letters! ("I wish I could control the thoughts in my mind… I get incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times, and there's nothing I can do until they go away, either by themselves or with drugs.") Case solved! Or not... The"mad scientist" from the Army's Fort Detrick bio-wars labs finally nabbed! Or not...
It was a dream of a story. And the mainstream media ran with it, knowledgeably, authoritatively, as if they had never let it go. Now, as the coverage fades and the story once again threatens to head for obscurity (despite doubts about Ivins's role in the attacks), I thought it might be worth mentioning a few questions that came to my mind as I read through recent coverage -- not on Ivins's guilt or innocence, but on matters that are so much a part of our American landscape that normally no one even thinks to ask about them.
Here are my top six questions about the case:
1.Why wasn't the Bush administration's War on Terror modus operandi applied to the anthrax case?
On August 10th, William J. Broad and Scott Shane reported on some of the human costs of the FBI anthrax investigation in a front-page New York Times piece headlined,"For Suspects, Anthrax Case Had Big Costs, Scores of the Innocent in a Wide F.B.I. Net." They did a fine job of establishing that those who serially came under suspicion had a tough time of it:"lost jobs, canceled visas, broken marriages, frayed friendships." According to the Times (and others), under the pressure of FBI surveillance, several had their careers wrecked; most were interviewed and re-interviewed numerous times in a"heavy-handed" manner, as well as polygraphed; some were tailed and trailed, their homes searched, and their workplaces ransacked.
Under the pressure of FBI"interest," anthrax specialist and"biodefense insider" Perry Mikesell evidently turned into an alcoholic and drank himself to death. Steven Hatfill, while his life was being turned inside out, had an agent trailing him in a car run over his foot, for which, Broad and Shane add, he, not the agent, was issued a ticket. And finally, of course, Dr. Ivins, growing ever more distressed and evidently ever less balanced, committed suicide on the day his lawyer was meeting with the FBI about a possible plea bargain that could have left him in jail for life, but would have taken the death penalty off the table.
Still, tough as life was for Mikesell, Hatfill, Ivins, and scores of others, here's an observation that you'll see nowhere else in a media that's had a two-week romp through the case: In search of a confession, none of the suspects of these last years, including Ivins, ever had a lighted cigarette inserted in his ear; none of them were hit, spit on, kicked, and paraded naked; none were beaten to death while imprisoned but uncharged with a crime; none were doused with cold water and left naked in a cell on a freezing night; none were given electric shocks, hooded, shackled in painful"stress positions," or sodomized; none were subjected to loud music, flashing lights, and denied sleep for days on end; none were smothered to death, or made to crawl naked across a jail floor in a dog collar, or menaced by guard dogs. None were ever waterboarded.
Whatever the pressure on Ivins or Hatfill, neither was kidnapped off a street near his house, stripped of his clothes, diapered, blindfolded, shackled, drugged, and"rendered" to the prisons of another country, possibly to be subjected to electric shocks or cut by scalpel by the torturers of a foreign regime. Even though each of the suspects in the anthrax murders was, at some point, believed to have been a terrorist who had committed a heinous crime with a weapon of mass destruction, none were ever declared"enemy combatants." None were ever imprisoned without charges, or much hope of trial or release, in off-shore, secret, CIA-run"black sites."
2.Why wasn't the U.S. military sent in?
Part of the reigning paradigm of the Bush years was this: police work was not enough when the homeland was threatened. The tracking down of terrorists who had killed or might someday kill Americans was a matter of"war." Those who had attacked the American homeland and murdered U.S. citizens would, as our President put it, be"hunted down" by special ops forces and CIA agents who had been granted the right to assassinate and brought in "dead or alive."
Why then, when acts of murderous bio-terror had been committed on American soil, was the military not called in? Why were no CIA"death squads" -- the tellingly descriptive phrase used by Jane Mayer in her remarkable new book, The Dark Side -- dispatched to assassinate likely suspects? Why were no Predator unmanned drones, armed with Hellfire missiles, launched to cruise the skies of Maryland and take out Ivins or other suspects"precisely" and"surgically" in their homes (whatever the" collateral damage")? Why, in fact, weren't their homes simply obliterated in the manner regularly employed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and elsewhere? (In fact, it seems to have taken the FBI two years after their first suspicions of Ivins simply to search his house and even longer finally to take away his high-level security clearance.)
Once U.S. weapons labs were identified as the sources of the anthrax, why were no special ops teams sent in to occupy the facilities, shut them down, and fly those found there, shackled and blindfolded, to Guantanamo or other more secret sites?
Why, when the administration went to great lengths to squeeze off funding for terrorists elsewhere, was funding for those labs significantly increased?
Why, when those swept up or simply kidnapped by the Bush administration and then discovered to be innocent, were -- after secret imprisonment, abuse, and torture -- regularly released without apology or reimbursement (if released at all), did the U.S. government pay Hatfill $4.6 million to settle a lawsuit he filed in response to his ordeal?
Why when, according to the Vice President's "one percent doctrine," no response was too extreme if even a minuscule chance of a catastrophic attack against the U.S."homeland" existed, were no extreme acts taken with a WMD killer (or killers) on the loose, possibly in Maryland's suburbs?
3.Once the anthrax threat was identified as coming from U.S. military labs, why did the administration, the FBI, and the media assume that only a single individual was responsible?
Read as much of the coverage of the anthrax killings as you want and you'll discover that the FBI has long taken for blanket fact that a single"mad scientist" was the culprit -- and, no less important, that that theory has been accepted as bedrock fact by the media as well. No alternative possibilities have been seriously considered for years.
For instance, it is known that a set of the anthrax letters was sent from a mailbox in Princeton, New Jersey, some hours from Ivins's home and the Fort Detrick lab in Frederick, Maryland. The question the FBI puzzled over -- and the media took up vigorously -- was whether, on the day in question, Ivins had time to make it to Princeton and back, given what's known of his schedule. The FBI suggests that he did; critics suggest otherwise. No one, however, seems to consider the possibility that the lone terrorist of the anthrax killings might have had one or more accomplices, which would have made the"problem" of mailing those letters into a piece of cake.
Is it that Americans, as opposed to foreigners bent on terrorism, are assumed to be unstoppable individualists, loners canny enough to carry out plots by themselves? Does no one recall that the last great act of American terrorism in the United States, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, was a crime committed by at least two American"loners"? (The earliest reports in that case, too, blamed Arab terrorists -- plural.)
There seem to have been no serious al-Qaeda"sleeper cells" in this country, but how do we know that there isn't a"sleeper cell" of American bio-killers lurking somewhere in the U.S. military lab community?
4.What of those military labs? Why does their history continue to play little or no part in the story of the anthrax attacks?
In reading through reams of coverage of Ivins's suicide and the FBI case against him, I found only a single reference to the work his lab at Fort Detrick had been dedicated to throughout most of the Cold War era. Here is that sentence from the Washington Post:"As home to the Army Biological Warfare Laboratories, the facility ran a top-secret program producing offensive biological weapons from 1943 until 1969." And yet, if you don't grasp this fact, the real significance of the anthrax case remains in the shadows.
As with the continuing story of nuclear dangers on our planet, the terrors of our age are almost invariably portrayed as emerging from bands of fanatics, or lands like Iran said to be ruled by the same, in the backlands of our planet (some of which also just happen to be in the energy heartlands of the same planet). And yet, if we are terrified enough of loose or proliferating weapons of mass destruction to threaten or start wars over them, it's important to understand that, from 1945 on, these dangers -- and they are grim dangers -- emerged from the heartland of the military-industrial machines of the two Cold War superpowers, the U.S. and the USSR.
Put another way, the most conceptually frightening attacks of 2001 came directly from the Cold War urge to develop offensive biological weapons. Until 1969, the Army's biological-warfare laboratories at Fort Detrick were focused, in part, on that task. Plain and simple. After President Richard Nixon shut down the offensive bio-war program in 1969, the Army's scientists switched to work on"defenses" against the same. As with defenses against nuclear attack, however, such work, by its nature, is often hard to separate from offensive work on such weaponry. In other words, looked at a certain way, one focus of the Fort Detrick lab, which fell under suspicion in the anthrax attacks by the winter of 2001, has long been putting bio-war on the global menu. In that, it was evidently successful in the end.
There is irony here, of course. In the post-Cold War era, our worries focused almost solely on the deteriorating, sometimes ill-guarded Russian Cold War labs and storehouses for biological, chemical, and nuclear war. It was long feared that, from them, such nightmares would drop into our world. But in this we were, it seems, wrong. The labs with the holes were ours and -- what's more terrifying -- the possibilities for leakage and misuse are still expanding exponentially.
5.Were the anthrax attacks the less important ones of 2001?
If you compare the two sets of 2001 attacks in terms of death and destruction, 9/11 obviously leaves the anthrax attacks in the dust. Thought about a certain way, however, the attacks of 9/11, while bold, murderous, televisually spectacular, and apocalyptic looking, were conceptually old hat. It was the anthrax attacks that pointed the way to a new and frightening future.
After all, the World Trade Center had already been attacked, and one of its towers nearly toppled, by a rental-van bomb driven into an underground garage by Islamists back in 1993. The planes in the 2001 assaults were, as Mike Davis has written, simply car bombs with wings, and car bombs have a painfully long history. Even though in their targeting -- the symbolic mega-buildings of an imperial power whose citizens previously preferred to believe themselves invulnerable -- the 9/11 hijackers offered a new psychological reality to Americans, their most striking and unsettling feature was perhaps themselves. Those 19 men had pledged to commit suicide not for their country, as had thousands of Japanese kamikaze pilots at the end of World War II, or even for a potential country like hundreds of Tamil suicide bombers in Sri Lanka, but for a religious fantasy (behind which lay non-religious grievances). On the other hand, the 9/11 attacks were but a larger, more ambitious version of, for instance, the suicide-by-boat attack on the U.S.S. Cole in a Yemeni port in 2000.
On the other hand, the anthrax mailings represented something new. (The Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult had attempted to make and use bio-weapons, including anthrax, back in 1990s, but failed.) If the al-Qaeda strike on 9/11 had only simulated a weapon-of-mass-destruction attack, with the anthrax killer, no imagination was necessary. An actual weapon of mass destruction -- highly refined anthrax -- had been used successfully, then used again, and the killer(s) remained at large, not in the Afghan backlands but somewhere in our midst, with no evidence that the supply of anthrax had been used up.
And yet, even as the Bush administration, the two presidential candidates, all of Washington, and the media remain focused on terrorism in the Afghan-Pakistani border regions, few give serious thought -- except when it comes to individual culpability -- to the terror that emerged from the depths of the military-industrial complex, from our own Cold War weapons labs. To that, no aspect of the Global War on Terror seems to apply.
6.Who is winning the Global War on Terror?
The answer, obviously, is the terrorists. Just last week, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, made this crystal clear when it came to al-Qaeda. He testified before Congress that the organization"is gaining in strength from its refuge in Pakistan and is steadily improving its ability to recruit, train and position operatives capable of carrying out attacks inside the United States." In fact, it's been clear enough for quite a while that the Bush administration's Global War on Terror has mainly succeeded in creating ever more terrorists in ever more places. And yet, arguably, the anthrax killer or killers have, to date, gained far more than al-Qaeda. Looked at a certain way, whatever the role of Bruce Ivins, the anthrax killings proved to be a full-scale triumph of terrorism.
One theory has long been that whoever committed the anthrax outrages was intent on drawing attention (and probably funding) to further research and development of U.S. bio-war"defenses." If so, then, what a remarkable success! In the years since the attacks occurred, funding has flooded into such labs, whose numbers have grown strikingly. On September 11, 2001, reports the Washington Post,"there were only five ‘biosafety level 4' labs -- places equipped to study highly lethal agents such as Ebola that have no human vaccine or treatment -- a Government Accountability Office report stated last fall. Fifteen are in operation or under construction now, according to the report. There are hundreds more biosafety level 3 labs, which handle agents such as Bacillus anthracis, which does have a human vaccine."
The few hundred people at work in the U.S. bio-defense program before 9/11 have swelled to perhaps 14,000 scientists who have" clearances to work with ‘select biological agents' such as Bacillus anthracis -- many of them civilians working at private universities" where, according to experts,"security regulations are remarkably lax." And don't forget the Army's own billion-dollar plan to"build a larger laboratory complex as part of a proposed interagency biodefense campus at Fort Detrick." We're talking about the place where, as Ivins's crew was evidently nicknamed,"Team Anthrax" worked and whose labs are reputedly"renowned for losing anthrax." In these same years, according to the New York Times,"almost $50 billion in federal money has been spent to build new laboratories, develop vaccines and stockpile drugs." Some of this money was pulled out of basic public health funds which once ensured that large numbers of people wouldn't die of treatable diseases like tuberculosis and redirected into work on the Ebola virus, anthrax, and other exotic pathogens.
In these years, not to put too fine a point on it, the Bush administration has exponentially expanded our bio-war labs, increasing significantly the likelihood that a new"mad scientist" will have far more opportunity and far more deadly material available to work with. It has, in other words, increased the likelihood not just that terror will come to"the homeland," but that it will come from the homeland. Thanks to this administration, the terrorists won this round and future terrorists can reap the fruits of that victory.
Bruce Ivins, whatever you did, or whatever was done to you, R.I.P. Your lab is in good hands. And the likelihood is that, almost seven years after the first anthrax envelope arrived, the world is more of a terror machine than ever.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 - 05:57
SOURCE: Salon (8-19-08)
It is a measure of the Bush administration's broken foreign policy that the departure of Pervez Musharraf, the corrupt, longtime military dictator of Pakistan, is provoking fears in Washington of "instability." Despite Bush's warm embrace, Musharraf gutted the rule of law in Pakistan over the previous year and a half, including sacking its Supreme Court. He attempted to do away with press freedom, failed to provide security for campaigning politicians and strove to postpone elections indefinitely.
The Bush administration has made a regular practice of undermining democracy in places where local politics don't play out to its liking, and in that, at least, Musharraf was a true partner. But stability derives not from a tyrannical brake on popular aspirations; it derives from the free play of the political process. Musharraf's resignation from office, in fact, marks Pakistan's first chance for a decent political future since 1977.
Musharraf as a general had been known in the 1990s as a hawk, foolhardy in his provocation of India and deeply wedded to supporting the Taliban (and implicitly al-Qaida) in Afghanistan. Unlike some of his colleagues, there was nothing ideological about his belligerence. Brought up in part in secular Turkey as the son of a diplomat, he displayed no interest in fundamentalist Islam. His was the belligerence of opportunism and ambition.
Musharraf deposed then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October of 1999. As army chief of staff, he had earlier that year launched the disastrous Kargil War against India in the Himalayan area of Kashmir, and been forced to withdraw. The encroachment on Indian-held territory had not been cleared with the prime minister, who was all too happy to yield to American entreaties to withdraw. Musharraf might well have been brought up on charges over the catastrophe, but he decided to overthrow the civilian government instead....
Posted on: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 - 03:44
SOURCE: Special to HNN (8-18-08)
Last week, the pistachio nut dropped. With adequate missile defense technology, I had questioned the necessity of a pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear capability. Uncomfortable as living with an Iranian bomb would be, I thought, better to defend ourselves than attack first. And why should Israel – alone -- take such risks?
Overflowing with dire predictions and warnings, pleas for negotiations and economic and diplomatic sanctions, the media, politicians and 'experts' left me confused. 'Why is a nuclear Iran intolerable?' I wondered, until I attended a press briefing by Dr Shmuel Bar, Director of Studies at The Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC's think tank in Herzilya, Israel. Bar, an expert on Iran and Islam, with over 30 years experience working with Israel's intelligence community is clear, articulate and convincing.
Forget everything you know about reason and logic when it comes to Iran. Forget history and experience. There is a little man in Teheran who talks to "the hidden Imam" – a mystical messianic-like figure who is waiting to be revealed. And his little friend believes he can do it with the push of a button.
"It's not only, or necessarily Ahmadinejad who speaks to the Imam," Bar says. "There's a whole new second generation elite of the Revolutionary Guard who indoctrinate their troops with the belief in the need to hasten the advent of the Imam. This has also spread to Hizballah in Lebanon."
As Iran achieves nuclear weapons capability, the world is – or should be – shaking in its shoes. The problem is not only the proliferation of WMDs – access to such weapons has become easier since Pakistani and North Korean peddlers have opened the market. Nor is the problem only French, German and Russian companies who supply Iran with equipment and technology to build nuclear reactors; they're in business!
The problem is the little man in Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his followers.
"He's not Hitler," Bar insists. "He represents a larger elite and wider trend. Hence he is more dangerous, since even if he were to disappear through elections or other means, the trend he represents would remain strong. This is in contrast to Hitler who – had he disappeared even as late as 1939 there is great doubt that WWII would have occurred."
The idea of a "hidden Imam" is a fundamental belief in the Shiite version of Islam, dominant in Iran. As Bar explains, when the "hidden Imam" reappears, the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked punished -- a not uncommon religious theme. But there's an added twist.
Shiites believe that this messianic figure is hiding because he's threatened by enemies and can only be liberated by someone who is not afraid to act decisively against the enemy.
This apocalyptic confrontation could take the form of a nuclear attack, precipitating a clash of civilizations which would usher in the final stage of Muslim redemption and bring about the conversion of the entire world to Islam. Bar: "The need for the Imam's loyalists to have the strategic upper hand is a necessary condition for his appearance. The upper hand can only be achieved through possession of nuclear weapons."
Traditionally, only the highest Muslim spiritual leaders claimed to understand, let alone delve into this murky realm of "hidden Imam." That a simple politician, with little knowledge and less sense could have direct contact with the "hidden Imam" is theologically absurd, if not on the verge of blasphemy. But he rules the country, not them -- and his finger is one of those on the button.
"The balance between the Supreme Leader and the President is no longer clearly in the favor of the former as it was with Ahmadinejad's predecessors since the latter has the direct support of the Revolutionary Guard who are the regime's mainstay."
Bar explains that developing nuclear weapons has a persuasive Iranian logic: If the West strikes first, it will vindicate Ahmadinejad's version of the West as evil; if the West does not act, he can claim this justifies his aggressive stand and weakens any domestic opposition.
Moreover, Ahmadineajad surmises, if the West invaded Iraq because it threatened to develop nuclear capability (WMD), acquiring such weapons would deter the West from attacking.
Theologically and practically, therefore, acquiring nuclear weapons and using them, not only against Israel and Western infidels, but his Sunni opponents as well, has its own internal momentum. The more the West hesitates to act, the stronger and more provocative Ahmadinejad and the "Jacobin" elite he represents gets. Impelled by theological delusions, his willingness to risk war is not deterred by opposition; just the reverse. He can become the ultimate Muslim Hero, defying the "hidden Imam's" enemies and bringing the Messianic Age. This is the jihadist dream, a 'holy war' to end all war, a world bathed in blood.
The immediate danger, Bar emphasizes is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, other coutnries in the region would soon follow. Without a stable chain of command and no structure of rational decision-making -- a condition which rendered the Cold War manageable -- the situation would become extremely volatile.
WMD in the hands of homicidal, apocalyptic, insecure and irrational leaders, with populations for whom nuclear weapons would be perceived as a ticket to the club of superpowers, threatens the entire world.
"This does not only have to happen intentionally," Bar notes. "The very nature of brinkmanship in the Middle East can create an escalation of nuclear crisis that can quickly spiral out of control." There's no "hot-line" phone; there's no line!
This isn't about Iran. No one wants to watch the destruction of a viable country and its culture. The alternatives, however, are everyone's worst nightmare – including Arab countries who are directly threatened by Iran (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, etc).
The Iranian threat is not just against Israel, but the entire region and beyond.
Current sanctions on Iran have little effect, Bar observes, since they don't affect the people who run the economy, or those who might be able to act. Diplomacy is, well, for diplomats.
Deterrent missile technology is not foolproof. A single missile could wipe out a large part of Israel's population. That risk is unacceptable. Even if Israel or the United States could eliminate much of Iran in a second strike, that would be a Pyrrhic victory.
And, even if Iran decides not to use its nuclear weapons, it can easily export them to terrorist organizations and regimes in the region.
That Western leaders (except Israel) cannot agree on what to do about the crisis has led to paralysis and naiveté. Supported by Russia, China and the 120-member bloc of "non-aligned nations" in the UN, Iran has virtually ignored criticism – and why not? It gains with every moment of doubt and hesitation, every gesture of appeasement and self-defeat.
That's why, Bar warns, if all else fails Israel will have to act – alone or in consort with others. There's simply no alternative. Then, pray, for all of us, that we have done the right thing.
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 09:59
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (8-11-08)
"War is the great auditor of institutions," the historian Corelli Barnett once observed. Since 9/11, the United States has undergone such an audit and been found wanting. That adverse judgment applies in full to America's armed forces.
Valor does not offer the measure of an army's greatness, nor does fortitude, nor durability, nor technological sophistication. A great army is one that accomplishes its assigned mission. Since George W. Bush inaugurated his global war on terror, the armed forces of the United States have failed to meet that standard.
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Bush conceived of a bold, offensive strategy, vowing to"take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge." The military offered the principal means for undertaking this offensive, and U.S. forces soon found themselves engaged on several fronts.
Two of those fronts --- Afghanistan and Iraq -- commanded priority attention. In each case, the assigned task was to deliver a knockout blow, leading to a quick, decisive, economical, politically meaningful victory. In each case, despite impressive displays of valor, fortitude, durability, and technological sophistication, America's military came up short. The problem lay not with the level of exertion but with the results achieved.
In Afghanistan, U.S. forces failed to eliminate the leadership of Al Qaeda. Although they toppled the Taliban regime that had ruled most of that country, they failed to eliminate the Taliban movement, which soon began to claw its way back. Intended as a brief campaign, the Afghan War became a protracted one. Nearly seven years after it began, there is no end in sight. If anything, America's adversaries are gaining strength. The outcome remains much in doubt.
In Iraq, events followed a similar pattern, with the appearance of easy success belied by subsequent developments. The U.S. invasion began on March 19, 2003. Six weeks later, against the backdrop of a White House-produced banner proclaiming"Mission Accomplished," President Bush declared that"major combat operations in Iraq have ended." This claim proved illusory.
Writing shortly after the fall of Baghdad, the influential neoconservatives David Frum and Richard Perle declared Operation Iraqi Freedom"a vivid and compelling demonstration of America's ability to win swift and total victory." General Tommy Franks, commanding the force that invaded Iraq, modestly characterized the results of his handiwork as"unequalled in its excellence by anything in the annals of war." In retrospect, such judgments -- and they were legion -- can only be considered risible. A war thought to have ended on April 9, 2003, in Baghdad's al-Firdos Square was only just beginning. Fighting dragged on for years, exacting a cruel toll. Iraq became a reprise of Vietnam, although in some respects at least on a blessedly smaller scale.
A New American Way of War?
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Just a few short years ago, observers were proclaiming that the United States possessed military power such as the world had never seen. Here was the nation's strong suit."The troops" appeared unbeatable. Writing in 2002, for example, Max Boot, a well-known commentator on military matters, attributed to the United States a level of martial excellence"that far surpasses the capabilities of such previous would-be hegemons as Rome, Britain, and Napoleonic France." With U.S. forces enjoying"unparalleled strength in every facet of warfare," allies, he wrote, had become an encumbrance:"We just don't need anyone else's help very much."
Boot dubbed this the Doctrine of the Big Enchilada. Within a year, after U.S. troops had occupied Baghdad, he went further: America's army even outclassed Germany's Wehrmacht. The mastery displayed in knocking off Saddam, Boot gushed, made"fabled generals such as Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian seem positively incompetent by comparison."
All of this turned out to be hot air. If the global war on terror has produced one undeniable conclusion, it is this: Estimates of U.S. military capabilities have turned out to be wildly overstated. The Bush administration's misplaced confidence in the efficacy of American arms represents a strategic misjudgment that has cost the country dearly. Even in an age of stealth, precision weapons, and instant communications, armed force is not a panacea. Even in a supposedly unipolar era, American military power turns out to be quite limited.
How did it happen that Americans so utterly overappraised the utility of military power? The answer to that question lies at the intersection of three great illusions.
According to the first illusion, the United States during the 1980s and 1990s had succeeded in reinventing armed conflict. The result was to make force more precise, more discriminating, and potentially more humane. The Pentagon had devised a new American Way of War, investing its forces with capabilities unlike any the world had ever seen. As President Bush exuberantly declared shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003,"We've applied the new powers of technology… to strike an enemy force with speed and incredible precision. By a combination of creative strategies and advanced technologies, we are redefining war on our terms. In this new era of warfare, we can target a regime, not a nation."
The distinction between regime and nation was a crucial one. By employing these new military techniques, the United States could eliminate an obstreperous foreign leader and his cronies, while sparing the population over which that leader ruled. Putting a missile through the roof of a presidential palace made it unnecessary to incinerate an entire capital city, endowing force with hitherto undreamed-of political utility and easing ancient moral inhibitions on the use of force. Force had been a club; it now became a scalpel. By the time the president spoke, such sentiments had already become commonplace among many (although by no means all) military officers and national security experts.
Here lay a formula for certain victory. Confidence in military prowess both reflected and reinforced a post-Cold War confidence in the universality of American values. Harnessed together, they made a seemingly unstoppable one-two punch.
With that combination came expanded ambitions. In the 1990s, the very purpose of the Department of Defense changed. Sustaining American global preeminence, rather than mere national security, became its explicit function. In the most comprehensive articulation of this new American Way of War, the Joint Chiefs of Staff committed the armed services to achieving what they called"full spectrum dominance" -- unambiguous supremacy in all forms of warfare, to be achieved by tapping the potential of two"enablers" --"technological innovation and information superiority."
Full spectrum dominance stood in relation to military affairs as the political scientist Francis Fukuyama's well-known proclamation of"the end of history" stood in relation to ideology: Each claimed to have unlocked ultimate truths. According to Fukuyama, democratic capitalism represented the final stage in political economic evolution. According to the proponents of full spectrum dominance, that concept represented the final stage in the evolution of modern warfare. In their first days and weeks, the successive invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq both seemed to affirm such claims.
How Not to"Support the Troops"
According to the second illusion, American civilian and military leaders subscribed to a common set of principles for employing their now-dominant forces. Adherence to these principles promised to prevent any recurrence of the sort of disaster that had befallen the nation in Vietnam. If politicians went off half-cocked, as President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had back in the 1960s, generals who had correctly discerned and assimilated the lessons of modern war could be counted on to rein them in.
These principles found authoritative expression in the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, which specified criteria for deciding when and how to use force. Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense during most of the Reagan era, first articulated these principles in 1984. General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the early 1990s, expanded on them. Yet the doctrine's real authors were the members of the post-Vietnam officer corps. The Weinberger-Powell principles expressed the military's own lessons taken from that war. Those principles also expressed the determination of senior officers to prevent any recurrence of Vietnam.
Henceforth, according to Weinberger and Powell, the United States would fight only when genuinely vital interests were at stake. It would do so in pursuit of concrete and attainable objectives. It would mobilize the necessary resources -- political and moral as well as material -- to win promptly and decisively. It would end conflicts expeditiously and then get out, leaving no loose ends. The spirit of the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine was not permissive; its purpose was to curb the reckless or imprudent inclinations of bellicose civilians.
According to the third illusion, the military and American society had successfully patched up the differences that produced something akin to divorce during the divisive Vietnam years. By the 1990s, a reconciliation of sorts was under way. In the wake of Operation Desert Storm,"the American people fell in love again with their armed forces." So, at least, General Colin Powell, one of that war's great heroes, believed. Out of this love affair a new civil-military compact had evolved, one based on the confidence that, in times of duress, Americans could be counted on to"support the troops." Never again would the nation abandon its soldiers.
The All-Volunteer Force (AVF) -- despite its name, a professional military establishment -- represented the chief manifestation of this new compact. By the 1990s, Americans were celebrating the AVF as the one component of the federal government that actually worked as advertised. The AVF embodied the nation's claim to the status of sole superpower; it was"America's Team." In the wake of the Cold War, the AVF sustained the global Pax Americana without interfering with the average American's pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. What was not to like?
Events since 9/11 have exposed these three illusions for what they were. When tested, the new American Way of War yielded more glitter than gold. The generals and admirals who touted the wonders of full spectrum dominance were guilty of flagrant professional malpractice, if not outright fraud. To judge by the record of the past twenty years, U.S. forces win decisively only when the enemy obligingly fights on American terms -- and Saddam Hussein's demise has drastically reduced the likelihood of finding such accommodating adversaries in the future. As for loose ends, from Somalia to the Balkans, from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf, they have been endemic.
When it came to the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, civilian willingness to conform to its provisions proved to be highly contingent. Confronting Powell in 1993, Madeleine Albright famously demanded to know,"What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about, if we can't use it?" Mesmerized by the prospects of putting American soldiers to work to alleviate the world's ills, Albright soon enough got her way. An odd alliance that combined left-leaning do-gooders with jingoistic politicians and pundits succeeded in chipping away at constraints on the use of force."Humanitarian intervention" became all the rage. Whatever restraining influence the generals exercised during the 1990s did not survive that decade. Lessons of Vietnam that had once seemed indelible were forgotten.
Meanwhile, the reconciliation of the people and the army turned out to be a chimera. When the chips were down,"supporting the troops" elicited plenty of posturing but little by way of binding commitments. Far from producing a stampede of eager recruits keen to don a uniform, the events of 9/11 reaffirmed a widespread popular preference for hiring someone else's kid to chase terrorists, spread democracy, and ensure access to the world's energy reserves.
In the midst of a global war of ostensibly earthshaking importance, Americans demonstrated a greater affinity for their hometown sports heroes than for the soldiers defending the distant precincts of the American imperium. Tom Brady makes millions playing quarterback in the NFL and rakes in millions more from endorsements. Pat Tillman quit professional football to become an army ranger and was killed in Afghanistan. Yet, of the two, Brady more fully embodies the contemporary understanding of the term patriot.
Demolishing the Doctrine of the Big Enchilada
While they persisted, however, these three illusions fostered gaudy expectations about the efficacy of American military might. Every president since Ronald Reagan has endorsed these expectations. Every president since Reagan has exploited his role as commander in chief to expand on the imperial prerogatives of his office. Each has also relied on military power to conceal or manage problems that stemmed from the nation's habits of profligacy.
In the wake of 9/11, these puerile expectations -- that armed force wielded by a strong-willed chief executive could do just about anything -- reached an apotheosis of sorts. Having manifestly failed to anticipate or prevent a devastating attack on American soil, President Bush proceeded to use his ensuing global war on terror as a pretext for advancing grandiose new military ambitions married to claims of unbounded executive authority -- all under the guise of keeping Americans"safe."
With the president denying any connection between the events of September 11th and past U.S. policies, his declaration of a global war nipped in the bud whatever inclination the public might have entertained to reconsider those policies. In essence, Bush counted on war both to concentrate greater power in his own hands and to divert attention from the political, economic, and cultural bind in which the United States found itself as a result of its own past behavior.
As long as U.S. forces sustained their reputation for invincibility, it remained possible to pretend that the constitutional order and the American way of life were in good health. The concept of waging an open-ended global campaign to eliminate terrorism retained a modicum of plausibility. After all, how could anyone or anything stop the unstoppable American soldier?
Call that reputation into question, however, and everything else unravels. This is what occurred when the Iraq War went sour. The ills afflicting our political system, including a deeply irresponsible Congress, broken national security institutions, and above all an imperial commander in chief not up to the job, became all but impossible to ignore. So, too, did the self-destructive elements inherent in the American way of life -- especially an increasingly costly addiction to foreign oil, universally deplored and almost as universally indulged. More noteworthy still, the prospect of waging war on a global scale for decades, if not generations, became preposterous.
To anyone with eyes to see, the events of the past seven years have demolished the Doctrine of the Big Enchilada. A gung-ho journalist like Robert Kaplan might still believe that, with the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Pentagon had"appropriated the entire earth, and was ready to flood the most obscure areas of it with troops at a moment's notice," that planet Earth in its entirety had become"battle space for the American military." Yet any buck sergeant of even middling intelligence knew better than to buy such claptrap.
With the Afghanistan War well into its seventh year and the Iraq War marking its fifth anniversary, a commentator like Michael Barone might express absolute certainty that"just about no mission is impossible for the United States military." But Barone was not facing the prospect of being ordered back to the war zone for his second or third combat tour.
Between what President Bush called upon America's soldiers to do and what they were capable of doing loomed a huge gap that defines the military crisis besetting the United States today. For a nation accustomed to seeing military power as its trump card, the implications of that gap are monumental.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 09:06
SOURCE: Special to HNN (8-11-08)
As the Bush Administration begins its final months in office, it has embarked upon two courses of action that will pre-empt the scope of the incoming Obama or McCain administration and will plague America for years to come.
The first of these is to solidify, literally in concrete, our occupation of Iraq. Despite frequent denials by senior officials and multiple prohibitions exacted by the Congress, we have constructed a string of permanent bases to house our military forces and apparently intend to keep them there.
That is wrong and against our national interests.
We were told some seven years ago that attacking Iraq was justified because Iraq had nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and was about to attack America. Iraq had none of these weapons and could not have attacked America. But our occupation of that little country has done us almost as much damage as though it actually had attacked us:
One and a half million of our soldiers have served in Iraq. Over 4,100 of them are dead and about 400,000 have been wounded. (The official figure of 20,000 wounded is ridiculous: for this year alone, more than 300,000 will need medical treatment.)
Our army is exhausted. To replenish it, we are scraping the bottom of our social barrel and bribing the disadvantaged, some even with criminal records, to enlist; meanwhile, our “best and brightest” middle grade officers, including West Pointers, are quitting in droves.
We have now been in occupation of Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. The occupation already has cost us, even adjusted for inflation, more than the Vietnam war. Every minute costs our country nearly half a million dollars.
To pay for the war, we have borrowed so heavily from abroad (about $3 trillion) and run up our national debt so greatly (about 70%) that our standard of living has deteriorated – our cities have decayed; our transport system is ramshackled; our obsolescent factories are uncompetitive; the airlines hover on the brink of bankruptcy -- fourteen have fallen over the brink while others are cutting back the services on which we have come to depend; with gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, the automobile industry is in serious trouble -- for General Motors to go bankrupt is no longer unthinkable; even giant banks have suffered huge losses and one, Bear Stearns, collapsed.
Everywhere businesses are “downsizing” and so ditching tens of thousands of American workers; new housing starts are down so that the construction industry lost 35,000 jobs in the one month of May this year; 8.5 million workers are unemployed; 5 million have given up looking for work; another 5 million have found only part-time employment; and as prices rise our money is worth less every day.
Our economy is hurting. So is our society.
As property values have declined (some as much as 30%), hundreds of thousands have defaulted on mortgages and, potentially, perhaps 2 million face foreclosure; 37 million Americans have fallen below the poverty line; health care is failing to reach 47 million Americans; and our educational standards have fallen relative even to many “Third World” countries.
The head of our Federal Reserve Board tells us that, bad as it now is, the situation will grow worse -- unemployment will rise and payrolls will shrink.
Why has all this happened? There are several causes but a principal cause is the war in Iraq. It cost about a quarter of our yearly income .
Now we are being told that we must get into a new war -- that Iran is about to attack us and/or Israel with nuclear weapons. That is just what we were told about Iraq. But all our 16 intelligence agencies informed us last November that Iran not only has no nuclear weapons but has no current program to develop them.
President Bush asked for and got a Congressional allocation, a “Presidential Finding,” of $400 million to support political and armed efforts to overthrow the Iranian government. According to reliable sources Amerian special forces are already operating inside Iran. The administration is now advocating a blockade which, in international law, is an act of war. A massive collection of warships, aircraft and missiles is already in place and more are on the way. Can war be far away?
Iran cannot attack us, but if we attack Iran, we will replay the Iraq war -- on a far greater scale. Iran is about three times the size of Iraq and has been preparing to defend itself for years. Whatever they may feel about their government, Iranians are a proud and nationalistic people. They have bitter memories of generations of British, Russian and American espionage, invasion and dominance. If we invade their country, they will fight.
How would war with Iran affect us?
First, while we could probably destroy their factories, their army and even their cities with air strikes, air strikes alone would not destroy all their nuclear installations so we would almost certainly invade with ground troops. Then the real war – the guerrilla war -- would begin. Unlike Iraq in 2003, Iran is ready to resist. It has about 150,000 dedicated and well equipped national guardsmen. Predictably, the wounded and killed Americans would amount to several times what we suffered in Iraq.
Second, an attack would almost certainly halt the 8% of the world’s energy produced by Iran. Moreover, responding to our attack, the Iranians would counterattack shipping on the Gulf with their fleet of rocket- and bomb-equipped speedboats and submarines. These attacks might be suicidal but they would almost certainly be able to stop or substantially diminish the 40% of the world’s energy that flows down the Gulf. The price of energy would soar. As a result of the Iraq war, it climbed from c. $25/bbl to c. $150/bbl; experts predict that the price would double or even triple. Some believe it would go out of sight. That would destroy the good life we have struggled for generations to achieve and plunge us into a depression from which even our grandchildren would struggle to escape.
Third, an attack on Iran would be regarded as aggression and would severely damage what remains of the favorable image of America throughout the world and would further encourage anti-American jihadi movements throughout the Islamic world. Americans could expect counter-attacks here at home.
Fourth, while an American or Israeli attack might temporarily slow down or even stop the development of nuclear technology in Iran and perhaps overthrow its government, it would make any future Iranian government determined to acquire nuclear weapons to protect their country from us. In repeated public statements from the President, the Vice President and their neoconservative advisers and in the official 2005 “United States National Security Doctrine,” we have told Iran that we would attack it. Can we be so blind as not to see that an attack on Iran would be self-defeating, ensuring precisely what we seek to avoid, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran? We must not allow this catastrophe to happen.
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 08:50
SOURCE: Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH blog) (8-17-08)
According to Vladimir Putin, the breakdown of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century. If so, one ought to undo (or reduce) the damage, and Moscow is now in a position to do so.
In his view, this does not necessarily mean physical occupation. The Central Asian governments need Russian political and economic help in facing many internal problems; they have every interest to keep close relations with the Kremlin. The same is true with regard to Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Baltic republics on the other hand are weak but indigestible; military occupation is ruled out, the game is not worth the candle. Ukraine and Moldova will be more careful not to antagonize Russia following the events in Georgia.
What of the “near abroad,” the former East European satellites? They too will understand, with a little applied pressure such as military threats, that they belong to the Russian sphere of influence and that it was a mistake to join NATO, which won’t be of any help to them. What of Western Europe? It would perhaps be too much to say that it does not exist, but it certainly does not amount to much. In the absence of a common European foreign and defense policy and above all a common energy policy (which could make them less dependent on Russian oil and gas supplies), one need not bother about the E.U. Their dependence on Russian energy supplies will grow as the North Sea resources will be exhausted in the not-too-distant future.
What does Russian domination mean? Not the imposition of the Soviet model as in the Cold War. The present Soviet example (the petrostate) hardly lends itself for export. But the Kremlin will certainly insist on control of the foreign policy of the states in its sphere of influence, as well as (for instance) censorship and some other measures of control.
Ideally, the restoration of the Russian sphere of domination (or at least influence) should proceed gradually, even slowly. It was Stalin’s mistake after World War Two that he proceeded hastily, which generated resistance, including the emergence of NATO.
But Russia is under time pressure for at least three reasons. First, there is the emotional factor. The temptation to show that Russia has returned to a position of strength is very great. Which Russian leader does not want to enter history as another Peter the Great—not to mention some more recent leaders? Second, Russia’s strength rests almost entirely on its position as the world’s leading oil and gas supplier. But this will not last forever. Nor will it be possible to prevent technological progress forever—alternative sources of energy will be found.
Above all, there is Russia’s demographic weakness. Its population is constantly shrinking (and becoming de-Russified). The duration of military service had to be halved because there are not enough recruits. Every fourth recruit is at present of Muslim background; in a few years it will be every third. The density of population in Asian Russia is 2.5 per square kilometer—and declining. There is no possible way to stop or reverse this process, and depopulation means inevitably the loss of wide territories—not to the Americans.
In these circumstances there is a strong urge not to wait but to act now.
What will be the impact of these trends on the Middle East? Ideally, it would be wise to wait with any major action in the area until Russian domination in its closer neighborhood is established. But if opportunities for a Russian return to the Middle East arise, they should [will?] be used.
There are no illusions about finding allies in the region. As one of the last Tsars (Alexander III) said (and as Putin repeated after him), Russia has only two reliable allies: its army and artillery. Among the police and army ideologues there has been of late the idea to give up Panslav dreams, since the Slav brothers can be trusted even less than the rest, and to consider instead a strategic alliance with Turkic peoples. But these are largely fantasies.
The main aim will be to weaken America’s position in the Middle East. In this respect, there are differences of opinion in the Kremlin. Some ex-generals have come on record to the effect that a war with America is inevitable in a perspective of 10-15 years. The influence of these radical military men should not be overrated. But it is certainly true that the belief that America is Russia’s worst and most dangerous enemy is quite common (see for instance the recent Russkaia Doktrina). The downfall of the Soviet empire is thought to be mainly if not entirely America’s fault; Washington, it is believed, is trying to hurt Russia all the time in every possible way. This paranoiac attitude is deeply rooted (in contrast to China) and it will be an uphill struggle in the years to come to persuade the Russian leadership that this is not the case.
Moscow has threatened to supply greater help to Iran and Syria, which would certainly annoy America and perhaps hurt it. But Russia does not want to do this at the price of creating political and military problems for itself in the years to come. Russian distrust does not stop at its southern borders.
The attack on South Ossetia provided Russia with an unique opportunity; it was motivated by a militant Georgian nationalism which failed to understand that small and weak countries, unlike big and powerful ones, are not in a position to keep separatist regions indefinitely under their control. Such opportunities will not frequently return, and other opportunities will have to be created by the Kremlin—probably by exploiting existing conflicts such as those in the Middle East. This could open the door to serious miscalculations.
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 07:05
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (8-11-08)
Most of the discussion of Ron Suskind's new book, "The Way of the World," has focused on a single anecdote. Citing CIA sources, he claims that the White House ordered the production of a rather clumsy forgery of a letter from the head of the Iraqi intelligence service to Saddam purporting to prove that Muhammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers trained in Iraq and that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from Niger. The forgery was leaked to a sympathetic British journalist in 2003 and had little impact. The content was immediately seen to be implausible. Though the anecdote is juicy, and apparently true--the letter exists, after all--it is somewhat beside the point and tends to confirm my suspicion that those who discuss such books read only the first and last chapters (or their reviews). Having by chance had a tedious trans-Atlantic flight to endure, I read the whole book in a single sitting. There is much more than the not wholly surprising news that someone at the White House panicked and tried to cover himself politically by forging a document. It is a book of singular beauty and importance.
First, and less important, the forgery anecdote is part of a larger story about the failure and misuse of American intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, especially in human intelligence. Suskind reveals that skillful British agents had managed to develop two highly placed sources within the Iraqi government prior to the start of the war--the head of intelligence who supposedly wrote the incriminating
letter and the foreign minister. Both told the British that there were no weapons of mass destruction and explained why. This news was passed to the White House, which chose to ignore it. Suskind points out that the CIA had been totally unable to develop such sources. He also tells an even more alarming tale about how George Bush deliberately blew the British operation that was watching the development of the plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic. Despite American urgings to shut the plot down immediately, the British wanted to wait until the plotters revealed their plans and contacts. They were forced to act prematurely when the US had Pakistan arrest a key intermediary between the plotters in Britain and al-Qaeda. The purpose was apparently to allow Bush to claim progress in preventing terrorism in the run-up to the 2006 congressional elections.
Much more important is the main theme of the book, the role of moral authority in the struggle against terrorism. Suskind argues that American democratic ideals retain a powerful appeal throughout the world. He makes this point by telling the stories of a number of individuals: an American official desperate to prevent terrorists from getting enriched uranium, an Afghan teenager in America on an exchange program, a lawyer from Illinois and her client in Guantanamo, a young Pakistani man educated in the US and living and working in Washington who is arrested by the Secret Service one day when walking to work past the White House, a former US ambassador to Pakistan who wants to see something like the Peace Corps to express what is best about America, Benazir Bhutto, who despite herself finds herself at the head of genuine democratic movement but went to her death believing that America had been unwilling to protect her, and others.
Their stories are often touching and beautiful; Suskind can write. The Illinois lawyer convinces her new client in Guantanamo that she is genuine by laying twenty-six annual bar association membership cards on the table between them. The young Pakistani emerges from hours in the interrogation cell beneath the White House (God help us, there apparently is such a thing) to find that his co-workers are waiting with a cake to welcome him back. Later, when Musharraf declares martial law and shuts down the Pakistani media, he and his Pakistani-American fiancée set up an impromptu news service funneling information back to the leaders of the democratic lawyers’ movement in Pakistan. The young Afghan exchange student is asked for the first time in his life what he thinks is right. A former military judge remembers seeing the key to the Bastille at Mount Vernon and writes a memo exposing the trials at Guantanamo as farces.
Contrasted with these people and their hopes and ideals are the lies, the cruelty, the ruthlessness, and the sheer injustice that have characterized America's prosecution of the "Global War on Terror.” We have been told that these abuses have been necessary to fight a new kind of enemy. Suskind does not dwell on these abuses; they have been summarized with white anger in Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side,” a book that can be usefully read with this one. Suskind argues that these abuses
have actually undermined the struggle against terrorism.
Suskind points out that Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have tapped an old folk tale theme: the prince who leaves the palace behind to live with the people and defend justice. He argues that people like Ayman al-Zawahiri have skillfully deployed this myth to make Osama Bin Laden a champion of justice and Islam. Suskind argues that the ethical corner-cutting of the War on Terror has simply confirmed the jihadist portait of a hypocritical America whose real interest is the colonization of the Islamic world. Guantanamo stands as proof that American pretensions are hollow.
But there were not only torturers at Guantanamo; there were also American lawyers— even American military lawyers—who chose to defend the detainees out of a stubborn commitment to law and justice. Suskind argues passionately that it is not too late to redeem the situation, that there is a counter-narrative in which American democratic ideals do prevail, in which America does the right thing, not because it is good public diplomacy and will advance America's interests, but simply because it is moral and ethical and the right thing to do. The world needs and desperately wants America to lead with its moral ideals.
Suskind is right about this. I have been living for the last year in Turkey, once a fervently pro-American country. A year ago public opinion polls showed that only 9 percent of Turks had a favorable impression of America. That has risen somewhat of late, partly due to simple relief that George Bush's term would soon be over but also out of astonishment that America might elect a Black man with a Muslim name as President. The corresponding thing here, electing a Greek or Armenian as prime minister of Turkey, is inconceivable—but people want America to be different. They are beginning--very cautiously--to let themselves believe that the old America, Lincoln's "last best hope of mankind," might return. Suskind's goal is to urge us Americans to let this happen, both through new government policies and through the actions of individual Americans. May it be so.
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 06:48
SOURCE: Philadelphia Bulletin (8-12-08)
Aafia Siddiqui, 36, is a Pakistani mother of three, an alumna of MIT, and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Brandeis University. She is also accused of working for Al-Qaeda and was charged last week in New York City with attempting to kill American soldiers.
Her arrest serves to remind how invisibly most Islamist infiltration proceeds. In particular, an estimated forty Al-Qaeda sympathizers or operatives have sought to penetrate U.S. intelligence agencies.
Such a well-placed infiltrator can wreak great damage explains a former CIA chief of counterintelligence, Michael Sulick:"In the war on terrorism, intelligence has replaced the Cold War's tanks and fighter planes as the primary weapon against an unseen enemy." Islamist moles, he argues," could inflict far more damage to national security than Soviet spies," for the U.S. and Soviet Union never actually fought each other, whereas now,"our nation is at war."
Here are some American cases of attempted infiltration since 2001 that have been made public:
The Air Force discharged Sadeq Naji Ahmed, a Yemeni immigrant, when his superiors learned of his pro-Al-Qaeda statements. Ahmed subsequently became a baggage screener at Detroit's Metro Airport, which terminated him for hiding his earlier discharge from the Air Force. He was convicted of making false statements and sentenced to eighteen months in jail.
The Chicago Police Department fired Patricia Eng-Hussain just three days into her training on learning that her husband, Mohammad Azam Hussain, was arrested for being an active member of Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H), a Pakistani terrorist group.
The Chicago Police Department also fired Arif Sulejmanovski, a supervising janitor at its 25th District station after it learned his name was on a federal terrorist watch list of international terrorism suspects.
Mohammad Alavi, an engineer at the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, was arrested as he arrived on a flight from Iran, accused of taking computer access codes and software to Iran that provide details on the plant's control rooms and plant layout. He subsequently pleaded guilty to transporting stolen property.
Nada Nadim Prouty, a Lebanese immigrant who worked for both the FBI and CIA, pleaded guilty to charges of: fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship; accessing a federal computer system to unlawfully query information about her relatives and the terrorist organization Hizballah; and engaging in conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Waheeda Tehseen, a Pakistani immigrant who filled a sensitive toxicologist position with the Environmental Protection Agency, pleaded guilty to fraud and was deported. WorldNetDaily.com explains that"investigators suspect espionage is probable, as she produced highly sensitive health-hazard documents for toxic compounds and chemical pesticides. Tehseen also was an expert in parasitology as it relates to public water systems."
Weiss Rasool, 31, a Fairfax County police sergeant and Afghan immigrant, pleaded guilty for checking police databases without authorization, thereby jeopardizing at least one federal terrorism investigation.
Nadire P. Zenelaj, 32, a 911 emergency operator of Albanian origins, was charged with 232 felony counts of computer trespass for illegally searching New York State databases, including the record of at least one person on the FBI's terrorist watch list.
Three other cases are less clear. The Transportation Security Administration fired Bassam Khalaf, 21, a Texan of Christian Palestinian origins, as an airport baggage screener because lyrics on his music CD, Terror Alert, applaud the 9/11 attacks. FBI Special Agent Gamal Abdel-Hafiz"showed a pattern of pro-Islamist behavior," according to author Paul Sperry, that may have helped acquit Sami Al-Arian of terrorism charges. The Pentagon cleared Hesham Islam, an Egyptian immigrant, former U.S. Navy commander, and special assistant to the deputy secretary of defense, but major questions remain about his biography and his outlook.
Other Western countries too – Australia, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom – have been subject to infiltration efforts. (For details, see my weblog entry,"Islamists Penetrate Western Security.")
This record prompts one to wonder what catastrophe must occur before government agencies, some of which have banished the words"Islam" and"jihad," seriously confront their internal threat?
Westerners are indebted to Muslim agents like Fred Ghussin and"Kamil Pasha" who have been critical to fighting terrorism. That said, I stand by my 2003 statement that"There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism."
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 05:49
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (8-18-08)
One wonders whether Russia's invasion of Georgia will finally end the dreamy complacency that took hold of the world's democracies after the close of the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union offered for many the tantalizing prospect of a new kind of international order. The fall of the Communist empire and the apparent embrace of democracy by Russia seemed to augur a new era of global convergence. Great power conflict and competition were a thing of the past. Geo-economics had replaced geopolitics. Nations that traded with one another would be bound together by their interdependence and less likely to fight one another. Increasingly commercial societies would be more liberal both at home and abroad. Their citizens would seek prosperity and comfort and abandon the atavistic passions, the struggles for honor and glory, and the tribal hatreds that had produced conflict throughout history. Ideological conflict was also a thing of the past. As Francis Fukuyama famously put it, "At the end of history, there are no serious ideological competitors left to liberal democracy." And if there were an autocracy or two lingering around at the end of history, this was no cause for concern. They, too, would eventually be transformed as their economies modernized.
Unfortunately, the core assumptions of the post-Cold War years have proved mistaken. The absence of great power competition, it turns out, was a brief aberration. Over the course of the 1990s, that competition reemerged as rising powers entered or reentered the field. First China, then India, set off on unprecedented bursts of economic growth, accompanied by incremental but substantial increases in military capacity, both conventional and nuclear. By the beginning of the 21st century, Japan had begun a slow economic recovery and was moving toward a more active international role both diplomatically and militarily. Then came Russia, rebounding from economic calamity to steady growth built on the export of its huge reserves of oil and natural gas.
Nor has the growth of the Chinese and Russian economies produced the political liberalization that was once thought inevitable. Growing national wealth and autocracy have proven compatible, after all. Autocrats learn and adjust. The autocracies of Russia and China have figured out how to permit open economic activity while suppressing political activity. They have seen that people making money will keep their noses out of politics, especially if they know their noses will be cut off. New wealth gives autocracies a greater ability to control information--to monopolize television stations and to keep a grip on Internet traffic, for instance--often with the assistance of foreign corporations eager to do business with them.
In the long run, rising prosperity may well produce political liberalism, but how long is the long run? It may be too long to have any strategic or geopolitical relevance. In the meantime, the new economic power of the autocracies has translated into real, usable geopolitical power on the world stage. In the 1990s the liberal democracies expected that a wealthier Russia would be a more liberal Russia, at home and abroad. But historically the spread of commerce and the acquisition of wealth by nations has not necessarily produced greater global harmony. Often it has only spurred greater global competition. The hope at the end of the Cold War was that nations would pursue economic integration as an alternative to geopolitical competition, that they would seek the "soft" power of commercial engagement and economic growth as an alternative to the "hard" power of military strength or geopolitical confrontation. But nations do not need to choose. There is another paradigm--call it "rich nation, strong army," the slogan of rising Meiji Japan at the end of the 19th century--in which nations seek economic integration and adaptation of Western institutions not in order to give up the geopolitical struggle but to wage it more successfully. The Chinese have their own phrase for this: "a prosperous country and a strong army."
The rise of these two great power autocracies is reshaping the international scene. Nationalism, and the nation itself, far from being weakened by globalization, has returned with a vengeance. There are the ethnic nationalisms that continue to bubble up in the Balkans and in the former republics of the Soviet Union. But more significant is the return of great power nationalism. Instead of an imagined new world order, there are new geopolitical fault lines where the ambitions of great powers overlap and conflict and where the seismic events of the future are most likely to erupt.
One of these fault lines runs along the western and southwestern frontiers of Russia. In Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova, in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and even in the Balkans, a contest for influence is under way between a resurgent Russia, on one side, and the European Union and the United States on the other. Instead of an anticipated zone of peace, western Eurasia has once again become a zone of competition, in which military power--pooh-poohed by postmodern Europeans--once again plays a role.
Unfortunately, Europe is ill-equipped to respond to a problem that it never anticipated having to face. The European Union is deeply divided about Russia, with the nations on the frontline fearful and seeking reassurance, while others like France and Germany seek accommodation with Moscow. The fact is, Europe never expected to face this kind of challenge at the end of history. This great 21st-century entity, the EU, now confronts 19th-century power, and Europe's postmodern tools of foreign policy were not designed to address more traditional geopolitical challenges. There is a real question as to whether Europe is institutionally or temperamentally able to play the kind of geopolitical games in Russia's near-abroad that Russia is willing to play.
There is some question about the United States, as well. At least some portion of American elite opinion has shifted from post-Cold War complacency, from the conviction that the world was naturally moving toward greater harmony, to despair and resignation and the belief that the United States and the world's democracies are powerless to meet the challenge of the rising great powers. Fukuyama and others counsel accommodation to Russian ambitions, on the grounds that there is now no choice. It is the post-American world. Having failed to imagine that the return of great power autocracies was possible, they now argue there is nothing to be done and the wise policy is to accommodate to this new global reality. Yet again, however, their imagination fails them. They do not see what accommodation of the great power autocracies may look like. Georgia provides a glimpse of that future.
The world may not be about to embark on a new ideological struggle of the kind that dominated the Cold War. But the new era, rather than being a time of "universal values," will be one of growing tensions and sometimes confrontation between the forces of liberal democracy and the forces of autocracy.
In fact, a global competition is under way. According to Russia's foreign minister, "For the first time in many years, a real competitive environment has emerged on the market of ideas" between different "value systems and development models." And the good news, from the Russian point of view, is that "the West is losing its monopoly on the globalization process." Today when Russians speak of a multipolar world, they are not only talking about the redistribution of power. It is also the competition of value systems and ideas that will provide "the foundation for a multipolar world order."
International order does not rest on ideas and institutions alone. It is shaped by configurations of power. The spread of democracy in the last two decades of the 20th century was not merely the unfolding of certain ineluctable processes of economic and political development. The global shift toward liberal democracy coincided with the historical shift in the balance of power toward those nations and peoples who favored the liberal democratic idea, a shift that began with the triumph of the democratic powers over fascism in World War II and that was followed by a second triumph of the democracies over communism in the Cold War. The liberal international order that emerged after these two victories reflected the new overwhelming global balance in favor of liberal forces. But those victories were not inevitable, and they need not be lasting. Today, the reemergence of the great autocratic powers, along with the reactionary forces of Islamic radicalism, has weakened that order and threatens to weaken it further in the years and decades to come.
Does the United States have the strength and ability to lead the democracies again in strengthening and advancing a liberal democratic international order? Despite all the recent noise about America's relative decline, the answer is most assuredly yes. If it is true, as some claim, that the United States over the past decade suffered from excessive confidence in its power to shape the world, the pendulum has now swung too far in the opposite direction.
The apparent failure in Iraq convinced many people that the United States was weak, hated, and in a state of decline. Nor has anyone bothered to adjust that judgment now that the United States appears to be winning in Iraq. Yet by any of the usual measures of power, the United States is as strong today, even in relative terms, as it was in 2000. It remains the sole superpower, even as the other great powers get back on their feet. The military power of China and Russia has increased over the past decade, but American military power has increased more. America's share of the global economy has remained steady, 27 percent of global GDP in 2000 and 26 percent today. So where is the relative decline? So long as the United States remains at the center of the international economy, the predominant military power, and the leading apostle of the world's most popular political philosophy; so long as the American public continues to support American predominance, as it has consistently for six decades; and so long as potential challengers inspire more fear than sympathy among their neighbors, the structure of the international system should remain as the Chinese describe it: "one superpower and many great powers."
If American predominance is unlikely to fade any time soon, moreover, it is partly because much of the world does not really want it to. Despite the opinion polls, America's relations with both old and new allies have actually strengthened in recent years. Despite predictions that other powers would begin to join together in an effort to balance against the rogue superpower, especially after the Iraq war, the trend has gone in the opposite direction. The rise of the great power autocracies has been gradually pushing the great power democracies back in the direction of the United States. Russia's invasion of Georgia will accelerate this trend, but it was already underway, even if masked by the international uproar over the Iraq war.
On balance, traditional allies of the United States in East Asia and in Europe, while their publics may be more anti-American than in the past, are nevertheless pursuing policies that reflect more concern about the powerful, autocratic states in their midst than about the United States. The most remarkable change has occurred in India, a former ally of Moscow which today sees good relations with the United States as essential to achieving its broader strategic and economic goals, among them balancing China's rising power. Japanese leaders came to a similar conclusion a decade ago. In Europe there is also an unmistakable trend toward closer strategic relations with the United States, a trend that will be accelerated by Russian actions. A few years ago, Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac flirted with drawing closer to Russia as a way of counterbalancing American power. But lately France, Germany, and the rest of Europe have been moving in the other direction. This is not out of renewed affection for the United States. It is a response to changing international circumstances and to lessons learned from the past. The Chirac-Schröder attempt to make Europe a counterweight to American power failed in part because the European Union's newest members from Central and Eastern Europe fear a resurgent Russia and insist on close strategic ties with Washington. That was true even before Russia invaded Georgia. Now their feeling of dependence on the United States will grow dramatically.
What remains is for the United States to translate this growing concern into concerted action by the world's democracies. This won't be easy, given the strong tendencies, especially in Europe, to seek accommodation with autocratic Russia. But this is nothing new--even during the Cold War, France and Germany sometimes sought to stand somewhere between the United States and the Soviet Union. Over time, France and Germany will have no choice but to join the majority of EU members who once again worry about Moscow's intentions.
So what to do? Instead of figuring out how to accommodate the powerful new autocracies, the United States and the world's other democracies need to begin thinking about how they can protect their interests and advance their principles in a world in which these are once again powerfully challenged. The world's democracies need to show solidarity with one another, and they need to support those trying to pry open a democratic space where it has been closing.
That includes in the great power autocracies themselves. It is easy to look at China and Russia today and believe they are impervious to outside influence. But one should not overlook their fragility and vulnerability. These autocratic regimes may be stronger than they were in the past in terms of wealth and global influence, but they still live in a predominantly liberal era. That means they face an unavoidable problem of legitimacy. Chinese leaders race forward with their economy in fear that any slowing will be their undoing. They fitfully stamp out even the tiniest hints of political opposition because they live in fear of repeating the Soviet collapse and their own near-death experience in 1989. They fear foreign support for any internal political opposition more than they fear foreign invasion. In Russia, Putin strains to obliterate his opponents, even though they appear weak, because he fears that any sign of life in the opposition could bring his regime down.
The world's democracies have an interest in keeping the hopes for democracy alive in Russia and China. The optimists in the early post-Cold War years were not wrong to believe that a liberalizing Russia and China would be better international partners. They were just wrong to believe that this evolution was inevitable. Today, excessive optimism has been replaced by excessive pessimism. Many Europeans insist that outside influences will have no effect on Russia. Yet, looking back on the Cold War, many of these same Europeans believe that the Helsinki Accords of the 1970s had a subtle but eventually profound impact on the evolution of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc. Is Putin's Russia more impervious to such methods than Brezhnev's Soviet Union? Putin himself does not think so, or he wouldn't be so nervous about the democratic states on his borders. Nor do China's rulers, or they wouldn't spend billions policing Internet chat rooms and waging a campaign of repression against the Falun Gong.
Whether or not China and Russia are susceptible to outside influence over time, for the moment their growing power and, in the case of Russia, the willingness to use it, pose a serious challenge that needs to be met with the same level-headed determination as previous such challenges. If Moscow is now bent on restoring its hegemony over its near neighbors, the United States and its European allies must provide those neighbors with support and protection. If China continues to expand its military capabilities, the United States must reassure China's neighbors of its own commitment to Asian security.
The future is not determined. It is up for grabs. The international order in the coming decades will be shaped by those who have the power and the collective will to shape it. The great fallacy of our era has been the belief that a liberal and democratic international order would come about by the triumph of ideas alone or by the natural unfolding of human progress. Many believe the Cold War ended the way it did simply because the better worldview triumphed, as it had to, and that the international order that exists today is but the next stage in humanity's forward march from strife and aggression toward a peaceful and prosperous coexistence. They forget the many battles fought, both strategic and ideological, that produced that remarkable triumph.
The illusion is just true enough to be dangerous. Of course there is strength in the liberal democratic idea and in the free market. But progress toward these ideals has never been inevitable. It is contingent on events and the actions of nations and peoples--battles won or lost, social movements successful or crushed, economic practices implemented or discarded.
After the Second World War, another moment in history when hopes for a new kind of international order were rampant, Hans Morgenthau warned idealists against imagining that at some point "the final curtain would fall and the game of power politics would no longer be played." The struggle continued then, and it continues today. Six decades ago American leaders believed the United States had the ability and responsibility to use its power to prevent a slide back to the circumstances that had produced two world wars and innumerable national calamities. Reinhold Niebuhr, who always warned against Americans' ambitions and excessive faith in their own power, also believed, with a faith and ambition of his own, that "the world problem cannot be solved if America does not accept its full share of responsibility in solving it." Today the United States shares that responsibility with the rest of the democratic world, which is infinitely stronger than it was when World War II ended. The only question is whether the democratic world will once again rise to the challenge.
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 04:15
SOURCE: Washington Times / Frontpagemag.com (8-18-08)
Russia invades Georgia. China jails dissidents. China and India pollute at levels previously unimaginable. Gulf monarchies make trillions from jacked-up oil prices. Islamic terrorists keep car bombing.
Meanwhile, Europe offers moral lectures, while Japan and South Korea shrug and watch - all in a globalized world that tunes into the Olympics each night from Beijing.
"Citizens of the world" were supposed to share, in relative harmony, our new "Planet Earth," which was to have followed from an interconnected system of free trade, instantaneous electronic communications, civilized diplomacy and shared consumer capitalism. But was that ever quite true?
In reality, to the extent globalism worked, it followed from three unspoken assumptions:
(1) The U.S. economy would keep importing goods from abroad to drive international economic growth.
(2) The U.S. military would keep the sea lanes open, and trade and travel protected. After the past destruction of fascism and global communism, the Americans, as global sheriff, would continue to deal with the occasional menace like a Moammar Gadhafi, Slobodan Milosevic, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il or the Taliban.
(3) America would ignore ankle-biting allies and remain engaged with the world - like a good, nurturing mom who at times must put up with the petulance of dependent teenagers.
But there have been a number of indications recently that globalization may soon lose its American parent, who is tiring, both materially and psychologically.
The United States may be the most free, stable and meritocratic nation in the world, but its resources and patience are not unlimited. Currently, it pays more than a half trillion dollars per year to import $115-a-barrel oil that is often pumped at a cost of about $5.
The Chinese, Japanese and Europeans hold trillions of dollars in U.S. bonds - the result of massive trade deficits. The American dollar recently has been at historic lows. We are piling up staggering national debt. More than 12 million live here illegally and freely transfer more than $50 billion annually to Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.
Our military, after deposing Milosevic, the Taliban and Saddam, is tired. And Americans are increasingly becoming more sensitive to the cheap criticism of global moralists.
But as the United States turns ever so slightly inward, the new globalized world will revert to a far poorer - and more dangerous - place.
Liberals like presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama speak out against new free trade agreements and want existing accords like North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) readjusted.
More and more Americans are furious at the costs of illegal immigration - and are moving to stop it. Foreign remittances that help prop up Mexico and Latin America are threatened by any change in America's immigration attitude.
Meanwhile, the hypocrisy becomes harder to take. After all, it is easy for self-appointed global moralists to complain that terrorists don't enjoy Miranda rights at Guantanamo, but it would be hard to do much about the Russian military invading Georgia's democracy and bombing its cities.
Al Gore crisscrosses the country, pontificating about Americans' carbon footprints. But he could do far better to fly to China to convince them not to open 500 new coal-burning power plants.
It has been chic to chant "No blood for oil" about Iraq's petroleum - petroleum that, in fact, is now administered by a constitutional republic. But such sloganeering would be better directed at China's sweetheart oil deals with Sudan that enable the mass murdering in Darfur.
Due to climbing prices and high government taxes, gasoline consumption is declining in the West, but its use is rising in other places, where it is either untaxed or subsidized.
So, what a richer but more critical world has forgotten is that America largely was the model, not the villain - and that postwar globalization was always a form of engaged Americanization that enriched and protected billions.
Yet globalization, in all its manifestations, will run out of steam the moment we tire of fueling it, as the world returns instead to the mindset of the 1930s - with protectionist tariffs; weak, disarmed democracies; an isolationist America; predatory dictatorships; and a demoralized gloom-and-doom Western elite.
If America adopts the protectionist trade policies of Japan or China, global profits plummet. If our armed forces follow the European lead of demilitarization and inaction, rogue states advance. If we treat the environment as do China and India, the world quickly becomes a lost cause.
If we flee Iraq and call off the war on terror, Islamic jihadists will regroup, not disband. And when the Russians attack the next democracy, they won't listen to the United Nations, the European Union or Michael Moore.
Brace yourself -we may be on our way back to an old world, where the strong do as they will, and the weak suffer as they must.
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 04:12
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (8-17-08)
Americans find it easy to look around the world and see figures like Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden who remind them of Adolf Hitler. But do we remember Hitler's rise, and the rise of the Third Reich, in the right way?
Germany, unlike Iraq, had been a leading democracy before Hitler, and the first lesson to take from German history is that democracies can decline and fall. Bearing that lesson in mind, we should be ever vigilant about the state of our own democracy. For we, like Germans and others, have shown ourselves vulnerable to the politics of terror.
In Germany, the arson of the parliament building, the Reichstag, in 1933 opened the door for Hitler to begin domestic repression and to justify war against enemies. Ponder that when considering our leadership's response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
President George W. Bush claimed that a single act had brought history to an end, creating a situation that required entirely new rules. This assertion was embraced by members of both parties, as well as by much of the news media and the public. But history never ends, and those who promise new beginnings tend to lead us into old traps.
The history of the 20th Century is full of bad policy choices made in reaction to terrorism. All too often, leaders chose to blame the wrong people and attack the wrong target. Hitler is but one example. Austria invaded Serbia in 1914 in response to an assassination planned by a conspiracy, thus bringing about the first World War. Stalin blamed his enemies for a political assassination in 1934, and used imagined further plots to justify killing hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens. More recently, Russian leaders have used the threat of Chechen terrorism to stifle Russian democracy.
Terror and overreaction are the very stuff of history. History did not end with the burning of the World Trade Center, any more than it ended with the Reichstag fire.
Instead, when leaders made poor or cynical choices, new eras of lawlessness began. The Nazi regime had to dismantle existing law and overcome the principle that law governed the state. A first step was the definition of the concentration camps on German soil as extraterritorial, outside the reach of German and international law.
Here in the United States, the highest officers of the law made the same argument about the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after 9/11.
The German regime declared in launching World War II that international law was not really law at all—a position very similar to that enunciated by lawyers in the Justice Department.
The Germany of the 1930s, like the United States now, declined to apply the Geneva Conventions to all prisoners of war. The justification was the same as the American one for the same policy: Some individuals were not truly soldiers but enemy combatants who did not obey the rules of war...
...Remembering the past is not a matter of condemning others while imagining our own virtues and exempting ourselves from comparisons. It is about bearing in mind the fragility of good government and enforcing the rule of law precisely at those times when this seems most difficult.
Unfortunately, we are likely to be tested again.
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008 - 03:29
SOURCE: Telegraph (8-17-08)
John le Carré has a new book out in a month's time, and you have to admire the old fox's timing.
It is almost 20 years since the end of the Cold War, the conflict that inspired The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and yet in the last week half-forgotten memories of Brezhnev, Andropov and Mutually Assured Destruction have been flooding back with a vengeance.
Russian tanks rumbling through the mountains of Georgia, Chinese students cheering in eerie unison - did the Cold War really end, or did we just imagine it?
It seems callous to say it after a week that has seen a nasty little war rip the Caucasus apart, but people have been pining for the Cold War for a while.
"God, I miss the Cold War," said Judi Dench's imperious M in the last Bond film. Oddly, that sentiment puts her in exactly the same boat as John Updike's fictional American everyman Rabbit Angstrom, who on his last appearance remarked that "it gave you a reason to get up in the morning."
And talking of fictional American everymen, even George W Bush misses the Cold War. "When I was coming up, with what was a dangerous world, we knew exactly who they were," he opined wistfully a few years ago. "It was us versus them, and it was clear who the them were."
Since the Cold War was above all a citizen's conflict, we all have a war story to tell...
Posted on: Sunday, August 17, 2008 - 05:54
SOURCE: Seattle PI (8-15-08)
Many people contend Seattle's new law requiring a 20-cent per bag fee is frivolous and exemplifies government's tendency to curtail individual freedom. But far from being frivolous, this innovative law will decrease the annual production of bags by 184 million - and the resulting 4,000-ton reduction in greenhouse gases will be multiplied many times over if Seattle's model is replicated widely.
Rather than curtailing freedom, this kind of environmental regulation is based on longstanding precedent allowing government to prevent nuisances in order to protect public health and safety. The bag law does not conflict with any individual freedom delineated in the U.S. Constitution.
A hundred years ago, many people complained about government campaigns to curb the spread of tuberculosis by banning spitting in streetcars. Global warming is a more abstract but not a less dangerous threat than tuberculosis. We are a freer people because of the lowered incidence of tuberculosis, and if we lessen the severity of global warming, future generations will be freer as a result. And by acting now, we can preclude the need for far more drastic actions down the line.
We no longer live in a frontier society containing seemingly limitless resources to exploit for individual gain. Rather, ours is an urbanized and overpopulated world in which one person's behavior often affects others, necessitating community-oriented approaches to complex problems if we want to maintain our freedom and our ability to attain a decent quality of life.
Voluntary action is great, but it has proved insufficient to address the scale of the global warming problem. We severely hamper our ability to deal with environmental and social problems if we take government action off the table. We value our freedom, but all too often we ignore the Founders' admonition that with freedom comes obligations. If we abuse our freedom by failing to act as responsible stewards of our nation's resources, by failing to direct our government to provide sensible ground rules for living together, we will ruin things for future generations.
Right-wing presidents' actions to curb "big government" regulations have resulted in deadly mining disasters to Hurricane Katrina because the Bush administration associated its agenda with federal interference. In such instances, government action would have been warranted.
It's ironic that while right-wing ideology concerning government's threat to freedom has resulted in deadly inaction, at the same time right-wing officials have directed government to take forceful actions that have threatened freedom - for example, by abrogating habeas corpus, inflicting torture, spying on citizens without warrant, intimidating union-organizing efforts and declaring that the president possesses the arbitrary power to change legislation by issuing signing statements.
Given this grim context, people trivialize the struggle between freedom and oppression when they contend that modest regulations, such as the bag law, threaten freedom. We view the world through ideological rather than pragmatic lenses when we see every regulatory action as a threat to freedom. What would the families of miners who died due to lax regulation say to those who mockingly equate government regulations with a "nanny state"?
In some instances government oppresses, but in other instances government provides the foundation for enhancing individual freedom and fulfillment, and provides security against very real dangers. It would be more useful to judge each policy on its own merits, asking whether a government proposal actually poses a threat to liberty or is instead more simply an inconvenience.
Our bag law, though inconvenient, will promote the common good, and for this we can justly be proud.
Posted on: Friday, August 15, 2008 - 12:14
SOURCE: WSJ (8-15-08)
I bet him that day that Iraq would be a mess in five years' time, a mess being defined as "you'll know it when you see it." I mentioned this bet to Bret Stephens three years later. He'd reviewed my book, "America at the Crossroads" in this newspaper, accusing me, among other things, of turning against the war only when public opinion had shifted. Mr. Stephens wanted to take the wager himself. And as he wrote in his column earlier this month, I conceded that he'd won by the narrow terms of the wager.
Iraq was a mess by any definition from the fall of 2003 to the beginning of this year. It is entirely possible that it will return to being a mess in the coming months and years. But I paid $100 to Mr. Stephens because a tremendous amount of progress has been made stabilizing Iraq as a result of President Bush's surge -- which has allowed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to establish control over Baghdad and much of southern Iraq.
Though Iraq remains a very troubled country, virtually all of the trend lines -- Iraqi and U.S. casualties, government provision of basic services, and the ability of Iraqi forces to provide order -- have been moving in a positive direction for the past year.
What I absolutely did not concede, however, was the fact that this change meant that the war itself was worth it. By invading Iraq in the manner it did, the U.S. exacerbated all of the threats it faced prior to 2003. Recruitment into terrorist cells shot up all over the world. North Korea and Iran accelerated their development of nuclear weapons.
Indeed, Iran has emerged as the dominant regional power in the Persian Gulf once the U.S. removed its major rival from the scene and put its Shiite clients into power in Baghdad. While everyone is better off without Saddam Hussein around, the cost was hugely disproportionate. If you don't believe this, ask yourself whether Congress would ever have voted to authorize the war in 2002 if it knew there was no WMD, or that there would be trillion-dollar budget outlays, or that there would be 30,000 dead and wounded after five years of bitter struggle.
There are deeper, intangible costs. The Bush administration this week rebuked Russia for its disproportionate military intervention in Georgia; many rightly suspect Moscow's real goal is regime change of the pro-Western, democratic government in Tbilisi. But who set the most recent precedent for a big power intervening to change a regime it didn't like, without the sanction of the U.N. Security Council or any other legitimating international body?
Of course, there is no moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Mikheil Saakashvili's Georgia. But the U.S. is scarcely in a position today to rally opposition to Russia on the basis of international law and norms constraining the strong from using force against the weak....
...Mr. Obama and other long-time opponents of the Iraq war are strongly disinclined to admit anything is going well in Iraq. Psychologically and politically, this is understandable: The smallest concession induces supporters of the war to argue that they were right all along, as Mr. Stephens did.
But Mr. Obama should fervently hope that Iraq is not a mess if and when he takes office, since only a stable Iraq will allow him to prudently fulfill the withdrawal timetable he has promised. The failure to acknowledge a bad reality back in 2003 should not lead us to make the opposite mistake five years later.
Posted on: Friday, August 15, 2008 - 12:01
SOURCE: National Review (8-13-08)
The Home Front
The long-suffering Russian people resent the loss of global influence and empire, but not necessarily the Soviet Union and its gulags that once ensured such stature. The invasion restores a sense of Russian nationalism and power to its populace without the stink of Stalinism, and is indeed cloaked as a sort of humanitarian intervention on behalf of beleaguered Ossetians.
There will be no Russian demonstrations about an “illegal war,” much less nonsense about “blood for oil,” but instead rejoicing at the payback of an uppity former province that felt its Western credentials somehow trumped Russian tanks. How ironic that the Western heartthrob, the old Marxist Mikhail Gorbachev, is now both lamenting Western encouragement of Georgian “aggression,” while simultaneously gloating over the return of Russian military daring.
Russia’s only worry is the United States, which currently has a lame-duck president with low approval ratings, and is exhausted after Afghanistan and Iraq. But more importantly, America’s attention is preoccupied with a presidential race, in which “world citizen” Barack Obama has mesmerized Europe as the presumptive new president and soon-to-be disciple of European soft power.
Better yet for Russia, instead of speaking with one voice, America is all over the map with three reactions from Bush, McCain, and Obama — all of them mutually contradictory, at least initially. Meanwhile, the world’s televisions are turned toward the Olympics in Beijing. The autocratic Chinese, busy jailing reporters and dissidents, are not about to say an unkind word about Russian intervention. If anything, the pageantry at their grandiose stadiums provides welcome distractions for those embarrassed over the ease with which Russia smothered Georgia.
Most importantly, Putin and Medvedev have called the West’s bluff. We are sort of stuck in a time-warp of the 1990s, seemingly eons ago in which a once-earnest weak post-Soviet Russia sought Western economic help and political mentoring. But those days are long gone, and diplomacy hasn’t caught up with the new realities. Russia is flush with billions. It serves as a rallying point and arms supplier to thugs the world over that want leverage in their anti-Western agendas. For the last five years, its foreign policy can be reduced to “Whatever the United States is for, we are against.”
The geopolitical message is clear to both the West and the former Soviet Republics: don’t consider NATO membership (i.e., do the Georgians really think that, should they have been NATO members, any succor would have been forthcoming?).
Together with the dismal NATO performance in Afghanistan, the Georgian incursion reveals the weakness of the Atlantic Alliance. The tragic irony is unmistakable. NATO was given a gift in not having made Georgia a member, since otherwise an empty ritual of evoking Article V’s promise of mutual assistance in time of war would have effectively destroyed the Potemkin alliance.
The new reality is that a nuclear, cash-rich, and energy-blessed Russia doesn’t really worry too much whether its long-term future is bleak, given problems with Muslim minorities, poor life-expectancy rates, and a declining population. Instead, in the here and now, it has a window of opportunity to reclaim prestige and weaken its adversaries. So why hesitate?
Indeed, tired of European lectures, the Russians are now telling the world that soft power is, well, soft. Moscow doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, the European Union, the World Court at the Hague, or any finger-pointing moralist from Geneva or London. Did anyone in Paris miss any sleep over the rubble of Grozny?
More likely, Putin & Co. figure that any popular rhetoric about justice will be trumped by European governments’ concern for energy. With just a few tanks and bombs, in one fell swoop, Russia has cowed its former republics, made them think twice about joining the West, and stopped NATO and maybe EU expansion in their tracks. After all, who wants to die for Tbilisi?
Russia does not need a global force-projection capacity; it has sufficient power to muscle its neighbors and thereby humiliate not merely its enemies, but their entire moral pretensions as well.
Apologists in the West
The Russians have sized up the moral bankruptcy of the Western Left. They know that half-a-million Europeans would turn out to damn their patron the United States for removing a dictator and fostering democracy, but not more than a half-dozen would do the same to criticize their long-time enemy from bombing a constitutional state...
Posted on: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - 20:45
SOURCE: NYT (8-11-08)
WILCO VAN ROOIJEN, a Dutch mountain climber, managed to survive the debacle this week that took the lives of 11 others in Pakistan on K2, the world’s second-highest peak. Describing the chaotic events that ensued when a pinnacle of ice collapsed and swept away fixed ropes that climbers from several expeditions high on the mountain had counted on to aid their descent from the summit, Mr. van Rooijen lamented: “Everybody was fighting for himself, and I still do not understand why everybody were leaving each other.”
Himalayan mountaineering is an inherently dangerous pastime, and climbers are always at risk from the unexpected. But mountaineering has become more dangerous in recent decades as the traditional expeditionary culture of the early- and mid-20th century, which had emphasized mutual responsibility and common endeavor, gave way to an ethos stressing individualism and self-preservation.
The contrast between the two eras is vividly illustrated by the experience of an earlier expedition that ran into peril on K2. Fifty-five years ago this month, Dr. Charles S. Houston, America’s premier Himalayan mountaineer, led a team of seven Americans and one British climber attempting a first ascent on K2. They made steady progress up the mountain, and by Aug. 1 all eight climbers had reached a campsite at 25,300 feet. From there, given good weather, they expected to reach the 28,251 foot summit in two days...
...Several of the climbers, including Dr. Houston, were injured. They could go no farther that day. They would have to work their way over to Camp VII and set up the two tents they were carrying to get shelter for the night if they were to survive, and they could not do it with Gilkey in tow. For the moment, they left him anchored to the slope with ropes and ice axs, about 150 feet west of the campsite. Another climber, Bob Craig, explained to Gilkey, who was sedated but conscious, that they were leaving him for a short time but would return. “Yes, I’ll be fine,” Gilkey told Mr. Craig, “I’m O.K.”
They got their tents up. In the distance, they heard through the howling wind what sounded like a shout from Gilkey. Then there was silence. In a few minutes, three of the climbers returned to check on their injured teammate. To their horror, they saw that the gulley was now empty. Gilkey was 27 years old when he disappeared; he had completed his doctoral thesis in geology at Columbia University on the day he departed for K2. In the years that followed, the others would wonder whether he had been swept away by an avalanche, or caused his own death, somehow releasing the ropes that held him in place in an act of self-sacrifice that allowed the rest of them to live.
It took the survivors five more days to fight their way off the mountain. Finally on Aug. 15, they reached base camp. They built a 10-foot high cairn as a memorial for Gilkey on a rocky point near the confluence of the Savoia and Godwin-Austen Glaciers. It stands there to this day.
The K2 expedition became legend among mountaineers, its members honored for the gallantry of their conduct under extreme conditions. As Nicholas Clinch, a rising American climber, would write a few years later, the “finest moment in the history of American mountaineering was the Homeric retreat of Dr. Houston’s party of K2 in 1953.”
Houston himself summed up the highest ideals of expeditionary culture when he wrote of his K2 comrades: “We entered the mountains as strangers, but we left as brothers.” Today in contrast, as was evident last week on K2, climbers enter the mountains as strangers and tend to leave the same way.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - 10:33