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: Truthdig.com (11-29-08)
The times are unprecedented. Not since 1861 have we watched the last gasps of an outgoing administration with such anxiety. Then the nation was concerned with drift and inertia; now we watch for further ideological mischief.
Republicans were aghast in 2001 to discover that President Bill Clinton’s staff allegedly had dropped the “W” from White House computer keyboards. Frat house stuff. George W. Bush has left a legacy significantly more troubling, measured by the breakdown of normal government processes, as well as of constitutional guarantees and practices. We watch last-minute rushes to implement new administrative rules, to transform and burrow political appointees into tenured civil servants, to further weaken environmental safeguards, to shift public funds to a desired end, and to lay down policy declarations to leave the current administration’s successors bound or embarrassed until they are undone.
Think, for example, about the fate of official records. Will they be removed or shredded to further obscure this administration’s doings? Nourished on secrecy from its inception, and carefully concealing many of its activities through the years, the Bush administration may be determined to make one last play for secrecy by taking its records and storing them in a Dallas warehouse, pending a Bush library. In these waning weeks, a group of us is locked in legal combat with Vice President Dick Cheney and his corps of unseen advisers, seeking an injunction to prevent them from leaving office with their e-mail records. [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, et al., v. Richard B. Cheney, et al, Civil Action No. 08-1548, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia]. Cheney and his team are resisting at every turn, following a strategy of running out the clock and thereby implicitly admitting their intention to destroy or take their records.
If Barack Obama as president would withdraw Bush’s infamous Executive Order 13233, which effectively repealed the Presidential Records Act of 1978, Bush and Cheney still can expect to seal their papers for at least 12 years. If Richard Nixon is their model, count on at least 20.
The president-elect’s Web site promises he will reverse Executive Order 13233 nullifying the timely, lawful release of presidential records. John Podesta, who heads the transition team, acknowledged that, as president, Obama will, “when appropriate,” reverse that order. Some will remember John F. Kennedy’s famous “stroke of the pen” promise for a federal fair housing ordinance in 1960—unfortunately, Kennedy’s pen paralysis resulted in an 18-month delay.
Bush’s order subverts the 1978 law’s provisions for public access to presidential records. It requires the Archivist of the United States to withhold materials if a former president asserts executive privilege, even if the incumbent president disagrees. Put another way, any assertions of privilege for the papers of Bush and his father must be honored by the incumbent president. Maybe now this is clearer.
Bush’s order also stands the right of access on its head. Now, the burden is on the researcher to show a “demonstrable, specific need.” In short, researchers retain a very expensive right to litigate. In 1988, the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia emphatically rejected President Ronald Reagan’s order directing the Archives to accept any claims advanced by former President Nixon to block release of his presidential materials, repudiating Reagan’s contention that the Archivist might legally and independently support a former president. The Bush order is no different, for it requires the Archivist to honor the former president’s claims even when the incumbent disagrees with them. Such a course constitutes nothing less than the incumbent’s abdication of his obligation of fidelity to the law.
Bush’s action provides no end to the mutual back-scratching for that fellowship of ex-presidents. If the incumbent and former president agree to block release, the president and his Department of Justice must defend the assertion of privilege, thus saving his predecessor potentially significant legal fees. Richard Nixon wrote endless volumes of memoirs to support his lawyer habit.
Make no mistake: the Bush order broke new ground. Allowing a former president’s family or personal representative to assert privilege is novel, if not bizarre. It delegates and brazenly enlarges an ever-more luxuriant executive privilege upon former presidents—something the Bush administration has been very adept at doing for itself. The shadowy doctrine of executive privilege has been elevated to a personal right, extending a lifetime, and even beyond. You can take it with you, if Bush has his way.
The order is beyond audacious. Incumbent presidents decide and judge the nature of national security, not former presidents. If the incumbent sees no national security issue at stake, why should a former president, ever anxious to preserve and enhance his reputation, make that determination?
Bush’s order already has freed his father from scholarly scrutiny, now some four years overdue. Only the timely and gracious intervention of Nancy Reagan prevented President Bush from sealing the Reagan papers. Those documents might tell us more about George H. W. Bush’s role in the Iran-Contra affair, other than having to go to the bathroom, or something like that, when the sordid business was discussed in the National Security Council’s proceedings.
Repudiating Executive Order 13233 is essential. This is not a partisan matter; even the Republican-controlled Congress favored repeal in 2004, but Tom DeLay effectively buried it for Bush, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., similarly blocked action in the Senate last year. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind.—of all people—led the move to repeal; apparently he believed this was the only way he could get at the Clinton papers.
The prospects of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney proclaiming executive privilege long after they fade from their official duties is staggering. Their penchant for secrecy undoubtedly would insure significant gaps in any attempts to fathom the history of their deeds and actions. President-elect Obama has given us a promise. It must be delivered.
Posted on: Sunday, November 30, 2008 - 23:55
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (11-30-08)
Most Indian observers, however, were critical in 2001 and after of how exactly the Bush administration (by which we apparently mainly mean Dick Cheney) responded to September 11. They were right, and they would do well to remember their own critique at this fateful moment.
What where the major mistakes of the United States government, and how might India avoid repeating them?
1) Remember asymmetry
The Bush administration was convinced that 9/11 could not have been the work of a small, independent terrorist organization. They insisted that Iraq must somehow have been behind it. States are used to dealing with other states, and military and intelligence agencies are fixated on state rivals. But Bush and Cheney were wrong. We have ente red an era of asymmetrical terrorism threats, in which relatively small groups can inflict substantial damage.
The Bush administration clung to its conviction of an Iraq-al-Qaeda operational cooperation despite the excellent evidence, which the FBI and CIA quickly uncovered, that the money had all come via the UAE from Paksitan and Afghanistan. There was never any money trail back to the Iraqi government.
Many Indian officials and much of the Indian public is falling into the Cheney fallacy. It is being argued that the terrorists fought as trained guerrillas, and implied that only a state (i.e. Pakistan) could have given them that sort of training.
But to the extent that the terrorists were professional fighters, they could have come by their training in many ways. Some might have been ex-military in Britain or Pakistan. Or they might have interned in some training camp somewhere. Some could have fought as vigilantes in Afghanistan or Iraq. They need n't be state-backed.
Keep your eye on the ball.
The Bush administration took its eye off al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and instead put most of its resources into confronting Iraq. But Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Eventually this American fickleness allowed both al-Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup.
Likewise, India should not allow itself to be distracted by implausible conspiracy theories about high Pakistani officials wanting to destroy the oberoi Hotel in Mumbai. (Does that even make any sense?) Focusing on a conventional state threat alone will leave the country unprepared to meet further asymmetrical, guerrilla-style attacks.
Avoid Easy Bigotry about National Character
Many Americans decided after 9/11 that since 13 of the hijackers were Saudi Wahhabis, there is something evil about Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia itself was attacked repeatedly by al-Qaeda in 2003-2006 and waged a ma jor national struggle against it. You can't tar a whole people with the brush of a few nationals that turn to terrorism.
Worse, a whole industry of Islamphobia grew up, with dedicated television programs (0'Reilly, Glen Beck), specialized sermonizers, and political hatchetmen (Giuliani). Persons born in the Middle East or Pakistan were systematically harassed at airports. And the stigmatization of Muslim Americans and Arab Americans was used as a wedge to attack liberals and leftists, as well, however illogical the juxtaposition may seem.
There is a danger in India as we speak of mob action against Muslims, which will ineluctably drag the country into communal violence. The terrorists that attacked Mumbai were not Muslims in any meaningful sense of the word. They were cultists. Some of them brought stocks of alcohol for the siege they knew they would provoke. They were not pious.
They killed and wounded Muslims along with other kinds of Indians.
Muslims in general must not be punished for the actions of a handful of unbalanced fanatics. Down that road lies the end of civilization. It should be remembered that Hindu extremists have killed 100 Christians in eastern India in recent weeks. But that would be no excuse for a Christian crusade against Hindus or Hinduism.
Likewise, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as a Sikh, will remember the dark days when PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards after she had sent the Indian security forces into the Golden Temple, and the mob attacks on Sikhs in Delhi that took place in the aftermath. Blaming all Sikhs for the actions of a few was wrong then. It would be wrong now if applied to Muslims.
Address Security Flaws, but Keep Civil Liberties Strong
The 9/11 hijackings exploited three simple flaws in airline security of a procedural sort. Cockpit doors were not though to need strengthening. It was assumed that hijackers could not fly planes. And no one expected hijackers to kill themselves. Once those assumptions are no longer made, security is already much better. Likewise, the Mumbai terrorists exploited flaws in coastal, urban and hotel security, which need to be addressed.
But Bush and Cheney hardly contented themselves with counter-terrorism measures. They dropped a thousand-page "p.a.t.r.i.o.t. act" on Congress one night and insisted they vote on it the next day. They created outlaw spaces like Guantanamo and engaged in torture (or encouraged allies to torture for them). They railroaded innocent people. They deeply damaged American democracy.
India's own democracy has all along been fragile. I actually travelled in India in summer of 1976 when Indira Gandhi had declared "Emergency," i.e., had suspended civil liberties and democracy (the only such period in Indian history since 1947). India's leadership must not allow a handful of terrorists to push the country into a nother Emergency. It is not always possible for lapsed democracies to recover their liberties once they are undermined.
The Bush administration fought two major wars in the aftermath of 9/11 but never able to kill or capture the top al-Qaeda leadership. Conventional warfare did not actually destroy the Taliban, who later experienced a resurgence. The attack on Iraq destabilized the eastern stretches of the Middle East, which will be fragile and will face the threat of further wars for some time to come.
War with Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks would be a huge error. President Asaf Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani certainly did not have anything to do with those attacks. Indeed, the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott, which was intended to kill them, was done by exactly the same sort of people as attacked Mumbai. Nor was Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kiyani involved. Is it possible that a military cell under Gen. Pervez Musharraf trained Lashkar-e Tayiba terrorists for attacks in Kashmir, and then some of the LET went rogue and decided to hit Mumbai instead? Yes. But to interpret such a thing as a Pakistan government operation would be incorrect.
With a new civilian government, headed by politicians who have themselves suffered from Muslim extremism and terrorism, Pakistan could be an increasingly important security partner for India. Allowing past enmities to derail these potentialities for detente would be most unwise.
Don't Swing to the Right
The American public, traumatized by 9/11 and misled by propaganda from corporate media, swung right. Instead of rebuking Bush and Cheney for their sins against the Republic, for their illegal war on Iraq, for their gutting of the Bill of Rights, for their Orwellian techniques of governance, the public gave them another 4 years in 2004. This Himalayan error of judgment allowed Bush and Cheney to go on, like giant ter mites, undermining the economic and legal foundations of American values and prosperity.
The fundamentalist, rightwing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which has extensive links with Hindu extremist groups, is already attacking the secular, left-of-center Congress Party for allegedly being soft on Muslim terrorism. The BJP almost dragged India into a nuclear war with Pakistan in 2002, and it seeded RSS extremists in the civil bureaucracy, and for the Indian public to return it to power now would risk further geopolitical and domestic tensions.
India may well become a global superpower during the coming century. The choices it makes now on how it will deal with this threat of terrorism will help determine what kind of country it will be, and what kind of globalimpact it will have. While it may be hypocritical of an American to hope that New Delhi deals with its crisis better than we did, it bespeaks my confidence in the country that I believe it can.
Posted on: Sunday, November 30, 2008 - 23:09
SOURCE: Tabsir (11-29-08)
Must every country have its 9/11 moment and must these tragedies continue to be the work of extremists who attack and kill as if they were commanded by Allah? This is a rhetorical question, of course. The latest events in Mumbai have trumped the economic slump in the news. Once again billowing smoke from a famous building clouds the sky; again Islam is tainted as the religion that fosters terrorists. And the blame game begins anew.
The sheer audacity of the attack, more like a Rambo commando raid than the hijacking scenario that felled the Twin Towers, is staggering. How could such landmarks have been targeted in tandem? Where was the security? These are the questions inevitably asked after the fact. As reported in Al-Jazeera, here is the unfolding of the drama:
Following are the key events in the crisis (all times are in Mumbai local time):
Wednesday 26, 2008:
Shooting starts at Chhatrapati Shivaji rail station, one of the world’s busiest, handling thousands of passengers each day.
Within the hour other attacks occur at four other locations: the Nariman House, home of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch; Leopold’s restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners; the Trident-Oberoi hotel, a five-star landmark; the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, a landmark of Mumbai since 1903.
Shooting breaks out in south Mumbai, quickly followed by attacks near the Bombay Municipal Corporation, the civic body that governs Mumbai, and the Cama hospital and the GT hospital in the city centre.
Just after midnight, armed men attack the Vidhan Sabha, the legislative assembly, the lower house of state legislature in India.
A large fire breaks out at the Taj Palace hotel and an hour later authorities begin escorting people out of the hotel.
Indian security forces are brought in to try to regain control of the Taj hotel and the Oberoi hotel.
Members of the National Security Guard start doing room-to-room searches at the Taj hotel and within the hour surround the Nariman House. Local media show people being rescued from the Oberoi hotel.
A little-known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen claims responsibility for the attacks.
Indian troops continue to battle armed men in the city.
Firing and explosions are reported from both the Taj Mahal and Trident-Oberoi hotels.
Officers kill two gunmen inside the Trident-Oberoi hotel and ended the attack.
Dozens of people are evacuated from the Trident-Oberoi. A bus carrying the rescued guests was seen leaving the scene and police are said to have control of the building.
Meanwhile explosions and gunfire continue intermittently at the Taj Mahal hotel.
An airborne assault gets under way at the Nariban House, where commandos are beseiging a centre run by the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch. Attackers holed up in the building are said to have hostages. The seige is punctuated by gunshots and explosions.
Troops storm the Nariman House, reportedly killing the gunmen inside. The troops emerged from the building to applause but the bodies of five hostages are recovered, including that of the rabbi that ran the centre.
Pakistan warns India not to play politics over the incident, but says the two countries face a common enemy and agrees to send its spy chief to share intelligence on the attacks.
There is little doubt “who” did it as most of the perpetrators appear to be dead, nine out of estimated ten of them. But little is yet known about the individuals behind the who. One rumor is that they are members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group which aims to end Indian rule in Kashmir. If revenge on Americans and Britains was the aim, as is reported from eyewitness accounts, then the raid was a failure. Only 15 foreigners are among the estimated 150 casualties thus far. So far only five Americans were killed.
Why did 100 men commit an act that was sure to result in their own deaths? What did they hope to accomplish by willy nilly killing just about anyone in their way? The pundits and pandits will debate these slippery questions until the next tragedy. An article to be published in Time Magazine by Aryn Baker dredges up the colonial history, highlighting the Muslim-Hindu divide in India (and by extension Pakistan) to the Sepoy Mutiny:
On the afternoon of March 29, 1857, Mangal Pandey, a handsome, mustachioed soldier in the East India Company’s native regiment, attacked his British lieutenant. His hanging a week later sparked a subcontinental revolt known to Indians as the first war of independence and to the British as the Sepoy Mutiny. Retribution was swift, and though Pandey was a Hindu, it was the subcontinent’s Muslims, whose Mughal King nominally held power in Delhi, who bore the brunt of British rage. The remnants of the Mughal Empire were dismantled, and five hundred years of Muslim supremacy on the subcontinent was brought to a halt.
Muslim society in India collapsed. The British imposed English as the official language. The impact was cataclysmic. Muslims went from near 100% literacy to 20% within a half-century. The country’s educated Muslim Élite was effectively blocked from administrative jobs in the government. Between 1858 and 1878, only 57 out of 3,100 graduates of Calcutta University - then the center of South Asian education - were Muslim. While discrimination by both Hindus and the British played a role, it was as if the whole of Muslim society had retreated to lick its collective wounds.
Blame British imperialism: it remains an easy target. But how far back can the blame game extend? Did the Muslim armies ask permission when they first invaded and slaughtered Hindus? Or perhaps the anger is directed at Timur, who not only conquered Delhi some 610 years ago, but dispatched virtually all the inhabitants, sending tens of thousands into eternity without pity? Or perhaps more recent history is at fault. Such tragedies can always be blamed on the Americans or the Israelis, as though the foreign policy or domestic policy of a state creates an open season for killing any of its citizens.
There is only one way to end the blame game; this is a path provided by a native of India who dealt with oppression and colonial power plays with a human rather than a divine dictate. His name was Gandhi. Among the truths he passed on is the following: “Retaliation is not the solution. The policy of an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” The men who took the lives of other men and women in Mumbai over the past few days were blind, blinded by a hate that reduces their God to the worst level of human nature. The lessons found in sacred writings of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad echo the wisdom of Gandhi. When mortals usurp the divine for vengeance, they dishonor the very notion of God’s greatness.
We should not be blind to injustice nor deny the misdeeds of the past, but those who kill in the name of any God dim the world for us all. There were no Muslim martyrs in Mumbai (except perhaps those who were innocent victims in the killings), no cause great enough to justify taking life. There is room enough in this world for Allah, Yahweh, the Trinity, all the gods and goddesses of Hinduism and even those who deny that divine entities exist. Because we humans have so many blood baths in our history, we owe it to future generations to replace retaliation with tolerance, lest blindness damn us all to more of the same; and for that we will only have ourselves to blame.
Posted on: Sunday, November 30, 2008 - 22:21
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (11-28-08)
In 1983, I joined the Peace Corps and went to Nepal to teach English. I was posted at a school in the Himalayan foothills, in a part of the country that everyone called "Red."
At first I thought the name referred to the color of the mud that clogged the region's roads and rivers during the monsoon. But then I discovered the real meaning: My district was a Communist hotbed. And nobody was more "Red" than its teachers.
Communist affiliation was illegal at the time in Nepal, so my colleagues were reticent to discuss the matter with their American visitor. By the end of my two-year term, however, most of them had opened up to me.
Their message was simple: Only a revolution could save Nepal. And it would start in the schools, which would teach so-called scientific Marxism to a new generation.
So what happens, I asked, if the people don't want their schools to do that? "It's simple," one colleague told me. "We shall make them want it."
I thought of these conversations last week when I read that the new Maoist government in Nepal planned to close all private schools. The announcement triggered loud
protests from opposition parties and especially from parents, who vowed to resist the measure. If the goal was to make them want a Red education, it's not working.
The crisis dates back to 1996, when the Maoists – still barred from elections – vowed to take over the schools. In the countryside, especially, they kidnapped teachers and students for political indoctrination and forced labor. They also designed new curricula, hoping to hasten the day that my teacher colleagues envisioned back in the 1980s.
A fourth-grade Maoist syllabus introduced children to dialectical materialism alongside homemade guns. Fifth graders would study grenades and booby traps as well as Spartacus, the Roman slave rebellion leader.
To avoid this mixture of terror and propaganda, many parents kept their children at home. Others sent them to a burgeoning network of private schools, which soon came under Communist fire as well.
In Pyuthan, the district where I taught, Maoist attacks forced private schools to close in 2001. Four years later, amid another round of violence, private schools across the country shut down. They reopened two weeks later, following a concerted campaign by parents, students, and human rights organizations.
Now these same groups are protesting the new Maoist government, which entered electoral politics two years ago and won a parliamentary majority this spring. Tired of Nepal's endemic corruption and inefficien
cy, voters wanted something new. They also hoped that legislative politics would moderate the Maoists, who would now have to compromise with other parties.
It hasn't worked out that way. Turning a deaf ear to protests, the Maoists are moving ahead to ban private investment in primary and secondary schooling by 2011. The goal, they say, is to reduce inequality in education.
But, there's every reason to believe that the ban would reduce education, period. At least 1.5 million Nepali children attend private schools, which now account for almost one-third of the country's 41,000 schools. If their schools are closed, where will these students go?
Some will stay home, just as they did during the first Communist attacks. Others will flood into the strapped government schools, which are already so crowded that they often hold classes outside.
That's what happened in Kenya in 2003, when the government eliminated fees for its public primary schools and closed private ones. Most of the private-school kids had attended "slum" schools, which were less expensive – but frequently more effective – than government institutions. By eliminating private schools in favor of "free public education," then, Kenya did its public an enormous disservice.
Around the world, indeed, private schools represent a key component of education for the poor. In Nigeria, the government reports that 50 percent of children are too impoverished to attend school. But roughly half of that number – a quarter of school-aged children – attend unregistered private schools, which often provide better services for less money.
Eight years ago, in its Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations resolved to achieve universal primary education by 2015. But the best way to do that is to encourage private schooling, not to squelch it.
It's also a good way to promote democracy, which requires a diversity of ideas – and schools that reflect them.
That's why another UN resolution, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declared that parents "have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
That's exactly correct: a prior right. And my Nepali colleagues were wrong.
Nobody should be forced into a single type of education, anywhere in the world. And so long as that continues, none of us are free.
Posted on: Friday, November 28, 2008 - 18:26
SOURCE: Real Clear Politics (11-27-08)
Politicians now predict the implosion of the U.S. auto industry. Headlines warn that the entire banking system is on the verge of utter collapse. The all-day/all-night cable news shows and op-ed columnists talk of another Dark Age on the horizon, as each day another corporation lines up for its me-too bailout.
News magazines depict President-elect Obama as the new Franklin Delano Roosevelt, facing a crisis akin to the Great Depression. Columnists for The New York Times even dreamed that George Bush might just resign now to allow the savior Obama a two-month head start on his presidency.
We are witnessing a new hysterical style, in which the Baby Boomer "me generation" that now runs America jettisons knowledge of the past and daily proclaims that each new development requires both a radical solution and another bogeyman to blame for being mean or unfair to them.
We haven't seen such frenzy since the Y2K sham, when we were warned to stock up on flashlights and bottled water as our nation's computers would simply shut down on Jan. 1, 2000 -- and with them the country itself.
Get a grip. Much of our current panic is psychological, and hyped by instantaneous electronic communications and second-by-second 24-hour news blasts. There has not been a nationwide plague that felled our workers. No earthquake has destroyed American infrastructure. The material United States before the September 2008 financial panic is largely the same as the one after. Once we tighten our belts and pay off the debts run up by Wall Street speculators and millions of borrowers who walked away from what they owed others -- and we can do this in a $13 trillion annual economy -- sanity will return....
George Bush is neither the source of all our ills nor the "worst" president in our history. He will leave office with about the same dismal approval rating as the once-despised Harry Truman. By 1953, the country loathed the departing Truman as much as they were ecstatic about newly elected national hero Dwight Eisenhower -- who had previously never been elected to anything.
As for Bush's legacy, it will be left to future historians to weigh his responsibility for keeping us safe from another 9/11-like attack for seven years, the now increasingly likely victory in Iraq, AIDS relief abroad, new expansions for Medicare and federal support for schools versus the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, the error-plagued 2004-7 occupation of Iraq, and out-of-control federal spending. As in the case of the once-unpopular Ulysses S. Grant, Calvin Coolidge and Harry Truman, Bush's supposedly "worst" presidency could one day not look so bad in comparison with the various administrations that followed.
But these days even that modest assessment that things aren't that bad -- or all that different from the past -- may well elicit a hysterical reaction from an increasingly hysterical generation.
Posted on: Thursday, November 27, 2008 - 19:46
SOURCE: Special to HNN (11-26-08)
The roots of the current economic crisis in the United States are strikingly similar to those which provoked the Great Depression of the 1930's. In each instance, the economic collapse followed a long period of economic expansion in which profits far outpaced wages, leading to massive speculation in unregulated financial products and the stimulation of consumer demand by having wage earners to take on large amounts of personal debt. When the speculative bubble collapsed, as it did in 1929 and 2008, weakening or destroying major financial institutions, consumer demand could not keep the economy afloat once credit was no longer available. In 1929, this produced a three year economic contraction that led to a third of the nation's labor force being unemployed and the steel and auto industry operating at less than 30 percent of its capacity. In 2008, we are not at that point--- yet. But we are seeing a profliferation of store closing and bankruptcies among major American retailers, a wave of home foreclosures, and the impending collapse of the American automobile industry. With all of these leading to further job losses, and further drops in consumer demand, it is hard to see where the power to reverse the economic free fall will come from.
The current strategy, of both the Bush Administration and the incoming Obama administration, seems to be to inject funds into the collapsing banking system to make sure credit is available, and develop a stimulus package that will put income into consumers hands through a combination of job creation and transfer payments (food stamps, unemployment insurance). All this is probably necessary to prevent the economy from shrinking at the rate it did in the early Depression.
But because consumer credit will never again be so freely available through the major instruments used to promote it in the last 20 years- primarily credit card debt and second mortgages on homes- it is hard to see how American consumers can again become the engine of economic growth unless working class and middle class incomes start growing at the rates they did between 1945 and 1970. Some of this income growth can be encourage by lowering tax rates on middle class incomes and developing a program of national health insurance, but any long term solution requires a national wage policy to address income inequality and improve the bargaining power of American workers.
Even Larry Summers, President Obama's new economic advisor, recognizes that economic inequality is one of the major causes of the nation's economic collapse. According to today's NY Times, Summers is now arguing that the lack of middle class income growth is "the definining issue of our time" and using the following parable to illustrate his point:
" To undo the rise in income inequality since the late ’70s," Summers argues, " every household in the top 1 percent of the distribution, which makes $1.7 million on average, would need to write a check for $800,000. This money could then be pooled and used to send out a $10,000 check to every household in the bottom 80 percent of the distribution, those making less than $120,000. Only then would the country be as economically equal as it was three decades ago."
Since no such voluntary program in income distribution is ever going to take place, how do we assure that working class and middle class incomes rise sufficiently to be a source of consumer demand as well as provide a decent standard of living to most Americans?
I have two policy suggestions which would ecourage such an outcome:
First, that the federal government impose an income standard on any bank, insurance company or manufacturer that receives a federal subsidy that its highest paid executives make no more than 10 times the salary of that company's lowest paid worker. Two highly successful companies, Ben and Jerry's and Costco, operate with such a standard, and there is no reason that it could not prevail throughout American industry. This would give company managers a strong personal incentive to raise wages throughout their enterprises and would prevent huge portions of corporate income from being directed into executive compensation.
Secondly, the Congress and the incoming administration should revise labor law to make it much easier to organize unions, encouraging unionization drives in the lowest wage sections of the American economy, especially retail trades, food processing, agriculture and the hotel and restaurant industry ( including fast foods). Strong unions will assure that workers get a fair share of corporate profits and that low wage workers can become consumers without incurring huge amounts of debt.
Only policies such as these can create an economy where consumer demand rests on a firm enough foundation to promote economic growth without uncontrolled debt and speculation.
Promoting econmic equality is not only a strategy for national unity in times of hardship, it is the only way out of the mess we are in.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 - 21:00
SOURCE: Sandbox, a blog run by Martin Kramer (11-26-08)
Behind the financial crisis was a well-practiced mechanism for concealing risk. The risk was there, and it was constantly growing, but it could be disguised, repackaged and renamed, so that in the end it seemed to have disappeared. Much of the debate about foreign policy in the United States is conducted in the same manner: policymakers and pundits, to get what they want, conceal the risks.
In the case of the Middle East, they concealed the risks of bringing Yasser Arafat in from the cold; they concealed the risks of neglecting the growth of Al Qaeda; and they concealed the risks involved in occupying Iraq. It isn't that the risks weren't known—to someone. The intelligence was always there. But if you were clever enough, and determined enough, you could find a way to conceal them.
But concealed risk doesn't go away. It accumulates away from sight, until the moment when it surges back to the surface. It did that after Camp David in 2000, when the "peace process" collapsed in blood; it did that on 9/11, when hijackers shattered the skies over New York in Washington; and it happened in Iraq, when an insurgency kicked us back. This tendency to downplay risk may be an American trait: we have seen it in U.S. markets, and we saw it in U.S. election-year politics. In Middle East policy, its outcome has been a string of very unpleasant surprises.
A case in point is radical Islam. One would think that after the Iranian revolution, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the terrorism of Hezbollah, the Rushdie affair, the suicide attacks of Hamas and Al Qaeda, the Danish cartoons, and a host of other "surprises," that we would not be inclined to ignore the risks posed by radical Islam. And yet there are batteries of interpreters, analysts and pundits whose principal project is to obscure if not conceal the risks. Here are some of the most widespread variations on the theme:
Worried about Ahmadinejad? Pay him no mind. He doesn't really call the shots in Iran, he's just a figurehead. And anyway, he didn't really say what he's purported to have said, about wiping Israel off the map. What the Iranians really want is to sit down with us and cut a deal. They have a few grievances, some of them are even legitimate, so let's hear them out and invite them to the table, without preconditions. Iran isn't all that dangerous; it's just a small country; and even their own people are tired of the revolution. So pay no attention to Ahmadinejad, and pay no attention to the old slogans of "death to America," because that's not the real Iran.
Worried about the Palestinian Hamas? You've got it wrong. They merely represent another face of Palestinian nationalism. They aren't really Islamists at all: Hamas is basically a protest movement against corruption. Given the right incentives, they can be drawn into the peace process. Sure, they say they will never recognize Israel, but that is what the PLO once said, and didn't they change their tune? Anyway, Hamas controls Gaza, so there can't be a real peace process—a settlement of the big issues like Jerusalem, refugees, borders—without bringing them into the tent. So let's sit down and talk to them, figure out what their grievances are—no doubt, some of them are legitimate too. And let's get the process back on track.
Troubled by Hezbollah? Don't believe everything they say. They only pretend to be faithful to Iran's ayatollahs, and all their talk about "onwards to Jerusalem" is rhetoric for domestic consumption. What they really want is to earn the Shiites their rightful place in Lebanon, and improve the lot of their aggrieved sect. Engage them, dangle some carrots, give them a place at the table, and see how quickly they transform themselves from an armed militia into a peaceable political party.
And so on. There is a large industry out there, which has as its sole purpose the systematic downplaying of the risks posed by radical Islam. And in the best American tradition, these risks are repackaged as opportunities, under a new name. It could just as easily be called appeasement, but the public associates appeasement with high risk. So let's rename it engagement, which sounds low-risk—after all, there's no harm in talking, right? And once the risk has been minimized, the possible pay-off is then inflated: if we engage with the Islamists, we will reap the reward in the form of a less tumultuous Middle East. Nuclear plans might be shelved, terror might wane, and peace might prevail.
The engagement package rests upon a key assumption: that these "radical" states, groups, and individuals are motivated by grievances. If only we were able to address or ameliorate those grievances, we could effectively domesticate just about every form of Islamism. Another assumption is that these grievances are finite—that is, by ameliorating them, they will be diminished.
It is precisely here that advocates of "engagement" are concealing the risk. They do so in two ways. First, they distract us from the deep-down dimension of Islamism—from the overarching narrative that drives all forms of Islamism. The narrative goes like this: the enemies of Islam—America, Europe, the Christians, the Jews, Israel—enjoy much more power than the believing Muslims do. But if we Muslims return to the faith, we can restore to ourselves the vast power we exercised in past, when Islam dominated the world as the West dominates it today. The Islamists believe that through faith—exemplified by self-sacrifice and self-martyrdom—they can put history in reverse.
Once this is understood, the second concealment of risk comes into focus. We are told that the demands of Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran are finite. If we give them a concession here, or a foothold there, we will have somehow diminished their demand for more concessions and footholds. But if their purpose is the reversal of history, then our gestures of accommodation, far from enticing them to give up their grand vision, only persuade them to press on. They understand our desire to engage them as a sign of weakness—an attempt to appease them—which is itself an enticement for them to push harder against us and our allies. And since they believe in their narrative of an empowered Islam with the fervency of religious conviction, no amount of insistence by us that we will go only so far and no further will stop them.
Our inability to estimate this risk derives in part from our unwillingness to give credence to religious conviction in politics. We are keen to recast Islamists in secular terms—to see them as political parties, or reform movements, or interest groups. But what if Islamists are none of these things? What if they see themselves as soldiers of God, working his will in the world? How do you deal with someone who believes that a paradise awaits every jihadist "martyr," and that the existence of this paradise is as real and certain to him as the existence of a Sheraton Hotel in Chicago? Or that at any moment, the mahdi, the awaited one, could make a reappearance and usher in the end of days? How do we calculate that risk?
So what are the real risks posed by Islamic extremism? If I were preparing a prospectus for a potential investor in "engagement," or a warning label on possible side effects of "engagement," they would include these warnings:
Iran: The downside risk is that Iran will prolong "engagement" in such a way as to buy time for its nuclear program—perhaps just the amount of time it needs to complete it. At the same time, it will use the fact of "engagement" with the United States to chisel away at the weak coalition of Arab states that the United States has cobbled together to contain Iran. If "engagement" is unconditionally offered, Iran will continue its subversive activities in Iraq and Lebanon until it receives some other massive concession. Indeed, it may even accelerate these activities, so as to demand a higher price for their cessation. If the United States stands its ground and "engagement" fails, many in the Middle East will automatically blame the United States, but by then, military options will be even less appealing than they are today.
Hamas: The downside risk is that "engagement"—even if conducted indirectly through various mediators—will be the nail in the coffin of Mahmoud Abbas, and of any directly negotiated understandings between Israel and the Palestinians. It is true that Israelis and Palestinians aren't capable today of reaching a final status agreement. But the present situation in the West Bank allows for a degree of stability and cooperation. This is because Israel stands as the guarantor against Hamas subversion of the West Bank. "Engagement" with Hamas would weaken that guarantee, signal to Palestinians once again that terrorism pays, and validate and legitimate the anti-Semitic, racist rhetoric that emanates daily from the leaders and preachers of Hamas. It might do all this without bringing Israeli-Palestinian peace even one inch closer.
Hezbollah: The downside risk is that "engagement" will effectively concede control of Lebanon to an armed militia that constitutes a state within a state. It will undermine America's pretension to champion civil society and pluralism in the most diverse Arab state. It will constitute the final rout of the beleaguered democracy forces within Lebanon, which have been consistently pro-American. It will compound the unfortunate effects of the 2006 summer war, by seeming to acknowledge Hezbollah as the victor. And it might do all this without bringing about the disarming of a single Hezbollah terrorist, or the removal of a single Iranian-supplied missile from Lebanon.
One would have to be a relentless pessimist to believe that all the downside risks I have outlined would be realized. But every serious advocate of "engagement" should acknowledge the risks, and explain their strategy for mitigating them. And it isn't enough to say: don't worry, we're going to practice "tough engagement." Perhaps we might. But most of the risks arise from the very fact of engagement—from the legitimacy it accords to the other party.
In the Middle East, the idea that "there's no harm in talking" is entirely incomprehensible. It matters whom you talk to, because you legitimize your interlocutors. Hence the Arab refusal to normalize relations with Israel. Remember the scene that unfolded this past summer, when Bashar Asad scrupulously avoided contact with Ehud Olmert on the same reviewing stand at a Mediterranean summit. An Arab head of state will never directly engage Israel before extracting every concession. Only an American would think of doing this at the outset, and in return for nothing: "unconditional talks" is a purely American concept, incomprehensible in the Middle East. There is harm in talking, if your talking legitimates your enemies, and persuades them and those on the sidelines that you have done so from weakness. For only the weak talk "unconditionally," which is tantamount to accepting the enemy's conditions. It is widely regarded as the prelude to unconditional surrender.
The United States cannot afford to roll the dice again in the Middle East, in the pious hope of winning it all. Chances are slim to nil that the United States is going to talk the Iranians, Hamas or Hezbollah out of their grand plan. Should that surprise us? We "engaged" before, with Yasser Arafat, and we know how that ended. We downplayed radical rhetoric before, with Osama bin Laden, and we know how that ended. We assumed we could talk people out of their passions in Iraq, and we know how that ended.
It is time to question risk-defying policies in the Middle East. The slogans of peace and democracy misled us. Let's not let the new slogan of engagement do the same. The United States is going to have to show the resolve and grit to wear and grind down adversaries, with soft power, hard power and will power. Paradoxically, that is the least risky path—because if America persists, it will prevail.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 - 20:38
Brad DeLong, Tyler Cowen, and Justin Fox all make much of Christina Romer's expertise on the causes of the Great Depression. And, indeed, Romer does seem to be an expert on the Depression. She even wrote the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on the subject. This is a point you frequently hear in Ben Bernanke's defense, too: He's also an expert on the Great Depression. But can this really be so useful? It's hard to believe that a complex financial crisis in 2008 is so similar to a complex economic crisis in 1929 that you need an incredibly subtle understanding of the latter to effectively apprehend the former. Presumably most economists know enough not to repeat the basic mistakes of the 1930s, and the question is which economists know enough to avoid the possible mistakes of the 2000s. Is there any real reason to assume otherwise?
Eric Rauchway at blog edgeoftheamericanwest:
Granting that I have a vested interest in the position that knowledge of history is relevant, here’s the specific case I’d make on behalf of Romer (and Bernanke) and then the general case.
(1) The Specific Case. The Great Depression remains unique in degree and perhaps in kind. We want to keep it that way. Inasmuch as the present crisis bears some resemblance to the early phases of the Great Depression we want experts of that unique catastrophe to be on the lookout for ways to halt the slide into disaster.
Specifically, Bernanke and Romer have studied how the financial crisis of the late 1920s turned into the broader economic crisis of the early 1930s. It looks like this is where we are now, with the financial crisis beginning to affect consumer spending.
People generally know that this happened, but Bernanke and Romer have specific ideas about why, and are familiar with the historical data supporting those theses. Assuming they have pretty sharp minds they should be able to spot related trends in the current data and formulate or recommend policy accordingly. Which leads to …
(2) The General Case. Ezra’s concluding question seems to boil down to, now that we have the social science, why do we need the social scientists?
Well, to some degree you don’t, of course. The whole point of social science is to draw general conclusions from specific data, and those general conclusions should be able to predict further findings. So Bernanke and Romer sift through the data, and produce a model that explains what happens, and the model should have predictive value no matter who applies it.
But that “incredibly subtle understanding”, which comes from poring over the data, is potentially quite valuable, especially in a complex crisis that may not unfold exactly like those of the past. Someone who’s familiar not only with the model—the “basic mistakes”—but also with the data that went into the model will know all of the caveats and qualifications that don’t make it into the general statement.
And such a person would be the best qualified person to catch exceptions and nuances in current flows of information, so as to say, “wait. We don’t want slavishly to follow the model, here, because….”
For the same reason, I hope the people crafting the president-elect’s infrastructure-investment program have a good empirical understanding of how the New Deal infrastructure-investment programs did and didn’t work. If you want to do more than derive the basic benefit of just paying people to dig holes and fill them again—that is to say, if you want lasting infrastructure as well as short-term stimulus—you need to take into account the weirdnesses of American federalism, the business of contracting and hiring, and the existing state of plans for infrastructure development. It would be good to know the details of how that panned out last time.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 - 02:15
SOURCE: National Review Online (11-25-08)
Post-election voting patterns and statistical data can be interpreted in various ways to support any of the following three exegeses, which I understand as being roughly the following:
It was a sort of fluke. Party faithful will shrug that almost everything conspired this year against the conservative brand: two wars; the sinking economy; eight years of presidential incumbency; a biased, unethical media; Bush’s low ratings; the absence of an incumbent president or VP candidate on the ticket; more exposed Republican congressional seats than Democratic ones; a charismatic path-breaking opposition candidate, etc. The stars were wrong, rather than the ideas.
So, the theory goes, just make McCain appear a little younger, Obama sound a little bit more like John Kerry, and take away the mid-September financial meltdown, and — presto! — a Republican would now be in the White House.
Remedy? Not much other than fielding younger, more charismatic candidates. The failure was people, not ideas, and best symbolized by the damage done by the creepy Jack Abramoff, Larry Craig, Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, or Ted Stevens whose ethical lapses became the Republican bumper-sticker.
Even had an ethical but colorless Bob Dole or Gerry Ford run in 1980 on Reagan’s identical platform, he would have most likely lost to Carter. So it’s the candidate, stupid.
In this way of thinking, someone like Jindal, Palin, and other fresh new faces will save the party in 2012, especially as hope and change soon proves neither hopeful nor different. Democrats, after all, just replaced their 91-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee with equally entrenched 84-year-old Sen. Daniel Inouye; and are now talking about re-empowering the big unions that helped ruin Detroit, are hiring all the Clinton retreads for a second try in the Obama administration, and seem to want to use the ancient Freddie/Fannie/postal service model to expand the government.
It was too narrow a base, too exclusionary a message. This second theory — favored by New York and D.C. columnists, Schwarzenegger Republicans, and “helpful” Democrats of the “we miss the old good McCain of 2000” school — posits that all these new young, minority, and independent voters can’t break through the anti–gay marriage, anti–illegal immigration, anti–affirmative action, anti-abortion firewall, and so are diverted from the low-taxes, small-government, and strong–national defense message that they otherwise might welcome.
Remedy? Junk the social agenda. Become more libertarian. Try to make existing Great Society programs run more efficiently, rather than shrilly barking at what you couldn’t cut, even if you wanted to. Be a little more neo-isolationist abroad, a little more laid back at home. Turn off talk radio, and read more of the Wall Street Journal.
It was the namby-pamby, con-lite sell-out that did us in. In this view, conservatives and evangelicals didn’t turn out as in the past, because the ticket and its short coat-tails abandoned a conservative message. Take away Bush’s mega-deficits, and conservatives could have run on fiscal sanity. Why were right-wingers boasting about federal bailouts? Why print more money on top of the $10-trillion-and-rising national debt? No drilling in ANWR? Close down Gitmo? No talk about creepy Islamic terrorists? No more “personal responsibility” lectures about drugs, alcohol, illegitimacy, crime, and drop-out rates? Didn’t the party see that gay marriage lost everywhere, and with help from minorities as well?
Remedy? Run as a true conservative, energize the base, and out-debate and outthink your liberal opponents.
I supposed one could cop out, and claim that there is truth in all three explanations. But my sense is that most people — who, after all, get a job, eventually buy a house and have to maintain it, have children, and respect the traditions of their families’ past — end up by necessity more conservative than liberal. The challenge is not to water down the conservative message, but to beef it up, even while making it more persuasive to those who are skeptical....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 - 17:32
SOURCE: NYT (11-23-08)
MANY people are looking back to the Great Depression and the New Deal for answers to our problems. But while we can learn important lessons from this period, they’re not always the ones taught in school.
The traditional story is that President Franklin D. Roosevelt rescued capitalism by resorting to extensive government intervention; the truth is that Roosevelt changed course from year to year, trying a mix of policies, some good and some bad. It’s worth sorting through this grab bag now, to evaluate whether any of these policies might be helpful.
If I were preparing a “New Deal crib sheet,” I would start with the following lessons:
MONETARY POLICY IS KEY As Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz argued in a classic book, “A Monetary History of the United States,” the single biggest cause of the Great Depression was that the Federal Reserve let the money supply fall by one-third, causing deflation. Furthermore, banks were allowed to fail, causing a credit crisis. Roosevelt’s best policies were those designed to increase the money supply, get the banking system back on its feet and restore trust in financial institutions.
A study of the 1930s by Christina D. Romer, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley (“What Ended the Great Depression?,” Journal of Economic History, 1992), confirmed that expansionary monetary policy was the key to the partial recovery of the 1930s. The worst years of the New Deal were 1937 and 1938, right after the Fed increased reserve requirements for banks, thereby curbing lending and moving the economy back to dangerous deflationary pressures.
Today, expansionary monetary policy isn’t so easy to put into effect, as we are seeing a shrinkage of credit and a contraction of the “shadow banking sector,” as represented by forms of derivatives trading, hedge funds and other investments. So don’t expect the benefits of monetary expansion to kick in right now, or even six months from now.
Still, the Fed needs to stand ready to prevent a downward spiral and to stimulate the economy once it’s possible....
Posted on: Sunday, November 23, 2008 - 21:29
SOURCE: NYT (11-23-08)
IRAQ offers the Obama administration an extraordinary opportunity. Overall violence and American casualties have dropped remarkably since the surge began last year. Iraqi security forces have grown in size and effectiveness. American and Iraqi troops have inflicted a series of defeats on insurgents and militias. The slow but steady construction of a new post-Saddam Hussein state structure will lift the burden of securing Iraq against internal disorder from American forces in the next couple of years, if current trends continue.
The situation remains delicate, however, as Iraq moves into provincial elections in January and parliamentary elections at the end of 2009. Although Iraqi forces increasingly bear the burden of fighting (and, increasingly, peacekeeping), they will need continuing American support. The government of Iraq has recognized all these facts by forging the status of forces agreement with Washington, which was endorsed by the cabinet a week ago and sent to the Council of Representatives for approval.
The agreement encapsulates the basic reality in Iraq today: Iraq is an independent, sovereign state able to negotiate on an equal basis with the United States; Iraqis and Americans both want American troops to leave Iraq as quickly as possible and believe that a withdrawal will be feasible by 2011. Above all, the agreement highlights Iraq’s desire to become a strategic partner with the United States, an opportunity the Obama administration can seize.
Leaving aside the debate in America about what ties global Al Qaeda has to Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iraqis overwhelmingly think that they have indeed been fighting an arm of Osama bin Laden’s organization. Every major political grouping in Iraq rejects Al Qaeda and supports the fight against its ideology. Iraqis increasingly pride themselves on being the first Arab state to reject the terrorists....
It is vital that we help see Iraq through during its year of elections, and avoid the temptation to “front-load” the withdrawal in 2009. It is equally vital that we develop a broader strategic relationship with Iraq using all elements of our national power in tandem with Iraq’s to pursue our common interests. President Obama has the chance to do more in Iraq than win the war. He can win the peace.
Posted on: Sunday, November 23, 2008 - 20:22
SOURCE: Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH blog) (9-25-07)
There is one central lesson that cultural anthropology has to offer. It is the lesson of Franz Boas, who founded American anthropology, of his students Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, and of their intellectual descendants, such as Clifford Geertz, arguably the most influential American cultural anthropologist of the second half of the 20th century.
That lesson is “culture matters.” If we want to understand people, to grasp what people are doing and why they do it, we have to examine their own perspective. As Geertz said, we have to see things “from the natives’ point of view,” whether the natives are from Brooklyn or Calgary, Palermo or Bucharest, Baghdad or Quetta.
The reason that we must understand things “from the natives’ point view” is that people act according to how they perceive the world; according to what they value, what they disdain; and according to what they hope for, and what they fear. If we want to understand how people will act, we must understand the world from their perspective.
If we want to engage with people, to influence their actions and to win them over, to bring them into a counter-insurgency effort, to engage in economic exchange, to encourage development, to block their initiatives, or to fight them, we must understand why and how they act as they do. And thus we must know how they see the world.
When I say that we must grasp the natives’ point of view, I am not saying that people are the prisoners of the norms and rules of their society, hemmed in by the “cake of custom.” Cultural anthropology has moved beyond such an overly normative view of mankind. Rather, following the lead of Max Weber, and latterly, Fredrik Barth, we understand that people are goal-oriented, making decisions, choosing one alternative over another in order to advance their own goals. In other words, everyone, everywhere, acts strategically, at least in part. An anthropological approach to “strategic studies” is to study the strategies of people and peoples in the world as they pursue their goals. We had better know the strategies of other folks before we formulate our own.
Of course, culture, ways of understanding and evaluating the world, or, once again, as Geertz says, culture as “models of” the world, and “models for” action in the world, is not the only thing in the world. People may not just pursue their own visions, but must cope with the constraints of institutional limitations. British social anthropologists have stressed the ways in which societal institutions–such as chief, markets, descent groups, exogamous marriage patterns, ancestor worship, etc.–are constrained by their interconnection with each other. One consequence of which is that some institutions or patterns of action are incompatible. For example, sharing and mutual welfare in a large kin group, on the one hand, and capital accumulation, on the other hand, tend to be in conflict.
As well, people everywhere must cope with other populations and cultures, and their goals and strategies. Peoples and cultures often intrude upon one another, interfere with one another, and consequently every group must have a “foreign policy.” Everyone is constrained one way or another by other peoples and other cultures.
And, of course, people, whatever their culture, must cope with the challenges and constraints of their physical and biological environments. Culture, to some degree, incorporates strategies for dealing with the environment, to adapting to the environment while pursuing their other goals.
Once we have some idea of others’ cultures and the bases of their strategies, we are in a strong position to consider our own. Recently I received an inquiry from an Army Major in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Currently he is a graduate student at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School , and was assigned my book, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, for review. In that book, I stress the tribal foundation of Arab culture, and discuss its implications for state formation.
One question that this major raised was what I thought, in the light of my analysis, of the U.S. Army’s counter-insurgency manual’s position that counter-insurgency should always be directed toward supporting the legitimate government.
In the light of my analysis—that there were no legitimate governments in the Middle East, and that in many regions, including urban areas, only tribal or sect-based organization was regarded as legitimate by the local population—I replied that the counter-insurgency handbook’s position that counter-insurgency should always be directed toward supporting the legitimate government was a rationalization meant to justify our intervention in our own eyes according to our own values.
The emphasis on a legitimate government might not be a rational response to our practical interests in a particular region. For example, if we want to counter an insurgency, we might need to collaborate with non-governmental, even anti-governmental organizations, such as tribes. This is what happened in al-Anbar province of Iraq, where the American Army gave support to the Sunni tribes when they rebelled against the impositions of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and in turn the Sunni tribes gave the Americans support as the Americans pursued Al Qaeda. If our interests and ambitions are to block an anti-American or anti-Western initiative, we might be wise to be satisfied with that result, once achieved, and allow local folks to carry on according their vision, rather than try to impose ours.
Another way to put this is that our culture matters in how we see the world. In trying to act upon the world, we must consider whether and to what extent our interests and desires coincide, or whether our interests are more limited than our desires. This question underlies some of the disagreements between foreign policy “idealists” and “realists.”
The al-Anbar case is an interesting one for the general argument I am presenting here. No one needed a good cultural anthropologist more than Al Qaeda in Iraq. Mostly non-Iraqis, the Al Qaeda fighters and functionaries pushed around local Iraqis, not realizing or appreciating that they were members of tribes, or the significance of that fact. They did not consider how the local Iraqis would receive their impositions, or understand that the Iraqi tribesmen had the capability to mobilize militarily in support of their own autonomy and self-determination. As a result, local Iraqi tribesmen rebelled against Al Qaeda, fought them, and turned for the first time to ally with the Americans. If Al Qaeda had had a good cultural analysis of al-Anbar, they might have acted with more restraint and respect, and might have advanced their cause rather than being crushed, as they have been.
In sum, one contribution of cultural anthropology to strategic studies is to urge pre-strategic studies of peoples’ presuppositions, values, goals, and strategies—those of other peoples and those of our own—before moving to formulating strategies to act on the world. For to act effectively in the world requires that we know our own biases and that we know other people’s trajectories.
Posted on: Friday, November 21, 2008 - 21:47
SOURCE: CNN (11-21-08)
... The situations in 1933 and 2009 do have similarities. In both cases, there is a discredited outgoing administration, a financial crisis, a lame-duck Congress which finds it difficult to act, a new President who is a talented communicator and has a popular election victory and large congressional majorities.
But 1933 was also very different from the situation that will face Obama in January. The Depression had been going on for four years. Between a quarter and a third of the industrial workforce was out of work. Farmers, who were a third of the workforce then, were desperate.
There were none of the stabilizers that exist now to protect ordinary Americans: no bank deposit insurance, no social security and the welfare and relief resources of private charities and local and state governments were exhausted.
The day FDR took office, the banks in New York and Chicago closed. The whole U.S. banking system ground to a halt.
The result was that Congress was desperate for bold leadership. Constituents let their representatives know that they expected them to support the president as if the country was at war.
When FDR proclaimed a national bank holiday and worked to reopen the banks, Republicans and Democrats supported him. The House passed the banking bill -- and they only had one copy of it -- in 43 minutes.
When Roosevelt addressed the nation on Sunday, March 12, it was a tremendous gamble. He told Americans it was safer to put their money back in the banks reopening the next day than to hide it under the mattress.
They believed him and the next day the money flowed back into the banks that had been allowed to open. There was no Plan B: If people had continued taking money out, absolute disaster would have followed.
Despite four months to prepare -- FDR was the last president to be inaugurated in March -- Roosevelt had no great template to put into effect when he took office. He seized opportunities. He used the banking proposals of holdover Republican officials at the Treasury and the Federal Reserve.
He proposed the National Recovery Act only after Congress threatened to pass share-the-work legislation that would have mandated a maximum 30- hour work week.
He only brought Harry Hopkins to Washington to set up a national relief program after existing appropriations relief allocation to the states ran out. He did not favor bank deposit insurance but accepted it. He accepted large public works spending reluctantly....
Posted on: Friday, November 21, 2008 - 18:40
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (11-20-08)
Thomas Friedman, the one-time eloquent cheerleader for the Iraq War, a liberal voice who deemed it realistic to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, notwithstanding the loss of a useful buffer against Iran to the rest of the Western world. Oh, those heady days of Iraqis greeting us with flowers and their reconstruction costs paid by oil revenues! And that wonderful irony of the world turning against us while we provided it with legions of mercenaries, priming the oil pumps.
In a recent column (November 19, 2008), Friedman remarked, "The two most impactful [sic] secretaries of state in the last 50 years were James Baker and Henry Kissinger. Both were empowered by their presidents, and both could candidly talk back to their presidents."
Surely Friedman is joking about Henry Kissinger - "talk back"? That, of course, is the Kissinger Friedman knows from Kissinger's endless spin performances for journalists who doted on him and conveyed his every word, every thought. The shameless, uncritical reporting of the man and his deeds is one of the travesties of recent journalism, and Friedman is one of its particularly crafty practitioners.
Friedman's depiction of someone who "could candidly talk back" to President Nixon is not the Kissinger we know from his taped conversations with his President. Undoubtedly there are exceptions, but the tapes overwhelmingly reflect Kissinger, in a familiar, fawning, and obsequious manner. The hundreds of hours released now of the taped conversations provide ample grist for future historians to correct Kissinger's hardly-deserved standing as some Prince of American Diplomacy. Do we care that he thinks Hillary Clinton would be an excellent Secretary of State? Is he sucking up for some advisory role?
Sample Robert Dallek's recent book, NIXON AND KISSINGER that extensively mined mining the taped conversations, with countless examples of Kissinger in his best sycophantic mode. Better yet in these Internet days, take a look at Kenneth Hughes's web site, Fatal Politics, for some real-time recordings of Nixon and Kissinger's conversations In particular, see his recent Episode Five in which the two unindicted co-conspirators scheme for a "decent interval" between American withdrawal from Vietnam and the clearly-recognized collapse of their South Vietnamese allies. "South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway," Nixon said in 1972. His Master's Voice readily agreed: We've got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two," Kissinger told Nixon. "After a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater."
Here is an example (from hundreds) offering the real flavor of the Nixon-Kissinger relationship. It is from a March 10 conversation between the two:
Nixon: The idea that we have to keep a residual force in South Vietnam--I'm not really for it. I don't think the South Vietnamese are--
Kissinger: Well, it'd be desirable, but I--I don't--
Nixon: Face it: I don't think the American people are going to support it and it isn't like Korea somewhere--
Kissinger: Above all, Mr. President, your re-election is--
Kissinger: --really important.
Kissinger talk back? No, Nixon had a very useful prop.
Posted on: Thursday, November 20, 2008 - 21:55
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-20-08)
It's the ultimate argument, the final bastion against withdrawal, and over these last years, the Bush administration has made sure it would have plenty of heft. Ironically, its strength lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with the vicissitudes of Iraqi politics, the relative power of Shiites or Sunnis, the influence of Iran, or even the riptides of war. It really doesn't matter what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or oppositional cleric Muqtada al-Sadr think about it. In fact, it's an argument that has nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with us, with the American way of war (and life), which makes it almost unassailable.
And this week Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen -- the man President-elect Obama plans to call into the Oval Office as soon as he arrives -- wheeled it into place and launched it like a missile aimed at the heart of Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan for U.S. combat troops in Iraq. It may not sound like much, but believe me, it is. The Chairman simply said,"We have 150,000 troops in Iraq right now. We have lots of bases. We have an awful lot of equipment that's there. And so we would have to look at all of that tied to, obviously, the conditions that are there, literally the security conditions… Clearly, we'd want to be able to do it safely." Getting it all out safely, he estimated, would take at least"two to three years."
For those who needed further clarification, the Wall Street Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen spelled it out:"In recent interviews, two high-ranking officers stated flatly that it would be logistically impossible to dismantle dozens of large U.S. bases there and withdraw the 150,000 troops now in Iraq so quickly. The officers said it would take close to three years for a full withdrawal and could take longer if the fighting resumed as American forces left the country."
As for the Obama plan, if the military top brass have anything to say about it, sayonara. It's"physically impossible," says"a top officer involved in briefing the President-elect on U.S. operations in Iraq," according to Time Magazine. The Washington Postreports that, should Obama continue to push for his two brigades a month draw-down, a civilian-military" conflict is inevitable," and might, as the Nation's Robert Dreyfuss suggests, even lead to an Obama "showdown" with the military high command in his first weeks in office.
In a nutshell, the Pentagon's argument couldn't be simpler or more red-bloodedly American: We have too much stuff to leave Iraq any time soon. In war, as in peace, we're trapped by our own profligacy. We are the Neiman Marcus and the Wal-Mart of combat. Where we go, our"stuff" goes with us -- in such prodigious quantities that removing it is going to prove more daunting than invading in the first place. After all, it took less than a year to put in place the 130,000-plus invasion force, and all its equipment and support outfits from bases all around the world, as well as the air power and naval power to match.
Some have estimated, however, that simply getting each of the 14 combat brigades still stationed in Iraq on January 20, 2009, out with all their equipment might take up to 75 days per brigade. (If you do the math, that's 36 months, and even that wouldn't suffice if you wanted to remove everything else we now have in that California-sized country.)
Getting out? Don't dream of it.
Going to War with the Society You Have
Back in December 2004, when a soldier at a base in Kuwait asked about the lack of armor on his unit's Humvees, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said,"As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have…"
Rumsfeld was then still focused on his much-ballyhooed"transformation" in warfare. He was intent on creating a Military Lite -- the most pared down, totally agile, completely networked, highest of all high-tech forces that was going to make the U.S. the dominant power on the planet for eons. As it turned out, that force was a mirage. In reality, the U.S. military in Iraq proved to be a Military Heavy. In retrospect, Rumsfeld might have more accurately responded: You have to go to war with the society you have.
In fact, the Bush administration did just that -- with a passion. After the attacks of 9/11, the President famously pleaded with the American public to return to normal life by shopping, flying, and visiting Disney World. ("Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.") The administration and the Pentagon led the way. As the Pentagon's budget soared, its civilians and the high command went on an imperial spending spree the likes of which may never have been seen on this planet.
For them, Iraq has been war as cornucopia, war as a consumer's paradise. Arguably, on a per-soldier basis, no military has ever occupied a country with a bigger baggage train. On taking Iraq, they promptly began constructing a series of gigantic military bases, American ziggurats meant to outlast them. These were full-scale "American towns," well guarded, 15-20 miles around, with multiple PXes, fitness clubs, brand fast-food outlets, traffic lights, the works. (This, in a country where, for years after the invasion, nothing worked.)
To the tune of multi-billions of dollars, they continued to build these bases up, and then, in Baghdad, put the icing on the Iraqi cake by constructing an almost three-quarter-billion dollar embassy of embassies, a veritable citadel in the heart of the capital's American-controlled Green Zone, meant for 1,000"diplomats" with its own pool, tennis courts, recreation center, post exchange/community center, commissary, retail and shopping areas, and restaurants -- again, the works.
In other words, abroad, we weren't the Spartans, we were the Athenians on steroids. And then, of course, there was the"equipment" that Mullen referred to, the most expensive and extensive collection you could find. As the Washington Times's Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote back in October 2007:"Watching them drive by at 30 miles per hour, would take 75 days. Bumper-to-bumper, they would stretch from New York City to Denver. That's how U.S. Air Force logistical expert Lenny Richoux described the number of vehicles that would have to be shipped back from Iraq when the current deployment is over. These include, among others, 10,000 flatbed trucks, 1,000 tanks and 20,000 Humvees." And don't forget"the 300,000 'heavy' items that would have to be shipped back, such as ice-cream machines that churn out different flavors upon request at a dozen bases…"
As Dr. Seuss might have put it: and that is not all, oh no, that is not all. In July 2007, for instance, the Associated Press's Charles Hanley described U.S. bases holding"more than the thousands of tanks, other armored vehicles, artillery pieces and Humvees assigned to combat units. They're also home to airfields laden with high-tech gear, complexes of offices filled with computers, furniture and air conditioners, systems of generators and water plants, PXs full of merchandise, gyms packed with equipment, big prefab latrines and ranks of small portable toilets, even Burger Kings and Subway sandwich shops."
And it doesn't stop there. In mid-2007, when the issue of our"stuff" first became part of the withdrawal news, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out:"You're talking about not just U.S. soldiers, but millions of tons of contractor equipment that belongs to the United States government, and a variety of other things… This is a massive logistical undertaking whenever it takes place." So, one might ask, what about those many tens of thousands of private contractors in Iraq and all their materiel? Presumably, some of them, too, would have to withdraw, mainly through the bottleneck of Kuwait and its overburdened ports. This would, as the military now portrays it, be an American Dunkirk stretching on for years.
The Argument of Last Resort
Now, back in the days when we had less experience fighting losing wars, Americans in retreat simply shoved those extra helicopters off the decks of aircraft carriers in chaos, burned free-floating cash in tin drums, and left tons of expensive equipment and massive bases behind for the enemy to turn into future industrial parks. At the U.S. Embassy in Saigon in April 1975, while everything in sight was being burned or destroyed including precious advanced electronic equipment, money actually rained down from the Embassy incinerator on the roof upon amazed Vietnamese allies huddled below, waiting for a promised airlift to safety that, for most, never came.
Withdrawal then was unsightly, unseemly, and environmentally unsound. But, as we know, the lessons of Vietnam were subsequently learned.
Today, the Pentagon and the military top command plan to be far more responsible consumers and far better environmentalists, however long it takes, and the Department of Agriculture's "stringent requirements" for the"power-washing" -- this, in the desert, of course -- of every object to be returned to the U.S. will help ensure that this is so."Ever since U.S. authorities found plague-infected rats in cargo returning from the Vietnam War," the AP's Hanley has written,"the decontamination process has been demanding: water blasting of equipment, treatment with insecticide and rodenticide, inspections, certifications."
And don't forget the shrink-wrapping of those helicopters -- who knows how many -- for that long, salt-free sea voyage home.
Think of this as a version of the Pottery Barn Rule that Secretary of State Colin Powell supposedly cited in warning President Bush on the dangers of invading Iraq:"You break it, you own it." For the departure from Iraq, this might be rewritten as: You bring it, you own it.
You might say that, in the end, Bush's secret plan for never withdrawing from Iraq was but an extension of his shop-till-you-drop response to 9/11. The idea was to put so much stuff in the country that we'd have to stay.
And now, as the mission threatens to wind down, the top brass are evidently claiming that an Obama timeline for withdrawal would violate our property rights and squander a vast array of expensive equipment. You'll hear no apologies from the military for traveling heavy, despite the fact that they are now arguing against a reasonable withdrawal timetable based on the need to enact a kind of 12-step program for armed consumer sobriety.
Ever since the President's surge strategy was launched in January 2007, this argument has been a background hum in the withdrawal debate. Now, it's evidently about to come front and center.
A new president will be taking office. His withdrawal plan -- he spoke of it more accurately on CBS's 60 Minutes as"a plan that draws down our troops" -- is a modest one. After those American" combat brigades" are out, it's still possible, as one of his key security advisers, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, told National Public Radio last summer, that as many as 55,000 U.S. troops might remain in an advisory capacity or as residual forces. And yet, with the Iraqis urging us on, so many of the arguments against withdrawal have fallen away, which is why, when Barack Obama sits down in the Oval Office with his top commanders, he's going to hear about all that"stuff." For those who want to drag their feet on leaving Iraq, this is the argument of last resort.
As Donald Rumsfeld so classically said, in reference to the looting of Baghdad in April 2003 after American troops entered the city,"stuff happens." How true that turns out to be. When it comes to withdrawal, the most militarily profligate administration in memory has seemingly ensured that the highest military priority in 2009 will be frugality -- that is, saving all American"stuff" in Iraq.
Irony hardly covers this one. The Bush administration may have succeeded in little else, but it did embed the U.S. so deeply in that country that leaving can now be portrayed as the profligate thing to do.
By the way, in case anyone thinks that the soon-to-be-Bush-less Pentagon has drawn the obvious lessons from its experience in Iraq, think again. It still seems eager to visit Disney World.
According to Wired Magazine's reliable Danger Room blog, military officials are now suggesting to the Obama transition team that the next Pentagon budget should come in at $581 billion, a staggering $67 billion more than the previous one (and that's without almost all the costs of the Afghan and Iraq wars being included).
But like Rumsfeld's Military Lite, the Pentagon's Military Heavy plans are likely to prove a mirage in the economic future that awaits us. Perhaps the U.S. should indeed salvage every bit of its equipment in Iraq. After all, one thing seems certain: Washington may continue in some fashion to garrison an economically desperate world, but it will never again have the money to occupy a country in the style of Iraq -- largely because the Bush administration managed to squander the American imperial legacy in eight short years.
Someday, Iraq and all those massive bases, all that high-tech equipment, all those ice-cream machines and portajohns, will seem like part of an American dream life. Money may never again rain from the sky.
Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Thursday, November 20, 2008 - 21:29
Thirty years have passed since the murder-suicide of over nine hundred members of Jim Jones's People's Temple, on November 18, 1978. A sign hanging in the pavilion of Jonestown at the time read, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Today there is still no consensus on how to understand or respond to Jonestown. Academics have produced dozens of theories in hundreds of publications (some point to Jones's charisma, others to his vulnerable followers, social control techniques, or utopian zeal), but these "cult studies" and biographies fail to explain how familiar people and ideas could yield such destruction. Meanwhile, Jonestown haunts American popular speech in a phrase that makes parody of disaster: "drinking the Kool-Aid."
While public memorials have been slow to appear and modest in scale, the widespread use of the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" in American speech and writing marks a place for Jonestown in collective memory. A database search of recent news publications and broadcasts, along with such sites as the online Urban Dictionary, confirm the phrase's popularity. Used most often to describe irrational or blind support for a trend or leader, the term appears most frequently in political contexts. In August, for example, former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson said current Governor Jim Doyle was "drinking some Kool-Aid" when he predicted that Barack Obama would carry Wisconsin in the presidential election. As if to silence the voice of Jones, whose deadly preaching at the "white nights" can still be heard on recordings, "drinking the Kool-Aid" aims to reduce Jonestown to a soundbite and religious rhetoric to mere words.
According to Rebecca Moore, the trivializing phrase is symptomatic of cultural dissociation and amnesia. The prevalence of the term since 2001, when many commentators compared Osama bin Laden to Jim Jones, may point to a growing awareness of and discomfort with religious violence. According to David Chidester, this avoidance is itself religious in nature: "rituals of exclusion" were mobilized from the outset to isolate Jonestown from mainstream consciousness. Likewise, James W. Chesebro and David T. McMahan argue that coverage of Jonestown and other murder-suicides in The New York Times reduces these events to grotesque and burlesque formulas, keeping them safely distant from ordinary life.
For scholars of religion, Jonestown grimly demonstrates the relevance and complexity of their field. In 1982 Jonathan Z. Smith noted that religious studies had yet to grapple with the ecstatic experiences and utopian vision of what Jones called "revolutionary suicide." Smith called for careful comparative interpretations of Jonestown that acknowledge the humanity of Jones and his followers. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas went further, finding fault with the anti-religious prejudice of most responses: "We assume that being modern involves at least agreement that no one ought to take religion too seriously, especially if it is going to ask any real sacrifices from us…[W]e should take seriously what happened there as an act of revolutionary suicide that should initially be morally honored and respected."
Smith's and Hauerwas's challenges remain: Jonestown still makes no sense without rigorous analysis of "religion." Recent studies of Jonestown's aftermath and reception represent first steps toward a reckoning with the issue, yet considerable resistance remains. Homegrown religious violence, especially mixed as it was in the People's Temple with the politics of race and social change, creates deep discomfort. Despite all that has been written and learned since Septemer 11, 2001, the avoidance and trivialization of Jonestown indicate how far we have to go. The modern American movement called Pentacostalism, which was so violently appropriated by the People's Temple, now claims about a quarter of the world's Christians, and it is growing very quickly in Africa and Latin America. An understanding of this diverse and vibrant religious movement must attend to all its cultural and historical manifestations, including Jonestown.
Whether use of the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" opens a window on the American psyche, it certainly reflects a failure to think carefully about the categories of religion and secularity, memory and forgetting. Defenders and critics of religion alike tend to regard religion as a benevolent but limited feature of private life. The defensiveness of people of faith thus mirrors the dismissiveness of skeptics. The popularity of "drinking the Kool-Aid" asks for clearer thinking about the power of religion and the words spoken and written in its name. Such clarity is the first step toward acknowledging the humanity and familiarity of Jones and his followers.
Posted on: Thursday, November 20, 2008 - 20:12
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (11-20-08)
Ayman al-Zawahiri attacked Barack Obama in a video released on the internet on Tuesday. Fox News reprinted the whole transcript here. I'm a little bit confused by this step, since I thought the US networks had agreed under pressure from Bush only to carry excerpts from al-Qaeda, and the US elite has been deeply critical, to say the least, of Aljazeera for carrying 2-minute clips. (Of course, all this brouhaha is hypocritical, since Rupert Murdoch's satellite service in Asia carries both Aljazeera and Aljazeera English; Murdoch owns Fox News). Fox seems to be the only network carrying the full English text (which was provided by al-Sahab, the al-Qaeda video production company (see the videos below).
The headline in most comments on the video was that al-Zawahiri used a racist slur against Obama, calling him a"house Negro" and referring to the distinction Malcolm X made between pro-white slaves who lived next to the mansion, and the"field Negros" who toiled beneath the whip and hated their master.
In the video, al-Zawahiri does pointedly refer to Malcolm X's distinction. But he speaks in Arabic of"`abid al-bayt,""the house slave," and does not use the word"Negro" (which the al-Sahab translators are rendering 'zinji.') The connotations and implications are much the same, but it is not exact to say that al-Zawahiri used the phrase"house Negro" himself.
The Egyptian physician and mass murderer made a key error in his analysis, however, since if we were to take Malcolm X's parable seriously, Barack Obama would have to be assigned the role of the master.
In the past 50 years, the United States has, by dint of enormous daily ethical struggle, altered the dynamics of race. It is no longer the case that African-Americans only have a choice of serving under a white elite or rebelling against it. They can be senator or president in their own right. There is still a great deal of economic and educational inequality, and one election will not suddenly change that, but America's Apartheid days are gone. Al-Zawahiri, formed intellectually in the late 1960s, is stuck in a paradigm, of a worldwide revolution of people of color against the white global ruling class, which is nonsensical when Japan and China have the second and fourth largest economies, respectively, and when the United States has an African-American president.
Ironically 89 percent of the true heirs of Malcolm X, the contemporary American Muslim community, voted for Obama; and they had a 95 percent turnout, the highest in their history.
Al-Zawahiri celebrates what he sees as the US admission of defeat in Iraq (insofar as it has committed to leave by 2011). That al-Zawahiri can gloat about the withdrawal in this way underlines how foolish Bush and his cronies were to attempt to militarily occupy, over a period of several years, a major Arab Muslim country with a strong history of popular resistance to imperialism. Bush by his arrogance and ignorance granted this talking point to al-Qaeda.
Still, it has to be said that radical Sunni fundamentalism was never a majority tendency among Iraqi Sunnis, and appears to be spiralling down into insignificance. The real victor in Iraq is not al-Qaeda and its ideological soul mates, but rather the pro-Iranian Shiite government of Nuri al-Maliki. Al-Zawahiri viciously attacked Iran in his last video, and spoke darkly of an Iranian alliance with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So if Bush was defeated in Iraq, so was al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda (insofar as their ideological soul mates, the Sunni radical fundamentalists there, have been largely rolled back).
Al-Zawahiri complains about Barack Obama's warm feelings for Israel and his willingness to pray alongside Jews, characterizing that gesture as a declaration of enmity toward Muslims. But Egypt and Jordan are majority-Muslim and they have peace treaties with Israel; and 65 percent of American Muslims believe that a peace settlement can be reached with Israel that is also fair to the Palestinians. So the issue cannot be one of simply enmity toward Islam (are Egyptians and Jordanians self-hating Muslims?)
The terrorist mastermind is even more scathing toward Obama's hopes of talking to Iran and of sending more troops to fight in Afghanistan."That has failure written all over it," al-Zawahiri pronounced.
It is absolutely clear toward the end of the video that al-Zawahiri is petrified of Obama's popularity and is very afraid that he will be a game-changer in relations between the Muslim world and the United States. Hence his flailing around talking about house slaves, as though Obama were not (as of Jan. 20) himself the most powerful man in the world, catapulted into his position by nearly half of American whites (who voted for him in higher proportions than they did for Clinton and Kerry).
Al-Zawahiri has seen a lot of Muslim politics, and if he is this afraid of Obama, it is a sign that the new president has enormous potential to deploy soft power against al-Qaeda, and al-Zawahiri is running scared, trying to pretend it is still the 1960s, when it just isn't.
Hassan al-Subaihi argues that before the election, Arabs overwhelmingly supported Obama, but that his appointment of Israeli-American Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff has divided them into a number of camps, each with a different view of the new president. Ironically, he finds that Palestinian intellectuals are among the most realistic and yet positive about Obama. The least hopeful are the radical fundamentalists (e.g. Hamas) and the poorly educated.
Obama has the opportunity to be the most popular US president in the Middle East since Eisenhower. If he is wise, he will defeat al-Zawahiri not just by military means but by stealing away al-Zawahiri's own intended constituency. Obama is about building communities up; al-Zawahiri is about destroying them. If Obama can convince the Arab publics of this basic fact, he will win.
The Zawahiri video is subtitled in English:
The Zawahiri video, Part I:
And, here is Part II:
Posted on: Thursday, November 20, 2008 - 19:32
SOURCE: LAT (11-18-08)
People love Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on the Lincoln presidency,"Team of Rivals." More important, for this moment in American history, Barack Obama loves it. The book is certainly fun to read, but its claim that Abraham Lincoln revealed his"political genius" through the management of his wartime Cabinet deserves a harder look, especially now that it seems to be offering a template for the new administration.
"Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet," is the way Obama has summarized Goodwin's thesis, adding,"Whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis."
That's true enough, but the problem is, it didn't work that well for Lincoln. There were painful trade-offs with the "team of rivals" approach that are never fully addressed in the book, or by others that offer happy-sounding descriptions of the Lincoln presidency.
Lincoln's decision to embrace former rivals, for instance, inevitably meant ignoring old friends -- a development they took badly. "We made Abe and, by God, we can unmake him," complained Chicago Tribune Managing Editor Joseph Medill in 1861. Especially during 1861 and 1862, the first two years of Lincoln's initially troubled administration, friends growled over his ingratitude as former rivals continued to play out their old political feuds.
In fairness, Goodwin describes several of these more difficult moments, such as when Secretary of State William Seward tried to seize political command from Lincoln during the Ft. Sumter crisis. But she passes over their consequences too easily.
Though Seward, the former New York senator who had been the Republican front-runner, eventually proved helpful to the president, the impact of repeated disloyalty and unnecessary backroom drama from him and several other Cabinet officers was a significant factor in the early failures of the Union war effort.
By December 1862, there was a full-blown Cabinet crisis.
"We are now on the brink of destruction," Lincoln confided to a close friend after being deluged with congressional criticism and confronted by resignations from both Seward and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Goodwin suggests that Lincoln's quiet confidence and impressive emotional intelligence enabled him to survive and ultimately forge an effective team out of his former rivals, but that's more wishful thinking than serious analysis.
Consider this inconvenient truth: Out of the four leading vote-getters for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination whom Lincoln placed on his original team, three left during his first term -- one in disgrace, one in defiance and one in disgust.
Simon Cameron was the disgraced rival, Lincoln's failed first secretary of War. Goodwin essentially erased him from her group biography, not mentioning him in the book's first 200 pages, even though he placed third, after Seward and Lincoln, on the first Republican presidential ballot. Cameron proved so corrupt and inept that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives censured him after he was removed from office in 1862.
Chase was the defiant rival. As Goodwin acknowledges, the Treasury chief never reconciled himself to Lincoln's victory, continuously angling to replace him. Lincoln put up with this aggravation until he secured renomination and then dumped his brilliant but arrogant subordinate because, in his words, their"mutual embarrassment" was no longer sustainable.
Atty. Gen. Edward Bates was the disgusted rival. The elder statesman -- 67 when he was appointed -- never felt at home in the Lincoln Cabinet and played only a marginal role in shaping policy. He resigned late in the first term. His diary reflects deep discontent with what he considered the relentless political maneuvering of his Cabinet peers and even the president.
"Alas!" Bates wrote in August 1864,"that I should live to see such abject fear -- such small stolid indifference to duty -- such open contempt of Constitution and law -- and such profound ignorance of policy and prudence!"
Only Seward endured throughout the Civil War. He and Lincoln did become friends, and he provided some valuable political advice, but the significance of his contributions as Lincoln's secretary of State have been challenged by many historians, and his repeated fights with other party leaders were always distracting.
John Hay, one of Lincoln's closest aides, noted in his diary that by the summer of 1863, the president had essentially learned to rule his Cabinet with"tyrannous authority," observing that the"most important things he decides & there is no cavil."
Over the years, it has become easy to forget that hard edge and the once bad times that nearly destroyed a president. Lincoln's Cabinet was no team. His rivals proved to be uneven as subordinates. Some were capable despite their personal disloyalty, yet others were simply disastrous.
Lincoln was a political genius, but his model for Cabinet-building should stand more as a cautionary tale than as a leadership manual.
Posted on: Thursday, November 20, 2008 - 19:02
SOURCE: NYT (11-19-08)
INSPIRED by the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, President-elect Barack Obama is considering appointing a “team of rivals” to his cabinet — if rumors about the nomination of Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state are true. But there’s more mythology than history in the idea that Lincoln showed exceptional political skill in offering cabinet positions to the men he had beaten in the race for the 1860 Republican nomination.
For one thing, there was nothing new in what Lincoln did. By tradition, presidents-elect reserved a cabinet position, often secretary of state, for the leading rival in their party. John Quincy Adams inaugurated the practice by appointing one of his presidential rivals, Henry Clay, to that post. It was a controversial move in 1824; enemies of Adams denounced the appointment as a corrupt bargain.
By the 1850s, the practice had become a tradition. In that decade, Presidents Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan installed in their cabinets men who had been major rivals for their party’s nomination. Daniel Webster, who lost the Whig Party nod in 1848, became Fillmore’s secretary of state. William Marcy, after failing to win the 1852 Democratic nomination, took the same position in Pierce’s cabinet. Lewis Cass, the Democratic nominee in 1848 and a man whose presidential dreams never diminished, was appointed Buchanan’s secretary of state in 1857. These were not notably successful administrations. Most historians agree that Pierce and Buchanan rank among the worst presidents in American history. There was nothing particularly unusual, or even impressive, when Lincoln followed this well-established practice.
Nor is it quite correct to say that Lincoln installed his “enemies” in the cabinet. Rivals for his own party’s nomination are not the same thing as political “enemies.” It would have been inconceivable, for example, for Lincoln to offer a cabinet appointment to his Democratic opponent, Stephen Douglas....
There is little doubt that Abraham Lincoln was a great president. But not much of what made him great can be discerned in his appointment of a contentious, envious and often dysfunctional collection of prima donnas to his cabinet.
Posted on: Thursday, November 20, 2008 - 16:59
SOURCE: USA Today (11-19-08)
My grandmother is 101 years old. She has slowed down lately, as you might guess, but she still reads the newspaper every morning.
And she has never been on the World Wide Web.
I thought of Grandma recently when I learned that one of America's most venerable newspapers — The Christian Science Monitor — had decided to abandon its print edition. Starting in April, the paper will appear online only. Other smaller papers around the country have done likewise.
For its own part, the Monitor plans to introduce a new in-print weekend magazine. But the rest of the paper will appear only online, and many observers expect other newspapers to follow.
That's very bad news for elderly readers such as Grandma, who use the Internet much less than the rest of us. According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, only 28% of Americans 70 and older go online. And the rest of us are forgetting about them. Consider the surprise and mockery that greeted John McCain earlier this year when the 72-year-old GOP presidential candidate admitted that he didn't surf the Internet. A senior citizen who doesn't go online? That's news?
One day, it will be. After all, 72% of 51- to 59-year-olds and 54% of 60- to 69-year-olds already use the Net. As these Americans age, more and more of them will go online. In the future, then, even the very elderly will be heavily wired.
But we're not there yet. Nobody knows how frequently our oldest citizens go online, but it's probably not often. In a 2007 survey, for example, just 6% of American centenarians said they have been on the Web. For people like my grandmother, then, the demise of print newspapers would mean the end of newspapers, period.
And for the rest of us, it might mean something else: the decline of sustained concentration, deliberation and analysis. When we read on the Web, recent studies suggest, we're much more likely to skim a piece — or to stop reading it altogether — than when we encounter it in print formats.
If you're reading this essay online, you can click on any number of nearby links and windows right now. Maybe you already have. But if you're reading it on paper, there's a better chance that you'll stay focused on the piece until you have finished it.
You're also more likely to form the mental connections that make for real learning. The Internet is an astonishing source of information, allowing us to access vast pools of data instantaneously. Even so, it will never provide the tools to interpret this material: to put it in context, to compare it with what came before, and so on.
That's precisely the type of knowledge that senior citizens can impart, of course, because they've seen the broadest swath of history.
So I have a modest proposal: As newspapers move to online-only formats, they should also spearhead a nationwide volunteer effort to supply readers for senior citizens. To be sure, thousands of Americans already read the paper to elderly neighbors and family members. But this service will become ever more critical in the coming years, as more and more news outlets shrink or cancel their print editions.
The next time you visit an elderly friend or relative, bring your laptop. You'll expose her to news events and trends. In exchange, if you pause to listen, she'll give you the deep wisdom that too often eludes our digitized world.
That's what Grandma does for me.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 - 21:25