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: TomDispatch.com (12-9-08)
Looking back on Barack Obama's first post-election interview with "60 Minutes," no one should be surprised that he admitted he's reading about Franklin D. Roosevelt's first hundred days in office. In fact, the president-elect -- evidently taking no chances -- is reportedly reading two books: Jonathan Alter's The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope and Jean Edward Smith's FDR. As he told"Sixty Minutes," his administration will emulate FDR's"willingness to try things and experiment… If something doesn't work, [we're] gonna try something else until [we] find something that does." That's one reason Obama, like FDR, has claimed that he wants advisors who will offer him a wide variety of viewpoints.
Not too wide, however. In his first hundred days, Roosevelt made it clear that he -- like Obama -- considered himself a reformer, but distinctly not a radical. He certainly didn't intend to use the economic crisis of 1932 to create a society of full economic equality and social justice. He just wanted to make sure that every American had at least a bare minimum of economic security.
FDR's overriding goal was, in reality, to head off movements for fundamental change. As he wrote privately before he became president, it was"time for the country to become fairly radical," but only"for a generation" -- because"history shows that where this occurs occasionally, nations are saved from revolution."
"There will be a gain throughout our country of communistic thought," Roosevelt also warned,"unless we can keep democracy up to its old ideals and its original purposes." Years later, he would boast that his greatest achievement was saving the capitalist system.
Obama ended his"Sixty Minutes" interview on a similar note:"Our basic principle that this is a free market system and that that has worked for us, that it creates innovation and risk taking, I think that's a principle that we've gotta hold to." Though he talks about the benefits of"spreading the wealth around," like his famous predecessor, he most certainly doesn't want to spread it too fast or too far, nor does his team of economic advisers.
But the president-elect may be reading the wrong history. Perhaps, instead of reading about Roosevelt's first hundred days, he should read Chapter 16 of Smith's FDR, which describes how growing political pressure kept Roosevelt looking over his left shoulder. By 1934, new labor organizations like the Congress of Industrial Organizations, charismatic leaders like Louisiana's Governor Huey Long, and social innovators like California physician Francis Townsend were offering concrete plans to spread the wealth far faster and wider than Roosevelt's New Deal ever would. Continuing economic catastrophe, fused with the mood of hope and change that he himself had stirred up, gave rise to the threat that the president might be unseated if he did not move leftwards.
Consummate politician that he was, Roosevelt did move -- just far enough to ensure his reelection. In the 1936 campaign, he ratcheted up the rhetoric, fiercely attacking the"economic royalists" who controlled the" corporations, banks, and securities." It was the kind of language that would please any 2008 progressive. He decried the injustice of a country where more than half the wealth was controlled by less than 200 big corporations, all tied together by interlocking directorates and banks. This small group, he insisted, had established"a new industrial dictatorship" -- far stronger words than we're used to today -- with"an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor -- other people's lives." To Americans, FDR pledged to master these"economic royalists" who held the public in"economic slavery."
In the most important speech of the campaign, he promised to"increase wages that spell starvation… wipe out sweatshops… provide useful work for the needy unemployed… end monopoly in business… protect the consumer against unnecessary price spreads, against the costs that are added by monopoly and speculation… support collective bargaining… work for the regulation of security issues… for the wiping out of slums." For all these things, FDR exclaimed,"and for a multitude of things like them we have only just begun to fight."
That 1936 campaign is the history both a politically canny president-elect and progressives should be reading right now. It would remind him, and teach us, that a centrist president can be pushed, under the pressure of tough times and rising public hopes, in our direction -- if, that is, we are dedicated, well-organized, and persistent enough. Under pressure, Roosevelt moved an agenda that, in 1932, sounded radical indeed into the respectable center of American politics only four years later.
It was the kind of agenda that many liberal or even centrist Americans came to support by 1936. Today, polling data show that a majority of Americans who call themselves liberal or centrist agree with many of the most prominent progressive stances of this moment, including
* paying higher taxes to receive more government services;
* substantial increases in taxes on corporations and the rich;
* strict controls on the financial investment market;
* significant public expenditures to guarantee universal health care, provide higher education for all who want it, and promote renewable energy technologies;
* dramatic steps to preserve and improve the environment;
* the replacing of free trade policies with fair trade policies;
* vigorously protecting reproductive rights.
The overriding problem for progressives is that so many voters will reject a candidate or a movement promoting this kind of progressive platform, even though they agree individually with most of that candidate's or that movement's policy positions. If that is to change in a way Americans can believe in, and so push President Barack Obama in new directions, we have to be politically smarter.
The Hopes and Fears of Voters
So here's a lesson we can learn from Roosevelt's 1936 campaign. To gain his landslide victory, he certainly won over millions of voters already to his left. But he also kept the votes of many more millions not prepared to imagine that they were moving leftwards. Obama, too, won crucial votes from people significantly more conservative than he is -- not just because the economy collapsed, but because he had a canny sense of how to take advantage of that"opportunity."
The challenge for progressives is to do the same: to use the sense of open-ended possibility sparked by Obama's victory to push the electorate -- and thus the Obama administration -- further than it now is willing to go. But here's the most important thing: all our facts and logical arguments alone won't be enough to do the job.
We have to understand as well what top-notch politicians like Roosevelt and Obama grasp intuitively: When people lose their economic hope, they feel insecure not only about their jobs and their bank accounts, but about everything in their lives. The same uncertainty that may make them suddenly welcome a spirit of political change also can lead to an unbearable sense of being unsettled. In that situation, many people long for"a sense of continuity and stability that is unavailable in economic life," as Obama recently put it.
The president-elect knows, as FDR knew, that a successful politician must respond to voters' fears as well as hopes. Both in the early 1930s and today, the winning presidential candidates sensed that any politician or movement that seemed to symbolize not just change, but overly rapid and unsettling change, would have a tough time getting public approval, no matter what policies were being promoted.
Obama has been nothing short of brilliant at communicating a message of continuity and a promise of stability, even as he was leading chants of"Yes, we can!" He did so more by his style than by substance. He created an image of a dynamic leader who could" change the world" while remaining safe and solid, poised and unflappable, a man never likely to do anything rash or impulsive. That's a rare gift which few of us can hope to emulate.
We can, however, learn from him and from Roosevelt, who used words even more skillfully than Obama to offer a reassuring sense of stability. Roosevelt was successful in shifting the center further left, in part by embedding his innovations in an old narrative, effectively couching every new policy in a blanket of traditional values and reassuring cultural images. In the process, he managed to make his leftward shift sound like a huge step into the past, not into a dark and unknowable future.
Consider just a few examples from his 1936 campaign speeches:
*"This concentration of economic power in all-embracing corporations does not represent private enterprise as we Americans cherish it."
*"Now, as always, for over a century and a half, the Flag, the Constitution, stand against… the over-privileged."
*"[The] war against want and destitution [is] a war for the survival of democracy… to preserve the American ideal of economic as well as political democracy."
Typically quoting Thomas Jefferson, FDR insisted that"widespread poverty and concentrated wealth cannot long endure side by side in a democracy," and that"freedom is no half-and-half affair… The average citizen… must have equal opportunity in the marketplace." He evoked the tradition of Americans as God's chosen people, as the pivot of history itself, to legitimate his economic program when he famously proclaimed,"This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."
Having won reelection with a deft combination of progressive economics and patriotic pieties, Roosevelt embellished both in his second inaugural address with the moralizing language that came so naturally to him. Pointing to"one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," he called for"the establishment of a morally better world… a nation uncorrupted by cancers of injustice… We reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization… We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics… We all go up, or else we all go down, as one people."
Claiming a Heritage
The point of all this history is not simply to praise Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although his domestic policies did a lot of lasting good, he was a centrist and a pragmatist, always ready to sacrifice an ideal to win a political victory. And he would sacrifice plenty, delivering far less than he promised after his stunning victory in 1936, when he swept Republican candidate Alf Landon in 46 of the 48 states. It's certainly possible that Barack Obama will do much the same.
The point, however, is to learn from these shrewd politicians that, in a time of uncertainty when no one knows for sure what political path the nation will follow, every policy option actually lies open, from the far right to the far left. Those of us who tend to take the left fork could bring surprisingly large numbers of people with us -- many of them new to our road -- if we were willing to use a language that offered a genuine promise of cultural continuity and stability underneath the economic and political change we promote.
It's not just socially conservative working-class whites that need to be appealed to, but voters who already see themselves as center-left or even liberal, but not that liberal, not yet ready to opt for a truly progressive candidate.
There are endless ways to do this, but FDR's speeches of 1936 offer especially fruitful examples. Of course, as Obama said,"For us to simply recreate what existed back in the Thirties in the twenty-first century would be missing the boat. We've gotta come up with solutions that are true to our times and true to this moment. And that's gonna be our job."
As progressives, our job is to learn from Obama and FDR the political and rhetorical skills to push back against whatever array of centrist (or right-centrist) compromises the new administration is bound to make. If we do that effectively, we can capitalize on the new mood of possibility amid a landscape of increasing desolation and so push the nation toward lasting structures of economic justice.
It's also our job to move the administration and the public toward peace, demilitarization, and an end to the foreign policy of empire -- which, of course, began with FDR. In the latter years of his presidency, he used the language of patriotism, cultural tradition, and moral values to get a vast majority of Americans to embrace a foreign policy they had never dreamed they would support: entangling alliances to promote an American-led system of global corporate capitalism and the beginnings of a huge permanent national (in)security state to defend that system.
For years now, polls have shown that most Americans are willing to roll back the most harmful of the policies that FDR initiated in the midst of a global war. They would support major reductions in the military budget and in the U.S. military presence abroad. They would favor a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. And yet they might well not favor a candidate who took just those stands. Again, it all depends on how those policy changes are presented.
We proponents of peace and economic justice should not use words we don't believe in. But we are in fact moved by deeply moral commitments, though we don't claim to possess the absolute moral truth (and recognize, in fact, that those who make such claims pose a threat to democracy). Why not say all of that loud and clear, over and over again? It's a language Americans of every stripe tend to respond to.
Since we'll be reiterating what some Americans of stature in every generation have said, why not proudly claim their words as our national heritage?
As for patriotism: A fundamental mistake that radicals and antiwar protesters made in the 1960s was to sew the flag to the seat of their pants rather than carrying it high and proud at the front of every protest march. Radicals then should have presented themselves as the truest patriots (which indeed they were). Instead, they helped get their political views firmly entrenched in the mainstream media -- and the public mind -- as symbols of anti-Americanism and a threat to every kind of cultural stability.
Now the gathering economic storm and a linked mood of open-ended possibility give us a chance to correct that mistake. That's why we should study the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt even more closely than the president-elect does. If Obama prefers to read about the first hundred days in 1933, we should leap ahead of him and begin studying the last days of that first Roosevelt term -- a page out of the past that points to a possible future, where Obama must give progressives the change we hope for. Let FDR's rhetorical style be one guide to our future, as well as the new president's.
Posted on: Sunday, December 14, 2008 - 22:35
SOURCE: New York Review of Books (12-18-08)
How did this second great colossal muddle arise? In the aftermath of the Great Depression, we redesigned the machine so that we did understand it, well enough at any rate to avoid big disasters. Banks, the piece of the system that malfunctioned so badly in the 1930s, were placed under tight regulation and supported by a strong safety net. Meanwhile, international movements of capital, which played a disruptive role in the 1930s, were also limited. The financial system became a little boring but much safer.
Then things got interesting and dangerous again. Growing international capital flows set the stage for devastating currency crises in the 1990s and for a globalized financial crisis in 2008. The growth of the shadow banking system, without any corresponding extension of regulation, set the stage for latter-day bank runs on a massive scale. These runs involved frantic mouse clicks rather than frantic mobs outside locked bank doors, but they were no less devastating.
What we're going to have to do, clearly, is relearn the lessons our grandfathers were taught by the Great Depression. I won't try to lay out the details of a new regulatory regime, but the basic principle should be clear: anything that has to be rescued during a financial crisis, because it plays an essential role in the financial mechanism, should be regulated when there isn't a crisis so that it doesn't take excessive risks. Since the 1930s commercial banks have been required to have adequate capital, hold reserves of liquid assets that can be quickly converted into cash, and limit the types of investments they make, all in return for federal guarantees when things go wrong. Now that we've seen a wide range of non-bank institutions create what amounts to a banking crisis, comparable regulation has to be extended to a much larger part of the system.
We're also going to have to think hard about how to deal with financial globalization. In the aftermath of the Asian crisis of the 1990s, there were some calls for long-term restrictions on international capital flows, not just temporary controls in times of crisis. For the most part these calls were rejected in favor of a strategy of building up large foreign exchange reserves that were supposed to stave off future crises. Now it seems that this strategy didn't work. For countries like Brazil and Korea, it must seem like a nightmare: after all that they've done, they're going through the 1990s crisis all over again. Exactly what form the next response should take isn't clear, but financial globalization has definitely turned out to be even more dangerous than we realized....
Posted on: Friday, December 12, 2008 - 18:03
SOURCE: American Prospect (12-11-08)
But don't expect history to repeat itself. Seventy years ago, most sit-down strikes took place at huge auto and rubber plants -- then essential cogs in the industrial base upon which the whole economy depended. The biggest occupation took place at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan, during the winter of 1937; it lasted for six frigid weeks. In contemporary Chicago, the same tactic was successful in only six days. But labor will have to heed other lessons from the past if it hopes to regain something of its past glory.
Although they were breaking the law, the sit-down strikers held the upper hand; there was never a chance GM would go bankrupt or shift production to a country where wages were lower and unions didn't exist. In contrast, the employees holding down the fort at Republic Windows and Doors only demanded the vacation and severance they are due under the union contract. "They're staying because … these workers have nothing to lose at this point," explained an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers -- known to labor people as the UE. The tactic may not seem particularly novel to the workers; many are immigrants from Latin American countries in which factory occupations occur more frequently than in the United States.
The sit-downers of 2008 did have one advantage over their militant forerunners: unambiguous political support from leading Democrats. FDR, despite his pro-labor reputation, made no public statement about the Flint strike; in private, he urged the warring camps to negotiate a settlement. The president left the messy details to the governor of Michigan, liberal Frank Murphy, who urged GM wage-earners to vacate the plant but refused to order the National Guard to force them out.
This time around, however, leading Democrats stood by the occupiers from the start. President-elect Barack Obama asserted, "The workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned … are absolutely right. What's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy." FDR never said anything so supportive about striking workers. Before he was arrested, Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois ordered his state to "suspend doing any business with Bank of America" until the financial giant restored a line of credit to Republic that should allow the firm to fulfill its contractual obligations. The local congressman, Luis Guiterrez, helped pressure both corporations to do the right thing.
This is a happy development for anyone who cares about the health of the labor movement. In U.S. history, unions have rarely advanced without the support or at least friendly neutrality of powerful politicians. Corporations seldom agree to bargain with labor unless they have no alternative. A liberal government can pass laws that require employers to behave responsibly -- and condemn firms that betray the common good.
But even sympathetic politicians will soon turn away from unions that lose the backing of the public. During the early Cold War, the officials of some labor organizations -- including the same UE that represents workers at Republic -- belonged to the Communist Party and refused to denounce the Soviet Union. Democrats shunned them, and the mainstream of the labor movement treated them as pariahs. Attacked by Red-baiting congressmen and competing unions, the UE’s membership quickly shriveled.
Today's labor movement expects the new president and his majority in Congress to enact the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which will, in theory, make it easier to organize new members. But it is one thing to side with laid-off workers demanding pay they deserve and quite another to help unions gain enhanced power that could threaten the control and profits of a company like Wal-Mart upon which thousands of communities depend.
To make that leap, labor needs to recover the kind of moral vision that once convinced thousands of workers to spend their winter next to cold machines, awaiting a military assault that, thankfully, never came. Their vision went under the name of "industrial democracy." Seven decades later, unions in the Obama era will need something better than "nothing left to lose."
Posted on: Friday, December 12, 2008 - 15:02
SOURCE: Salon (12-12-08)
A consensus is emerging among intelligence analysts and pundits that Pakistan may be President-elect Barack Obama's greatest policy challenge. A base for terrorist groups, the country has a fragile new civilian government and a long history of military coups. The dramatic attack on Mumbai by members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Tayiba, the continued Taliban insurgency on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the frailty of the new civilian government, and the country's status as a nuclear-armed state have all put Islamabad on the incoming administration's front burner.
But does Obama understand what he's getting into? In his "Meet the Press" interview with Tom Brokaw on Sunday, Obama said, "We need a strategic partnership with all the parties in the region -- Pakistan and India and the Afghan government -- to stamp out the kind of militant, violent, terrorist extremists that have set up base camps and that are operating in ways that threaten the security of everybody in the international community." Obama's scenario assumes that the Pakistani government is a single, undifferentiated thing, and that all parts of the government would be willing to "stamp out" terrorists. Both of those assumptions are incorrect.
Pakistan's government has a profound internal division between the military and the civilian, which have alternated in power since the country was born from the partition of British India in 1947. It is this military insubordination that creates most of the country's serious political problems. Washington worries too much about other things in Pakistan and too little about the sheer power of the military. United States analysts often express fears about an internal fundamentalist challenge to the chiefs of staff. The main issue, however, is not that Pakistan's military is too weak, but that it is too strong. And that is complicated by the fact that elements within the military are at odds, not just with the civilian government, but also with each other....
The complex layers of the ISI, a state within the state, make it questionable whether Musharraf ever really controlled it. Now Pakistan's new civilian president is even less well-placed to control it, or to discover how the militant cells work, both inside the ISI and among the retirees. It is not even clear whether the ISI is willing to take orders from Zardari and other officials in the new government. When Prime Minister Gilani announced that the ISI would have to report to the civilian Interior Ministry, the decree was overturned within a day under "immense pressure from defense circles." When the government pledged to send the head of the ISI to India for consultations on the Mumbai attacks in late November, it was apparently overruled by the military.
The captured terrorist in Mumbai, Amir Ajmal Qassab, appears to have told Indian interrogators that his group was trained in Pakistani Kashmir by retired Pakistani officers. It is certain that President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, and Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kiyani were uninvolved in the terrorist strike on Mumbai. But were there rogue cells inside the ISI or the army officer corps that were running the retirees who put the Lashkar-e Tayiba up to striking India? On Sunday, Zardari's forces raided the Lashkar-e Tayiba camps in Pakistani Kashmir and arrested a major LeT leader, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, whom Indian intelligence accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks. The move was considered gutsy in Pakistan, where there is substantial popular support for the struggle to free Muslim Kashmir of India, a struggle in which the Lashkar has long been the leading organization.
This murky Chinese puzzle raises the question of how Obama can hope to cooperate with the Pakistani government to curb the groups mounting attacks in Afghanistan and Kashmir. ...
Posted on: Friday, December 12, 2008 - 14:44
SOURCE: Special to HNN (12-11-08)
Whether or not auto bailout legislation passes,, the US economy is about to experience an abandonment cycle, comparable to what took place in the South Bronx in the 1970's and in rustbelt cities throughout the 1980's.. Beginning in January,, the US retail sector,, which is desperately trying to get rid of inventory during the holiday season, will suffer a wave of closings, bankruptcies and foreclosures the like of which has never been seen in modern US history. All over the nation, as layoffs and the credit freeze take their toll on consumers (who are having their last "splurge" between Thanksgiving and New Years), thousands of stores and restaurants will be closing their doors, turning commercial districts into ghost towns and forcing many malls and commercial buildings to the edge of bankruptcy. When you add to this all the auto dealer ships that will be closing, and all the new office buildings and luxury apartment complexes that will remain empty because they can't attract tenants, Americans will be confront an extraordinarily demoralizing, visual evidence of their economy's failure to prepare for a devastating and possibly permanent decline in consumer demand.
As someone who witnessed the effect of a devastating abandonment cycle on the South Bronx and parts of Brooklyn in the 1970's, I am acutely aware of how a tragedy of this kind can produce demoralization, division and and paralysis. It took nearly ten years for community organizations to begin rebuilding devastated neighborhoods, of the South Bronx and nearly thirty years for those neighborhoods to approach their previous levels of population growth and economic vitality.
But we have two big advantages over the residents of the South Bronx and Brownsville in the 1970's- first, we know this tragedy is coming, even thought it's probably unavoidable,, and second, it will affecting the entire nation not just the poorest neighborhoods in a single Northeastern city. ;
But what should we do about this?
The strategy that I would recommend, following the model created by activists in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin wall is "temporary occupancy. When Berlin became one city after
reunification,, an enormous number of state owned enterprises failed when forced to compete in the private marketplace, leaving in their wake a huge number of abandoned factories,
warehouses, apartment houses and storefronts. Into the breach stepped thousands of political activists, artists, students and ordinary citizens, who without legal sanction took possession of abandoned spaces and set up living cooperatives, art and music studios and community owned clubs, bars and restaurants, doing their own construction work and taking electricity and water from the street or adjoining buildings. So large was this movement (soon fueled by participants from all over Germany and all over Europe,) that the police were powerless to evict the occupiers. But more the point, the movement began generating successful new enterprises and began to revive decaying portions of the city. Within several years, the Berlin city government actually gave legal recognition to the movement by allowing groups to occupy buildings free of charge for up to three years provided they
could fund the costs of making buildings habitable.
This model, I suggest, is well suited to the abandonment cycle that is about to hit large sections of the nation. If community organizations, artists cooperatives, trade unions, and student organizations start preparing now,, they can begin occupying abandoned stores, ware houses, car dealerships and luxury apartment buildings en masse when the economic crisis hits. From the very day they seize abandoned space, these groups should be demanding legal recognition of their efforts, whether they be using the space to create youth centers, housing for homeless families, art and music studios, food cooperatives, research centers for green technology or health center using alternative medicine Initially, some of the groups seizing space may risk eviction or arrest, but once authorities see the benefits of such occupancy in terms of safety and economic vitality for the communities they are taking place in ( nothing contributes more to crime and vandalism than permanently abandoned structures!), authorities well follow the model of Berlin and give such efforts legal sanction.
Given what is happening in our economy, we have little to lose in trying such a strategy. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs, millions more are losing their homes, or apartments and a generation of students will be leaving college and graduate school without meaningful job prospects. To wait till credit markets expand enough, and consumption revives enough for the market to restore abandoned space to commercial use, may involve waiting for ten years. Why not circumvent this process and create our own enterprises outside the conventional credit system and force markets to adapt to us?. In the process, we will energize a generation of young people who face idleness and demoralization, create living space for the homeless,, turn abandoned commercial strips into centers of activity and quite possibly, spawn a musical and artistic renaissance.
We can't remain passive in the face of the worst economic crisis to hit us since the Great Depression. Let's start organizing now to turn tragedy into opportunity. Occupying abandoned space can be the Civil Rights- and Human Rights- cause of this era.
Posted on: Thursday, December 11, 2008 - 19:24
SOURCE: NYT (12-11-08)
THE three-month “interregnum” between Barack Obama’s election and George W. Bush’s last day in office makes one long for a parliamentary system, where the defeated prime minister leaves and his successor takes over at once. As the country faces the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, you might think that it’s too bad it can’t happen here — but once it almost did, during another time of crisis.
In 1916, with the United States on the brink of entering World War I, Woodrow Wilson seemed likely to lose his bid for re-election. Despite a spectacular record of domestic legislation (establishing the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission and a graduated income tax, among other successes), the president was bound by the hard facts of political geography.
In those days, Wilson’s Democratic Party held the South and the interior West, but the Republicans controlled the Northeast and Midwest — which supplied them with a reliable majority in the Electoral College and control of Congress. The election that year was eerily similar to the 2000 race, with everything hanging on a recount in a single swing state, California. The result remained in doubt for nearly two weeks.
The precarious state of relations with the nations at war in Europe, particularly Germany, made Wilson fear for national security in the event of an interregnum — which then, before the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933, lasted more than a month longer than it does today. A former professor of political science who had studied and admired parliamentary systems, Wilson decided upon a drastic plan to shorten this uneasy period.
Two days before the election he had a sealed letter, which he had typed himself, hand-delivered to the secretary of state, who was then third in line of succession to the presidency. Wilson wrote that if he lost he would immediately appoint his Republican opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, secretary of state, and then he and his vice president would resign, making Hughes president at once. Wilson said he was proposing this plan because those were not “ordinary times” and “no such critical circumstances in regard to our foreign policy have ever existed before.”...
Posted on: Thursday, December 11, 2008 - 16:14
SOURCE: http://www.takimag.com (12-8-08)
A bold terrorist attack on a peaceful city strikes fear, then horror among bystanders, then an entire nation. Gunmen barely out of their teens, sent on a clandestine one-way mission against a hated foe, create a bloody international incident with huge implications. Two neighboring states, long at loggerheads over issues of borders and identity, lurch towards war as a nervous world watches. Tension mounts when it emerges that the killers appear to possess ties to the intelligence service of one of the states, known to be a state sponsor of terrorism. The passions of the victim nation cannot be easily contained.
Mumbai 2008. And Sarajevo 1914.
For any historian of terrorism, the parallels between the recent tragedy in India and the events that led directly to World War One are eerily and disturbingly similar.
Austria-Hungary and Serbia, like Pakistan and India, were on a military and diplomatic course of mutual destruction for decades leading up to the terrorist attack that sent the region, and eventually all Europe, over the precipice. In the Balkans, the issues were ethnicity and religion, borders and sovereignty: as between India and Pakistan since 1947. More Muslims live in India than in Pakistan, just as more Serbs lived under the Habsburg Empire than actually in Serbia before 1914.
Particularly worrisome were the secret actions of Serbia’s intelligence service, a hotbed of conspiratorial violence, which for years plotted sedition, espionage, and terrorism against Austria-Hungary. Eager to change borders and destabilize the Habsburg realm, Serbian military intelligence regularly dispatched agents into Bosnia and beyond to spy and, eventually, murder; the role of rogue intelligencers in Serbia’s domestic politics was just as distasteful and destabilizing. Like Pakistan’s infamous ISI, which for years has fomented and supported covert campaigns against India in Kashmir and elsewhere, Serbia’s spies weren’t really subject to the rules of law or cabinet, and enacted their own radical agendas without much oversight. And like the ISI, Serbian military intelligence was led by true believers in the national cause, hard men possessed with a messianic vision and convinced of the need for violence to achieve those ends by employing terrorists to do deniable dirty work. Both secret services relied on fronts such as the Black Hand and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The result is deservedly infamous. Belgrade’s conspirators, led by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, a clever and ruthless man of the sword, hoped to provoke a reaction. The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on the streets of Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, did much more than that. Immediately Vienna suspected that Dimitrijevic’s firm hand had directed Gavrilo Princip, the young Bosnian Serb who had fired the fatal shots.
While there has never been any convincing evidence that the Serbian government, per se, was behind the terrorism that killed the heir to the Habsburg throne, neither has there been any real doubt about the role of Dimitrijevic and his intelligence service behind the crime; indeed, Dimitrijevic shortly before his death would proudly enumerate his vital part in the conspiracy.
Three weeks after the murders at Sarajevo, Vienna issued Belgrade an ultimatum which included ten demands. Eager to avoid war, the Serbian government agreed to nine demands, refusing only the one which stipulated that the Austrian could send investigators into Serbia to unravel the conspiracy. That Belgrade sensibly would not countenance. The result was the July Crisis and, of course, a global conflagration from which Europe has never quite recovered.
Today all eyes on are South Asia as that volatile region faces its own transformative crisis caused by terrorism. While Pakistan’s exact role in the outrage in Mumbai remains unclear, it is painfully evident that the ISI for years has supported radicals and terrorists against India. It is difficult to imagine that any Pakistani cabinet would back such crimes, but it is only too believable that Pakistani
spies may have had some sort of hand in the mass killing.
While it seems unlikely that states other than India or Pakistan could be drawn directly into the mounting crisis, as in 1914, the stakes are far higher today as the rival powers possess nuclear weapons capable of inflicting destruction on a scale unimaginable in the days of the Habsburgs. It can only be hoped that cooler heads will prevail in South Asia in the days ahead, as they signally failed to do in the Balkans in Europe’s last summer of peace.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 22:37
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (12-10-08)
A while ago, I wrote a blog about the danger Daniel Ortega posed to the people of Nicaragua, and I commented that unlike the 1980’s, few people are aware of what is happening in that nation.
Now, a Senior Fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, Kevin-Casas -Zamora, has written a brilliant and important article about Ortega and the sad nation he rules. The reaction of the world to what Ortega has done, Zamora writes, “has been rather muted. It shouldn’t be.” Zamora is right. Decades ago, when the threat of a Soviet presence in our hemisphere overshadowed other concerns, people paid attention to the Sandinista commandantes and their attempt to create a Marxist totalitarian regime in Central America. Now, without such a major geo-political concern, most commentators barely give Nicaragua a glance. But they should think again, and take a good look.
As Zamora points out, it matters a great deal. Political instability in the region is something the Western Hemisphere can ill afford, especially if it leads as well it might to conflict between neighbors in the region, and possible civil war within Nicaragua. Moreover, it could also lead to a major refugee crisis, as Nicaraguans again flee to Costa Rica or El Salvador for a safe terrain, as they have in previous years of conflict. As Zamora writes, “a prosperous and democratic Nicaragua is crucial to stability in Central America.”
Daniel Ortega is moving his nation rapidly to blatant authoritarian rule. Elections are fixed so that the ruling Sandinista party always wins; international observers have been banned from observing election day voting to judge whether it is free or coerced, and government organized mobs- so called turbas- are being used to prevent opposition demonstrations from being held.
Ortega, Zamora writes, “must understand that in a democratic Latin America, nothing less than full electoral transparency is acceptable.” To get Ortega to accept this he suggests that development assistance be used as a lever to pressure him to accept democratic standards of operation. Already Germany, Sweden, Finland and the U.K. have moved to reconsider cooperative links with Ortega’s government. The United States, even under the Bush Administration, has not withheld resources from a $175 million assistance program agreed to in 2005. Zamora is right that the balance due should be “used prudently, but firmly.”
It may be a stretch to compare Ortega to Mugabe, who has killed far more of his own countrymen than Ortega. But he is correct to observe that as bad as Hugo Chavez is, he has allowed elections to occur in Venezuela, and has reluctantly observed defeat for his forces at the polls. In the sense that Ortega does not allow any truly free electoral process to occur, he can be compared to Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The need, Zamora puts it, is for our country and other allies in the Hemisphere “not allow him to morph into” a Mugabe.
It is also true that for the most part, the Left’s love affair with the Sandinistas has all but disappeared. One still finds a few really small ads in The Nation promoting tours of Nicaragua to see the great progress the Sandinistas have achieved for the poor. But the scores of young people who once flooded the country and used to be called “Sandalistas” no longer occurs.
But Ortega still dupes some, speaking as he does the language of anti American imperialism. One wonders whether in the near future, Sean Penn will travel there to write about what a great man Ortega is, and serve up his propaganda to a gullible American audience, as he most recently has done for The Huffington Post and The Nation website.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 21:53
SOURCE: CNN (11-9-08)
The factory occupation by 200 workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, Illinois, recalls one of the most storied moments in American history, when thousands of Depression-era workers took over their own workplaces, seeking union recognition and better wages.
The pivotal battle began on the morning of December 30, 1936, when shop activists shut down a General Motors factory in Flint, Michigan, to restore the jobs of three of their workmates fired by the company. From the windows, they sang in rowdy camaraderie:
When they tie the can to a union man,
Sit down! Sit down!
When they give him the sack, they'll take him back
Sit down! Sit down!
When GM agreed to recognize the United Automobile Workers, all sorts of workplaces, from dime stores to shoe shops, caught the spirit. Pie bakers, seamen and movie projector operators sat down. Even before Flint, there had been occupation strikes at Hormel in Austin, Minnesota; Goodyear in Akron, Ohio; and Bendix in South Bend, Indiana. As often as not, they won.
There are big differences between those events and the occupation at Republic Windows and Doors. The Chicago workers already have a union. They seek severance pay, not a raise. Theirs is a protest, not a strike. Rather than disrupt production, they refuse to vacate a closed plant. And their numbers are minuscule in comparison to the half-million American workers who sat down in 1936 and 1937.
Some of the underlying issues, however, are the same: preservation of jobs, economic fairness and the meaning of democracy itself. Even if this occupation is quickly settled, it has exposed perfidy and dramatized justice, as did the sit-downs of the 1930s.
Factory occupations are rare because they violate the everyday laws of property, and for the most part American workers are law-abiding people.
They occur only when workers feel morally aggrieved, when they sense that ownership has itself violated the law, when the boss has become the outlaw in their eyes and in that of the community as well.
This was the case in the winter of 1936-37 when corporations such as GM and U.S. Steel defied the newly enacted Wagner Act, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed to encourage labor unionism and raise purchasing power.
Just a couple of months before, tens of thousands of autoworkers poured out of factories to cheer Roosevelt as his motorcade made a slow tour of Flint and other industrial cities. "You voted New Deal at the polls and defeated the auto barons," organizers told workers after FDR's smashing re-election victory. "Now get a New Deal in the shop."
Will history repeat itself? The Chicago factory occupiers, overwhelmingly Latino, don't have much clout, but they rightly sense that the national mood is with them.
Just as FDR once told reporters, "If I worked in a factory, the first thing I would do is join a union," so too has President-elect Barack Obama declared the Republic workers "absolutely right" in their quest for remuneration. More importantly, Obama observed that the Republic factory closure "is reflective of what's happening across this economy."
Indeed, it is not just that workers are suffering during a severe recession, but that the owners of capital, both large and small, are morally compromised in the crisis that besets the nation.
Bank of America, the giant lender, played a large role in the Republic factory closure when the bank, noting a decline in Republic's sales, cut off the company's line of credit. In normal times, this would have been considered prudent banking practice, but just last month Bank of America received $25 billion in a financial bailout meant to keep loans and credit flowing.
But Main Street managers have dirty hands as well. According to the union, the owners of Republic Windows and Doors failed to give their workers a legally required 60-day notice that they would close. And the Chicago Tribune reports that in the weeks before the factory shutdown, people with apparent ties to Republic formed a corporation that bought a similar plant in western Iowa.
It is hardly surprising that Republic's workers have laid temporary claim to the factory in which some have given decades of their lives. Its owners and creditors have forfeited their own claims, both moral and legal, to rightful stewardship.
As Sen. Robert Wagner said in response to the 1937 sit-downs, "The uprising of the common people has come, as always, only because of a breakdown in the ability of the law and our economic system to protect their rights."
Posted on: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 20:21
SOURCE: Slate (12-9-08)
On an island under military occupation at the edge of an empire, the armed forces of a global superpower detain hundreds and sometimes even thousands of allegedly unlawful combatants. The powerful nation consigns the detainees to a legal limbo, subjecting them to treatment that critics around the world decry as inhumane, unenlightened, and ultimately self-defeating. That may sound like a history of Guantanamo. Yet the year was 1776, the superpower was Great Britain, and the setting was New York City. The "unlawful" combatants were American revolutionaries.
Ever since President-elect Barack Obama suggested that he will close down Guantanamo, historians and journalists have been racing through the American past in search of evidence for our commitment to the rule of law in wartime. The Founding Fathers are the first stop. The days when New York was America's 18th-century Guantanamo, it seems, hold lessons for extricating ourselves from the Bush Administration's 21st-century mess. New York's notorious prison camps are the subject of a new book, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War, by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edwin G. Burrows. Though he mentions current events only once, the American experience since 9/11 looms over his story.
After the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, British forces under Gen. William Howe began warehousing thousands of Americans captured in and around New York in Britain's first major campaign of the war. For the next seven years, British forces occupied the city, turning it into a barracks and loyalist refugee center, but also a prison camp for Americans taken prisoner around the Eastern Seaboard and on the high seas....
Parallels to recent American history are sometimes so close as to be eerie. In the months after 9/11, the United States hoped that putting detainees at Guantanamo would insulate its detention decisions from legal challenges in the courts. Lord North and the British Cabinet hoped that locating prisoners in New York would do the same. (North shipped American revolutionary hero Ethan Allen from London to New York in order to keep him out of reach of habeas corpus proceedings in the British courts at Westminster.) As in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ambiguous legal status of American prisoners tacitly licensed shocking abuses. The surviving diaries of American prisoners describe sadistic treatment by captors who were every bit the equal of Charles Graner and Lynndie England at Abu Ghraib.
What Burrows wants us to see is that the laws of war and its humanitarian protections were once rallying points for American patriotism, not obstacles to its realization. Virtually every one of the founding fathers—George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson most of all—cited the humanitarian imperatives of what was then known as the Law of Nations and excoriated the British for their treatment of American captives....
Posted on: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - 01:52
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (12-9-08)
Victims caught in terrorist atrocities perpetrated for Islam typically experience fear, torture, horror, and murder, with sirens screaming, snipers positioning, and carnage in the streets. That was the case recently in Bombay (now called Mumbai), where some 195 people were murdered and 300 injured. But for the real target of Islamist terror, the world at large, the experience has become numbed, with apologetics and justification muting repulsion and shock.
If terrorism ranks among the cruelest and most inhumane forms of warfare, excruciating in its small-bore viciousness and intentional pain, Islamist terrorism has also become well-rehearsed political theater. Actors fulfill their scripted roles, then shuffle, soon forgotten, off the stage.
Indeed, as one reflects on the most publicized episodes of Islamist terror against Westerners since 9/11 – the attack on Australians in Bali, on Spaniards in Madrid, on Russians in Beslan, on Britons in London – a twofold pattern emerges: Muslim exultation and Western denial. The same tragedy replays itself, with only names changed.
Muslim exaltation: The Mumbai assault inspired occasional condemnations, hushed official regrets, and cornucopias of unofficial enthusiasm. As the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center notes, the Iranian and Syrian governments exploited the event "to assail the United States, Israel and the Zionist movement, and to represent them as responsible for terrorism in India and the world in general." Al-Jazeera's website overflowed with comments such as "Allah, grant victory to Muslims. Allah, grant victory to jihad" and "The killing of a Jewish rabbi and his wife in the Jewish center in Mumbai is heartwarming news."
Such supremacism and bigotry can no longer surprise, given the well-documented, world-wide acceptance of terror among many Muslims. For example, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted an attitudinal survey in spring 2006, "The Great Divide: How Westerners and Muslims View Each Other." Its polls of about one thousand persons in each of ten Muslim populations found a perilously high proportion of Muslims who, on occasion, justify suicide bombing: 13 percent in Germany, 22 percent in Pakistan, 26 percent in Turkey, and 69 percent in Nigeria.
A frightening portion also declared some degree of confidence in Osama bin Laden: 8 percent in Turkey, 48 percent in Pakistan, 68 percent in Egypt, and 72 percent in Nigeria. As I concluded in a 2006 review of the Pew survey, "These appalling numbers suggest that terrorism by Muslims has deep roots and will remain a danger for years to come." Obvious conclusion, no?
Western denial: No. The fact that terrorist fish are swimming in a hospitable Muslim sea nearly disappears amidst Western political, journalistic, and academic bleatings. Call it political correctness, multiculturalism, or self-loathing; whatever the name, this mentality produces delusion and dithering.
Nomenclature lays bare this denial. When a sole jihadist strikes, politicians, law enforcement, and media join forces to deny even the fact of terrorism; and when all must concede the terrorist nature of an attack, as in Mumbai, a pedantic establishment twists itself into knots to avoid blaming terrorists.
I documented this avoidance by listing the twenty (!) euphemisms the press unearthed to describe Islamists who attacked a school in Beslan in 2004: activists, assailants, attackers, bombers, captors, commandos, criminals, extremists, fighters, group, guerrillas, gunmen, hostage-takers, insurgents, kidnappers, militants, perpetrators, radicals, rebels, and separatists – anything but terrorists.
And if terrorist is impolite, adjectives such as Islamist, Islamic, and Muslim become unmentionable. My blog titled "Not Calling Islamism the Enemy" provides copious examples of this avoidance, along with its motives. In short, those who would replace War on Terror with A Global Struggle for Security and Progress imagine this linguistic gambit will win over Muslim hearts and minds.
Post-Mumbai, Steven Emerson, Don Feder, Lela Gilbert, Caroline Glick, Tom Gross, William Kristol, Dorothy Rabinowitz, and Mark Steyn again noted various aspects of this futile linguistic behavior, with Emerson bitterly concluding that "After more than 7 years since 9/11, we can now issue a verdict: Islamic terrorists have won our hearts and minds."
What finally will rouse Westerners from their stupor, to name the enemy and fight the war to victory? Only one thing seems likely: massive deaths, say 100,000 casualties in a single WMD attack. Short of that, it appears, much of the West, contently deploying defensive measures against fancifully-described "activists," will gently slumber on.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 - 22:51
SOURCE: Daniel Pipes blog (12-5-08)
I disagree. Count some of the important ways things are now worse:
Iran is closer to nuclear weapons, perhaps the single most alarming development of Bush's era.
Pakistan is close to becoming a nuclear-armed, Islamist rogue state.
The price of oil reached all time highs and only collapsed in recent months due to a U.S.-led recession.
Turkey has gone from being a stalwart ally to the most anti-American country in the world.
The doctrine of preemption has been discredited.
Arab rejectionism of Israel has spread.
Democracy efforts in Egypt have collapsed.
Hizbullah grows in power in Lebanon.
Hamas took power in Gaza and may next control the West Bank.
The Taliban may again run Afghanistan.
And Iraq? Bush made an almost direct reply to my appeal since 2003 to place a "democratically-minded strongman" in power in Baghdad, stating that "when Saddam's regime fell, we refused to take the easy option and install a friendly strongman in his place." Bush remains convinced he did the right thing, I remain convinced that the Iraq story will end badly for the United States.
What are the positive Bush legacies? I count two. No Saddam Hussein in Iraq and a Libya that is only quasi hostile.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 - 22:50
SOURCE: CNN (12-6-08)
Tens of millions of people are expecting great things from President-elect Barack Obama.
With his announcement of a plan for a bold public works program to revitalize the nation, there is anticipation once again among Americans about what a president can accomplish.
Many Americans -- center, left and right -- are hoping the White House can deliver the nation out of its economic crisis.
Even Democrats, who have spent the past eight years railing against excessive executive power, seem comfortable, even downright eager, for presidential action.
There is a real danger that in the desperation for assistance and the enthusiasm about Obama, Americans will overlook the limits of a president-centered government. This is no time to continue with an imperial presidency. Indeed, just the opposite.
Congress must be made a full partner in Obama's economic recovery program, or else he will not enjoy the same kind of success or legitimacy as President Franklin D. Roosevelt did with the New Deal, particularly in FDR's first term.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Congress can act as an enormously productive institution, initiating ideas that presidents are reluctant to embrace and shaping public debate over the nation's biggest problems.
What Congress offers is the ability to design domestic programs that have strong bipartisan support, such as Social Security or Medicare, because they come out of the messy legislative process that can produce durable compromise among a broad spectrum of the country's representatives.
The New Deal should be a model for Democrats, yet not because of FDR. The New Deal Congress was not a passive institution.
It showed that members of Congress, who are often in safe seats, are sometimes willing to take bigger chances than a president who feels constrained by having to run in a competitive race for re-election.
Many of the New Deal programs we remember most did not come from the White House. For instance, FDR opposed proposals for expansive public relief programs on the grounds they cost too much money and were wasteful.
Sen. Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, who had been fighting against Herbert Hoover's opposition to unemployment assistance since 1931, teamed up with Colorado's Edward Costigan to persuade the president to sign onto the Federal Emergency Relief Act.
When FDR sent Congress a bill in March 1933, it was legislation that La Follette and his colleagues had been working on for a good while, legislation they had convinced FDR was essential to the nation....
Posted on: Monday, December 8, 2008 - 22:29
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (12-7-08)
Did you know that the IBM Center for the Business of Government hosts a "Presidential Transition" blog; that the Council on Foreign Relations has its own "Transition Blog: The New Administration"; and that the American University School of Communication has a "Transition Tracker" website? The National Journal offers its online readers a comprehensive "Lost in Transition" site to help them"navigate the presidential handover," including a "short list," offering not only the president-elect's key recent appointments, but also a series of not-so-short lists of those still believed to be in contention for as-yet-unfilled jobs. Think of all this as Entertainment Weekly married to People Magazine for post-election political junkies.
Newsweek features "powering up" ("blogging the transition"); the policy-wonk website Politico.com offers Politico 44 ("a living diary of the Obama presidency"); and Public Citizen has "Becoming 44," with the usual lists of appointees, possible appointees, but -- for the junkie who wants everything --"bundler transition team members" and "lobbyist and bundler appointees" as well. (For those who want to know, for instance, White House Social Secretary-designate Desiree Roberts bundled at least $200,000 for the Obama campaign.)
The New York Times has gone whole hog at "The New Team" section of its website, where there are scads of little bios of appointees, as well as prospective appointees -- including what each individual will"bring to the job," how each is"linked to Mr. Obama," and what negatives each carries as"baggage." Think of it as a scorecard for transition junkies. The Washington Post, whose official beat is, of course, Washington D.C. über alles, has its "44: The Obama Presidency, A Transition to Power," where, in case you're planning to make a night of it on January 20th, you can keep up to date on that seasonal must-subject, the upcoming inaugural balls. And not to be outdone, the transitioning Obama transition crew has its own mega-transition site, Change.gov.
Earliest, Biggest, Fastest
And that, of course, only begins to scratch the surface of the media's transition mania -- I haven't even mentioned the cable news networks -- which has followed, with hardly a breath, nearly two years of presidential campaign mania. Let's face it, whether or not the Obama transition is the talk of Main Street and the under-populated malls of this American moment, it's certainly the talk of medialand -- and at what can only be termed historic levels, as befits a"historic" transition period.
Believe me, no one's sparing the adjectives right now. This transition is the earliest, biggest, fastest, best organized, most efficient on record, even as Obama himself has"maintained one of the most public images of any president-elect." It's cause for congratulations all around, a powerful antidote, we're told, to Bill Clinton's notoriously chaotic transition back in 1992. In fact, we can't, it seems, get enough of a transition that began to gather steam many months before November 4th and has been plowing ahead for more than a post-election month now.
It's kind of exhausting, really, just thinking about that awesomely humongous transition line-up. Check out the list of transition review teams and advisors at Change.gov and you'll find that it goes over the horizon. According to the Washington Post, 135 transition team members, organized into 10 groups, all wearing yellow badges, backed by countless transition advisers,"have swarmed into dozens of government offices, from the Pentagon to the National Council on Disability" preparing the way for the new administration. This, like so much else, has been"unprecedented."
And don't get anyone started on the veritable "army" of volunteer lawyers giving"unprecedented scrutiny" to possible administration appointees in a vetting process that began at the moment of Obama's nomination, not election. As the Washington Post's Philip Rucker described it:
"Embarrassing e-mails, text messages, diary entries and Facebook profiles? Gifts worth more than $50? Relatives linked to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG or another company getting a federal bailout? Obama is conducting the vetting much as he managed his campaign: methodically, thoroughly and on a prodigious scale."
That process includes a distinctly unprecedented invasion of privacy via a seven-page, 63-question form that all potential appointees have had to fill out. Imagine, for instance, that after 62"penetrating" questions on every aspect of your life, you faced this catch-all 63rd question:"Please provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect." (For anyone worried about privacy issues, what this means practically -- as Barton Gelman explained in his book Angler on the vice-presidential 200-question vetting process by which Dick Cheney chose himself as candidate and then used private information sent in by the other candidates for his own purposes -- is major dossiers on about 800 people.)
Everything in this"transition" is, in fact, more prodigious and more invasive than in any previous transition, including, of course, the ongoing media fascination with all those positions Obama is filling with "the best and the brightest." We're not just talking about his vast economic team or his national security team, but the presidential liaison to Capitol Hill, the White House press secretary, the president's speechwriter, his communications director, and his White House staff secretary, not to speak of the First Lady's deputy chief of staff and, of course, that White House social secretary. And then there's always that bout of "fantasy football for foodies," the speculation over who will be the new White House chef.
The Transition Bulks Up
Talk about confident and organized, Peter Baker and Helene Cooper of the New York Timesreport that Obama invited former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones to meet with him and all but offered him a key national security post"a full 13 days before the election." (He clearly felt that he had a pretty good idea of who was going to be president-elect by then.) And the rest of his transition, so efficiently organized by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, has been on a (steam)roll ever since. Post-November 4th, it has been rolling out the key appointments at a historically"unprecedented" pace.
Five weeks past victory, according to the Times, Obama had announced 13 of the 24"most important positions in a new administration," including Jones as his national security adviser. At the equivalent moment in their transitions, Jimmy Carter had filled two of these positions; Ronald Reagan, two; George H.W. Bush, 8 (but his was largely a carry-over administration); Bill Clinton, one; and George W. Bush (distracted by an electoral battle wending its fateful way to the Supreme Court), one.
Bated breath hardly catches the media mood, facing the thrilling almost daily roll-outs of new appointments and record numbers of president-elect press conferences against a backdrop of enough American flags to outfit a parade and announced from a White-House press-room-style podium carefully -- not to say ornately -- labeled The Office of the President Elect." At such moments, the Obama transition can seem anything but transitional.
Given the overwhelming, largely congratulatory focus on specific appointments and their attendant drama -- will the strong personalities of Hillary, Bob, and Jim clash? Are the Obama-ites in a desperate scramble for a new CIA Director? Is Larry Summers next in line for the Fed? -- the larger architecture of this moment, and what it portends for the presidency to come, is ignored.
Think of it this way: After the Imperial Campaign -- that two-year extravaganza of bread and circuses (and money) -- comes the Imperial Transition. Everything in these last weeks, like the preceding two years, has been bulked up, like Schwarzenegger's Conanesque pecs. In other words, since November 5th, what we've been experiencing in the midst of one of the true crisis periods in our history has essentially been an unending celebration of super-sized government. Consider it an introduction to what will surely be the next Imperial Presidency.
As the transition events indicate, whatever its specific policies of change, the administration-to-come is preparing to move, and in force, into an empty executive branch as it already exists. Wherever there's an opening, that is, Podesta's guys are rushing to fill it.
The particular transition moment that caught my eye occurred two weeks ago when the chief strategist of the Obama election campaign, David Axelrod, was appointed senior adviser to the president. To be more specific, he was given Karl Rove's old slot (and, assumedly, office) in the White House. As the Boston Globe's Peter Canelos wrote:
"[I]t's now obvious that there's one part of George W. Bush's political legacy that Obama and Axelrod aren't eager to change: the very dubious notion of having the president's campaign strategist rubbing elbows with all the policy wonks in the West Wing."
True, presidents have often wanted trusted advisors near at hand, but the institutionalization of that urge in an actual office in the White House is a new development that Obama could easily, as well as painlessly, have reversed (and many would have cheered him for it). So consider it a signal.
Barack Obama -- thank goodness -- isn't George Bush. He doesn't arrive in office with a crew wedded to a "unitary executive theory" of the presidency, or an urge to loose the executive from the supposed" chains" of the Watergate-era Congress, or to"take off the gloves" globally. He doesn't have strange, twisted, oppressive ideas about how the Constitution should work, nor assumedly do visions of a" commander-in-chief presidency" (or vice presidency) dance in his head like so many sugar plums.
But don't ignore the architecture, the deep structure of the American political system. Make no mistake, Obama is moving full-speed ahead into an executive mansion rebuilt and endlessly expanded by the national security state over the last half-century-plus, and then built up in major ways by George W.'s"team." Despite the prospect of a new dog and a mother-in-law in the White House, the president-elect and his transition team show no signs of wanting to change the basic furniture, no less close up a few wings of the imperial mansion (other, perhaps, than the elaborate prison complex at Guantanamo).
With so many catastrophes impending and so many pundits and journalists merrily applauding the most efficient transition in American history, no one, it seems, is even thinking about the architecture.
The GM of Governments
The New York Times's David Sanger recently reported on what happened when Obama's mini-transition teams of ex-Clintonistas ventured into the heart of our post-9/11 imperial bureaucracy. Many of the team members had worked in the very same departments in the 1990s. On returning, however, they found themselves to be so many Alices in a labyrinthine new Wonderland of national security. Sanger writes:
"[S]everal say they feel more like political archaeologists. 'The buildings look the same,' one said over coffee, 'but everything inside is unrecognizable.' And as they dig, they have tripped across a few surprises… [F]ew can contain their amazement, chiefly at the sheer increase in the size of the defense and national-security apparatus.
"'For a bunch of small-government Republicans,' [said] one former denizen of the White House who has now stepped back inside for the first time in eight years, 'these guys built a hell of an empire.' Eight years ago, there were two deputy national security advisers; today there are a half-dozen, each with staff."
And don't think for a second that most or all of those half-dozen posts aren't likely to be filled by the new administration, or that, four or eight years later, we'll be back to two deputy national security advisers; nor should you imagine that the Homeland Security Department that Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is to run, a vast, lumpy, inefficient, ineffective post-9/11 creation of the Bush administration (which now has its own embedded mini-homeland-industrial complex) will be gone in those same years, anymore than that most un-American of words"homeland" is likely to leave our lexicon; nor will Barack Obama not appoint a Director of National Intelligence, another of those post-9/11 creations that added yet one more layer of bureaucracy to the 18 departments, agencies, and offices which make up the official U.S. Intelligence Community.
Don't hold your breath for that labyrinthine mess to be reduced to a more logical two or three intelligence agencies; nor will that 2002 creation of the Bush administration, the U.S. Northern Command, another militarization of"the homeland" now in the process of bulking up, be significantly downsized or abolished in the coming years.
On all of this, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to lend a hand to Obama's transition team and, in the process, help institutionalize the imperial transition itself. Like the new money arrangements pioneered in the 2008 elections, it surely will remain part of the political landscape for the foreseeable future. From such developments in our world, it seems, there's never any turning back.
There's nothing strange about all this, of course, if you're already inside this system. It seems, in fact, too obvious to mention. After all, what president wouldn't move into the political/governmental house he's inheriting as efficiently and fully as possible?
The unprecedented size of this imperial pre-presidency, however, signals something else: that what is to come -- quite aside from the specific policies adopted by a future Obama administration – will be yet another imperial presidency. (And, by the way, those who expect Congress to suddenly become the player it hasn't been, wielding power long ceded, are as likely to be disappointed as those who expect a Hillary Clinton State Department renaissance under the budgetary shadow of the Pentagon.)
On January 20th, Barack Obama will be more prepared than any president in recent history to move in and, as everyone now likes to write,"hit the ground running." But that ground -- the bloated executive and the vast national security apparatus that goes with it (as well as the U.S. military garrisons that dot the planet), all further engorged by George W., Dick, and pals -- is anything but fertile when it comes to" change."
Maybe if the imperial presidency and the national security state worked, none of this would matter. But how can they, given the superlatives that apply to them? They're oversized, over-muscled, overweight, overly expensive, overly powerful, and overly intrusive.
Bottom line: they are problem creators, not problem solvers. To expect one genuine"decider," moving in at the top, to put them on a diet-and-exercise regimen is asking a lot. After all, at the end of the George Bush era, what we have is the GM of governments, and when things start to go wrong, who's going to bail it out?
Posted on: Monday, December 8, 2008 - 19:12
SOURCE: National Review Online (11-29-08)
I've collated the dozens of articles from liberal thinkers that explain why so far Obama—the candidate of hope and change, and cleaning out the entrenched status quo that so warps our D.C. politics and ensures stasis in our policies—has surrounded himself either with Clintonites, outright Bush people or those who worked closely with them, and centrists of ambiguous politics. The explanations are quite creative and run the gamut:
1) Whom else might a Democrat pick, given that the Carterites are now 28 years out of office, and team Clinton the only experienced circle of liberals still around (and given that Democrats have only been in the executive branch for 8 out of the last 28 years)?
2) This is part of Obama's brilliant grand strategy. Just wait and see how Machiavellian it works out: By coopting power-hungry centrist pros to enact HIS "progressive" policies, he can advance a leftist agenda much more effectively and fend off gratuitous attacks from the right-wing attack machine.
3) Review what Obama actually promised and you will learn he actually ran a centrist campaign; the problem is that too many liberals simply projected their own agendas on him, and saw what they wished rather than what was there.
4) These are not centrists at all. Gates was at heart a sort of anti-Bush maverick. Hillary and others are liberals that used to be the bane of right-wingers. The new economic team wants to assume government control of essential industries.
5) This is just a small sampling of appointments; wait until you see the U.N. rep, NEA, NEH, key figures at State and Justice. By picking bumper-sticker centrists at the figuratively top spots, he can appoint real progressives under the radar at the bread and butter posts where real policies happen.
Note that the most obvious and embarrassing explanation is taboo and blasphemous: That Obama is a masterful politician who never has had any real ideology or persona other than his own diversity story and history, youth, and charisma that together allow him to be whatever is politically expedient at the time.
That is, there is a pattern here: public campaign financing, FISA, NAFTA, drilling, nuclear power, coal, guns, capital punishment, abortion, Iran, Iraq, the surge, etc. all were repackaged as the primary and general elections evolved. A community organizing past that once welcomed in a Wright, Pfleger, Ayers, Khalidi, became inoperative lest he meet a McGovern-like fate.
And rather than assess carefully the Bush policies, it made better sense to lump them altogether under the general rubric that Bush shredded the Constitution and, as a unilateral preemptivist, ruined the American brand over seas (while knowing privately that when Obama himself assumed office he would leave alone the homeland-security measures, Patriot Act, FISA, etc. to ensure the continuance of the 7-year hiatus from a major attack, and follow Bush/Petraeus in getting out of Iraq to preserve the unexpected victory).
Likewise, privately Obama knew the meltdown was not Bush's fault per se but a bipartisan miasma a decade in the making, fueled by Wall Street greed, wrongheaded utopian politics, and corruption at Freddie and Fannie—and thus the Bush response was largely to be followed (and this apparently may even extend to not tampering immediately with the existing tax rates.)
The result of all this?
I think we are slowly (and things of course could change) beginning in retrospect to look back at the outline of one of most profound bait-and-switch campaigns in our political history, predicated on the mass appeal of a magnetic leader rather than any principles per se. He out-Clintoned Hillary and followed Bill's 1992 formula: A young Democrat runs on youth, popular appeal and charisma, claims the incumbent Bush caused another Great Depression and blew Iraq, and then went right down the middle with a showy leftist veneer. ...
Posted on: Sunday, December 7, 2008 - 21:42
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (12-7-08)
'Juan Cole, a University of Michigan history professor who writes about the Iraq war and Islam, called Shinseki's appointment ironic.
"If Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and [former undersecretary for defense Douglas J.] Feith had listened to Shinseki, there wouldn't be as many wounded veterans to take care of," Cole said."I think this is a way of saying, 'Here was a career officer who had valuable insights who was shunted aside by arrogant civilians, and we're not going to make the same kind of mistakes.'" '
Let us just use the professor's wayback machine and look at the testimony in February 2003 and the reaction from then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Here is what Shinseki told the Senate Armed Forces Committee on 25 February 2003, about the force level required in Iraq after the Baath government was overthrown:
' I would say that what's been mobilized to this point — something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this."
Note that Shinseki was aware of how big Iraq is (168,753 square miles or about the size of California); he was aware that there would be"ethnic tensions" after the fall of the Baath; and he cared about preventing looting ("safe and secure environment") and about people having food and potable water. Some of the military duties he mentioned are required of occupying militaries by international law. Rumsfeld either did not know or did not care about any of these considerations.
Tim Russert later suggested that Shinseki was talking about 200,000 troops, the number in theater in February when he spoke. But I do know English, and"several hundred thousand" does not mean"two hundred thousand."
Shinseki was retired in summer of 2003. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz pointedly did not attend his retirement ceremony.
He wrote an 8 page letter to Rumsfeld that has never been published, explaining to him that the military is made up of people, not high concept buzz words.
Rumsfeld was clearly furious with Shinseki's testimony, because he and the administration were low-balling the American people about the cost of the Iraq War. It would just be $50 billion. They would just send in a relatively small expeditionary force, take out Saddam and get out not so long thereafter. The war would pay for itself. The Army would be miraculously transformed into the Navy Seals. Small. Agile. No need to take, hold and administer territory.
Then Shinseki comes out, for all the world like the honest car salesman who spoils everything by putting taxes and transportation fees and the cost of extras back into the price estimate on an automobile after the other salesmen have enticed the customer with a stripped down, unrealistic price (this practice is called low-balling).
Here is Rumsfeld's first response:
'Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, yesterday you attempted to provide some --
Rumsfeld: (Inaudible) -- I take it.
Q: -- near-perfect clarity for the nuance in General Shinseki's comments about the need for a -- size of a post-Iraq force. Nevertheless, critics of the Pentagon are seizing on Shinseki's comment, his opinion, as evidence that the Pentagon may be underplaying or under-representing what the post-war commitment will be. And General Shinseki -- some of his aides are telling us that he sort of stands by his opinion that he offered that -- have you --
Rumsfeld: I've not talked to him.
(To General Myers) Have you?
Myers: I have not talked to General Shinseki either.
Q: Well --
Rumsfeld: First of all, people are entitled to their own opinions.
Q: Well, do you find that unhelpful, and do you plan to discuss it at all with him?
Rumsfeld: I don't know. I'm sure I'll see him. I see him every week for one reason or another. And I'm sure it will come up. But you mean did I pick up the phone yesterday and ask him to come and see me or call --
Q: To discuss whether or not this is helpful to your case.
Rumsfeld: The -- well, if he's right, it's helpful. My personal view is that it will prove to be high. The problem we have is that anyone who tries to go to a single point answer has to have made a series of judgments about a set of six to eight variables, and he has to in their mind decided, well, this is how that variable is going to be decided, and therefore, I can come to a single point answer.
I'm not deft enough to take six or eight working variables -- '
Rumsfeld always masked his ideological commitments by pretending an issue was too complex to talk about clearly. It wasn't 7 or 8 working variables, whatever that even means. Shinseki was analogizing from the actual experience of NATO forces in the Balkans. For x number of an occupied population you need y numbers of troops if order wasn't to immediately break down.
On February 28, Rumsfeld had become more assertive, according to AFX.com:
'"However, I will say this ... what is ... reasonably certain is the idea that it would take several hundred thousand US forces is far from the mark."
Rumsfeld said the US has"no idea how long the war will last. We don't know to what extent there may or may not be weapons of mass destruction used. We don't have any idea whether or not there would be ethnic strife."
"We don't know exactly how long it would take to find weapons of mass destruction and destroy them," he said.
"The reality is that we already have a number of countries that have offered to participate with their forces in stabilization activities in the event force has to be used.
"It's not logical to me," he said, that it would take as many forces in the aftermath of a war"as it would to win the war ... any idea that it's several hundred thousand for any sustained period is simply not the case." '
A) If you don't know all the things Rumsfeld said he didn't know, you don't go to war. And B) it is entirely logical that an occupation of 27 million people would take more troops than merely defeating a demoralized and poorly trained and equipped Iraqi army.
In fact, we now know that Rumsfeld wanted to go into Iraq, lop off the head of the regime, install Ahmad Chalabi as soft dictator, and get all US troops save one division out by the following October. Rumsfeld was right that a long occupation was undesirable. But his plan could only have worked if he had kept the Iraqi army in existence and gone with someone more acceptable to them than Chalabi. The plan was self-contradictory, impractical and deeply flawed.
Wolfowitz attacked Shinseki two days after the general's testimony, on February 27:
'"There has been a good deal of comment—some of it quite outlandish—about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher end predictions we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army—hard to imagine."
* House Budget Committee testimony on Iraq (February 27, 2003)'
Wolfowitz clearly was trashing Shinseki because he wanted a small force to go into Iraq, put in Chalabi the Corrupt, and get right back out.
Wolfowitz gave an interview with Ghida Fakhry of Lebanese Television on March, 2003, in which he said (State Department NEWS TRANSCRIPT Department of Defense Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz March 26, 2003 (Interview with Ghita Fawkry [sic], Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation):
' Wolfowitz: War is a terrible thing. We've tried every other means to achieve objectives without a war because we understand what the price of a war can be and what it is. But the truth is the horrors of peace in Iraq under this dictator are actually far worse than war. We've taken great care to avoid hitting civilians. That doesn't mean we succeed every time, but we've taken great care in that respect. . .
I hear sometimes nonsense about how this is a war for oil. If the United States had wanted access to Iraq's oil all we had to do 12 years ago was to abandon any policy toward Saddam Hussein and just do commercial business with him. I hear sometimes that this is a war for Israel. This is not a war for Israel at all. It is an opportunity, I believe, to put the lie to those people who say there aren't any democracies in the Arab world because Arabs are incapable of democracy. . .
Iraq is a country that is rich in natural resources. Even more important it's a country that's rich in human talent. Unfortunately too much of that talent has been driven out of the country by Saddam Hussein.
But I don't think the Iraqi people are going to need the United States or the United Nations or any foreign force for very long once they're given the chance to create their own institutions.'
Wolfowitz was wrong about everything. It is nearly 6 years later and there are still 150,000 or so US troops in Iraq, and 4000 British. He thought that the Iraqi National Congress, with the leader of which--Ahmad Chalabi-- he had done some sort of corrupt political deal, would just waltz in and take over from the Baath Party. But the INC had no grass roots in Iraq.
By the way, the reason that the United States could not do commercial business with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s was that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had successfully lobbied Congress to put tight sanctions on that country, and efforts by oil excecutives such as Dick Cheney to argue Congress out of such unilateral sanctions so that US petroleum companies could develop new fields in the Middle East were a miserable failure. Wolfowitz knew this when he made that dishonest argument to Ms. Fakhry. Wolfowitz's paternalistic idea that an American military occupation could demonstrate what Arabs were capable of is bizarre. What Wolfowitz did was convince a whole generation of Arabs that they should at any cost avoid doing anything that would reproduce a situation in their countries like that in American Iraq.
And then there is the sad, sad situation of some 36,000 US troops who were wounded in Iraq badly enough to go to hospital, along with thousands more who have brain trauma not recognized at the time. Wolfowitz's boilerplate about how horrible war is will do them no good. The cost to the US public of two divisions of wounded will probably come to $2 trillion over the decades. Gen. Shinseki, disregarded at a crucial moment by civilian ideologues, will now have the opportunity to look after the Vets.
Posted on: Sunday, December 7, 2008 - 20:06
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (12-6-08)
Informed Comment has had a few running features, including top ten lists, the Ghoul's Glossary, and 'Arguing with Bush.' With any luck this column will be the last in that dreary series. Readers should remember that back in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration was denying that there had been extensive looting in Iraq after it overthrew the government, was denying that there was a guerrilla war there, and denied that there was an Iraqi insurgency (they seemed to allege that a Lex Luthor clone with hair named Zarqawi was doing all the violence by himself). The mainstream media tended to play along, and merely disagreeing with Bush about these issues was routinely branded treason or even terrorist-loving by sleazy minions of the Right like Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, etc., etc., etc. when people seemed actually to pay attention to these nonentities.
So arguing with Bush became a part of my life, because it did have some professional and personal consequences for me. I say all this because it is now easy to forget that once upon a time, sticking your head up on this issue was a good way to get it cut off.
On Friday, Bush gave a self-glorifying speech on his Middle East policy at the Saban Forum in Washington, DC.
Bush begins by saying,"I have had the privilege to see the Middle East up close." But then almost all the places he mentions are in Israel or under Israeli control. He doesn't mention Cairo or Amman, which he did finally briefly visit this year. He does mention Abu Dhabi. But Bush has not been to Beirut, or to Iraq outside the Green Zone. For a president so deeply involved in the region, he has had very little to do with it, and seems to admit here that he sees it through the lens of Israel.
'Bush says,"I have looked into the eyes of courageous elected leaders from Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories."'
Bush overthrew the elected government of the Palestine Authority in 2007, having for some time winked at Israeli kidnapping of elected Palestinian parliamentarians and cabinet members on a large scale. He authorized a war on one of the major elected parties in the Lebanese parliament in 2006 and lobbied against a ceasefire that would have saved Lebanon hundreds of lost lives and billions in economic losses. Israeli politicians make key decisions for or rule by fiat and undemocratically over more than 3 million stateless Palestinians.
Bush more or less admits that during the Cold War, the US overthrew elected governments (Syria, Iran) in the region and deployed dictators against the Middle Eastern Left:
'In the decades that followed that brave choice, American policy in the Middle East was shaped by the realities of the Cold War. Together with strong allies in the Middle East, we faced down and defeated the threat of communism to the region. '
But with the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, Bush says,
'With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the primary threat to America and the region became violent religious extremism.'
Bush does not do us the favor of admitting that the US assiduously backed the Muslim Religious Right against the Middle Eastern Left, thus creating the radicalism that so disturbed Washington later on. A fifth of the money the Reagan administration gave to the Afghan Mujahideen went to Gulbadin Hikmatyar, now a major leader of the Neo-Taliban. Bush's account of history is like a horror movie. First one monster raises its head, then another. He doesn't explain how the US connived at destroying secular, progressive movements in the region, instead backing Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism.
Bush now repeats the Neoconservative chestnuts:
' Through painful experience, it became clear that the old approach of promoting stability is unsuited to this new danger – and that the pursuit of security at the expense of liberty would leave us with neither one. Across the Middle East, many who sought a voice in the future of their countries found that the only places open to dissent were the radical mosques. Many turned to terror as a source of empowerment. And as a new century dawned, the violent currents swirling beneath the Middle East began to surface.'
But secular leftists in Iraq of the 1960s had not sought refuge in the mosques. They were active in unions and parties and the military. They backed Abdul Karim Qasim 1958-1963. But the US either actively plotted Qasim's overthrow or at the very least knew about the plot and kept quiet. Washington cooperated with the Baath Party in killing large numbers of communists and non-Baath socialists. Kennedy's National Security Council was ecstatic about the Baath coup of February, 1963. Likewise the US attempted to undermine Gamal Abdel Nasser's secular, left-of-center regime in Egypt. It was Anwar El Sadat, a close ally of the US, who promoted the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Grouping, in an attempt to weaken the Egyptian secular Left. In Iran, the US overthrew the elected nationalist government in 1953, imposing a dictatorial Shah on the country who did in fact push some Iranian intellectuals to ally with the mosque.
Bush removes US policy from any involvement with or responsibility for the promotion of the Muslim Religious Right as a tool in the Cold War.
Bush now turns to the Second Intifada:
'In the Holy Land, the dashed expectations resulting from the collapse of the Camp David peace talks had given way to the second Intifada. Palestinian suicide bombers struck with horrific frequency and lethality – murdering innocent Israelis at a pizza parlor, aboard buses, and in the middle of a Passover seder. Israeli Defense Forces responded with large-scale operations. And in 2001, more than 500 Israelis and Palestinians were killed. Politically, the Palestinian Authority was led by a terrorist who stole from his people and walked away from peace.'
I personally can't see how Arafat and Sharon were much different from one another, and this gratuitous swipe at Arafat is calculated to be a poke in the eye of Arabs. As for the process, actually, the Israelis promised in 1993 to stop colonizing the West Bank, and to withdraw from it on a timetable. Then they doubled the number of settlers there through the rest of the 90s. What kind of peace agreement is that, when your negotiating partner is stealing your land on a vast scale after having promised to withdraw from it? No wonder the thing fell apart. And, no one regrets the blowing up of student cafeterias or cafes more than I, but it is not analytically helpful that Palestinian violence is always coded as terrorism, but when the Israeli air force bombs a tenement building and kills innocent families and children, that isn't terror. (Even Bush had to send Ari Fleischer out to blast Sharon for that sort of thing, though Bush is now erasing that episode.)
Bush commits Anachronism, saying
' In Israel, Ariel Sharon was elected to fight terror and pursue a “Greater Israel” policy that allowed for no territorial concessions. And neither side could envision a return to negotiations or the realistic possibility of a two-state solution.'
According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, in January of 2001, Colin Powell warned that Bush's inaction on the peace process would"unleash Sharon and the Israeli military." Bush said"Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things." I guess they are clear, now. Bush is now criticizing Sharon, but he himself was at the time a Sharonista.
Bush now reads his charges against Saddam Hussein, which everyone knows.
Then he says,
' Syria continued its occupation of Lebanon, with some 30,000 troops on Lebanese soil.'
Syria had clearly overstayed its welcome. But it went into Lebanon in 1976 with a green light from Henry Kissinger in the United States, and with an Arab League mandate. Israel had occupied south Lebanon 1982-2000 with nary a peep of criticism from Washington.
Bush continues his condemnation of the region, excoriating Libya. Then he turns to his other bete noire:
'And in Iran, the prospect of reform was fading, the regime’s sponsorship of terror continued, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons was largely unchecked. '
Iran was not involved in an 'unchecked' 'pursuit of nuclear weapons.' It was trying to enrich uranium, it said, for civilian energy purposes. It may have briefly done some weapons-related experiments in 2002, afraid of Saddam's alleged nuclear program that Bush was then hyping. But Tehran shut down weapons-related work in early 2003 when it became obvious that the Iraqi regime was toast. As for terrorism, Bush seems mainly to mean that Iran helped the Lebanese get the Israelis back off their southern territory, which had been illegally occupied.
' Throughout the region, suffering and stagnation were rampant. The Arab Human Development Report revealed a bleak picture of high unemployment, poor education, high mortality rates for mothers, and almost no investment in technology. Above all, the Middle East suffered a deep deficit in freedom. Most people had no voice in choosing their leaders. Women enjoyed few rights. And there was little conversation about democratic change.'
I mean, really. Bush erases the fact that Turkey and Indonesia have made important strides in democratization since the late 1990s, or the significant economic growth in Egypt since 2001, or the impressive gains in literacy in Saudi Arabia, etc. He (or his Neoconservative ventriloquists, since we know he can't actually pronounce most of these words) erases all the change and dynamism from the region, depicting it as uniformly stagnant and lacking the capacity for internal development. This is a rightwing version of Marx's notion of Oriental Despotism, wherein feudal and village structures lock Oriental societies into a turgidity that prevents normal class conflict and the dialectical changes that derive from them. Obviously, if people are supine and paralyzed to change themselves, real change will have to come from the outside. That is why Marx supported the British crushing of the 1857 Great Rebellion (which the British called a 'Mutiny') in India. He configured British colonialism as progressive because it broke up Oriental Despotism and thus created the prerequisites for progressive change. (Christopher Hitchens, in signing on to this project, was in some ways just being an 1850s-style Eurocentric Marxist).
Bush then amalgamates all sorts of unrelated violent incidents, from the Lebanese Civil War to the Iranian hostage crisis to al-Qaeda, into one"terrorist movement." Really! Shiites are no different from Sunnis? A popular Shiite anti-Shah, anti-imperialist movement is no different from a small hyper-Sunni terrorist group? Bush and his handlers are eager to level the Middle East, to depict it as an undifferentiated terrain of seething irrational hostility. It is, of course, the view also of the Israeli Right. (Since the US and Israel can do no wrong, in the eyes of the Right, opposition to their policies must derive from unthinking fanaticism; it is the same attitude as the Soviet Union had toward dissidents, branding them mentally unbalanced for questioning the Workers' Paradise). In Bush's analysis, the solution to the problem of popular resistance to imperialism, as in Iran, is more robust imperialism.
Bush now turns to 9/11, saying,
'We realized that we are in a struggle with fanatics pledged to our destruction. And we saw that conditions of repression and despair on the other side of the world could bring suffering and death to our own streets.'
Sometimes Bush says that the terrorists do what they do because they are evil. And sometimes he says terrorism is from a lack of US-imposed democracy in the region. But the brains behind the 9/11 attack were smart engineering students living in Germany, so I don't think lack of democracy was what was angering them. What was angering them was things like the Israeli bombing of Qana in 1996, and the US/UN embargo on Iraq that was thought to have killed 500,000 Iraqi children. Al-Qaeda never demanded more democracy!
Bush says that after 9/11, he adopted 3 new policies:
1. He took the offensive against terrorist networks overseas and deepened cooperation with regional allies such as Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the countries of North Africa, as well as making it clear that the US would back Israel to the hilt.
2. Bush says,"Second, we made clear that hostile regimes must end their support for terror and their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction or face the concerted opposition of the world."
It is under this rubric that Bush puts his illegal war on Iraq. He says he has admitted that Saddam was not connected to 9/11. But it seems that Iraq nevertheless had to be punished for 9/11. Bush invokes UN resolutions, but of course he always hated the UN and refused to pay any attention to it when the Security Council declined to authorize the Iraq War. The whole farrago of illogical justifications makes no sense. Iraq had not done anything to the US in the way of terrorism and it was not pursuing weapons of mass destruction. So you can't put the Iraq War under this rubric unless you are being dishonest. Which Bush is.
Then Bush boasts,
' When Saddam’s regime fell, we refused to take the easy option and install a friendly strongman in his place. Even though it required enormous sacrifice, we stood by the Iraqi people as they elected their own leaders and built a young democracy.'
Oh, give me a break. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith were, too, going to install a strongman, i.e. Ahmad Chalabi. They didn't only because they couldn't (an Iraqi insurgency started up and the religious Shiite parties flexed their muscles). Then Paul"Jerry" Bremer was going to hold phony 'caucus-based elections' that would restrict the electorate to pro-Bush elements on unelected provincial councils. That fell through because Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani shot it down and there were massive demonstrations in Baghdad and Basra in January, 2004, against it. Then Bush put in Ayad Allawi, an ex-Baathist strong man, as appointed prime minister in the lead-up to the elections, and tried to give him the advantages of incumbency in hopes of throwing the election to him. Bush and his cronies tried as hard as he could for a secular strong man, but they were just defeated by Sistani and the religious parties that had been in exile in Tehran.
Bush lauds the surge and the Status of Forces Agreement without seeming to realize that they are contradictory policies. The troop escalation was intended to allow the US to maintain bases in the long term in Iraq. But the SOFA expels US troops by 2011. So, again, Bush was defeated by Iraqi popular political forces.
Bush seems to attribute Libya's abandonment of its unconventional weapons program to the Iraq War. But that is a profound misinterpretation.
Bush ties himself in knots, trying to argue that his Iraq War made Iran behave better, but then says it backslid. Of course, everyone knows that Bush's overthrow of the Taliban and Saddam unleashed Iran as a regional power in the Middle East, which was not what Bush had been going for.
Bush does make an important admission:
' According to our intelligence community, the regime in Tehran had started a nuclear weapons program in the late-1980s, and then halted a key part of that program in 2003.'
What the National Intelligence Estimate of December 2007 actually said was that the US intelligence community estimates with fair confidence that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, not that it halted a part of it and continued the rest.
Bush goes on to pledge that the US won't allow Iran to develop that nuclear weapon that US intelligence says they are not working on, and that the Iranian leadership has consistently said it does not want.
Bush's third point is his supposed democratization project as a means of fighting terrorism.
I'm all in favor of democratization, but it isn't a tool kit. You can't just point a gun at people, make them open the tool kit, and then miraculously you get democracy. You need institutions like a well-trained legal and judicial establishment that can lay the groundwork for a rule of law. You need vital, independent unions and chambers of commerce. You need security. You need lots of things besides the Marines. Bush has done diddlysquat toward promoting those prerequisites of democracy, and, indeed, has undermined many of these key structures in the United States itself.
Bush says"As part of this effort, we are pressing nations across the region – including our friends – to trust their people with greater freedom of speech, worship, and assembly. We are giving strong support to young democracies."
Bush's narrative of democratization cannot account for his steadfast support of Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf, or the way in which the Pakistani public actively defied Bush to return to civilian government in 2008.
And while Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, etc., may have been given polite notes by the US embassy encouraging an opening up of their systems, Bush needed them too much for his war in Iraq to really press them very hard, and he hasn't changed their systems.
Bush boasts,"I was the first American President to call for a Palestinian state, and building support for the two-state solution has been one of the highest priorities of my Presidency."
You couldn't tell it by looking. The Palestinians are significantly farther away from statehood now than they were in 2000, and they are also much worse off in every other way. Many are actually being half-starved by the Israelis who have them under siege or are continuing to steal from them or coddle violent fanatics who attack them.
Bush was always all hat and no cattle.
Bush turned the United States into an aggressor nation. He kicked off an orgy of violence in Iraq that has probably left a million dead. He destroyed entire cities. He left millions of widows and orphans, and millions more displaced. He lied, he destroyed habeas corpus at home and abroad, he tortured. It is too soon to know if American democracy will ever really recover from lawless regime.
Posted on: Saturday, December 6, 2008 - 21:02
As Barack Obama enters the oval office he will face a series of daunting challenges. One of these is confronting the age old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been seriously, yet unsuccessfully, tackled by every American president since Jimmy Carter. The inability to reach a peaceful solution has not only had fatal repercussions for the people residing in Israel and the Occupied Territories, but has also been detrimental to Middle East stability and to vital US interests in the region.
In recent years, some of the hurdles facing those political leaders who want to reach a peace agreement based on the two-state solution have only grown. The Palestinians are in the midst of an internal fray between the old-guard of Fatah and the fundamentalist Hamas ideologues, and currently there is no agreed upon leadership with which one can negotiate. The Israeli political arena has also become much more polarized, and, it will be practically impossible for whichever party wins the upcoming elections to sign a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians, not least because the settler movement and its supporters will control a critical block in the Knesset.
Obama, however, has a crucial advantage over his predecessors. Several years of political negotiations (from the Madrid conference in 1991, through Oslo, Camp David, Taba, and Annapolis) alongside the publication of different initiatives (from the Geneva Initiative and the Saudi Plan to the Nussaiba and Ayalon Plan) have clarified what it would take to reach a peace settlement between the warring sides.
The two-state solution entails three central components. 1) Israel’s full withdrawal to the 1967 border with possible 1 per 1 land swaps so that ultimately the total amount of land that was occupied will be returned. 2) Jerusalem’s division according to the 1967 borders with certain land swaps to guarantee that each side has control over its own religious sites and large neighborhoods. Both these clauses entail the dismantlement of Israeli settlements and the return of the Jewish settlers to Israel. 3) The acknowledgment of the right of return of all Palestinians but with the following stipulation: While all Palestinians will be able to return to the fledgling Palestinian state, only a limited number agreed upon by the two sides will be allowed to return to Israel; those who cannot exercise this right or, alternatively, choose not to, will receive full compensation.
While the conditions that need to be satisfied in order to reach a peace agreement are well known and even though most political leader understand that the only way to provide real security for the two peoples is by signing a comprehensive agreement, years of negotiations have produced only limited results. The cruel irony is that the majority of Jews and Palestinians in the region support the two-state solution, but, nonetheless, the two parties cannot reach an agreement because sizable minorities in both camps reject this solution. These minorities have managed to hijack the respective political arenas and have succeeded in creating a deadlock that can only be overcome if the international community, and particularly the US, assumes a more interventionist role.
With determination and political boldness Obama can neutralize the rejectionist minorities and resolve this bloody conflict once and for all. We believe that he can achieve this objective if his administration adopts the following strategy: First, the White House needs to draft a proposal using the above mentioned guidelines. Second, the draft proposal should be submitted to the two sides so that each one can suggest minor alterations. Third, the Obama administration will have to hammer out a final proposal (i.e., the Obama plan). Finally, this proposal should be publicized and brought to a referendum in both Israel and the Occupied Territories, with the US and international community applying pressure by declaring that the two parties will be rewarded if they support the initiative and penalized if they do not. Thus, the majority of the people on each side, and not the local leadership or a rejectionist minority, will decide whether or not to accept the peace plan.
Obama’s political vision has engendered hope not only in the United States, but, as his appearance in Berlin and the post-election jubilations suggest, in the various populations of the world. Our expectation is that he will make good on his promise for change and introduce a courageous initiative that will bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians. He has both an opportunity and a responsibility to do so.
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2008 - 19:14
SOURCE: Truthdig.com (12-4-08)
The New York Mets have announced that their new stadium will still be called Citi Field. According to news reports, Citigroup will pay the Mets a trifling $400 million over 20 years for the naming rights to the new ballpark. Small change. The Mets added that the government bailout of Citigroup will help the bank survive the “economic crisis.”
Citibank, we were told, was “too big to fail.” Thus the federal government, in the person of Wall Street icon Henry Paulson, agreed on Nov. 23 to protect $306 billion of Citigroup’s loans and securities against losses.
The Bush administration and its Wall Street minions continue on their way of injecting more federal money to save banks from themselves and heal their self-inflicted wounds. The purpose, Treasury Secretary Paulson contended, was to free up frozen credit markets. But after running up a tab of more than $4 trillion, the credit markets remain mostly frozen. The Financial Times reported in January that Citigroup had raised $14 billion from foreign nations and public investors to shore up its bad debts. The Chinese bought up $9 billion. And no alarm bells rang in Washington or on Wall Street.
Meanwhile, Paulson seems oblivious—or is it unconcerned?—with the future of American automobile workers, who have seen their jobs shrivel because of more bad management. Maybe Paulson believes the current urban legend that auto workers make $70,000 a year, plus all that luxuriant medical care and those lucrative pensions. No need for a bailout of their companies. Meanwhile, the UAW is trying to help, offering contract changes to prevent the Big Three from collapsing. Those concessions include suspending the jobs bank, which requires employers to pay some laid-off employees, and allowing the carmakers to delay payments to the new retiree health fund.
It is staggering when one thinks of what Paulson and the administration have delivered to the financial community in the past few weeks. The 2008 bank bailout tab so far is more than $4.6 trillion, which is more than the total expenditures (in current dollars) for the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the S&L failures of the 1980s, the New Deal, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq war, the moon landing, and all NASA budgets combined. There you have it: Republican small government redefined.
What blatant hypocrisy Citigroup and the Mets peddle. The government has helped out banks because of the “economic crisis”? Why can’t the government (and the Mets) get it straight? Better yet, why can’t our vaunted “free” media state the fundamental truth? Our so-called economic crisis isn’t a freak event, but the result of the excesses of the financial “industry”—as if it produces anything. We once called bankers “prudent.” Now they are best known for their acquisition and the making of mindless bad debts.
Why doesn’t the government fault Citigroup and similarly situated fellow bankers for their total irresponsibility in accumulating their bad debts? Why doesn’t Henry Paulson offer a plan to prevent such malpractice again? He might start by recommending restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, repealed in 1999 with the sage sponsorship of Phil Gramm, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan. That’s the kind of “bipartisanship” the business community loves. Glass-Steagall, for nearly 70 years, prevented banks from much of the activity that resulted in our present problem. The proponents of the repeal undoubtedly will defend themselves with the “free market” nonsense they have peddled so successfully for the past generation.
Meantime, the game must go on, and there is money to reap. Let us be happy knowing that the financial meltdown has not threatened the Amazin’ Mets. And perhaps they’ll manage to snag an overpriced free agent during the off-season. The game must go on—and the owners have to make money.
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2008 - 18:47
SOURCE: NYT Editorial (11-29-08)
AMONG the parallels between our present financial turmoil and the Great Depression of the 1930s, few are more important to understand than the implications of economic upheaval for national security. One lesson from the Depression bears repeating loudly: Economic policy and foreign policy are not two distinct domains. They constitute a strategic nexus whose interconnections we ignore at our peril.
The perception that the United States was too enfeebled by its domestic travails to defend its interests emboldened Japan to invade Manchuria in 1931. The spectacle of Depression-era America continued to feed Japanese aggression, leading eventually to the brazen gamble that a single blow at Pearl Harbor might so demoralize the economically enervated Americans that they would throw in the towel and leave Asia to Japan.
In the 1930s, as now, in the face of severe economic affliction the temptation was strong to turn inward, to “put our own house in order” and tend to the international neighborhood later. That was Franklin Roosevelt’s policy in 1933. “Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy,” he said in his first inaugural address.
Accordingly, Roosevelt left unchallenged the Smoot-Hawley Tariff passed during the Hoover administration, and he added some nationalist measures of his own. Perhaps his worst decision was to scuttle London’s World Economic Conference in 1933, convened to discuss international debt rescheduling, exchange-rate stabilization and the restoration of the gold standard. The conference afforded the last, desperate chance to deliver a concerted international counterpunch to the worldwide depression. Yet Roosevelt effectively withdrew the American delegation in July by declaring that the United States would have no further truck with the “old fetishes of so-called international bankers.”
Among those who drew malign conclusions was Hitler. Watching events from his Berlin chancellery, he calculated that the economic weakness of his adversaries opened vistas of opportunity for conquest. The inability of the democracies to cooperate economically portended their inability to cooperate militarily or diplomatically. And the ailing economy that was driving the United States inward removed America from Hitler’s geopolitical calculus altogether....
Posted on: Thursday, December 4, 2008 - 21:25