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: The Root (11-4-08)
We have all heard stories about those few magical transformative moments in African-American history, extraordinary ritual occasions through which the geographically and socially diverse black community—a nation within a nation, really—molds itself into one united body, determined to achieve one great social purpose and to bear witness to the process by which this grand achievement occurs.
The first time was New Year's Day in 1863, when tens of thousands of black people huddled together all over the North waiting to see if Abraham Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The second was the night of June 22, 1938, the storied rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, when black families and friends crowded around radios to listen and cheer as the Brown Bomber knocked out Schmeling in the first round. The third, of course, was Aug. 28, 1963, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed to the world that he had a dream, in the shadow of a brooding Lincoln, peering down on the assembled throng, while those of us who couldn't be with him in Washington sat around our black-and-white television sets, bound together by King's melodious voice through our tears and with quickened-flesh. But we have never seen anything like this. Nothing could have prepared any of us for the eruption (and, yes, that is the word) of spontaneous celebration that manifested itself in black homes, gathering places and the streets of our communities when Sen. Barack Obama was declared President-elect Obama. From Harlem to Harvard, from Maine to Hawaii—and even Alaska—from"the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire … [to] Stone Mountain of Georgia," as Dr. King put it, each of us will always remember this moment, as will our children, whom we woke up to watch history being made.
My colleagues and I laughed and shouted, whooped and hollered, hugged each other and cried. My father waited 95 years to see this day happen, and when he called as results came in, I silently thanked God for allowing him to live long enough to cast his vote for the first black man to become president. And even he still can't quite believe it!
How many of our ancestors have given their lives—how many millions of slaves toiled in the fields in endlessly thankless and mindless labor—before this generation could live to see a black person become president?"How long, Lord?" the spiritual goes;"not long!" is the resounding response. What would Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois say if they could know what our people had at long last achieved? What would Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman say? What would Dr. King himself say? Would they say that all those lost hours of brutalizing toil and labor leading to spent, half-fulfilled lives, all those humiliations that our ancestors had to suffer through each and every day, all those slights and rebuffs and recriminations, all those rapes and murders, lynchings and assassinations, all those Jim Crow laws and protest marches, those snarling dogs and bone-breaking water hoses, all of those beatings and all of those killings, all of those black collective dreams deferred—that the unbearable pain of all of those tragedies had, in the end, been assuaged at least somewhat through Barack Obama's election? This certainly doesn't wipe that bloody slate clean. His victory is not redemption for all of this suffering; rather, it is the symbolic culmination of the black freedom struggle, the grand achievement of a great, collective dream. Would they say that surviving these horrors, hope against hope, was the price we had to pay to become truly free, to live to see—exactly 389 years after the first African slaves landed on these shores—that"great gettin' up morning" in 2008 when a black man—Barack Hussein Obama—was elected the first African-American president of the United States?...
Posted on: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 - 09:57
SOURCE: Newsweek (1-21-09)
On election night, addressing a huge crowd in Chicago's Grant Park, and millions more watching worldwide, the president-elect, with great calm and assurance, invoked America's Founding Fathers, claiming them for all Americans, white and black alike. His successful campaign and election, he said, showed that the "the dream of our Founders" was still alive. He had done this before, during the campaign—referencing the founding era. As one who writes about the period, I had noted this and seen the irony of it.
Of course, at the time of America's founding, when Thomas Jefferson wrote his stirring words in the Declaration of Independence about the equality of all mankind, the majority of black Americans—one fifth of the country's 2.5 million people—were enslaved, and totally outside civil and political society. Those who were free were, in the main, people of mixed African and European ancestry just like Mr. Obama. And those whose families had been free the longest were the descendants of the English women and African men who married or had liaisons back in the 1660s before Colonial legislatures got around to forbidding and punishing that behavior. Whether enslaved or free, blacks—who included mixed-race people, for they were by law the same as "Negroes"—were not under the cover of Jefferson's Declaration. What dreams did the Founders, particularly Jefferson, the most famous "dreamer" among that group, have for people of African origin?
Approaching the matter in the most literal-minded way, it is hard to imagine that Jefferson could have specifically dreamed of an American electorate that would put Barack Obama at the head of the American government. Jefferson, along with James Madison, John Marshall and many other prominent Americans, including, for a time, Abraham Lincoln, espoused what was considered the "enlightened" position of his day. After slavery was abolished in the United States—at some unspecified moment in the future—blacks were to be expatriated to form their own countries. A President Obama could exist, but he would be in Africa. That was all theory. In the real world, Jefferson had no intention of his sending his own mixed-race children "back to Africa" and arranged to have them and some of their relatives remain in the country. After Jefferson's death, two sons, along with their mother, Sally Hemings, would be asked if they wanted to go "back" to Africa. They declined. To be fair, Jefferson also would not have contemplated a President Hillary Clinton, a Vice President Sarah Palin or even an electorate that included female voters.
But while it would be easy to locate other identifiable groups within current-day American society that likely would have been outside of Jefferson's reveries, his relationship to black people has always been noticeably problematic and conflicted. There is no question that from the time of the American Revolution until today, blacks have used Jefferson's words to establish their right to equal citizenship. Benjamin Banneker, David Walker, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, all in different ways, used the Declaration to challenge their countrymen to help fulfill what they saw as the promise of that document, its "dream," as King put it. Even President Obama's favorite politician, Abraham Lincoln, who loved Jefferson, understood the power of the words "all men are created equal" and used them as he committed a country, deep in the midst of a civil war over slavery, to a new birth of freedom.
Lincoln's move was not without controversy. There were those who said at the time, and even now, "Jefferson didn't mean black people," without explaining exactly how or why that observation settles anything—what it binds us to. No creator of a meaningful phrase, a useful invention or powerful idea has the ability to control the uses to which his or her creation is put. They cannot envision what the future may hold for the thing they have put in motion. The Declaration is not the Constitution. It is a document designed to explain the desire of a colony to break from the mother country, with justifications for that expressed in terms of ideals that were supposedly universal and "self-evident." Jefferson believed the Constitution should be torn up and rewritten every couple of decades, figuring that each generation should chart its own course in matters of law and politics. It is highly unlikely he would have thought the ideals expressed in the Declaration should, or could be, scrapped periodically. Instead, as a believer in "progress," he predicted at the end of this life that one day the ideals expressed in the Declaration would come to apply to everyone as humankind improved itself....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 - 09:43
SOURCE: Newsweek (1-21-09)
In November 1863 president Abraham Lincoln delivered a brief address at the dedication of the soldiers' cemetery in Gettysburg. The Union dead buried there had given the "last full measure of devotion" in the bloodiest battle of a "great civil war" that would determine whether the nation founded four score and seven years earlier would "long endure" or "perish from the earth." Lincoln urged the audience—which has included millions of Americans who have read these words since 1863—to "highly resolve" that the United States "shall have a new birth of freedom." Barack Obama chose a new birth of freedom as the theme for his Inaugural Address. He took the oath of office with his hand on the same Bible Lincoln used for that purpose in 1861.
Lincoln did not define "a new birth of freedom" at Gettysburg, but his contemporaries knew what he meant. The nation had been founded on a charter of freedom which declared that "all men are created equal" and "endowed by their Creator" with the unalienable right of liberty. Yet the man who wrote these words owned many slaves. African-Americans were enslaved in all 13 states that proclaimed their freedom from British rule in 1776. "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" asked the English littérateur Samuel Johnson in 1775. It was a question that embarrassed the Founding Fathers and continued to plague Americans who liked to boast of their republic as a "beacon of liberty" to the oppressed peoples of other lands. Slavery soon disappeared from the states north of the Mason-Dixon line and was prohibited north of the Ohio River by the Northwest Ordinance. But the institution grew stronger than ever in the states south of these boundaries. By the mid-19th century the United States was the largest slaveholding country in the world. "The monstrous injustice of slavery," said Lincoln in 1854, "deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites."
A growing number of Americans agreed with Lincoln. They decried not only the institution of bondage but also the "slave power" that had dominated the national government since 1789. During two thirds of those years a slaveholder had been president of the United States. Two thirds of the Speakers of the House and presidents pro tem of the Senate, as well as 20 of the 35 justices of the Supreme Court, had been from slave states. The slave power's lock on the federal government was broken by Lincoln's election in 1860 with no electoral votes from any of the 15 slave states. He won on a platform pledging restriction of the future expansion of slavery. Such restriction, Lincoln had said in his "House Divided" speech two years earlier, would place slavery "in the course of ultimate extinction." With Lincoln's victory in 1860, declared Charles Francis Adams (the son and grandson of two previous Northern presidents), "the great revolution has actually taken place ... The country has once and for all thrown off the domination of the Slaveholders."
Precisely. The slaveholders thought the same. That is why they launched a counterrevolution of Confederate independence to protect slavery from the new antislavery majority that had elected Lincoln. This pro-slavery counterrevolution ironically sealed the fate of bondage. When Confederate guns opened fire on Fort Sumter six weeks after Lincoln's inauguration, they set in motion a war that ended four years later with the extinction of slavery as well as of the Confederacy. The Civil War did not begin as a war to abolish slavery. Quite the contrary, the North's initial war aim was to "restore the Union"—a Union in which nearly half of the states were slave states. As late as August 1862—16 months into the war—Lincoln declared that "my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." Often misinterpreted, (cont.) Lincoln's purpose in this declaration was to prepare public opinion for the proclamation of emancipation he had already decided to issue at the right time. He had concluded that to win a war against an enemy fighting for and sustained by slavery, the North must strike against slavery. "Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed," said Lincoln in 1862. "Without slavery it could not continue ... We [want] the army to strike more vigorous blows. The administration must set an example and strike at the heart of the rebellion."...
Posted on: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 - 09:30
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-20-09)
Gazillions of Americans descended on Washington. The rest of us were watching on TV or checking out streaming video on our computers. No one was paying attention to anything else. Every pundit in sight was nattering away all day long, as they will tomorrow and, undoubtedly, the next day about whatever comes to mind until we get bored. And in the morning, when this post is still hanging around in your inbox, you'll be reading your newspaper on… well, you know… the same things: Obama's speech! So many inaugural balls! Etc., etc.
So I'm thinking of this post as a freebie, a way to lay out a little news about the world that no one will notice. And all I can say -- for those of you who aren't reading this anyway, and in the spirit of the clunky 1951 sci-fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still -- is: Klaatu barada nikto!
Okay, no actual translation of that phrase (to the best of Wikipedia's knowledge) exists. We do know that, when invoked, the three words acted as a kind of"fail-safe" device, essentially disarming the super-robot Gort (which arrived on the Washington Mall by spacecraft with the alien Klaatu). That was no small thing, since Gort was capable not just of melting down tanks but possibly of ending life on this planet. Still, I remain convinced, based on no evidence whatsoever, that the phrase could also mean:"Whew! We're still here!"
Though I skipped the recent remake of the film, which bombed (so to speak), I consider this post my remake, though with a slightly altered title:
January 20, 2009: The Day the Earth Still Stood.
Klaatu barada nikto has, by the way, been called"the most famous phrase ever spoken by an extraterrestrial." After watching the final press conference of George W. Bush, I wonder.
Now, whether Bush was the extraterrestrial and Dick Cheney the super (goof-it-up) robot, or vice-versa, is debatable, but whatever the case, let's celebrate the obvious: We're still here, more or less, and they're gone. Dick Cheney to fish and shoot. George W. to think big, big thoughts at his still-to-be-built library. Let's face it, on the day on which Barack Obama has taken the oath of office, that constitutes something of a small miracle. But a nagging question remains: just how small?
Or rather, just how large is the disaster? If the Earth still stands, how wobbly is it?
In fact, our last president -- in that remarkable final news conference of his ("the ultimate exit interview," he called it) in which he swanned around, did his anti-Sally Fields imitation (you don't like me, right now, you don't like me!), sloshed in self-pity while denouncing self-pity, brimmed with anger, and mugged (while mugging the press) -- even blurted out one genuine, and startling, piece of news. With the Washington press corps being true to itself to the last second of his administration, however, not a soul seemed to notice.
Reporters, pundits, and analysts of every sort focused with laser beam predictability on whether the President would admit to his mistakes in Iraq and elsewhere. In the meantime, out of the blue, Bush offered something strikingly new and potentially germane to any assessment of our moment.
Here's what he said:
"Now, obviously these are very difficult economic times. When people analyze the situation, there will be -- this problem started before my presidency, it obviously took place during my presidency. The question facing a President is not when the problem started, but what did you do about it when you recognized the problem. And I readily concede I chunked aside some of my free market principles when I was told by [my] chief economic advisors that the situation we were facing could be worse than the Great Depression.
"So I've told some of my friends who said -- you know, who have taken an ideological position on this issue -- why did you do what you did? I said, well, if you were sitting there and heard that the depression could be greater than the Great Depression, I hope you would act too, which I did. And we've taken extraordinary measures to deal with the frozen credit markets, which have affected the economy."
Hold onto those"worse than the Great Depression… greater than the Great Depression" comments for a moment and let's try to give this a little context. Assumedly, our last president was referring to his acceptance of what became his administration's $700 billion bailout package for the financial system, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. He signed that into law in early October. So -- for crude dating purposes -- let's assume that his" chief economic advisors," speaking to him in deepest privacy, told him in perhaps early September that the U.S. was facing a situation that might be"worse than the Great Depression."
By then, the Bush administration had long publicly rejected the idea that the country had even entered a recession. As early as February 28, 2008, at a press conference, Bush himself had said:"I don't think we're headed to a recession, but no question we're in a slowdown." In May, his Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Edward Lazear had been no less assertive:"The data are pretty clear that we are not in a recession." At the end of July in a CNBC interview, White House Budget Director Jim Nussle typically reassured the public this way:"I think we have avoided a recession."
By late September, the president, now campaigning for Congress to give him his bailout package, was warning that we could otherwise indeed"experience a long and painful recession." But well into October, White House press spokesperson Dana Perino still responded to a question about whether we were in a recession by insisting,"You know I don't think that we know."
Lest you imagine that this no-recession verbal minuet was simply a typical administration prevarication operation, for much of the year top newspapers (and the TV news) essentially agreed to agree. While waiting for economic confirmation that the nation's gross national product had dropped in at least two successive quarters, the papers reported increasingly grim economic news using curious circumlocutions to avoid directly calling what was underway a"recession." We were said, as former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan put it in February, to be at"the edge of a recession," a formulation many reporters picked up, or"near" one, or simply in an"economic slowdown," or an "economic downturn."
At the beginning of December, the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private group of leading economists, made"official," as CNN wrote,"what most Americans have already believed about the state of the economy" (no thanks to the press). We were not only officially in a recession, the Bureau announced, but, far more strikingly, had been since December 2007. For at least a year, that is. Suddenly,"recession" was an acceptable media description of our state, without qualifiers (though you can look high and low for a single major paper which then reviewed its economic labeling system, December 2007-December 2008, and questioned its own coverage.) Recession simply became the new norm.
Now, as times have gotten even tougher, it's become a commonplace turn of phrase to call what's underway"the worst" or"deepest" economic or financial crisis"since the Great Depression." Recently, a few brave economic souls -- in particular, columnist Paul Krugman of the New York Times -- have begun to use the previously verboten"d" word, or even the"GD" label more directly. As Krugman wrote recently,"Let's not mince words: This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression." But he remains the exception to the public news rule in claiming that, barring the right economic formula from the new Obama administration, we might well find ourselves in a situation as bad as the Great Depression.
Now, let's return to our last president's news conference and consider what he claims his" chief economic advisors" told him in private last fall. His statement was, in fact, staggeringly worse than just about anything you can presently read in your newspapers or see on the TV news. What was heading our way, he claimed he was told, might be"worse" or"greater" than the Great Depression itself. Admittedly, John Whitehead, the 86-year-old former chairman of Goldman Sachs, suggested in November that the current economic crisis might turn out to be"worse than the [Great] depression." But on this, he was speaking as something of a public minority of one.
Stop for a minute and consider what Bush actually told us. It's a staggering thought. Who even knows what it might mean? In the United States, for example, the unemployment rate in the decade of the Great Depression never fell below 14%. In cities like Chicago and Detroit in the early 1930s, it approached 50%. So, worse than that? And yet in the privacy of the Oval Office, that was evidently a majority view, unbeknownst to the rest of us.
It's possible, of course, that Bush's" chief economic advisors" simply came up with a formulation so startling it could wake the dead or make a truly lame-duck president quack. Still, doesn't it make you wonder? What if, a year from now, the same National Bureau of Economic Research announces that, by January 2009, we were already in a depression?
I'm only saying that, on the question of just how steadily the Earth now stands, the verdict is out. Recent history, cited above, indicates how possible it is that, on this question, we are in the dark.
And one more thing, while we're on the subject of recessions and depressions, what if what's happening isn't, prospectively, the worst since the Great Depression, or as bad as the Great Depression, or even, worse than the Great Depression. What if it's something new? Something without a name or reference point? What then? How do we judge what's still standing in that case?
If I were the Obama administration, I might be exceedingly curious about a couple of other"standing" questions right now. Here's one I might ask, for example: Just what kind of a government are the Obamanians really inheriting? When, tomorrow, they settle into the Oval Office -- or its departmental and agency equivalents -- and begin opening all the closets and drawers, what are they going to find that Bush's people have left behind?
This is no small matter. After all, they are betting the store on an enormous economic stimulus package -- approximately $550 billion in pump-priming government spending, and another $275 billion in tax cuts of various sorts, according to the present plan in the House of Representatives. All kinds of possibilities are being proposed from daringly experimental renewable energy projects to computerizing health-care records and building a national"smart" electricity grid, not to speak of rebuilding an infrastructure of bridges, roads, levees, and transport systems known to be in a desperate state of disrepair.
But what if the federal government slated to organize, channel, and oversee that spending is itself thoroughly demoralized and broken? What then?
We know that, after eight catastrophic years, some parts of it are definitely in an advanced state of wear and tear. The Justice Department is a notorious, demoralized wreck. So, infamously, is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. So, for that matter, is the whole Department of Homeland Security, as it has been ever since it was (ill) formed in 2002. So, evidently, is the CIA. Who knows what condition the eviscerated Environmental Protection Agency is in, or the Housing Department, or the Interior Department, or the Treasury Department, or the Energy Department after these years of thoroughgoing politicization in which all those crony capitalist pals of the Bush administration and all those industry lobbyist foxes were let loose among the federal chickens meant to oversee them?
In those same years, huge new complexes of interests formed around certain agencies, especially the Department of Homeland Security, and all sorts of government functions were privatized and outsourced, often to crony corporations and often, it seems, expensively and inefficiently. Who knows how well any parts of our government now function?
All I'm saying is that it can take months, or even years, to restore an agency in disrepair or a staff in a state of massive demoralization. In the meantime, how effectively will those agencies and departments direct the Obama stimulus package? The manner in which the Treasury Department threw $350 billion down a banking hole in these last frenetic months should certainly give us pause, especially since the banking system has been anything but rescued. In the end, the U.S. government can order up hundreds of billions of dollars, but applying them well may be another matter entirely. What if, that is, the government now supposed to save us isn't itself really standing? What if it, too, needs to be saved?
And let's not forget the world out there. If you watched Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton breeze through her confirmation hearings, she seemed like the wonky picture of confidence, mixing the usual things you say in Washington ("We are not taking any option off the table at all") with promises of new policies. Looking at her, or our other new and recycled custodians of empire, it's easy enough to avoid the obvious thought: that they are about to face a world -- from Latvia to Somalia, Gaza to Afghanistan -- which may be in far greater disarray than we imagine.
Only the other day, for instance, in a hardly noticed report,"Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008)," the U.S. Joint Forces Command on worldwide security threats suggested that"two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse." One -- Pakistan -- was no surprise, though all sorts of potentially catastrophic scenarios lurk in its nasty brew of potential economic collapse, tribal wars, terrorism, border disputes, and nuclear politics. The other country, however, should make any American sit back and wonder. It's Mexico.
Here's the money passage in the report:"The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press[ed] by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone."
Of course, it could just be a matter of part of the U.S. military looking for new arenas of potential expansion, but let's remember that we're no longer in the frightening but strangely orderly Cold War world, nor even on a planet any longer overshadowed by a"lone superpower," the"New Rome." No indeed. Events in Mumbai reminded us of this recently. There, ten trained terrorists armed with the most ordinary of weapons and off-the-shelf high-tech equipment of a sort that could be bought in any mall managed to bring two nuclear-armed superpowers to the edge of conflict. Ten men. Imagine that.
We don't know what the world holds for us in the Obama years, but it's not likely to be pretty and some of what's heading our way may not be in any of the familiar playbooks by which we've been operating for the past half century-plus. We don't yet know if whole countries, even whole continents, may collapse in the economic, or environmental, rubble of our twenty-first century moment, or what that would actually mean.
I'm no expert on any of this, but on this day of anxious celebration, here's my question: Is the world still standing? Do you know? Really? Does anyone?
Posted on: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 - 09:25
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (1-20-09)
With Democrats now in charge of both the executive and legislative branches, what changes might one expect in U.S. policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Personnel appointments so far fit the center-left mold. On the plus side, as analyst Steven Rosen observes, this means that none of the team brings a"defined left agenda of dangerous delusions – indeed, many of them are sensible and intelligent, resistant if not immune to the nonsense that blinds the majority of academicians." Especially when recalling Barack Obama's earlier associations (Ali Abunimah, Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said) and the potential alternate"dream teams", this comes as a relief.
On the minus side, Rosen notes, the prospective staffers"are moderate and centrist to a fault, with no one to sound the alarm about the extraordinary dangers we face, to propose a response beyond the usual."
Looking at the larger picture, beyond personnel, one finds a similar mixed picture. Note the pro-Israel resolution Congress passed earlier this month"recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process." It passed the Senate unanimously and the House by 390-5, with 22 members registering"present." Of those 27, 26 were Democrats; and the 27th was Ron Paul, a Republican in name only.
This vote implies two points: First, the strong, bipartisan pro-Israel attitude of Americans has weathered the Gaza conflict. Secondly, persons cool or hostile to Israel overwhelmingly find their niche in the Democratic Party.
Polls over the past decade consistently substantiate that Americans strongly back Israel, but Democrats less so than Republicans. Already in 2000, I showed that"several times more members of the Republican Party are friendly to Israel than are Democrats, and their leaderships reflect this disparity." In recent years, poll after poll confirmed this pattern, even during the Hezbollah and Hamas wars. To cite a few:
March 2006, Gallup:"are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?" Reply: 72 percent of Republicans and 47 percent Democrats sympathize more with Israelis. (Difference: 25 percent.)
July 2006, NBC/WSJ:"are your sympathies more with Israel or with the Arab nations?" Reply: 81 percent Republicans and 43 percent Democrats sympathize more with Israel. (Difference: 38 percent.)
August 2006, LAT/Bloomberg: Do you agree that"The United States should continue to align itself with Israel"? Reply: 64 percent Republicans and 39 percent Democrats agree. (Difference: 25 percent.)
March 2008, Gallup poll: 84 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats look at Israel favorably. (Difference: 20 percent.)
December 2008.Rasmussen Reports: 75 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats say Israel is an ally of the United States. (Difference: 20 percent.)
Republican support for Israel is persistently larger, ranging from 20 to 38 percent more than the Democrats and averaging 26 percent. It was not always thus. Indeed, Democrats and Republicans have dramatically changed places in their attitudes toward Israel over sixty years and three eras.
In the first era, 1948-70, Democrats like Harry Truman and John Kennedy showed warmth to the Jewish state while Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower were cool. In the second, 1970-91, Republicans like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan came to appreciate Israel as a strong ally; as I concluded in 1985, this meant that"Liberals and conservatives support Israel versus the Arabs in similar proportions." With the end of the Cold War in 1991, however, a third era began, in which Democrats focused on the Palestinian cause and cooled to Israel, while Republicans further warmed to Israel.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition rightly notes that"Democrats are increasingly turning their backs on Israel." That trend anticipates a likely tension over the next four years, whether or not to adopt a more"European" approach to Israel.
Tensions already exist. On the one hand, the Obama team has been uncritical of Israel's war against Hamas, while stating that it will not deal with Hamas, that Israel is the key Middle East ally, and that U.S. policy will take Israel's security interests into account. On the other hand, it has shown a willingness to associate with Hamas, plus displays tendencies to a more"even-handed" approach, to push negotiations harder, and to divide Jerusalem.
In short, policy toward the Jewish state is in play.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 - 09:21
If the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came back to witness Barack Obama's inauguration, would he think that the people he led in peaceful pursuit of social justice had reached the promised land of racial equality? What could be more barrier-shattering in his eyes than our electing an African American president?
King's answer is found in his essay "A Testament of Hope," which appeared posthumously 40 years ago this month in Playboy magazine. Like putting a man in orbit on the way to putting men on the moon, shattering a barrier is just a first step. The rest is the hardest part.
The promised land will be reached, as King saw it, when economic, social and educational barriers no longer make the darkest color of the American rainbow an unexpected sight in the United States Senate, the White House, executive boardrooms and head coaches' offices.
Barack Obama's big step in becoming only the third African American U.S. senator in 125 years has been overshadowed by his giant leap to become the first black president. But the co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Rush, was the main voice speaking out for Roland Burris to be confirmed in the seat Obama vacated. And it took a governor under federal indictment and facing an impeachment trial to ensure we still have an African American in the U.S. Senate.
If King were alive, he would call on us to celebrate Obama's inauguration. Obama's calls for hope and unity across political and racial divisions echo King's. Obama, too, urges us to see how we all will benefit by achieving racial equality. But to lead us there, he must make us heed the message of "A Testament of Hope."
King knew the challenges we face. He lived and died trying to overcome them: "White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care - each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our (i.e., the African-American) heritage. Each will require billions of dollars to correct. This fact has not been grasped, because most of the gains of the past decade (the 1960s) were obtained at bargain prices. The desegregation of public facilities cost nothing; neither did the election and appointment of a few black public officials."
King spoke about justice. The politicized appointments within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice during the Bush presidency are no small matter. They corrupt the nation's ultimate instrument for racial justice. Texas State Sen. Royce West explained how this played out in the discriminatory redistricting under Tom DeLay in 2003: "Political appointees at the Department of Justice conspired to commit a political crime that denied voting rights to African Americans and Hispanics in Texas."
Worse still, many young African Americans do not have any political voice.
When King was alive, there were 100 prisoners for every 100,000 Americans. Now there are 472. Most prisoners and ex-offenders lose their right to vote and to live with their families in public housing.
Poverty is a key factor. The average offender has yearly earnings between $1,000 and $2,000. Those are not typos. The poverty and unemployment rates and impoverished school systems in northern rust-belt cities eradicate hope. Many black youths view going to prison as a natural step in their lives. Twenty-two percent of black men in birth cohorts in recent years have prison records. Only 12 percent have college degrees. Recidivism rates are high because of repeat-offender, mandatory-sentencing and drug laws. Budgets to help ex-prisoners re-enter society are low.
The words of singer Michael Franti capture the understandable anger and frustration about these conditions: "For just about anything they can bust us / false advertising sayin' "Halls of Justice....Mandatory minimum sentencin' / 'cause he got caught with a pocket full of medicine. / Do that again / another ten / up in the pen. / I feel so mad I wanna bomb an institution."
The hope and energy that King inspired in the late 60's has long since dissipated. Studs Terkel's magnificent oral history Race made clear in 1992, at the mid-point between the end of MLK's work and the beginning of Barack Obama's as our 44th president, that the policies of Reagan and George H.W. Bush put an end to whatever was left of Johnson's Great Society initiatives. As sociology professor Douglas Massey then put it, public investment in and commitment to civil rights had disappeared.
As inner cities have deteriorated and trickle-down economics have prevailed for almost three decades since Reagan took office, the divide between rich and poor has become a Grand Canyon. The haves have supported larger police forces, prisons, mandatory sentencing measures. They have also resorted to private solutions: security systems and most conspicuously in the last two decades: the gated community.
We should not forget how Ronald Reagan again and again and again told his false story of the "Chicago welfare queen" who had 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards, and collected benefits of "over $150,000" for "four nonexisting deceased husbands," to push his views on the need to shrink big government. George H.W. Bush used his fear-mongering Willie Horton ads to get elected. Bill Clinton then upped the race-card ante by scheduling and overseeing the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged mentally ill African-American, right before the 1992 New Hampshire primary. His cynical use of Rector's execution for political capital raised an outcry from the Southern Center for Human Rights, which saw it as the latest stage in reprehensible political exploitation of the minority crime problem. The last sixteen years have seen a further separation in our society between haves and have-nots and no diminution of latent racial fears.
Martin Luther King showed us a peaceful path to the promised land. But we cannot walk it together if a perceptive African-American singer with a degree from University of San Francisco can write and sing justifiably a prayer song: "Oh my, oh my God / in my mind they got us livin' suicide / singin' oh my, oh my God / in my mind they got us livin' genocide," while African-Americans in his audience know exactly what he is singing about, and suburban or comfortably urban white Americans can see it for themselves on television.
HBO's long-running series about drug trafficking, violent crime and political corruption in inner-city Baltimore, The Wire, used Franti's "Oh, My God" in its soundtrack. Conditions against which King would have organized marches many of us now watch on cable in the safety of our homes as reassurance that the violence will never touch us physically or morally.
Posted on: Monday, January 19, 2009 - 15:52
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (1-16-09)
As Israel goes deeper into Gaza, and intensifies its bombardment of Hamas in Gaza City, a chorus is beginning to be heard: Israel is now committing war crimes; the conditions of the people there constitute a humanitarian crisis; the only solution is negotiations with Hamas for a cease-fire that will give Gaza’s beleaguered and innocent population breathing space to begin rebuilding its shattered city.
As awful as the situation in Gaza is, an important point was made today by law professor Irwin Cotler of McGill University. Cotler shows that Hamas is violating six different provisions of established international law: deliberate targeting of civilians; attacking with rockets from within civilian areas; abusing humanitarian instruments to launch attacks, such as using ambulances to transport weapons; public incitement to genocide; and the recruitment of children into armed conflict.
Cotler’s main point: The situation in Gaza is tragic, but “there has to be a moral and legal clarity as to responsibility. When Israel responds and civilians are killed because Israel is targeting an area from which rockets were launched, then it is Hamas which bears responsibility for the deaths, and not Israel.”
Despite Hamas’ actions, foreign policy experts like Richard N. Haass, president of The Council Foreign Relations, believes that diplomats can easily reach an agreement. As he sees it, the final outcome is clear: “Hamas will agree to stop firing rockets into Israel; the Israelis will pull back their forces from Gaza.” It all seems so doable to Haass. All it takes, he thinks, is to learn the lessons of the agreement in Northern Ireland that led the IRA to give up armed struggle and work within the political system. It worked, according to Haass, because the British Army convinced the IRA that it could not “shoot its way into power.” And British diplomats showed the minority Catholics that they could get a fair deal by renouncing arms and embracing politics.
The problem with Haass’ analogy is that Hamas is not the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. They suffered from a lack of civil rights and access to scarce jobs, which were reserved for Protestants. Catholicism was not an ideology that vowed death to Irish Protestants simply for being Protestant.
Hamas has revealed that its goal is non-negotiable. Its very raison d’etre is to destroy Israel as a nation, and to kill Jews as a religious duty. Watch this video provided by Memri. Here you will see one Hamas leader saying “Killing a single Jew is the same as killing 30 million Jews.” Another vows that “the annihilation of Jews here in Palestine is one of the most splendid blessings.” As Marty Peretz writes, “they are not fooling.” And no one has put it as well as The Atlantic’s correspondent, Jeffrey Goldberg, who in yesterday’s New York Times wrote: Both Hamas and Hezbollah, fierce competitors for the Muslim’s allegiance, both “share a common belief that Jews are a cosmological evil, enemies of Islam since Muhammed sought refuge in Medina.” And like Peretz, he agrees that its anti-Semtism is sincere. As the Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan, who was killed by Israel a few weeks ago, told Goldberg: Jews “are a curse to anyone who lives near them.”
As for a cease-fire, any such act would be a tactical withdrawal until Hamas could achieve its final goal, eradication of Israel by the forces of Islam. Hamas, Goldberg concludes, “cannot be cajoled into moderation.” And so I ask Richard Haass, how will he and other diplomats - even skilled ones like Dennis Ross- show Hamas “they will get a fair deal by renouncing arms and embracing politics?” They can’t and they won’t be able to. That would only occur if the diplomats promised them that they can attain the destruction of Israel by diplomatic means and with the world’s cooperation.
Haas claims that “talking - negotiating-will deliver more than fighting.” Hamas does not want what Haass would like to believe they will accept: “a viable Palestinian state based on 1967 lines.” Fatah’s leadership might accept such a deal, but it is Hamas that is at war with Israel, not the Palestinian authority in the West Bank. One thing is certain; Haass’ dream that the “radicals [will] evolve and become more moderate” is a pipe dream, as is his hope that they will learn the only way to gain a Palestinian state is by “trading in their guns.” This is the erroneous thinking that led to their being allowed to run in the elections. The only Palestinian state they would accept is the one currently known as Israel-all of Israel, and not just a portion.
Diplomats like Haass say they want a Jewish State that remains “democratic, Jewish, prosperous and secure.” So do I, and so do most Jews. That goal, however, cannot be met unless Hamas suffers a major defeat from which it cannot recover.
Posted on: Sunday, January 18, 2009 - 00:35
A regularly employed analyst runs a certain risk when publicly speaking about the possibility of a destruction of humanity, in the foreseeable future. “Professional myopia” or “immaturity in judgment” may be among the less denigrating – “unprofessional hysteria” or “irresponsible conduct” the more damning – reactions by colleagues. One workplace-friend recently advised me to delete from an article the term “World War III.” I decided not to do so.
That is because the darkness of a future scenario that one comes to regard as possible should be no hindrance for its full assessment and public outline. Arguably, one of the reasons that societies afford themselves the employment of social scientists at universities and research institutes is the provision of information and interpretation that goes beyond what journalists, publicists or politicians – often, more dependent on current mainstream opinion and reigning political correctness than academics – may be able to say or write.
A plain extrapolation of recent political developments in Russia into the future should lead one to regard outright war with NATO as a still improbable, yet again possible scenario. It is not unlikely that Russian public discourse will, during the coming years, continue to move in the same direction in, and with the same speed with, which it has been evolving since 2000. What is, in this case, in store for the world is not only a new “cold,” but also the possibility of a “hot” and, perhaps even, nuclear war.
This assessment sounds not only apocalyptic, but also “unmodern,” if not anachronistic. Aren’t the real challenges of the 21st century global warming, financial regulation, the North-South divide, international migration etc.? Isn’t that enough to worry about, and should we distract ourselves from solving these real problems? Hasn’t the age of the East-West confrontation been over for several years now? Do we really want to go back to the nightmarish visions of the horrible 20th century? A sober look on Russia advises that we better do: Carefulness may decrease the probability that a worst-case scenario ever materializes.
Such a scenario has become feasible again as Russian public opinion and elite discourse have – until August 2008, largely unnoticed in the West – made a fundamental shift, during the last years. The 1990s began with Russia’s enthusiastic embrace of the Western value system and partnership; they ended with Russian scepticism and bitterness towards the West. This was less the result of NATO’s expansion or bombing of Yugoslavia per se than an outcome of Moscow’s peculiar interpretation of these actions.
In the early 1990s, Yeltsin had failed to remove many of the Soviet Union’s elites from their positions of power and influence. This gave the ancien régime’s representatives an opportunity to impregnate post-Soviet political discourse with a reformulated, yet again fundamentally dualistic world-view in which Russia and the US remain archenemies fighting not only for control of the former Russian empire, but also deciding the future fate of humanity.
Initially marginal interpretations such as these were making inroads into Russian mainstream discourse in the 1990s already. With the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s rise in 1999, however, they started to slowly, but steadily move into the political center.
So, even before the Russian-Georgian war, Russians’ views of the United States were deteriorating continuously. Whereas in a poll conducted by Russia’s leading sociological survey agency, the Levada Center, in July 2000, 69 percent of the respondents said that they had a “very good” or “mainly good” opinion of the United States, by July 2008 this number shrank to 43 percent. In the same period, the number of those with a negative or very negative view of the United States rose from 23 percent to 46 percent. Asked by the Levada Center what they saw as the major reason for the Russian-Georgian conflict, 48 percent of the respondents in mid-August 2008 chose the answer “The U.S. leadership wants to extend its influence on Russia’s neighbouring states.” To the question why leading politicians of the West support Georgia, 66 percent replied that it is because “Western politicians want to weaken Russia and push her out of the Caucasus.”
In another poll in September 2008, 52 percent of the Russian respondents who knew the phrase “cold war,” agreed that it was continuing while only 18 percent of them chose the answer “The cold war is over.”
Even more worrying has been the growth of anti-Americanism in Russia’s elite strata and intellectual discourse. Whereas Europe’s recent scepticism towards the US has been, in many cases, an anti-Bushism, the Russian aversion towards America and NATO goes much deeper. Today, the idea that the Western (or, at least, Anglosaxon) political leaders are deeply russophobic is a common place in both TV talks show and academic conferences. That events like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine or Georgian attack on South Ossetia were fundamentally inspired, if not directly organized by the CIA is, in Russia today, a truism. That the CIA or another Western secret service is behind 9/11 or the Beslan tragedy are respected assessments frequently discussed in mainstream Moscow mass media. That the current behaviour of the West and its puppets in Eastern Europe has much in common with Nazi Germany’s policies is an opinion with which, today, many Russians would
Such collective paranoia is not only regrettable, but also dangerous. The nation that is beholden by these bizarre views has still a weapons arsenal large enough to erase humanity, several times. Until August 2008, it appeared that Dmitry Medvedev’s rise may usher in a new stage in Russian-Western relations – a chance that, after the Russian-Georgian war and the disciplining effect it had on the new President, has become slim again. Today, there is little ground for hope that the deep contamination of Russian public discourse could be reversed, or, at least, its further evolution be stopped, in the nearer future. The example of the Weimar Republic illustrates that a conspirological view of the world among the majority of a country's population might even prepare the ground for the rise of fascism.
Moreover, in Russia, the West’s reputation has suffered not only, like in much of the world, from the various international escapades of the Bush administration and Blair cabinet. Reminding the Entente’s misguided behaviour towards Germany after World War I, the West has – through its usual arrogance as well as simple inattention – regularly ignored legitimate Russian interests in the former Soviet Union. In Georgia and Ukraine, the West left and is leaving largely uncommented frequently undemocratic policies of nationalizing regimes that were and are infringing the interests and feelings of national minorities, not the least of ethnic Russians. Scandalously, the EU has accepted as members the Baltic ethnocracies that have, to one degree or another, made their Russian-speaking populations hostages to former Soviet policies: The governments of Latvia and Estonia deny their large russophone minorities elementary political rights on the basis of
dubious ethnocentric arguments long discredited in Western Europe.
As there is little prospect that the West will develop the strength or even willingness to correct these and similar inconsistencies in its international behaviour, Moscow’s falcons will find it easy to further demonize the Western elites. The latter, in turn, will face an acrimonious choice to make when it comes to follow up on their promise, to Georgia and Ukraine, that these countries shall become members of NATO – an organization seen as fundamentally anti-Russian by both Moscow’s intellectuals and the Russian common man. Unless something fundamentally changes in Russian-Western relations, we will – as the Russian-Georgian war illustrated – continue to live on the brink of an armed confrontation between two nuclear super-powers.
Posted on: Saturday, January 17, 2009 - 02:44
SOURCE: Sandbox, a blog run by Martin Kramer (1-16-09)
Israeli Yossi Alpher today publishes a piece in the International Herald Tribune, under the headline "Stop Starving the Gazans." Alpher claims that the economic sanctions imposed on Gaza after the Hamas power grab in mid-2007 (what he calls "the economic-warfare strategy") have failed totally; indeed, they have "produced no political or strategic benefit." "There is not a shred of evidence," he adds, that economic punishment or incentives toward Palestinians have ever worked. The "blockade" should be abandoned unconditionally—which, by the way, is precisely the main demand of Hamas.
Not a shred of evidence? Here's some evidence. Hamas sank in Palestinian public opinion in Gaza after it seized power. The most reliable Palestinian pollster got these answer from Gazans (in percentages):
So something was happening in Gaza: a steady erosion of support for Hamas and its leader, benefitting both Fatah and Abbas. What caused it? No doubt Hamas did much to offend Gazans, from its violent coup d'etat to its attempts at social Islamization. But many analysts have pointed primarily to the economic sanctions and the failure of Hamas strategy to get them lifted. "Hamas was losing popularity before this operation," says Rashid Khalidi. "It was losing popularity because it had failed to open the crossings." Hamas could read the trend, and it's why it refused to renew the "lull" and renewed its rocket fire. "Hamas wanted to weaken the Israeli siege," says Hisham Milhem, "because they have been hurt politically and economically because of the siege."
So what would the Alpher plan of unconditionally ending the "siege" mean? Hamas would gain credit for lifting the blockade, and have something to show for the war, beyond its mere survival. The opposition to Hamas would be severely undercut, and the split between the West Bank and Gaza would be made permanent. The "peace process" industry, now gearing up again in Washington, would be reduced to the hopeless task of trying to "moderate" Hamas, probably through desultory "engagement." While we waited for Hamas to have an epiphany, the maps of various final status options might as well be folded up and put in the archives for another twenty years. And Israel might as well fly a white flag over the crossings.
Economics will be crucial when the guns fall silent and the rockets stop falling. Here, too, Israel and the international community have to remain steadfast if they want an outcome that doesn't just stop the violence today, but also provides hope for tomorrow. When the dust settles, the people of Gaza will be desperate for a return to some normalcy—one denied to them under the rule of jihadists who fanatically tell them they must suffer on the deluded promise that Israel will be destroyed, and that Gazans will one day "return" to repossess all that they lost 60 years ago. Normalcy can be restored only if the needs of Gazans are answered by the international community and the legitimate Palestinian Authority—without the Hamas middleman.
Hamas in Gaza was a bubble. Let's not inflate it again.
Posted on: Saturday, January 17, 2009 - 02:16
SOURCE: http://www.chapatimystery.com (blog) (1-15-09)
Yesterday, at her Senate confirmation hearing, Senator Clinton faced a number of questions about Pakistan and Afghanistan. Her most detailed conversation was with Senator Kerry - who will head the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Kerry spoke about his trip to South Asia, in the immediate aftermath of Mumbai attacks.
We do not live there. We don’t live in the community, in a hamlet, in a small town, pocket, whatever you want to call it. And so we’re not there often at night. They are. And the night often rules with the insurgencies.
It is a profoundly illuminating statement. The interplay of light and dark, day and night. The reference to hamlets and pockets. Insurgency - the lexical contribution of the Iraq War which continues to hold sway. They live there. We don’t. That language of globalization which rules the pages of Wall Street Journal and New York Times is distinctly absent. These are not interconnected communities that stretch across national borders, these are inwardly focused, pre-modern histories. To further explain, Senator Kerry mentioned that he has been doing a lot of reading recently - readings that impressed upon him the importance of “tribalism”, “We honored tribalism when we dealt with the Northern Alliance and initially went in to Afghanistan. We really haven’t adequately since.” He recommended that Senator Clinton read Rory Stewart’s travelogue of walking across Afghanistan and Pakistan, The Places in Between. And also Janet Wallach’s biography of Gertrude Bell entitled Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Advisor to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia. Let that title wash all over you. Luxuriate in it.
Senator Clinton responded warmly to Kerry’s literary suggestions.
Sitting here today, when I think about my trips to Afghanistan, my flying over that terrain, my awareness of the history going back to Alexander the Great and certainly, the imperial British military and Rudyard Kipling’s memorable poems about Afghanistan, the Soviet Union, which put in more troops than we’re thinking about putting in — I mean, it calls for a large doze of humility about what it is we are trying to accomplish.
The historian in me is fascinated by these teleologies at display: Alexander to the British to the Soviets to US. A timelime of invaders and conquerors who, I assume, only abided the day, and not the night. There is the unapologetic emphasis on the romantic and the Orientalist - a vocabulary of time and space that does not mesh, at all, with our own. I do not know if our Senators realized that this is also, explicitly, a teleology of failed imperial enterprises. Not the precedent, I am sure, they’d want to invoke.
But the tribalism espoused by Senator Kerry is also part of this now-defunct mode. It stands for those “others” every colonial power has ever imagined into being. To fight their wars. The burden of tribalism is the burden of violence on colonial subjects – be they the Hindus and Muslims under British colonial rule in the early decades of the twentieth century, or the Sunnis and Shias in Baghdad under the surge. The colonial histories are written in that particular language of violence. These are the violent colonial solutions to political problems, to be exact.
Reading the US Press, Senator Kerry and Clinton, on Pakistan is to know that Pakistan does not exist as a coherent nation-state. It seems to comprise of undifferentiated security actors (Musharraf/Kayani, Karzai, Northern Alliance, Taliban, Pakistan military, ISI) operating in a volatile soup. It is constantly claimed that the state - whether civil or military - does not control its own western and south-western territories. A claim that enables US to conduct drone attacks, as well as military incursions into the country. In the first seven months of 2008, there were five drone strikes inside Pakistan. Since August, there have been over thirty. Some as deep as 25 miles into Pakistani territory and deadly - killing 50 people in four attacks in September, alone.
But Pakistan does have a history as a nation-state, in fact. And it is not the history of Alexander’s arrival to the Indus. Let me give you a brief recount. From 1999 - 2008, we supported the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf - he was the devil we knew and liked. From 2002-2008, the same devil presided as vast swathes of his country converted into a war-zone. In 2005, to suppress the proto-nationalist uprising in Baluchistan, he used the same tactics that were being practiced across the border in Afghanistan: bombing over civilian enclaves, missile assassinations, heavy military foot-print. As he methodically destroyed the claimants for an engaged and equal partnership for Baluchistan in the federal regime, he created the political space for the emergence of new actors - the Mehsud tribe in Waziristan. As a result Pakistan, by the end of 2008, faces several civil wars - in the north-west, it faces the development of self-declared taliban regime which is hoping to enforce Shari’a. In the south-west, it faces the proliferation of both proto-nationalist and terrorist groups. In the city of Karachi, there is the systematic effort to expel Afghan/Pakhtun immigrants by the ethnic party, MQM.
Previously, we supported two other decade long military dictatorships, General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) during whose tenure we fought our hot Cold War in Afghanistan and during whose tenure we excused a rampant policy of Sunnification and militarization. And Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1958-1969) whose tenure saw the effective killing of democratic institutions and the highlighting of Kashmir as the central issue of Pakistan. We supported all three men. They came to our capital, spoke to the Congress, enjoyed days and nights as our esteemed friends. Overall, in the 61 years of existence, we supported 30 plus years of military rule in Pakistan. Let me restate this: The United States has consistently supported the elimination of any democratic development in Pakistan since 1947. During the civilian administrations, we routinely ignored Pakistan or imposed sanctions. If Pakistan lacks coherence as a nation-state to Senator Kerry and Clinton, they can look to these specific histories for explanation. Alexander the Great cannot help them.
In the aftermath of Mumbai attacks, the world has found yet another reason to doubt the sustainability of Pakistan, doubt the intentions of the people and the State, doubt their commitment to being a peaceful global citizens. These doubts, those proclamations, some of the harsh denouncements of the Indian media were heard loudly and clearly across Pakistan. The bellicosity - apparent even in the flyer for this panel - generated its own predictable response. The military, which had finally lost all credence, is slowly coming back in business. It is the protector. It is the sustainer of the national myths.
The Pakistanis are also attuned to the silences. They note that in the teleology of modern terror - NYC, Madrid, London, and now Mumbai - there is no mention of Lahore and Islamabad. The September 20th blast at the Marriott, Islamabad is a clear precursor to the tragedy at Taj, Mumbai. It, too, was a site where the local elite gathered for daily mingling. It, too, catered to the foreign visitors. It, too, was a sign of Pakistan’s growing economy. Yet, while NYC and Mumbai are forever linked, the victims of Islamabad and Lahore find themselves on the other side of history.
The Obama administration will need to stop reading Rudyard Kipling and start reading even the wide-circulation daily Urdu and English press from Pakistan.1 It is quite easy, they are all online. It will have to know Pakistan’s hopes lie with civilian institutions, civic bodies which protect women and minorities, elementary and secondary education for all, strengthening the judiciary, invoking land reform. It will have to know that the military is the largest land-owning entity, one of the biggest business entity and the greatest consumer of US AID. The Obama administration needs to focus on the people of Pakistan, in the PRESENT and not in some distant past surrounded in unknown terrain, if it hopes to combat escalating extremism in the region. Collectively, there are over 200 million inhabitants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are mega-cities like Karachi with populations over 19 million. We are not dealing with hamlets and pockets. And the global context is certainly clear to the terrorists in Mumbai. In the violence they spread, over three days, and their targets and their statements, they drew upon this language of political violence. Nariman house to Gaza, Kashmir to Taj Hotel are not teleologies of tribalism and we make a grave error if we read them wrongly.
Ironically, 2008 began with one of the greatest moments in the history of this nation. After a year-long civic protest, led by the Lawyers Movement, the people of Pakistan democratically voted out this military dictator. The February elections in Pakistan were a resounding dismissal of a decade of military dominance, as well as the religious parties. Yet, we failed to engage with this flowering of democracy. And we need to engage with the civilian government of Zardari – however flawed that particular person is.
There are no military solutions to a decades old political problem. Because military solutions mandate that the language of political violence be the only language left (be it in Kashmir or Islamabad or Mumbai).
Posted on: Friday, January 16, 2009 - 01:46
SOURCE: WSJ (1-15-09)
As President George W. Bush prepares to leave office amid a media chorus of reproach and derision, there is at least one comparison with his predecessor that speaks greatly in his favor. Mr. Bush removed the most ruthless dictator of his day, Saddam Hussein, thereby offering Iraqi citizens the possibility of self-rule. Bill Clinton's analogous achievement in the Middle East was to help install Yasser Arafat, the greatest terrorist of his day, as head of a proto-Palestinian state.
This is not how these events are generally perceived. The image that still looms in the public mind is that of President Clinton, peacemaker, standing between Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in the Rose Garden on Sept. 13, 1993. With the best intentions, Mr. Clinton had worked hard for this peace agreement and would continue to strive for its success, hosting the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization at the White House more than any other foreign leader.
But the "peace process" almost immediately reversed its stated expectations. Emboldened by his diplomatic victory, Arafat adopted Islamist terminology and openly preached jihad. The casualties suffered by Israel in the years following the Oslo Accords exceeded those of previous decades, and dangers to Israel and the world have increased exponentially ever since. This so-called peace agreement rewarded terrorist methods as fail-safe instruments of modern warfare, and accelerated terrorist attacks on other democratic countries. Though Mr. Clinton did not foresee these consequences, his speech at the signing ceremony betrayed the self-deception on which the agreement was based.
Throughout the speech, Mr. Clinton invoked the significance of the "sliver of land between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea" to "Jews, Christians, and Muslims throughout the world." He repeatedly linked the "descendants of Isaac and Ishmael," and the "shared future shaped by the values of the Torah, the Koran, and the Bible," as though their "memories and dreams" were all equivalent. But Judaism is quite unlike Islam. The Jews claim solely that "sliver of land" and accept their minority status among the nations. By contrast, Islam seeks religious and territorial hegemony, most especially in the Middle East.
Hence 21 countries descendant from Ishmael have denied the descendants of Isaac their ancestral home. This difference of political visions is precisely what propels the Arab war against Israel.
To be sure, the signing ceremony at the White House may not have been the best time to recall Arafat's complete record as the "father of modern terrorism," a title accorded him by the press for masterminding such acts as the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, the murder of a schoolroom of children in northern Israel, and the establishment of a PLO missile base in Lebanon. But some mention of his profession was surely in order.
The PLO was founded, and funded, by Arab leaders as a terrorist proxy before 1967 -- that is, before Israel gained the disputed territory of the West Bank that retroactively served as a Palestinian casus belli. Arafat had never been anything other than a terrorist. He had threatened Arab rulers in Jordan and Lebanon no less than the Jews of Israel. Mr. Clinton's speech contained no hint of these facts, concealing the realities it purported to be changing.
To be fair, Israel's role in this self-deception was, if anything, even greater....
Posted on: Thursday, January 15, 2009 - 22:22
SOURCE: History News Service (1-15-09)
A week before the historic election of 2008, a small group of historians and journalists was invited to the White House to chat and lunch with First Lady Laura Bush. Organized by the Office of First Lady, this event was intended to unveil renovations made to the nation's house by Mrs. Bush. And as planned, Laura Bush gave a personal tour of the Lincoln bedroom and other"family rooms" to this select group.
But it was also clear that her office wanted these professional writers and scholars to know something of the work that Laura Bush had done as First Lady. This impressive list of projects encompasses domestic causes from historic preservation to Katrina relief as well as international efforts, including the United Nations Literacy Decade, fighting AIDS in Africa, and bringing breast care awareness to the Middle East. It is not an exaggeration to say that people, many of them women and children, are alive because of her.
The extent of the good work that Laura Bush did for the country and the world would surprise many Americans, even the most fervent Bush supporter or Republican Party devotee. A close look at the specifics of her accomplishments shows that hers is the legacy of a lady. Not just a capital"L" First Lady, but the kind of lady that generations of mothers and grandmothers modeled for, as well as inculcated in, their daughters.
The role of lady takes all of the human values and qualities that our culture labels as"feminine" (such as peacefulness, kindness and nurturance) and elevates them. Laura Bush's legacy illustrates those feminine values in action. Her care for women and children, her focus on healing bodies, uplifting minds and soothing hearts truly showed her to be our First Lady.
However, the essence of"ladyhood" is effacement, always putting others before one's self, whether that means not taking the last cookie or putting strangers at ease by finding a common topic of conversation. Ironically, Laura Bush's unwillingness to put herself forward, to take credit to"show off," as my mother would say is also what makes her a lady. And there is an element of sadness in that realization; it means Americans might not have appreciated her when we had her.
Our new First Lady, Michelle Obama, is from a later generation, when little girls didn't necessarily grow up to be ladies; they became women. Women do a lot of unladylike things, such as speak truth to power, which rather than diffuse conflict (a lady's first priority) tends to stir up trouble. Still, like many of us, Mrs. Obama undoubtedly retains some of her earlier"lady training," beyond such rules such as never offering a creamer handle-first, and never eating in white gloves. Rather, her record demonstrates that she prizes the larger lessons of ladyhood: empathy, sensitivity to the needs and emotions of others and the impulse to make life calm and peaceful.
The difference that we 21st-century citizens can make (including Mrs. Obama) is to take the Legacy of Ladies, First and otherwise, out of its seemingly private sphere and make it the core of our national mission. Earnest consideration of Laura Bush's legacy means that we appreciate an agenda valuing health and wellness, caring and yes, let's say it? love. Efforts that include Mrs. Bush's outreach to people across the world should not be part of a"behind the scenes" diplomatic activity they should be center stage.
When your mother admonished,"Act like a lady!" she really meant,"Please remember you are sharing this space with others! Don't intrude on them. What you can do to make things more pleasant for everyone?"
That's not a bad way to start constructing a national policy.
This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.
Posted on: Thursday, January 15, 2009 - 18:26
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (1-14-09)
When Reverend Rick Warren handles the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration next week, the day after we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, many Democrats will be disappointed and hurt, even with the recent announcement that the progressive minister Sharon Watkins will give the sermon at the national prayer service on the day following the inauguration.
When Obama selected Warren, an outspoken social conservative -- who supported the campaign against gay marriage in California and has made numerous disparaging comments about homosexuals and women -- to give the invocation at the inauguration, many of Obama's supporters were furious. To select a person whose views stand in such contradiction to progressive Democratic principles seemed an affront to what this campaign was about. The invocation is just a symbol, but symbols matter in politics, and this one does not sit well with many Democrats.
There was another reason that many of Obama's supporters were hurt by the decision. This was a slap in the face to many activists given that Obama's victory benefited from a dramatic mobilization by progressive religious leaders and organizations to bring back the religiously faithful into the Democratic camp -- to separate the notion that there is an inevitable connection between conservatism and religion.
Making that separation has been difficult. Since the 1970s, conservative religious organizations and leaders dominated national politics. The Religious Right tapped into a tradition of political activism, most famously rooted in the fundamentalist attacks on Charles Darwin and evolution in the 1920s, and connected themselves to the Republican Party. While religious conservatives often felt that they were ignored by Republicans after the elections were over, they stuck with the GOP. They became an important source of electoral support for the party. Not only did evangelicals move solidly to the Republican fold, but formerly Democratic groups like Catholics did as well. This election cycle, desperate to stimulate enthusiasm within the base, John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his candidate because of her ties to this community.
But in the 2008 election, the strategy didn't work. Polls show that many religious Americans did not automatically move toward the right. Although most evangelicals refused to budge, younger evangelicals turned out for Obama. Catholics moved back to the Democrats and Jews and mainline Protestants voted for Obama in very high numbers.
The disillusionment with the Bush administration, and the conservatism that he represented, has left some religious Americans scratching their heads and rethinking their political affiliation. The mobilization of Democrats through organizations devoted to winning back the religious vote, such as Matthew 25, proved to be effective. While much of the press was focused on Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his polemical sermons in Chicago, there was much less attention paid to the dramatic emergence of new liberal religious organizations who were pivotal to Barack Obama's campaign.
The history of liberal religious activism is nothing new and the current generation of leaders would do well to gain a better understanding of just how deep this tradition is. Frank Lambert's Religion in American Politics is a perfect starting point. The book traces the connection between religion and politics since the founding of the nation. Lambert provides some fascinating analysis of moments when liberal religious figures were influential.
When some American groups started to fight against the institution of slavery in the nineteenth century, religious leaders were pivotal. A host of religious organizations drew on Christian theology to attack slavery. Churches split along regional lines as early as the 1830s. Some northern religious leaders accused southerners of privileging the "Slave Power" over God.
Religion was also an engine behind social reform during the progressive era. The Social Gospel Movement was composed of religious leaders who railed against the social conditions that many working and lower class Americans faced in industrial and urban America. Liberal Protestant and Catholics as well as Reform Jews were at the forefront of the campaign to combat the blight found in urban America. One member of the social gospel movement, Charles Brown, told Church leaders in 1904 that "Jesus would found the social order on the basis of human brotherhood in the service one another" rather than capitalist profit.
During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, religious leaders were some of the most progressive voices on issues of war, social justice, and civil rights. The national Council of Churches, formed in 1950, preached the need for religious pluralism and tolerance. The Federal Council of Churches issued a statement in 1946 opposing America's decision to drop the Atomic bomb, proclaiming that "As American Christians, we are deeply penitent for the irresponsible use already made of the atomic bomb."
Black churches and preachers, such as Martin Luther King, headed the civil rights movement that transformed America and culminated with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They drew on religious wisdom and rhetoric to explain their cause. There were many Jewish leaders and Jewish college students who marched with African-Americans in the South. Even as civil rights moved leftward, the clergy continued to participate. There was a small cohort of black ministers who formed the National Committee of Black Churchmen, which broke from the National Council of Churches, who said: "Black Theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, so that the black community can see that the gospel is commensurate with the achievement of black humanity...."
The possibility for a revival of religious liberalism is very real. Warren no longer has to be the face of religion in American politics. The election showed there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in attracting evangelical voters to the Democratic Party. But the changes that we have seen among religious Americans are significant and the emergence of leftward religious organizations has altered the political landscape. The leaders involved in this shift would do well to look back at their own history, traced so well in Lambert's book, to draw ideas and wisdom from previous moments when conservatism did not have a lock on this relationship.
More soon from the academy....
Posted on: Thursday, January 15, 2009 - 18:07
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-13-09)
We consider ours a singular age of individual psychology and self-awareness. Isn't it strange then that our recent presidents have had nothing either modest or insightful to say about themselves in their first inaugural addresses, while our earliest presidents in their earliest moments spoke openly of their failings, limitations, and deficiencies.
In fact, the very first inaugural address -- George Washington's in New York City on April 30, 1789 -- began with a personal apology. In a fashion inconceivable in a country no longer known for acknowledging its faults, our first president, in his very first words, apologized to Congress for his own unworthiness to assume the highest office in the new country he had helped to found."On the other hand," he said,"the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who (inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration) ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies."
Inferior endowments… unpracticed in the duties of civil administration… his own deficiencies. Remind me when you last heard words like those from an American president.
This was, of course, the"father of our country," the former commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, who had steadfastly seen the American revolution through to victory. And yet, having a strong sense of the limits of what one man could do as the head of a still modest-sized country, he began his presidency by raising doubts about himself. Imagine that.
And don't think Washington's words were a fluke. When, 12 years later, Thomas Jefferson gave his inaugural address from the unfinished Capitol building in a Washington still under construction, he took up similar themes. The principal author of the Declaration of Independence, the former governor of Virginia, the former secretary of state, and the former vice president professed"a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire."
Eight years later, James Madison, too, acknowledged his"deficiencies," as did James Monroe eight years after that, insisting that,"[c]onscious of my own deficiency, I cannot enter on these duties without great anxiety for the result."
How curious and archaic such sentiments seem today, highlighting as they did humility, denigrating ability. Nor do these comments feel like meaningless stylistic tics of that distant moment. Even from Washington and Jefferson who, assumedly, knew that they had accomplished something Earth-shaking, the protestations -- read today -- do not ring hollow.
What recent president would have considered saying, as Jefferson did, of the task ahead,"I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking."
Today, all this would stink of weakness, and so be taboo. To lead this country to ultimate"security" and, of course, eternal greatness, our presidents must -- so goes the common wisdom -- be ever strong and confident. They must, in fact, sing hymns to our strength, as well as to our unquestioned"mission" or" calling" in the world. In the first moments of a presidency, they must summon Americans to do great things, as befits a great power, not just on the national, but on the planetary stage.
By the time John F. Kennedy came along, there was no more talk of shrinking from contemplation."In the long history of the world," he said in his inaugural address,"only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it." He then sounded a"trumpet" to call on Americans to engage in"a long twilight struggle… against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself," not to speak of Soviet Communism.
Ever since, presidents have regularly preached strength beyond compare, threatened potential enemies, and hit the call notes of an ever more imperial presidency. Underneath the often dull words of modern inaugurals lies a distinct hubris, an emphasis on the potential limitlessness of American power, which would reach its zenith (and apogee) in the commander-in-chief presidency of George W. Bush.
In his second inaugural address, after raising the warning flag of"our vulnerability" and our need for security beyond compare, Bush pledged Americans to a program of strength involving bringing"freedom" to nothing less than the whole planet. He identified this as"the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time… with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Limitlessness indeed.
Only one president in recent memory offered a shred of the modesty that the first presidents exhibited. Jimmy Carter's 1976 inaugural address, coming in the wake of Watergate, the Nixon presidency, and the disaster of defeat in Vietnam, called Americans to"a new spirit," a new way of thinking about the country, which was to include a recognition of"our recent mistakes" and a realization that"even our great Nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems."
This would be a theme of his presidency, most famously in his "malaise" address to the nation in July 1979 in which he called on Americans to face their"intolerable dependence on foreign oil" and to recognize the limits of their"worship" of"self-indulgence and consumption." Only he, of all our modern presidents -- or their speechwriters -- who assumedly reread the earliest inaugural addresses, picked up on the theme of personal limits."Your strength," he told Americans that January day in 1976," can compensate for my weakness, and your wisdom can help to minimize my mistakes."
Little good that, or his later infamous confession of"lust… in his heart" and adultery in his dreams, did him. He was, after one term, soundly thumped by a candidate who imagined a very different kind of"morning in America," involving a nation without global limits.
Looked at another way, Washington and Jefferson had an advantage over recent presidents. The country they were to lead was still an experiment that its creators knew could go wrong; it had, in fact, done just that with the Articles of Confederation, which hadn't worked out well.
So our earliest presidents had the modesty of uncertain beginnings to guide them, just as we now have the immodesty of a government that garrisons much of the planet to guide us. They were called on to lead a new nation which was still militarily weak, whose capital, only 13 years after Jefferson doubted himself in public, would be sacked and burned by British troops. They were under oath to a country whose existence, only recently wrested from the great imperial power of its day, was still a kind of fragile miracle.
We have just lived through a commander-in-chief presidency whose oppressive power and overwhelming hubris would undoubtedly have left those early presidents in shock, if not armed revolt. They would have seen George Bush's world -- in which strength was the byword of power and weakness an anathema -- as the scion of European autocracy. These were, after all, men wary of armies and military power, who had sacrificed the very idea of executive strength to a tripartite form of government that would, they hoped, have the advantages of resiliency and responsibility. They understood -- and embraced -- certain limits that Americans may only be waking up to now.
Prelude to an Inaugural
It's in this light that I've been thinking about Barack Obama's inaugural address, only days away. For a president who wants to set us on a new path amid global disaster, what better time to remember the experimental modesty with which our first presidents anxiously embarked on their journeys?
I also have to confess: I've had an urge to write a draft of that address. Of course, like every president since Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama already has a speechwriter, 28-year-old Jonathan Favreau, who gained his 15 seconds of fame recently for photos, briefly posted on Facebook, that showed him groping, then dancing with, a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. He has described his speechwriting partnership with Obama this way:"He gives me lines that he wants to use, phrases, ideas -- he sends me e-mails with chunks of outlines and speeches -- so it's a real collaborative effort. It's very much a two-way street. It's a little bit like being Tom Brady's quarterback coach."
Admittedly, I'm no quarterback coach, but like a lot of Americans I have some thoughts on how I'd like to see my government proceed. Inaugural addresses are all about tone, which matters, and, given the last eight years -- Have we ever had a president who told more countries what they"must" do? -- I'd like to hear our next president speaking more like one of us and less like the ruler of the universe, more like the president of these imperiled United States and less like the autocrat of the planet.
Of course, Americans, especially younger ones, have long been alienated from their government -- aka"the bureaucracy" -- and a national capital that projects the oppressive look of a Green Zone. That's where an eloquent black president, an improbable crosser of all sorts of boundaries, standing before us next Tuesday to express his --- and our -- dreams and fears, offers an immediate ray of hope. In his very words that first day, he can potentially begin airing out the most secretive (and inefficient) government in national memory. He can remind us of our better selves and let the sun shine in.
His campaign/transition team has admirably set up an on-line suggestion box where we can even send his new administration our ideas and experiences and it has evidently been busy indeed. But really, that's too polite. After all, the government isn't his or his campaign's; it is -- or should be -- ours. The fact is we don't need a website. We should be able to shout our thoughts, ideas, criticisms from the rooftops, if we care to.
Of course, given these last years of a government gone dark and ominous, it's not surprising that we generally don't. Facing the imperial, never-apologize, don't-listen-to-a-word-you-say, Caesarian, unitary-executive, commander-in-chief years of disarray, we Americans have -- despite some online liveliness -- largely suffered a failure of the imagination.
If we want to have a government we care about, we had better start exercising those imaginative powers fast. After all, if you don't use it, you lose it. Voting isn't faintly enough. Supporting Barack Obama isn't faintly enough. Either we start acting like we, the people, can set a few agendas of our own, write a few speeches of our own, or we might as well forget it.
In that spirit, and as an older American looking on with some dismay at our strange and disturbing world, I thought I might briefly step into Favreau's shoes. Barack Obama hasn't, of course, emailed a single phrase or idea my way, but, lacking in obvious qualifications as I may be, I continue to believe that we shouldn't wait for that presidential call to participate in our government.
So, below, you'll find my draft of Obama's inaugural speech, one emphasizing the strength that lies in modesty, in not playing the over-armed bully. Admittedly, this may be an address which no American president would care to give, centering as it does on an apology. If, however, we want to take a genuine shot at starting anew, these last terrible years have to be acknowledged, which means, first and foremost, apologizing for the damage the Bush administration did to our country, to the world, and undoubtedly to the future. We need to apologize, among many other things, for having thought so much about our own immediate"safety" and"security" (as well as gain), and so little about the world our children and grandchildren will inherit.
I remain convinced that the Vietnam War has dogged this country for endless decades largely because most Americans and their leaders were never willing to come to grips with what we had done, and so never offered a word of apology or any restitution for the damage caused. What is not reckoned with, not acknowledged, not atoned for, haunts us.
After the 2004 election, a website, Sorry Everybody, was set up that contained a photo album of young Americans holding signs apologizing for the election of George W. Bush. How right they were in every sense. Once the damage is done, saying you're sorry is never enough. But it is a start, which is what an inaugural moment should be.
It's now well past time to leave behind the imperial fantasies of the Bush era and join a world in trouble -- and there's no better day to begin than on January 20, 2009.
In a Dark ValleyBarack Obama's Inaugural Address
In my lifetime, presidents have regularly come before you, the American people, proclaiming new dawns or hailing this country as a shining city upon a hill, an example to the rest of the world. But on this cold, wintry day, I hardly need tell you that we seem to have joined much of the rest of the world in an increasingly shadowy, sunless valley.
We -- not just we Americans but all of us -- are living in a world in peril, one in which we have far more to fear than fear itself. And don't imagine, having just taken the oath of office on the Bible Abraham Lincoln laid his hand on in an earlier moment of national crisis, that I don't have my own fears about the task ahead. I can't help but worry whether my abilities are up to challenges, which would surely have been daunting even to a Washington, a Lincoln, or a Roosevelt.
Nonetheless, you elected me. You have, I know, invested your hopes in me in these trying times. And fortunately, I sense that you are at my side now and will, I hope, remain there, encouraging and criticizing, praising or chiding as you see fit, through the worst and, with luck, the best of times. I'm thankful for that. Without your support, your wisdom, what could I hope to accomplish? We -- and in this presidency, when I use that word, I will mean you and me, not the royal"we" to which American presidents have become far too attached -- we can, I think, hope to accomplish much, but only if we're honest with ourselves.
This nation was founded in the immodest modesty of experimentation by men who hoped for much but were aware that they did not always know what might work. They were ready to falter, to fall on their faces, to fail, and yet not to quit. We -- you and I -- must be willing to do the same. In this difficult moment, we must be willing to acknowledge our limits, to admit our mistakes, and to welcome all others who care to join us, or want us to join them, on the path of experimentation in a needy world.
Let me, then, start -- not simply as your new president but as a human being, a proud American, and the father of two children who deserve a better future, not a thoroughly degraded world -- with two simple words: I'm sorry.
In the last eight years, we Americans have in no way lived up to our better natures. Our country has, in fact, repeatedly caused grievous damage to others and to ourselves. The mistakes, the misguided policies, have been legion. We -- you and I -- must do our best to correct them and make amends. For Americans, at home and abroad, there must be a better way.
The kidnapping of people off the streets of global cities, the disappearing of suspects who have no chance to face judge or jury, the torture, abuse, and killing of prisoners, these are wounds inflicted on the world and on ourselves. There must be a better way.
Shock-and-awe assaults on other nations, whether by ourselves or allies we've green-lighted, lead -- it should be clear enough by now -- to horrors beyond measure visited on civilians. There must be a better way.
The repeated firing of missiles at, and the bombing of, villages halfway across the globe, the repeated killing of innocent farm families while on missions to protect ourselves, constitutes a global war for terror, not against it. There must be a better way.
The twisting of our Constitution into whatever shape a president (and his lawyers) find useful or power-enhancing constitutes a body blow to this nation. There must be a better way.
The offering of vast bailouts, without strings or oversight, to the most profligate and greediest among us, while ignoring the daily suffering of ordinary Americans inflicts grievous harm on our society. There must be a better way.
The turning of our government -- your government -- into a surveillance state, a spy society, meant to eternally watch you cannot represent the fulfillment of the dreams of Washington or Jefferson. There must be a better way.
Transforming the heavens into a storage depot for greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels is like passing a death sentence on humanity. There must be a better way.
Considering war and military action the solution of first, not last, resort whenever a difficult or painful problem arises represents a disastrous path. There must be a better way.
Of all times, this is no time to be at war. For our recent wars, all of us have paid a heavy price, not just in lives that should never have been lost, but in distraction from what truly matters.
We were once proudly a can do nation. For the last eight years, we have been a can't do nation, incapable of rebuilding great cities or small towns, replacing failing bridges or shoring up our systems of levees. And yet we've had the presumption to believe that we, who had lost the knack for rebuilding at home, had a special ability to rebuild other societies far from home. All of this has to end now. We need to do better.
Everywhere on this shaky planet people feel insecure and unsafe -- and we have only sharpened such feelings in these last years. To feel secure and safe should be the most basic of rights. It is, however, far past time for us to give the very idea of security new meaning. Yes, we must protect ourselves. Any country must do that for its citizens, but you, the American people, must also hear a truth that has not been said in these last eight years. It is a fantasy to believe that, in the long run, we can make ourselves secure to the detriment of everyone else. On that path lies only insecurity for all. We need to do better.
In policy terms, tomorrow is the day to roll up our sleeves and begin, but today I want to say to you: Don't despair. Yes, the news is grim. Yes, as Americans and as citizens of this world we should know our limits and the increasingly apparent limits of our small planet, but we should also dream, and struggle, and plan, and innovate.
I repeated one phrase many times during the long presidential campaign, and I emphatically repeat it today: Yes, we can!
And when we do, we have to reach out to the world with our discoveries and ideas, but without the sense that those discoveries, those ideas, are the be-all and end-all. We have to learn how to listen as well as teach.
Our planet will either be an ark, which will carry us, and our children and grandchildren, through time and space, or it will be our grave. This is a stark choice that seems no choice at all. But believe me, to choose the ark, not the grave, is the hardest thing of all. Nonetheless, may that be the choice to which we Americans consecrate ourselves on this day and in all the days to come.
Thank you and God bless us all.
[Note on further inaugural reading: For those wanting to check out inaugural addresses through the centuries -- not, admittedly, one of the most thrilling forms of rhetoric known to humanity -- click here. American historian Jill Lepore, whose regular New Yorker essays should not be missed, has recently done a superb review of the inaugural form. (For the full piece, you need to get your hands on the actual magazine.) Robert Schlesinger's White House Ghosts, his history of presidential ghost writers, has just appeared in paperback for those of you dreaming about presidential speechwriting. And finally, one striking modern discussion of an inaugural address should be noted. In his stirring book on Lincoln's most famous speech, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, Garry Wills lays out just what a president could do with the work of a"speechwriter." William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state designee, wrote the initial draft of his first inaugural address, but (as Wills demonstrates) Abe, who was more than capable of writing his own material, was also the greatest presidential editor of all time. (Start reading Wills at page 157.) Here's what he did with the famous last line of that address:
As Seward wrote it: "The mystic chords which, proceeding from so many battle-fields and so many patriot graves, pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours, will yet harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angels of the nation."
As Lincoln edited and reworked it: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."]
Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Thursday, January 15, 2009 - 17:54
SOURCE: Russia Profile (1-14-09)
It appears that in the near future, the European Union monitors will systematically observe the flow of Russian gas to Europe at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Thus, the EU seems to be helping to ease the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. Or is it? Instead of alleviating the tension, the presence of neutral observers may open a new Pandora’s Box in the Russian-Ukrainian power struggle.
Since the Orange Revolution of 2004, Ukraine has become increasingly salient in pan-European politics, taking center-stage in the relations between Russia and the West. Western institutions have, in their turn, become important factors in Russian-Ukrainian relations. The OSCE and PACE played a major role in the Orange Revolution, which has soured Russian-Ukrainian relations. Talks between Kiev and Brussels about Ukrainian participation in NATO’s Membership Action Plan have increased tensions in both Russian-Western and Russian-Ukrainian relations. During the current gas conflict, the EU has pressured Ukraine into a seemingly pragmatic solution for the dispute about Russian gas deliveries to southern, central and western Europe via Ukraine. Neutral observers sent by the EU will assess whether Ukraine is siphoning Russian gas or not. As a result, energy from Russia will soon again arrive regularly to Russia’s customers in Europe.
Unfortunately, that is by far not the whole story about this Eastern Slavic quarrel. Contrary to the Kremlin’s rhetoric, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is of larger proportions that go beyond purely economic issues. The gas dispute is an integral part of a deeper confrontation between Europe’s two largest countries. As the EU appears to be helping to solve the energy dispute between Ukraine and Russia, Western Europe is becoming involved in a major post-Soviet conflict about identity, territory and power.
At no time before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has Ukraine been an independent state. During most of its history, much or all of Ukrainian territory was controlled from Moscow – whether by the Tsars or the Communist Party of the Soviet Union secretaries. Kiev is the cradle of all three of the Eastern Slavic nations: Ukrainians, Belarusians and Great Russians. As many of the latter perceive Ukraine as a part of Russia and the West as anti-Russian, they observe Ukrainian-Western rapprochement with suspicion, if not hostility. Russian elites see Ukraine as lying within their legitimate sphere of interests, and deny Kiev full sovereignty. The Ukrainian elites seek sustainable independence above all from Russia, and a way for Ukraine into the European Union. The most complicated issue in Ukrainian-Russian relations is the beautiful Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Not only are most inhabitants of the Crimea ethnic Russians, but the peninsula’s largest city, Sevastopol, is the port of the Russian Black Sea fleet. These are only the most important of the various issues that will complicate Russian-Ukrainian relations for many years to come.
So far, one of the reasons that these complications have, in contrast to similar standoffs in Moldova or in the Caucasus, not escalated, was that Russia and Ukraine were in a relationship of mutual dependence. Whereas Ukraine is dependent on Russian gas and oil, Russia depends on Ukraine’s cooperation in the transportation of its energy resources to its major clients in the EU. This created a healthy balance in Russian-Ukrainian relations. For instance, Moscow might have been interested in using its influence among the population of Crimea to broach the issue of the peninsula’s separation from Ukraine, following the model of Russian support for separatism in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But until recently, Kiev would have retaliated against any such attempts by way of threatening to suspend gas deliveries from Russia to the West.
With the arrival of EU observers at gas pumping stations on the Russian-Ukrainian border, the mutual interdependence of Russia and Ukraine will be weakened. Now the issue of gas deliveries from Russia to the EU will be less intertwined with other aspects of Ukrainian-Russian relations. That is, of course, exactly what not only Russia, but the West wanted, as citizens of the EU have become hostages to the difficulties of the two former Soviet republics. The intentions of this deal are similar to the motivations behind Gerhard Schroeder’s Nordstream project (the Russian-German gas pipeline being currently built in the Baltic Sea, thus circumventing the East European transit corridor).
But is giving Russia more freedom of movement in Eastern Europe and in its relations with Ukraine in particular really in the interests of the EU and of the West as a whole? The last eight years have seen a constant deterioration of Russian-Western relations – one major issue being Russia’s various claims concerning countries of its former empire in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The presence of international monitors at Ukrainian pumping stations will weaken Russian dependence on Ukraine’s compliance with its transportation obligations. The EU monitors’ observance of Ukrainian suspension of gas deliveries would immediately transform the formerly Ukrainian-Russian conflict into a standoff between Ukraine and the EU.
Without doubt, this will serve the observation of international law and the interests of the citizens of the EU. However, the people who will reap the largest benefits from EU presence on the Ukrainian-Russian border will be hard-nosed neo-imperialists in Moscow. Their purposeful manipulation of ethnic tensions in Georgia during the last years, as well as Moscow’s disproportionate response to Tbilisi’s use of force in South Ossetia, have shown that the Russian leadership has little interest in international law. Moscow’s partial sabotage of the work of the Council of Europe’s most important institution, the European Court for Human Rights, has shown that the Kremlin leadership is not interested in serious pan-European cooperation. The EU’s latest initiative will provide Moscow with a trump card in the conduct of its future relations with Kiev.
Posted on: Thursday, January 15, 2009 - 17:28
SOURCE: WSJ (1-14-09)
As the world stumbles from the truly horrible year of 2008 into the very scary year of 2009, there seems, on the face of it, many reasons for the foes of America to think that the world's number one power will take heavier hits than most other big nations. Those reasons will be outlined below. But let's start by noting that curious trait of human beings who, in pain themselves, seem to enjoy the fact that others are hurting even more badly. (One can almost hear some mournful Chekhovian aristocrat declare: "My estates may be damaged, Vasily, but yours are close to ruin!")
So while today's Russia, China, Latin America, Japan and the Middle East may be suffering setbacks, the biggest loser is understood to be Uncle Sam. For the rest of the world, that is the grand consolation! By what logic, though, should America lose more ground in the years to come than other nations, except on the vague proposition that the taller you stand, the further you fall?
The first reason, surely, is the U.S.'s truly exceptional budgetary and trade deficits. There is nothing else in the world like them in absolute measures and, even when calculated in proportion to national income, the percentages look closer to those you might expect from Iceland or some poorly run Third World economy. To my mind, the projected U.S. fiscal deficits for 2009 and beyond are scary, and I am amazed that so few congressmen recognize the fact as they collectively stampede towards the door entitled "fiscal stimulus."
The planned imbalances are worrying for three reasons. The first is because the total projections have been changing so fast, always in a gloomier direction. I have never, in 40 years of reading into the economics of the Great Powers, seen the figures moved so often, and in such vast proportions. Clearly, some people do believe that Washington is simply a printing machine.
The second reason all this is scary is because no one seems to be certain how usefully (or fecklessly) this money will be applied. I wish Barack Obama's administration all the best, but I am frightened by the prospect that he and his team will feel under such time pressures as to shovel out the money without adequate precautions, and that lots of it will slip into the wrong hands. The news in the press last week that lobbyists were pouring into Washington to make the case for whatever industry, interest group, or service sector they have been hired to represent made my heart sink. Printing lots of unsecured money is bad enough. Frittering it away on courtiers is worse.
The third thing I'm really scared about is that we'll likely have very little money ourselves to pay for the Treasury bonds that are going to be issued, in tens of billions each month, in the years ahead. Sure, some investment firms, bruised by their irrational exuberance for equities and commodities, will take up a certain amount of Treasury issues even at a ridiculously low (or no) rate of return. But that will not cover an estimated budget deficit of $1.2 trillion in 2009....
If the above is even half-true, the conclusions are not pleasant: that the economic and political travails of the next several years will badly crimp many of the visions offered in Mr. Obama's election campaign; that this nation will have to swallow, domestically, some very hard choices; and that we should not expect, even despite a surge in international goodwill towards America, any increase in our relative capacity to act abroad decisively or in any sustained way. A rather wonderful, charismatic and highly intelligent person will occupy the White House, but, alas, in the toughest circumstances the U.S. has faced since 1933 or 1945.
In this focus upon chronic fiscal deficits and military overstretch, certain positive measures of American strength tend to get pushed into the shadows (and perhaps should be given more light at another time). This country possesses tremendous advantages compared to other great powers in its demographics, its land-to-people ratio, its raw materials, its research universities and laboratories, its flexible work force, etc. These strengths have been overshadowed during a near-decade of political irresponsibility in Washington, rampant greed on Wall Street and its outliers, and excessive military ventures abroad....
Posted on: Thursday, January 15, 2009 - 01:28
SOURCE: US News & World Report (1-12-09)
...One of the questions that historians may ask someday about the collapse of the short-lived post-Cold War order, such as it existed, is why the lessons of previous postwar experiences were not heeded more closely. In European history, at least, the lessons are driven into the heads of every schoolchild: The Thirty Years' War and the subsequent Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 established the principle of state sovereignty and forbade what we now call interventions in the internal affairs of other states for moral, religious, or ideological reasons. The Napoleonic wars and the subsequent Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 laid down the principle that a balance of power—underwritten by Britain and Russia—required a subordination of the interests of smaller countries to those of larger ones.
The First World War and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, although violating a couple of the above lessons in the name of self-determination, established the rule that open diplomacy and international institutions, and not naked power alone, were to be the basis of world order. The Second World War and the subsequent treaties of San Francisco (1945), Washington (1949), Rome (1957), and Helsinki (1975) made possible the promotion and protection of universal human rights within carefully defined regional spheres of influence. The latter formulation proved temporal; the former, permanent.
After 1991, the world seemed to enter a state of collective amnesia. The name for it was globalization, and it postulated that peace and prosperity could be enjoyed everywhere so long as governments and societies played by"global" rules largely established by the Western victors of the Cold War. To those who chose to flaunt the rules, the punishment could be harsh. Yet, the consensus over the rules themselves was quite thin and inconsistent, not only in matters of war and peace but also in business and finance. Just compare for a minute the rhetoric coming out of the West during the Asian financial meltdown a decade ago with what is happening today worldwide.
The world thus witnessed one apparent violation after another, not only of the post-Cold War rules but also of the lessons of previous postwar eras."Human rights trumps sovereignty," Madeleine Albright famously declared during NATO's bombing of Serbia in 1999, forgetting the central 20th-century lesson that human rights cannot be furthered anywhere in the absence, or in repudiation, of state authority.
Likewise, economic prosperity, which the great proponent of European unity, Jean Monnet, insisted must be guided by the not-so-invisible hand of political consensus across borders, became its own mantra, itsmeans and its own end, apart from any reasonable understanding of the cultural, institutional, and geopolitical conditions that further it.
Looking back, then, we see several important opportunities squandered. The biggest—which may yet come to bite us—is the failure of the then five declared nuclear weapons states (plus Israel) to devise a deliberate program of reducing nuclear inventories worldwide to a few hundred and, eventually, to zero. Former U.S. secretaries of state Baker, Kissinger, and Shultz, along with several others, have insisted that it's not too late to turn back the tide. But with a nuclear India, Pakistan, North Korea, and, on the near horizon, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, and probably Algeria and Saudi Arabia, the prospects are bleak. We now face the brave new world that John F. Kennedy and others warned about before the advent of the nonproliferation regime: a world of 20-plus nuclear powers, all balanced precariously against all the others by the terror of total destruction within minutes....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - 22:48
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (1-14-09)
The American lady who called to see if I would appear on her radio programme was specific. "We're setting up a debate," she said sweetly, "and we want to know from your perspective as a historian whether George W Bush was the worst president of the 20th century, or might he be the worst president in American history?"
"I think he's a good president," I told her, which seemed to dumbfound her, and wreck my chances of appearing on her show.
In the avalanche of abuse and ridicule that we are witnessing in the media assessments of President Bush's legacy, there are factors that need to be borne in mind if we are to come to a judgment that is not warped by the kind of partisan hysteria that has characterised this issue on both sides of the Atlantic.
The first is that history, by looking at the key facts rather than being distracted by the loud ambient noise of the 24-hour news cycle, will probably hand down a far more positive judgment on Mr Bush's presidency than the immediate, knee-jerk loathing of the American and European elites.
At the time of 9/11, which will forever rightly be regarded as the defining moment of the presidency, history will look in vain for anyone predicting that the Americans murdered that day would be the very last ones to die at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in the US from that day to this.
The decisions taken by Mr Bush in the immediate aftermath of that ghastly moment will be pored over by historians for the rest of our lifetimes. One thing they will doubtless conclude is that the measures he took to lock down America's borders, scrutinise travellers to and from the United States, eavesdrop upon terrorist suspects, work closely with international intelligence agencies and take the war to the enemy has foiled dozens, perhaps scores of would-be murderous attacks on America. There are Americans alive today who would not be if it had not been for the passing of the Patriot Act. There are 3,000 people who would have died in the August 2005 airline conspiracy if it had not been for the superb inter-agency co-operation demanded by Bush after 9/11.
The next factor that will be seen in its proper historical context in years to come will be the true reasons for invading Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in April 2003. The conspiracy theories believed by many (generally, but not always) stupid people – that it was "all about oil", or the securing of contracts for the US-based Halliburton corporation, etc – will slip into the obscurity from which they should never have emerged had it not been for comedian-filmmakers such as Michael Moore.
Instead, the obvious fact that there was a good case for invading Iraq based on 14 spurned UN resolutions, massive human rights abuses and unfinished business following the interrupted invasion of 1991 will be recalled....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - 22:21
SOURCE: Social Science Research Council (blog) (1-12-09)
For a long time after November 4, I found it hard to believe that Barack Obama had actually been elected President of the United States. Even as his inauguration approaches I still find it a remarkable moment in our history. There are two things I want to comment on about Obama: his person and what he stands for. Mostly I want to discuss the latter, but just a word about the former. What is most remarkable about him as a person is that he is a grown-up. Growing up is a task for everyone in every society and most of us don’t do a very good job of it. Even highly gifted people, in the arts and sciences as well as politics, are often not very grown up, or have obvious personal flaws, even when we admire them. I’m not saying that Obama is perfect—no one is. But he shows the quality of maturity that the great classical philosophies, Confucian or Stoic for example, tried to inculcate in their followers. Extraordinary intelligence helps but we know many brilliant people who are not very grown up. Extraordinary ethical sensitivity is closer to the core of what it means to be grown up. My amazement and near disbelief in Obama’s victory is that I never again expected an American president to be so grown up. In my lifetime some have come close to the mark, but for me the clearest previous example is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom I, as a very young person, heard and admired.
There is a great deal of talk about what Obama stands for and many commentators claim it is hard to know. He is placed along a continuum in which the words “center-left” and “center-right” often appear. In fact in America we have never had a very clear left-right split; the very idea of one is rooted in European traditions we have not shared. For all the talk about culture wars, what in America unites left and right, liberals and conservatives, is a fundamental individualism that is perhaps the strongest, though not the only, strand in our tradition. It is rooted in the earliest and most pervasive religious culture in America, Protestantism, which has deeply influenced every other religious tradition that has entered our common life. It does not divide Evangelicals from liberal Protestants—it is something they share. We may argue about the value of the market or the state but the purpose of both to most Americans is to allow the maximum of individual freedom with the least encumbrance.
Some reviewers of Habits of the Heart believed the book affirmed a continuous decline of community and an increase of individualism throughout American history, whereas in fact the authors of Habits believed that we have had cycles of individualism alternating with periods when social solidarity was emphasized. Some historians even accused us of offering only another version of the old nostalgic “loss of community” narrative, applied to virtually every period in American history. In our current situation, as Obama seems to be emphasizing that we are all in this together, the cyclical theory is resurfacing, especially in Michael Lind’s argument that there have been four republics in America—corresponding to the presidencies of Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and now Obama—when a period of radical individualism has been reversed and a new emphasis on the common good has followed. Neither in Habits nor elsewhere have I ever argued for the long-term decline of community in our history, since I see individualism as powerful from the very beginning and social solidarity as always weak and vulnerable in American history, though stronger at some times than in others. Our fundamental individualism was vividly represented by the seventeenth-century New England Puritans. When the Church was no longer seen as the mediator of salvation but the exclusive club of the elect, whose members must experience conversion all by themselves before being admitted, we had a new emphasis on the solitary individual. When the Word eclipses the Sacrament, then it is society that suffers. Such an emphasis released enormous power, economically, culturally, and politically, but the price was high.
Efforts to restore a viable balance by reappropriating a sense of the common good and social solidarity have marked Western history for the last couple of centuries. In Europe such efforts were spearheaded by Catholic social teaching and democratic socialism, whose political expression in Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties created the decent societies that have marked the recent history of Britain and Western Europe. When the present Pope in his last year as Cardinal Ratzinger met with Jürgen Habermas, he expressed his sympathy with the tradition of social democracy and said that it was similar to Catholic social teachings. In its fullness that is surely the case, but when American Catholic ideologues reduce Catholic ethics to an exclusive concern with abortion and gay marriage they take the social out of Catholic social teachings and become spokesmen not for the authentic Catholic tradition but for a narrow quasi-Protestant sect.
For the reasons I have just suggested, radical individualism is what I call the default mode of American culture. It is where we go when things are relatively stable and we face no enormous challenge, or are denying that we do. It is the power of this core tradition that has given rise to American exceptionalism, what makes us so different from most other advanced nations in the world, none of which share this strand to the same extent.
American exceptionalism is often interpreted to mean how exceptionally good we are. In some respects this is warranted: I can think of no other society that has so successfully integrated immigrants. Race has been harder to overcome, but Obama is surely right that this is the only country where he could have achieved what he has. But it is important to remember also how exceptionally bad we are in comparison with other advanced nations. It is our radical individualistic culture that allows us to tolerate a level of poverty higher than any other advanced nation, a degree of income polarization that would be unacceptable in most advanced nations, a health system that leaves tens of millions without insurance, that is the most expensive in the world but leaves the health of our citizens only slightly above that of many third world nations, an environmental policy that has not only failed to lead the world to greater sustainability but actually stood in the way of the things which almost all the other advanced nations have tried to do, and these are only the most obvious of the many ways we have differed for the worse from most of the advanced world.
But when we are faced with challenges that we cannot deny, we do have other resources we can draw on, resources that we described in Habits of the Heart as Biblical and Civic Republican. Neither of these traditions is without an element of individualism (see the new Introduction to the 1996 paperback edition of Habits), but both of them have the capacity to talk about the common good in a way that the core tradition of radical individualism cannot do. Ruth Braunstein in her recent post has emphasized the centrality of the idea of the common good in Obama’s thought, drawing as he does from both the Biblical and Civic Republican traditions. He has found in the Black church tradition, and even in the theologically somewhat vacuous UCC tradition, an emphasis on social justice and the plight of the poor that is at the core of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Although I have no evidence for it, I would be surprised if Obama has not also been influenced by Catholic social teaching with its focus on the common good, perhaps when he was a community organizer.
But our default individualist tradition finds the very idea of the common good incomprehensible. This is well illustrated in an article by Simon Critchley in the November Harper’s entitled “The American Void,” where Critchley describes Obama’s talk of the common good as “an anti-political fantasy.” Critchley seems to be unaware that the idea of the common good lies at the core of the Social Democratic and Christian Democratic traditions in Europe that have led to the creation of the most humanly viable societies, for all their imperfections, that this earth has yet seen. He is also unaware of how profoundly political the idea of the common good is, how strongly it is resisted, and what power, in ideology, public opinion, and legislative votes, is required to implement it.
If you look at Obama’s specific policy concerns you will find the common good at the core of almost all of them. Universal health care is an obvious example. And why, except for our culture of radical individualism, don’t we already have it as every advanced society in the world has it? Because in normal times common good arguments do not carry the day in America. Obama’s jobs program, his environmental program, his foreign policy concerns are all examples of making the common good the focus of politics. What all this leads to in my opinion is that Obama is not concerned with center-left or center-right but with making America into a country with a concern for all its citizens and not just the privileged few, a country like other advanced countries and less like a third world country.
There is another element in Obama’s thinking that needs comment: his concern for America and its historical promise. It has been hard for his opponents to call Obama unpatriotic when he speaks so glowingly of our nation and its heritage. It is the eloquence with which he did that in his keynote address in 2004 that first told me that a remarkable new presence had arrived on the American scene. But what Obama has stressed is the promise of America, one that is still unfulfilled. It is our task as he has so often said to help create a more perfect union because this one is so imperfect. Obama has rejected the idea that supporting the Iraq War is a measure of patriotism. He has said, in effect, that the true patriot will oppose such a war.
Already in 2004 this reminded me of what I wrote in my most frequently reprinted article, “Civil Religion in America,” which was a call to see that the best of our tradition required opposition to the Vietnam War, not support of it. Too many have read that article as describing American civil religion as “integrating,” or “Durkheimian,” in a way that doesn’t appreciate the radicalism of Durkheim. Some friends who do understand what I had written in 1966 told me they thought Obama had read it. I have no reason to think he has. He doesn’t need me to see that the promise is the core we must celebrate, not the often desperately disappointing reality, which he notes when he promises to close Guantanamo and renounce torture as American policy. That one can see America as a beacon of hope, even, in Lincoln’s words, as “the last best hope of earth,” while also recognizing that America has committed the gravest of crimes from the colonial period to the present, seems to escape critics from the left and the right. Obama would never speak like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but he knows, as any serious American knows, that Jeremiah Wright was telling the truth, even if not the whole truth, and that denial of the terrible side of our history is no more healthy for us than it would be for Germany or Japan.
Late in the campaign, McCain and Palin began calling Obama a socialist, because he believes in a progressive income tax. There is a deep irony here. Every normal modern nation has been influenced by democratic socialism. If that tradition has been weak in America, it, or something close to it (the New Deal and Social Security, which, like the progressive income tax, was also denounced as socialist), has never been entirely absent. Universal health care would put it on the agenda again, leading possibly to reform in our deeply unjust educational system and other areas as well. In the context of comparative modernity, democratic socialist equals normal. For the first time in a long time the possibility that we too could become normal, that we could better realize our good exceptionalism and avoid more of our bad exceptionalism, seems to have arrived. It will take a very grown up leader and massive public participation to make that happen. But as Obama has said so often, “This is our moment, this is our time.” I am glad to have lived long enough to see even such a possibility in this great but benighted nation.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - 22:10
SOURCE: Daniel Pipes blog (1-12-09)
In"Europe's Stark Options," I considered the future of the Muslim-European encounter and conclude there are three possible futures,"harmonious integration, the expulsion of Muslims, or an Islamic takeover." I then dismissed the first as unrealistic and stated that it is too early to predict which of the latter two unattractive possibilities will come to pass.
A reader, Chris Slater of Upper Hutt, New Zealand, writes me to predict a fourth outcome as most likely:"larger existing Muslim areas will re-create themselves into independent national entities" and"by the middle of the twenty-first century nearly all western European countries will be riven by the creation of Islamic city states within their borders. For the sake of brevity they will be referred to as ‘microstates,' that is, autonomous conurbations defined by the Islamic beliefs of their citizens."
Slater foresees boundaries being formed"around existing Muslim centres of population, initially in France, Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, followed rapidly by Britain, Norway, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. Dates for eastern European states, particularly Orthodox, may be more difficult to predict, although Russia, with 15 percent of its 143 million people professing Islam, may well lead many western European countries in having an independent Islamic state. By the end of this century this process will affect every non-Islamic state throughout the world."
These microstates will enjoy a"monopoly on legitimate violence," impose their own autonomous legal order, and form alliances among themselves. They will feature such Shar‘i customs as polygyny, no-interest finance, huddud punishments, Islamic ways of dress, family"honor" codes, bans on criticism of Islam, and so on. Arabic and the dominant immigrant vernacular will enjoy more currency than the host country's language. Street names will be changed, statues removed, churches and synagogues converted to mosques.
Slater sees this outcome this as"the only way to avoid the destruction of both the national cultures and, indeed, European civilization from total domination by the cultures of Muslim immigrants."
Comments: (1) I prefer"Muslim autonomous zones" to"Muslim microstates."
(2) It's a plausible vision but I think the tensions between these microstates and the larger, Christian-origin polities will lead to the same two outcomes I have predicted, the expulsion of Muslims or a Muslim takeover. The microstate option implies a certain statis and stability but I expect things to remain dynamic: the Islamic polities will either grow and dominate or they will shrink and disappear. Perhaps some will dominate and others disappear. I cannot envisage a stable order along the lines Slater sketches out. Indeed, Slater's point about this arrangement providing the only way to avoid the destruction of European civilization tacitly acknowledges the inherent tensions: either old-stock Europeans will manage to hold their own or they will succumb. A compromise, middle way strikes me as highly unlikely.
(3) That said, this scenario of Muslim autonomous zones has no less likelihood than that of harmonious integration, so if that is listed, so should this one.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - 22:07