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: Jerusalem Post (1-7-09)
Israel's war against Hamas brings up the old quandary: What to do about the Palestinians? Western states, including Israel, need to set goals to figure out their policy toward the West Bank and Gaza.
Let's first review what we know does not and cannot work:
- Israeli control. Neither side wishes to continue the situation that began in 1967, when the Israel Defense Forces took control of a population that is religiously, culturally, economically, and politically different and hostile.
- A Palestinian state. The 1993 Oslo Accords began this process but a toxic brew of anarchy, ideological extremism, antisemitism, jihadism, and warlordism led to complete Palestinian failure.
- A binational state: Given the two populations' mutual antipathy, the prospect of a combined Israel-Palestine (what Muammar al-Qaddafi calls"Israstine") is as absurd as it seems.
Excluding these three prospects leaves only one practical approach, that which worked tolerably well in the period 1948-67:
- Shared Jordanian-Egyptian rule: Amman rules the West Bank and Cairo runs Gaza.
To be sure, this back-to-the-future approach inspires little enthusiasm. Not only was Jordanian-Egyptian rule undistinguished but resurrecting this arrangement will frustrate Palestinian impulses, be they nationalist or Islamist. Further, Cairo never wanted Gaza and has vehemently rejected its return. Accordingly, one academic analyst dismisses this idea"an elusive fantasy that can only obscure real and difficult choices."
It is not. The failures of Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, of the Palestinian Authority and the"peace process," have prompted rethinking in Amman and Jerusalem. Indeed, the Christian Science Monitor's Ilene R. Prusher found already in 2007 that the idea of a West Bank-Jordan confederation"seems to be gaining traction on both sides of the Jordan River."
The Jordanian government, which enthusiastically annexed the West Bank in 1950 and abandoned its claims only under duress in 1988, shows signs of wanting to return. Dan Diker and Pinchas Inbari documented for the Middle East Quarterly in 2006 how the PA's"failure to assert control and become a politically viable entity has caused Amman to reconsider whether a hands-off strategy toward the West Bank is in its best interests." Israeli officialdom has also showed itself open to this idea, occasionally calling for Jordanian troops to enter the West Bank.
Despairing of self-rule, some Palestinians welcome the Jordanian option. An unnamed senior PA official told Diker and Inbari that that a form of federation or confederation with Jordan offers"the only reasonable, stable, long-term solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." Hanna Seniora opined that"The current weakened prospects for a two-state solution forces us to revisit the possibility of a confederation with Jordan." The New York Times' Hassan M. Fattah quotes a Palestinian in Jordan:"Everything has been ruined for us - we've been fighting for 60 years and nothing is left. It would be better if Jordan ran things in Palestine, if King Abdullah could take control of the West Bank."
Nor is this just talk: Diker and Inbari report that back-channel PA-Jordan negotiations in 2003-04"resulted in an agreement in principle to send 30,000 Badr Force members," to the West Bank.
And while Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak announced a year ago that"Gaza is not part of Egypt, nor will it ever be," his is hardly the last word. First, Mubarak notwithstanding, Egyptians overwhelmingly want a strong tie to Gaza; Hamas concurs; and Israeli leaders sometimes agree. So the basis for an overhaul in policy exists.
Secondly, Gaza is arguably more a part of Egypt than of"Palestine." During most of the Islamic period, it was either controlled by Cairo or part of Egypt administratively. Gazan colloquial Arabic is identical to what Egyptians living in Sinai speak. Economically, Gaza has most connections to Egypt. Hamas itself derives from the Muslim Brethren, an Egyptian organization. Is it time to think of Gazans as Egyptians?
Thirdly, Jerusalem could out-maneuver Mubarak. Were it to announce a date when it ends the provisioning of all water, electricity, food, medicine, and other trade, plus accept enhanced Egyptian security in Gaza, Cairo would have to take responsibility for Gaza. Among other advantages, this would make it accountable for Gazan security, finally putting an end to the thousands of Hamas rocket and mortar assaults.
The Jordan-Egypt option quickens no pulse, but that may be its value. It offers a uniquely sober way to solve the"Palestinian problem."
Jan. 7, 2009 update: The National Post cleverly dubs my plan (in its title to this article) the"back-to-the-future option," but I like best the name bestowed on it by blogger Mary P. Madigan:"the no-state solution." Perfect.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 - 22:37
SOURCE: WSJ (1-3-09)
The day after Abraham Lincoln's election, he assembled a gaggle of reporters and boisterously declared, "Well boys, your troubles are now over; mine have only just begun."
Little did he know just how prophetic his words would be. Between Election Day and his inauguration, seven Southern states seceded from the Union and the Fort Sumter crisis reached a dangerous flashpoint.
His own general-in-chief, Winfield Scott, strongly advised him to surrender the fort. William Seward, his secretary of state, ardently counseled negotiations with the South, and even privately assured the Confederates that Sumter would be evacuated. Most of his cabinet sided with Seward and voted to evacuate as well.
That was when Lincoln decided that he alone would have to decide. To the flicker of oil lamps, he stayed up all night on March 28. Shortly after dawn the next morning, he informed the cabinet that he would re-provision the besieged Fort Sumter -- a fateful move that all but ensured civil war.
The war would grind on for four long years and as late as 1864, an exhausted Lincoln would aimlessly roam the White House corridors, moaning, "I must have relief from this terrible anxiety or it will kill me." If it didn't kill him the ongoing avalanche of public and private criticism almost did, not to mention his string of distressingly ineffective generals. Little wonder that, instead of glory in the presidency, Lincoln once confessed, he found "only ashes and blood."
Lincoln was one of our two greatest presidents, saving the Union and freeing the slaves. But never was the going easy, not in the beginning of the great crisis, not in the middle, not at the end. When he took office, Lincoln never dreamed of a civil war that would last for four years and consume 620,000 lives.
For our president-elect, who is looking to history for guidance, herein lies a cautionary tale. Barack Obama will soon learn two lessons that all of our presidents, the great ones as well as the failed ones, discover -- often the hard way. The challenges he will face will almost certainly be different from what he thought. And however talented his team, he will never be able to escape the often overwhelming isolation of presidential decision making....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 22:07
SOURCE: Newsweek (11-29-08)
In Afghanistan today, the United States and its allies are using the wrong means to pursue the wrong mission. Sending more troops to the region, as incoming president Barack Obama and others have suggested we should, will only turn Operation Enduring Freedom into Operation Enduring Obligation. Afghanistan will be a sinkhole, consuming resources neither the U.S. military nor the U.S. government can afford to waste.
The war in Afghanistan is now in its eighth year. An operation launched with expectations of a quick, decisive victory has failed signally to accomplish that objective. Granted, the diversion of resources to Iraq forced commanders in Afghanistan to make do with less. Yet that doesn't explain the lack of progress. The real problem is that Washington has misunderstood the nature of the challengeAfghanistan poses and misread America's interests there.
One of history's enduring lessons is that Afghans don't appreciate it when outsiders tell them how to govern their affairs—just ask the British or the Soviets. U.S. success in overthrowing the Taliban seemed to suggest this lesson no longer applied, at least to us.
But we're now discovering that the challenges of pacifying Afghanistan dwarf those posed by Iraq. Afghanistan is a much bigger country—nearly the size of Texas—and has a larger population that's just as fractious. Moreover, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan possesses almost none of the prerequisites of modernity; its literacy rate, for example, is 28 percent, barely a third of Iraq's. In terms of effectiveness and legitimacy, the government in Kabul lags well behind Baghdad—not exactly a lofty standard. Apart from opium (last year's crop totaled about 8,000 metric tons), Afghans produce almost nothing the world wants....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 21:00
SOURCE: Boston Globe (1-3-09)
IN A RECENT CNN commentary Ruben Navarrette Jr. complained about the "hypocrisy" of American immigration policy. "We have two signs on the Mexican border: 'Keep Out' and 'Help Wanted.' "
The dilemma is hardly new. Before the Constitution, even before the American Revolution, similar issues arose in colonial Massachusetts. Skills were needed but there were fears about the crime and disease that newcomers might bring.
In the mid-18th century, the Province of Massachusetts Bay recruited German immigrants to work as printers and glassmakers. A lottery was established to finance the project, and skilled workers were exempted from military service.
It was hoped that the Germans would "prove honest and reasonable" and provide "Books for Churches and Schools and to promote a Christian life." An elite group of immigrants would even benefit Harvard College, that "ancient and renowned University of Cambridge."
Although some Germans were welcome, authorities worried about others who came uninvited and the merchants who brought them. According to a German document at the Massachusetts Archives, the merchants "take all sorts of Beggars they find on the Road. . . Should every one be inspected, I dare say, a great many would be found to carry the Mark of Infamy on their backs or to be mark'd with an hot Iron for having committed infamous Crimes."
In 1750, the Massachusetts General Court crafted an immigration reform measure: "An Act to prevent the Importation of Germans and other Foreign Passengers in too Great a Number in one Vessel." It reflected a fear of disease. "Through want of necessary room and Accommodations," aboard ships, "they may often Contract Mortal and Contagious Distempers [and infect others] on their arrival."
According to the legislation, accommodations for passengers over the age of 14 should be "at least six feet in length and one foot and six inches in breadth." For those under 14 "the same length and breadth for every two."
If the legislation was intended to control the flow of immigration, there was a surprising response from Rotterdam agents. They were quick to exploit the rules in advertisements. One promised "Fixed Bed-Rooms or Cabins are to be made in the Ship six Foot long and one and a half broad for every whole Freight." Each "whole Freight" (or passenger) would enjoy a range of amenities....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 18:01
SOURCE: NYT (1-4-09)
So will we “act swiftly and boldly” enough to stop that from happening? We’ll soon find out.
We weren’t supposed to find ourselves in this situation. For many years most economists believed that preventing another Great Depression would be easy. In 2003, Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, in his presidential address to the American Economic Association, declared that the “central problem of depression-prevention has been solved, for all practical purposes, and has in fact been solved for many decades.”
Milton Friedman, in particular, persuaded many economists that the Federal Reserve could have stopped the Depression in its tracks simply by providing banks with more liquidity, which would have prevented a sharp fall in the money supply. Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, famously apologized to Friedman on his institution’s behalf: “You’re right. We did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”
It turns out, however, that preventing depressions isn’t that easy after all. Under Mr. Bernanke’s leadership, the Fed has been supplying liquidity like an engine crew trying to put out a five-alarm fire, and the money supply has been rising rapidly. Yet credit remains scarce, and the economy is still in free fall.
Friedman’s claim that monetary policy could have prevented the Great Depression was an attempt to refute the analysis of John Maynard Keynes, who argued that monetary policy is ineffective under depression conditions and that fiscal policy — large-scale deficit spending by the government — is needed to fight mass unemployment. The failure of monetary policy in the current crisis shows that Keynes had it right the first time. And Keynesian thinking lies behind Mr. Obama’s plans to rescue the economy.
But these plans may turn out to be a hard sell....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 17:56
SOURCE: Nation (1-5-09)
Watching Israeli public television (Channel 1) these days can be an unsettling experience, and lately I've abstained from the practice. But after being stuck for seventy-two hours with our two young children inside a Beer-Sheva apartment, the spouse and I decided to visit my mother, who lives up north, so that our children could play outside far away from the rockets. My mother, like most Israelis, is a devout news consumer, and last night I decided to keep her company in front of the TV.
For the most part, the broadcast was more of the same. There were the usual images and voices of suffering Israeli Jews along with the promulgation of a hyper-nationalist ethos. One story, for example, followed a Jewish mother who had lost her son in Gaza about two years ago. The audience was told that the son has been a soldier in the Golani infantry brigade and together with his company had penetrated the Gaza Strip in an attempt to save the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
"Because members of his company did not want to hurt civilians, they refrained from opening fire in every direction, which allowed Palestinian militiamen to shoot my boy," the mother stated. When the interviewer asked her about the current assault on Gaza, she answered that, "We should pound and cut them from the air and from the sea," but added that, "We should not kill civilians, only Hamas." The report ended with the interviewer asking the mother what she does when she misses her son, and, as the camera zoomed in on her face, she answered: "I go into his room and hug his bed, because I can no longer hug him."
Thus, despite the ever-increasing loss of life in the Gaza Strip, Israel remains the perpetual victim. Indeed, the last frame with the mother looking straight into the camera leaves the average compassionate viewer--myself included--a bit choked up. Over the past few years, I have, however, become a critical consumer of Israeli news, and therefore can see through the perpetuation of the image that Israel and its Jewish majority are the victims and how, regardless of what happens, we are presented as the moral players in this conflict. Therefore, this kind of reportage, where the huge death toll in Gaza is elided and Jewish suffering is underscored, no longer shocks me.
What did manage to unnerve me in the broadcast was one short sentence made by a reporter who covered the entry of a humanitarian aid convoy into the Gaza Strip on Friday.
My mother and I--like other Israeli viewers--learned that 170 trucks supplied with basic foodstuff donated by the Turkish government entered Gaza through the Carmi crossing. That the report had nothing to say about the context of this food shipment did not surprise me. Nor was I surprised that no mention was made of the fact that 80 percent of Gaza's inhabitants are unable to support themselves and are therefore dependent on humanitarian assistance--and this figure is increasing daily. Indeed, nothing was said about the severe food crisis in Gaza, which manifests itself in shortages of flour, rice, sugar, dairy products, milk and canned foods, or about the total lack of fuel for heating houses and buildings during these cold winter months, the absence of cooking gas, and the shortage of running water. The viewer has no way of knowing that the Palestinian health system is barely functioning or that some 250,000 people in central and northern Gaza are now living without any electricity at all due to the damage caused by the air strikes.
While the fact that this information was missing from the report did not surprise me, I found myself completely taken aback by the way in which the reporter justified the convoy's entrance into Gaza. Explaining to those viewers who might be wondering why Israel allows humanitarian assistance to the other side during times of war, he declared that if a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe were to explode among the Palestinian civilian population, the international community would pressure Israel to stop the assault.
There is something extremely cynical about how Israel explains its use of humanitarian assistance, and yet such unadulterated explanations actually help uncover an important facet of postmodern warfare. Not unlike raising animals for slaughter on a farm, the Israeli government maintains that it is providing Palestinians with assistance so that it can have a free hand in attacking them. And just as Israel provides basic foodstuff to Palestinians while it continues shooting them, it informs Palestinians--by phone, no less--that they must evacuate their homes before F-16 fighter jets begin bombing them.
One notices, then, that in addition to its remote-control, computer game-like qualities, postmodern warfare is also characterized by a bizarre new moral element. It is as if the masters of wars realized that since current wars rarely take place between two armies and are often carried out in the midst of civilian populations, a new just war theory is needed. So these masters of war gathered together philosophers and intellectuals to develop a moral theory for postmodern wars, and today, as Gaza is being destroyed, we can see quite plainly how the new theory is being transformed into praxis.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 13:30
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (1-6-09)
Are you listening, Barack Obama?
Let's hope so. Like other world leaders, Obama has urged citizens to sacrifice during tough economic times. So it's time for him to put his own money where his mouth is. When Obama becomes president on Jan. 20, he should accept a modest decrease in salary.
Believe me, he can afford it. At $400,000 per year, Obama will earn eight times as much as the average U.S. household. A 10 or 20 percent pay cut wouldn't put a very big dent in the Obama family's finances.
But it would make a big statement about what our new president really believes.
As everyone knows, Obama wants a massive economic-stimulus package from Congress. But he has carefully balanced these calls for more federal spending with cautions that Americans will have to make do with less.
"We're all going to have to tighten our belts," Obama said on the campaign trail in October. "We're all going to need to sacrifice. We're all going to need to pull our weight."
Likewise, after winning the election, Obama warned that he would cut the budget in some places even as he expanded it in others. "If we're going to make the investments we need, we must also be willing to shed the spending we don't," he declared.
So do we really need to pay our president $400,000?
Before George W. Bush, we didn't. Bill Clinton earned $200,000 as president. Just before he left the White House, however, he signed legislation doubling his successor's salary. (The Constitution bars Congress from raising or lowering a president's pay while he is in office.)
Remarkably, that was only the fourth raise in presidential history. George Washington made $25,000 in 1789, which remained the presidential salary until Ulysses S. Grant got $50,000 in 1873. The pay rose to $75,000 for William Howard Taft in 1909. Forty years later, Harry S. Truman earned $100,000. That doubled in 1969 for Richard M. Nixon, who made $200,000. And that's where the salary stood until 1999, when it was doubled again for our current president.
Surely, George W. Bush didn't "need" $400,000, either. But he also didn't tend to advocate shared sacrifice, as Obama has. Most notoriously, Bush urged Americans to "go shopping" after 9/11. And that's exactly what we did.
But these are different times, for America and for the world. Around the globe, only one national leader - Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong - makes more than the U.S. president. But even Loong accepted a 19 percent pay cut for next year in light of his nation's gloomy economic outlook.
Shouldn't Obama do the same? Like Bolivia's Morales, who earmarked the savings from his reduced salary for increasing teachers' pay, Obama could donate the saved portion of his salary to a worthy cause. Or he could simply leave it in the federal Treasury to help pay down the enormous debt we all are about to incur.
It wouldn't make a big difference in practical terms, of course. Symbolically, however, it would be huge. If our famously svelte president-elect wants Americans to tighten their belts, he should start with himself. The rest of us will follow.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 12:27
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (1-4-09)
As the clock winds down on what may well be the worst presidency in American history, the Bush administration spin has taken one more surreal twist as Vice President Dick Cheney's aggressively unapologetic stance regarding the administrations policies and actions over the last eight years is tempered by President Bush and those around him urging us not to judge Bush yet, but to take a longer, more historical view of the Bush presidency. Presumably, this is simply what you say at the end of a failed presidency rather than simply admit that failure, but it is worth trying to determine precisely what President Bush means when he asks us to take a more historical perspective on his presidency.
Perhaps Bush hopes or believes that at least for the foreseeable future, scholars and others will borrow a line from the former Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai who when asked, in the late 20th century, what he thought of the French Revolution said it was too early to tell. Perhaps Bush believes that, as the now back in fashion economist John Maynard Keynes wrote more than eighty years ago, "in the long run we are all dead." More likely, as a baseball fan, Bush is placing his faith in the frozen ice ball theory. This theory, alternately attributed to one of two left-handed pitchers from the 1970s, Bill Lee or Tug McGraw, is essentially that in millions of years the sun will go supernova, the earth will turn into a frozen ice ball and nobody will care what Reggie Jackson, Tony Perez or anybody else did against Tug McGraw or Bill Lee with two men on in the World Series. It is probably true that several million years from now, nobody will be around to care about how bad a president George W. Bush was, but I wouldn't want to hang my legacy on that.
What if, however, we took the Bush claim at face value and imagined what historians, sometime before the frozen ice ball theory kicks in, perhaps years or decades from now will say about the Bush presidency? It is very unlikely that history will view the Bush presidency as kindly as the Bush White House and family might like. The Bush presidency will most likely remembered for squandered opportunities and disastrous decisions in foreign policy, mismanagement of the economy, corruption of both a petty and serious nature, creative interpretations of the constitution, and a studied, and malignant, neglect of major issues such as climate change. In fairness, Bush will be remembered for some positive things such as increases in some areas of foreign assistance and in an "other than that Mrs. Lincoln how was the show?" kind of way, keeping the country safe from terrorism after the attacks of September 11th.
The major areas on which Bush will be evaluated will be the same as those on which most presidents are judged, the economy and foreign policy. In these areas, it is likely that his legacy will grow worse, not better, over the next few decades. With regards to the economy, the evaluation will remain unambiguous, Bush inherited a functioning, even prosperous economy, although hardly one without problems or significant flaws, and due largely to a zealous, almost fanatic, aversion to taxes and regulation, will leave office with an economy that while in severe recession is also plagued by structural problems that will take years to solve. Bush should not be held entirely responsible for these structural problems, but he certainly spent the last eight years making them worse. Even in the throes of the most bizarre Rovian fantasy, it is hard to imagine an economist in the year 2050 or 2100 saying "we should all be grateful for the sound economic management of the Bush administration."
It is the Bush foreign policy, however, that will almost certainly keep historians busiest over the next decades. The most generous historians will give Bush credit for ridding the world of Saddam Hussein who had been one of the worst dictators in recent history. However, even those will have to temper their positive evaluation with a critique of the process by which Bush both took our country to war and how his team conducted that war. The best thing future historians will be able to say accurately about the Iraq war is something to the effect of George W. Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq in the worst way possible-and that's exactly what he did.
It is far more likely that future historians will focus on how Bush allowed international goodwill following the end of the Cold War and the attacks of September 11th, and the accumulated power of the US to drain away into the sands of the Iraqi desert while killing and displacing thousands, wasting billions of dollars and ignoring other serious problems around the world. John McCain's, incessant claims notwithstanding, the surge may be working, but a functioning, peaceful Iraq after the US troops leave, is still a very tenuous proposition. More importantly, the war in Iraq has started an entirely predictable, and predicted, chain of events which has led to far less stability and danger in the greater Middle East. This damage is not irreversible, but if in the future Middle Eastern lemons are turned into lemonade, serious scholars will give the credit where it is due, to the administrations of Barack Obama or perhaps his successors, not to Bush for the mess he made.
Of course, the Middle East is not the only region where Bush foreign policy has been a disaster. Historians will undoubtedly comment upon Bush's years of ignoring the growing strength and malignant role played by Russia in much of Eurasia, and the failure to develop a strategy which recognized the reality of new Russia. It is also telling that as the Bush administration winds down, tensions are heating up between two nuclear powers, but that is only the second most pressing foreign policy issue of the moment. My word limit does not lend itself well to a comprehensive tour of Bush foreign policy mistakes, but the point should be clear by now.
Bush has left the country weaker economically and in a more dangerous unsettled world than the one he found. He has also left the country in more peril from climate change and other environmental threats than it was eight years ago. These are far from short term issues which will go away in a few decades. Unfortunately for Bush, history will judge him and, future frozen ice balls notwithstanding, most historians won't be as forgiving as Bill Lee or Tug McGraw.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 00:36
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-5-09)
It may finally be 2009, but in some ways, given these last years, it might as well be 800 BCE.
From the ninth to the seventh centuries BCE, the palace walls of the kings who ruled the Assyrian Empire were decorated with vast stone friezes, filled with enough dead bodies to sate any video-game maker and often depicting -- in almost comic strip-style -- various bloody royal victories and conquests. At least one of them shows Assyrian soldiers lopping off the heads of defeated enemies and piling them into pyramids for an early version of what, in the VCE (Vietnam Common Era) of the 1960s, Americans came to know as the"body count."
So I learned recently by wandering through a traveling exhibit of ancient Assyrian art from the British Museum. On the audio tour accompanying the show, one expert pointed out that Assyrian scribes, part of an impressive imperial bureaucracy, carefully counted those heads and recorded the numbers for the greater glory of the king (as, in earlier centuries, Egyptian scribes had recorded counts of severed hands for victorious Pharaohs).
Hand it to art museums. Is there anything stranger than wandering through one and locking eyes with a Vermeer lady, a Van Eyck portrait, or one of Rembrandt's burghers staring out at you across the centuries? What a reminder of the common humanity we share with the distant past. In a darker sense, it's no less a reminder of our kinship across time to spot a little pyramid of heads on a frieze, imagine an Assyrian scribe making his count, and -- eerily enough -- feel at home. What a measure of just how few miles"the march of civilization" (as my parents' generation once called it) has actually covered.
Prejudiced Toward War
If you need an epitaph for the Bush administration, here's one to test out: They tried. They really tried. But they couldn't help it. They just had to count.
In a sense, George W. Bush did the Assyrians proud. With his secret prisons, his outsourced torture chambers, his officially approved kidnappings, the murders committed by his interrogators, the massacres committed by his troops and mercenaries, and the shock-and-awe slaughter he ordered from the air, it's easy enough to imagine what those Assyrian scribes would have counted, had they somehow been teleported into his world. True, his White House didn't have friezes of his victories (one problem being that there were none to glorify); all it had was Saddam Hussein's captured pistol proudly stored in a small study off the Oval Office. Almost 3,000 years later, however, Bush's"scribes," still traveling with the imperial forces, continued to count the bodies as they piled ever higher in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Pakistani borderlands, and elsewhere.
Many of those body counts were duly made public. This record of American"success" was visible to anyone who visited the Pentagon's website and viewed its upbeat news articles complete with enumerations of"Taliban fighters" or, in Iraq,"terrorists," the Air Force's news feed listing the number of bombs dropped on"anti-Afghan forces," or the U.S. Central Command's stories of killing "Taliban militants."
On the other hand, history, as we know, doesn't repeat itself and -- unlike the Assyrians -- the Bush administration would have preferred not to count, or at least not to make its body counts public. One of its small but tellingly unsuccessful struggles, a sign of the depth of its failure on its own terms, was to avoid the release of those counts.
Its aversion to the body count made some sense. After all, since the 1950s, body counting for the U.S. military has invariably signaled not impending victory, but disaster, and even defeat. In fact, one of the strangest things about the American empire has been this: Between 1945 and George W. Bush's second term, the U.S. economy, American corporations, and the dollar have held remarkable sway over much of the rest of the world. New York City has been the planet's financial capital and Washington its war capital. (Moscow, even at the height of the Cold War, always came in a provincial second.)
In the same period, the U.S. military effectively garrisoned much of the globe from the Horn of Africa to Greenland, from South Korea to Qatar, while its Navy controlled the seven seas, its Air Force dominated the global skies, its nuclear command stood ready to unleash the powers of planetary death, and its space command watched the heavens. In the wake of the Cold War, its various military commands (including Northcom, set up by the Bush administration in 2002, and Africom, set up in 2007) divided the greater part of the planet into what were essentially military satrapies. And yet, the U.S. military, post-1945, simply could not win the wars that mattered.
Because the neocons of the Bush administration brushed aside this counterintuitive fact, they believed themselves faced in 2000 with an unparalleled opportunity (whose frenetic exploitation would be triggered by the attacks of 9/11, the"Pearl Harbor" of the new century). With the highest-tech military on the planet, funded at levels no other set of nations could cumulatively match, the United States, they were convinced, was uniquely situated to give the phrase"sole superpower" historically unprecedented meaning. Even the Assyrians at their height, the Romans in their Pax Romana centuries, the British in the endless decades when the sun could never set on its empire, would prove pikers by comparison.
In this sense, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and the various neocons in the administration were fundamentalist idolaters -- and what they worshipped was the staggering power of the U.S. military. They were believers in a church whose first tenet was the efficacy of force above all else. Though few of them had the slightest military experience, they gave real meaning to the word bellicose. They were prejudiced towards war.
With awesome military power at their command, they were also convinced that they could go it alone as the dominating force on the planet. As with true believers everywhere, they had only contempt for those they couldn't convert to their worldview. That contempt made"unilateralism" their strategy of choice, and a global Pax Americana their goal (along with, of course, a Pax Republicana at home).
If All Else Fails, Count the Bodies
It was in this context that they were not about to count the enemy dead. In their wars, as these fervent, inside-the-Beltway utopians saw it, there would be no need to do so. With the"shock and awe" forces at their command, they would refocus American attention on the real metric of victory, the taking of territory and of enemy capitals. At the same time, they were preparing to disarm the only enemy that truly scared them, the American people, by making none of the mistakes of the Vietnam era, including -- as the President later admitted -- counting bodies.
Of course, both the Pax Americana and the Pax Republicana would prove will-o'-the-wisps. As it turned out, the Bush administration, blind to the actual world it faced, disastrously miscalculated the nature of American power -- especially military power -- and what it was capable of doing. And yet, had they taken a clear-eyed look at what American military power had actually achieved in action since 1945, they might have been sobered. In the major wars (and even some minor actions) the U.S. military fought in those decades, it had been massively destructive but never victorious, nor even particularly successful. In many ways, in the classic phrase of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong, it had been a"paper tiger."
Yes, it had"won" largely meaningless victories -- in Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983; against the toothless Panamanian regime of Manuel Noriega in Operation Just Cause in 1989; in Operation Desert Storm, largely an air campaign against Saddam Hussein's helpless military in 1990 (in a war that settled nothing); in NATO's Operation Deliberate Force, an air war against the essentially defenseless Serbian military in 1995 (while meeting disaster in operations in Iran in 1980 and Somalia in 1993). On the other hand, in Korea in the early 1950s and in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from the 1960s into the early 1970s, it had committed its forces all but atomically, and yet had met nothing but stalemate, disaster, and defeat against enemies who, on paper at least, should not have been able to stand up to American power.
It was in the context of defeat and then frustration in Korea that the counting of enemy bodies began. Once Chinese communist armies had entered that war in massive numbers in late 1950 and inflicted a terrible series of defeats on American forces but could not sweep them off the peninsula, that conflict settled into a"meatgrinder" of a stalemate in which the hope of taking significant territory faded; yet some measure of success was needed as public frustration mounted in the United States: thus began the infamous body count of enemy dead.
The body count reappeared quite early in the Vietnam War, again as a shorthand way of measuring success in a conflict in which the taking of territory was almost meaningless, the countryside a hostile place, the enemy hard to distinguish from the general population, and our own in-country allies weak and largely unable to strengthen themselves. Those tallies of dead bodies, announced daily by military spokesmen to increasingly dubious reporters in Saigon, were the public face of American"success" in the Vietnam era. Each body was to be further evidence of what General William Westmoreland called"the light at the end of the tunnel." When those dead bodies and any sense of success began to part ways, however, when, in the terminology of the times, a" credibility gap" opened between the metrics of victory and reality, the body count morphed into a symbol of barbarism as well as of defeat. It helped stoke an antiwar movement.
This was why, in choosing to take on Saddam Hussein's hapless military in 2003 -- the administration was looking for a " cakewalk" campaign that would"shock and awe" enemies throughout the Middle East -- they officially chose not to release any counts of enemy dead. General Tommy Franks, commander of the administration's Afghan operation in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq thereafter, put the party line succinctly,"We don't do body counts."
As the President finally admitted in some frustration to a group of conservative columnists in October 2006, his administration had"made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team." Not intending to repeat the 1960s experience, he and his advisors had planned out an opposites war on the home front -- anything done in Vietnam would not be done this time around -- and that meant not offering official counts of the dead which might stoke an antiwar movement… until, as in Korea and Vietnam, frustration truly set in.
When the taking of Baghdad in April 2003 proved no more of a capstone on American victory than the taking of Kabul in November 2001, when everything began to go disastrously wrong and the carefully enumerated count of the American dead in Iraq rose precipitously, when"victory" (a word which the President still invoked 15 times in a single speech in November 2005) adamantly refused to make an appearance, the moment for the body count had arrived. Despite all the planning, they just couldn't stop themselves. A frustrated President expressed it this way:"We don't get to say that -- a thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening. You just don't know it."
Soon enough the Pentagon was regularly releasing such figures in reports on its operations and, in December 2006, the President, too, first slipped such a tally into a press briefing. ("Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.")
It wasn't, of course, that no one had been counting. The President, as we know from Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, had long been keeping"'his own personal scorecard for the [global] war [on terror]' in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists -- each ready to be crossed out by the President as his forces took them down." And the military had been counting bodies as well, but as the possibility of victory disappeared into the charnel houses of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the president finally gave in. While this did not stoke an antiwar movement, it represented a tacit admission of policy collapse, a kind of surrender. It was as close as an administration which never owned up to error could come to admitting that two more disastrous wars had been added to a string of military failures in the truncated American Century.
That implicit admission, however, took years to arrive, and in the meantime, Iraqis and Afghans -- civilians, insurgents, terrorists, police, and military men -- were dying in prodigious numbers.
The Global War on Terror as a Ponzi Scheme
As it happened, others were also counting. Among the earliest of them, a website, Iraq Body Count, carefully toted up Iraqi civilian deaths as documented in reputable media outlets. Their estimate has, by now, almost reached 100,000 -- and, circumscribed by those words"documented" and" civilian," doesn't begin to get at the full scope of Iraqi deaths.
Various groups of scholars and pollsters also took up the task, using sophisticated sampling techniques (including door-to-door interviews under exceedingly dangerous conditions) to arrive at reasonable approximations of the Iraqi dead. They have come up with figures ranging from the hundreds of thousands to a million or more in a country with a prewar population of perhaps 26 million. United Nations representatives have similarly attempted, under difficult circumstances, to keep a count of Iraqis fleeing into exile -- exile being, after a fashion, a form of living death -- and have estimated that more than 2 million Iraqis fled their country, while another 2.7 million, having fled their homes, remained"internally displaced."
Similar attempts have been made for Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch has, for instance, done its best to tally civilian deaths from air strikes in that country (while even TomDispatch has attempted to keep a modest count of wedding parties obliterated by U.S. air attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq). But, of course, the real body count in either country will never be known.
One thing is certain, however: it is an obscenity of the present moment that Iraq, still a charnel house, still in a state of near total disrepair, still on the edge of a whole host of potential conflicts, should increasingly be portrayed here as a limited Bush administration"surge" success. Only a country -- or a punditry or a military -- incapable of facing the depths of destruction that the Bush administration let loose could reach such a conclusion.
If all roads once led to Rome, all acts of the Bush administration have led to destruction, and remarkably regularly to piles of dead or tortured bodies, counted or not. In fact, it's reasonable to say that every Bush administration foreign policy dream, including its first term fantasy about a pacified"Greater Middle East" and its late second term vision of a facilitated"peace process" between the Israelis and Palestinians, has ended in piles of bodies and in failure. Consider this a count all its own.
Looked at another way, the Bush administration's Global War on Terror and its subsidiary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have, in effect, been a giant Ponzi scheme. At a cost of nearly one trillion taxpayer dollars to date (but sure to be in the multi-trillions when all is said and done), Bush's mad"global war" simply sucked needed money out of our world at levels that made Bernie Madoff seem like a small fry.
Madoff, by his own accounting, squandered perhaps $50 billion of other people's money. The Bush administration took a trillion dollars of ours and handed it out to its crony corporate buddies and to the Pentagon as down payments on disaster -- and that's without even figuring into the mix the staggering sums still needed to care for American soldiers maimed, impaired, or nearly destroyed by Bush's wars.
With Bush's" commander-in-chief" presidency only days from its end, the price tag on his"war" continues to soar as dollars grow scarce, new investors refuse to pay in, and the scheme crumbles. Unfortunately, the American people, typical suckers in such a con game, will be left with a mile-high stack of IOU's. In any Ponzi scheme comparison with Madoff, however, one difference (other than size) stands out. Sooner or later, Madoff, like Charles Ponzi himself, will end up behind bars, while George, Dick, & Co. will be writing their memoirs and living off the fat of the land.
Eight years of bodies, dead, broken, mutilated, abused; eight years of ruined lives down countless drains; eight years of massive destruction to places from Baghdad to New Orleans where nothing of significance was ever rebuilt: all this was brought to us by a President, now leaving office without apology, who said the following in his first inaugural address:"I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility… to call for responsibility and try to live it as well."
He lived, however, by quite a different code. Destruction without responsibility, that's Bush's legacy, but who's counting now that the destruction mounts and the bodies begin to pile up here in the"homeland," in our own body count nation? The laid off, the pension-less, the homeless, the suicides -- imagine what that trillion dollars might have meant to them.
It's clear enough in these last days of the Bush administration that its model was Iraq, dismantled and devastated. The world, had he succeeded, might have become George W. Bush's Iraq.
Yes, he came up short, but, given the global economic situation, how much short we don't yet know. Perhaps, in the future, historians will call him a Caesar -- of destruction.
Veni, vidi, vastavi... [I came, I saw, I devastated...][Note: I rely on many wonderful sources and websites in putting together TomDispatch.com, but as 2009 starts, I would feel remiss if I didn't credit three in particular: Antiwar.com, Juan Cole's Informed Comment, and Paul Woodward's The War in Context. Each is invaluable in its own way; each made my task of trying to make some sense of George W. Bush's world so much easier. A deep bow of thanks to all three. Finally, I can't help wondering about one missing Iraqi who remains on my mind: a young Sunni woman living in Baghdad in 2003, who adopted the pseudonym Riverbend. She began her"girlblog from Iraq," Baghdad Burning, with this epigraph:"...I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend..." For several years, she provided a vivid citizen's reportage on Bush's disaster that should have put most journalists to shame. As I wrote in 2006, hers was"an unparalleled record of the American war on, and occupation of, Iraq (and Riverbend writes like an angel). [It represents] simply the best contemporary account we are likely to have any time soon of the hell into which we've plunged that country." Her last report from Syria -- she had just arrived as a refugee -- was posted on October 22, 2007. Since then, as far as I know, she has not been heard from.]
Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 - 00:19
SOURCE: TruthDig.com (1-5-09)
Understanding the Constitution sometimes is like interpreting the Talmud. Two scholarly readings bring forth three opinions. Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution is rather straightforward: “Each House shall be the judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualification of its own Members. ...” The rest of the sentence involves quorums and adjournment definitions, while other parts of the section involve the right of each house to make its own rules, including punishments of its members, and the keeping of journals. These clauses are rich in history, deeply rooted as they are in parliamentary experience from Tudor and Stuart days, and are essential to the whole doctrine of separation of powers in the American Constitution.
Small, obscure passages in the Constitution occasionally emerge and contribute to contemporary political disputes and their resolution. On Dec. 30, embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, who allegedly tried to auction off Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder, announced that he was nominating Roland Burris, a locally known, undistinguished African-American politician, to take that seat when the new Congress convened. Senate Democrats have drawn a line in the sand, and they promise to reject any Blagojevich nominee, fearing the taint of corruption.
Meanwhile, the governor has proclaimed his absolute right to name a senator, and he disingenuously has wrapped himself in support from African-American leaders who would justifiably like to see more than zero African-Americans in the Senate. Still, Blagojevich’s veil of spite and cynicism is all too transparent.
Most historical examples of Congress’ right to judge the qualifications of its members clearly give the argument to the Senate Democrats. During Reconstruction, after the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson insisted that he had the power to readmit the seceded states, while Congress insisted on its own power in the development of policy. Eventually, the dispute boiled down to a simple, practical issue of Congress’ constitutional right to determine the qualification of its members.
After the war, Southern states, believing that they had the unquestionable right to return to the Union—as if secession had never happened—elected numerous former Confederate officials, including the vice president of the defunct Confederacy, to represent them in the postwar Congress. The congressional Republicans refused to seat these new members, in effect saying they were not fit to serve. Reconstruction ran a meandering course, but the power of Congress to determine the seating of its own members never was repudiated. Some argued that Congress had abused its power, but abuse of a properly endowed power is no argument against its existence.
In 1918, Milwaukee voters elected Socialist Victor Berger to the House of Representatives, which promptly denied Berger his seat. In that era of the “Red Scare,” the New York Assembly similarly refused to seat five duly elected Socialists. Berger had actively opposed American participation in World War I, earning the enmity of the Wilson administration and a federal indictment under the Espionage Act. Berger was convicted in February 1919, and trial Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, overturned the conviction in 1921 on the ground that Landis had been blatantly prejudiced.
Berger’s 1918 election came while he was under indictment. After his conviction, the House determined him unfit to serve. In December of that year, Wisconsin held a special election and Berger won again. And again the House refused to seat him. The seat remained vacant until the nation returned to “normalcy,” and Berger lost to a Republican.
The Supreme Court’s 1969 decision, restoring Adam Clayton Powell to his House membership, is regarded by some as the court’s modern, authoritative interpretation of Article I, Section 5. Powell had won plaudits for his skillful shepherding of labor and education legislation, but allegations surfaced in the mid-1960s that he had misappropriated committee funds for his personal use. The Democratic Caucus stripped him of his committee chairmanship, and the full House voted in March 1967 to deny him his seat. Powell won a special election in April but did not return to Congress. Instead, he sued, and in June 1969 the Supreme Court ruled that the House had acted unconstitutionally. The ruling interpreted the constitutional clause to mean that qualification for membership simply was confined to age, citizenship and residency.
Powell v. McCormack is the Supreme Court’s only interpretation of the qualification clause. The intervention was not timely, coming more than two years after Powell had been excluded. It was unprecedented and unsupported by the constitutional clause. The decision simply ignored both the history and purpose of that clause. The constitutional proviso is there precisely so Congress is not forced to accept politically rigged, perhaps corrupt, choices. The court’s judgment does not wipe out constitutional history. The examples of congressional autonomy and power are clear, important precedents for our history.
Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman described Burris as a man who has left few impressions, save for a 12-year stint as state comptroller and numerous electoral defeats when he sought higher office. When the Blagojevich scandal broke, Burris described the governor’s behavior as “appalling,” but after his selection to the Senate, Burris simply said that “I have no comment on what the governor’s circumstance is.” During his years in public office, no prosecutor found grounds to indict Burris, which is, Chapman drily noted, “not something Illinois voters take for granted.”
In this contest of wills—the governor’s rightful authority to appoint a senator as opposed to the Senate’s power to judge the qualification of its members—the last word simply belongs to the Senate. Will it stand by its line in the sand? If Senate Democrats hope to launch Obama’s initiatives quickly, with fewer than 60 Senate seats on the Democratic side, they may need every vote they can get and need them right away. Seating Burris would mean that the Democrats would have to endure suspicion (however ill-founded) that he was tainted with the mark of corruption. Will constitutional principle or expediency prevail? Alas, expediency is the law of life in politics.
Posted on: Monday, January 5, 2009 - 23:45
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (1-5-09)
The Israeli propaganda blitz around their attack on Gaza has been greeted with uncharacteristic skepticism by the American public and even by some of the mainstream US press. Even the Jewish American community is uneasy about this one, in a way perhaps unparalelled since the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon and siege of Beirut. Jews for Peace in Los Angeles are actively protesting the Gaza atrocities, and newspaper articles from around the US on local protests held this weekend often mention mixed Arab-American and Jewish-American rallies.
If it is true that Americans are greeting Israeli talking points with more criticism this time, is it because we have been intensively exposed for the past 8 years to precisely this sort of mental manipulation by Bush-Cheney and their stable of Neoconservatives?
Let's take some of the basic techniques of propaganda practiced by Bush and compare them to those deployed by the Israeli leadership in the past 8 days.
1. Deny it all.
Bushie Examples: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denied that there was massive looting in Iraq during April of 2003, alleging that CNN had one tape of a guy stealing a vase and kept looping it over and over again."How many vases can they have?" he asked. In mid-summer 2003, Rumsfeld denied that there was a guerrilla war in Iraq, even though Jamie McIntyre of CNN was able to quote the Pentagon definition of guerrilla war, and it fit Iraq. Rumsfeld just replied,"No."
Then there was Bush's insistence that"Brownie" had done a"heckuva job" in New Orleans after Katrina.
Kadima Examples: When French President Sarkozy requested a two-day halt in Israeli air strikes so that humanitarian aid could reach ordinary Gazans, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni replied, “there is no humanitarian crisis in the [Gaza] Strip and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.” The UN and others involved in humanitarian work in Gaza do not agree:
' the UN agency insisted it was desperate to get supplies into the enclave."The military incursion compounds the humanitarian crisis following more than a week of shelling and an 18-month long blockade of the territory," the UN humanitarian coordinatory said in a daily report. There was an"almost total blackout" across most of Gaza and land and mobile phone networks were also down because they depend on backup generators which had no fuel, the report said. All Gaza City hospitals have been without mains electricity for 48 hours and now rely on backup generators which the UN said were" close to collapse." The report said that"for the second consecutive day Israeli authorities have refused to allow an ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) emergency medical team into Gaza" to help at the main Shifa hospital. The territory has been sealed off for more than two days. . . More than 510 Palestinians have already been killed in Israel's nine day old offensive on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which on Saturday was intensified with the launch of a massive ground operation. The UN said the tank fire and air attacks were preventing medical staff reaching hospitals and ambulances could not get to injured"because of continuous fire." The World Food Programme has coordinated emergency food deliveries into Gaza in recent months but the Israeli army said there was plenty of food in Gaza warehouses and that the territory's Hamas rulers had halted distribution.'
In line with Livni's Big Lie, the Israeli army said with a straight face that the reason the World Food Program doesn't send food into Gaza is because its warehouses there are"full."
2. Pretend that your main concern is for your own victims
Bushie examples: They refused to say that they"invaded" or" conquered" Iraq, always using the word"liberation" when they spoke of their war of aggression. Bush was not invading and occupying Iraq, he was liberating the long-suffering Iraqis. Richard Perle even maintained that they would be"grateful" for being"liberated." I.e., we're doing this to you for your own good.
The Bushies renamed the Iraqi guerrilla resistance to the US"anti-Iraqi forces." They even managed to get some clueless CNN anchors to report that"anti-Iraqi forces attacked US troops in the Triangle of Death today." The implication was that the US military and its allies were the pro-Iraqi forces.
Kadima: Livni said,"But Hamas is not our problem alone; it is also a problem for all the Palestinians in the region." I.e., Israel is bombing and attacking Gaza on behalf of the Palestinians to secure their welfare.
3. Demonizing the opponent, ad hominem arguments
Bushies:"Axis of Evil" (courtesy Neocon David Frum). Bush called Saddam a"threat" even if he had no weapons!. Saddam was intrinsically dangerous, ontologically dangerous; his danger to the US could not be divorced from his very being in existence. (How silly this all is is easily demonstrated by the Reagan and first Bush administration's active alliance with . . . Saddam.)
Israeli pundit: Confronting the depths of Hamas's evil.
Hamas won the elections for the Palestine Authority in January 2006 and formed a government; yet Livni objects even to speaking of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, because Hamas, she says, is just a terrorist organization. (It has engaged in terrorist tactics, just as Livni has committed state terror on a large scale, as with dropping a million cluster bombs on civilian areas of south Lebanon; but Hamas isn't"just" a terrorist organization, or Livni's bombing of policemen and the ministry of interior in Gaza would make no sense; she thinks it was the government of Gaza, obviously. Hamas has engaged in diplomacy, has called truces, etc. It is made up of human beings, not demons.)
4. Repetition of simple slogans until they become accepted as true
Bushie examples: There are so many I don't know where to start. But the repeated innuendo that Saddam Hussein was operationally connection to the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks on the US is the big example. The assertion that Iraq had"weapons of mass destruction" (itself a propaganda phrase intended to suggest nukes) was made over and over again, and Bush, Rice, andothers constantly used"mushroom cloud" and other nuclear imagery for Iraq.
Kadima: Israeli leaders have repeated over and over again that they"had no choice" but to attack Gaza. But of course they had a choice. They had negotiated before, they could have negotiated again. Assertions that the Palestinians walked away from the 2000 Camp David negotiations, that Israel is involved in a"peace process", that the colonies in the West Bank can't be moved back to Israel, all of these are constantly repeated.
5. Use of half-truths
Bushie examples: Bush would boast that 2/3s of the al-Qaeda leadership had been killed or captured, without mentioning that many in its upper echelons, like, oh, Osama Bin Laden had not. Or he slammed the Democrats who had voted against his illegal war of aggression as"not supporting liberation."
Kadima examples: Israelis point to thousands of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel, without mentioning that no Israelis had been killed by them during the truce stretching from mid-June, 2008 until December 26. That is, the prelude to the most violent Israeli attack on Gaza since 1967 was . . . not a single Israeli death at the hands of Hamas in the preceding half-year. And in 8 years, Hamas had killed about 15 Israelis with those home made rockets, during which time the Israelis had killed nearly 5000 Palestinians, nearly 1000 of them minors. The rockets were small, handmade affairs for the most part and most landed uselessly. Some did damage to property and a few wounded or killed people. That would be a legitimate assertion. But the quotation of"thousands" of rockets is a half-truth and intentionally misleading.
Another half-truth is that Israel is involved in a"peace process" or supports Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, when in fact it has gone on stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank and making Palestinian lives miserable and colonizing them.
Then there are other techniques such as 6) appeal to fear and 7) appeal to prejudice. Apologists for the attack on Gaza depict Gazans as murderous, jihadi, homophobic, sharia-wielding fanatics, in a word, Muslims, and therefore of course their lives don't matter. Sound familiar?
Having been treated to these propaganda techniques repeatedly and continuously for 8 years, the US public can suddenly hear the similarity in the assertions of Israeli officialdom and its supporters.
Of course, the Neoconservatives had borrowed a lot of their techniques from the Jabotinsky/ Likud tradition of revisionist Zionism, so what goes around comes around.
By the way, since Tzipi Livni admitted Sunday that her government is resisting a diplomatic solution to Gaza and wants to keep the war going as long as possible, and that one impediment is"the pictures coming out of Gaza"-- i.e. of dead children and civilians and ordinary policemen, I'll just put in this link for those with a tough stomach. Not for the squeamish (and not an endorsement of the site). Here is another one; same caveats
Thanks to Lefty Coaster for the Kos Diary on yesterday's IC posting.
Posted on: Monday, January 5, 2009 - 23:19
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (1-4-09)
Why is it that most Americans pay little attention to foreign policy? For instance, over the last eight years we have seen the awful consequences of foreign policies that support dictators, supply the weapons for war crimes against the Palestinian people, launch invasions of sovereign nations under false pretenses, and earn the United States the anger, bordering on hatred, of growing numbers of people around the globe? Yet there is no real outcry among Americans except for a small, if increasingly vocal, minority.
In a recently published book, Foreign Policy Inc: Privatizing American National Interest (University Press of Kentucky, 2009) I explain why most Americans disregard foreign policy (it is due to a phenomenon I call "natural localism") and examine the consequences of this long standing popular posture.
A major consequence of this disregard is that actual policy formulation has come under the influence of well organized and financed lobby groups which do have interests in foreign affairs. This is certainly the case as regards the Middle East. Here both Jewish Zionists and Christian fundamentalist Zionists have achieved ascendent influence over policy formulation toward Israel and the Palestinian territories and much of the rest of the region as well. Likewise, a neo-conservative interest group with strong ties to Israel, achieved command positions in the Defense and State Departments under the administration George W. Bush. Relative to these lobbies, the influence of oil interests is of only secondary importance. One can argue that as a result of this situation, there is no foreign policy reflecting genuine US national interests for this important part of the world. There has been, and continues to be, only the parochial goals of special interests which present their own aims to the public as "national interests."
The public’s inattention to foreign policy has inevitably led to a deep and persisting ignorance of the consequences of US foreign policy. The mainstream mass media, whose editors and reporters are themselves often bias in their perspectives and ignorant of the "facts on the ground," has helped perpetuate a myth that American foreign policy is mainly an altruistic effort to export our domestic ideals: democracy, modernity, development, etc. The long list of dictatorships that Washington has seen fit to subsidize and arm, the coups and right wing revolutions that the CIA has been involved in (sometimes aimed against democratically elected governments), the subordination of whole economies to the interests of US business concerns, the collusion of multiple US administrations in the destruction of Palestinian people, and other dubious policies have conveniently been overlooked by most of the media. Thus, when those abroad who resist US policies do damage to American lives and property, the vast majority of American citizens have no context to understand their behavior. They are easily convinced they are terrorists who simply "hate our values."
Yet the truth of the matter is that America’s policies in the Middle East have been lobby driven for at least the last 60 years. And, unbeknownst to the general public, they helped create the historical context for the September 11, 2001 attacks. Then, the response of the Bush administration to that attack went on to made things much worse for the US. There are more than a billion Muslims in the world and a growing number of them are now seriously angry at America. There are over 300 million Arabs and many of them are willing to materially support those who stand up against the US and its ally Israel. These vast numbers represent the sea in which our country’s adversaries now swim. The US has not the manpower, the intelligence capacity, nor the staying power to fight and defeat all the various organizations that have and will arise to confront us. Keep in mind that these will not be regular armies, but will be guerrilla operations and clandestine groups who, as we have seen, are already capable of doing us great damage both in their own part of the world and here in America.
Under the circumstances, it is in the interest of all Americans that their be a thorough policy review of past and present foreign policy efforts in the Middle East. This should be done with transparency and include a national public debate on just what are our national interests in that part of the world. If oil is one of them, is it also in the national interest to use force to control that resource at its source? Is Israel really a country important to the United States, or just important to certain powerful but parochial special interests? And, what has truly been the results of Israel’s US subsidized policies toward the Palestinians? Finally, is it an offense warranting impeachment when the president lies, misleads, distorts information and then sends American troops to their deaths based on that presentation? These issues are important to all Americans. They deserve to be publically aired. Progressives should demand these subjects be taken up at all levels of government from town and county councils on up. Media outlets should be picketed with demands for open debate on foreign policy. And, most importantly, Americans should insist that the incoming Democratic administration promote the necessary public debate on national interests and foreign policy formulation. If we ignore this, and allow things to go on as they are, then we can expect nothing but continuing disaster.
Posted on: Monday, January 5, 2009 - 21:35
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (1-4-09)
I've always liked Michelle Obama. She is smart, sophisticated, accomplished and poised. Based on what we've seen so far, she'll be a terrific first lady.
But that doesn't mean we should pay her for it.
As Barack and Michelle Obama make their way to the White House, putting Ms. Obama on salary has become the latest cause du jour among Democrats of a certain age. Like millions of other women, the argument goes, Ms. Obama will have to balance her work and home duties. In her case, "work" will include hosting state dinners, giving speeches and interviews, and overseeing a paid staff. Why shouldn't she get paid, too?
The answer, ironically, lies in Barack Obama's own ancestral home. I speak of Kenya, of course, where Obama's father was born and died. So far as I know, it's also the only country that has put political wives on the public payroll. And it's a good reminder of all the bad things that can happen when you do so.
The story starts with Lucy Kibaki, who became Kenya's first lady in 2002. Shortly after that, she began to draw a salary - now estimated at nearly $100,000 per year - as compensation for her "social responsibilities."
Next came a disputed 2007 election between Kibaki's husband and Raila Odinga, triggering ethnic violence that left as many as 1,500 people dead and between 180,000 and 250,000 displaced. The two candidates eventually agreed to a power-sharing agreement, making Odinga the prime minister and Mwai Kibaki the president.
Naturally, then, Odinga's partisans demanded that his wife get paid alongside Kibaki's. Ditto for supporters of new Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, who wanted his spouse to get a salary as well.
So last September, Kenya's civil service director announced that Ida Odinga and Pauline Musyoka would receive "responsibility allowances" of about $70,000 per year. In a nation where the average salary is $1,700, the proposal generated a loud public outcry.
"The leadership of this country cannot continue to pretend that 36 million Kenyans exist to feed them and their families, and keep them in luxury," one newspaper editorialized. "This is a poor country, many of whose citizens live on the verge of starvation."
Graciously, Ms. Odinga turned down the offer of a salary. "Kenyans know I have taken care of my husband in good and bad times without help from the state, sometimes in spite of the state," Ida Odinga said. "I will continue doing that."
We still don't know what Ms. Musyoka will do. But here's what we do know: Paying political wives is a formula for resentment, suspicion and corruption. And Michelle Obama shouldn't have any part of it.
Remember, America has economic woes of its own. We're not nearly as impoverished as Kenya, of course. Amid our worst financial crisis since the 1930s, however, do we really want to put another presidential family member on the public payroll?
And don't think the Obamas have taken a vow of poverty, either. True, they'll have to forsake the $316,000 per year that Michelle earned in her last job. Living "only" on the president's $400,000 salary, however, they'll make eight times as much as the average American household. It's hard to see why they need a second income.
But perhaps other government servants do. A salary for Michelle Obama would unleash a wave of demands from members of Congress and other officials, insisting that their wives deserve public compensation as well. And who's to say they'd be wrong? A senator's spouse often must perform many of the same tasks as the first lady, after all, but on a much smaller family wage.
Last, paying the first lady would set a poor precedent for a president who wants government to be clean, predictable and accountable. Let's suppose that Michele Obama did draw a salary, and her husband decided she was doing a poor job. What could he do? Fire her? Even worse, what happens if they get divorced? Would she lose her wage, along with her title?
In 1946, Republican Congressman James Fulton proposed an annual salary of $10,000 for first lady Bess Truman. Although he was part of the "loyal opposition" to Democratic President Harry Truman, Fulton quipped, he also understood how hard the president's wife worked. Indeed, Fulton argued, the job of the first lady remained "the only case of involuntary servitude in America."
He was right, up to a point: It's an enormously challenging job, and it comes without pay. But no one forced Bess Truman - or Michelle Obama - to take it. So Congress was right, too, when it rejected Fulton's proposal. We would be wise to do the same.
Posted on: Monday, January 5, 2009 - 18:13
SOURCE: Sandbox, a blog run by Martin Kramer (1-4-09)
In the fog of war, it isn't just the truth that falls casualty. So does common sense. Quite a few pundits seem to think that Israel lacks a strategy in Gaza. But unlike the Lebanon war of 2006, this war has been planned in advance, and every stage has been war-gamed. Here is my read of Israel's strategic plan, which lies behind "Operation Cast Lead."
Israel's long-term strategic goal is the elimination of Hamas control of Gaza. This is especially the goal of the Kadima and Labor parties, which are distinguished by their commitment to a negotiated final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas. The Hamas takeover in Gaza reduced Abbas to a provincial governor, who no longer represents effective authority in all the areas destined for a future Palestinian state. Hamas rule in Gaza is a bone in the throat of the "peace process"—one Israel is determined to remove.
Struggle over Sanctions. But how? After the Hamas takeover in June 2007, Israel imposed a regime of economic sanctions on Gaza, by constricting the flow of goods and materials into Gaza via its crossings to Israel. The idea was gradually to undermine the popularity of Hamas in Gaza, while at the same time bolstering Abbas. Israel enjoyed considerable success in this approach. While the diplomatic "peace process" with Abbas didn't move very far, the West Bank enjoyed an economic boomlet, as Israel removed checkpoints and facilitated the movement of capital, goods, workers, and foreign tourists. So while Gaza languished under sanctions, with zero growth, the West Bank visibly prospered—reinforcing the message that "Islamic resistance" is a dead end.
Hamas in power, from the outset, sought to break out of what it has called the Israeli "siege" by firing rockets into Israel. Its quid pro quo was an end to Hamas rocket fire in exchange for a lifting of the Israeli "siege." When Israel and Hamas reached an agreement for "calm" last June, Hamas hoped the sanctions would be lifted as well, and Israel did increase the flow through the crossing points, by about 50 percent. Fuel supplies were restored to previous levels. But Hamas was fully aware that sanctions were slowly eroding its base and contradicting its narrative that “resistance” pays. This is why it refused to renew the "calm" agreement after its six-month expiration, and renewed rocket fire.
Were Israel to lift the economic sanctions, it would transform Hamas control of Gaza into a permanent fact, solidify the division of the West Bank and Gaza, and undermine both Israel and Abbas by showing that violent "resistance" to Israel produces better results than peaceful compromise and cooperation. Rewarding "resistance" just produces more of it. So Israel's war aim is very straightforward, and it is not simply a total cease-fire. At the very least, it is a total cease-fire that also leaves the sanctions against Hamas in place. This would place Israel in an advantageous position to bring about the collapse of Hamas rule sometime in the future—its long-term objective.
Cease-Fire on Israel's Terms. The Israeli operation is meant to impress on Hamas that there is something far worse than the sanctions—that Israel is capable of hunting Hamas on air, sea, and land, at tremendous cost to Hamas and minimal cost to Israel, while much of the world stands by, and parts of it (including some Arabs) quietly applaud. Israel's aim is not to bring down Hamas at this stage, but to compel it to accept a cease-fire on Israel's terms—terms that leave the sanctions in place.
Many Western and Arab governments see the logic of this. They would like to see Abbas and the Palestinian Authority back in authority over Gaza, thus restoring credibility to the "peace process." Because they wish to see Hamas contained if not diminished, they have moved slowly or not at all to respond to calls for action to stop the fighting. The question now is how Israel turns its military moves into political moves that achieve the shared objectives of this coalition of convenience.
A hint of the solution Israel envisions comes from a senior Israeli diplomatic source: "Israel cannot agree that the only party responsible for implementing and regulating the cease-fire be Hamas." Israel's objective is to put another player on the ground in Gaza, which over time would be positioned to undermine Hamas. And since the objective is gradually restoring Gaza to control by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, it seems logical to assume that this mechanism will be designed to enforce Hamas submission to that authority. Hamas would swallow the pill in the name of "national unity," but it would become beholden to the PA.
It is the PA, for example, which could be reinserted at the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah (as already demanded by Egypt). It is the PA that could be given exclusive control of reconstruction budgets to repair damaged and destroyed ministries, mosques, and homes. (In the eventual reconstruction boom, Israel will hold all the cards: Gaza has no construction materials, and gravel, aggregate, and cement must be trucked in from Israel.) The premise is that if economic sanctions are to be lifted—and post-war Gaza will be desperately in need of all material things—it must only be through the agency of the PA. Finally, PA security forces could be reintroduced in a police capacity, as part of the "national" reconciliation. An envelope for this restoration of the PA could be provided by the international community.
It isn't impossible that Israel would go beyond its declared aims and bring Hamas down if Hamas appeared sufficiently damaged by initial ground operations. If Israeli forces are positioned to do this, and Hamas begins to unravel, the impetus to finish the job would be strong. This could make for a much quicker handoff to the PA, via some internationalized body. Israeli disavowals of interest in this outcome, at this time, should be taken with a grain of salt. Israel won't miss an opportunity if it presents itself.
Possible Complications. What could go wrong with this scenario? A lot. Hamas assumes (probably correctly) that its Palestinian opponents fed Israel with much of the intelligence it needed to wage precision warfare against Hamas. There is likely to be a vicious settling of scores as soon as a cease-fire is in place, if not before, and which could approximate a civil war. This could open space for small groups like Islamic Jihad and other gangs, which could shoot off rockets at their own initiative (or that of Iran). If something can go wrong in Gaza, there is a good chance it will. Much of the aftermath will have to be improvised, and much will depend on how thoroughly Israel has degraded the capabilities of Hamas.
If Hamas remains a player, the biggest risk to Israel is that the mechanism created through diplomacy to "implement and regulate" ends up legitimating Hamas. The temptation to "engage" Hamas has grown in Europe, and even among some Americans, ever since the Hamas victory in the 2006 legislative council elections. As diplomats work to put together a cease-fire mechanism, Hamas will work hard to tempt governments to talk to it, persuading them to skirt the Quartet's insistence that Hamas not be "engaged" until it accepts past PA-Israel agreements, recognizes Israel, and renounces armed struggle.
Legitimation of Hamas could seal the fate of the "peace process," and give "resistance" the reputation of a truly winning strategy. The United States will have to assure that all contact with Hamas runs exclusively through the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Turks, and above all, the PA. Europe and the United States must stay well out of the diplomatic reach of Hamas, until it meets the Quartet conditions—a highly improbable prospect.
Politics Will Return. As with any multi-stage plan, Israel's appears clearer at the outset and fuzzier in the later stages, where consensus dissipates. In particular, the opposition Likud has less confidence in Abbas and the "peace process" as presently configured. While it is adamant about ending Hamas rule in Gaza, it would be much less concerned with restoring the unity of the Palestinians. As Israel achieves its military aims, underlying political differences, now suppressed, are bound to surface, especially as elections are only a month away.
But for now, Israel is united in pursuing its war of demolition against Hamas. Its aim is not only to stop the rockets from falling in southern Israel, but to move a long stride forward toward a change of regime in Gaza.
Posted on: Monday, January 5, 2009 - 18:05
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (1-4-09)
With regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, we have entered the age of micro-wars.
The first wars that Israel fought with its Arab neighbors were conventional struggles in which infantry, artillery, armor and air forces played central roles.
Israel's enemies had few effective tools in the 1950s and 1960s. Abdel Nasser encouraged Palestinian resistance from Gaza in 1955, but it was more harassment than a serious military operation. The Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian conventional armies were what Israel's leaders worried about. Jordan was no match for the Israelis and it had a history of secret agreements with the Zionist leaders, so its military was only a threat when, as in 1967, other Arab leaders convinced the Jordanian leadership to join in a collective effort.
Israel's policies were not merely defensive, contrary to the propaganda one constantly hears from New York. Moshe Sharrett's diaries demonstrate conclusively the expansionist character of the regime. Israel's leaders badly wanted the Sinai Peninsula and therefore a commanding position over the trade of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal in the 1950s and 1960s. There was also some petroleum there. Israel used superiority in armor and air power in 1956 to take the Sinai, in conjunction with an orchestrated Anglo-French attack on Egypt's position in the Suez Canal (which Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized that summer). President Dwight D. Eisenhower, afraid that vestiges of Old World colonial thinking would push the Arabs into the arms of the Soviets, made Israel relinquish its prize. But hawks in Israel took the Sinai from Egypt again in the 1967 war, in which Israel again demonstrated that armor plus air superiority always defeats armor that lacks air cover (Israel managed to destroy the Egyptian air force early in the war).
Egypt could not accept loss of its sovereign territory. As the largest Arab state, with a third of the Arab population, and a developing economic, technological and military capability, Egypt could not be dismissed. Its leader from 1970, Anwar El Sadat, found a way of striking back. Egypt launched the 1973 war as a surprise attack, and used sophisticated underwater sand-moving equipment to get across the canal and penetrate into the Sinai. By this time Egypt had Soviet SA-6 surface-to-air missiles that served as anti-aircraft batteries and was careful to keep its tanks under their umbrella. Had Egypt had a better air force, Egyptian armor could have rolled right into Israel proper in October of 1973. The Israeli cabinet is said to have feared it was the fall of the Third Kingdom. But even in the absence of a proper air force, the Soviet SAMs were a game-changer. I would argue that they were the difference between the crushing defeat of Egypt in 1967 and the draw-to-slight victory Cairo won in 1973.
The writing was on the wall. Israel could not have the Sinai. Egypt was too big and too increasingly powerful an enemy to continue to provoke it. 1973 settled that. The Egyptian public was tired of war and its expense, and so both sides were willing to conclude the Camp David Peace Treaty of 1978. Egypt got the Sinai back permanently. Israel escaped the most serious military threat in the region.
Israel's political tradition seeks expansion if possible; if not possible, it seeks a balance of power with its enemies. If that is not possible, it seeks to be held harmless from its avowed foes. If that is not possible, it is willing to wage total war to punish the enemy population until it accepts at least a cold peace. (I mean by"total war" war on the civilian population in which the guerrilla group is embedded, as for instance dropping a million cluster bombs on the farms of south Lebanon in 2006 or half-starving Gazan children in 2007-2008, methods illegal in international law but routinely deployed by Israeli leaders and defended by most Zionists everywhere.) Where necessary, Israel is willing to give up territorial expansion to get the cold peace.
The 1982 Lebanon War was a hybrid. Israel deployed a conventional army against the Palestine Liberation Organization and Lebanon. The PLO fought an unconventional struggle in Beirut, and reached out diplomatically to the US, France and Italy to achieve a negotiated outcome rather than an outright defeat. The PLO had to leave Beirut. But Israel's victory was pyrrhic. 1. The Lebanon War was highly unpopular at home and abroad because it seemed unprovoked. 2. The PLO was not destroyed. 3. Israel's old expansionist tendencies kicked in and it was unwilling to relinquish South Lebanon, such that it began occupying yet another Arab country. 4. Israel's occupation helped create the Shiite resistance we now call Hizbullah, which evolved into a highly effective unconventional military force.
Jordan's government was neutralized in the early 1990s with a peace treaty, just as Egypt's had earlier been with Camp David. The PLO also engaged in the peace process off and on, and with the death of Arafat the old guerrilla PLO seemed to end, as Fatah became a political party.
That development left Israel with three main regional enemies: Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. Hizbullah in turn gradually attracted Iranian patronage. In the case of the Levantine players, the main issue was Israeli occupation of their land-- south Lebanon and the Shebaa Farms for Hizbullah, the Golan Heights for Syria, and Gaza and the West Bank (the most vigorously colonized of the Occupied Territories) for Hamas.
The Arab-Israeli wars of the opening years of the 21st century have not been conventional wars. They have been micro-wars. Israel had demonstrated in the earlier Arab-Israeli wars that it could generally win a conventional struggle.
The new repertoires of struggle against Israel had four dimensions.
All four dimenstions played a part in Hizbullah's success in forcing Israel to end its occupation of south Lebanon in 2000. That forced withdrawal was micro-war's first big success, and a more decisive victory than Egypt gained with conventional arms in 1973. Israel had to give up its claim on a slice of Arab territory without receiving any guarantees of peace or any advantage whatsoever.
All four dimensions were also at play in the summer, 2006 Israeli-Lebanese War. Hizbullah deployed its rockets so effectively that one fourth of Israelis were forced to flee their homes temporarily. Although the earlier Arab-Israeli wars did sometimes send Israelis to bomb shelters, I don't believe that as much of a fourth of the population was ever made to flee their own dwellings before. Hizbullah benefited from the loyalty to it of villagers and townspeople it had helped with clinics and other social services. Hizbullah was able to penetrate Merkava tanks and even hit an Israeli ship at sea. With Iranian and Syrian help, they had cracked Israeli codes and could listen in on their enemy's military communications. The Israelis had no idea where their caves and tunnels were. Israel lost the war with Hizbullah in the sense that the latter proved resilient. Only by ratcheting the struggle up to a total war, in which Israel hit Lebanese infrastructure in general and killed over 1000 Lebanese, many of them not Hizbullah or even Shiites, was it able to convince the other Lebanese and the UN/Europeans to intervene to restrain Hizbullah. The Israeli attempt to permanently ethnically cleanse the Shiites from Lebanon's deep south near the Israeli border by the use of cluster bombs failed. The ensuing de facto truce allowed Hizbullah to re-arm with rockets and to gain legitimacy as part of the Lebanese cabinet, but the European border patrols under the banner of UNIFIL (UN peacekeepers) have forestalled further micro-warfare against Israel for the moment.
Even as the northern front quietened from fall of 2006, despite Israel having achieved few of its war goals, a new microwar broke out in Gaza.
In the 1980s, when the secular, left-leaning Palestine Liberation Organization predominated as the Palestinian political force, Israeli intelligence funneled some aid to Hamas (descended from the Gaza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood), a fundamentalist group, in hopes of dividing and ruling the Palestinians. That part of the plan worked, but Israeli intelligence created a monster, since as Hamas grew in strength and popularity, it grew increasing vocal about its rejection of Israel and its ambition to see the state dismantled, allowing the emergence of a fundamentalist Muslim Palestinian state where Israel now stands.
The current Israeli military effort to substantially weaken Hamas in Gaza follows on the contradictions in Kadima Party policy. In 2005 Kadima, led by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Gaza Strip, which Israel had occupied in 1967. But since Kadima refused to negotiate with Hamas, Israel was unable to shape the political structures of its former colony, leaving the outcome to chance. It was not a stable place By 2005 Gaza had a population of 1.5 million. Although it was a relatively nice little Mediterranean region before the rise of modern nation states, its traditional markets were Egypt and Jordan, and after 1967 its only outlet was Israel, which already produced much the same things as Gaza did. So Gaza had become trapped economically.
Hamas became popular in Gaza in part because of services and in part because of its rejectionism vis-a-vis Israel, and it won the January, 2006, elections for the Palestinian Authority. Because of its rejectionist ideology and its willing to deploy terrorism and micro-war against Israel, Israel and the United States boycotted the PA under Hamas and strove to undo the results of the election.
Here is Aljazeera's timeline for what happened next:
' June 25, 2006: Palestinian fighters conduct an operation in Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers capturing another, Corporal Gilad Shalit.
June 28, 2006: Israel launches Operation Summer Rains in what it says is an attempt to recover the captured soldier. Israel launches air strikes against of bridges, roads, and the only power station in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians are killed during aerial and ground attacks over the following months.
June 29, 2006: Israel captures 64 Hamas officials, including eight Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers and up to twenty members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
September 8:, 2006 UN officials say Gaza is at"breaking point" after months of economic sanctions and Israeli attacks.'
By summer of 2007, the Israelis and the US had managed to sponsor a coup in which the secular Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, took back over the West Bank, and Hamas was confined to Gaza. Hamas pursued the tactic of sending small home-made missiles against nearby Israeli towns, mainly Sderot, emulating what Hizbullah had been doing to the Israeli colony in the occupied Shebaa Farms in 2005-2006. Israel responded primarily by squeezing the Gaza public, denying it enough food, fuel, electricity and services to function healthily, in hopes that it could be made to turn against Hamas. This punishment of the civilian population (half of which consists of children and some large proportion of which does not anyway support Hamas) is illegal in international law, and failed in its purpose. Hamas became ever more entrenched.
Israel's current attack on Gaza is aimed at forestalling an ever more successful microwar waged by Hamas. Its rockets were inaccurate and most seem to have fallen uselessly in the desert. But they did do some property damage and killed 15 Israelis over 8 years, and they also inflicted psychological blows on the fragile Israeli psyche. The Israeli leadership saw a danger that Hamas would become ever better entrenched, organically, in Gaza society and gain all the advantages such a social penetration offers, and that monetary aid from Iran and explosives smuggling through tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai would allow them eventually to wage a truly effective micro-war.
The Israeli leadership knew that it could not reply to Hamas's microwar without engaging in total war on the Gaza population, and that this step would be unpopular with the world's publics. But the Israeli leadership has successfully thumbed its nose at world public opinion so often and so successfully that this sort of consideration does not even enter into their practical calculations (except to the extent that they are careful to do a lot of propaganda for their war effort). Their estimation that they will suffer no practical bad consequences of attacks on civilians is certainly correct in the short to medium term.
The Israel lobbies are wealthy and powerful, and the US congress depends heavily on them for campaign funding. If the US legislators voted on the Gaza operation, they would support Israel except for the same 10 who objected to the war on Lebanon (the 10 are mostly from congressional districts with a lot of Arab-Americans). Israel will suffer no practical sanctions from any government. Egypt and Jordan are afraid of Hamas and are more or less handmaidens of Israeli policy toward Gaza. Syria and Lebanon are weak. Iran, for all the hype it generates, is distant and relatively helpless to intervene. European governments have largely ceded the Palestinian-Israeli issue to the US and Israel. Gordon Brown is publicly calling for a ceasefire while secretly supporting Bush's attempts to stop any such thing at the UN.
The main immediate problem for the Israelis is that simply preventing Hamas from waging an ever more sophisticated microwar is an extremely short-term and technical objective. It may or may not be achievable by the methods of the current war, which appear so far to be conventional methods. Its outcome is not very material to a settlement of the larger issues.
The big long-term problem Israel has is that its assiduous colonization of the West Bank has made a two-state solution almost impossible, turning it into an Apartheid state. And if you go on practicing Apartheid long enough, that begins to attact boycotts and sanctions. And forestalling a Palestinian state means that likely the Palestinians will all end up Israeli citizens.
I was on the radio recently with John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, and he expressed the hope that Egypt would take back Gaza and Jordan what is left of the West Bank. You may as well dream of pink unicorns on Venus. It isn't going to happen. The Palestinians are Israel's problem. War on them, circumscribe them, colonize them all you like. They aren't going anywhere, and you can't keep them stateless and virtually enslaved forever, occasionally exterminating some of them as though they were vermin when they make too much trouble. That, sooner or later, will lead to boycotts by rising economic powers and by Europe that could be extremely damaging to Israel's long-term prospects as a state.
It may still be 10 or 20 years in the future. But because of Israel's economic and demographic vulnerabilities, for it to lose the war of global public opinion may ultimately be more consequential than either macro-war or micro-war.
Posted on: Monday, January 5, 2009 - 17:50
SOURCE: WSJ (1-1-09)
... Caroline Kennedy knows that any Kennedy desiring higher office in the Democratic Party must now carry the torch of abortion rights throughout any race. But this was not always the case. Despite Ms. Kennedy's description of Barack Obama, in a New York Times op-ed, as a "man like my father," there is no evidence that JFK was pro-choice like Mr. Obama. Abortion-rights issues were in the fledgling stage at the state level in New York and California in the early 1960s. They were not a national concern.
Even Ted Kennedy, who gets a 100% pro-choice rating from the abortion-rights group Naral, was at one time pro-life. In fact, in 1971, a full year after New York had legalized abortion, the Massachusetts senator was still championing the rights of the unborn. In a letter to a constituent dated Aug. 3, 1971, he wrote: "When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."
But that all changed in the early '70s, when Democratic politicians first figured out that the powerful abortion lobby could fill their campaign coffers (and attract new liberal voters). Politicians also began to realize that, despite the Catholic Church's teachings to the contrary, its bishops and priests had ended their public role of responding negatively to those who promoted a pro-choice agenda.
In some cases, church leaders actually started providing "cover" for Catholic pro-choice politicians who wanted to vote in favor of abortion rights. At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a "clear conscience."
The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book "The Birth of Bioethics" (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.
Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that "distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue." It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians "might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order."...
Posted on: Saturday, January 3, 2009 - 01:30
SOURCE: AlterNet (1-2-09)
Trying to understand the psychology of a people at war is a lot like trying to find the bodies buried under a bombed-out building.
For more than 40 years, I've been watching my own Jewish people in wartime, repeating the same self-defeating pattern over and over. Most Jews say that they want Israel to be more secure, and they really mean it. Yet they support and vote for leaders who perpetuate the conflicts that make Israel less secure.
I've been digging for decades through the endless pieces of that paradox, trying to get to the bottom of it. Here's what I see now as the bottom layer (though there may be layers further down that I haven't reached yet): The root of the problem lies in the Jews' relationship to the non-Jewish world and, even more, in the way Jews understand that relationship.
Jews have a long, checkered history of relations with their gentile neighbors. Sometimes, in centuries past, they got along very well; Jews felt fully a part of a larger multiethnic community. But most of the Jews who came to Palestine to populate a Jewish state never had that connected feeling. They experienced the human world the way minority groups so often do: There's us, and then there's everybody else; there's a wall separating us from everybody else. So they could never see themselves as part of a larger Middle Eastern community, a web of interactions where each group influenced all the others.
All they could feel was a great disconnect. Before 1948, they saw themselves as a community separated by all sorts of invisible walls from the Arabs around them. After 1948, they had geographical borders that functioned as visible separators, much like the ghetto walls of old. Although Zionism began as an effort to make the Jews a "normal nation," it ended up creating the world's largest Jewish ghetto.
For many Jews, the sense of disconnection was rooted in real history. Some had ancestors who had been separated from gentiles physically by a ghetto wall. Many had ancestors who felt separated by invisible walls of law and social custom, which seemed just as thick and high.
Still others, though, came from relatively well-assimilated communities. They learned to feel separated from the non-Jewish world, for reasons of all sorts. And since the Six-Day War of 1967, many Jews in the United States and around the world, who grew up in very well-assimilated settings, have learned a similar attitude. For them, Israel is the symbol of a gulf that they imagine has always existed, and must always exist, between Jews and gentiles.
That's why many Israeli Jews, and Jews everywhere who sympathize with them, have a hard time recognizing what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us: Whoever we are, whomever we live with, all the members of a community are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. That's not a moral platitude. It's a poetic way of stating a commonsense observation of fact: Whatever we do is bound to affect others in our community, just as what they do affects us; we are all responding to each other all the time....
Posted on: Saturday, January 3, 2009 - 00:34
SOURCE: Pajamasmedia.com (1-2-09)
Gaza as Monte Carlo, perhaps Hong Kong, or is it to be Switzerland of the Mediterranean?
Gaza is a sort of lab experiment in the Middle East. Recall for a minute: the Israelis withdrew en masse, a so-called “retreat” that reverberated all over the Middle East. The West supported free and open elections that gave Hamas their legitimacy, such as it was. Gaza is strategically placed on the Mediterranean with a prime shoreline. It borders Egypt the traditional center of the Arab world. Hundreds of millions of dollars of Middle-East oil money, and Western relief donations have poured into the tiny state. Israeli clearly wants no more of it, and would love to let Gaza alone to be Dubai.
Hamas with its serial rocket attacks on Israel interprets all of the above not as an opportunity for prosperity, but as a stage one for the great accomplishment of its generation — the absolute destruction of the Jewish state. Its agenda is clear and unambiguous, and apparently shared by millions of elites in the West itself, without whose support Hamas could not exist. The common theme of Western press coverage is the misery of Gaza, never the misery of Gaza as a product of the garrison-state mentality of Hamas’s radical Islamic vows to wage perennial war against Israel.
Hamas counts on the fact that its own losses will be characterized as a “holocaust” and appear comparable in the Western media to something like Darfur or the slaughtering in Zimbabwe, or the usual carnage that we wake up to on the news. Take away Western press attention from Gaza, and Hamas is just another violent, illiberal regime that impoverishes its own people while seeking victim status in the West.
Is that too harsh? I don’t think so. Again, if it were to call a one-year truce with Israel, seek normal relations with Egypt, and swear off Iranian-Hezbollah terrorist aid while it sought to rebuild infrastructure, ensure security, and recruit foreign capital, then there would be no more world attention, and its cadres of hooded youth would lack the pizzazz of “militants.”
Posted on: Saturday, January 3, 2009 - 00:28
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (1-1-09)
I see significant positive stories in the Muslim world in 2008 that don't get a lot of press in the US, but which will be important for the incoming Obama administration.
1. The Pakistani public, led by its attorneys, judges and civilian politicians, conducted a peaceful, constitutional overthrow of the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf in 2008.
Last February, the Pakistani public gave the largest number of seats in parliament to the left of center, secular Pakistan People's Party. The fundamentalist religious parties took a bath at the polls. In August, the elected parliament initiated impeachment proceedings against Musharraf, who resigned. A civilian president, Asaf Ali Zardari, was elected. George W. Bush is reported to have been the last man in Washington to relinquish support for Musharraf, who had rampaged around sacking supreme court justices, censoring the press, and imprisoning political enemies on a whim. Pakistan faces an insurgency in the northwestern tribal areas, and problems of terrorism rooted in past military training of guerrillas to fight India in Kashmir. But the civilian parties have a much better chance of curbing such military excesses than does a leader dependent solely on the military for support. True, the new political leadership is widely viewed as corrupt, but South Korean politics was corrupt and that country nevertheless made progress. Besides, after Madoff/Blagojevich, who are we to talk? The triumph of parliamentary democracy over military dictatorship in Pakistan during the past year is good news that Washington-centered US media seldom could appreciate because of Bush's narrative about military dictatorship equalling stability and a reliable ally in the war on terror. In reality? Not so much.
2. The Iraqi government succeeded in imposing on the Bush administration a military withdrawal from Iraq by 2011. The hard negotiations showed a new confidence on the part of the Iraqi political class that they can stand on their own feet militarily. The relative success of PM Nuri al-Maliki's Basra campaign last spring was part of the mix here. But so too was the absolute insistence by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani that any Status of Forces Agreement not infringe on Iraqi sovereignty. The Sadr Movement resorted to street politics, aiming to thwart any agreement at all, thus providing cover to al-Maliki as he pushed back against Bush's imperial demands. The Iraqi success in getting a withdrawal agreement has paved the way for President-elect Obama to fulfill his pledge to withdraw from Iraq on a short timetable.
3. Syria has secretly been conducting peace negotiations with Israel, using the Turkish Prime Minister Rejep Tayyip Erdogan as the intermediary. There are few more fraught relationships between countries in the world than the Israel-Syrian divide, but obviously Bashar al-Asad and Ehud Olmert felt that there were things they could fruitfully talk about. Ironically, the clueless George W. Bush went to Israel last spring and condemned talking to the enemy as a form of appeasement. While he got polite applause, the Israeli mainstream is far more realistic than the silly Neocons who write Bush's speeches, and Olmert went on talking to al-Asad. Unfortunately, the Israeli attack on Gaza has caused Syria to call off the talks for now. It should be a high priority of the Obama administration to start them back up.
4. There has been a"near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.""Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" conducted numerous bombings and shootings in the period 2003-2006, during which the Saudi authorities got serious about taking it on. Saudi Arabia produces on the order of 11 percent of the world's petroleum, and instability there threatens the whole world. The dramatic subsiding of terrorism there in 2008 is good news for every one. Opinion polls show support for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia plummeting, and determination to fight terrorism is overwhelming. In polling, a solid majority of Saudis say they want better relations with the United States. Yes. The Wahhabis are saying that. And their number one prerequisite for better relations? A US withdrawal from Iraq. (See above).
5. The crisis of state in Lebanon was patched up late last spring by the Doha agreement. Qatar's King Hamad Al-Thani showed himself a canny negotiator. Hizbullah came into the government and received support as a national guard for the south as long as it pledged not to drag the country into any more wars unilaterally. Lebanese politics is always fragile, but this is the best things have been for years. Lebanese economic conservatism allowed its banks and real estate to avoid the global crash, and hotel occupancy rates are up 25% over 2007, with a 2008 economic growth rate of 6%. The new president, Michel Suleiman, has also pursued responsible diplomacy with Syria, and the two countries are normalizing relations after years of bitterness. For all the potential dangers ahead, 2008 was a success story of major proportions in Lebanon.
6. [pdf] Indonesia's transition to democracy that began in 1998 has been 'consolidated' and it has regained its economic health, paying back $43 billion in loans to the International Monetary Fund. Indonesia is the world fourth most populous country and the world's largest Muslim country, comprising something like 16 percent or more of all Muslims. It faces many challenges, as do all young democracies, but when 245 million Muslims have kept democracy going for 10 years, the thesis that Islam is somehow incompatible with democracy is clearly fallacious.
7. Turkey avoided a major constitutional crisis in 2008 when the constitutional court declined to find the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) guilty of undermining the official ideology of secularism. AKP is mildly Muslim in orientation, in contrast to the militantly secular military. The verdict gave Turks an opportunity to work on bridging the secular-religious divide. Turkey, a country of 70 million the size of Texas, is a linchpin of stability in the Middle East, and it survived a crisis here.
8. Major Arab pop singers jointly performed an anti-war opera that called for co-existence among the region's Christians, Muslims and Jews and an end to the senseless slaughter. It ran on 15 Arab satellite channels,and one satellite channel ran it nonstop for days. It was the Woodstock of this generation in the Arab world and it got no international press at all.
9. King Abdullah II of Jordan pledged an end to press censorship in Jordan. Tim Sebastian reports,
'The man at the center of this event was King Abdullah of Jordan, who last month gathered together the chief editors of Jordan's main newspapers and told them that from now on there would be big changes in the country's media environment. Specifically, no more jailing of reporters for writing the wrong thing and a new mechanism would be created to protect the rights of journalists, including their access to information."Detention of journalists is prohibited," he said."I do not see a reason for detaining a journalist because he/she wrote something or for expressing a view."'
It is legitimate to take all this with a grain of salt, to be skeptical, to wait and see. But Sebastian is right that if the king means it, it is big news for Jordan and the Middle East, and the court in Amman should be pressured to stand by the new procedures.
10. The United Arab Emirates is creating the first carbon-free city,"Masdar," as a demonstration project. That the Oil Gulf, a major source of the fossil fuels that, when burned, are causing climate change and rising sea levels, has become concerned about these problems, it is a very good sign.
Posted on: Thursday, January 1, 2009 - 13:29