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: Britannica Blog (2-5-09)
You can stop the watch: the time from his inauguration to President Obama’s first mea culpa clocked in at exactly two weeks.
He did not leave anything to chance, taking responsibility on the evening news with all the major network news anchors, and doing so repeatedly.
Of course, President Obama’s decision to personally accept responsibility for making mistakes in the appointment of the tax delinquency-plagued Tom Daschle to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as Nancy Killefer’s appointment to serve as Chief Performance Officer at the OMB, comes considerably more quickly than President Bush 43’s first admission of culpable error. We’re still waiting on that one (8 years, 2 weeks, and counting), but we will be sure to tell Linda Grabel about it when it happens. She was the woman who asked the most telling question at the Second Presidential Debate in 2004:
“President Bush, during the last four years, you have made thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it.”
President Bush 43 danced all around that, coming up well short of one instance, and not even pretending to count off three. He pontificated on the difference between tactics and strategy, defended his tax cuts, and closed with the beautiful, little nugget of evasion – “Now, you asked what mistakes. I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I’m not going to name them. I don’t want to hurt their feelings on national TV. But history will look back, and I’m fully prepared to accept any mistakes that history judges to my administration, because the president makes the decisions, the president has to take the responsibility.”
President Obama has apparently decided that it is best to take responsibility for his decisions in present time, and he used those words – “it is my responsibility” – repeatedly in his interviews that aired this evening.
What exactly he is responsible for may be less clear:
Was he taking responsibility for appointing Daschle (and Killefer, and maybe even Geithner, who is now confirmed) without proper due diligence? Was he taking responsibility for failing to realize the gravity of the problem when he said, only yesterday, that he was “absolutely” standing by the Daschle nomination? Is he taking responsibility for some deeper error in judgment, perhaps failing to appreciate that he could not build a different type of administration from the same people who served in the old type of administrations? Was this a signal that he will look for a different type of appointee now and not just that he plans to hire more forensic accountants to work on the background checks?
We will have to wait to see just what President Obama’s forthright admission means going forward, but it is clear that he plans to avoid both Bush 43 obduracy and the Clintonian passive voice (“mistakes were made”).
He assured the American people that he planned to learn from mistakes and that he did not plan to repeat them. Even though we don’t yet know just how he will proceed differently, a great deal hinges on just how this early, almost preemptive, apology plays.
If President Obama is able to use the Daschle appointment as a cautionary lesson in the difficulties associated with changing the way that we do business in Washington and if he finds a candidate who proves both up to standards of moral probity and the considerable legislative challenges of steering health care reform through Congress, future presidents may huddle with their advisors to pick just when and how to issue that critical first apology: “You have to show the people that you know, even as president, that you are human being. We need to be clear – you screwed up, and you are willing to admit it. This has to be credible!”
If not, well, knowing mistakes were made may be the only first step that we ever see for dealing with problems.
Posted on: Thursday, February 5, 2009 - 19:00
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (2-5-09)
Hey, look out for the Big Bad Federal Government! It's coming soon, to build a school near you.
That's what Republicans are saying about President Obama's stimulus plan, which includes $20 billion for school building and renovation.
Throughout American history, the story goes, school construction has been a local or state concern. But under Mr. Obama's plan, the federal government would stick its nose where it doesn't belong.
Listen to Rep. Howard P. McKeon (R) of California and the ranking member of the House education committee: "By putting the federal government in the business of building schools, Democrats may be irrevocably changing the federal government's role in education in this country." There's only one problem with this claim: It's not true.
During our last great economic crisis, in the 1930s, the federal government spent heavily on school construction. And it happened under – you guessed it – a Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal devoted more than $1 billion to build and repair schools.
Even more, the GOP objection ignores the truly unprecedented expansion of federal authority that occurred under the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). And that measure was signed into law by a Republican president, George W. Bush.
You want federal intrusion? Then NCLB is for you. It requires states to test all students in Grades 3-8 in reading and math. States must certify that all schools are making "adequate yearly progress," providing assistance and then sanctions for schools that fail. Schools must hire "highly qualified teachers" in all core academic subjects.
And they must employ "scientifically-based" teaching strategies in the classroom.
Finally, NCLB also mandates that all students – that is, every student in America – attain "proficiency" in reading and math by 2014. So in five short years, No Child Left Behind won't simply be a slogan. It will be the law.
All of this comes courtesy of the same Republican Party that still venerates Ronald Reagan, who didn't think the federal government had any business in public schools at all. Indeed, Reagan ran in 1980 on a platform of abolishing the then-new federal Department of Education.
And it's the same party that has frequently sneered at the "Old Europe," as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld called it, insisting that America retained a different culture, history, and purpose from democracies across the Atlantic. Yet NCLB has moved us ever closer to European models of education, which are much more centralized than the United States.
But ours is a strange kind of centralization, requiring the same results without providing the same resources. Washington never fully funded NCLB, leaving states and localities to pick up the difference.
If you don't reach your proficiency targets, the theory goes, just try harder.
And NCLB takes a surprisingly narrow view of "proficiency" itself, measuring it by standardized tests alone. As any teacher could tell you, such tests frequently fail to capture the real achievement – and the real deficiencies – of flesh-and-blood children. But when it comes to assessment, it's Washington's way or the highway.
That's not the American way. Of course the federal government should help poorer school districts, which are asked to do more with less. And of course it should insist that schools assess their students, in a wide variety of ways, so we can figure out what they need.
Beyond that, though, it's best for the feds to butt out. As Republicans correctly assert, American public education has always been primarily a state and local affair. And so it will remain, even in the NCLB era. The trick is to find ways for the federal government to aid schools without overwhelming them.
And that brings us back to school construction. In 1999, a US Department of Education study found that 75 percent of American schools were in various stages of "disrepair" – and that it would take $127 billion to get them out of it. But the Bush administration limited construction assistance to so-called Impact Aid buildings, that is, schools whose budgets were significantly affected by actions of the federal government. The vast majority of schools got nothing, at least not for building or repair.
So let's get this straight. The federal government can require states to penalize or even close schools that fail to show progress on standardized tests.
But federal aid to school construction? Too intrusive, some Republicans say.
That doesn't make any sense. And it contradicts Franklin Roosevelt, who recognized school construction as an ideal venue for federal intervention.
Let states and localities decide how to educate kids, Roosevelt said, and let the federal government help them do it. Seventy years later, it's a formula we could all stand to learn.
Posted on: Thursday, February 5, 2009 - 18:56
SOURCE: Deborah Lipstadt blog (2-5-09)
There are two in depth analyses of the Vatican situation, one in the New York Times, which discusses how the reinstatement of the SSPX by the Vatican exposes deep divisions within the Vatican.
In addition Sandro Magister, a correspondent for the weekly magazine L’Espresso and one of Italy’s most highly respected Vatican experts, offered extensive background on this"tempest" which he describes a double disaster of “governance and communication” within the church.
I follow with excerpts from both articles.
The New York Times observed that while Pope Benedict has faced challenges before
the internal controversy created by Bishop Williamson’s rehabilitation is unlike anything the Vatican has faced in recent decades.It also observed that Wednesday’s unsigned statement calling on Williamson to reject his Holocaust denial
publicly seemed to be a clear indication that the Vatican was facing nothing less than an internal and external political crisis.The Wednesday statement also clearly addressed questions about what conditions the society would have to meet before being allowed back into the fold.
Most importantly it would have to offer its “full recognition of the Second Vatican Council” to receive “recognition” by the church.The most interesting part of the article comes at the end where it attempts to explain how this maelstrom came to be.
Conversations with a variety of people inside and outside the Vatican portray an intellectual pope increasingly isolated from the Vatican administration. Many point to a lack of communication between the handful of cardinals responsible for revoking the excommunications and other members of the curia who might have opposed the move.
It is also quite striking that there was no consultation with Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German who directs the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and who is the liaison for Vatican-Jewish relations. Kasper has publicly said:
There were certainly management errors on the part of the curia.Sandro Magister writing on his blog described this as a"disaster" and said that in this situation* * * *
Pope Benedict XVI found himself to be the one most exposed, and practically aloneMagister explains at great length how, for the Pope, this is all about healing of schisms.
However, because of Vatican ineptitude that issue was lost in headlines world over that said: the pope clears a Holocaust denier bishop from excommunication, and welcomes him into the Church.
In response the Vatican went"scrambling for cover," with media statements.
Magister goes on to ask was this tempest"inevitable," or was it the result of"errors and omissions of the men who are supposed to implement the pope's decisions."
Magister comes down on the side of the second hypothesis.
Those Cardinals who were responsible said they did not know about Williamson's denial. Magister points out that a click on Google would have shown them that in 1989, in Canada, he openly praised Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel and that he was a 9/11 denier.
There were other failures in the Vatican as well. The press office did not handle matters well.
He delineates many other serious lapses.
Magister traces this back to the offices of the curia which" converge in the secretariat of state." He goes into a fascinating analysis of the Secretary of State.
There's a great mystery novel embedded in all this...
And a terrible leadership disaster for the Vatican.
My guess -- and that is all it is -- is that Pope Benedict will emerge from this weakened and unable to regroup.
Posted on: Thursday, February 5, 2009 - 13:30
SOURCE: NYT blog (2-4-09)
This raises a bigger question: how well do we really “know” any politician, no matter how long he’s been in the public eye? History holds a cautionary lesson.
Barack Obama is an unknown quantity. But so, after 20 years in the public eye, was Richard Nixon.
January 1969. The month came with gusts of freezing rain and murky ice fog hovering over the Potomac. Yet Washington’s welcome was warm with hope and the promise of change.
After a prodigal rise, searing defeats, and a stunning comeback, Richard Milhous Nixon became the 37th president of the United States. At 56, with more than two decades on the national stage, he was a familiar figure. Elected to Congress in 1946 and the Senate in 1950, he had been in politics scarcely six years before he became vice president under Dwight Eisenhower. He lost the presidency to John F. Kennedy in 1960 in one of the closest, most controversial races in the nation’s history. When he suffered humiliating defeat in a 1962 bid to be governor of California, his political life seemed over. Then, gradually, political havoc and his own dogged resolve gave him another chance. With Gov. George Wallace of Alabama draining Democratic votes as a third candidate, Nixon’s 1968 victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey was a bare 43.4 percent to 42.7 percent. He had won the presidency at last.
The America Nixon now led was deeply divided by rising opposition to the Vietnam War, along with a seething reaction to cultural and racial upheavals of the 1960s. Historians would ponder into the 21st century the complex character of that wider turmoil — both more and less transformative than clichés had it. The impact at the time was epic, cast in fire and blood. Urban riots, campus revolts, the withdrawal of President Lyndon Johnson from his re-election bid, the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the violent police suppression of antiwar demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention, Governor Wallace’s 46 electoral votes marking a historic realignment of party politics in the South — all that and more made 1968 the most tumultuous election year in modern American politics.
That furor was a staple of Nixon’s triumph. But no politician of his rank had been more partisan and divisive. He had fueled his early rise with crude chauvinism, impugning the patriotism of opponents. If he embodied much of the virtue and striving of the great postwar American middle class, he also played to its fears, resentments and prejudices.
Even in successive efforts at political makeover in the 1950s and ’60s, cultivating the imagery of a “New Nixon,” he harbored rancor and blame for a host of perceived enemies. As he bitterly told reporters in his supposed “last press conference” after losing the California gubernatorial race, they would “not have Nixon to kick around any more.” Yet in 1968 — silhouetted against fractured Democrats as well as his own campaign themes of restoring “law and order” and a vague but welcome plan to “end the war with honor” — he came to office as a symbol of longed-for stability and even conciliation for a strife-worn country.
There was haunting paradox in the anticipation — some constituencies, especially in the South, expecting the president to avenge or uphold their interests; others believing he was the leader to transcend old antagonisms, including his own. “A lot of people that year, even his opponents, saw in him what they wanted,” his aide John Ehrlichman later said, “even if what they wanted was very different.” Divider as unifier, attacker as peacemaker, it was a role the new president embraced. He would be guided, Nixon said after his victory, by a sign he saw in a campaign crowd — “Bring us together.” A later era, weary of its own red-blue divisions, might have called it all “post-partisan.”
His inaugural went on in a cold drizzle, with a relatively somber crowd of 250,000 compared to Johnson’s 1.2 million four years before. Between podium and audience the bulletproof partition was a grim token, wrote the Washington Post, “of the assassinations which so suddenly had altered the political fortunes of the leaders present.” But the new president’s speech, often forgotten in the tangled history that followed, was arguably the finest of his long career, confirming the disparate hopes riding that January.
In these difficult years America has suffered from a fever of words: from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading. We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another — until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices. For its part, government will listen. We will strive to listen in new ways — to the voices of quiet anguish, the voices that speak without words, the voices of the heart — to the injured voices, the anxious voices, the voices that have despaired of being heard.
He went on to speak of “rebuilding our cities and improving our rural areas” and “protecting our environment and enhancing the quality of life,” including an eloquent if oblique reference to civil rights: “What remains is to give life to what is in the law: to ensure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man.”
And, invoking the “better angels of our nature,” he spoke of own deep-seated sense of mission:
The greatest title history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. This honor now beckons America — the chance to help lead the world at last out of the valley of turmoil and onto that high ground of peace that man has dreamed of since the dawn of civilization … to the crisis of the spirit we need an answer of the spirit … we need only look within ourselves …
We have endured a long night of the American spirit. But as our eyes catch the dimness of the first rays of dawn, let us not curse the remaining dark. Let us gather the light.
Those last words moved some to tears, and would seem all the more impressive for being echoed in private notes Nixon jotted before and after the Inauguration on his ubiquitous yellow legal pads: “Each day a chance to do something memorable for someone … Need to be good to do good … The nation must be better in spirit at the end of term.”
The Nixon transition — headquartered at the elegant Hotel Pierre on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park in Manhattan and described in the press as “brilliantly managed” and “silken smooth” — was reported to give every sign of that “better” prospect, and from news media once thought hostile, praise for the new government was fulsome. For a “revitalization” of the White House staff, it was reported, the president had enlisted not only two “gifted” aides from the campaign, chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and White House counsel John Ehrlichman, but also, to head a new Urban Affairs Council in a bipartisan spirit, former Kennedy-Johnson Democratic official Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And from the camp of Nixon’s Republican rival Nelson Rockefeller, a little known Harvard professor, Henry Kissinger, as national security advisor.
These new men, America was told, were “relaxed and almost mellow,” with what Life Magazine called “remarkable ease and sense of pleasure” and, according to the Washington Post, “none of the moralistic sense of good guys replacing bad guys.” Kissinger especially impressed journalists with his openness and modesty; he would be doing “quiet thinking” about foreign policy, he told them, and no “operating” or “self-aggrandizement” in diplomacy. The columnist Joseph Kraft, who would soon be a frequent Kissinger contact, thought it all made for “an era of better feeling.”
Background briefings assured the media that there would be no “bureaucratic wars,” with the White House overshadowing the cabinet, as in past presidencies. Introduced by Nixon in a specially staged ceremony broadcast live by television networks, each extolled in turn, the new cabinet secretaries would be nothing less than “deputy presidents who run their own departments,” and the Oval Office always open to them.
The same collaboration was pledged to Congress, where Nixon was the first president in more than a century without his party having a majority in at least one chamber. “Bipartisan cooperation,” Moynihan told a Congressional group as Kissinger looked on smiling broadly, “will be our watchword.” “He knows he needs us,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield would say confidently of the president. Not least, there was a solemn promise to an already admiring media. “Truth will be the hallmark of the Nixon administration,” announced Herb Klein, the White House communications director.
Altogether, concludes Rick Perlstein in “Nixonland,” his colorful and authoritative history of the era published last year, the weeks around the 1969 inauguration saw “a remarkably successful public relations campaign selling the new presidency as a magnanimous respite from a cacophonous era of division.” But as not even some of the “sellers” understood until later — to say nothing of the Congress, media, and public who did the buying — that image was very different from the inner reality of the Nixon presidency.
As we now know from memoirs, official archives, testimony and various other sources, what White House aides came to call the “dark side of the moon” was there from the start. The supposedly “smooth” and hard-working transition was a sham. “We did have a couple of meetings, but basically we were left on our own to compose the government,” remembered Ehrlichman, who was at the center of the process. “The personnel process … was a shambles.”
Not surprisingly, the disarray traced largely to Nixon himself. By several accounts, a president that the nation now assumed to be so experienced and ready to lead in fact had little purpose beyond his longtime ambition to be a global statesman and scant interest in much of governance. Domestic policy he thought a “bore,” or, as he once put it, “building outhouses in Peoria.”
“When Dick was finally elected president he attained eighty percent of all goals in his life,” Bryce Harlow, one of his longtime closest friends and advisors, confided to an associate before the inauguration. “He has no idea of what he will do after he is sworn in.”
Harlow was not quite right. The new president had definite ideas about keeping power in his own hands. The cabinet he publicly announced as “deputy presidents” with an open door to the Oval Office he privately derided as “clowns,” “idiots” or worse. “Keep them away from me!” he ordered Haldeman. When Kissinger soon after the inaugural told him how much he admired some of the cabinet (pointedly excluding his rivals, Secretary of State William Rogers and Defense Secretary Melvin Laird), but then said he felt obliged to mention the suspect foreign ties of one of the other department heads, Nixon brushed it aside. “Oh, Henry,” Nixon shot back, “they’re all dirty.”
Behind the “revitalization” of the White House staff was a deliberate, almost total and ultimately insidious concentration of power in the presidency that would exclude and demonize most of the rest of government. The new president’s “relaxed” and “mellow” men would be charged, as Haldeman put it in an early staff meeting, “to move over and through anyone who gets in our way.” The monopoly was most complete, most venomous, and eventually most famous in Kissinger’s dominance of foreign relations from his deceptively small office in the White House basement.
If little else had been accomplished in the suites of the Hotel Pierre, it at least had been the scene of a transition coup d’etat in the making of foreign policy. Not long after the inaugural, Secretary of State Rogers was presented with a new presidential directive vesting decisive power in the national security advisor. The Nixon-Kissinger duopoly could now begin the ultra-secret diplomacy and covert actions — secret from most of the rest of government as well as the public — that would make much of the dramatic, and tragic, history of the next five-and-a-half years.
Foreign policy was hardly the only secret. As for bi-partisanship and collaboration with a Democratic Congress: “None of them will help us and none of them are worth a damn,” Nixon told an early staff meeting. “Just ignore ’em.”
As for the elegant passage on civil rights in the inaugural address: “Nothing should happen in the South without checking with Dent,” Nixon said, giving veto power to his special counsel Harry Dent, a protégé of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and now the administration’s point man in resisting civil rights measures and enforcement that would offend the Southern voters Nixon planned to win over (even beyond the six states of Dixie he had taken in 1968). It was the beginning of the vaunted Republican Southern Strategy, and was accompanied from the start by Nixon’s casual use of racial epithets.
As for the media now being told the truth, Nixon referred to the press corps as that “bunch of crew cut boy scouts” in a conversation with writer Theodore White soon after the inauguration. After a White House press aide reported to him that coverage of the new administration over its first month had been “almost uniformly excellent,” the president answered impatiently: “You don’t understand, they are waiting to destroy us.” Nixon would hold no televised press conferences in his first eight months, and then only 31 over four years (by comparison, Johnson held four times as many in his five years in office).
And finally, most tragically, there was the war: “The Nixon constituency is behind the war effort,” Kissinger said that winter, revealing a base motive that belied the new government’s promise of an early peace: “If we were to pull out of Vietnam, there would be a disaster, politically, for us, here at home.” There would be, of course, other calculus, other mania, in the following four more years of war — with Nixon and Kissinger, the historian learns early, motives are rarely simple, or constant.
At almost the same moment The Times was reporting public pressure on the war had “disappeared,” Nixon was ordering the secret bombing of Cambodia. The new presidency would be less than 100 days old when a leak to The Times on the war policy set in motion the malignant process that would bring the wiretapping of officials and journalists, and ultimately onto the sequence that would lead to Watergate.
It was indeed a “historic” start for the new administration, if not in the sense of the benign, hopeful public image of January 1969. America had elected a familiar, reassuring figure to the presidency, only to find a stranger in the Oval Office.
Posted on: Thursday, February 5, 2009 - 13:20
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (2-3-09)
No, there hasn't been any indication that the new President will be heading to China anytime soon, though it does seem likely that Hilary Clinton will make it there during her first trip abroad as Secretary of State. And I do realize that the new President's got plenty to keep him busy on the home front. Still, it isn't too soon for him to do some prep work designed to help him make sense of, craft policy toward, and eventually get the most out of a visit to China, a country that remains the world's most populous and once boast (as it did for centuries prior to the 1850s) one of the world's leading economies. In spite--and indeed partly because--of the severity of the financial meltdown and surging unemployment rates on our side of the Pacific, the big nation across that ocean should concern him. Arguably at least, the degree to which the economies of the U.S. and the PRC have become intertwined recently makes it even more important for him to familiarize himself with Chinese realities than it was for any of his immediate predecessors (and it was plenty important to them). With all this in mind, this post is one opinionated China specialist's list of 5 books he should read, paired with 5 films and videos on complementary themes he should see.
Why Listen to Me?
I know that he can turn to people he already knows, rather than a stranger like me, for guidance. He's got a half-brother based in Shenzhen; a Secretary of State's who is not just headed to China but has been there before more than once; and a Secretary of the Treasury who has lived in the PRC and studied Chinese in college. Moreover, several respected political scientists who focus on China have been rumored to be advising him or consulting with his advisers. And then there's his friend Cass Sunstein, who is no China specialist but is known for his intellectual curiosity and, as someone fascinated by the political implications of the Internet, has surely spent a lot of time thinking about and perhaps reading up on the PRC (a country with more web-surfers than any other). . If nothing else, Sunstein must be familiar with the Berkeley China Internet Project, and could tell his friend about its "China Digital Times" site, which remains the best one-stop shopping on the web for those trying to keep up with changes in the PRC. Still, even though he has people nearby to turn to, I think my list will take him to materials that wouldn't otherwise be on his radar screen, yet can help him get a better sense of China's present condition and the enormous (and continually underestimated by Americans) diversity of its population.
I'll suggest the books on my list go directly to his bedside table, even though I'm aware that it's already heavily weighed down--if he's followed the advice of the Washington Monthly, which recently asked 19 public intellectuals and writers (ranging from historian Jacques Barzun to journalist James Fallows) to offer the new President reading tips, then pulled the suggestions together into "What Obama Should Read: Twenty-Five Books the Presidents Should Have by his Bedside." But the fact is that none of those 25 books deal with China (Iran, India, and Russia--yes, but the PRC--no). Nor did any of the books that he was seen reading while campaigning--except Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World, which isn't about the PRC but says a lot about it.
I also want to stress, not to take anything away from the Washington Monthly contributors, that there are more laughs provided in my 10 suggestions than in their 25. This isn't a bad thing given that the President is facing enormous challenges and needs to keep his sense of humor, and one can learn important things about China (as indeed about any country) from funny texts. For example, I'll suggest that a good way for him to start getting a feel for the many ways that Chinese and American individuals can end up misunderstanding one another is by watching "A Great Wall," a family friendly comedy of manners (he could watch it with his daughters) directed by Peter Wang.
And among the books that I'd like to see on that much-abused bedside table is China Candid, a collection of oral history interviews by Sang Ye (sometimes called a Chinese Studs Terkel--a nickname that should mean a lot to someone who has spent as much time in Chicago as Obama). That book is filled with comic moments, albeit often fairly mordant ones: I laughed, but nervously, for example, when reading the chapter about explosion-happy tourists being able to pay for the privilege of riding on military vessels and firing off live rounds of military ammunition from large-scale weapons in a PRC where even the armed forces are embracing the profit-motive.
What Other China-Savvy Types Have Been Saying
Before giving more details about my suggestions, I should note that other outsiders have beaten me to the punch in giving the new President advice about China. Former CNN Beijing bureau chief turned media analyst and blogger extraordinaire Rebecca MacKinnon, for example, recently posted a typically insightful commentary for this site that took the form of a letter to the new President. (Maybe Sunstein, who surely reads the Huffington Post, has already brought it to his attention; if not, he should.)
Meanwhile, over at "The China Beat" (a UC Irvine-based blog/electronic magazine with which I am involved), we've run Parts I , II, and III of a series called"Presidential Reading Recommendations." In each of these, the site's editor, Kate Merkel-Hess, showcases multiples responses she's gotten from some of the wide range of thoughtful and informed people to whom she put this question:"What five China books would you like to see Obama read?"
Here then is my list, divided up under five topical headings:
Topic 1: Sources of Mutual Understanding--and Misunderstanding
The viewing for this pair is"A Great Wall," the aforementioned 1986 film that follows a fictional Chinese-American family on a visit to relatives in Beijing, tracking the emotions this stirs up and the amusing forms of culture shock that ensue. (And incidentally, it includes one scene custom-made for a Lincoln-lover like Obama: in it, a young Chinese man recites the opening to the Gettysburg Address to impress a young woman he fancies.) My suggested reading to complement this movie is Jonathan Spence's To Change China, a lively look at Chinese historical events of the last few centuries, approached via the biographies of"Western advisers" who were often baffled by and proved baffling to the people they sought to help. (Trivia note for film buffs: Edward Norton, who took a class with Spence at Yale has cited the book as one that he turned to for inspiration when working on"The Painted Veil," a movie that deals with a Westerner working in China in 1925.)
Topic 2: A Quick Tour through PRC History
The viewing for this pair is "Morning Sun" by the Long Bow Group, independent filmmakers who have made several wonderful documentaries on Chinese themes. This one focuses on the Cultural Revolution, perhaps the least well understood Chinese event of the 1900s, and includes a wonderful dissection of a lavish song-and-dance spectacle staged to celebrate the PRC's 15th birthday--a particularly relevant segment to watch just now as plans are underway to hold a lavish 60th birthday party for the country this October. The reading to pair with it is The Changing Face of China: From Mao to Market, an accessible and thoughtful survey of the first five-and-a-half decades of Communist Party rule written by the Guardian's longtime East Asia correspondent John Gittings. (Trivia note for Sinologists: Geremie Barmé, who co-produced and co-directed"Morning Sun" with Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon, was the main translator of the English edition of China Candid.)
Topic 3: The Plight of Women in Old and New China
The viewing here is "Yellow Earth," Chen Kaige's visually arresting and poignant film (only a couple of brief moments of comic relief here) about the difficulties of life, particularly for women, in a poor North China village in the 1930s. The reading to pair with it is former Wall Street Journal reporter Leslie T. Chang's Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, a powerful work of beautifully crafted reportage that, in focusing on the triumphs and tragedies of several young women, humanized and puts into historical perspective the country's rapid industrialization and urbanization. (Trivia note for the Olympics-obsessed: the cinematographer Chen Kaige worked with on"Yellow Earth" was Zhang Yimou, who went on to direct many films on his own and was in charge of the Opening Ceremonies spectacle on 08/08/08.)
Topic 4: The Surreal Side of Life in the PRC Today
The viewing here is "The World," a film by Jia Zhangke an inventive Chinese director (the Village Voice called him the"greatest filmmaker under forty" ) that is set in a theme park containing miniature versions of the Eiffel Tower and other iconic structures. By turns funny and sad, it highlights the experiences of the migrants from various parts of China who work within the borders of this strange setting--a setting that may remind some American viewers of Epcot or Vegas, but to someone with Obama's Chicago ties might also call to mind the great World's Fairs of the past such as that city's 1893 Columbian Exposition. The reading to pair with it is China Candid, in which Sang Ye presents us with the life stories of everyone from a philosophical executioner, to a pragmatic call girl, to the head of a Chinese UFO society, to a cynical consumer affairs bureaucrat who notes parallels between the false advertising for ideologies under Mao and false advertising of products in post-Mao times. (Trivia note for New Yorkers: 9/11 did not lead to the Twin Towers being removed from the theme park featured in"The World," a point that two characters in the movie point out.)
Topic 5: China's Olympic Year Revisited
The viewing here is the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Games, to be watched after reading a book that's just going to press (but I'm sure the publishers will be happy to rush the President a copy)--China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance. It's an anthology (full disclosure: I'm one of its editors) made up of posts that first appeared on"The China Beat," articles reprinted from various newspapers and magazines, and new essays. It offers information about and analysis of a wide range of subjects, from Internet censorship to responses to the Sichuan earthquake. What makes it particularly valuable to read in tandem with viewing the Opening Ceremonies, though, is the short but detailed analyses that several contributors provide of the meaning of that spectacle and the Olympics as a whole. (Far from trivial side note: the book comes with a"Foreword" by To Change China's author Jonathan Spence.)
Will all this reading and watching prepare Obama fully for encountering China? Of course not. But I'd like to think that if he reads the books and views the films (if not before, then on that long plane flight to China), also does some of the suggested readings from other sources (the"China Beat" series, for example, points him toward some of the best histories of U.S.-China diplomatic relations), and, as the multitasking person we know him to be, combines it all with checking out the translations of works by Chinese bloggers and journalists available at the"China Digital Times" site, he'd arrive in Beijing with a much better chance of making sense of what's going on there than did most or perhaps all of his predecessors.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 - 21:45
SOURCE: WSJ (2-3-09)
Perhaps the Obama administration will be able to bring a surprisingly early end to the ongoing U.S. financial crisis. We hope so, but it is not going to be easy. Until now, the U.S. economy has been driving straight down the tracks of past severe financial crises, at least according to a variety of standard macroeconomic indicators we evaluated in a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) last December.
In particular, when one compares the U.S. crisis to serious financial crises in developed countries (e.g., Spain 1977, Norway 1987, Finland 1991, Sweden 1991, and Japan 1992), or even to banking crises in major emerging-market economies, the parallels are nothing short of stunning.
Let's start with the good news. Financial crises, even very deep ones, do not last forever. Really. In fact, negative growth episodes typically subside in just under two years. If one accepts the NBER's judgment that the recession began in December 2007, then the U.S. economy should stop contracting toward the end of 2009. Of course, if one dates the start of the real recession from September 2008, as many on Wall Street do, the case for an end in 2009 is less compelling.
On other fronts the news is similarly grim, although perhaps not out of bounds of market expectations. In the typical severe financial crisis, the real (inflation-adjusted) price of housing tends to decline 36%, with the duration of peak to trough lasting five to six years. Given that U.S. housing prices peaked at the end of 2005, this means that the bottom won't come before the end of 2010, with real housing prices falling perhaps another 8%-10% from current levels.
Equity prices tend to bottom out somewhat more quickly, taking only three and a half years from peak to trough -- dropping an average of 55% in real terms, a mark the S&P has already touched. However, given that most stock indices peaked only around mid-2007, equity prices could still take a couple more years for a sustained rebound, at least by historical benchmarks.
Turning to unemployment, where the new administration is concentrating its focus, pain seems likely to worsen for a minimum of two more years. Over past crises, the duration of the period of rising unemployment averaged nearly five years, with a mean increase in the unemployment rate of seven percentage points, which would bring the U.S. to double digits....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 - 01:57
SOURCE: Email list (2-3-09)
This morning’s New York Times brought the sad news of the death ten days ago of Irving Feiner, age 84, of Nyack, New York. (For the obituary story, click here.) In 1949, when Feiner was a student at Syracuse University, he was arrested for disorderly conduct after he, speaking from a soapbox at a Syracuse street corner to a crowd of interested listeners and less enthusiastic onlookers, ignored police orders to shut up.
After Feiner was convicted and sentenced to thirty days in prison, he appealed. His case ultimately reached the Supreme Court of the United States. In January 1951, the Court affirmed Feiner’s conviction by a vote of 6-3, upholding the lawfulness of the police conduct and rejecting Feiner’s free speech claims. Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, joined by Justices Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, Harold H. Burton and Tom C. Clark, wrote for the Court. Justice Frankfurter also filed, in a companion case, a concurring opinion stating his views.
Justice Hugo L. Black filed the principal dissenting opinion. Its many ringing passages include the following:
Here [Feiner] was “asked” then “told” then “commanded” to stop speaking, but a man making a lawful address is certainly not required to be silent merely because an officer directs it. [Feiner] was entitled to know why he should cease doing a lawful act. Not once was he told. I understand that people in authoritarian countries must obey arbitrary orders. I had hoped that there was no such duty in the United States.
(According to Mr. Feiner, one of Justice Black’s sons told Feiner years ago that Feiner was one of Justice Black’s favorite and most troubling cases.) Justice William O. Douglas, joined by Justice Sherman Minton, also dissented. (For the opinions in Feiner v. New York, 340 U.S. 315 (1951), click here.)
Irving Feiner never met any of the Supreme Court justices who decided his case and, in fact, he never even saw them in action. Feiner told me that he did not travel to Washington in October 1950 to attend the Supreme Court oral argument in his case because his attorneys told him that they did not need the dynamic of the FBI surveilling Feiner, as they then were, inside the Supreme Court courtroom as the lawyers argued the merits of his case.
From the 1951 decision through the rest of his life, Feiner believed emphatically that Jackson and the five other Justices who comprised the majority in the Feiner v. New York blew it. By contrast, Feiner’s heroes for getting both the facts and law right in his case were, of course, Justices Black, Douglas and Minton. The Supreme Court, by moving during recent decades away from the doctrine of Feiner v. New York, implicitly seems to share that view.
I knew Irv Feiner only by telephone, but that medium delivered very well his smarts, strong opinions, guts and very active mind. (It is flattering to me and evidence of Irving Feiner’s lifelong engagement and intellectual curiosity that he was among your number in subscribing to, and indeed in promoting, the Jackson List.)
Like many other Supreme Court “losers” across our history, Irving Feiner leaves us his name, his story and his example of serious citizenship—a rich legacy indeed.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 - 16:43
SOURCE: New Republic (2-18-09)
In the tumultuous history of postwar American conservatism, defeats have often contained the seeds of future victory. In 1954, the movement's first national tribune, Senator Joseph McCarthy, was checkmated by the Eisenhower administration and then "condemned" by his Senate colleagues. But the episode, and the passions it aroused, led to the founding of National Review, the movement's first serious political journal. Ten years later, the right's next leader, Barry Goldwater, suffered one of the most lopsided losses in election history. Yet the "draft Goldwater" campaign secured control of the GOP for movement conservatives. In 1976, the insurgent challenge by Goldwater's heir, Ronald Reagan, to incumbent president Gerald Ford was thwarted. But Reagan's crusade positioned him to win the presidency four years later and initiate the conservative "revolution" that remade our politics over the next quarter-century. In each instance, crushing defeat gave the movement new strength and pushed it further along the route to ultimate victory.
Today, the situation is much bleaker. After George W. Bush's two terms, conservatives must reckon with the consequences of a presidency that failed, in large part, because of its fervent commitment to movement ideology: the aggressively unilateralist foreign policy; the blind faith in a deregulated, Wall Street-centric market; the harshly punitive "culture war" waged against liberal "elites." That these precepts should have found their final, hapless defender in John McCain, who had resisted them for most of his long career, only confirms that movement doctrine retains an inflexible and suffocating grip on the GOP.
More telling than Barack Obama's victory is the consensus, steadily building since Election Day, that the nation has sunk--or been plunged--into its darkest economic passage since the Great Depression. And, as Obama pushes boldly ahead, apparently with public support, the right is struggling to reclaim its authority as the voice of opposition. The contrast with 1993, when the last Democratic president took office, is instructive. Like Obama, Bill Clinton was elected in hard economic times and, like him, promised a stimulus program, only to see his modest proposal ($19.5 billion) stripped almost bare by the Senate minority leader, Bob Dole, even though Democrats had handily won the White House and Senate Republicans formed nearly as small a minority as they do today. The difference was that the Republicans--disciplined, committed, self-assured--held the ideological advantage, which Dole leveraged through repeated use of the filibuster. Today, such a stratagem seems unthinkable. There is instead almost universal agreement--reinforced by the penitential testimony of Alan Greenspan and, more recently, by grudgingly conciliatory Republicans--that the most plausible economic rescue will involve massive government intervention, quite possibly on the scale of the New Deal/Fair Deal of the 1930s and '40s and perhaps even the New Frontier/Great Society of the 1960s. All this suggests that movement doctrine has not only been defeated but discredited.
Yet, even as the right begins to regroup, it is not clear that its leaders have absorbed the full implications of their defeat. They readily concede that the Democrats are in charge and, in Obama, have a leader of rare political skills. Many on the right also admit that the specific failures of the outgoing administration were legion. But what of the verdict issued on movement conservatism itself?
There, conservatives have offered little apart from self-justifications mixed with harsh appraisals of the Bush years. Some argue that the administration wasn't conservative at all, at least not in the "small government" sense. This is true, but then no president in modern times has seriously attempted to reduce the size of government, and for good reason: Voters don't want it reduced. What they want is government that's "big" for them--whether it's Democrats who call for job-training programs and universal health care or Republicans eager to see billions funneled into "much-needed and underfunded defense procurement," as William Kristol recommended shortly after Obama's victory....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 - 15:53
SOURCE: Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH blog) (2-2-09)
Origins of a cooperation. For the past two decades, cooperative relations between Turkey and Israel had been one of the constants of international relations in the Middle East. While it would be incorrect to describe those ties as equivalent to an alliance, they were close and multi-faceted. Turkey recognized Israel in 1949, the first Muslim majority state to do so, but it was at the beginning of the 1990s that the two countries began to develop close ties. Bringing them together was a shared opposition to Syria, and, to a lesser extent, Iran. Turkish-Israeli cooperation against Syria replicated a common geopolitical pattern whereby two non-contiguous states align against their common neighbor. Syria’s support for the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) and its military struggle against Turkish control of eastern Anatolia made Ankara eager to cooperate with Israel to contain Syria.
Although outside observers often overstated the degree of hostility between the Turkish Republic and Islamic Republic of Iran by extrapolating straight from their irreconcilable ideologies, a mutual interest in blocking Iran’s export of Islamic revolution and influence did also serve to bring Turkey and Israel together. The two shared a general antipathy to revisionist radicalism of any sort and were both (relatively) comfortable with the status-quo in the Middle East.
The fact that they enjoyed close ties to the United States, needless to say, facilitated their cooperation; indeed, their bilateral ties cannot be understood in isolation from their ties with America. Their pro-American orientation, was reinforced by their identification with liberal democracy and even lent their relationship a broader “civilizational” sheen. Finally, their cooperation was complementary in very practical ways in a number of areas, ranging from the military-security field to planned projects to bring natural gas and water to Israel.
Beginnings of estrangement. Recent years, however, have seen a definite deterioration in Turkish-Israeli ties. Several reasons explain this, but perhaps the most fundamental lies in the post-9/11 shift in United States’ policy under George Bush from support of the status quo in the Middle East to revision of it through the toppling of multiple regimes in the Middle East, starting with Saddam Hussein’s. Although no one in Washington even imagined targeting the Turkish Republic in the project to remake the “Greater Middle East”—to the contrary, American policy makers saw the goal of creating more secular, democratic, and thus pro-American regimes as one complementary to Turkish interests—Turkish opinion across the board was profoundly skeptical of American motives and fearful of American plans.
Not a few Turks, including those in think-tanks and the military, believed that the ultimate target of Operation Iraqi Freedom was not Middle Eastern despotism but the Turkish Republic. Once it was in Iraq, the United States would proceed to incite and agitate Kurdish groups inside Turkey. Then, in the name of democracy, it would detach Turkey’s eastern provinces to form a Kurdish state. By breaking the Middle East up into a greater number of smaller, more pliable, states, the United States could maintain its hegemony over the Middle East more easily. Because Israel, in turn, would be a prime beneficiary of this fracturing of Middle Eastern states, it was seen as complicit in this project.
It is an utterly fantastic, not to mention paranoid, reading of U.S. (and Israeli) policies and capabilities. But it is a worldview embedded in the institutions of the Turkish Republic, from the schools to the Turkish military. The institutions of the Turkish Republic did not spring forth whole-cloth following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Rather, they were forged in the long struggle to prevent the empire’s break-up and division. That struggle ultimately was successful to the extent that the new republic managed to retain control of Anatolia despite the intentions of the Great Powers to partition it, most notably in the Sykes-Picot (Sazonov) agreement of 1916 and the Treaty of Sevres of 1920.
The Turkish Republic, in other words, was the direct response to the problem of Ottoman decline. Indeed, the republic’s founding elites embraced secularism and Turkish nationalism—the two main pillars of republican ideology—not because of their intrinsic appeal but rather because they saw them as essential to arrest the process of break-up and partition. Secularism was needed ensure the technological progress and economic growth necessary a strong state required, and nationalism was required to maintain unity, bind the people to the state, and immunize society against dissension that more powerful states always looked to exploit.
The belief that outside forces are steadily and consciously working to undermine Turkey and divide it is thus almost hard-wired in Turkish institutions. The U.S. invasion of Iraq activated these circuits of suspicion. Pentagon national security strategy papers that spoke of maintaining America’s global hegemony through the suppression of peer competitors, maps in U.S. military journals showing a partitioned Turkey, a surge in PKK attacks inside Turkey, the U.S. military’s disinterest in cracking down on the PKK in Iraq, and reports of PKK acquisition of American arms, among other things, served to confirm the suspicions of many Turks that the United States was a new predatory “Great Power.” Far from being a trust-worthy ally, the United States began to loom as the single greatest threat to the unity of their country.
Suspicions also fell upon Israel, primarily because it was the country in the region closest to the US, but also because it was known to have cultivated ties to the Kurds of Iraq in the past and is presumed to have an interest in the break-up of Iraq and Iran. The result, in short, has been a steady deterioration in Turkish trust toward the United States and, by extension, to Israel.
Some pin the blame for this breakdown in trust on the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and trace it to the AKP’s origins in Turkey’s Islamist movement. The reality is that the causes for distrust are both broader and deeper than the AKP or Turkey’s Islamist movement. It is worthwhile to note that the AKP’s secularist-nationalist opponents commonly portray the party and its leaders, including Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as tools of American foreign policy, products of an American project to cultivate “moderate Islam.” Perhaps inevitably, they have even published books identifying Erdoğan and Gül as key actors in Zionist conspiracies against Turkey....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 - 15:38
SOURCE: http://pashagypsy.blogspot.com/2009/02/la-gioconda-di-curdistan.html (2-1-09)
Aynur ("moonlight") is her name, and though you can't see it, in her right hand she carries an AK-47. She died, aged 23, on 30 September 2005, somewhere on the slopes of Cudi Dagi (pron. Judi Dah), a mountain just north of the Iraqi-Turkish border and immediately east of the River Tigris. It was, said the PKK dispatch, the result of an accident, not combat. A fall? It's certainly possible. Something else? The imagination recoils. Anything could have happened, including many things that don't bear thinking about. At least she wasn't ripped apart by gunfire."And I am glad," some Turkish draftee's mother might say,"that she didn't get a chance to kill my son."
A draftee may very well have feared Aynur, for she had joined what is probably the most formidable women's army in the world. Still, it's hard to look at this beautiful girl with anything but pain and regret. Her youth has been cut off, and for what? (Always a fair question when talking about war, and always impossible to answer.) But say this for Aynur: she had a life. It may have been short, and it may have ended badly, but it was a life. She didn't spend it covered by a black tent, looking at the world through two slits in the cloth. She didn't"dishonor" her family by getting raped, or falling in love, or smiling too often, thus obliging her father, or brothers, or other"restorers of the family honor" to throw her off a cliff, shoot her, throw her in a river to drown, or mash her face to a pulp with rocks. On a more humdrum level she didn't get worked to death carrying eight children, picking cotton in 100-degree heat, or serving as a beast of burden for a husband chosen by her family. She didn't have to follow the cows around on hot summer days, picking up their warm shit in her hands and forming it into cakes to be burnt for fuel in the winter. Hell no to all of this. She had friends in high places. She got to be a guerrilla.
Aynur was born in 1982 in Siirt, capital of the like-named province in southeast Turkey. Siirt, mainly a Kurdish town, with a few Turks and Arabs for good measure, lies in the mountain-rimmed valley of the Bohtan River, a tributary of the Tigris which rises in the high mountains to the south of Lake Van. We can't tell from the martyrs registry at HPG-Online whether Aynur was born in the town itself or in a neighboring village. It could have been either one. For the last thirty years and more, the story of Kurds in southeast Turkey has been one of westward migration: from war-ravaged village to town, from the town to the large cities--Ankara, Izmir, Istanbul--and from those cities to Europe. It is one of the great migrations of history. Istanbul, with 2 million Kurds, is now the largest Kurdish city in the world. Kurds turn up on Greek Island shores and in the streets of Athens. They've been videotaped bursting out of a detention camp in Calais and storming (unsuccessfully) the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. In 2001 one refugee ship, a decrepit Cambodia-registered hulk, was pointed at a beach on the French Riviera, between Cannes and St. Tropez, set on course to ground itself, and abandoned by its Greek crew, who made their escape in a speedboat. Packed onboard were 908 Kurds from Iraq and Turkey, including three babies who had been born enroute. Aynur's family were probably on the same kind of journey, refugees from poverty and war in the East. We can assume this because of where she joined the PKK--on 1 October 2002, in Istanbul. This is a long way from Siirt.
Why did she go off to war? Why would she leave behind the possibility of middle-class happiness--of education, marriage, and a family? And it is, indeed, a possibility. Turkey's burgeoning middle class is full of such success stories. It could have been for a hundred reasons, from youthful idealism to anger to despair. Perhaps she was already betrothed to someone that she hated. That may have been reason enough. But the important question is, why did she find the PKK attractive? And why do young Kurds continue along the same dangerous path?
Many Kurds, after all, would find mountain life totally repugnant. They are known traditionally as a mountain people, but now most are city-dwellers. A rebel group needs discipline to keep its soldiers in line. This requires ideology, the kind of indoctrination that needs regular attendance at meetings where boredom is not allowed. But Turkey's Kurds have plenty of experience with boredom and indoctrination, having faced it all their lives at school. Now, instead of Ataturk-worship, love of The Charismatic Leader (Abdullah Ocalan, or"Apo") is required. Love of one's opposite-sex comrades is (alas!) forbidden, but once again, they are coming from a society that has perfected sexual repression. Though not without its bucolic compensations (see past posts), the romance of mountain life must wear off quickly. In"Mehmed's Book," by Nadire Mater, Turkish soldiers complain of the huge, ravenous ground fleas native to the East, and it's unlikely that these would affect PKK fighters any less. Above all, it is Hobbesian in the extreme--that is, if Hobbes's nasty, brutish world included high-powered assault rifles, digital cameras, satellite phones, and regular postings of casualties on the Internet.
Life in the PKK is not summer camp. You can get killed just traveling to the mountains, and after you're there, killing is the name of the game, with a high probability that you too will end up as a corpse, and a mutilated corpse at that. Turkish commandos, all professional soldiers or highly trained volunteers, have made a reputation for it. In the '90s, photos appeared on the Internet showing members of the Hakkari Mountain Commandos posing with the severed heads of PKK guerrillas, whose blood stained the snow. In"Mehmed's Book," one returned soldier described how the Bolu Commandos obtained the distinctive key rings worn in their belt loops. These in fact were the severed ears of PKK guerrillas, which had been soaked overnight in Coca-Cola to eat away the flesh. The remaining cartilage formed the perfect shape for stringing keys.
If mutilation isn't deterrent enough, there is the brutal truth of what modern weaponry can do to the human body. Here it's best not to linger. But one often-ignored fact must be mentioned. The high-velocity ammunition fired by modern assault rifles, especially the American M-16 and its derivatives (including the"Bushmaster" used by John Muhammad, the D.C. Sniper), produces gaping, catastrophic exit wounds. These are not the neat, precise kills produced by deer rifles. By their very nature they are mutilating weapons.
So why do volunteers continue to make their way to the mountains, to join up and die? I can think of a lot of reasons, including a simple, unforced comradeship that is evident in so many of their photographs. But sooner or later it comes down to one thing: the nature of the Turkish State.
The people of the Republic of Turkey have been laboring for 84 years to establish a prosperous, unified nation-state, and despite formidable obstacles--a landscape packed with barren mountains, minimal arable land, and few natural resources--they have succeeded to a remarkable degree. When I was in Turkey, beginning in 1965, it was not unusual at all to see peasants harvesting grain by hand and threshing it on stone floors, using ox-drawn wooden sledges whose runners were studded with flints. To get rid of the chaff, they did what people had done for millennia: pitch the grain into the air and let the wind carry it away. In Ankara, horse carts made most of the deliveries, and peasant boys, even in the middle of the day, could be seen huddled with flocks of sheep on the traffic islands. Now, an ad in the 17 Nov. 2007 Economist exhorts:"Invest in Turkey: Population of 70 million...400,000 university graduates per year...17th largest economy in the world...6th largest economy in the EU...Average GDP growth of 7.4% per year..." Even allowing for the hyperbole of such ads, it is obvious that the wooden sledges are gone forever.
Then there is the unity, the State-enforced Turkishness which is supposed to dominate all. In one important way, this ideology is totally justified. In 1841, while traveling alone in the far east of Anatolia, an American physician, Dr. Asahel Grant of Waterville, New York, wrote a letter home. There were, he said, forty people traveling in his caravan:
"Not one with whom I can exchange a word in my native language, but Turks, Armenians, and Koords as they are, they all speak Turkish, and in this I converse, think, and dream."As Grant noted, Turkish truly is the language of Anatolia, and it has been for close to a millennium. With its relative simplicity and regularity (no irregular verbs, no gender problems in its nouns and adjectives, no complicated verb declensions), Turkish makes an excellent common language, and the ease with which it can adopt foreign loan words is truly remarkable. The Kurdish PKK guerrillas use Turkish for their press releases and website. Their jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, doesn't really speak anything but Turkish. Under the Ottoman Empire even the Greek Christians of Anatolia spoke Turkish, and their churches featured inscriptions in the Turkish language--written using the Greek alphabet. After 1923 these Turkish-speaking"Greeks" were shipped off to Greece in the great population exchange which followed the Treaty of Lausanne, and Greek-speaking"Turks" came to Turkey. In Turkey, no matter what the province, the Turkish language dominates--and will for a very long time.
One central fact should be remembered when we look at the Republic of Turkey and its desire that all its citizens call themselves Turks. This is the fact that in 1923, when the Republic was declared, Turkey contained a large number of Muslim refugees, peoples driven from their homelands during the previous century of Ottoman wars. Among them were Georgians, Circassians, and other Caucasian tribes. ("Circassian" and"Caucasian" being in fact umbrella terms covering many separate linguistic groups.) From the Balkans came Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims), Bosnians, Albanians, and Macedonians. Greek Muslims came from Crete, the Greek Islands, Thrace, and the mainland. Tartars came from the Crimea, and Azeri Turks from Azerbaijan. Even Mustafa Kemal himself, later Ataturk, was a kind of refugee, since his birthplace, the city of Salonika (now Thessaloniki) was no longer in Turkey. Given these facts, and the commonality of the Turkish language, it is quite logical that the Nationalists of Mustafa Kemal would say to this diverse group,"Now we will call ourselves Turks."
All, that is, except for one group. They also--the men at least--had long used the Turkish language as a medium of trade and intercourse. But the Kurds were an indigenous Anatolian people, with their own languages, dialects, songs, and traditions. In fact, they had lived there long before the Turkish language arrived. Even in the Haymana plateau, immediately to the west of Ankara, there existed Kurdish tribes who were native to the area. And there were so many of them, so many who had fought faithfully with the Turks during a multitude of wars. For immigrant Georgians, Albanians, etc., voluntarily assuming a Turkish identity made sense. But for millions of Kurds who had always lived in Anatolia it made no sense at all. It is not possible to turn Italians into Germans by passing a decree; nor did it work for the Kurds.
And yet, that is precisely what Turkish Nationalist governments set out to do. When Freya Stark passed through Hakkari in the 1950s, she noted that officials never used the word"Kurd." Usually they were"the local people"; officially they became"Mountain Turks." One allegation held that their name ("Kurt" in Turkish) was just an anagram for"Turk." According to official mythology, this name was imitative. It snows a lot in the East of Turkey, after all, and when people walk on its crusted surface their boots make a sound like"kurt-kurt-kurt." As simply as that, their origin was explained. They were really just Turks who crunched the snow. As for their language, this was dismissed as gibberish, a muddied-up version of Turkish. Its use was forbidden: in the street, in school, in business--theoretically everywhere, even in the home.
This last insult was the least tolerable of all, for there is nothing that defines a human identity more than the language he speaks. Not for nothing is this called his Mother Tongue. Language gives us birth; it shapes our primal relation with our selves, our friends, the world in which we live. Also, on a more practical level, it is called our"mother tongue" because it is in those sounds that we first speak to our mothers. And even in a relentlessly male culture like Turkey, no one is more important than the mother of the family. In Turkey, when a person's"ethnic" background is in doubt, you don't ask for a label. You ask what language he speaks to his mother.
Kurds who grow up in such a system become like seedling oaks sprouting in pavement. Consider the case of Serafettin Elci. Born in Cizre, on the Tigris near the Iraqi border, in 1938, he went to university and grew up to become a thoroughly-assimilated Turkish Kurd. After years in Parliament, from 1979-80 he served as Minister of Public Works in the government of Bulent Ecevit. Finally, he got fed up, and in 1979 he uttered the unspeakable."I am a Kurd," he said."There are Kurds in Turkey." For this he spent two years in prison. Now he is a free man, and he is left alone by the authorities. But it's safe to assume that he will never again be a government minister.
Then there was the massacre of Guclukonak (Pron. Gootch'-loo-ko-nock), in 1996. In a report by Amnesty International the facts are laid out, and their essence is such that no adjective really does them justice. Briefly, this is what happened. In January 1996 a minibus carrying eleven Kurds, most of them affiliated with the Village Guards (Kurds recruited by the government), was attacked by persons unknown near the village of Guclukonak, in southeast Turkey. The van was riddled with gunfire and set ablaze. All eleven men died. The PKK, or"Kurdistan Workers Party," was immediately accused of the massacre, and the Turkish media accepted their guilt unquestioningly. But the facts didn't add up.
For one thing, the minibus had been attacked on a road that was very close to two military checkpoints, in an area right next to the Tigris River and a guard post on the opposite bank. As a nearby villager noted, they had to be"birds or earthworms" to get away unseen. Next, the victims showed no sign of having tried to escape the fire. Moreover, their identity cards had all survived the blaze, and there was no indication that the cards had been through any kind of fire, especially one fueled by gasoline.
In view of these and other suspicious facts, a delegation from several non-governmental organizations (trade unions, human rights organizations, etc.) came out to inquire. Their report, presented in April, stated the obvious: that the security forces were deeply implicated in planting and suppressing evidence, and that an independent government agency should begin an immediate investigation. When nothing was done after a year, three members of the delegation repeated their statement. Their reward: indictment by the state prosecutor on charges of"insulting the military and security forces." After a short trial they were convicted and sentenced to ten months imprisonment. No one from the military, meanwhile, was ever charged in the Guclukonak massacre. To this day it is referred to in the media as an example of PKK terrorism.
Consider this tale and a thousand injustices like it, and imagine their collective impact. Imagine that you, like Aynur, are a youth of Kurdish background living in Turkey. It is possible that you have attended school, though it might not have been well-equipped with instructors or modern equipment. But even if you received a good education you aren't likely to forget the language of your mother, and you'll be even more disinclined to tolerate the relentless self-congratulations of a State which continues to beat up your friends. So you hope for a normal life in your own beloved homeland, the kind that newspapers, television, and the Internet have flashed in front of you: higher education, perhaps, a decent job, and a family, to name but a few. Like anyone your age, you are prey to a thousand notions, enthusiasms, and misconceptions, and nowhere is it easy to see a way through the fog of state brutality and propaganda. Meanwhile, looming above you, blotting out the sun, your government bears down like a giant hydraulic press, whose bearing plate, waiting to crush you, is etched with the grey visage of Father Turk. If you think this is an unattractive prospect, you are right. And yet you must make a choice:
"When you and yours have absolutely no future, when you have seen and suffered unspeakable horrors, when you can see no way forward, it is very comforting to find a simple, straight way forward, and it is even an added bonus that this path does not involve critical thinking." (Paul White, Lecturer in Kurdish Studies, Deakin University, Australia)This is why, despite all the Turks' American bombs and high-tech gadgetry, the PKK continues to gain recruits. And it is, we can assume, why the beautiful Aynur lies in an unknown grave, on the original mountain of Noah.
This is a rewritten version of a post which originally appeared at www.progressivehistorians.com.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 - 15:13
SOURCE: Frontpagemag.com (2-3-09)
Why, just two weeks into a 209-week term, assess a new American president's record on so esoteric a subject as the Middle East and Islam? In Barack Obama's case, because of:
(1) A contradictory record: His background brims over with wild-eyed anti-Zionist radicals such as Ali Abunimah, Rashid Khalidi, and Edward Said, with Islamists, the Nation of Islam, and the Saddam Hussein regime; but since being elected he has made predominantly center-left appointments and his statements resemble those of his Oval Office predecessors.
(2) The outsized role of the Middle East and Islam: His first fortnight in office witnessed an inaugural address that mentioned them prominently, a first diplomatic telephone call to Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, the appointment of two high-profile envoys, and the first interview granted to Al-Arabiya television channel.
Barack Obama speaks on Al-Arabiya television channel.
Afghanistan and Iraq: No surprises – more emphasis on the former and less on the latter ("you're going to see me following through with dealing with a drawdown of troops in Iraq").
Iran: A willingness to talk to the Iranian regime mixed with a flabby reassertion of the unacceptability of Tehran's actions ("Iran has acted in ways … not conducive to peace and prosperity").
Arab-Israeli conflict: A strange mix: Yes, statements about Israel's security imperatives and no condemnation of its war against Hamas. But also effusive praise for the"Abdullah Plan," a 2002 initiative that has Arabs accept Israel's existence in return for Israel return to the June 1967 borders, a plan distinct from other diplomatic initiatives for its many loose ends and its total reliance on Arab good faith. Israeli elections on Feb. 10 are likely to bring a government to power not favorably inclined to this plan, spelling rocky U.S.-Israeli relations ahead.
War on terror: One analyst announced that Obama is"ending the war on terror," but this is speculation. Yes, early on Jan. 22, Obama referred to"the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism," which avoided saying"war on terror," but later that same day he did precisely refer to the"war on terror." Given the many clumsy ways George W. Bush referred to this war, including"the great struggle against extremism that is now playing out across the broader Middle East," Obama's inconsistency so far suggests continuity with Bush more than change.
Reaching out to the Muslim world: Obama's reference to wanting to return to"the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago" revises history, ignoring that 1989 was a bad year and 1979 the worst ever for U.S.-Muslim relations. (In November 1979 alone, Khomeini overthrew the shah of Iran and then seized the American embassy in Tehran, while an Islamist insurgency in Mecca inspired a wave of attacks against U.S. missions in eight majority-Muslim countries.)
Democracy: Harkening back to the good old days of"20 or 30 years ago" does contain a real message, however, as Fouad Ajami points out. This phrasing signals"a return to Realpolitik and business-as-usual" in relations with the Muslim world. Bush's"freedom agenda" has been in retreat for over for three years; now, with Obama, tyrants can breathe yet more easily.
Finally, there is the issue of Obama's personal connection to Islam. During the campaign, he denounced discussion of his connections to Islam as"fear-mongering," and those exploring this subject found themselves vilified. He so severely discouraged use of his middle name, Hussein, that John McCain apologized when a warm-up speaker at a campaign event dared mention"Barack Hussein Obama." After the election, the rules changed dramatically, with the oath of office administered to"Barack Hussein Obama" and the new president volunteering,"I have Muslim members of my family, I have lived in Muslim countries."
It's bad enough that family connections to Islam perceived as a liability when campaigning are suddently exploited once in office to win Muslim goodwill. Worse, as Diana West observes:"not since Napoleon has a leader of a Western superpower made so unabashed a political pitch to the people of the Muslim world."
To sum up, while Obama's retreat from democratization marks an unfortunate and major change in policy, his apologetic tone and apparent change in constituency present a yet more fundamental and worrisome direction.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 - 14:30
The day after that tomorrow, on January 24, he incautiously set out to abort a schism in Roman Catholicism by welcoming back four excommunicated bishops, among them Richard Williamson, who is a very public and recent Holocaust-denier. While we are at it, Vatican officials had to know the bishop's very public corollary views, that the forgery "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is authentic, that the United States "did" the 9/11 attacks, that women should not be allowed to attend universities, and that everything about Vatican II reforms, including support of religious liberty, was heretical. Leadership of his Pius X Society also calls Jews "the artisans for the coming of the Antichrist" and argues that Jews' "grave defects rendered them odious to all nations among which they were established." Wounded and grieving, Jewish leaders planning for a papal visit to the Holy Land this time expressed resolve to continue Jewish-Catholic relations.
We'll let good Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's point man on Catholic ecumenism and relations to Jews, begin to repair the damage, along with German bishops, who know that what Williamson said publicly in Germany subjects him to criminal prosecution. Intra-Catholic affairs are less the concern of the non-Catholic press than are offensive public actions which add potential for tumult to a tumult-torn world. Jews less formally involved in hosting and talking with the Vatican and this pope are less mild. Their rage is not suppressed (see reference, below). Vatican-friendly Edward T. Oakes, S.J., in a helpful editorial in the January 30th Wall Street Journal, summarizes: "Needless to say...the pope still has a huge public-relations problem on his hands."
How and why did he get into this situation? Theories abound, as they did when the Vatican-Muslim flap occurred. This time is different, says Father Oakes, since the offenders are not medieval Byzantine rulers (as in the Muslim case) but living, breathing excommunicated schismatics for whom the pope will do anything, including offend the whole Jewish world and millions of bystanders, among them those who do remember the Holocaust, in order to reincorporate Bishop Williamson and his three Episcopal leaders in the Pius X society. Put simply, as Father Oakes and numerous Catholic commentators have thus put it: Benedict XVI has such a horror of schism that he and his team can let almost anything else go-including Pius X Society's insults to the Vatican II bishops and their successors, and interpretations of Catholicism which the previous pope and team adjudged to be heretical-in order to stall or demolish schismatic movements.
Is Benedict XVI, such a learned and informed and open-intentioned scholar, too much the German with his historian-fed memories of Martin Luther and other 16th century "schismatics" and an inordinate fear of repetition? We'll wait and see.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 - 14:25
SOURCE: WSJ (2-2-09)
The New Deal is widely perceived to have ended the Great Depression, and this has led many to support a "new" New Deal to address the current crisis. But the facts do not support the perception that FDR's policies shortened the Depression, or that similar policies will pull our nation out of its current economic downturn.
The goal of the New Deal was to get Americans back to work. But the New Deal didn't restore employment. In fact, there was even less work on average during the New Deal than before FDR took office. Total hours worked per adult, including government employees, were 18% below their 1929 level between 1930-32, but were 23% lower on average during the New Deal (1933-39). Private hours worked were even lower after FDR took office, averaging 27% below their 1929 level, compared to 18% lower between in 1930-32.
Even comparing hours worked at the end of 1930s to those at the beginning of FDR's presidency doesn't paint a picture of recovery. Total hours worked per adult in 1939 remained about 21% below their 1929 level, compared to a decline of 27% in 1933. And it wasn't just work that remained scarce during the New Deal. Per capita consumption did not recover at all, remaining 25% below its trend level throughout the New Deal, and per-capita nonresidential investment averaged about 60% below trend. The Great Depression clearly continued long after FDR took office.
Why wasn't the Depression followed by a vigorous recovery, like every other cycle? It should have been. The economic fundamentals that drive all expansions were very favorable during the New Deal. Productivity grew very rapidly after 1933, the price level was stable, real interest rates were low, and liquidity was plentiful. We have calculated on the basis of just productivity growth that employment and investment should have been back to normal levels by 1936. Similarly, Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas and Leonard Rapping calculated on the basis of just expansionary Federal Reserve policy that the economy should have been back to normal by 1935.
So what stopped a blockbuster recovery from ever starting? The New Deal. Some New Deal policies certainly benefited the economy by establishing a basic social safety net through Social Security and unemployment benefits, and by stabilizing the financial system through deposit insurance and the Securities Exchange Commission. But others violated the most basic economic principles by suppressing competition, and setting prices and wages in many sectors well above their normal levels. All told, these antimarket policies choked off powerful recovery forces that would have plausibly returned the economy back to trend by the mid-1930s.
The most damaging policies were those at the heart of the recovery plan, including The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which tossed aside the nation's antitrust acts and permitted industries to collusively raise prices provided that they shared their newfound monopoly rents with workers by substantially raising wages well above underlying productivity growth. The NIRA covered over 500 industries, ranging from autos and steel, to ladies hosiery and poultry production. Each industry created a code of "fair competition" which spelled out what producers could and could not do, and which were designed to eliminate "excessive competition" that FDR believed to be the source of the Depression....
Posted on: Monday, February 2, 2009 - 23:02
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (1-30-09)
The odd collection of con men, carpetbaggers, mercenaries, court jesters, and professional propagandists that gathered around W. the way pilot fish jostle about a great white shark has now scattered to more obscure reefs. Now, as Meyrav Wurmser admitted, they are thinking about how to make money. They seek perches in the"think tanks" of kooky rich old white men, on the airwaves of corporate media, in the halls of the more corrupt corners of academia, or on the opinion pages of the wackier capitalist tools.
So it is that we now have to listen to Fouad Ajami attacking Barack Obama as a coddler of dictators, in the pages of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, whose editorial line brought us the current meltdown of the American economy and our ruinous foreign imbroglios. Ajami, from a southern, Lebanese Shiite background, has been for decades a trenchant critic of the pieties of Arab nationalism and a theorist of Neoconservatism.
Ajami appears not to recognize that in demanding that his adopted country, the United States, go about invading or bullying the Arab world and imposing American institutions on it, he is guilty of the same authoritarianism and lack of faith in the Arab little people as the dictators he professes to decry. Paul Bremer said as he arrived in Iraq,"We dominate the scene and we will continue to impose our will on this country," and Ajami cheered him on, playing a swooning La Malinche to Bremer's Hernan Cortes.
Ajami is so mesmerized by elite power that he even mistakenly attributes the success of Tom Paine's ideas to British arms (yes; see below).
Ajami begins his essay by quoting a passage from Obama's interview on al-Arabiya:
"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," President Barack Obama said in his inaugural. But in truth, the new way forward is a return to realpolitik and business as usual in America's encounter with that Greater Middle East. As the president told Al-Arabiya television Monday, he wants a return to"the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago."
Ajami maintains that George W. Bush put"the autocracies" of the Middle East"on notice." He toppled the Taliban and overthrew the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. He frightened Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, he writes, and helped drive Bashar al-Asad's troops willy-nilly from Lebanon.
But Ajami's narrative is selective and slanted. The original plan of the Bush administration for Iraq was to turn it over to corrupt financier Ahmad Chalabi as a soft strongman. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke before the invasion of installing"something like" democracy in Iraq. But democracy is like pregnancy, an all or nothing matter, and Rumsfeld's hope that he could get Iraq a little bit pregnant predictably faltered on Iraqi popular mobilization and the fatwas of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who, along with the Sunni Arab insurgency, forced Bush to grant open elections.
That Bush's panegyrists always invoke Libya is bizarre. Qaddafi clearly was maneuvered into coming in from the cold primarily by EU economic sanctions, and was also motivated by his own fear of a Muslim radicalism far more extreme than his own. As I noted five years ago,
'One caveat: Qadhafi hasn't offered to step down or become less dictatorial. This isn't an advance for democracy. The Bush administration, despite its rhetoric of democratization, still has to choose in the Middle East between having malleable, known strongmen in power, or having unpredictable democracies that might elect radical Islamists or others odious to Washington. I wouldn't bet a lot on the democratization policy. The US if anything has been urging countries like Tunisia and Yemen to be less democratic and less concerned about civil rights, in the cause of stamping out radical Islamism.'
So despite Ajami's attempt at misdirection, Bush's Libya policy involved coddling a dictator, and cannot be cited as an instance of steadfast commitment to democratization.
As for Lebanon, Bush did not force Syria out, the Lebanese people did. The first thing that happened to them once they chose Bush's security umbrella in preference to that of Damascus was that Bush gave the green light to the Israelis to bomb the country back to 1975, wiping out a generation of economic recovery, degrading infrastructure, scaring off foreign investment, creating massive unemployment, and dropping a million cluster bombs on the farms of Ajami's relatives in the south. Far from destroying Hizbullah, the Bush-Israeli program of what Ajami appears to think was tough love for his native land strengthened radical Shiism and paved the way for a national unity government in which Hizbullah has a virtual veto over government policy and has had its militia formally recognized as an arm of the Lebanese state. Syria's domination of little Lebanon was wrong, but Bush and Ajami's friends among the Neoconservatives were no friends of Beirut and were entirely willing to crush the Lebanese like cockroaches to attain their aims there. To laud Bush as a liberator of the land of the cedars after he actively lobbied against an Israeli ceasefire, prolonging the agony at least an extra month, is like lauding Boris Yeltsin as a liberator of Chechnya.
Ajami cites Samuel Huntington to argue that democracy does not well up from the people but is often"midwifed" by the"dominant power." He says that of 30 democratic countries in 1970, about half had become democratic via foreign rule or made the transition to democracy"right after independence from foreign occupation." But 30 is a very small N on which to generalize, and the Nazi conquest of much of Europe in addition to decolonization in the post-war period introduced profound ambiguities into the whole analysis. Dutch democracy was vital before the German conquest, but was restored by the Allied invasion; so do we count Holland's democracy as being the result of American and British foreign power, or as a result of internal class and economic developments in Holland over centuries, which were briefly interrupted by the Nazis? And, I'll bet you Ajami is counting India as such a case, even though the British ruled India autocratically and it was Indian social and political forces that opted for independent democracy, something Churchill would never have allowed.
Why Ajami wants to cite 40-year-old scholarship on democratization should be clear: because if we looked at The Economist's ranking [pdf] of 167 contemporary countries, we would find that 82 or about half, are"full" or"flawed" democracies. And among those 82, vanishingly few underwent a successful democratic transition because of foreign conquest.
Moreover, Ajami is sidestepping the most important question in democratic transitions, which is not what kicks them off but why they fail or succeed. Adam Przeworski has found that a relatively high per capita income ($8000 a year or more) is highly correlated with successful democratic transitions, whereas very poor countries often fail. The literature on states that depend on income from a single pricey primary commodity ("rentier" states) finds that they seldom function as democracies (Norway is the major exception and it developed its political institutions well before it got oil).
So in today's world, democracy is very seldom the result of foreign conquest, and successful democracy even less so. (The Economist is apparently not convinced that Patton's invasion of Italy has yet borne firm fruit).
Ajami even dares say that"The appeal of the pamphlets of . . . Paine relied on the guns of Pax Britannica."
Tom Paine? Did Ajami really say that? His appeal depended on George III's guns? I mean, Ajami is supposed to be a historian. His topsy-turvey theory of democracy imposed from above has led him to erase the real Tom Paine from history and substitute a bizarro Tom Paine who, instead of hanging out with Jacobins in revolutionary Paris, goes out to vanquish tyranny with the Red Coats at his back! Ajami appears to have gotten Tom Paine mixed up with Benedict Arnold. It might be a telling error.
Some of us think we know exactly what Tom Paine would have thought of W.
Ajami argues that the image of Saddam Hussein flushed out of his spider hole has given hope to the Arab masses that tyrants can be overthrown. But I don't know any Arabs who look at it that way. Most seem to see the humiliation of Saddam as a joint project of American imperialism and Iranian, Shiite plotting, and they see Saddam's botched execution as a Shiite lynching. Ajami's own Shiite background makes him so unsympathetic to Sunni Arab nationalism that he is a poor guide to mass sentiment outside the two Souths, of Lebanon and Iraq.
Ajami argues that W. was a"force for emancipation in Muslim lands," whereas Obama was signaling in his speech that he would accept the established order. He calls on Obama to"recognize" Bush as having been a liberator!
But a US military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is not liberation, and nobody thinks it is, even the Iraqi Shiite political elite that Bush"midwifed" (he actually tried to forestall it by installing ex-Baathist strong man Ayad Allawi, but the Iraqi masses outfoxed him). If Ajami thinks that the basket case that is Afghanistan deserved flowery rhetoric and soaring figures of speech, he should compose an ode to Somalia while he is at it.
Ajami contrasts Obama, whom he configures as a Republican Realist in the Brent Scowcroft tradition, to emancipator Bush.
But note that it was Bush who backed Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan to the hilt against the masses and the politicians clamoring for a free judiciary and open parliamentary elections. And it was Barack Obama who congratulated Pakistanis on their return to civilian democracy. Ajami invents an imaginary democratic Bush and an imaginary Republican Obama.
Let us consider Bush's actual relations with Middle Eastern states beyond Pakistan, which would in itself be enough to demonstrate the falsity of Ajami's case. At what point did Bush pressure King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to turn himself into a constitutional monarch? When did Bush cut off the $2 billion a year his government bestowed on Hosni Mubarak's soft military dictatorship in Egypt? Did he not accept Qaddafi back into the fold without putting any 'democratic' preconditions on the deal? What of Gaza and the West Bank? Does Israel run them as"democracies"? Did Bush give a rat's ass?
Ajami the prestidigitator makes the elephant of Abu Ghraib, military occupation, the displacement of 4 million Iraqis from their homes, the excess deaths of a million, all disappear in favor of a shining Baghdadi democracy on a hill. The unstable and possibly violent confrontation of Arab and Kurd is celebrated as a tolerant binational state.
By focusing on this fantasy, of a stable democratic transition in places like Afghanistan (!), and by selectively ignoring all the dictatorial regimes Bush held hands with and kissed on both cheeks, Ajami sets up a false dichotomy that allows him to smear Obama.
Ajami descends to new lows in denying that the Palestinians have any legitimate grievances or that their resistance is grounded in those discontents, and blames Obama for acknowledging this obvious fact. (Readers should know that when the Israeli army expelled 100,000 Palestinians into south Lebanon in 1948, the Palestinian refugees found themselves competing for resources with Lebanese Shiites. While Shiite Islamists made common cause with the Palestinians, many traditional or secular Lebanese Shiites came to dislike them. They even garlanded Israeli soldiers who invaded Lebanon in 1982 to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose local leaders or za'ims had often assassinated or displaced Shiite notables in the south). Ajami's hatred of the Palestinians has a local history, which he has not transcended, and he apparently still keeps garlands to give out to the enemy of his enemy.
Ajami makes a pitiful plea for Obama and the US to go back to imagining that Osama Bin Laden is ten feet tall and that we are still plunged into a fateful confrontation with a new Soviet Union-type threat. In fact, al-Qaeda was a small, clever terrorist organization that has been largely if not completely disrupted. Further bankrupting the country by exaggerating its importance makes no sense to anyone who doesn't get millions of dollars in consulting fees as a"terrorism expert." This is not to say that al-Qaeda or other groups of that sort are not dangerous or should not be fought. It is to say that they are not the end-all and be-all of American foreign policy, however much Ajami would like them to be.
Ajami keeps warning us against the return of the Clinton age, as though peace and prosperity were bad and we should be nostalgic for the cataclysmic Bush era.
Let the Middle East get to democracy as Brazil and the Czech Republic and Taiwan have. We live in the age of the Third Wave of demoratization, not in 1945. We know the paths by which advances are made in our own time. Ajami's ways are those of another, darker era, and his aspirations, of playing comprador or dragoman to a friendly enlightened emperor, belong to an imperial epoch that is long past.
Ajami and his fellow travelers have gone a large way toward destroying everything good about the United States. If he wants to be a democratic revolutionary, let him emulate the real Tom Paine and go back to the Middle East and agitate for democracy there, instead of lolling about on the emoluments of the Hoover Institution in perilous Palo Alto. Tom Paine did not actually have the Empire's armies marching alongside him, and neither should Ajami expect to. Even less should he expect the rest of us to go on frittering away billions that we do not even have on his fantastic project of making fourth-world countries into advanced democracies at the point of a bayonet.
One of the most delightful things about January 20 is that it marked the end of a long Dark Age in which persons with Ajami's views had the ear of power in Washington.
Posted on: Sunday, February 1, 2009 - 20:40
SOURCE: Special to HNN (2-1-09)
During the next year, and possible longer, the American economy will be squeezing out jobs at a rapidly accelerating rate. Americans working in finance, manufacturing, retail trades, transportation, entertainment, and goverment employment, will be pushed out of the labor market until the economy bottoms out sometime in 2010, and will be forced to scramble to find new sources of income and in some cases, new living arragnements.
All of our training, and all of our instincts, will be to respond to this challenge on a strictly individual basis. We will go back to school, upgrade our resumes, start working out regularly, and get fashion make-overs to make ourselves seem attractive to prospective employers.
But until the economy starts growing again, these responses are unlikely to restore even a fraction of the jobs that were lost. What they will do is simply create a fiercer competition for the declining pool of jobs left and put people further in debt at a time when they need to husband scarce resources.
What Americans need to start doing, to survive what may be a two or three year period of deleveraging and deflation, is to start pooling their resoucres to live less wastefully, and begin saving money and accumulating capital to form new enterprises which may provide needed goods and services.
At a time when banks, because of the huge amount of unsecured debt still on their books, are unlikely to provide credit to consumers or new businesses in proportions needed to jump start the economy, capital accumulation for small businesses or non profit organizations may have to come as much from savings as from bank credit.
But to save, Americans, especially young Americans, may have to consider living arragnements that are unfamiliar, or even repugnant, to most middle class people, but have been central to the survival and success of many recent immigrants.
The most important of these are communal living arrangements. All over the United Sates, immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Africa, and South Asia, are living communally, sharing rent and food, to radically reduce living costs and allow them to send remittances home to relatives in their homelands.
Young people graduating from college or coming out of the military, should consider the same strategy. Whether in couples or not, they should form living cooperatives that share space, food, and income, allowing all to live at a fraction of the cost they would if they were living on their own. With whatever surplus they accumulate, they should purchase equipment to start their own small cooperative enterprises, whether it involves cleaning and home repair, landscaping, hydroponic agriculture, green energy conversion, catering, tutoring, auto and computer repair, information technology, fitness training, even music production. Because of the huge amount of abandoned space about to become available, either through foreclosures or new construction, finding residential and commercial space for such cooperatives, at reasonable rents, will not be difficult.
The genius of such arrangements is they allow people to pool income from a wide variety of sources including jobs, government transfer payments, gifts from family members, and avoid depending on credit arrgangements which may not be available, or that produce debt levels not easily repaid in a stagnant economy.
But equally important, such cooperatives could turn out to be an engine of long term economic growth.
As young people freed from the constraints of hyper consumption and indebtedness, seek economic niches where their services are needed, they are likely to find creative solutions to problems which conventional enterprises are unable to solve, or which are only economically viable if implemented on a small scale.
For many Americans, the flush days where economic success took the form of Hummers , McMansions and expensive trips to Vegas are coming to an end. But if they take a lesson from America's immigrants, who share resources and defer consumption to accumulate savings and build businesses, they may come out of this crisis stronger than before.
Communalism and solidarity, principles long of fashion in our society, need to get a new lease on life. Individualism and consumerism gone mad got us into this mess. It will take Cooperation to get us out
Posted on: Sunday, February 1, 2009 - 19:37
SOURCE: Deborah Lipstadt blog (2-1-09)
The Vatican has done far more than set back Vatican/Jewish relations. It has made itself look like it is living in the darkest of ages.
Pope Benedict XVI has reinstated as a bishop a man who both denies the Holocaust and suggests that 9/11 was an American plot. He has done so, it is reported, in order to strengthen relations with a renegade segment of the Catholic Church. This is one of those inexplicable moves that has left many people asking "Have they no decency?" A more basic and, possibly even more appropriate question would be. "Have they no common sense?"
A number of commentators have observed that this will "complicate" Vatican-Jewish relations and will make it more difficult for Israel and the Vatican to come to an agreement about a papal visit in the near future. All this may be true, but that is an exceptionally narrow way of looking at the implications of this move. Simply put, it makes the Vatican look as if it is once again living in the most unenlightened of ages.
Holocaust denial is an explicit form of antisemitism. It has no purpose but to inculcate contempt for Jews. According to deniers Jews use the Holocaust to win the world's sympathy and, in the course of so doing, win reparations from Germany and political support for Israel. Such a charge, based as it is the imagery of money and political manipulation, hearkens back to traditional antisemitic stereotypes. Why a pope would want to give support to such a movement is baffling. More baffling, however, is why a pope would want to associate the Vatican with someone who preaches lies and manipulations of history.
In 2000 I spent ten weeks in a British court because Holocaust denier David Irving charged that I had libeled him by calling him a denier and an antisemite. My legal team traced Irving's comments and claims about the Holocaust backed to their sources. We followed the footnotes. In every case we found some form of invention, manipulation, distortion, and deletion. The documents that he claimed "proved" that the Holocaust did not happen did no such thing. His wrongs were so egregious that the judge, in a sweeping condemnation of Irving, used language not often heard in a British legal decision. Irving, the judge wrote, "perverts," and "distorts." His statements about the Holocaust were "misleading," "unjustified," "a travesty," and "unreal."
But there was more to it than just that. This was not happenstance or a series of improbable mistakes. Irving's "falsification of the historical record was deliberate and ... motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence."
Holocaust deniers rely on a merry-go-round of "I will cite you and you will cite me." Irving's claims about the Holocaust are either drawn whole cloth from other denier or parroted by other deniers, such as Bishop Williamson. Deniers have no independent proof on which to rely because there is none. The Vatican has associated itself with a body of lies.
But the reinstated bishop does not just deny the Holocaust. He also claims 9/11 was staged by America as a pretext to invade Afghanistan. The linkage between the two sets of denial is, of course, not happenstance. Basic to 9/11 denial is the charge that four thousand Jewish workers in the World Trade Center were warned to stay home that day. In fact, about 500 Jews were among the victims. That is over 15% of the total, a number consistent with the Jewish population of the New York metropolitan area. Moreover, how could so many people be told anything and thousands more not hear about it?
In short, both these claims are not just malicious forms of antisemitism but they are completely illogical. They would be laughable were it not for the tragedies they address.
In embracing Bishop Williamson the Vatican has done far more than set back Vatican/Jewish relations. It has made itself look like it is living in the darkest of ages. One awaits a pronouncement that it is heresy to believe that the earth revolves around the sun or didn't the Vatican already once do that?
Posted on: Sunday, February 1, 2009 - 19:29