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: Newsweek (6-20-09)
For years American conversation about Iraq has included a refrain about how we cannot expect to create a Jeffersonian democracy on the Euphrates. The admonition is true: if you think about it, America itself is not really a Jeffersonian democracy either (we are more of a Jacksonian one, which means there is a powerful central government with a cultural tilt toward states' rights). And yet Jefferson keeps coming to mind as the drama in Iran unfolds. The events there seem to be a chapter in the very Jeffersonian story of the death of theocracy, or rule by clerics, and the gradual separation of church and state. In one of the last letters of his life, in 1826, Jefferson said this of the Declaration of Independence: "May it be to the world what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves."
However strong they may be for a time, theocracies cannot finally survive modernity, because one of the key features of modernity is the shift of emphasis from the privileges and power of institutions (a monarch, a clerical establishment, the state itself) to the rights and relative autonomy of the individual. In many ways, the modern virtues are the ones we associate with democracy: a free (or free-ish) flow of ideas, capital and people in an ethos in which men and women are free (or, again, free-ish) to form their own opinions and follow the dictates of their own consciences. By their very nature, theocracies are at risk in the face of such a world, for they are founded on an un-modern and undemocratic idea—that temporal power should be invested in those who claim that their decisions about the life of this world carry divine authority from a deity who dwells in the world to come.
To say that theocracies are doomed is not to argue that religion is any less important in our age. Quite the opposite: religious faith is an intrinsic element of human experience ("All men," said Homer, "have need of the gods"), and religion can be the undoing of a religious establishment, for an individual's interpretation of the applications of faith to politics may well differ from the institutional interpretation. There is a deep irony at work here. Theocracies usually mandate the teaching of religion, but the teaching of religion—the spread of texts and commentaries, the opening of theological debates among the people as well as the clerics—can lead not to uniform public belief but to a questioning of orthodoxy.
Which is always a favorite activity of a new generation. The products of one world often react against the world of their parents: the descendants of the established church in Colonial America, for example, grew up to favor religious freedom. In Iran, many of those protesting the regime have come of age after the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini and his velayat-e faqih, or rule by the Supreme Jurist, to power....
Posted on: Sunday, June 21, 2009 - 14:57
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (6-20-09)
Reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi said Saturday morning that the 4 pm GMT rally on Saturday against the alleged stealing of the presidential election in Iran would go ahead. This despite the threats made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in his Friday prayer sermon to crack down on" chaos." Karroubi, a cleric, is not a wild man and his determination to forge on shows that Khamenei did not succeed in laying the issue to rest. Moroever, there are popular constituencies with genuine grievances who are doing grassroots organizing. (For the role of women in the protests, see here.
Khamenei's speech on Friday underlined that Iran was under siege from abroad. He implied that Britain and the United States were sponsoring counter-revolutionary fifth columns aimed at overthrowing the regime. He said that Israel and its supporters were plotting against Iran. He depicted the righteous, pious, just and upright Islamic Republic of Iran as virtually alone in the world, at risk of being toppled by the wicked, oppressive global powers dedicated to the iniquitous hegemony of consumer capitalism, which corrupts morals and punishes the poor.
It is for this reason, he said, that everyone must pull together. He was careful to depict the crisis as a split among old comrades in arms. He acknowledged that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had gone too far in his television debates with rivals, having impugned the integrity of the Islamic Republic in the 1980s through the present, having accused members of the Hashemi Rafsanjani family of getting rich from corrupt dealings with the government, and having slammed the son of Ali Akbar Nateq Nuri (former speaker of the house and failed presidential aspirant in 1997) for embezzlement from state coffers. Khamenei praised the frankness and openness of the televised presidential debates but warned that if they descended too far into personal accusations and bickering they would become counter-productive.
Khamenei praised the contributions to the revolution of Mir Hosain Mousavi, whom he depicts as the runner-up in a fair election, and of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mehdi Karoubi and Mohsen Rezaie, the latter two candidates having been awarded only a few hundred thousand votes each by the electoral commission. But, he said, given the severe menaces to Iran from abroad, they must bury the hatchet with Ahmadinejad and move on.
Khamenei seemed to me to explain one thing I had not understood, which is why the regime felt compelled to allege that Ahmadinejad had won in such a landslide, of 63% to Mousavi's 32%. I still don't find that assertion plausible. But Khamenei gave as one reason for which there could be no challenge to Ahmadinejad's victory that a margin of 11 million votes was unassailable. It would have been more plausible if Ahmadinejad had squeaked out a victory, but I now see that the down side for the regime would have been that a narrow win for the incumbent, despite being more believable, would have emboldened the challengers and put pressure on the supreme leader for a genuine recount. This way, Khamenei can just shoot down such demands. But what he does not realize is that although he has made it easier to resist a recount, he has completely undermined faith in the system on the part of millions of Iranians, who, as he said, were system insiders, not outsiders. Whether or not Khamenei succeeds in quelling the current unrest, I don't think the regime will be left untouched by this debacle in the future.
Khamenei dismissed carping from the US and the UK about Iran's authoritarian system as mere hypocrisy. The US, he said, has killed thousands in an illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and is bombing people in Afghanistan. Even domestically, he alleged, the US does not permit freedom of dissent, as shown by the Clinton administration's siege of the Branch Davidian sect at Waco, Tx., which ended with large numbers of people being immolated. [Khamenei conveniently leaves out that this was an armed group engaged in firearms violations and child abuse; as if such an armed cult would be tolerated by his government in Iran! Though it is true that many religion specialists believe the Reno approach was heavy-handed and counter-productive.] He also found laughable British protestations against Iran's system in light of the current scandal in the UK over the members of parliament using public funds to fix up their houses, buy houses, or pay mortgages on alleged houses that did not actually exist. (This scandal has angered the British public like nothing I've seen in 40 years of visiting the UK, and has profoundly undermined public trust in government; I doubt most Americans, who mainly get their news from television, even know about it, since corporate mass media in the US encourages the public to cocoon and ignore the rest of the world where possible. But Khamenei's point may resonate with some Britons.)
The tropes of British and American conspiracies against Iranian sovereignty are so well ingrained in Iranian consciousness that Khamenei only had to allude to them. There are odd idees fixes in the Iranian public about British power in Iran that go back to the Victorian age when British India neighbored the Qajar empire and asserted its south as a British sphere of influence during the Great Game with tsarist Russia over Central Asia. Me, I wonder if MI6 even has more than a handful of field officers and local agents in Iran.
This paranoid style in Iranian political discourse (which has its counterparts in the US) was being deployed to damn the protesters as witting or unwitting tools of nefarious imperial designs on the Iranian state. Khamenei heavily implied that the protesters would be cracked down on brutally if they continued, and would be depicted and treated as traitors.
At the end of the sermon, Khamenei prayed to the hidden Twelfth Imam, the Shiite messiah, to whom, he said, true sovereignty over Iran belonged. This way of speaking seemed to me to be a concession to Ahmadinejad, who sees the Islamic Republic as the manifestation of the will of the hidden Imam, a view mainstream Shiite clerics find blasphemous. Shiites believe that after the Prophet Muhammad's death, he was succeeded by his son-in-law and cousin Ali, and then the latter's descendants (also the Prophet's descendants through his daughter Fatimah, Ali's wife). The Twelver branch of Shiism in Iran and Iraq believes that the Twelfth Imam disappeared as a small child into a supernatural, immortal dimension. Some sayings have him walking hidden among us, others speak of his location in a distant mystical geography (the mountain of Jabulsa' e.g.) But Shiites believe he will one day reveal himself, or return. In his absence, there can be no truly legitimate government, since the descendant of the Prophet or Imam should rule by secret divine knowledge. Khomeini alleged that in the Imam's absence, the seminary-trained clergy could rule in his stead, though Khomeini did not maintain that the clergy had certain knowledge of the Imam's will; the best they could do was an educated conjecture (zann) based on scripture and holy sayings, but since that was the best they could do, they would be forgiven if they got anything wrong. That is a different stance from Ahmadinejad's which sees the hidden hand of the Imam working through the theocratic state. Khamenei did not endorse the latter view explicitly, but he did seem to me to imply that the protesters were rebelling not just against a mortal government but against the will of the Hidden Imam himself.
It now seems only a matter of time until there are high-level arrests and then an intervention against the protesters by the security forces of a quite brutal sort. Only if Mousavi backs down (and thus possibly demoralizes the crowds) can this outcome now be averted.
The real question is whether this is 1963, when the shah managed to put down a rebellion led by Ruhollah Khomeini, or whether it is 1978-79, when he failed to do so. The answer lies in the depth of support for the protests among the population, and in the stance of the various armed forces toward the latter. In 1963 the military was willing to crack down hard on the protesters. In 1978, they started refusing to fire on them. The air force officers actually went over to Khomeini, which was decisive. Precisely because the opposition is from within the ruling circle, we cannot know what the Revolutionary Guards and the regular armed forces are thinking. Mousavi helped get Iran's military act together during the Iran-Iraq War. Rezaie is a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Iran's national guard. If the armed forces hesitate or split, Khamenei could be in real trouble. If not, the protesters could end up being crushed. (See also here on the military dynamics.
See also Gary Sick's reaction.
Posted on: Saturday, June 20, 2009 - 09:56
SOURCE: Austin American-Statesman (6-19-09)
Ignorance is not always bliss. Just ask police Lt. Wayne DeMoss who was denied promotion recently for failing to recognize City Manager Marc Ott at the funeral of a former police captain. What do you think about that decision?
I received a MacArthur Genius Award yet I routinely blank on the names of deans, provosts, colleagues and students. I even trip up on my wife's name.
We all, I think, have had memory lapses on somber occasions like funerals, when our minds should be on more important things than a city official's need for name recognition.
What we should want to know is whether a single decision DeMoss made or a single action he took in his 22 years of service depended on his knowing the name of Austin's city manager?
Ignorance can also be a relative thing. In his recent book "Just How Stupid Are We?", Rick Shenkman asks a serious question about the level of ignorance in our or any democracy. How can democracy work, if we as "the people," the demos in the very name the ancient Athenians used for the democracy they invented in 507 BCE, know so little about important issues affecting our lives and the future of our nation?
How many judges have you voted for knowing nothing other than their names and party affiliation? What do we know about our rights and responsibilities as citizens? According to recent surveys that Shenkman cites, only 40 percent of American citizens can name the three branches of government and only 34 percent know that Congress declares war.
How do we explain our lack of political smarts? Does our ignorance really matter?
In some cases, we the people cannot be blamed. We would know that Congress declares war, if our elected representatives in Congress actually lived up to their constitutional responsibility to declare war. From the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that led to our undeclared war in Vietnam to the resolution on presidential use of military force that led to the undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, presidents have sent our soldiers off to fight in foreign lands.
In other cases, we forget what we have learned about civics in high school or college, because we live in a society where democracy is remarkably stable. According to Shenkman, only one in a thousand of us can name the five rights we are guaranteed by the First Amendment. I could not.
But I guarantee you if we were denied the right to assemble or to express ourselves openly or to read any newspaper we pleased or to turn to Fox News or MSNBC, we would soon be activating our knowledge of the Constitution.
Are all the Iranians flooding the streets of Tehran well-informed about their government? I doubt whether they would poll any better on basic civics questions. But they do know when an election has been rigged, and they have responded bravely en masse.
If the stakes had been higher here in 2000, if Al Gore had been less like Al Gore and if we had then the hindsight we now have, some of us would have taken to the streets.
We were not ignorant. We just could not foresee what having a president named George W. Bush would cost us.
Posted on: Friday, June 19, 2009 - 22:10
SOURCE: Times Literary Supplement (6-17-09)
What makes the ancient Greeks worth studying is that they are sufficiently like us to be comprehensible but sufficiently unlike us to be worth making the effort to understand. It may be a common theme among enthusiastic modern supporters of the Classics that the Greeks and Romans were very much like us (and that they therefore legitimate the present). Most academics, on the other hand, prefer to emphasize how different and simultaneously how similar they were. The culture of -- say -- pharaonic Egypt is, despite its fascination, beyond the grasp of all but a few specialists, whereas ancient Greece and Rome are both inside and outside our ken.
Let me explore just one example. A crucial factor in this pattern of 'similarity and difference', and one with tremendous resonance in the early twenty-first century, is money. As I argued some years ago in Money and the Early Greek Mind (2004), the pivotal position of the Greeks in world culture stems largely from the fact that the sixth-century polis was the first society in history (with the conceivable exception of China) to be pervaded by money. Coinage was invented towards the end of the seventh century BC, and spread rapidly in the Greek city-states from the beginning of the sixth. Did not the Babylonians, for instance, use silver as money well before that? On any sensibly narrow definition of money, no they did not.
This new and revolutionary phenomenon of money itself underpinned and stimulated two great inventions in the Greek polis of the sixth century, 'philosophy' and tragedy. 'Philosophy' (or rather idea of the cosmos as an impersonal system) was first produced in the very first monetized society, early sixth-century Ionia, and -- even more specifically -- in its commercial centre Miletos. The tendency of pre-modern society to project social power onto cosmology (for example, 'king Zeus rules the world') applies to the new social power of money. And the following description applies equally to money and to much of the cosmology of the early philosophers: universal power resides not in a person but in an impersonal, all-underlying, semi-abstract substance.
But the relationship of money and tragedy is no less striking. Tragedy was created shortly after the introduction into Athens of coinage. This -- though it has no place in the voluminous literature on the subject -- seems to me one of the most important facts about tragedy. Greek myth is, of course, largely pre-monetary, but in tragedy it is shaped by the new all-pervasive power of money. It is not only the obsession with money of some tragic tyrants (Oedipus, for example) that I have in mind. An entirely new feature of money is that its possession renders unnecessary in principle all pre-monetary forms of social relationship: reciprocity, redistribution, kinship, ritual, and so on. Money allows you to fulfil all your needs. It provides the power to increase itself. And it tends to promote predatory isolation. Hence the focus of much Athenian tragedy on the extreme isolation of the individual -- from the gods and even (through killing) from his closest kin. I know of no precedent for this in literature, certainly not in the pre-monetary society depicted in Homer. This horrifying possibility is embodied in the figure of the tyrant (turannos), who in historiographic, philosophical and tragic texts characteristically kills his own kin, violates the sacred, and is much concerned with money as a means of power. The word 'hero', the preoccupation of so much critical literature on the subject, barely
occurs in Athenian tragedy, but turannos (or some form of that word) occurs over 170 times....
Posted on: Friday, June 19, 2009 - 16:16
SOURCE: Harvard International Review (6-1-09)
Humanitarian interventionists have blood on their hands. Their impulse to “free a nation from the tyrant’s grip,” to pick professor-cum-politician Michael Ignatieff’s formulation, helped to permit the Iraq War. True, humanitarian interventionists were not the war’s architects. Some opposed it altogether. But they may have enabled it. For five years before the invasion, humanitarian interventionists popularized assumptions that made the war seem innocuous at worst and virtuous at best. Quick doses of US military force, they claimed, would easily transform polities on the periphery, forging stability from genocide.
Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell, the wildly popular 2003 Pulitzer winner, epitomized the blindness. Power condemned a century of US inaction without describing how any intervention would have unfolded. The United States self-evidently enjoyed “vast resources” to stop genocide. She ignored the challenge of post-conflict reconstruction, mocked deference to public opinion, and devalued multilateral legal procedures. If these qualities sound familiar, it is because humanitarian interventionism was neoconservatism of the left. Swap the goals of stopping genocides and toppling tyrannies and the difference was scant.
Now, humanitarian interventionists are back in power — despite the Iraq war’s unpopularity and the US president’s pledges to end not just the war but also the ideology that spawned it. In 2007, Vice President Joe Biden called for US ground troops to end Darfur’s genocide. UN Ambassador Susan Rice has long championed US bombing for that purpose. Power directs multilateral affairs at the National Security Council. While President Barack Obama appears to value prudence and pragmatism, humanitarian interventionism may resonate with him. On entering the Senate, Obama recruited Power to mentor him in foreign affairs after she made her name writing on genocide.
Yet, although humanitarian interventionists are ascendant, humanitarian interventionism is quietly in crisis. Humanitarians and human rights activists face newfound hostility animated by President George W. Bush’s use or abuse of their cause. In the United States, an overstretched military leaves the movement little choice but to tread water. “Thanks to the war in Iraq,” Power conceded in 2006, “sending a sizable US force to Darfur is not an option.” Even the idealists speak like realists now. The shallow debate among humanitarian interventionists nonetheless suggests a skin-deep conversion, an adaptation to circumstances rather than a revision of principles. What will happen if the United States recovers? Old temptations may well return. For if genocide is so heinous that it absolutely must be stopped, why should quibbles about exit strategies, public apathy, or UN votes stand in the way?
The new administration needs a new posture toward humanitarian military intervention, and fast, before the next crisis erupts. It would be a disaster for US foreign relations if Obama created a quagmire of his own. Humanitarian interventionists, too, need a doctrine that both embodies their best values and redresses their past mistakes. After a lost decade, helping victims of violence remains a worthy aim. But if humanitarian interventionists fail to rethink their assumptions, the future will not be kind.
When Stopping Mass Killing Is Just
Humanitarian interventionists often adopt the language of absolute, abstract moral obligations. “Never again,” goes the post-Holocaust mantra. Ignatieff asserted a “duty to intervene” to stop genocide. Such attitudes imply an unconditional responsibility to act. They rest, first, on overestimates of Anglo-American power after the Cold War: surely the world’s current and former superpowers could keep, for instance, poor Africans from hacking at each other with machetes? Mostly, they express abhorrence of genocide, succored by an explosion in Holocaust literature. Genocide is regarded as a moral emergency of the highest order. It appears to transcend conventional politics. As the director of a Darfur advocacy group told Congress: “Genocide is not political. It violates every principle of humanity and should be addressed without political considerations.” This view descends from a decades-long tradition of activists who have imagined humanitarianism and human rights as operating on a plane separate from that of normal political contestation. Human rights were “antipolitics,” in Hungarian dissident George Konrбd’s 1984 appraisal.
Claims to extrapolitical status might be tenable for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which maintains rigid impartiality by acting only as states allow. Those who want to stop genocide, by contrast, are being eminently political. Thwarting a genocidal state is a political act, subject to practical constraints and moral imperfections. A duty to stop genocide cannot be plunked down a priori, abstracted from political realities and competing claims. The morality of intervention depends on accommodating such realities and trumping such claims. In short, humanitarian intervention is politics....
Posted on: Friday, June 19, 2009 - 01:16
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (6-7-09)
If, like me, you've been following America's torture policies not just for the last few years, but for decades, you can't help but experience that eerie feeling of déjà vu these days. With the departure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from Washington and the arrival of Barack Obama, it may just be back to the future when it comes to torture policy, a turn away from a dark, do-it-yourself ethos and a return to the outsourcing of torture that went on, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, in the Cold War years.
Like Chile after the regime of General Augusto Pinochet or the Philippines after the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Washington after Bush is now trapped in the painful politics of impunity. Unlike anything our allies have experienced, however, for Washington, and so for the rest of us, this may prove a political crisis without end or exit.
Despite dozens of official inquiries in the five years since the Abu Ghraib photos first exposed our abuse of Iraqi detainees, the torture scandal continues to spread like a virus, infecting all who touch it, including now Obama himself. By embracing a specific methodology of torture, covertly developed by the CIA over decades using countless millions of taxpayer dollars and graphically revealed in those Iraqi prison photos, we have condemned ourselves to retreat from whatever promises might be made to end this sort of abuse and are instead already returning to a bipartisan consensus that made torture America's secret weapon throughout the Cold War.
Despite the 24 version of events, the Bush administration did not simply authorize traditional, bare-knuckle torture. What it did do was develop to new heights the world's most advanced form of psychological torture, while quickly recognizing the legal dangers in doing so. Even in the desperate days right after 9/11, the White House and Justice Department lawyers who presided over the Bush administration's new torture program were remarkably punctilious about cloaking their decisions in legalisms designed to preempt later prosecution.
To most Americans, whether they supported the Bush administration torture policy or opposed it, all of this seemed shocking and very new. Not so, unfortunately. Concealed from Congress and the public, the CIA had spent the previous half-century developing and propagating a sophisticated form of psychological torture meant to defy investigation, prosecution, or prohibition -- and so far it has proved remarkably successful on all these counts. Even now, since many of the leading psychologists who worked to advance the CIA's torture skills have remained silent, we understand surprisingly little about the psychopathology of the program of mental torture that the Bush administration applied so globally.
Physical torture is a relatively straightforward matter of sadism that leaves behind broken bodies, useless information, and clear evidence for prosecution. Psychological torture, on the other hand, is a mind maze that can destroy its victims, even while entrapping its perpetrators in an illusory, almost erotic, sense of empowerment. When applied skillfully, it leaves few scars for investigators who might restrain this seductive impulse. However, despite all the myths of these last years, psychological torture, like its physical counterpart, has proven an ineffective, even counterproductive, method for extracting useful information from prisoners.
Where it has had a powerful effect is on those ordering and delivering it. With their egos inflated beyond imagining by a sense of being masters of life and death, pain and pleasure, its perpetrators, when in office, became forceful proponents of abuse, striding across the political landscape like Nietzschean supermen. After their fall from power, they have continued to maneuver with extraordinary determination to escape the legal consequences of their actions.
Before we head deeper into the hidden history of the CIA's psychological torture program, however, we need to rid ourselves of the idea that this sort of torture is somehow"torture lite" or merely, as the Bush administration renamed it,"enhanced interrogation." Although seemingly less brutal than physical methods, psychological torture actually inflicts a crippling trauma on its victims."Ill treatment during captivity, such as psychological manipulations and forced stress positions," Dr. Metin Basoglu has reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry after interviewing 279 Bosnian victims of such methods,"does not seem to be substantially different from physical torture in terms of the severity of mental suffering."
A Secret History of Psychological Torture
The roots of our present paralysis over what to do about detainee abuse lie in the hidden history of the CIA's program of psychological torture. Early in the Cold War, panicked that the Soviets had somehow cracked the code of human consciousness, the Agency mounted a"Special Interrogation Program" whose working hypothesis was:"Medical science, particularly psychiatry and psychotherapy, has developed various techniques by means of which some external control can be imposed on the mind/or will of an individual, such as drugs, hypnosis, electric shock and neurosurgery."
All of these methods were tested by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s. None proved successful for breaking potential enemies or obtaining reliable information. Beyond these ultimately unsuccessful methods, however, the Agency also explored a behavioral approach to cracking that" code." In 1951, in collaboration with British and Canadian defense scientists, the Agency encouraged academic research into"methods concerned in psychological coercion." Within months, the Agency had defined the aims of its top-secret program, code-named Project Artichoke, as the"development of any method by which we can get information from a person against his will and without his knowledge."
This secret research produced two discoveries central to the CIA's more recent psychological paradigm. In classified experiments, famed Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb found that he could induce a state akin to drug-induced hallucinations and psychosis in just 48 hours -- without drugs, hypnosis, or electric shock. Instead, for two days student volunteers at McGill University simply sat in a comfortable cubicle deprived of sensory stimulation by goggles, gloves, and earmuffs."It scared the hell out of us," Hebb said later,"to see how completely dependent the mind is on a close connection with the ordinary sensory environment, and how disorganizing to be cut off from that support."
During the 1950s, two neurologists at Cornell Medical Center, under CIA contract, found that the most devastating torture technique of the Soviet secret police, the KGB, was simply to force a victim to stand for days while the legs swelled, the skin erupted in suppurating lesions, and hallucinations began -- a procedure which we now politely refer to as"stress positions."
Four years into this project, there was a sudden upsurge of interest in using mind control techniques defensively after American prisoners in North Korea suffered what was then called"brainwashing." In August 1955, President Eisenhower ordered that any soldier at risk of capture should be given"specific training and instruction designed to... withstand all enemy efforts against him."
Consequently, the Air Force developed a program it dubbed SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) to train pilots in resisting psychological torture. In other words, two intertwined strands of research into torture methods were being explored and developed: aggressive methods for breaking enemy agents and defensive methods for training Americans to resist enemy inquisitors.
In 1963, the CIA distilled its decade of research into the curiously named KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation manual, which stated definitively that sensory deprivation was effective because it made"the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure... strengthening... the subject's tendencies toward compliance." Refined through years of practice on actual human beings, the CIA's psychological paradigm now relies on a mix of sensory overload and deprivation via seemingly banal procedures: the extreme application of heat and cold, light and dark, noise and silence, feast and famine -- all meant to attack six essential sensory pathways into the human mind.
After codifying its new interrogation methods in the KUBARK manual, the Agency spent the next 30 years promoting these torture techniques within the U.S. intelligence community and among anti-communist allies. In its clandestine journey across continents and decades, the CIA's psychological torture paradigm would prove elusive, adaptable, devastatingly destructive, and powerfully seductive. So darkly seductive is torture's appeal that these seemingly scientific methods, even when intended for a few Soviet spies or al-Qaeda terrorists, soon spread uncontrollably in two directions -- toward the torture of the many and into a paroxysm of brutality towards specific individuals. During the Vietnam War, when the CIA applied these techniques in their search for information on top Vietcong cadre, the interrogation effort soon degenerated into the crude physical brutality of the Phoenix Program, producing 46,000 extrajudicial executions and little actionable intelligence.
In 1994, with the Cold War over, Washington ratified the U.N. Convention Against Torture, seemingly resolving the tension between its anti-torture principles and its torture practices. Yet when President Clinton sent this Convention to Congress, he included four little-noticed diplomatic"reservations" drafted six years before by the Reagan administration and focused on just one word in those 26 printed pages:"mental."
These reservations narrowed (just for the United States) the definition of"mental" torture to include just four acts: the infliction of physical pain, the use of drugs, death threats, or threats to harm another. Excluded were methods such as sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain, the very techniques the CIA had propagated for the past 40 years. This definition was reproduced verbatim in Section 2340 of the U.S. Federal Code and later in the War Crimes Act of 1996. Through this legal legerdemain, Washington managed to agree, via the U.N. Convention, to ban physical abuse even while exempting the CIA from the U.N.'s prohibition on psychological torture.
This little noticed exemption was left buried in those documents like a landmine and would detonate with phenomenal force just 10 years later at Abu Ghraib prison.
War on Terror, War of Torture
Right after his public address to a shaken nation on September 11, 2001, President Bush gave his staff secret orders to pursue torture policies, adding emphatically,"I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass." In a dramatic break with past policy, the White House would even allow the CIA to operate its own global network of prisons, as well as charter air fleet to transport seized suspects and"render" them for endless detention in a supranational gulag of secret"black sites" from Thailand to Poland.
The Bush administration also officially allowed the CIA ten"enhanced" interrogation methods designed by agency psychologists, including"waterboarding." This use of cold water to block breathing triggers the"mammalian diving reflex," hardwired into every human brain, thus inducing an uncontrollable terror of impending death.
As Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker, psychologists working for both the Pentagon and the CIA"reverse engineered" the military's SERE training, which included a brief exposure to waterboarding, and flipped these defensive methods for use offensively on al-Qaeda captives."They sought to render the detainees vulnerable -- to break down all of their senses," one official told Mayer."It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences." Inside Agency headquarters, there was, moreover, a"high level of anxiety" about the possibility of future prosecutions for methods officials knew to be internationally defined as torture. The presence of Ph.D. psychologists was considered one"way for CIA officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture."
From recently released Justice Department memos, we now know that the CIA refined its psychological paradigm significantly under Bush. As described in the classified 2004 Background Paper on the CIA's Combined Use of Interrogation Techniques, each detainee was transported to an Agency black site while"deprived of sight and sound through the use of blindfolds, earmuffs, and hoods." Once inside the prison, he was reduced to"a baseline, dependent state" through conditioning by"nudity, sleep deprivation (with shackling...), and dietary manipulation."
For"more physical and psychological stress," CIA interrogators used coercive measures such as"an insult slap or abdominal slap" and then"walling," slamming the detainee's head against a cell wall. If these failed to produce the results sought, interrogators escalated to waterboarding, as was done to Abu Zubaydah"at least 83 times during August 2002" and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad 183 times in March 2003 -- so many times, in fact, that the repetitiousness of the act can only be considered convincing testimony to the seductive sadism of CIA-style torture.
In a parallel effort launched by Bush-appointed civilians in the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave General Geoffrey Miller command of the new American military prison at Guantanamo in late 2002 with ample authority to transform it into an ad hoc psychology lab. Behavioral Science Consultation Teams of military psychologists probed detainees for individual phobias like fear of the dark. Interrogators stiffened the psychological assault by exploiting what they saw as Arab cultural sensitivities when it came to sex and dogs. Via a three-phase attack on the senses, on culture, and on the individual psyche, interrogators at Guantanamo perfected the CIA's psychological paradigm.
After General Miller visited Iraq in September 2003, the U.S. commander there, General Ricardo Sanchez, ordered Guantanamo-style abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. My own review of the 1,600 still-classified photos taken by American guards at Abu Ghraib -- which journalists covering this story seem to share like Napster downloads -- reveals not random, idiosyncratic acts by"bad apples," but the repeated, constant use of just three psychological techniques: hooding for sensory deprivation, shackling for self-inflicted pain, and (to exploit Arab cultural sensitivities) both nudity and dogs. It is no accident that Private Lynndie England was famously photographed leading an Iraqi detainee leashed like a dog.
These techniques, according to the New York Times, then escalated virally at five Special Operations field interrogation centers where detainees were subjected to extreme sensory deprivation, beating, burning, electric shock, and waterboarding. Among the thousand soldiers in these units, 34 were later convicted of abuse and many more escaped prosecution only because records were officially"lost."
"Behind the Green Door" at the White House
Further up the chain of command, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as she recently told the Senate," convened a series of meetings of NSC [National Security Council] principals in 2002 and 2003 to discuss various issues… relating to detainees." This group, including Vice President Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and CIA director George Tenet, met dozens of times inside the White House Situation Room.
After watching CIA operatives mime what Rice called" certain physical and psychological interrogation techniques," these leaders, their imaginations stimulated by graphic visions of human suffering, repeatedly authorized extreme psychological techniques stiffened by hitting, walling, and waterboarding. According to an April 2008 ABC News report, Attorney General Ashcroft once interrupted this collective fantasy by asking aloud,"Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
In mid-2004, even after the Abu Ghraib photos were released, these principals met to approve the use of CIA torture techniques on still more detainees. Despite mounting concerns about the damage torture was doing to America's standing, shared by Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice commanded Agency officials with the cool demeanor of a dominatrix."This is your baby," she reportedly said."Go do it."
Even as they exercise extraordinary power over others, perpetrators of torture around the world are assiduous in trying to cover their tracks. They construct recondite legal justifications, destroy records of actual torture, and paper the files with spurious claims of success. Hence, the CIA destroyed 92 interrogation videotapes, while Vice President Cheney now berates Obama incessantly (five times in his latest Fox News interview) to declassify"two reports" which he claims will show the informational gains that torture offered -- possibly because his staff salted the files at the NSC or the CIA with documents prepared for this very purpose.
Not only were Justice Department lawyers aggressive in their advocacy of torture in the Bush years, they were meticulous from the start, in laying the legal groundwork for later impunity. In three torture memos from May 2005 that the Obama administration recently released, Bush's Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stephen Bradbury repeatedly cited those original U.S. diplomatic"reservations" to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, replicated in Section 2340 of the Federal code, to argue that waterboarding was perfectly legal since the"technique is not physically painful." Anyway, he added, careful lawyering at Justice and the CIA had punched loopholes in both the U.N. Convention and U.S. law so wide that these Agency techniques were"unlikely to be subject to judicial inquiry."
Just to be safe, when Vice President Cheney presided over the drafting of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he included clauses, buried in 38 pages of dense print, defining"serious physical pain" as the"significant loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty." This was a striking paraphrase of the outrageous definition of physical torture as pain"equivalent in intensity to... organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" in John Yoo's infamous August 2002"torture memo," already repudiated by the Justice Department.
Above all, the Military Commissions Act protected the CIA's use of psychological torture by repeating verbatim the exculpatory language found in those Clinton-era, Reagan-created reservations to the U.N. Convention and still embedded in Section 2340 of the Federal code. To make doubly sure, the act also made these definitions retroactive to November 1997, giving CIA interrogators immunity from any misdeeds under the Expanded War Crimes Act of 1997 which punishes serious violations with life imprisonment or death.
No matter how twisted the process, impunity -- whether in England, Indonesia, or America -- usually passes through three stages:
1. Blame the supposed"bad apples."
2. Invoke the security argument. ("It protected us.")
3. Appeal to national unity. ("We need to move forward together.")
For a year after the Abu Ghraib exposé, Rumsfeld's Pentagon blamed various low-ranking bad apples by claiming the abuse was"perpetrated by a small number of U.S. military." In his statement on May 13th, while refusing to release more torture photos, President Obama echoed Rumsfeld, claiming the abuse in these latest images, too,"was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals."
In recent weeks, Republicans have taken us deep into the second stage with Cheney's statements that the CIA's methods"prevented the violent deaths of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people."
Then, on April 16th, President Obama brought us to the final stage when he released the four Bush-era memos detailing CIA torture, insisting:"Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." During a visit to CIA headquarters four days later, Obama promised that there would be no prosecutions of Agency employees."We've made some mistakes," he admitted, but urged Americans simply to"acknowledge them and then move forward." The president's statements were in such blatant defiance of international law that the U.N.'s chief official on torture, Manfred Nowak, reminded him that Washington was actually obliged to investigate possible violations of the Convention Against Torture.
This process of impunity is leading Washington back to a global torture policy that, during the Cold War, was bipartisan in nature: publicly advocating human rights while covertly outsourcing torture to allied governments and their intelligence agencies. In retrospect, it may become ever more apparent that the real aberration of the Bush years lay not in torture policies per se, but in the President's order that the CIA should operate its own torture prisons. The advantage of the bipartisan torture consensus of the Cold War era was, of course, that it did a remarkably good job most of the time of insulating Washington from the taint of torture, which was sometimes remarkably widely practiced.
There are already some clear signs of a policy shift in this direction in the Obama era. Since mid-2008, U.S. intelligence has captured a half-dozen al-Qaeda suspects and, instead of shipping them to Guantanamo or to CIA secret prisons, has had them interrogated by allied Middle Eastern intelligence agencies. Showing that this policy is again bipartisan, Obama's new CIA director Leon Panetta announced that the Agency would continue to engage in the rendition of terror suspects to allies like Libya, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia where we can, as he put it,"rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment." Showing the quality of such treatment, Time magazine reported on May 24th that Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who famously confessed under torture that Saddam Hussein had provided al-Qaeda with chemical weapons and later admitted his lie to Senate investigators, had committed"suicide" in a Libyan cell.
The Price of Impunity
This time around, however, a long-distance torture policy may not provide the same insulation as in the past for Washington. Any retreat into torture by remote-control is, in fact, only likely to produce the next scandal that will do yet more damage to America's international standing.
Over a 40-year period, Americans have found themselves mired in this same moral quagmire on six separate occasions: following exposés of CIA-sponsored torture in South Vietnam (1970), Brazil (1974), Iran (1978), Honduras (1988), and then throughout Latin America (1997). After each exposé, the public's shock soon faded, allowing the Agency to resume its dirty work in the shadows.
Unless some formal inquiry is convened to look into a sordid history that reached its depths in the Bush era, and so begins to break this cycle of deceit, exposé, and paralysis followed by more of the same, we're likely, a few years hence, to find ourselves right back where we are now. We'll be confronted with the next American torture scandal from some future iconic dungeon, part of a dismal, ever lengthening procession that has led from the tiger cages of South Vietnam through the Shah of Iran's prison cells in Tehran to Abu Ghraib and the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
The next time, however, the world will not have forgotten those photos from Abu Ghraib. The next time, the damage to this country will be nothing short of devastating.
Posted on: Friday, June 19, 2009 - 00:59
SOURCE: Sandbox, a blog run by Martin Kramer (6-5-09)
It's a very old drill in the annals of "public diplomacy." Supplementary gestures help. Obama was careful to pronounce the word Quran with the guttural qaf of the Arabic. (Too bad, though, he botched the word hijab.) Unless you're converting, you can't say Ich bin ein Muslim, so you come as close as you can. (Barack Hussein Obama—can we finally use his middle name now?—gets closer than most.) Some Muslims are wise to this, and so presumably they will discount it. But the great majority? Who doesn't love pandering?
I leave it to others to parse the sparse policy pointers in the speech. (Rob Satloff does a nice job of it.) Some of the influences on Obama bubble to the surface. There is the Third Worldism: Muslims are victims of our colonialism (Obama has read Fanon) and the Cold War (has he been reading Khalidi again?) The primacy of the West is over: "Any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail." There is the implicit comparison of the Palestinians to black Americans during segregation, a familiar trope (Carter and Condi went for it too). Israel comes across as an anomaly. There is no appreciation of Israel as a strategic asset—its ties to the United States are "cultural and historical," and thus not entirely rational. (That validates Obama's other former Chicago colleague, Mearsheimer.) All of this has the ring of conviction—and of a Third Worldist sensibility.
Maybe the most disconcerting line is this one: "We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism." The pretense? This discrediting of liberalism and its universal humanism is the classic stance of the Third Worldist radical. And did you know that the job description of the nation's leader now includes "my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear"? Perhaps it's possible to disband CAIR. America now has a president who knows "what Islam is, [and] what it isn't," and who even has a mandate to insist on closing "the divisions between Sunni and Shia." Perhaps an emissary should be sent from Washington to the pertinent muftis and mullahs: the mission would certainly be more congenial than closing divisions of General Motors.
Indeed, not since Bonaparte has a foreigner landed on Egyptian soil and delivered a message of such overbearing hubris. Were I a Muslim, this 6,000-word manifesto would have me worried stiff. This man wants to be my president as much as he is America's.
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Posted on: Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 22:38
SOURCE: TheCuttingEdgeNews.com (6-8-09)
Many supporters of Barack Obama who are also supporters of Israel— from both the Jewish and Christian communities—are now wondering whether their faith in America’s charismatic new president was misplaced on this key issue.
At the core of the queasiness is the Obama Administration’s sudden publicly strident approach against Israel. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has become the Administration’s chief megaphone for the new policy, fond of publicly scolding Israel on settlements. "The president was very clear,” she stated, “when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is in the best interests of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others. And we intend to press that point.”
At first, many Obama devotees simply muttered quietly about the harsh public tone taken against Israel. It began at the level of the “close listeners,” those who follow the minute-to-minute developments and promulgations of the Arab-Israel dynamic. Eventually, the national leadership began verbalizing concern as well, and then local leaders joined in. If leadership jitters continue, the rank-and-file from among Israel’s supporters could begin distancing themselves from Obama’s Mideast policy and even joining the loyal opposition on a range of issues. One seasoned Washington correspondent quipped, “It has not yet reached the Jimmy Carter level.”
The first articles reporting the jitters began appearing weeks ago in mainstream Jewish media outlets such as the JTA and the Forward. Indeed, the latest reporting by veteran JTA Washington correspondent Ron Kampeas bears the headline, “Some Israeli-U.S. Officials move to keep the volume down.” Kampeas’s current article quotes an e-mail from the White House to Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for public policy groups. "While we may have some differences of view with Israel at the moment over settlements,” the White House e-mail explains, “we are trying to work through them quietly, professionally, and without rancor or ultimatums, as befits a strong relationship with an important ally. We are confident we can do that."
The present clash functions at a number of domestic and international levels—some of them contradictory, and all of them granulated.
In many minds, the harsh new policy was presaged May 5, 2009 at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference. “You're not going to like my saying this,” declared vice president Joe Biden, “but do not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions, its access to economic opportunity and increased security responsibility. This is a "show me" deal—not based on faith—show me.” That was day one of the new policy.
After the much anticipated May 18, 2009 White House summit between Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the differences quickly became apparent. First, Netanyahu would not commit to a two-state solution. Second, he resisted the idea of freezing settlements. The White House made it clear that both policies were indispensible. Netanyahu did not budge.
Then came the public scolding, primarily from Secretary of State Clinton. She has regularly repeated her refrain. In a June 5, 2009 press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Washington, she countered any Israeli suggestion that a verbal agreement existed that allowed some “natural growth” in settlements. “There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements,” Clinton said. “If they did occur, which of course people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the United States government.”
Obama himself has emphasized, “We will say in public what we say in private to Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs.”
The entire matter places Israel supporters in a torn situation. Start with the two-state solution. Until the recently elected Netanyahu government, standard Israeli diplomatic parlance accepted the two-state solution. Heading up a right-wing coalition, Netanyahu has refused to repeat those words, especially in the face of continued Palestinian stagnation on the peace process. This follows from the Israeli realization that for decades it has debated peace proposals with itself and that the Palestinian leadership’s most predictable word is still the word “No.” In facing the facts of Palestinian authority (with a small “A”), half of it is stagnated on the West Bank with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority at the helm while the other half, in the form of Hamas, is engaged in the worst type of regime-sponsored terrorism from Gaza. A hard-bitten realist like Netanyahu wonders when the other side can bring itself to use the “yes” word. Peace and borders could have been achieved at any time during the past half century if the Arab side would have allowed it to happen. The original “Three No” concept adapted by the Arabs after Israel’s independence—No Peace, No Recognition, No Negotiations—has been replaced by a new Orwellian “Yes to Peace with Israel” so long as Israel shrinks to a militarily indefensible border, and then demographically transforms itself from a Jewish State to a “formerly Jewish state” flooded with Arabs residents from around the globe who have a historic claim to Palestine. Hence, Israel; would no longer be a Jewish State but a future Lebanon. Parenthetically, the million Jewish citizens expelled penniless by Arab regimes in the 1950s would continue to be a forgotten footnote.
In this discussion, false history becomes fundamental. Arab Palestine was never an Arab national territory. The land was owned and controlled not by peasants from generation to generation, but by Ottoman sultans from generation to generation—sultans who became more interested in selling a sphere of interest to the German Kaiser than allowing the residents to achieve self-government. Turkey only turned over the land titles to the Palestinians in May 2005 during a personal visit by then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish general directorate had for decades held 500,000 original title deeds in 254 volumes in the Land Registry Presidency building in Oran, Ankara. These covered the main cities previously governed by the Ottomans including: Jaffa, Nablus, Jenin, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Turkish rights in Palestine were seized by the League of Nations following World War I.
On the other hand, Jewish land deeds obtained through legal purchase and other forms of legitimate registration were meticulously kept as a sovereign right since the early twentieth century when the London-based Zionist Organization began the move to legally settle in Palestinian pursuant to international law.
The very concept of Arab nationalism was a twentieth century invention mainly of Christian Lebanese seeking reforms against Istanbul—the so-called “Young Turks.”
The much-disputed tug of war between British and French wartime lies and seductions to both Arabs and Jews about Palestinian nationhood are well-known. But all of them, from the McMahon correspondence to the Balfour Declaration are just pieces of paper with no force in international law or common sense. The real nation building was done in the 1920 and 1930s long after the ink dried on those illusory imperialistic promises and suggestions. Indeed, the only real bi-national agreement that matters was the one signed by Faisal and Chaim Weizmann in January 1919 agreeing to trade Arab sovereignty in Syria for Jewish nationhood in Palestine. But that agreement was spoiled by the French a year later when oil interests thwarted Arab nationalism with massacres and political backstabbing to achieve Western oil imperialism in the Middle East. By the way, it was in that year, 1920 that the Jihad against the West began—decades before Israel ever existed.
The rest is just unhappy history. Netanyahu knows this history even if the Twitterized White House does not.
Friction on settlements is equally problematic. Many of Israel’s core supporters in the United States and many Israeli citizens simply abhor the settlements. But by castigating Israel so publically, the Obama Administration has created a veneer of support for settlements that would otherwise not exist in the Jewish community. Hence, the reaction is not about settlements, it is about treating Israel like a pesky client.
Israel has shown its willingness to dismantle settlements on a dime. It destroyed Yamit and many others when it gave back the Sinai to Egypt. It relinquished precious Taba across from Eilat when the last international juridical appeal accepted a disputed Turkish cartographic reference that ruled out Israeli control. The Jewish State painfully pulled its own citizens kicking and screaming out of Gaza and evacuated the territory completely only to see it become not a greenhouse of development but a hothouse of terror.
The problem with settlements comes down to one word: “borders.” There are no borders. Until the Palestinians can draw a line on a map and stick to it, Israelis will continue to push down the hill, across the hill and up the next hill both by natural increase and by deliberate political design. What in America is simply “suburban sprawl” becomes an international breach in Jerusalem—precisely because there is no border.
Moreover, if a border agreement were made with the Palestinians, who would it be with. Hamas? The Palestinian Authority? How long would it last? One side or the other would declare it null and void before the last serif dried.
Create a border and the settlements stop instantly.
Israeli supporters are also rankled by bizarre Obama moral equivalencies, many of which were repeated in the recent Cairo speech. For example: the Holocaust was bad but so are checkpoints. Checkpoints throughout the West Bank are admittedly almost as bad as what we experience at the airport every day, although caused by the same factor: terrorism. The Holocaust on the other hand victimized six million innocents. Incidentally, the oil that ran the Nazi war machine was energetically supplied by the Arab States, mainly Iraq via Lebanon. The Arab community participated in the Holocaust by almost universally siding with the Nazis. They excuse this by saying the real enemy was Britain. The axis of Berlin and the Mufti of Jerusalem is well-known. Islamic divisions fighting with the Third Reich were under the direct protection of Himmler. The White House buys into the traditional false history that the Holocaust was an exclusively European event. A few days ago, Jews of Iraqi descent observed the anniversary of “the Farhud.” The White House may not even know what the word “Farhud” means until after they read this article.
Indeed, the Obama administration has not yet discovered that a plurality of Israeli citizens is actually of Arab descent. They are the men and women of Jewish faith who formerly dwelled for many centuries before Islam as citizens of what became Arab lands. Libya, Iraq, Egypt and many others in the Arab League expelled their Jewish citizens penniless for no other reason than their religion. The idea was to create a demographic time bomb of destitution in Israel. But unlike the Arab world, Israel assimilated refugees as full citizens. These Jews of Arab descent now rule much of Israel. They are originally Arabs, but of Jewish faith.
Another bizarre equivalency is linking the curtailment of settlements and stopping Iran’s nuclear threats against Israel. It is hard to read the balance sheet between a few doublewide trailer homes or even a complex of townhouses on the West Bank and nuclear annihilation. The comparison seems self evident. One seeks to create a mushroom patch, the other seeks to create a mushroom cloud.
The growing queasiness among Obama supporters who also support Israel was only magnified by Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim World. Clearly, the speech was courageous and exquisite. No one does better than Obama in catering to a crowd and uplifting it. He acknowledged that Western oil imperialism waged a war of hegemony against Arab peoples. That is true. He praises what needed to be praised about Arab scholarship over the centuries. In that, he got it half right when he stated: “It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing.” Muslim scholars did excel at coastal navigation as raiders and traders, and at algebra to help in their magnificent architecture. The word algebra itself comes from the Arabic al-jabru and invokes the concept of balancing, hence equations. But Obama got it wrong—and this is a relevant wrong—when he added “our mastery of pens and printing.”
Surely, writing was a Babylonian invention. But the Middle East was virtually devoid of printing presses until the twentieth century. The Turks maintained a staff of some 90,000 scribes to commit to paper only what was authorized—legal rulings, regulations, and religious writings as well as the Koran. For decades after World War I, the Arab world controlled the printing press as a totalitarian tool, generally deploying it to afflict its domestic and foreign enemies and foster group hatred. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still the biggest seller in the Arab world.
Obama has achieved one thing. He has launched the rocket of “even-handedness” that the Arab World has been calling for. His Cairo speech is heralded far and wide in the Arab and Muslim worlds. If that momentum results in some lasting peace with Arab cooperation, the jitters are worth enduring. If it only encourages greater intransigence by Arab negotiators and longer stalemate, then Barack Obama will not have brought “change” but proved that some that some things never change.”
Posted on: Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 22:22
When Napoleon's forces arrived in Egypt in 1798 speaking of liberty, equality, and fraternity, many Muslims wondered if Napoleon had become a Muslim. Nevertheless, that moment - Napoleon's military and administrative conquest - marked the beginning of an era in which the Muslim communities of the world were declining: the Ottomans began their long descent; the Mughals witnessed the rise of British Colonialism; the Safavids in Iran had met their demise. Muslim empires gave way to a European Colonization engulfing nearly every Muslim community on the planet.
In the mid-1900s, colonizers gave way to newly independent nation-states, resulting in a realignment of global power. The United States emerged as one of the world's Superpowers. Accessibility to energy resources - especially oil in a few Muslim-majority states - affected international relations. And the American Civil Rights Leader, Malcolm X, broke from the Nation of Islam (based a few blocks away from the current Obama residence in Chicago) and made pilgrimage to Mecca, discovering the humanity of peoples of all races and ethnicities. His travels included meetings with leaders of various Muslim states and communities, in which he demanded justice for all oppressed peoples, beginning with his own.
Thus we reach 2009 and witness a "new beginning." Immersed in multiple wars, treading through a fragile economy, America might be witnessing its own era of decline. We face a democratization of violence, where a few individuals can cause catastrophic damage, compelling another realignment of power. As an already-unique president inheriting this complex scenario, Obama is heir to the legacies of both Napoleon and Malcolm X. In Cairo, he is the President of the United States - occupier of nations, devourer of the world's resources - acknowledging a past of imposition, making promises of a future of civility and dignity. He is also an African American, a Christian descendant of Muslims, calling on the world to embrace the rich legacies in our intertwined histories, enjoining us to embrace the common humanity of our local and global neighbors. Is Obama taking on the role of Napoleon or of Malcolm X?
In announcing the War on Terror, George W. Bush himself commented that this war is not a war on Islam. Likewise, in his visit to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Tony Blair spoke of respect for civilizations. In each of these events, heads of state spoke of building bridges. Prior to 9/11, Bush reached out to the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States, and appointed an Arab into his original Cabinet. Still, Bush and Blair are consistently remembered by many Muslims with disgust. The differences between Obama's speech and those of Bush and Blair are significant. Obama's speech illustrates a rhetorical shift, through which he reaches out to Muslims in resonant ways.
In his Cairo speech, Obama illustrated deep familiarity with Islam and Muslims. After winning applause with his offering of the Islamic greeting, “Assalamu Alaykum” (“Peace be upon you”), he cited one of the foundational calls of the Qur’an – the call to Taqwa (God-consciousness) – in his first citation, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” Muslims are very familiar with that particular passage (from Surah 33:70), reciting it, among other places, in nearly every wedding. Obama further illustrated his respectful familiarity, with mention of his own experiences in Indonesia and Chicago and his listing of scientific, artistic, and social accomplishments in Muslim history. He referenced the importance of Muslims in American history, listing examples such as Malcolm X, Fazlur Khan (the designer of the Sears Tower), Muhammad Ali, and Congressman Keith Ellison. Obama even mentioned the story of Muhammad’s Night Journey (the Isra), during which the Prophet met Moses and Jesus, among others. While his predecessors offered a few pleasantries, this President gave precise, detailed paragraphs. He speaks of Islam with such respect and conviction that even Muslims often wonder if he is really a Muslim.
Throughout his speech, in which he stated that he will “fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” Obama emphasized a complex interconnectedness of peoples, which transcends all previous lines of separation. In making this point he referred twice – once indirectly and once directly – to another very popular passage from the Qur’an (Surah 49:13), mentioning that humanity was created in nations and tribes in order to develop mutual familiarity. Despite the rapid expansion of lines of communications, the last decades witnessed an increasing polarization in the world. Obama, however, spoke as a representative of today’s deeply interconnected world, in words that resonated particularly with his Muslim audience, managing to convince many that this accelerating polarization can – with mutual effort – end. So is Obama taking the role of Napoleon in Egypt, or Malcolm X? Or perhaps he is Nixon in China? The answer will come as he sets about fulfilling his many promises.
Posted on: Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 22:11
SOURCE: National Review Online (6-6-09)
But the problem with such moral equivalence is that it equates things that are, well, not equal — and therefore ends up not being moral at all.
To pull it off, one must distort both the past and the present for the presumed higher good of getting along. In the 1930s, British intellectuals performed feats of intellectual gymnastics in trying to contextualize Hitler’s complaints against the Versailles Treaty, assignment of guilt for the First World War, and French bellicosity — straining to overlook the intrinsic dangers of National Socialism for the higher good of avoiding another Somme. Over the short term, such revisionism worked; over the longer term, it ensured a highly destructive war.
Whatever a well-meaning President Obama thinks, occasional American outbursts against Muslims are not analogous with the terrorism directed at Westerners or the hostility toward Christianity shown in most of the Muslim world. Try flying into Saudi Arabia with a Bible, as compared to traveling to San Francisco with a Koran. One can easily forsake Christianity; one can never safely leave Islam. European worries about headscarves are not the equivalent of the Gulf states’ harassment of practicing Christians. Sorry, they’re just not.
Pace Obama, Arab learning in the Middle Ages, while impressive, did not really fuel either the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. If anything, the arrival in Europe of the learned of Byzantium fleeing Islam over two centuries was a far stronger catalyst for rediscovery of classical values, while enlightened European sympathy for Balkan peoples enslaved by the Ottomans rekindled romantic interest in Hellenism in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Colonialism and the Cold War — both of which have now been over for decades — do not account for present Arab pathologies. The far more pernicious Baathism, Nasserism, Pan-Arabism, and Islamism were all efforts, in varying degrees, to graft ideas of European socialism and Communism onto indigenous Arab and Muslim roots.
Today, Russia and China are much harder on Muslims than is the West. (Consider Russia’s actions in Chechnya and China’s treatment of the Uighurs.) Neither country pays any attention to Muslims’ grievances, and therefore Muslims respect and fear Russia and China far more than they do the United States....
Posted on: Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 22:08
SOURCE: National Review Online (6-11-09)
In his speech last week in Cairo, President Obama proclaimed he was a “student of history.” But despite Barack Obama’s image as an Ivy League-educated intellectual, he lacks historical competency, in areas of both facts and interpretation.
This first became apparent during the presidential campaign. Candidate Obama proclaimed then that during World War II his great-uncle had helped liberate Auschwitz, and that his grandfather knew fellow American troops that had entered Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Both are impossible. The Americans didn’t free either Nazi death camp. (Regarding Obama’s great uncle’s war experience, the Obama team later said he’d meant the camp at Buchenwald.)
Much of what Obama said to thousands of Germans during his Victory Column speech in Berlin last summer was also ahistorical. He began, “I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.” He apparently forgot that for the prior eight years, the official faces of American foreign policy in Germany were Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — both African-Americans.
In the same speech, Obama seemed to suggest that the world had come to together to save Berlin during the Airlift. In fact, it was almost an entirely American and British effort — written off by most observers as hopeless and joined by a handful of Western allies only when the lift looked like it might succeed.
In the recent Cairo speech, Obama’s historical allusions were even more suspect. Almost every one of his references was either misleading or incomplete. He suggested that today’s Middle East tension was fed by the legacy of European colonialism and the Cold War that had reduced nations to proxies.
But the great colonizers of the Middle East were the Ottoman Muslims, who for centuries ruled with an iron fist. The 20th-century movements of Baathism, Pan-Arabism, and Nasserism — largely homegrown totalitarian ideologies — did far more damage over the last half-century to the Middle East than did the legacy of European colonialism.
Obama also claimed that “Islam . . . carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” While medieval Islamic culture was impressive and ensured the survival of a few classical texts — often through the agency of Arabic-speaking Christians — it had little to do with the European rediscovery of classical Greek and Latin values. Europeans, Chinese, and Hindus, not Muslims, invented most of the breakthroughs Obama credited to Islamic innovation....
Posted on: Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 21:57
SOURCE: LAT (6-12-09)
Here's a good argument for putting Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court: She's knowledgeable, respected and deeply experienced. As a federal judge for nearly two decades, she's heard thousands of cases and written hundreds of opinions.
And here's a lousy argument for confirming Sotomayor: She would be the first "Hispanic" on the court.
I put the term in quotation marks because it's a recent invention, dating to the 1970s and '80s. Before then, when Sotomayor was growing up with her Puerto Rican family in New York City, she was not Hispanic.
And words make a difference. As many commentators have reminded us since President Obama nominated Sotomayor, judges are inevitably shaped by their life experiences. But these experiences are themselves shaped -- and, sometimes, distorted -- by the terms that we use to describe them.
How did Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Salvadorans, Panamanians, Nicaraguans and Guatemalans all become Hispanic?
Amid the African American civil rights struggle of the 1960s, many of these groups joined hands to demand voting rights, bilingual education and social services. Here they received a big assist from an unlikely source: Richard Nixon. Eager to bring Mexicans and other Latino immigrants into the Republican fold, Nixon also saw them as a potential bulwark against black political aspirations.
"All Spanish-speaking Americans share certain characteristics -- a strong family structure, deep ties to the church, which makes them open to an appeal from us," wrote one GOP campaign strategist on the eve of Nixon's 1972 presidential reelection bid. "The Democratic Party is under suspicion for favoring politically potent blacks at the expense of the needs of Spanish-speaking people."
So Nixon threw his weight behind bilingual education, which has since become a bête noire for the GOP. He also ordered the Census Bureau to add a query on its 1970 form asking whether respondents were "Hispanic," hoping to further solidify this new voting bloc.
Census Bureau officials balked, noting -- correctly -- that the term lacked scientific and historical precision. They also worried that respondents wouldn't recognize it. So the most commonly used census form in 1970 asked respondents if they were of "Spanish" origin, not whether they were Hispanic.
All that would change in 1977, when the Office of Management and Budget instructed federal agencies to classify Americans as one of four races -- white, black, American Indian/Alaskan Native or Asian/Pacific Islander -- and also to distinguish between two ethnic categories, "of Hispanic origin" and "not of Hispanic origin." Since then, the census has asked people their race and whether they're Hispanic, which is not listed as a "race" per se.
Increasingly, however, Americans thought of it as such. Government agencies used "Hispanic" alongside "Asian" and "black," making Hispanic into a de facto racial category. Businesses and educational institutions counted Hispanics -- or, sometimes, "Latinos" -- as a race in diversity and affirmative action reports.
Not surprisingly, then, Hispanics became more likely over time to identify themselves as a separate race too. In the mid-1990s, 60% of the respondents to a study of more than 5,000 Latin American immigrants self-identified as "white," for example, but only 20% of their children did so.
That's an unprecedented development, as the United States had continuously absorbed people formerly identified in the census as from nonwhite races into the white majority. Jews, Italians and Slavs were all once classified as separate races; now, they're white. But Hispanics are moving in the opposite direction -- from white to nonwhite. In our minds, at least, they've become a minority race.
The language of race is a unifying one, blinding us to the irreducible diversity that a single category can contain. Consider Sotomayor's now infamous comment that a "wise Latina woman" would render a better judicial decision than a white male. While GOP antagonists accused Sotomayor of reverse racism and Democrats rushed to her defense, nobody pointed out that wise Latina women come in all shapes, sizes and ideologies. Would a wise Cuban woman in South Florida see eye-to-eye with a wise Mexican woman in San Diego, or with a wise Salvadoran woman in Washington, D.C.? Probably not.
Even worse, the idea of race tricks us into seeing "Hispanic" as a biological category rather than a cultural one. I frequently do an exercise with my students, asking them how a scientist would identify their race. The most common reply is also the most troubling one: via a blood test. In fact, that would tell you the opposite: We all come from the same ancestor, in East Africa, and we're all mongrels. The blood test does not identify your "race," which primarily exists only in our minds.
As a child, Sotomayor was probably classified as white; now she's Hispanic. But her DNA is the same. The only thing that has changed is the way we look at her. Belying every shard of evidence, we continue to believe that races are different under the skin.
So let's hope that the Senate confirms Sotomayor, one of the most qualified nominees in the history of the Supreme Court. Then let's welcome her as the first person of Puerto Rican descent on the court, not as the first "Hispanic."
If you think the words don't matter, you haven't been listening.
Posted on: Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 21:53
SOURCE: Harper's (7-1-09)
It is impossible not to wish desperately for his success as he tries to grapple with all that confronts him: a worldwide depression, catastrophic climate change, an unjust and inadequate health-care system, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ongoing disgrace of Guant·namo, a floundering education system.
Obama’s failure would be unthinkable. And yet the best indications now are that he will fail, because he will be unable—indeed he will refuse—to seize the radical moment at hand.
Every instinct the president has honed, every voice he hears in Washington, every inclination of our political culture urges incrementalism, urges deliberation, if any significant change is to be brought about. The trouble is that we are at one of those rare moments in history when the radical becomes pragmatic, when deliberation and compromise foster disaster. The question is not what can be done but what must be done.
We have confronted such emergencies only a few times before in the history of the Republic: during the secession crisis of 1860–61, at the start of World War II, at the outset of the Cold War and the nuclear age. Probably the moment most comparable to the present was the start of the Great Depression, and for the scope and the quantity of the problems he is facing, Obama has frequently been compared with Franklin Roosevelt. So far, though, he most resembles the other president who had to confront that crisis, Herbert Hoover.
The comparison is not meant to be flippant. It has nothing to do with the received image of Hoover, the dour, round-collared, gerbil-cheeked technocrat who looked on with indifference while the country went to pieces. To understand how dire our situation is now it is necessary to remember that when he was elected president in 1928, Herbert Hoover was widely considered the most capable public figure in the country. Hoover—like Obama—was almost certainly someone gifted with more intelligence, a better education, and a greater range of life experience than FDR. And Hoover, through the first three years of the Depression, was also the man who comprehended better than anyone else what was happening and what needed to be done. And yet he failed....
Much like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past—without accepting the inevitable conflict. Like Hoover, he is bound to fail.
President Obama, to be fair, seems to be even more alone than Hoover was in facing the emergency at hand. The most appalling aspect of the present crisis has been the utter fecklessness of the American elite in failing to confront it. From both the private and public sectors, across the entire political spectrum, the lack of both will and new ideas has been stunning. When it came to the opposition, Franklin Roosevelt reaped the creative support of any number of progressive Republicans throughout his twelve years in office, ranging from New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to Nebraska Senator George Norris to key cabinet members such as Henry A. Wallace, Harold Ickes, Henry Stimson, and Frank Knox. Obama, by contrast, has had to contend with a knee-jerk rejectionist Republican Party.
More frustrating has been the torpor among Obama’s fellow Democrats. One might have assumed that the adrenaline rush of regaining power after decades of conservative hegemony, not to mention relief at surviving the depredations of the Bush years, or losing the vestigial tail of the white Southern branch of the party, would have liberated congressional Democrats to loose a burst of pent-up, imaginative liberal initiatives.
Instead, we have seen a parade of aged satraps from vast, windy places stepping forward to tell us what is off the table. Every week, there is another Max Baucus of Montana, another Kent Conrad of North Dakota, another Ben Nelson of Nebraska, huffing and puffing and harrumphing that we had better forget about single-payer health care, a carbon tax, nationalizing the banks, funding for mass transit, closing tax loopholes for the rich. These are men with tiny constituencies who sat for decades in the Senate without doing or saying anything of note, who acquiesced shamelessly to the worst abuses of the Bush Administration and who come forward now to chide the president for not concentrating enough on reducing the budget deficit, or for “trying to do too much,” as if he were as old and as indolent as they are....
Posted on: Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 18:30
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (6-18-09)
Mourning the martyr is as central to Iranian Shiite religious culture as it was to strains of medieval Catholicism in Europe, and Mousavi's camp is tapping into a powerful set of images and myths here. The archetypal Shiite martyr is Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who championed oppressed Muslims in Iraq and was cut down by the then Umayyad Muslim Empire. Recognition that a Muslim state might commit the ultimate in sacrilege by beheading a person who had been dandled on the Prophet's knee has imbued modern political Shiism with a distrust of the state. When Husayn's head was brought to the Umayyad caliph Yazid and deposited before his throne, older companions of the Prophet are said to have wept and remarked,"I saw the Prophet's lips on those cheeks." Shiites ritually march, flagellate, and chant in honor of the martyred Imam or divinely-appointed leader.
Today's protesters are wearing green, which symbolizes Mousavi's descent from the Prophet Muhammad. (Mousavi's family name refers to the Seventh Imam (descendant of the Prophet with claims to divine knowledge), Musa Kazim, whose tomb is in Kazimiya, north Baghdad. Sayyid families, those claiming descent from the Prophet, often take one of the Imams' names as a family name to honor them, though of course they are also claiming descent from the previous Imams right back to the Prophet.) The repertoires of protest the reformists are using echo those of the 1978-79 Islamic Revolution-- they are chanting"God is Great," mourning pious fallen martyrs, etc.-- another sign that this movement is not just alienated secularized elites.
But now Mousavi's his supporters are also sporting black ribbons to indicate that they are in mourning for the fallen. Typically, the dead will be commemorated again at one month and at 40 days. In 1978 such demonstrations for those killed in previous demonstrations grew in size all through the year, till they reached an alleged million in the streets of Tehran. Since the reformists are already claiming Monday's rally was a million, you wonder where things will go from here.
The regime's attempt to paint the protesters as nothing more than US intelligence agents underlines how wise President Obama has been not to insert himself forcefully into the situation in Iran. The reformers and the hard liners are not stable groupings. The core of each is competing for the allegiance of the general Iranian public. If the reformers can convince most Iranians of the justice of their cause, they will swing behind the opposition. If the hard liners can convince the public that the reformers are nothing more than cat's paws of a grasping, imperialist West-- i.e. that they are Ahmad Chalabis trying to bring Iran foreign occupation so as to get power themselves-- then the reformists will be crushed. Iranians value national independence above all, having suffered with a CIA-installed goverment for decades in the mid-twentieth century.
The prescriptions of John McCain and Faux Cable news for muscular US diplomacy at this point are tone deaf to Iranian realities and would backfire big time, harming both the reform cause and US interests. Anyway, after the basket case to which the US Republican Party reduced Iraq, no one in the global South is likely to want them meddling in their internal affairs.
Reports are streaming in of the arrest of over a hundred opposition figures and of hard line militia men following protesters home and breaking into their homes to terrorize them. See e.g., Basij paramilitary forces terrorize residential complex. The Basij militiamen are said to be afraid to come out in numbers during the opposition demonstrations, but sneak around at night to trail protesters and harass or arrest them.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had met Tuesday morning with the representatives of all four presidential candidates, urging them to make up but continuing to insist that Ahmadinejad was the winner by 24 million to 14 million votes. He portrayed the massive post-election demonstrations and charges of ballot fraud as a minor tiff.
Gary Sick wonders if Khamenei really is the supreme leader any more, and hints that the hard line tack of stealing the election was directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's religious national guard.
Reports are coming in from Iran that allege that the regime is tracking down and destroying satellite dishes, using helicopters for aerial surveillance of neighborhoods and Basij, the right wing militia (sort of like Mussolini's Black Shirts) to do the breaking and entering. Kindly neighbors who have tried to warn suspected satellite dish owners that the militiamen were coming have sometimes reportedly themselves been arrested.
Posted on: Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 18:06
SOURCE: Sandbox, a blog run by Martin Kramer (6-17-09)
My short assessment of the turmoil in Iran appears (with nine other expert assessments) at Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH), and is reproduced here at Sandbox.
There are days when I'm supremely grateful that I'm not paid to make policy decisions. Those who must make them on Iran have much more information than I have, but it probably still won't be enough, so that in the end, analogies will play as large a role as analysis. Already much of the public in the West has embraced the analogy between Iran's protests and the" color revolutions" of Europe. The potential for error there is great: Iran's politics are sui generis even in the Middle East. But there's a bit of room for such an error, because the regime doesn't have nukes. If it had them, we'd be biting our nails instead of tweeting on Twitter.
Harvard's Stephen Walt, on his blog, made an assertion that exposes the fundamental weakness of the realist claim that the outcome doesn't matter, at least to us:"In the end, what really matters is the content of any subsequent U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, not the precise nature of the Iranian regime. If diplomatic engagement led to a good deal, then it wouldn't matter much who was running Iran." Walt is right when he goes on to say that Mousavi, specifically, may not be a vast improvement over the Khamenei-A'jad duo. But in keeping up Iran's end of any"good deal," does it really not much matter who runs the country? In our own lives, we prefer to do business with reputable dealers, as opposed to known scam artists, thieves, and forgers. The meaning of this past week is that the ruling mob has been exposed, and that alternatives aren't entirely unimaginable. No one should get their hopes up, but the moment Khamenei, A'jad, and even Mousavi aren't the entire universe of options, there's every reason to put engagement on hold.
And since it's always better to have options, perhaps the United States should act to promote them."The Americans do not have the experience or the psychological insight to understand Persia." That was Ann (Nancy) Lambton, the great British Iranologist, back in 1951. (She thought Mossadegh could be readily overthrown; the Americans at first thought otherwise. She was right.) So it's a long shot. But there may be an opportunity here, and perhaps even awkward Americans—now with an additional sixty years of experience and a president with psychological insight—can find it.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 20:41
SOURCE: Sandbox, a blog run by Martin Kramer (1-14-09)
Israel's war against Hamas, now in its third week, is probably closer to its end than to its beginning. Israel has said that the "operation"—there is an official aversion to the term "war"—is close to achieving its stated goal of securing sustained quiet for the south of Israel. Quiet refers to a cessation of rocket fire, and sustainability alludes to an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza from Egypt. These are the two elements that Israel seeks in a cease-fire.
But there is also an unstated goal of the war. It is the humiliation and degradation of Hamas, to such an extent that its continued rule over Gaza will be undermined. As long as Hamas remains in power, it will continue to indoctrinate and prepare for "resistance"—its term for violent jihad-style attacks on Israel. This is the Iran-inspired alternative to acceptance of compromise with Israel, and it is the doctrine that animates Hezbollah as well. Discrediting and delegitmating "resistance" is a prime Israeli objective—one shared by the United States, and presumably by all supporters of any Israeli-Palestinian "peace process," however configured.
There is a present danger concealed in the diplomacy toward achieving Israel's stated goal, which could damage its unstated goal.
It is the possibility that a cease-fire might include a lifting of Israeli economic sanctions on Gaza. Israel imposed these sanctions after Hamas seized power in a violent coup in June 2007. Since that time, Israel has restricted imports via its crossings to "humanitarian" shipments of food and medicines, as well as fuel. The crossings have been closed to most commercial products and virtually all building materials.
The sanctions regime had a number of demonstrable effects. It made it impossible for Hamas to deliver on its social and welfare promises. As a result, its rule appeared much inferior to Palestinian Authority rule in the West Bank, which lately has enjoyed the economic benefits of increased cooperation with Israel. Reports from Gaza suggested a simmering discontent with isolation and economic hardship. The sanctions also had symbolic value, by branding the Hamas regime as illegitimate.
Contrary to some Palestinian claims, the "lull" agreement did not provide for a lifting of the sanctions. It eased them, but only partially, and some imports, such as much-needed construction materials, continued to be banned altogether. It was in the hope of securing a new cease-fire, ending the sanctions altogether, that Hamas refused to renew the "lull" agreement and began firing rockets in December.
The lifting of sanctions has become the principal Hamas demand in the cease-fire negotiations. If Hamas can lift the sanctions, it will claim victory. It will argue that it broke the "siege" through "resistance"—albeit at a high cost—and that it effectively wrested economic control of Gaza's frontiers from Israel. It will also claim that the lifting of the "blockade" constitutes de facto acceptance of Hamas rule in Gaza by both Israel and the international community.
Mediators operate by finding formulae that allow each side to claim some achievement. Lifting the "blockade" could well become the concession Israel will be asked to make to Hamas, especially since Israel hasn't defined the continuation of sanctions as one of its declared goals. The concession will be urged upon Israel as a "humanitarian" measure by much of the international community, which will point to the urgent need for reconstruction.
After the military campaign is over, Israel's control of Gaza's economy will be its principal lever for translating its military achievements into political gains—above all, the continued degradation of Hamas control. Gaza will be desperate for all material things. Whoever controls their distribution will effectively control many aspects of daily life in Gaza.
This is a card Israel must be careful not to trade, either for a cease-fire or for international anti-smuggling cooperation on the Egypt-Gaza border. To that end, it must act now to affirm its adhesion to the sanctions. Israel should be willing to ease sanctions only if an international consortium for reconstruction is established, which has the legitimate Palestinian Authority as its sole agent within Gaza. In any cease-fire agreement, Israel should agree to open the crossings only to emergency food and medical aid—as it has during the fighting itself.
Ultimately, Operation Cast Lead will be judged not only by whether it produces an end to rocket fire—which it will—but whether it sets the stage for a shift of power within Gaza, away from Hamas "resistance"—a deceptive misnomer for Palestinian jihadism. This long-term goal should not be sacrificed to achieve short-term objective
Posted on: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 20:40
SOURCE: Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH blog) (1-28-09)
One way to approach this question is to ask whether Hamas has achieved the objectives for which it escalated the crisis, by its refusal to extend the cease-fire. Musa Abu Marzuq, number two in the Damascus office, explained the primary Hamas objective in a very straightforward way: "The tahdiyeh had become 'a ceasefire [in exchange for another] ceasefire,' with no connection either to the crossings and [the goods] transported through them, or to the siege. Terminating it was [thus] a logical move." So Hamas gambled, escalated, and now finds itself, once again, in a "cease-fire for a cease-fire." Israel's primary objective was to compel a cease-fire by means of deterrence alone, without opening the crossings, thus serving its long-term strategy of containing and undercutting Hamas. This it has achieved, so far.
When Israel launched its operation, Hamas announced a secondary objective: to inflict significant military casualties on the Israelis. For this purpose, it had built up a network of fortifications supposedly on the Lebanon model, which it promised to turn into a "graveyard" for Israeli forces. The military wing announced that "the Zionist enemy will see surprises and will regret carrying out such an operation and will pay a heavy price. Our militants are waiting with patience to confront the soldiers face to face." This too never happened. The Hamas line quickly folded, its "fighters" shed their uniforms and melted into the civilian population. That Hamas failed to fight did surprise many Israeli soldiers, who had expected more. But there was no battle anywhere, and Israel suffered only 10 military fatalities, half of them from friendly fire. Hamas has taken to claiming that Israel has hidden its military casualties, and has thrown out various numbers—a rather precise measure of what it had hoped and failed to achieve.
There is something perverse in the notion that Hamas "won" by merely surviving. Robert Malley has said that "for Hamas, it was about showing that they could stay in place without giving way, and from this point of view it has achieved its main objective." This was not its "main objective" by any stretch of the imagination. Rashid Khalidi has written that "like Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006, all [Hamas] has to do in order to proclaim victory is remain standing." But Hamas had a specific objective—lifting the "siege"—which was altogether different from the objective of Hezbollah. This objective Hamas manifestly failed to achieve. It also failed to achieve the secondary objective it shared with Hezbollah: inflicting Israeli military casualties. It defies logic to declare the mere survival of Hamas to be a triumph, given that Hamas openly declared a much larger objective, and Israel never made the military destruction of Hamas an objective.
War is only the pursuit of politics by other means, and anything could happen going forward. Israel could forfeit its war gains by inept diplomacy—something for which there is ample Israeli precedent. Hamas could parley its setback into a diplomatic gain—something for which there is ample Arab precedent. But I think there is little doubt that at the end of the war, Israel had achieved many of its stated objectives, and Hamas had not.
A final point, on the comparison of Hamas to Hezbollah. It is always a mistake to lump these two movements together. Hezbollah's "Islamic Resistance" deserves the name. For years, it confronted Israel militarily in southern Lebanon, and fought battles of maneuver and assaulted Israel's fortified lines. Its cadres received serious Iranian training, and while they didn't win a straight fight with the IDF in 2006, they were battle-hardened, fought hard, and inflicted casualties. The "resistance" of Hamas has always been a fiction. Hamas's so-called "military wing" developed in circumstances of occupation, and it specialized exclusively in the suicide belt and the Qassam rocket, both terrorist weapons which it directed almost exclusively at civilians. The videos of masked Hamas "fighters" in elaborate jihad-chic costumes, brandishing guns and jumping through hoops of fire, were cheap posturing. Hamas doesn't have a cadre of battle-hardened fighters; one Israeli soldier aptly described those who did pop up in Gaza as "villagers with guns."
If the "siege" of Gaza is signficiantly eased or lifted (which I still think is unlikely), it won't be because Palestinian "resistance" forced Israel's hand. It will be because Palestinian suffering has weighed on the conscience of others. That's a very old story, and there's nothing new or "heroic" about it. Those who've promised to liberate Jerusalem and Palestine by arms are (again) begging the world for sacks of flour.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 20:39
SOURCE: Newstatesman (6-16-09)
On the first day of February 1979, an Air France plane landed at Tehran Airport. It was carrying an elderly Islamic cleric from Iran’s rural hinterland who had not been in his native land for 15 years. As he stepped down from the plane, dressed entirely in black, supported by a French flight officer, a thousand waiting admirers began to chant his name: Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini.
As a Mercedes van carried him towards the city centre, the streets were lined with people peering from windows and from rooftops, people packed on to building sites and into flats, people who had been up since dawn to claim a space by the roadside, people hanging off cranes and on to ledges, people screaming and shouting with ecstasy. Journalists estimated that there were perhaps five million people on the streets, the biggest crowd in human history.
Thirty years on, the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the ensuing Iranian Revolution looms as perhaps the central event of the late-twentieth-century world. The 76-year-old preacher was not an obvious candidate to become a historical icon: born to a family of clerics in the obscure, dusty town of Khomein, he had spent much of his life as a teacher and scholar, before being sent into exile in 1964 after denouncing the Shah's regime and his fealty to foreign interests. Yet he became the face of a revolution that toppled a corrupt, repressive monarchy, unleashed a devastating oil shock and global economic crisis, inspired a new brand of religious fundamentalism, and bequeathed an autocratic regime that, for all its manifest corruption, stagnation and brutality, still endures today. It was a turning point in the history of relations between the west and the Middle East, and between the United States and the Islamic world.
Yet there was nothing preordained about the way things worked out; indeed, the largely untold story of the revolution is that if a handful of people had made different choices, then the history of American-Iranian relations might have been much less tortured. And while nobody can expunge the record of three decades of hostility, the advent of a new administration in Washington does offer grounds for hope. Like every other American politician of his generation, Barack Obama has rattled his sabre in the direction of Tehran, but he has also talked of meeting Iranian leaders and even holding direct talks with President Ahmadinejad. Three decades on, it is time to bury the bitter legacy of the revolution and the hostage crisis. Nixon went to Beijing, Reagan to Moscow; is it too fanciful to picture Obama in Tehran?
The last American president to visit the Iranian capital was the ill-fated Jimmy Carter, who toasted the Shah on New Year's Eve 1977 as the world leader with whom he felt most "personal friendship". Iran, Carter said, was "an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world". Even then the sentiment seemed dubious; now, it is quoted as a classic example of an American looking at the Middle East and seeing only what he wanted to see, not what was really happening. For it was only ten days after Carter's departure that a state newspaper published an inflammatory attack on the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, provoking the first in a series of demonstrations and clashes that drove the Shah from his country and made Khomeini one of the most familiar and controversial figures on the planet.
Nothing in history is inevitable, but Iran was heading for crisis at the end of the 1970s. The Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a corrupt, indecisive man, more weak than wicked, a lover of fine wines and foreign women who dreamed of using his gigantic oil revenues to rebuild the Persian Empire. Elevated to the throne at the age of just 21 after the British ousted his father, he had become increasingly dependent on American aid, especially after he acquiesced, in a CIA-backed coup in 1953, to topple the nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh. In the aftermath of the 1973 oil shock, he spent more than $12bn on American arms and equipment. He wanted new factories and universities, grand boulevards and gleaming power plants, but the more money he spent, the more prices in the shops of Tehran soared beyond imagining. By the late Seventies, cities were buckling under the weight of thousands of rural peasants in search of his economic miracle. In Tehran's concrete nightmare, the streets were permanently blocked with traffic, overstuffed tower blocks groaned beneath the weight of hundreds of families and the electricity grid regularly broke down for four hours at a time. Amid the squalid shanty towns and the stinking sewers, frustration was inexorably turning to fury.
Looking back, the extraordinary thing is not that Iran slipped towards the last great ideological revolution of modern history, but that the Shah's American sponsors - who had installed one of the biggest CIA projects anywhere in the world, largely to monitor movements across the Soviet border - failed to realise what was happening. The intelligence failure in Iran was no less staggering than those in Vietnam and Iraq; indeed, given Iran's enormous strategic importance, it was perhaps even more unfathomable. At the American embassy - later the centre of the extraordinary hostage drama - only a handful of officials spoke Farsi, and most of their Iranian employees were not Shia Muslims but Armenian Christians. When a new ambassador, William Sullivan, arrived in the summer of 1977, he was struck by their total introversion. Sullivan had served in Laos and the Philippines; but in Iran, he said, "more than in any other country where I had lived and served, I felt myself insulated from and alien to my environment".
To anyone familiar with the histories of Vietnam and Iraq, the parallels are uncanny.And while a French diplomat predicted the Shah's downfall as early as 1976, and the Israelis began advising Jewish citizens to leave Iran in April 1978, the American embassy doggedly insisted that there was plenty of life left in the regime. In August, with Tehran's streets gridlocked with protesters, the CIA reported that Iran was "not in a revolutionary or even pre-revolutionary situation", while the Agency's ineffectual director, Stansfield Turner, personally assured Jimmy Carter that the Shah was more than capable of suppressing dissent. As late as 28 September, with the regime having passed the point of no return, the Defence InIntelligence Agency reported that "the Shah is expected to remain actively in power over the next ten years".
One man who did not agree, however, was the American ambassador, William Sullivan. In retrospect, Sullivan is one of the few characters to emerge from the whole sorry story with any credit. He could be wilful and arrogant, but, in stark contrast to the American officials who have been through Baghdad in recent years, he was no administration yes-man. The little-known story of Sullivan's efforts to change American policy in the crucial first days of the Iranian revolution - the point when things might have turned out differently - should be remembered as one of the great missed opportunities in modern American history.
At the beginning of November 1978, Sullivan sent a long cable to Washington under the ominous title "Thinking the Unthinkable". Jimmy Carter's friend, the Shah, was effectively finished, he said, and it was time for the administration to move on. Sullivan did not question the premise that the Americans should play a key role in the new Iran; its strategic location, vast oil reserves and long history of co-operation with the west made that inevitable. But he urged Carter to reach out to dissident elements in the military and moderate Islamic clerics, including, if need be, the mysterious Imam Khomeini, the most celebrated of the Shah's exiled opponents, then based in Paris. None of Carter's advisers knew anything about Khomeini, but there seemed no reason why the Americans should not befriend him. He might even, Sullivan thought, play the role of a Gandhi, a spiritual leader and voice for unity, in a new Iranian regime.
Whether Sullivan’s idea could have worked is one of the most compelling what-ifs of modern history...
Posted on: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 12:20
SOURCE: The Forward (6-10-09)
President Obama visited Buchenwald last week, following the path of his great uncle Charlie Payne, who was with General George Patton’s U.S. Third Army. He connected Buchenwald with the larger story of the Nazi destruction of the Jews, accompanied by survivors Elie Wiesel and Betrand Herz, and the laid a wreath at the Buchenwald memorial. While he was there, Dr. Volkhard Knigge, director of the Buchenwald museum, highlighted the saving of children, who were kept alive in an organized effort in the camp until the Americans arrived. When Patton’s army came to Buchenwald, April 11, 1945, American soldiers discovered 904 boys among the 21,000 male survivors.
Today, these Buchenwald boys are in their seventies and early eighties and live around the world, with large concentrations in the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, France, and England. For many years, they were silent. And for years, despite the spectacle of their discovery at liberation, few people asked who they were or how they were still alive to be liberated.
But that was then. Who were they? They were mostly Jewish children and youths from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, and Lithuania, who were brought in 1944-45 to Buchenwald, some with fathers or brothers, most as orphans. Most were teenagers but one-sixth were 12 years old and under. The two youngest boys were four years old. Some had been in German factory labor camps in Poland until mid- or late 1944. Some had been in Auschwitz and its satellite camps and were taken to Buchenwald to slave in its sub-camps in 1944 or were evacuated in early 1945, arriving in bad shape in open coal cars in the frigid air.
How could they be helped to survive? Evidence in the Red Cross International Tracing Service archives as well as scores of memoirs, testimonies, and interviews by and with these former Buchenwald boys indicate that rescue was carried out by elements of the German Communist-led international underground, together with Polish-Jewish elements who worked closely with the underground. Key activists in the Czech and Hungarian underground national committees also played important roles.
The story is little known. Veteran prisoners decided to protect the youths, drawing on the influence won by the German Communists and their allies in the internal camp self-administration. First they did what they could to keep the youths from being sent to the outer sub-camps, where slave labor was killing. Second, they clustered the youths in children’s barracks under tight discipline and control to minimize their contact with SS guards, especially blocks 8, 23, and 66. Third, they used their influence to provide access to occasional additional food and warm clothing. They used tough discipline to keep starving youths from scavenging food freely in the camp or stealing food from one another. They distributed Red Cross packages sent to other prisoners to the children.
Fourth, the veteran activists even created makeshift clandestine schools in the barracks to control the boys and to lift their minds beyond the realities of everyday camp existence. Finally, fifth, in the last days, when Nazi leaders sought to march first the Jewish prisoners, then all, onto the roads, the activists changed the markings on the boys’ uniforms and interceded personally on their behalf. Many activists were with the boys until liberation and after. They can be seen shepherding the boys through the camp gate in several images taken on April 17 to the nearby SS barracks....
Posted on: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 10:23
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (6-13-09)
Top Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen
1. It is claimed that Ahmadinejad won the city of Tabriz with 57%. His main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is an Azeri from Azerbaijan province, of which Tabriz is the capital. Mousavi, according to such polls as exist in Iran and widespread anecdotal evidence, did better in cities and is popular in Azerbaijan. Certainly, his rallies there were very well attended. So for an Azeri urban center to go so heavily for Ahmadinejad just makes no sense. In past elections, Azeris voted disproportionately for even minor presidential candidates who hailed from that province.
2. Ahmadinejad is claimed to have taken Tehran by over 50%. Again, he is not popular in the cities, even, as he claims, in the poor neighborhoods, in part because his policies have produced high inflation and high unemployment. That he should have won Tehran is so unlikely as to raise real questions about these numbers. [Ahmadinejad is widely thought only to have won Tehran in 2005 because the pro-reform groups were discouraged and stayed home rather than voting.)
3. It is claimed that cleric Mehdi Karoubi, the other reformist candidate, received 320,000 votes, and that he did poorly in Iran's western provinces, even losing in Luristan. He is a Lur and is popular in the west, including in Kurdistan. Karoubi received 17 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections in 2005. While it is possible that his support has substantially declined since then, it is hard to believe that he would get less than one percent of the vote. Moreover, he should have at least done well in the west, which he did not.
4. Mohsen Rezaie, who polled very badly and seems not to have been at all popular, is alleged to have received 670,000 votes, twice as much as Karoubi.
5. Ahmadinejad's numbers were fairly standard across Iran's provinces. In past elections there have been substantial ethnic and provincial variations.
6. The Electoral Commission is supposed to wait three days before certifying the results of the election, at which point they are to inform Khamenei of the results, and he signs off on the process. The three-day delay is intended to allow charges of irregularities to be adjudicated. In this case, Khamenei immediately approved the alleged results.
I am aware of the difficulties of catching history on the run. Some explanation may emerge for Ahmadinejad's upset that does not involve fraud. For instance, it is possible that he has gotten the credit for spreading around a lot of oil money in the form of favors to his constituencies, but somehow managed to escape the blame for the resultant high inflation.
But just as a first reaction, this post-election situation looks to me like a crime scene. And here is how I would reconstruct the crime.
As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning. Mousavi's spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi's camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory. The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable. And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose.
They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts.
This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran.
The reason for which Rezaie and Karoubi had to be assigned such implausibly low totals was to make sure Ahmadinejad got over 51% of the vote and thus avoid a run-off between him and Mousavi next Friday, which would have given the Mousavi camp a chance to attempt to rally the public and forestall further tampering with the election.
This scenario accounts for all known anomalies and is consistent with what we know of the major players.
More in my column, just out, in Salon.com:"Ahmadinejad reelected under cloud of fraud," where I argue that the outcome of the presidential elections does not and should not affect Obama's policies toward that country - they are the right policies and should be followed through on regardless.
The public demonstrations against the result don't appear to be that big. In the past decade, reformers have always backed down in Iran when challenged by hardliners, in part because no one wants to relive the horrible Great Terror of the 1980s after the revolution, when faction-fighting produced blood in the streets. Mousavi is still from that generation.
My own guess is that you have to get a leadership born after the revolution, who does not remember it and its sanguinary aftermath, before you get people willing to push back hard against the rightwingers.
So, there are protests against an allegedly stolen election. The Basij paramilitary thugs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will break some heads. Unless there has been a sea change in Iran, the theocrats may well get away with this soft coup for the moment. But the regime's legitimacy will take a critical hit, and its ultimate demise may have been hastened, over the next decade or two.
What I've said is full of speculation and informed guesses. I'd be glad to be proved wrong on several of these points. Maybe I will be.
PS: Here's the data:
"Of 39,165,191 votes counted (85 percent), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election with 24,527,516 (62.63 percent)."
He announced that Mir-Hossein Mousavi came in second with 13,216,411 votes (33.75 percent).
Mohsen Rezaei got 678,240 votes (1.73 percent)
Mehdi Karroubi with 333,635 votes (0.85 percent).
He put the void ballots at 409,389 (1.04 percent).
Posted on: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - 21:30