Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (6-17-09)
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (left) with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Mecca in December 2005.
A cold war, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is"a conflict over ideological differences carried on by methods short of sustained overt military action and usually without breaking off diplomatic relations." Note the three elements in this definition: ideological differences, no actual fighting, and not breaking off diplomatic relations.
The classic instance of a cold war, of course, involved the United States and the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1991, a long lasting and global standoff. The"Arab cold war" of 1958-70, shorter and more localized, offers a second notable instance. In that case, Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Egyptian revolutionary, tried to upend the region while the Saudis led the effort to maintain the status quo. Their conflict culminated in the Yemen War of 1962-70, a vicious conflict that ended only with the death of Abdel Nasser.
A new ideological division now splits the region, what I call the Middle Eastern cold war. Its dynamics help explain an increasingly hostile confrontation between two blocs.
The revolutionary bloc and its allies: Iran leads Syria, Qatar, Oman, and two organizations, Hezbollah and Hamas. Turkey serves as a very important auxiliary. Iraq sits in the wings. Paradoxically, several of these countries are themselves distinctly non-revolutionary.
The status-quo bloc: Saudi Arabia (again) leads, with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and most Arabic-speaking states following, along with Fatah. Israel serves as a semi-auxiliary. Note that Egypt, which once led its own bloc, now co-leads one with Saudi Arabia, reflecting Cairo's diminished influence over the last half century.
Some states, such as Libya, sit on the sidelines.
The present cold war goes back to 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in Tehran and harbored grand ambitions to destabilize other states in the region to impose his brand of revolutionary Islam. Those ambitions waned after Khomeini's death in 1989 but roared back to life with Ahmadinejad's presidency in 2005 along with the building of weapons of mass destruction, widespread terrorism, engagement in Iraq, and the claim to Bahrain.
The Middle Eastern cold war has many significant manifestations; here are four of them.
(1) In 2006, when Hezbollah fought the Israel Defense Forces, several Arab states publicly condemned Hezbollah for its"unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts." An Iranian newspaper editorial responded with an"eternal curse on the muftis of the Saudi court and of the pharaoh of Egypt."
(2) The Moroccan government in March 2009 announced that it had broken off diplomatic relations with Tehran on the grounds of"intolerable interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom," meaning Iranian efforts to convert Sunnis to the Shiite version of Islam.
(3) The Egyptian government arrested 49 Hezbollah agents in April, accusing them of destabilizing Egypt; Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah then confirmed that the group's leader worked for him.
(4) Close Turkish-Israeli ties have floundered as Ankara's increasingly overt Islamist leadership opposes Israeli government policies, deploys hostile language against the Jewish state, invites its enemies to Ankara, transfers Iranian arms to Hezbollah, and uses anti-Zionism to isolate the Turkish military.
By diverting passions away from the seemingly interminable Arab-Israeli conflict, the Middle Eastern cold war may appear to help reduce tensions. That, however, is not the case. However venomous relations between Fatah and Hamas may be, with each killing the other's operatives, they will in the end always join forces against Israel. Likewise, Washington will not find significant support in Saudi Arabia or any other members of its bloc vis-à-vis Iran. In the end, Muslim states shy from joining with non-Muslims against fellow Muslims.
Looking more broadly, the Middle Eastern cold war internationalizes once-local issues – such as the religious affiliation of Moroccans – imbuing them with Middle-East wide repercussions. Thus does this cold war add new flashpoints and greater volatility to what was already the world's most unstable region.
This article derives from a talk delivered earlier this month at an EMET-Heritage Foundation conference.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - 21:07
SOURCE: CNN (6-16-09)
At a time when the Obama administration is dealing with a barely stable economy while trying to address long-term health care, two wars, the environment and the threat of terrorism, many ask whether it is wise for President Obama to try to resolve a problem that has frustrated so many presidents before him.
With the latest events in Iran, there is even more reason for skepticism that progress towards Arab-Israeli peace is possible. Despite conventional wisdom, when presidents have become personally active in shaping American policy in the region and resolved to make the Mideast conflict a top priority, they've often succeeded in improving Arab-Israeli relations. Jimmy Carter oversaw the Camp David Accords, which resulted in the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty that secured calm between the two countries for three decades.
George H.W. Bush brought all the key parties to the Madrid Conference in October 1991, which in turn accelerated substantive peace negotiations. Under President Clinton, these negotiations led Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to agree to the Oslo Accords in 1993, a framework for improved relations. The following year, the Jordanians and Israelis signed a peace treaty.
Since then progress has been halting. Clinton almost helped to achieve another breakthrough in 2000, but the negotiations fell apart when Arafat walked away from one of the most comprehensive deals thus far.
When President George W. Bush was in office, relations between the Israelis and Palestinians deteriorated. Bush's warm approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a"man of peace" and his reluctance to put pressure on the Israeli leader strengthened conservative voices in Israel. After Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian parliament in 2006 despite its radical positions and endorsement of violence, progress seemed impossible.
But today, under the surface, there are signs of hope. During his first term in the late 1990s, then-President Netanyahu learned firsthand the ramifications of failing to cooperate with an American president when Ehud Barak unseated him in 1999 with Clinton's blessing....
Posted on: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - 20:15
SOURCE: Daniel Pipes website (6-14-09)
Here are some of the high points, important statements eloquently articulated:
"The greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and human race, is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons."
"the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland."
"The closer we get to an agreement with [the Palestinians], the further they retreat and raise demands that are inconsistent with a true desire to end the conflict.
"The claim that territorial withdrawals will bring peace with the Palestinians, or at least advance peace, has up till now not stood the test of reality."
"Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way."
"a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people."
"there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel's borders."
The principles that guide his government's policy:"Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people" and"The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel."
The problematic section concerns the acceptance of the two-state solution. (By the way, I predicted that Netanyahu would accept this goal at his meeting with Obama on May 18; turns out, I was off by four weeks.) In the key passage of today's speech, Netanyahu stated:
If we receive [a] guarantee regarding demilitarization and Israel's security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.
While I personally have given up on the two-state solution, I also do accept that it could work in theory. But Netanyahu does not lay down enough conditions for that theoretical moment. All he requires is a formalistic guarantee and recognition, which the years of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy should have established as inadequate. In addition, the Israeli government should also require, at the least:
A complete overhaul of messages coming from textbooks, classrooms, media, sermons, political rhetoric, and the other areas of public Palestinian discourse, eliminating the anti-Semitism, the anti-Zionism, and the incitement while condemning terrorism and other acts of"resistance" (muqawama).
A protracted era in which Palestinians do not engage in violence against Israelis.
Normal relations in such areas as trade, tourism, sports, and scholarly exchanges.
A good-neighborly foreign policy.
To make matters worse, Netanyahu accepted the discredited 1990s premise of a"new Middle East" when he stated that"a strong Palestinian economy will strengthen peace." Have not the last fifteen years established that Palestinian wealth fuels the war machine?
Comment: In his first term as prime minister in 1996-99, Netanyahu established a record of weakness and I worried two months ago, as he was forming the present government, that"Neither his party's history, nor his own biography, nor his character, nor murmurs coming out of Israel suggest that he will keep his electoral promises." His speaking today of a"Palestinian state" constitutes the first major breach of those promises. Let us hope it is the last.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - 13:50
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (6-12-09)
The Republicans in the Senate are outraged to discover that the Democrats have decided to move Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court to hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee that will begin on July 13. As reported in the New York Times, “the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, accused the Democrats of acting “unilaterally” and of “being dismissive of the minority’s legitimate concerns for a fair and thorough process.” “There is no point in this,” Mr. McConnell said. “It serves no purpose other than to run the risk of destroying the kind of comity and cooperation that we expect of each other here in the Senate.”
Of course, this is the same Senator McConnell who was willing to consider a “nuclear option” to forever end filibusters of judicial nominees and who complained bitterly about Democrats obstructing the nomination hearings of John Roberts just four years ago. Roberts, for the record, was confirmed in 72 days, and if Judge Sotomayor is confirmed on the last day before August recess (the now-expected schedule), she will have been confirmed in exactly 72 days.
But of course, these shifting postures are all to be expected. If Diogenes were carrying his lamp looking for a consistent man (or woman), the Senate would be the last place he would try.
What Really is the Senate’s Role?
The quarrel about when and how to have hearings, and in the case of Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, whether or not to attend them, points to a more interesting feature of this whole arrangement: the fact that there is no constitutional guidance about what exactly the Senate is supposed to do with a Supreme Court appointment.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 2: [The President] “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.”
This is one of the most amorphous requirements in the Constitution. There is no guidance as to how the Senate is to offer “advice” or how it is to express “consent.” In theory, and generally in practice, “consent” has been easier to instantiate. We expect a majority vote of the Senate to demonstrate that a judge has met the body’s approval, but it is not actually all that simple.
For most of the 20th century, the vote of the full Senate was often a formality, particularly for judges below the Supreme Court level. A complex and informal practice of collecting “blue slips” allowed home state Senators to accept or reject (and sometimes even to select) federal judges who would sit in their states. The Senate as a body generally followed these recommendations with very few exceptions until the 1990s. Judges who did not get the support of their home state Senators were usually rejected by never receiving a formal vote.
During particularly contentious periods, judicial appointments have been decided on near-party line votes, and in this atmosphere, it is still unclear whether the magic number for “consent” is now 60 (the filibuster proof super-majority that has no basis in the constitutional text) or 51. This issue leads to funny semantics because of subsequent developments. The Senate speaks of a measure (or a nomination) that does not have the 60 votes as “lacking a Unanimous Consent Agreement (UCA)” for floor action. But of course, the Constitution calls for “consent,” not “unanimous consent,” and it is very unclear just how much dissent could be consistent with consent.
Ironically, during the spring 2005 showdown over judicial appointments, the Senate Republicans preferred to speak of the so-called “nuclear option” (a ruling from the chair barring filibusters of nominations) as the “constitutional option” (Trent Lott actually coined both phrases), as in “restoring the constitutional standard of consent by simple majority.” Of course if that were clearly the constitutional standard today, Judge Sotomayor would have this in the bag.
“Advice” is an even thornier problem. Presumably the Judiciary Committee’s hearings with nominees serve, in some measure, as a form of giving “advice” on the nomination - We can at least say with certainty that the long-winded and political speeches that are sometimes offered as “questions” (in only the loosest sense) are presented as “advice,” sometimes to the nominee, sometimes to the President or other members of the Judiciary Committee, and sometimes to the CSPAN audience.
Committee hearings on judicial nominees are actually a relatively recent innovation. The Judiciary Committee gained jurisdiction over judicial nominations in 1868, but did not actually hold on the record hearings with a nominee until the nomination of Harlan Stone in 1925. According to the Judiciary Committee’s website, Sherman Minton refused a request to appear before the committee when nominated in 1949 and was nevertheless confirmed. Every Supreme Court nominee since 1955 has given testimony, but the practice of holding hearings on many Appellate and District Court judges did not begin until considerably later.
Might we conceive of “advice” in a different sense? Certainly. In fact, President Obama, like many but not all presidents before him, invited Senators to offer names, vet some possibilities, and express concerns before a nominee was chosen. In many respects, this prior consultation looks more like a literal reading of “advice,” as in “seeking advice,” than anything that happens subsequently.
If the Senate received the opportunity to offer “advice,” should they then, as a matter of courtesy, “consent”?
The Constitution speaks of the two practices as fundamentally intertwined, but it is not at all clear in what sense “and” is used. Is it just a matter of a temporal relationship - first advice, then consent - two separate activities performed independently of one another but always in this order? Or, does it imply an obligation - having offered advice, now provide consent?
We do know this much. The Senate has created an immense set of rules and practices for itself in the 220 years since this Constitution took effect, and its members have a difficult time separating its own historical practices from its externally imposed constitutional obligations. The Senate, and its Judiciary Committee, would never stand for Sherman Minton’s refusal to appear for hearings today. It would be taken as a constitutional affront, much as Senator Coburn considers the idea that he might have to start the hearings before he feels personally prepared for them to be a constitutional affront. The Constitution itself seems open to a number of possible practices, but we can be certain that every Senator will act as though his or her own understanding of personal duty, or expediency, will be justified as allegiance to that ambiguous document.
Posted on: Monday, June 15, 2009 - 18:25
SOURCE: NYT (6-13-09)
IN a Manhattan courtroom last week, the first Guantánamo detainee to face a trial in a civilian court pleaded not guilty. President Obama has indicated that other terrorism cases will likewise be tried in the federal courts, but that does not necessarily spell the end for military commissions. In a speech at the National Archives in May, he confirmed that the commission system won’t be abolished, merely revised.
Whether his proposed changes will substantially improve the military commissions and increase public confidence in the commissions’ administration of justice will be the subject of debate in the coming months and years. There is, however, a more fundamental question: the president’s assertion that military commissions have long played a respectable role in American legal history.
The history is more ambiguous than many have assumed, and is not one of which we have much reason to be proud. Let’s consider the high points typically cited.
A board of general officers conducted an inquiry into the spying case of Maj. John André, a British officer, in 1780. Whether that board or the one convened in another Revolutionary War spying case constituted a military commission is open to doubt. At the time, of course, the country was an actual battleground and there were not yet any civilian federal courts. But these inquiries were isolated events and hardly a solid starting point for an entire system of justice.
Fast forward more than half a century to the Mexican-American War. Gen. Winfield Scott, who commanded the American contingent in southern Mexico, found his forces in a partial legal vacuum, as the Articles of War — the Army predecessor of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — did not cover non-military offenses. He had no alternative but to create a system of military commissions to try both American soldiers and enemy civilians.
Congress did not even acknowledge Scott’s system until 1862, when it did so backhandedly: the legislation dealing with the position of judge advocate general simply noted his duty to review military commission cases....
President Obama justifiably reminded his audience at the National Archives that the last administration left the country with a terrible, and terribly complicated, legal mess. His personal commitment to the rule of law cannot be doubted. Nonetheless, unless his administration explains why specific cases cannot be prosecuted in the federal courts, it will have done no better than its predecessor on a pivotal threshold issue.
Posted on: Monday, June 15, 2009 - 18:16
SOURCE: http://madmanofchu.blogspot.com (6-15-09)
The current moment of fear and anticipation in Iran is (or should be) another reminder of the unrealized potential of Iranian-U.S. relations. Americans' habitual view of Iran as a dangerous enemy distorts the underlying historical truth: the past fifty years of Iranian-U.S. relations were a tragedy that might have been avoided. If the current moment of potential passes unrealized, it will be all the more disappointing for the fact that the chance to restore Iranian-U.S. relations to what they should have been will have slipped away yet again.
Many Americans view Iranian agitation for democracy as a kind of anomaly. As a traditional Muslim society, so this view goes, Iran is a nation deeply unsuited to democratic culture. This is of course a complete misreading, both of recent Iranian history and the nature of Islamic societies more generally. In the decade after WWII, Iran had all of the ingredients of a modern success story akin to that of Japan or South Korea: a long history of stable state institutions, a relatively well-educated populace, a robust commercial economy, copious oil reserves, and a nascent industrial sector and middle class. Turbulent struggles between the monarch, Shah Reza Pahlavi, and the parliament had set Iran on the course toward constitutional democracy.
Iran's late twentieth century might have been a bright one except for the curse of geopolitics: its nascent democracy was sacrificed on the altar of the Cold War. In 1951 Mohammed Mosaddeq, an able, charismatic, and secular leader, was elected by popular majorities as prime minister. Though he enjoyed the confidence of much of Iran's populace, especially the intelligentsia and the middle class, his policies put him afoul of the United States. He opposed British exploitation of Iran's resources and undertook a nationalization of the petroleum industry. In foreign policy he attempted to preserve Iranian neutrality in the emerging strategic contest between the U.S. and Iran's northern neighbor, the Soviet Union. For these transgressions the American CIA helped engineer a monarchist coup that toppled Mosaddeq and drove him into exile, ushering in twenty-five years of absolutist rule by the Shah.
The shadow of Mosaddeq lays across the last fifty years of Iran's history. The choice that Iranian society made for theocracy in the revolution of 1979 was conditioned as much by the bitter disappointment of Iran's brief constitutional spring as the intrinsic prestige of the Shi'ite clerical establishment. The 1953 coup taught the Iranian people that their democratic aspirations, however deeply cherished, could be crushed by the strategic whims of the great powers. The appeal of the theocracy was its resilient capacity to survive the crushing pressures of the Cold War geopolitical vice. A government led by mullahs was a disappointment to some, a tragedy for others, but it had the redeeming virtue of being authentically Iranian.
Despite its theocratic basis, the post-1979 Iranian Republic has persistently incorporated a degree of participatory politics, no matter how restricted and anemic. What the current unrest demonstrates is that the democratic aspects of the Islamic Republic are as much a genuine expression of the political impulses of the Iranian people as the exalted position of Ayatollah Khamenei, perhaps more so. The choice for theocracy never entailed a wholesale abandonment of democratic aspirations: the Iranian people have tolerated the controls placed by theocrats on the electoral process on the implicit understanding that the loss of democratic sovereignty was a fair trade off against the anti-colonial autonomy afforded by clerical rule. The most recent interference by the mullahs, however, in which they seem to have simply discarded the choice of the voters even after rigging the ground rules to induce the outcome they desired, has proved a case of overreach.
Beyond this, the global setting that helped nurture the Iranian Republic's social contract has changed. The Soviet Union is gone, and in its place Iran is now bordered by independent Inner Asian republics. The United States, the nation that overthrew Mohammed Mosaddeq, has elected a man named Barack Hussein Obama who holds out hope of a new orientation in U.S. foreign policy. Both threats that helped redeem the excesses and disappointments of the theocracy have thus somewhat ameliorated, making the theocrats' meddling with the longstanding democratic aspirations of the Iranian people less tolerable.
Though the current violence in Iran may ultimately bring only sorrow, it also marks a moment of potentially hopeful change. We may be witnessing the turn of Iran from its Cold War tragedy back toward the positive course that should have been, and if so we should be prepared to take advantage of this opportunity. In order to do so, America should face this moment mindful of the role we played in forestalling Iran's progressive dreams. If we insist on viewing Iranians through the prism of our own biases, as caricatures of "backward Muslims" or "crazed terrorists," the chance for improving Iranian-U.S. relations will be lost. Rather, we should remain open to the Iran that has always been possible, and which has been circumvented as much by our own transgressions as any inherent weaknesses of Iranian culture or society: an important ally and a force for progress in the Middle East and the world at large.
Posted on: Monday, June 15, 2009 - 13:47
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (6-14-09)
Let's face it, even Bo is photogenic, charismatic. He's a camera hound. And as for Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia -- keep in mind that we're now in a first name culture -- they all glow on screen.
Before a camera they can do no wrong. And the president himself, well, if you didn't watch his speech in Cairo, you should have. The guy's impressive. Truly. He can speak to multiple audiences -- Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, as well as a staggering range of Americans -- and somehow just about everyone comes away hearing something they like, feeling he's somehow on their side. And it doesn't even feel like pandering. It feels like thoughtfulness. It feels like intelligence.
For all I know -- and the test of this is still a long, treacherous way off -- Barack Obama may turn out to be the best pure politician we've seen since at least Ronald Reagan, if not Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He seems to have Roosevelt's same unreadable ability to listen and make you believe he's with you (no matter what he's actually going to do), which is a skill not to be whistled at.
Right now, he and his people are picking off the last Republican moderates via a little party-switching and some well-crafted appointments, and so driving that party and its conservative base absolutely nuts, if not into extreme southern isolation. In this sense, his first Supreme Court pick was little short of a political stroke of brilliance, whatever she turns out to do on the bench. Whether the opposition"wins" (which they won't) or loses in any attempt to block her nomination, they stand to further alienate a key voting bloc, Hispanics. Now 9% of voters, Hispanics went for Obama in the last election by a staggering 35-point margin. Next time their heft might even bring solidly red-state Texas closer to in-play status in the two-party system. In other words, the president has left his opponents in a situation where they can't win for losing.
Mix Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan...
All this is little short of amazing, particularly if put into even the most modest historical context.
If, in a Star-Trekkian mode -- hand me the"red matter," Mr. Spock! -- you could transport yourself back to early 2003 and tell just about any American what's coming, you might have found yourself institutionalized. If you had said that the new norm would be a black president with Reagan-like popularity, Kennedy-like charisma, and Roosevelt-like skills in the political arena, leading a majority Democratic Congress in search of universal health care, solutions to global warming, energy conservation, and bullet trains, your listener might, at best, have responded with his or her own joke:"A priest, a rabbi, and a penguin walk into a bar..."
After all, back then, before two"hurricanes" -- the invasion of Iraq and Katrina -- began the process of turning our American world upside down, the Bush administration seemed to be riding ever higher globally and the Republican Party even higher than that at home. Back then, the neocons were consumed with imperial dreams of shock-and-awe-style eternal global conquest and domination ("Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran"); and the President's"brain," Karl Rove, now exiled to the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, was convinced that he was nailing down a domestic Pax Republicana for generations to come.
And at that moment, who would have denied that things would turn out just that way? So don't let anyone tell you that history doesn't have its surprises. A black guy with the middle name of"Hussein," a liberal Chicago politician from -- in a phrase Republicans then regularly spit out, as if saying"Democratic" was too much effort -- the"Democrat Party"? I don't think so.
And yet, in mid-June 2009, less than five months into the Obama presidency, can you even remember that era before the dawn of time when people were wondering what it would be like for an African-American family to inhabit the White House? Would American voters allow it? Could Americans take it?
All that said, let's not forget reality. Barack Obama did not win an election to be president of Goodwill Industries, or the YMCA, or the Ford Foundation. He may be remarkable in many ways, but he is also president of the United States which means that he is head honcho for the globe's single great garrison state which now, to a significant extent, lives off war and the preparations for future war.
He is today the proprietor of -- to speak only of the region extending from North Africa to the Chinese border that the Bush loyalists used to call"the Greater Middle East" -- American bases, or facilities, or prepositioned military material (or all of the above) at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, in Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq (and Iraqi Kurdistan), Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan (where the U.S. military and the CIA share Pakistani military facilities), and a major Air Force facility on the British-controlled Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
Some U.S. bases in these countries are microscopic and solitary, but others like Camp Victory or Balad Air Base, both in Iraq, are gigantic installations in a web of embedded bases. According to an expert on the subject, Chalmers Johnson, the Pentagon's most recent official count of U.S."sites" (i.e. bases) abroad is 761, but that does not include"espionage bases, those located in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and miscellaneous facilities in places considered too sensitive to discuss or which the Pentagon for its own reasons chooses to exclude -- e.g. in Israel, Kosovo, or Jordan."
In January when he entered the Oval Office, Barack Obama also inherited the largest embassy on Earth, built in Baghdad by the Bush administration to imperial proportions as a regional command center. It now houses what are politely referred to as 1,000"diplomats." Recent news reports indicate that such a project wasn't just an aberration of the Bush era. Another embassy, just as gigantic, expected to house"a large military and intelligence contingent," will be constructed by the Obama administration in its new war capital, Islamabad, Pakistan. Once the usual cost overruns are added in, it may turn out be the first billion-dollar embassy. Each of these command centers will, assumedly, anchor the American presence in the Greater Middle East.
Barack Obama is also now the commander-in-chief of 11 aircraft carrier strike groups, which regularly patrol the planet's sea lanes. He sits atop a U.S. Intelligence Community (yes, that's what our intelligence crew like to call themselves) of at least 16 squabbling, overlapping agencies, heavily Pentagonized, and often at each other's throats. They have a cumulative hush-hush budget of perhaps $50 billion or more. (Imagine a power so obsessively consumed by the very idea of"intelligence" that it is willing to support 16 sizeable separate outfits doing such work, and that's not even counting various smaller offices dedicated to intelligence activities.)
The new president will preside over a country which now ponies up almost half the world's total military expenditures. His 2010 estimated Pentagon budget will be marginally higher than the last staggering one from the Bush years at $664 billion. (The real figure, once military funds stowed away in places like the Department of Energy are included, is actually significantly larger.)
He now inhabits a Washington in which deep-thinking consists of a pundit like Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution whining that these bloated sums are, in fact, too little to"maintain" U.S. forces (a budgetary increase of 7-8% per year for the next decade would, he claims, be just adequate); in which forward-looking means Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reorienting military spending toward preparations for fighting one, two, many Afghanistans; and in which out-of-the-box, futuristic thinking means letting the blue-skies crew at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) loose on far-out problems like how to turn "programmable matter" into future Transformer-like weapons of war.
While Obama enthusiasts can take pride in the appointment of some out-of-the-box thinkers in domestic areas, including energy, health, and the science of the environment, in two crucial areas his appointments are pure old-line Washington and have been so from the first post-election transitional moments. His key economic players and advisors are largely a crew of former Clintonistas, or Clintonista wannabes or protégés like Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner. They are distinctly inside-the-boxers, some of them responsible for the thinking that, in the 1990s, led directly to this catastrophic economic moment.
As for foreign policy, had the November election results been reversed, Obama's top team of today could just as easily have been appointed by Senator John McCain. National Security Advisor James Jones was actually a McCain friend, Gates someone he admired, and Hillary Clinton a figure he could well have picked for a top post after a narrow election victory, had he decided to reach out to the Democrats. As a group, Obama's key foreign policy figures and advisors are traditional players in the national security state and pre-Bush-style Washington guardians of American power, thinking globally in familiar ways.
And let's be careful not to put all of this in the passive voice either when it comes to the new president. In both of these areas, he may have felt somewhat unsure of himself and so slotted in the old guard around him as a kind of political protection. Nonetheless, this hasn't just happened to him. He didn't just inherit the presidency. He went for it. And he isn't just sitting atop it. He's actively using it. He's wielding power. In foreign policy terms, he's settling in -- and despite his Cairo speech and various hints of change on subjects like relations with Iran, in largely predictable ways.
He may, for example, have declared a sunshine policy when it comes to transparency in government, but in his war policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, his imperial avatar is already plunging deep into the dark, distinctly opaque valley of death. He's just appointed a general, Stanley A. McChrystal, as his Afghan commander. From 2003-2008, McChrystal ran a special operations outfit in Iraq (and then Afghanistan) so secret that the Pentagon avoided mention of it. In those years, its operatives were torturing, abusing, and killing Iraqis as part of a systematic targeted assassination program on a large scale. It was, for those who remember the Vietnam era, a mini-Phoenix program in which possibly hundreds of enemies were assassinated: al-Qaeda-in-Iraq types, but also Sunni insurgents, and Sadrists (not to speak of others, since informers always settle scores and turn over their own personal enemies as well).
Although he's now being touted in the press as the man to bring the real deal in counterinsurgency to Afghanistan (and"protect" the Afghan population in the bargain), his actual field is " counter-terrorism." He spoke the right words to Congress during his recent confirmation hearings, but pay no attention.
The team he's now assembling in Washington to lead his operations in Afghanistan (and someday maybe Pakistan) tells you what you really need to know. It's filled with special operations types. The expertise of his chosen key lieutenants is, above all, in special ops work. At the same time, reports Rowan Scarborough at Fox News, an extra 1,000 special operations troops are now being"quietly" dispatched to Afghanistan, bringing the total number there to about 5,000. Keep in mind that it's been the special operations forces, with their kick-down-the-door night raids and air strikes, who have been involved in the most notorious incidents of civilian slaughter, which continue to enrage Afghans.
Note, by the way, that while the president is surging into Afghanistan 21,000 troops and advisors (as well as those special ops forces), ever more civilian diplomats and advisors, and ever larger infusions of money, there is now to be a command surge as well. General McChrystal, according to a recent New York Times article, has"been given carte blanche to handpick a dream team of subordinates, including many Special Operations veterans... [He] is assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years. That kind of commitment to one theater of combat is unknown in the military today outside Special Operations, but reflects an approach being imported by General McChrystal, who spent five years in charge of secret commando teams in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Like the new mega-embassy in Pakistan, this figure -- the Spartans, after all, only needed 300 warriors at Thermopylae -- tells us a great deal about the top-heavy manner in which the planet's super-garrison state fights its wars.
So, this is now truly Obama's war, about to be run by his chosen general, a figure from the dark side. Expect, then, from our sunshine president's men an ever bloodier secret campaign of so-called counter-terror (though it's essence is likely to be terror, pure and simple), as befits an imperial power trying to hang on to the Eastern reaches of the Greater Middle East.
The new crew aren't counterinsurgency warriors, but -- a term that has only recently entered our press -- "manhunters." And don't forget, President Obama is now presiding over an expanding war in which"manhunters" engaging in systematic assassination programs will not only be on the ground but, thanks to the CIA's escalating program of targeted assassination by robot aircraft, in the skies over the Pakistani tribal borderlands.
For those who care to remember, it was into counter-terrorism and an orgy of manhunting, abuse, and killing that the Vietnam era version of" counterinsurgency" dissolved as well.
Into the Charnel House of History
A neologism coined for the expanding Afghan war has recently come into widespread use: Af-Pak (for Afghanistan-Pakistan Theater of Operations). But the coining of neologisms shouldn't just be left to those in Washington, so let me suggest one that hints at one possible new world over which our newest president may unexpectedly preside: Ir-Af-Pak. Let it stand, conveniently, for the Iraq-Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan Theater of Operations -- a neologism that catches the perilously expansionist and devolutionary possibilities of our moment.
Media organizations in increasingly tight financial straits sense the explosive nature of this expansionist moment and, even as they are fleeing Iraq (and former bureaus in so many other places), like the president, they are doubling down and piling into Afghanistan and Pakistan. But don't count Iraq pacified yet. It remains an uneasy, dangerous, explosive place as, in fact, does the Greater Middle East. Worse yet, the Af-Pak War may not itself be done expanding. It could still, for instance, seep into one or more of the Central Asian 'stans, among other places, and already has made it into catastrophic Somalia, while a shaky Yemen could be swept into the grim festivities.
Finally, let's return to that"dream team" being put together by Obama's man in Afghanistan. That team of Spartans, according to the New York Times, is being formed with, minimally, a three-year horizon. This in itself is striking. After all, the Afghan War started in November 2001. So when the shortest possible Afghan tour of duty of the 400 is over, it will have been going on for more than 10½ years -- and no one dares to predict that, three years from now, the war will actually be at an end.
Looked at another way, the figure cited should probably not be one decade, but three. After all, our Afghan adventure began in 1980, when, in the jihad against the Soviets, we were supporting some of the very same fundamentalist figures now allied with the Taliban and fighting us in Afghanistan -- just as, once upon a time, we looked positively upon the Taliban; just as, once, we looked positively upon Saddam Hussein, who was for a while seen as our potential bulwark in the Middle East against the fundamentalist Islamic Republic of Iran. (Remarkably enough, only Iran has, until this moment, retained its position as our regional enemy over these decades.)
What a record, then, of blood and war, of great power politics and imperial hubris, of support for the heinous (including various fundamentalist groups and grim, authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes who remain our allies to this day). What a tale of imperial power frittered away and treasure squandered. Truly, Rudyard Kipling would have been able to do something with this.
As for me, I find myself in awe of these decades of folly. Thirty years in Afghanistan, it staggers the imagination. What tricks does that land play with the minds of imperial Great-Gamers? Maybe it has something to do with those poppies. Who knows? I'm no Kipling, but I am aware that this sorry tale has taken up almost half of my lifetime with no end in sight.
In the meantime, our new president has loosed the manhunters. His manhunters. This is where charisma disappears into the charnel house of history. Watch out.
Posted on: Monday, June 15, 2009 - 12:35
SOURCE: Washington Times (6-6-09)
North Korea threatens to engulf the Korean Peninsula in an all-out war. Pyongyang's recent test of a nuclear bomb poses a serious threat to international security and regional stability.
Dictator Kim Jong-il continues to thumb his nose at global leaders, especially President Obama. The ailing strongman has denuded Mr. Obama on the world stage, revealing his soft-power strategy to be ineffective and reckless.
Washington's emphasis on diplomacy was supposed to facilitate rogue states into increased cooperation. Instead, it has only emboldened the likes of North Korea (and Iran) to press ahead with their nuclear-weapons programs. Mr. Obama's "open hand" has been met with Mr. Kim's iron fist - one that has smashed Uncle Sam in the face.
The hermit Stalinist regime is not only unstable and repressive, but also dangerous. Pyongyang has formed an anti-American axis with Tehran and Damascus. It is involved in narcotics trafficking, counterfeiting and the smuggling of illicit weapons. Last year alone, North Korean state-run companies sold more than $1.5 billion in arms to unsavory autocracies such as Iran, Syria, Myanmar and Egypt.
North Korea is a brutal police state characterized by one-party rule and totalitarian social control. Political corruption is rampant. Leninist economic planning is fused with jingoistic militarism. The result has been a failed nation - a starving, miserable population; a landscape blotted with slave-labor camps; and a country in which electricity and running water are luxuries for the privileged few.
Pyongyang is also one of the leading nuclear proliferators. U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials say North Korea has supplied Iran's mullahs with key missile components. During Mr. Kim's first nuclear-bomb test in 2006, Iranian technicians were present as observers. In 2007, North Korean scientists built Syria's clandestine nuclear reactor before it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. By successfully detonating a nuclear device, Mr. Kim has sent a powerful message: He is ready to sell weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as well as vital missile technology to jihadists and terrorist-sponsoring regimes.
Desperate to prop up the Obama administration, the liberal mainstream media have downplayed the North Korean menace. They present Mr. Kim as an erratic, spoiled child who seeks some international attention. Rather, the opposite is true: He is a sadistic and deadly serious tyrant whose test was an advertisement for his modernized arsenal of death. Call it North Korea 2.0...
Posted on: Saturday, June 6, 2009 - 13:56
SOURCE: Commentary (5-1-09)
... With the world economy now contracting rapidly and the banking systems in many countries in serious disarray, inflation is not a problem at the present. Indeed, deflation was the primary worry last fall as the financial crisis, heating up since Bear Stearns collapsed in March 2008, exploded with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September. To combat the recession, the Federal Reserve has been aggressively pumping liquidity into the banking system and the government has been spending deep into deficit.
With the Federal Reserve increasing the money supply by trillions of dollars by buying up federal bonds in open-market operations and a federal deficit that will be in the trillions this year and probably next year as well, is inflation destined to be an inevitable sidekick to recovery?
That is certainly a significant possibility. And a frightening one. Inflation is among the most devastating economic forces imaginable. It reduces the purchasing power of ordinary people, impoverishes those who have struggled to save money by destroying the value of their savings, and causes a crisis of faith in the viability of the currency. For that reason, it is universally understood that the Federal Reserve has a very tricky balancing act over the next few years. Once the American economy recovers, the Fed is going to have to move quickly but delicately to remove the excess liquidity from the system without doing so in a way that causes interest rates to rise too quickly. That would cause the economy to descend once again into the maw of recession. Still, if it acts prudently and wisely, the Federal Reserve has both the power and the ability to prevent inflation from roaring to life as the economy recovers.
But will its senior personnel have the political will and financial skills to do so? Don’t count on it. Indeed, there are reasons the political class in Washington is thirsting for a revival of inflation. For one thing, inflation would increase some tax revenues, such as from capital gains, considerably without Congress having to vote to increase taxes. And because the national debt is denominated in dollars, inflation would also reduce the national debt as a percentage of GDP, thereby seeming to make that debt more manageable.
Inflation therefore is not only a demon, but one that sometimes bears a superficially charming and attractive aspect. That may be especially true for the current administration and the current Congress, which would like to claim they can spend far more public money and reduce the deficit simultaneously.
To understand what inflation is, one first has to understand what money is. Money is a commodity—something that can be bought and sold in a marketplace, just like pork bellies, legal services, or West Texas sweet light crude. What makes money different is that it is the sole commodity universally accepted in exchange for every other. In a barter economy, only someone who needs apples is going to accept apples in payment for the commodity he trades away. But in a cash economy, everyone accepts money and then uses it to go buy what he wants.
Coins made of precious metal were the first true money, introduced in the kingdom of Lydia, in what is now Turkey, around 650 BCE. Because their face value was always set slightly above their bullion value (the difference is called “seigniorage”), coins were not melted down and thus had no other use than as a medium of exchange. Paper money, at first representing precious metal on deposit in a bank or treasury, was introduced in China in the 9th century and in Western Europe at the turn of the 18th. Today, most money is nothing more than electronic blips deep in the bowels of vast and interlocking computer systems. When you pay for coffee and a newspaper with a debit card, some blips are subtracted from your account and added to the seller’s.
But while today’s money is insubstantial in the extreme, it is still a commodity. And thus it will rise and fall in price according to the dictates of the law of supply and demand, just like any other commodity. But because money is a very special commodity, there is a special name for a fall in its value: we call it inflation....
The United States went off the gold standard during the Civil War, returning only in 1879. The North was able to raise about 89 percent of its wartime financing needs through bond sales and taxation, but resorted to printing $450 million in so-called greenbacks—fiat money that was not redeemable in gold—to finance the rest. The inevitable resulting inflation in the North over the course of the war was about 75 percent.
The South, with its far less developed and cash-poor economy, could raise only about 46 percent of its needs through borrowing and taxation and had no choice but to print money to finance the rest. The result was catastrophic for the Southern economy, which suffered an inflation of more than 700 percent just in the first two years of the war. As the currency became increasingly worthless, hoarding, black markets, and shortages of basic commodities spread. The Southern economy began to collapse, as did the Southern war effort along with it. It wasn’t just Grant and Sherman who doomed the Confederacy.
Both the First and Second World Wars were accompanied by bouts of inflation as the Federal Reserve System (established in 1913 as the nation’s central bank) facilitated the government’s borrowing needs by keeping interest rates low. Inflation was over 17 percent in 1917 and 1918 and over 15 percent in 1919 and 1920, until the recession that began that year cooled the economy and brought the inflation to an abrupt end.
Price and wage controls in World War II kept the lid on inflation for the duration of the conflict. But with the end of the war and popular pressure that the controls be removed, the immense pent-up demand for consumer goods unavailable during the war caused inflation to explode. Inflation was only 3.31 percent (calculated on an annual basis) in June of 1946, when the controls were ended. It was 9.39 percent in July, and by the end of the year it was 18.13 percent. Inflation reached almost 20 percent by the following March, before subsiding as supply and demand equalized. As the economic dislocations of the war faded, so did the war-induced inflation.
During much of the 1950s and early 60s, inflation was only rarely over 2 percent a year. But when President Lyndon Johnson tried to fight the Vietnam War and to fund the Great Society at the same time, inflation began to creep up as federal borrowing increased. The Federal Reserve, as it had in World War II, kept interest rates low to facilitate this borrowing.
But the Fed’s means of facilitating this federal borrowing was to buy up federal bonds, which restricted their supply in the marketplace and thus kept down the interest rate the federal government had to offer to sell them. That, in turn, increased the money supply. As the bonds moved onto the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, the Fed credited banks’ accounts accordingly.
The economy as a whole, so robust in the early ’60s, began to falter, but inflation kept increasing regardless. Under Keynesian economic doctrine, this was supposed to be an impossibility, and so a new word had to be coined, in 1970, to denote it, stagflation.
In 1971, President Nixon, unable to control the falling price of money, tried to control the rising price of everything else by freezing wages and prices. This had been tried before, of course—in 301 CE, the Emperor Diocletian had imposed wage and price controls in an attempt to stem the inflation then raging in the Roman Empire. The tactic didn’t work for Diocletian and it didn’t work for Nixon, who abandoned the attempt in 1972 as the inflation raged on....
The Fed, with its policies over the past year, has set itself an immensely complex task—a task it must not fail, and yet one so difficult that success is by no means assured. The Fed will have to prevent an inflationary spiral when such a spiral is exactly what many elected politicians may want (but will not admit they want). It is for this very reason that the Federal Reserve was designed as an entity whose decisions could be made independent of direct political pressure. The Fed’s independence is subject to constant testing, and never has it been more important for its leadership to pass the test.
Posted on: Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 19:35
SOURCE: Times Higher Education (6-4-09)
By insisting our universities' sole role is to fire the economy, we have lost sight of their more civilising purpose, says Thomas Docherty
For some time now, the fundamental aims of a university education have been in jeopardy; and, in this time of financial crisis, the betrayal of those aims needs to be addressed. The threat comes from a Government that closed the Department for Education, and from a supine Higher Education Funding Council for England and Universities UK, who see their role as managing government priorities rather than representing, within those priorities, the realities of education. Behind all this lies the mantra that universities are a form of "business". That way disaster lies.
In 1929, just before what we must now learn to call the First Great Depression, A.N. Whitehead wrote The Aims of Education. Whitehead, mathematician-turned-Harvard-professor-of-philosophy, built his case on his experience in senior university management in London, undertaken while he was doing his most imaginative mathematical work. He argues that the university exists primarily as a site for the free play of imagination. "The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively," he wrote, emphasising that "the atmosphere of excitement, arising from imaginative consideration, transforms knowledge. A fact is no longer a bare fact: it is invested with all its possibilities." For Whitehead, the university exists to open new possibilities. It was most certainly neither an instrumentalist nor a utilitarian servant of a purely mercantile economy.
This is important: a university contributes to the commercial and mercantile economy, certainly; however, that is but one tiny part of what it does. It actually contributes immensely more to the economy of civic wellbeing, acting as a servant to wider aims of civilisation. These cannot be reduced to what Thomas Carlyle used to call the cash nexus. Those who claim that the university is a business are complicit with a massive act of deskilling, for they eliminate the vast majority of what we do from material consideration.
Whitehead was aware of business, too. He explicitly argued for the opening of a Harvard Business School; but he did so on the grounds that business, especially in fragile economic times, requires the imaginative atmosphere of a free play of imaginings and possibilities. Decision-making in business, he thought, would benefit from the presence of poetry. Like William Blake, he thought that imagination was not only creative, but also materially transformative. His maths had already shown that imagination is not the pure preserve of arts and humanities, but is rather at the core of the preservation of those huge possibilities that we usually denominate as "the future"....
Posted on: Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 13:21
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (6-3-09)
Someone should institute an annual 4 June review of the Chinese, European and American models. Why 4 June? Because on that day in 1989, the European and Chinese paths out of communism definitively diverged. I will never forget standing in a newspaper office in Warsaw, amid the exhilaration of Poland's first semi-free election since the imposition of communist rule, and feeling my stomach turn as I watched the pictures of dead or wounded protesters being carried out of Tiananmen Square.
Twenty years on, we have two sharply contrasting, imperial-scale models, Chinese and European. Both are unprecedented, complex and evolving; both are products of what happened in 1989. Their strengths and weaknesses are in many ways contrasting. The American system, meanwhile, though in fundamentals much less changed by that year, has gone through a cycle from hubristic overreach (the neocons' "unipolar moment") to traumatic retrenchment (General Motors, RIP), which itself had a lot to do with the United States' sense of world-historical triumph at the end of the cold war.
It's interesting to observe this moment from Riga in Latvia, an eastern corner of the European Union which 20 years ago was still part of the Soviet Union. As a newly sovereign, independent state, Latvia seized its chance to join the pluralistic, voluntary empire that is the EU, as well as the American-led security alliance that is Nato. Latvia is a democracy, albeit of a messy post-communist kind. Its streets are plastered with posters for the local and European elections. People can choose their representatives.
Yet Latvia is going through especially hard times in this worldwide crisis. A local credit-fuelled boom has been followed by a most spectacular bust. The prime minister, Valdis Dombrovskis, tells me that six months ago the forecast for year-on-year decline in GDP was 5%; now it's 18%. Imagine your economy shrinking by nearly a fifth in one year. Public expenditure is being slashed, with civil servants seeing their salaries cut by up to 50%. I ask the phlegmatic PM whether, at some point, this contra-Keynesian shrinking of public expenditure will not feed into a vicious downward spiral for the whole economy. Maybe, he replies, with something close to a sigh; maybe it's already happening. But what can poor Latvia do, when it is so dependent on international loans, and hence on conditions negotiated with the IMF and the European commission?
Here is the post-1989 European model: democratic states and free market economies, joined together in the framework of the EU, with a proclaimed commitment to intra-European solidarity, being stress tested in real time. There have been mass demonstrations, and even riots. There is pain and anger. Yet extremists remain at the margin, and I don't hear of a great groundswell of support for an alternative model of authoritarian capitalism à la Russia or China. This may change if things get even worse, but it still feels better to be Latvia in the EU than it was to be Latvia in the Soviet Union, or than it is to be, say, Tibet in China...
Posted on: Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 08:24
SOURCE: The Root (edited by Henry Louis Gates) (6-2-09)
... By the end of last week, when Judge Sotomayor had been called a “Latina racist” by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a “bigot” by right-wing radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh, things had gotten very ugly, very fast. Backtracks began Friday, when Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) condemned the attacks on Judge Sotomayor. On Sunday morning news shows, Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)—both of the Senate Judiciary Committee—were assuring listeners that they don’t think that Judge Sotomayor is a racist.
It probably helps that Republican Party leaders and Sen. John Cornyn, who hail from states with a significant Latino population, are smart enough to know that they cannot afford to alienate the Latino electorate by joining unelected pundits in disrespecting the first Latina Supreme Court nominee.
Nevertheless, we should expect that race will continue to be an underlying theme of this confirmation process.
The fact that Judge Sotomayor sat on the panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, judges who ruled against a white firefighter in the Ricci v. DeStefano affirmative action case currently in front of the Supreme Court, ensures that questions about race will be key in the upcoming hearings.
Affirmative action is the gift that keeps on giving for a Republican Party perpetually engaged in feeding its base. The sympathetic white, dyslexic firefighter Frank Ricci, who passed the New Haven firefighters’ promotions exam only to have the city refuse to certify the results of the exam, has become a hero to the rallying point of opposition to Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation. The case is more complicated than the bare fact of the city throwing out an exam that black applicants didn’t pass, but in all of the predictably heated exchanges about so-called “reverse discrimination,” those details won’t matter.
But even without Judge Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican heritage and her involvement in the Ricci case, the truth is that race is now an essential feature of the contemporary confirmation process. In fact, the modern confirmation hearing is a product of racial conflict. It wasn’t until 1955, a year after Brown v. Board of Education was decided, that a Supreme Court justice, John Marshall Harlan II, was subjected to the full monty of hostile questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Before that, there had been one or two occasions when justices came before the committee to answer specific charges. But after Brown, the confirmation hearings became an important forum for southern senators to express their resistance to school integration by questioning nominees about Brown, school integration and the limits of the Constitution.
The confirmation hearings for Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967 were perhaps the most openly hostile and provocative, with southern Sens. Strom Thurmond and James Eastland attempting to paint Marshall, then-solicitor general of the United States, as a communist, a liar and as intellectually unprepared to sit on the court. It’s difficult to read the transcripts without cringing at the obvious racism and disrespect meted out by members of the Judiciary Committee.
When Justices Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II resigned within two weeks of each other, it provided President Richard Nixon with the opportunity to select two Supreme Court justices in 1971. The president—an opponent of busing for integration—made it clear to the aides forming his court shortlist, “I’m not going to put anybody in that thing that doesn’t share my views on busing, period.” After weighing the merits of several potential nominees over the course of a month, Nixon eventually nominated Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist. Four years earlier, Nixon had been compelled to withdraw the name of his second nominee to fill the seat vacated by Justice Abe Fortas, after it was learned that nominee G. Harrold Carswell, a Floridian, had been an open and unwavering supporter of what Carswell, in his own words, called “the principles of white supremacy.”
Over the past 35 years, confirmation hearing questions about what southern (and some northern) senators called “forced busing” or about affirmative action have nearly equaled those related to abortion in the most controversial nomination battles, except that of Judge Robert Bork in 1987. We forget that the NAACP opposed the confirmation of David Souter in 1990, citing a speech in which Souter had referred to affirmative action as “affirmative discrimination.” And of course, we don’t need to resurrect the sordid details of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings to bring to mind the prominence of race. It may well be the only confirmation hearing in which lynching was mentioned—perversely, I might add. Although given the nomination of at least one former Klansman to the bench—Justice Hugo Black in 1937—it probably should have come up sooner....
Posted on: Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 01:06
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (6-2-09)
... Instead of closing the detention centre, we should finish the job begun there over the last few years by JAG lawyers, human rights advocates and the press, who have introduced a measure of law and transparency to what has always been an obscure place.
To be sure, Guantánamo has been tainted by scandal. But if we had jettisoned all our tainted institutions historically, we'd have no institutions left. Let us mend Guantánamo, not end it. Let the light shine in.
We might think of the process of overhauling the prison camp as a project of truth and reconciliation. To remedy the current system we will have to fully acknowledge what went on there. By demonstrating that we can acknowledge and remedy a grievous wrong, we will remind the world what makes America great.
The process of truth finding should begin with the Obama administration assigning legal responsibility for the torture and abuse at Guantánamo. Our forward-looking new president seems to lack the stomach for this. A precipitous closing of the prison camp only plays in to Obama's hands, and one imagines the masterminds of US detention policy hoping the Obama administration can successfully hold off congressional investigators.
By contrast, the overhaul of the Guantánamo detention facility would have to begin with a meticulous airing of the arguments and decision-making process that led Bush-administration officials to dispense with legal and time-tested detention procedures. It is not enough that future detention procedures be effective and legal. The laws themselves must be enforced. That's the way law works.
Next, we need the truth about how exactly Guantánamo fits into the nation's over-all detention and interrogation regimen. Momentum builds for the closing of Guantánamo just as escalating military engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan swells the ranks of detainees at Bagram airbase and other detention centres beyond the public eye. Close Guantánamo and what have we accomplished? What exactly is happening at Bagram? Where else are we detaining people? Under what conditions and for how long?
It is telling that, though the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban continues, there have been no new arrivals at Guantánamo, where detainees have been granted a bare minimum of legal rights. We should be careful about what we ask for. The devil we know may be better than the detainment we don't.
A commitment to truth is often the first step to reconciliation. The second step is public apology. As every child knows, apology entails an acknowledgment of responsibility coupled with a feeling of regret. Anathema to George Bush, apology seems to be within Obama's skill set. But it won't mean much unless it reflects the sentiment of the nation as a whole. It will mean still less if it stems from an incomplete account of what occurred at Guantánamo.
Money talks, and the US can advance the process of reconciliation by following an official apology with compensation for the innocent victims of torture and indefinite detention. But actions speak louder than words – and, one hopes, even money – and it is by our policies that our commitment to reconciliation will be judged. As Obama begins his second trimester in office, political, military and legal officials continue to discuss whether military or civilian codes of justice (or a hybrid of the two) offer the fairest, safest and most efficient means to process and try suspected terrorists....
Posted on: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - 22:35
SOURCE: Asia Pacific Journal (5-17-09)
His website, which contains a wealth of his writings, is here.]
For several years, informed observers independent of the national security bureaucracy have called for terminating current specific American policies and tactics in Afghanistan– many reminiscent of the US in Vietnam.
Informed observers decry the use of air strikes to decapitate the Taliban and al Qaeda, an approach that has repeatedly resulted in the death of civilians. Many counsel against the insertion of more and more US and other foreign troops, as pursued first by the Bush administration and then, even more vigorously, in the early days of the Obama administration, in an effort to secure the safety and allegiance of the population. And they regret the on-going interference in the fragile Afghan and Pakistan political processes, in order to secure outcomes desired in Washington.1 A New York Times headline, “In Pakistan, US Courts Leader of Opposition,” was barely noticed in the U.S. mainstream media.
One root source of official myopia will not be addressed soon – the conduct of crucial decision-making in secrecy, not by those who know the area, but by those skilled enough in bureaucratic politics to have earned the highest security clearances. It may nevertheless be productive to criticize the mindset shared by the decision-makers, and to point out elements of the false consciousness which frames it, and which will require correction if the US is not to wade deeper into its Afghan quagmire.
Why One Should Think of So-Called “Failed States” as “Ravaged States”
I have in mind the bureaucratically convenient concept of Afghanistan as a failed or failing state. This epithet has been frequently applied to Afghanistan since 9/11, 2001, and also to other areas where the United States is eager or at least contemplating intervention – such as Somalia, and the Congo. The concept conveniently suggests that the problem is local, and requires outside assistance from other more successful and benevolent states. In this respect, the term “failed state” stands in the place of the now discredited term “undeveloped country,” with its similar implication that there was a defect in any such country to be remedied by the “developed” western nations.
A Failed States Index
Most outside experts would agree that the states commonly looked on as “failed,” -- notably Afghanistan, but also Somalia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo – share a different feature. It is better to think of them not as failed states but as ravaged states, ravaged primarily from the intrusions of outside powers. The policy implications of recognizing that a state has been ravaged are complex and ambiguous. Some might see past abuses in such a state as an argument against any outside involvement whatsoever. Others might see a duty for continued intervention, but only by using different methods, in order to compensate for the damage already inflicted.
The past ravaging of Somalia and the Congo (formerly Zaire) is now indisputable. These two former colonies were among the most ruthlessly exploited of any in Africa by their European invaders. In the course of this exploitation, their social structures were systematically uprooted and never replaced by anything viable. Thus they are best understood as ravaged states, using the word “state” here in its most generic sense.
But the word “state” itself is problematic, when applied to the arbitrary divisions of Africa agreed on by European powers for their own purposes in the 19th century. Many of the straight lines overriding the tribal entities of Africa and separating them into colonies were established by European powers at a Berlin conference in 1884-85.2 Our loosest dictionary definition of “state” is “body politic,” implying an organic coherence which most of these entities have never possessed. The great powers played similar games in Asia, which are still causing misery in areas like the Shan states of Myanmar, or the tribes of West Papua.
Still less can African states be considered modern states as defined by Max Weber, when he wrote that the modern state “successfully upholds a claim on the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence [Gewaltmonopol] in the enforcement of its order."3 The Congo in particular has been so devoid of any state features in its past history that it might be better to think of it as a ravaged area, not even as a ravaged state.
The Historical Ravaging of Afghanistan
Afghanistan in contrast can be called a state, because of its past history as a kingdom, albeit one combining diverse peoples and languages on both sides of the forbidding Hindu Kush. But almost from the outset of that Durrani kingdom in the 18th century, Afghanistan too was a state ravaged by foreign interests. Even though technically Afghanistan was never a colony, Afghanistan’s rulers were alternatively propped up and then deposed by Britain and Russia, who were competing for influence in an area they agreed to recognize as a glacis or neutral area between them.
Such social stability as there existed in the Durrani Afghan kingdom, a loose coalition of tribal leaders, was the product of tolerance and circumspection, the opposite of a monopolistic imposition of central power. A symptom of this dispersion of power was the inability of anyone to build railways inside Afghanistan – one of the major aspects of nation building in neighboring countries.4
The British, fearing Russian influence in Afghanistan, persistently interfered with this equilibrium of tolerance. This was notably the case with the British foray of 1839, in which their 12,000-man army was completely annihilated except for one doctor. The British claimed to be supporting the claim of one Durrani family member, Shuja Shah, an anglophile whom they brought back from exile in India. With the disastrous British retreat in 1842, Shuja Shah was assassinated.
The social fabric of Afghanistan, with a complex tribal network, was badly disrupted by such interventions. Particularly after World War II, the Cold War widened the gap between Kabul and the countryside. Afghan cities moved towards a more western urban culture, as successive generations of bureaucrats were trained elsewhere, many of them in Moscow. They thus became progressively more alienated from the Afghan rural areas, which they were trained to regard as reactionary, uncivilized, and outdated.
Meanwhile, especially after 1980, moderate Sufi leaders in the countryside were progressively displaced in favor of radical jihadist Islamist leaders, thanks to massive funding from agents of the Pakistani ISI, dispersing funds that came in fact from Saudi Arabia and the United States. Already in the 1970s, as oil profits skyrocketed, representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim World League, with Iranian and CIA support, “arrived on the Afghan scene with bulging bankrolls.”5 Thus the inevitable civil war that ensued in 1978, and led to the Soviet invasion of 1980, can be attributed chiefly to Cold War forces outside Afghanistan itself.
Russian forces in Afghanistan
Afghanistan was torn apart by this foreign-inspired conflict in the 1980s. It is being torn apart again by the American military presence today. Although Americans were initially well received by many Afghans when they first arrived in 2001, the U.S. military campaign has driven more and more to support the Taliban. According to a February 2009 ABC poll, only 18 percent of Afghanis support more US troops in their country.
Thus it is important to recognize that Afghanistan is a state ravaged by external forces, and not just think of it as a failing one.
The Foreign Origins of the Forces Ravaging Afghanistan Today: Jihadi Salafist Islamism and Heroin
These external forces include the staggering rise of both jihadi salafism and opium production in Afghanistan, following the interventions there two decades ago by the United States and the Soviet Union. In dispersing US and Saudi funds to the Afghan resistance, the ISI gave half of the funds it dispersed to two marginal fundamentalist groups, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Razul Sayyaf, which it knew it could control – precisely because they lacked popular support.6 The popularly based resistance groups, organized on tribal lines, were hostile to this jihadi salafist influence: they were “repelled by fundamentalist demands for the abolition of the tribal structure as incompatible with [the salafist] conception of a centralized Islamic state.7
Meanwhile, Hekmatyar, with ISI and CIA protection, began immediately to compensate for his lack of popular support by developing an international traffic in opium and heroin, not on his own, however, but with ISI and foreign assistance. After Pakistan banned opium cultivation in February 1979 and Iran followed suit in April, the Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan ‘‘attracted Western drug cartels and ‘scientists’ (including ‘some “fortune-seekers” from Europe and the US’) to establish heroin processing facilities in the tribal belt.8
Heroin labs had opened in the North-West Frontier province by 1979 (a fact duly noted by the Canadian Maclean’s Magazine of April 30, 1979). According to Alfred McCoy,"By 1980 Pakistan-Afghan opium dominated the European market and supplied 60 percent of America’s illicit demand as well."9 McCoy also records that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar controlled a complex of six heroin laboratories in a region of Baluchistan"where the ISI was in total control."10
The global epidemic of Afghan heroin, in other words, was not generated by Afghanistan, but was inflicted on Afghanistan by outside forces.11 It remains true today that although 90 percent of the world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan, the Afghan share of proceeds from the global heroin network, in dollar terms, is only about ten percent of the whole.
In 2007, Afghanistan supplied 93% of the world's opium, according to the U.S. State Department. Illicit poppy production, meanwhile, brings $4 billion into Afghanistan,12 or more than half the country’s total economy of $7.5 billion, according to the United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC).13 It also represents about half of the economy of Pakistan, and of the ISI in particular.14
Destroying the labs has always been an obvious option, but for years America refused to do so for political reasons. In 2001 the Taliban and bin Laden were estimated by the CIA to be earning up to 10 per cent of Afghanistan’s drug revenues, then estimated at between 6.5 and 10 billion U.S. dollars a year.15 This income of perhaps $1 billion was less than that earned by Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI, parts of which had become the key to the drug trade in Central Asia. The UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) estimated in 1999 that the ISI made around $2.5 billion annually from the sale of illegal drugs.16
At the start of the U.S. offensive in 2001, according to Ahmed Rashid, “The Pentagon had a list of twenty-five or more drug labs and warehouses in Afghanistan but refused to bomb them because some belonged to the CIA's new NA [Northern Alliance] allies.”17 Rashid was “told by UNODC officials that the Americans knew far more about the drug labs than they claimed to know, and the failure to bomb them was a major setback to the counter-narcotics effort."18
James Risen reports that the ongoing refusal to pursue the targeted drug labs came from neocons at the top of America’s national security bureaucracy, including Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, and their patron Donald Rumsfeld.19 These men were perpetuating a pattern of drug-traffic protection in Washington that dates back to World War Two.20
There were humanitarian as well as political reasons for tolerating the drug economy in 2001. Without it that winter many Afghans would have faced starvation. But the CIA had mounted its coalition against the Taliban in 2001 by recruiting and even importing drug traffickers, many of them old assets from the 1980s. An example was Haji Zaman who had retired to Dijon in France, whom “British and American officials…met with and persuaded … to return to Afghanistan.21
Thanks in large part to the CIA-backed anti-Soviet campaign of the 1980s, Afghanistan today is a drug-corrupted or heroin-ravaged society from top to bottom. On an international index measuring corruption, Afghanistan ranks as #176 out of 180 countries. (Somalia is 180th). 22 Karzai returned from America to his native country vowing to fight drugs, yet today it is recognized that his friends, family, and allies are deeply involved in the traffic.23
In 2005, for example, Drug Enforcement Administration agents found more than nine tons of opium in the office of Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, the governor of Helmand Province, and a close friend of Karzai who had accompanied him into Afghanistan in 2001 on a motorbike. The British successfully demanded that he be removed from office.24 But the news report confirming that Akhunzada had been removed announced also that he had been simultaneously given a seat in the Afghan senate.25
Former warlord and provincial governor Gul Agha Sherzai, an American favorite who recently endorsed Karzai’s re-election campaign, has also been linked to the drugs trade.26 In 2002 Gul Agha Sherzai was the go-between in an extraordinary deal between the Americans and leading trafficker Haji Bashar Noorzai, whereby the Americans agreed to tolerate Noorzai’s drug-trafficking in exchange for supplying intelligence on and arms of the Taliban.27
By 2004, according to House International Relations Committee testimony, Noorzai was smuggling two metric tons of heroin to Pakistan every eight weeks.28 Noorzai was finally arrested in New York in 2005, having come to this country at the invitation of a private intelligence firm, Rosetta Research. The U.S. media reports of his arrest did not point out that Rosetta had failed to supply Noorzai the kind of immunity usually provided by the CIA.29
(It will be interesting to see, for example, whether Noorzai will remain as free for as long as Venezuelan General Ramón Guillén Davila, chief of a CIA-created anti-drug unit in Venezuela, who in 1996 received a sealed indictment in Miami for smuggling six years earlier, with CIA approval, a ton of cocaine into the United States.30 But the United States never asked for Guillén’s extradition from Venezuela to stand trial; and in 2007, when he was arrested in Venezuela for plotting to assassinate President Hugo Chavez, his indictment was still sealed in Miami.31 According to the New York Times,"The CIA, over the objections of the Drug Enforcement Administration, approved the shipment of at least one ton of pure cocaine to Miami International Airport as a way of gathering information about the Colombian drug cartels."32 According to the Wall Street Journal, the total amount of drugs smuggled by Gen. Guillén may have been more than 22 tons.33)
There are numerous such indications that those governing Afghanistan are likely to become involved, willingly or unwillingly, in the drug traffic. One can also probably anticipate that, with the passage of time, the Taliban will also become increasingly involved in the drug trade, just as the FARC in Colombia and the Communist Party in Myanmar have evolved in time from revolutionary movements into drug-trafficking organizations.
The situation in Pakistan is not much better. The U.S. mainstream media have never mentioned the February 23 report in the London Sunday Times and that Asif Ali Zardari, now the Pakistani Prime Minister, was once caught in a DEA drug sting. An undercover DEA informant, John Banks, told the Sunday Times that, posing as a member of the U.S. mafia, he had taped Zardari and two associates for five hours; Zardari discussed how he could ship hashish and heroin to the United States, as he had done already to Great Britain. A retired senior British customs officer confirmed that the government had received reports of Zardari's alleged financing of the drug trade from “about three or four sources.” Banks “claimed the subsequent investigation was halted after the CIA said it did not want to destabilise Pakistan.”
Important as heroin may have become to the Afghan and Pakistani political economies, the local proceeds are only a small share of the global heroin traffic. According to the UN, the ultimate value in world markets in 2007 of Afghanistan’s $4 billion opium crop was about $110 billion: this estimate is probably too high, but even if the ultimate value was as low as $40 billion, this would mean that 90 percent of the profit was earned by forces outside of Afghanistan.34
It follows that there are many players with a much larger financial stake in the Afghan drug traffic than local Afghan drug lords, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Sibel Edmonds has charged that Pakistani and Turkish intelligence, working together, utilize the resources of the international networks transmitting Afghan heroin.35 In addition Edmonds “claims that the FBI was also gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials - including household names - who were aiding foreign agents.”36 Two of these are said to be Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, former lobbyists for Turkey.37 Douglas Risen reports that, when Undersecretary of Defense, Feith argued in a White House meeting “that counter-narcotics was not part of the war on terrorism, and so Defense wanted no part of it in Afghanistan.”38
Loretta Napoleoni has argued that there is a Turkish and ISI-backed Islamist drug route of al Qaeda allies across North Central Asia, reaching from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan through Azerbaijan and Turkey to Kosovo.39 Dennis Dayle, a former top-level DEA agent in the Middle East, has corroborated the CIA interest in that region’s drug connection. I was present when he told an anti-drug conference that"In my 30-year history in the Drug Enforcement Administration and related agencies, the major targets of my investigations almost invariably turned out to be working for the CIA."4
Above all, it has been estimated that 80 percent or more of the profits from the traffic are reaped in the countries of consumption. The UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, has reported that “money made in illicit drug trade has been used to keep banks afloat in the global financial crisis.”41
Expanded World Drug Production as a Product of U.S. Interventions
The truth is that since World War II the CIA, without establishment opposition, has become addicted to the use of assets who are drug-traffickers, and there is no reason to assume that they have begun to break this addiction. The devastating consequences of CIA use and protection of traffickers can be seen in the statistics of drug production, which increases where America intervenes, and also declines when American intervention ends.
Just as the indirect American intervention of 1979 was followed by an unprecedented increase in Afghan opium production, so the pattern has repeated itself since the American invasion of 2001. Opium poppy cultivation in hectares more than doubled, from a previous high of 91,000 in 1999 (reduced by the Taliban to 8,000 in 2001) to 165,000 in 2006 and 193,000 in 2007. (Though 2008 saw a reduced planting of 157,000 hectares, this was chiefly explained by previous over-production, in excess of what the world market could absorb.
No one should have been surprised by these increases: they merely repeated the dramatic increases in every other drug-producing area where America has become militarily or politically involved. This was demonstrated over and over in the 1950s, in Burma (thanks to CIA intervention, from 40 tons in 1939 to 600 tons in 1970),42 in Thailand (from 7 tons in 1939 to 200 tons in 1968) and Laos (less than 15 tons in 1939 to 50 tons in 1973).43
The most dramatic case is that of Colombia, where the intervention of U.S. troops since the late 1980s has been misleadingly justified as a part of a “war on drugs.” At a conference in 1990 I predicted that this intervention would be followed by an increase in drug production, not a reduction.44 But even I was surprised by the size of the increase that ensued. Coca production in Colombia tripled between 1991 and 1999 (from 3.8 to 12.3 thousand hectares), while the cultivation of opium poppy increased by a multiple of 5.6 (from .13 to .75 thousand hectares).45
There is no single explanation for this pattern of drug increase. But it is essential that we recognize American intervention as integral to the problem, rather than simply look to it as a solution.
It is accepted in Washington that Afghan drug production is a major source of all the problems America faces in Afghanistan today. Richard Holbrooke, now Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, wrote in a 2008 Op-Ed that drugs are at the heart of America’s problems in Afghanistan, and “breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential, or all else will fail.”46 It is true that, as history has shown, drugs sustain jihadi salafism, far more surely than jihadi salafism sustains drugs.47
But at present America’s government and policies are contributing to the drug traffic, and not likely to curtail it.
American Failure to Analyze the Heroin Epidemic
American policy-makers continue, however, to preserve the mindset of Afghanistan as a “failed state.” They persist in treating the drug traffic as a local Afghan problem, not as a global, still less an American one. This is true even of Holbrooke, who more than most has earned the reputation of a pragmatic realist on drug matters.
In his 2008 Op-Ed noting that “breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential,” Holbrooke admitted that this will not be easy, because of the pervasiveness of today’s drug traffic, “whose dollar value equals about 50% of the country's official gross domestic product.”48
Holbrooke excoriated America’s existing drug-eradication strategies, particular aerial spraying of poppy fields: “The … program, which costs around $1 billion a year, may be the single most ineffective policy in the history of American foreign policy….It’s not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban and al Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan.”
Holbrooke and Afghan leader Karzai
Not for a moment, however, did Holbrooke acknowledge any American responsibility for the Afghan drug problem. Yet Holbrooke’s main recommendation was for “a temporary suspension of eradication in insecure areas, as part of an on-going campaign that “will take years, and … cannot be won as long as the border areas in Pakistan are havens for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”49 He did not propose any alternative approach to the drug problem.
Washington’s perplexity about Afghan drugs became even more clear on March 27, 2009, at a press briefing by Holbrooke the morning after President Barack Obama unveiled his new Afghanistan policy.
Asked about the priority of drug fighting in the Afghanistan review, Holbrooke, as he was leaving the briefing, said"We're going to have to rethink the drug problem. . .a complete rethink." He noted that the policymakers who had worked on the Afghanistan review"didn't come to a firm, final conclusion" on the opium question."It's just so damn complicated," Holbrooke explained."You can't eliminate the whole eradication program," he exclaimed. But that remark did make it seem that he backed an easing up of some sort."You have to put more emphasis on the agricultural sector," he added.50
A few days earlier Holbrooke had already indicated that he would like to divert eradication funds into funds for alternative livelihoods for farmers. But farmers are not traffickers, and Holbrooke’s renewed emphasis on them only confirms Washington’s reluctance to go after the drug traffic itself.51
According to Holbrooke, the new Obama strategy for Afghanistan would scale back the ambitions of the Bush administration to turn the country into a functioning democracy, and would concentrate instead on security and counter-terrorism.52 Obama himself stressed that “we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”53
The U.S. response will involve a military, a diplomatic, and an economic developmental component. Moreover the military role will increase, perhaps far more than has yet been officially indicated.54 Lawrence Korb, an Obama adviser, has submitted a report which calls for"using all the elements of U.S. national power -- diplomatic, economic and military -- in a sustained effort that could last as long as another 10 years."55 On March 19, 2009, at the University of Pittsburgh, Korb suggested that a successful campaign might require 100,000 troops.56
This persistent search for a military solution runs directly counter to the RAND Corporation’s recommendation in 2008 for combating al-Qaeda. RAND reported that military force led to the end of terrorist groups in only 7 percent of cases where it was used. And RAND concluded:
Minimize the use of U.S. military force. In most operations against al Qa'ida, local military forces frequently have more legitimacy to operate and a better understanding of the operating environment than U.S. forces have. This means a light U.S. military footprint or none at all.57
The same considerations extend to operations against the Taliban. A recent study for the Carnegie Endowment concluded that"the presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban."58 And as Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute told the Orange County Register, “"U.S. military activity in Afghanistan has already contributed to a resurgence of Taliban and other insurgent activity in Pakistan.”59
But such elementary common sense is unlikely to persuade RAND’s employers at the Pentagon. To justify its global strategic posture of what it calls “full-spectrum dominance,” the Pentagon badly needs the “war against terror” in Afghanistan, just as a decade ago it needed the counter-productive “war against drugs” in Colombia. To quote from the Defense Department’s explanation of the JCS strategic document Joint Vision 2020, “Full-spectrum dominance means the ability of U.S. forces, operating alone or with allies, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations.”60 But this is a phantasy: “full-spectrum dominance” can no more control the situation in Afghanistan than Canute could control the movement of the tides. America’s experience in Iraq, a terrain far less favorable to guerrillas, should have made this clear.
Full-spectrum dominance is of course not just an end in itself, it is also lobbied for by far-flung American corporations overseas, especially oil companies like Exxon Mobil with huge investments in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia. As Michael Klare noted in his book Resource Wars, a secondary objective of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan was"to consolidate U.S. power in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea area, and to ensure continued flow of oil."61
The global drug traffic itself will continue to benefit from the protracted conflict generated by “full-spectrum dominance” in Afghanistan, and some of the beneficiaries may have been secretly lobbying for it. And I fear that all the client intelligence assets organized about the movement of Afghan heroin through Central Asia and beyond will, without a clear change in policy, continue as before to be protected by the CIA.
There will certainly continue to be targets for America’s efforts at global dominance, as long as America continues to ravage states, in the name of rescuing them from “failing.” An emerging new target is Pakistan, where the Obama administration plans to increase the number of Predator drone attacks, despite the sharp opposition of the Pakistan government.62 It is clear that these Predator strikes are a major reason for the recent rapid growth of the Pakistan Taliban, and why formerly peaceful districts like the Swat valley have now been ceded by the Pakistan military to control by the Taliban.63
Common sense will not produce unanimous recommendations for what should happen within Afghanistan. Some observers are partial to the urban culture of Kabul, and particularly to the campaign there to improve the status and rights of women. Others are sympathetic to the elaborate tribal system that ruled the countryside for generations. Still others accept the modifications introduced by the Taliban as a needed social revolution. Finally there are the security issues presented by the increasing instability of neighboring Pakistan, a nuclear power.
What common sense says clearly is that the Afghan crisis could be eased somewhat by changes in the behavior of the United States. If America truly wishes a degree of social stability to return to that area, it would seem obvious that, as a first step:
1) President Obama should renounce JCS strategic document Joint Vision 2020, with its pretentious and nonsensical ambition of using U.S. forces to “control any situation.”
2) The United States should consider apologizing for past ravagings of the Muslim world, and specifically its role in the 1953 overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran, in the 1953 assassination of Abd al-Karim Qasim in Iraq, and in assisting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the 1980s to impose his murderous and drug-trafficking presence in Afghanistan. Ideally it would apologize also for its recent military violations of the Pakistani border, and renounce them.
3) President Obama should accept the recommendation of the RAND Corporation that in operations against al-Qaeda, the U.S. should employ “a light military footprint or none at all.”
4) President Obama should make it clear that the CIA in future must desist from protecting drug traffickers around the world who become targets of the DEA.
In short, President Obama should make it clear that America no longer has ambitions to establish military or covert control over a unipolar world, and that it wishes to return to its earlier posture in a multipolar world community.
It is common sense, in short, that America’s own interests would be best served by becoming a post-imperial society. Unfortunately it is not likely that common sense will prevail against the special interests of what has been called the “petroleum-military-complex,” along with others, including drug-traffickers, with a stake in America’s current military posture.
Vast bureaucratic systems, like that of the Soviet Union two decades ago, are like aircraft carriers, notoriously difficult to shift into a fresh direction. It would appear that those in America’s national security bureaucracy, like the bureaucrats of Great Britain a century ago, are still dedicated to squandering away America’s strength, in a futile effort to preserve a corrupt and increasingly unstable regiment of global power.
Just as a by-product of European colonialism a century ago was third-world communism, so these American efforts, if not terminated or radically revised, may produce as by-product an ever widening spread of jihadi salafist terrorism, suicide bombers, and guerrillas.
In 1962 common sense extricated the Kennedy administration from a potentially disastrous nuclear confrontation with Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis. It would be nice to think that America is capable of correcting its foreign policy by common sense again. But the absence of debate about Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the White House, in Congress, and in the country, is depressing.
 Five of the current candidates for Afghan president are U.S. ,S, citizens. The Independent (January 23, 2009) has reported that Washington is searching for a “dream ticket” to oust the incumbent and former favorite, Hamid Karzai, now condemned as corrupt. PressTV goes farther: “Washington is using its political clout to influence the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan, a report says. The US embassy in Kabul has urged Afghanistan's leading presidential hopefuls to withdraw from the race in favor of Ali Ahmad Jalali -- a candidate that is more preferred by Washington, reported Pakistan's Ummat daily. In return, US officials have promised to guarantee key positions for the three candidates -- which include finance minister Ashraf Ghani, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and political activist Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi -- in the next Afghan government. The move received instant condemnation as flagrant US interference in Afghan politics and internal affairs. Jalali -- who is viewed as the main rival of President Hamed Karzai in the August presidential elections -- is a US citizen and former Afghan minister of the interior. His candidacy is seen as a direct violation of the Chapter Three, Article Sixty Two of Afghanistan's Constitution, which states that only an Afghan citizen has the right to run for president - which means that Jalali would have to apply for Afghan citizenship first. Zalmay Khalilzad and Ashraf Ghani, two other candidates vying for presidency, also hold US citizenship” (link).
 Jeffrey Ira Herbst, States and Power in Africa (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000), 71; S. E. Crowe, The Berlin West African Conference, 1884-1885 (London: Longmans , 1942), 177.
 Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: Free Press, 1964), 154.
 Railways approach Afghanistan from the north, easy, south, and west. The only two with foothold terminals in Afghanistan itself are those built by the Soviet Union in the 1980s, from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
 Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan: the Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 16. Harrison heard about the program in 1975 from the Shah’s Ambassador to the United Nations, “who pointed to it proudly as an example of Iranian-American cooperation.”
 See discussion in Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007), 73-75, 117-22.
 Cordovez and Harrison, Out of Afghanistan, 163.
 M. Emdad-ul Haq, Drugs in South Asia: From the Opium Trade to the Present Day (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 188. According to a contemporary account, Americans and Europeans star ted becoming involved in drug smuggling out of Afghanistan from the early 1970s; see Catherine Lamour and Michel R. Lamberti, The International Connection: Opium from Growers to Pushers (New York: Pantheon, 1974), 190 –92.
 Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books/ Chicago Review Press, 2001), 447.
 McCoy, Politics of Heroin, 458; Michael Griffin, Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (London: Pluto Press, 2001),
148 (labs); Emdad-ul Haq, Drugs in South Asia, 189 (ISI).
 Before 1979 little Afghan opium or heroin reached markets beyond Pakistan and Iran (McCoy, Politics of Heroin, 469-71).
 USA Today, January 12, 2009.
 Newsweek, Apr 7, 2008.
 Cf. S. Hasan Asad, , “Shadow economy and Pakistan's predicament,” Economic Review [Pakistan], April, 1994.
 Financial Times, November 29, 2001.
 Times of India, November 29, 1999.
 Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (New York: Viking, 2008), 320.
 Rashid, Descent into Chaos, 427.
 James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (New York: Free Press, 2006), 154, 160-63.
 Peter Dale Scott, Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).
 Philip Smucker, Al Qaeda’s Great Escape: The Military and the Media on Terror’s Trail (Washington: Brassey’s, 2004), 9. On December 4, 2001, Asia Times reported that a convicted Pakistani drug baron and former parliamentarian, Ayub Afridi, was also released from prison to participate in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (link); Scott, Road to 9/11, 125..
 Bernd Debusmann, “Obama and the Afghan Narco-state,” Reuters, January 29th, 2009.
 Guardian, April 7, 2006, Independent, April 13, 2006, San Francisco Chronicle, April 17, 2006.
 Independent (London), April 13, 2006; James Nathan, “Ending the Taliban's money stream; U.S. should buy Afghanistan's opium,” Washington Times, January 8, 2009.
 Afghanistan News, December 23, 2005.
 Independent, March 9, 2009. When Obama visited Afghanistan in 2008, Gul Agha Sherzai was the first Afghan leader he met. The London Observer reported on July 21, 2002, that in order to secure his acceptance of the new Karzai government, Gul Agha Sherzai, along with other warlords, had “been 'bought off' with millions of dollars in deals brokered by US and British intelligence.”
 Mark Corcoran, Australian Broadcasting Company, 2008. “In an affidavit in his criminal case, he traced a history of cooperating with U.S. officials, including the CIA, dating to 1990. In early 2002, following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Noorzai said he turned over to the U.S. military 15 truckloads of Taliban weapons, including “four hundred anti-aircraft missiles of Russian, American and British manufacture” (Tom Burghardt , “The Secret and (Very) Profitable World of Intelligence and Narcotrafficking,” DissidentVoice, January 2nd, 2009, link). Cf. Risen, State of War, 165-66.
 USA Today, October 26, 2004.
 Washington Post, December 27, 2008; New York Sun, January 29, 2008, http://www.nysun.com/foreign/justice-dept-eyes-us-firms-payments-to-afghan/70371/..
 New York Times, November 23, 1996; cf. November 20, 1993.
 Chris Carlson, “Is The CIA Trying to Kill Venezuela's Hugo Chávez?” Global Research, April 19, 2007.
 New York Times, November 23, 1996.
 Wall Street Journal, November 22, 1996. The information about the drug activities of Guillen Davila and François had been published in the U.S. press years before the indictments. It is possible that, had it not been for the controversy aroused by Gary Webb’s Contra-cocaine stories in the August 1996 San Jose Mercury, these two men and their networks might have been as untouchable as other kingpins in the global CIA drug connection whom we shall discuss, such Miguel Nassar Haro in Mexico.
 Washington Post.
 Philip Giraldi, “Found in Translation: FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds spills her secrets,” The American Conservative, January 28, 2008. Others have written about the ties between U.S. intelligence and the Turkish narco-intelligence connection; see e.g. Daniele Ganser, NATO's Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2005. 224-41; Martin A. Lee, “Turkey's Drug-Terrorism Connection,”
ConsortiumNews, January 25th, 2008.
 London Sunday Times, January 6, 2008: “`If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials,’ she said.”
 Huffington Post, January 6, 2008.
 Risen, State of War, 154.
 Loretta Napoleoni, Terror Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005), 90-97: “While the ISI trained Islamist insurgents and supplied arms, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, several Gulf states and the Taliban funded them…Each month, an estimated 4-6 metric tons of heroin are shipped from Turkey via the Balkans to Western Europe” (90, 96).
 Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, Cocaine Politics: The CIA, Drugs, and Armies in Central America (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), x-xi.
 International Herald Tribune, January 25, 2009. Cf. Daily Telegraph (London), January 26, 2009.
 McCoy, Politics of Heroin, 16, 191.
 McCoy, Politics of Heroin, 93, 431. After the final American withdrawal in 1975, Laotian production continued to rise, thanks to the organizational efforts of Khun Sa, a drug trafficker whom Thailand was relying on as protection against the Communists in Burma and Vientiane. (McCoy, 428-31)
 Peter Dale Scott, ‘‘Honduras, the Contra Support Networks, and Cocaine: How the U.S. Government Has Augmented America’s Drug Crisis,’’ in Alfred W. McCoy and Alan
A. Block, eds., War on Drugs: Studies in the Failure of U. S. Narcotic Policy (Boulder: Westview, 1992), 126 –27. I presented these remarks at a University of Wisconsin conference.
 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, 1999. Released by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., March 2000. Production has since decreased, but is still well above 1990 levels.
 Richard Holbrooke, “Breaking the Narco-State.” Washington Post, January 23, 2008.
 I use “jihadi salafism,” an admittedly clumsy expression, in place of the more frequently encountered “Islamism” or “Islamic fundamentalism” -- both of which terms confer upon jihadi salafism a sense of legitimacy and long-time history which I do not believe it deserves. The jihadi salafism I am talking about, with roots in Wahhabism and Deobandism, can be seen in part as a response to British and American influence in India and the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden points to the earlier example of Imam Taki al-Din ibn Taymiyyah in the thirteenth century, but ibn Taymiyyah’s jihadism was in reaction to the Mongol ravaging of Baghdad in 1258. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, history abundantly shows that “outside interventions are likely if not certain, in any culture, to produce reactions that are violent, xenophobic, and desirous of returning to a mythically pure past” (Scott, Road to 9/11, 260-61).
 Richard Holbrooke, “Breaking the Narco-State.” Washington Post, January 23, 2008.
 Holbrooke, “Breaking the Narco-State.”
 David Corn, “Holbrooke Calls for"Complete Rethink" of Drugs in Afghanistan,” Mother Jones Mojo.
 “`By forced eradication we are often pushing farmers into the Taleban hands,’ Mr Holbrooke said. `We are going to try to reprogramme that money. About $160 million is for alternate livelihoods and we would like to increase that’” (London Times, March 23, 2009, link).
 Guardian, March 24, 2009.
 NewsHour, PBS, March 27, 2009. Cf. Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 2009.
 “Obama's [May] 2009 [supplementary] war budget sheds light on the expansion of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. …The Department of Defense states that funding for the Afghanistan War will increase to $46.9 billion in 2009, a 31 percent rise over the $35.9 billion in 2008 and the $32.6 billion in 2007…. This $11.3 billion increase includes an additional $2.8 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, $400 million for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund and $4.4 billion for MRAPs designed for use in Afghanistan. Increased troop levels will also account for a portion of the increase” (Jeff Leys, “Analyzing Obama's War Budget Numbers,” Truthout, May 4, 2009, link).
 “Further Military Commitment in Afghanistan May Be Toughest Sell Yet,” Fox News, March 25, 2009. In a little-noted speech on October 17, 2008, Holbrooke also predicted that the war in Afghanistan would become “the longest in American history,” surpassing even Vietnam (NYU School of Law News, link).
 TheEndRun, April 6, 2009.
 RAND Corporation, “How Terrorist Groups End: Implications for Countering al Qa'ida,” Research Brief, RB-9351-RC (2008).
 Gilles Dorronsoro, “Focus and Exit: an Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2009.
 Orange County Register, March 30, 2009.
 “Joint Vision 2020 Emphasizes Full-spectrum Dominance,” DefenseLink, emphasis added.
 Michael T. Klare. Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (Henry Holt, New York 2001; quoted in David Michael Smith, “The U.S. War in Afghanistan,” The Canadian, April 19, 2006. Cf. Scott, Road to 9/11, 169-70.
 Christian Science Monitor, April 8, 2009.
 Cf. “Holbrooke of South Asia,” Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2009.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - 22:04
SOURCE: Salon (6-3-09)
Obama, who begins a trip to the region Wednesday, starts his term much more popular in the Middle East than his predecessor, George W. Bush. Last year, in many Muslim-majority countries, including U.S. allies such as Turkey, Bush often had favorability ratings in the single digits, neck and neck with Osama bin Laden. In contrast, a new opinion poll released by the Brookings Institution shows that in six Middle Eastern states, Obama comes in at 45 percent favorable, and if Egypt is subtracted, the proportion soars to 60 percent. As Obama prepares to make a major address to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, can he capitalize on his rock-star status in Riyadh and Beirut to go beyond celebrity glitter to concrete achievements that would benefit both the United States and the Muslim world?
The Brookings poll shows that just three issues are cited by most Arab respondents as determinative of their view of the United States. In order, they are Iraq, the plight of the Palestinians, and attitudes toward the Arab and Muslim worlds. Interestingly, the war in Afghanistan, democracy promotion, and the issues around Iran have very little resonance among Arab publics. Iraq was cited as the key issue by 42 percent in six countries polled, so it is fair to conclude that Obama's stock in the Arab world, at least, is likely to rise or fall on how well he handles his planned military disengagement from that country.
The truth is that Obama's task in the Arab world is more difficult and more important than elsewhere. He is wildly popular in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, where he spent some of his childhood and from whence hailed his stepfather. Likewise, West African Muslims overwhelmingly supported his presidential bid last year. The U.S., however, does relatively little trade with either region, and they have not traditionally been central to its foreign policy. The 325 million Arabs are a minority of Muslims worldwide (and not all Arabs are Muslim), but Arab Muslims are disproportionately influential among their co-religionists and, because of their energy resources and strategic position between Europe and Afro-Asia, are especially important to the United States and its allies. They are the Muslims who are most skeptical about Obama....
Posted on: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 - 13:55
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (6-2-09)
Graduates of the Bush years, initiates of the Obama era, if you think of a commencement address as a kind of sermon, then every sermon needs its text. Here's the one I've chosen for today, suitably obscure and yet somehow ringing:
"The idea that somehow counterterrorism is a homeland security issue doesn't make sense when you recognize the fact that terror around the world doesn't recognize borders. There is no right-hand, left-hand anymore."
That's taken directly from the new national security bible of Obama National Security Advisor (and ex-Marine General) James Jones. He said it last week at a press briefing. The occasion was the integration of a Bush-era creation, the Homeland Security Council -- which, if you're like me, you had never heard of until it lost its independence -- into the National Security Council, which Jones runs, a move that probably represents yet another consolidation of power inside a historically ever more imperial White House.
After four years in this college, I assume you are students of the word and like all biblical texts, this one must be interpreted. It must be read. So let's start by thinking of it this way: If we are, in some sense, defined by our enemies, then consider this description of terrorism -- even though most acts of terror are undoubtedly committed by locally-minded individuals -- as something like a shadow thrown on a wall. The looming figure to which the shadow belongs is not, however, al-Qaeda, but us. We are, after all, in the war-on-terror business. It's how we've defined ourselves these last years.
If you accept Jones's definition, then you only have to go a modest distance to conclude that we are the other great force on the planet that"doesn't recognize borders." Keep in mind that, right now, we're fighting at least two-and-a-half wars thousands of miles from this sylvan campus, and in your name no less. When it comes to our"national security," as we define it, borders turn out to matter remarkably little in a pinch, as long, of course, as they're other people's borders.
After all, we have established an extensive network of military bases, some gigantic, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and secured the right to treat them essentially as U.S. territory; we have hundreds of such bases, large and small, scattered across the Earth, most not in war zones, a startling number of them built up into impressive"little Americas." It's through them that we garrison much of the planet (something you will almost never see commented upon in the mainstream media, obvious though it may be). Our drone aircraft, flown by remote control from bases in the United States, now regularly patrol distant skies, as if borders did not exist, to smite our foes, whatever any locals might think. Typically, as far as we know, our secret warriors continue to fund, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, a Bush-era project, which also knows no borders, aimed at destabilizing the Iranian government.
The Architecture of Meaning
Instead of simply continuing down this superhighway of borderlessness, let's just consider two sentences buried deep in a recent piece on the inside pages of the New York Times about a roadside explosive device in Iraq that killed three Americans in a vehicle. It's the sort of thing that Americans tend not to find strange in the least. So as an experiment, try, as I read it aloud, to take in the deep strangeness it represents:
"The Americans were driving along a road used exclusively by the American military and reconstruction teams when a bomb, which local Iraqi security officials described as an improvised explosive device, went off. No Iraqi vehicles, even those of the army and the police, are allowed to use the road where the attack occurred, according to residents."
Keep in mind that this isn't a restricted road in Langley, Virginia. It's a road outside the Iraqi city of Falluja, where we conducted two massive, city-destroying assaults back in 2004; in other words, the road which"no Iraqi vehicles... are allowed to use" is thousands of miles and many borders away from Washington.
And that's nothing really. If you want to know something about American"impunity" -- a fine nineteenth century word that should be more widely used today -- when it comes to Iraq's borders, get your hands on the text of Order 17. That order was issued by our viceroy in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, back in the salad days of the Bush administration, when that era's neocons thought the world was their oyster (or perhaps their oil well).
Promulgated on the eve of the supposed"return of sovereignty" to Iraq in 2004, Order 17 gave new meaning to the term"Free World." In intent, it was a perpetual American get-out-of-jail-free card. If I were the president of this college, I would assign Order 17 to be read as part of a campus-wide course on magical imperial realism. Here's but one passage I've summarized from that document:
All foreigners (read: Americans) involved in the occupation project were to be granted"freedom of movement without delay throughout Iraq," and neither their vessels, vehicles, nor aircraft were to be"subject to registration, licensing or inspection by the [Iraqi] Government." Nor in traveling would foreign diplomats, soldiers, consultants, or security guards, or any of their vehicles, vessels, or planes be subject to"dues, tolls, or charges, including landing and parking fees," and so on. And don't forget that on imports, including" controlled substances," there were to be no customs fees (or inspections), taxes, or much of anything else; nor was there to be the slightest charge for the use of occupied Iraqi"headquarters, camps, and other premises," nor for the use of electricity, water, or other utilities.
Or, since actual architecture, like the architecture of language, is revealing, consider our most recent embassy-building practices. An embassy is, almost by definition, the face of our country, of us, abroad. For our embassy in embattled Iraq, the Bush administration ponied up almost three-quarters of a billion dollars (including cost overruns). The result, now opened, is the largest embassy compound on the planet.
It's about the size of Vatican City, a self-enclosed world with its own elaborate defenses and amenities inside the citadel of Baghdad's Green Zone. Staffed by approximately 1,000"diplomats," it's the sort of place Cold War Washington might once have dreamed of building in Moscow (not that the Russians would have let them).
Do the Iraqis want such an establishment in their capital? Would you, if it was a foreign"embassy" in your land? Once again, that old-fashioned word"impunity," which once went so well with words like"freebooter" and"extraterritoriality," seems apt. We still practice a version of freebooting, we still have our own version of extraterritoriality, and we do it all with impunity.
In our era, the imperial mother ship landed in a country the size of California, but with a fraction of its population, that just happens to have a lot of untapped reserves of hydrocarbons. But that, I'm sure you're thinking, was the Bush era. You know, the years of over-the-top unilateralism that crashed and burned along with those dreams of a global Pax Americana and a domestic Pax Republicana.
You might think so, but the news -- what's left of it anyway -- tells a different story. When it comes to" change you can believe in," a recent piece by Saeed Shah and Warren P. Stroebel of the McClatchy newspapers caught my eye. They wrote:"The White House has asked Congress for -- and seems likely to receive -- $736 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for U.S. government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital."
In other words, the Obama administration is asking Congress to fork over almost the exact price of our monster embassy in Baghdad (after staggering cost overruns). Figure those always predictable overruns into this project, and you may indeed have the first billion-dollar embassy. To use a term the U.S. military once loved, this will result in a large "footprint" on Pakistani soil. It is, to say the least, not normal practice to build and staff such mega-embassies. So if you have a taste for symbolism, this sort of embassy says a lot about how Washington imagines power relations on this planet. Think of these as our ziggurats, our temples (as well as command centers) in foreign climes.
Far stranger than any of these strange specifics is this: none of them seem particularly strange to us. They are news, yes, but not the sort of news that opens eyes, starts discussion, sets Americans -- sets you -- wondering.
Two Lost Syllables
Now maybe we shouldn't be surprised by any of this. After all, isn't this just how imperial powers like to operate: as if they owned the planet, or at least had special rights that overruled the locals when it comes to significant hunks of prime real estate?
Which brings us to a word I haven't said yet, the real subject of my speech today: Empire. It's the word no one in Washington can say. Its absence from our political discussion is perhaps what makes the United States imperially unique, and yet without it, some crucial part of the real world is missing in action too, some part of what might help us understand ourselves and others.
Words denied mean analyses not offered, things not grasped, surprise not registered, strangeness not taken in, all of which means that terrible mistakes are repeated, wounding ways of acting in the world never seriously reconsidered.
Think of a crucial missing word as a kind of invisible straight jacket. Its absence, oddly enough, chains you to the present, to what's accepted and acceptable. Just two missing syllables, em-pire, making up a word that's proved so serviceable for so many centuries. And yet, without it, our American world is a little like the one in the sci-fi movie The Matrix. You remember, it's the one where human beings imagine themselves moving and acting in a perfectly real land, while their actual bodies are stored somewhere far more grim. One question to ask yourself as you form your processional to leave these grounds that have sheltered you these last years might be: Do you have any idea what world you're walking into? If essential terms for describing it are missing, can you even know? And no less important, do you want to know?
You'll notice -- and here's the good news -- that I haven't offered you a shred of career advice, or a hint of optimism so far. And on this suitably gloomy day in this gloomy world of ours, I hope not to.
I also know that, whatever your minds may be on as you prepare to head through your school's vast gates into a none-too-welcoming world, they aren't on what I have to say today. That, quite honestly, gives me the freedom to talk about a word you may not have heard in your four years here, not applied to our country anyway.
Think about it. In these last moments of your campus life, don't you find it a little strange that the United States, your country, has military bases, more than 700 of them, scattered across every continent and that your school offers not a single course on the way we garrison this planet? Don't you find it just a tad odd that this seemingly salient fact of our national existence hasn't seemed worth teaching, debating, or discussing?
Let me tell you a little story of mine. In what still passes for my real life, despite my work at TomDispatch, I'm a book editor. A few years back, I edited one by Chalmers Johnson, an experience a little like passing through those great gates at the end of this pathway, but in the other direction, and going back to school. The book was called The Sorrows of Empire. It was quite well reviewed in our major papers (in the long-gone days of 2004 when they still had book review sections), and became a bestseller. Oh, I should add that the book focuses, in great detail, chapter after chapter, region after region, on what Johnson called our global"baseworld." And yet not until three years later, when Jonathan Freedland, a British journalist, took up Johnson's work in the New York Review of Books, did a major reviewer, praising it, focus on its central topic, the way we garrison the world. This was, as you might imagine, no small trick and it taught me something about what Americans find it easier not to see, even when it's staring them in the face.
Fortunately, as I say, I can talk about this today without fear that any of you will be affected by it. I'm the proof of that, or rather my younger self, graduating in what seemed a sunnier moment 43 years ago. Whoever spoke to the gathered graduates of the class of 1966 at Yale College is long gone from my memory banks, just as I'll surely be from yours.
A few days ago, preparing for this moment, I clambered to the top of my closet -- no small thing now that I'm almost 65 -- and amid the piles of junk and memorabilia I've squirreled away extracted a letter-sized envelope of photos marked" college" from a larger folder that, long ago, before I knew the half of it, I labeled"my life."
So here's what I can tell you about my own graduation. Unlike you, I commenced, if that's what it was, on a sunny day, so the photos tell me, and with flags flying. They were part of the processional, the Stars and Stripes and what must be college pennants as well, as we marched enrobed to our ceremony, which I no longer remember. I can't tell you who spoke or what he -- it was surely a he then -- spoke about, or what wisdom he offered us, only that he was probably an Authority, with a capital A, and that, although the sixties were just starting for me (the earlier years of that decade, in lived experience, were really part of the 1950s for most of us then), I suspect that I already had a creeping case of the skepticism toward authority for which that period became either famous or infamous, depending on your point of view.
I look jaunty and well prepared indeed (hair slicked down, a more than serviceable smile) for a future in the State Department, or the U.S. Information Agency, or as a prospective member of the cast of season three or four of Mad Men that would never come. I admit that, in the small packet of photos preserved from that day, I find myself, whether in my charcoal suit and tie or my robe and mortar board with tassel, almost unrecognizable. It's as if I were holding in my hands a piece of amber with some strange ancestral creature preserved inside. Or rather, if we were to jump but four or five years ahead, now also my distant past, you and I would surely agree that I will soon be unrecognizable with hair almost to my shoulders and a little Mao cap perched on my head.
I feel today from this distance as if, in either case, I'm peering down a Star Trekkian wormhole into another universe. A number of the people I was photographed with I no longer recognize and a surprising number of the rest are dead. From a wealthy southwestern family, my friend Clay would die of AIDS a couple of decades later; from a working-class Midwestern city, my former roommate John -- not photographed that day because he had delayed graduating a year -- would in the twenty-first century put a gun to his head in Las Vegas.
And then there's my aunt Hilda, smiling remarkably sweetly at the photographer (possibly my father). A public school librarian with the cadences of nineteenth century novels lodged in her head, sometime in the 1980s, not so long before she died, she would begin a letter to my daughter, then perhaps four years old, about her own father, my grandfather, who ran away from home and worked as a"scribe" for a lawyer in Hamburg to earn his passage to the New World:
"Your great grandfather, Moore Engelhardt, a boy of 16, arrived in New York from Europe in March 1888. It was during the famous blizzard, and after a sea voyage of about 30 days. He had no money. He often said that he had a German 50 cent piece in his pocket when he landed. His trip had to be in the cheapest part of the ship -- way down below in steerage. Poor boy, I'm sure he was seasick a good deal of the time..."
And then there's Moore's wife, Hilda's mother, my dear, tiny grandmother Celia, who grew up in a New York City slum, and married that poor boy -- he was 17 years her senior and they took a steamer up the Hudson River for their honeymoon, as she used to say,"because he had business in Albany the next day." She was there, too, standing proudly in front of me under an archway, undoubtedly amazed that she, or her grandson, ever got near Yale. And my father and mother, as well, a photo taken with each of them, my father, bullish as ever, one foot forward, my mother chic and petite; both of them, I think it's fair to say, looking happier, if not prouder, than they undoubtedly felt at that moment -- our relationship then being, politely put, on the dicey side -- just as in the photos I look so much more at ease and confident than I ever faintly felt.
All of them, except me, are now long dead.
I see cameras flashing everywhere right now, and yet this, of course, is the world that awaits you. This is something so basic, so hard to absorb that, unlike the purposeful killing of whole categories of people, which we call"genocide," we simply have no word for it, this winnowing of every generation, of everybody, until photos like these have no personal meaning because no one in them is remembered. So there's another missing word that, in addition to telling you a great deal about the limits of language, should certainly put anyone's travails of the moment into context and is, in this speech, as close to optimism in tough times as I'm likely to get.
And speaking for a moment of that"poor boy" who was me, who had been raised on a glorious American story of victory in war and triumph in peace, he had only the faintest sense that he was living in the heart of the heart of a national security state whose interests were nothing short of imperial. I mean, he was no fool. He had been an only child -- he thought the term was"lonely child" when young -- and undoubtedly in desperation, he had ransacked his local library and read widely, even if, like most young readers with no one to guide him, wonderfully indiscriminately. (That is, in fact, the radical joy of libraries, as opposed to bookstores: you can try anything on the shelf without the need for investment.)
And it wasn't that he hadn't come up against the dangers of the Cold War either. Like most Americans, he had found himself right at the edge of world's end on October 22, 1962, the night President Kennedy appeared on radio and television to announce that the Soviet Union and the United States were facing off over nuclear missiles to be emplaced in Cuba, and the world was at the brink of destruction. The Cuban Missile Crisis, it would be called.
He was then 18 years old. Like many Americans at that moment, he thought he might be toast by morning; that his life, which (as far as he could tell) showed no sign of having begun, might well be over. Of course, that world of ashes and cinders never came to be, and as you know he made it to graduation. By then, he had taken his first modest steps toward opposing an American war in Vietnam, signed his first petition, and gone to his first demonstration, ever so hesitantly because he really was a good American boy and these were not things you were then brought up to do, or did thoughtlessly.
He was living in a city, New Haven, where young people wore jackets with CIA emblazoned on the back. (It stood, believe it or not, for the Culinary Institute of America.) And he knew graduate students, returning from far-flung places like Indonesia, where, in 1965, at least 500,000 communists had been slaughtered, who were regularly debriefed by the CIA. But no one he met thought such things out of the ordinary. He knew people who had been garrisoned in Japan, Germany, and elsewhere. There were hints galore of what world we were really living in. But you couldn't have proved it by him. American Empire? No way, not in those days. It didn't go with George Washington, the Revolution, the Pony Express, or the Civil War.
It wasn't an American word. There was, of course, the Soviet Empire. And there had been the British and Roman Empires, which were huge but nothing to brag about, and then there was us, and what we were committed to was, as everyone still said then, the Free World. As at least a partial explanation for what he didn't grasp, let me point out that the United States was surfing the crest of so much wealth, was so dominant and powerful that, no matter the imperial stupidities and crimes of its agents, overt and covert, committed in its name or not, blowback was slow to come. As with the Iranians, blowback could then take 26 years, not as now months, weeks, or days. It was, in a sense, easier not to notice, though evidently not so much easier given how few seem to notice today.
While he could, then, see flaws in the Manichaean version of our universe that surrounded him, he still considered Vietnam at worst a tragic blunder or error, and he still hoped someday to be an American diplomat or, via the United States Information Agency, to be able to explain to confused foreigners what was best about our country.
If you had claimed that he lived in an imperial garrison state in 1966, he would undoubtedly have sat you down and explained to you, in all seriousness, why that couldn't be so. Despite President Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address in 1961, he paid little attention to the military-industrial complex and might not, then, even have known the term.
It has to be said that while, for some, the gift that kept on giving in terms of understanding how our world worked was the Civil Rights movement, for him it was, grimly enough, the war in Vietnam (which, in another sense, might have been thought of as the pit into which you never stopped falling). That never-ending horror would certainly change the course of his life, taking dreams of the State Department or the USIA off the table and, in the end, make the idea that he was living in an imperial state plausible to him. He gained in those years a new language and a new understanding of how the world worked.
Of Graveyards and Empires
Looking out over this crowd today, I find it unbearably strange that, 43 years later, with new and bloody counterinsurgency wars underway in lands once hardly known to most Americans, with our military bases implanted in countless lands, with the Pentagon budget at almost unimaginable levels, with our operatives abroad still involved in assassinations and renditions,"empire" remains MIA and most Americans have no sense -- no conscious sense, at least -- that they are living in an imperial garrison state.
Let me amend that, actually. Americans love the word"empire." Just a dip into Google.news.com tells you that. On a given day, you quickly discover that you can play a revamped version of Empire: Total War on your Xbox (it's set in the 18th century), will someday be able to catch the comedySoakers, soon to be filmed in Hawaii by the Empire Film Group, and can attend the Empire Ranch Men's Golf Club Director's Cup Tournament in California, or await the $12 million facelift of the Empire ballroom at New York City's Grand Hyatt Hotel in, by the way, the"Empire state." Meanwhile, Empire Resorts, a struggling gaming company, has just gotten a much needed extension to a line of credit"staving off insolvency"; and the word"empire," it turns out, goes remarkably well with trendiness ("fashion empire"), medicine ("Empire medical training"), food ("BT Bistro the latest in Trigg's restaurant empire"), and even the business of sex ("Reports surfaced this week that Hugh Hefner, longtime publisher of Playboy magazine, is considering relinquishing the reins of his bawdy empire...").
Put"American empire" into the same search engine, on the other hand, and you get Brits, peripheral websites like this one, or maybe Pravda.
Of course, there was one brief Camelot-like moment when the American empire came into its own in Washington. After the Afghan War of 2001 seemed to end in triumph and before the Iraq one headed down the tubes, the neocons of the Bush administration and associated drum-thumping pundits and think-tankers overcame an American aversion to empire (and so, in a sense, to reality) and began proclaiming that we were the biggest, the best, the most dominant power this planet had ever seen, that the Romans and the Brits were but puny precursors.
For me, it was a strange moment when the language of total global domination which, in my childhood, had been the onscreen fare of evil Nazis, imperial Japanese, and Russians, suddenly morphed into an essential part of the American dream, or a distinct Washington bragging point anyway. How brief that was. After a heady year or two, the insurgency in Iraq once again erased"empire" from the American lexicon.
It's true that an American president can still say, as Barack Obama recently did at the U.S. Naval Academy:"We will maintain America's military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen." But global domination? Empire? Banished to the outer realms of some other universe.
In my dictionary, the imperial stands as the polar opposite of both equality and humility. As I see it, either you try to live on a planet with other people, no matter how fractious, difficult, and hostile they (or you) may be, or you try to rule over them, and land your billion-dollar, thousand-diplomat, mother-ship embassies on their turf to show"the flag," with everything that's come to mean.
If that's what's going on, then some of you better find a language that describes it better. After all, if reality is denied linguistically, it's that much harder, when blowback occurs, to understand it as such; it's that much harder to grasp the possible links between fighting endless frontier wars, maintaining a global"presence" (or ensuring Obama's"military dominance") and our present insecurity. That you can't get a job may indeed have something to do with how, and at what cost, we maintain ourselves on the planet, but if you can't describe reality, you'll never know that. The connections will escape you.
American officials increasingly talk, ominously or fearfully, about Afghanistan as"the graveyard of empires," but without ever quite acknowledging that, if they are the"graveyard," then we must be the"empire." This is a kind of madness, even if it passes for normalcy in Washington, in the media, and so in our world. And for this madness, sooner or later, a price will be paid.
As I end, let me complicate things just a bit, even as I propose a project for you, something you can do no matter how this world greets you as you exit that gate. Let me first admit this: it's just possible that even"empire" doesn't quite cover whatever we are. After all, where are our colonies? The British could color significant hunks of the global map red and claim the sun never set on their empire. We can say the same only of our garrisons.
It's certainly time to reattach"American" to"empire," but that's probably not adequate. There may, as yet, be no proper words or phrases for what we are, globally speaking. But perhaps someday you'll come up with them.
You are, I assure you, entering an extreme world at an extreme moment. Don't leave it solely to them to describe it for you. Don't just let yourself be used by the language that our world makes so readily available to you.
Back in 1946, in his stirring essay,"Politics and the English Language," which he would later vividly illustrate in his novel 1984, George Orwell wrote of the problems, but also the satisfactions, of letting them define the limits of what can be spoken. You can, he pointed out, certainly save yourself some trouble"by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself."
But he also wrote:"Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
Maybe what we need is fewer lies, less wind, and a new, stripped-down, weeded out, more honest vocabulary for our political world, words that don't fall so far short of the world as it is."Empire" is but one MIA word. It's your job to find more of them, and where they don't exist to invent them. If you want to live in this world and not The Matrix version of it, you need a language that works for you, and you may have to create it. You need, in short, to speak up.
As all the collapsing businesses and the millions of out of work Americans make clear at this moment, you can be constrained from doing many things, but not from defining the world for yourself, and maybe even for some of the rest of us. Not if you want to.
Don't take my word for it. Take your own... and depart.
From the Edge of the Campus of Life, June 2, 2009
[Note for Readers: Just to be clear, I was invited to no campus to give this commencement speech. I gave it in the campus of my mind. I should also add that I've written at length about the strange American world I grew up in -- its movies, TV shows, children's toys, comics, and so much else -- in my book, The End of Victory Culture (put out in a new edition, updated last year for the crash-and-burn Bush era). If you want to know more about the deep strangeness of the world I came from, the world you're inheriting, you might consider picking up a copy and checking it out.]
Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 - 20:50
SOURCE: Juan Cole at his blog, Informed Comment (6-2-09)
Obama has already ruffled the feathers of Israeli hawks by forthrightly asking for an end to the building of new settlements, and a freeze on the growth of existing ones. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is insisting that"natural growth" must be allowed in the existing settlements, but this stance is widely considered a ruse intended to allow for settlement expansion through relocating people, not just having babies. Obama is not falling for it, and continues to argue for a settlement freeze.
This is what I said at CBS about what Obama should tell the Muslim world on Thursday:
' In order to make a genuine and lasting impact, Obama needs to tell the Muslim world that the long years in the desert for the Palestinian people are over and that he will devote his energies to ensuring the establishment of a viable Palestinian state by the end of his first term. No one in the region believes in the so-called peace process any more, inasmuch as progress has been scant and the condition of the Palestinians has steadily worsened.'
In fact, I think Obama should make it clear that by 2011 he will simply recognize as the Palestinian state the government of the Palestine Authority that is elected next January. That would be an excellent way of forcing all the parties to make sure those elections are not handled carelessly. And it will put everyone into over-drive in making sure the transition goes well. I have been saying for some time what Ahmed Qurei recently did, that if the Israeli settlers want to stay in the West Bank, they must accept Palestinian citizenship. A government of Palestine that has Jewish constituents might anyway be a good thing.
Obama has an opportunity, through making sound and wise policy on this issue, to resolve 80 or 90% of the problems the US has with the Middle East. It looks as though he is going to give it his best shot.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 - 15:01
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (6-1-09)
Two years ago, economist Moritz Schularick and I coined the word"Chimerica" to describe what we saw as the key relationship in the then-booming global economy: China plus America. Cheap Chinese labour was making US corporations highly profitable. Spendthrift American consumers, in turn, were keeping Chinese corporations busy with export orders. And the Chinese monetary authorities were converting export surpluses into dollar denominated reserves with the aim of preventing their own currency from appreciating. The unintended consequence was a multi-billion dollar credit line to the United States, financing America's deficit at rock-bottom rates.
It was those low long-term rates – combined with monetary policy errors by the Fed, excessive bank leverage and reckless financial engineering – that inflated the American property bubble, the bursting of which triggered this crisis.
To simplify the story, think of an unhappy marriage in which one partner does all the saving, while the other does all the spending. (We all know at least one couple like that.) But then the partner with the retail therapy habit maxes out on his/her credit cards. At the same time, the parsimonious partner finds her/his job under threat. What previously was a stable relationship is suddenly on the rocks.
In February, the People's Daily acknowledged the"global importance and influence" of Chimerica, but warned of an impending"period of chillness". Could this be one of those great turning points in history, when the balance of power tilts decisively away from an established power and towards a rising challenger? It is possible. Financial crises often accelerate the gradual shifting of the geopolitical tectonic plates; they are to history what earthquakes are to geology.
It was inflation that undermined the foundations of Habsburg power and opened the way for the Dutch Republic. It was the disastrous Mississippi Bubble of 1718-19 that fatally weakened ancien régime France, while Britain survived the contemporaneous South Sea Bubble with its fiscal system intact. For most of the nineteenth century, financial crises in the United States had only marginal effects on the City of London. By 1907, however, a Wall Street crash could send a shockwave across the entire British Empire, a harbinger of a new era of American power.
Something similar may be happening as a consequence of the American financial crisis that began nearly two years ago....
Posted on: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 - 14:36
Why is this remarkable? This week I reread Philip Hamburger’s Separation of Church and State, a five-hundred-page examination of the subject. His thesis is the partly substantiated claim -- here’s the dust jacket speaking -- that "separation became a constitutional freedom largely through fear and prejudice" voiced by militants who "adopted the principle of separation to restrict the role of Catholics in public life." They were Know Nothings, members of the KKK, and eventually "theologically liberal, anti-Christian secularists." Hamburger offers abundant sad and scary quotations from olden days, from sad and scared Protestants and non-Catholic religionists.
Alas for their heirs: Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy, as well as vast cultural and churchly changes, ended the olden days and ruined the old show. If mainline Protestants, who make up one-fifth of the populace, and evangelical Protestants, who make up at least a third, want to make a point of being anti-Catholic and showing it by commenting on this appointment, they surely are stealthy attackers. Mainline Protestants turned "ecumenical" two-score years ago, as they and most Catholics became buddies. Evangelical Protestants, who decades ago called the Pope the Antichrist foretold in the Book of Revelation, now link with his successors on selected social issues which are in contention. Were it not for professional Catholic defense organizations which are ready to pop up to represent their interests on cable TV, we would find that Catholics and non-Catholics pick and choose whom and what they will support or reject in public life.
Wait a minute! What about the blogs? Yes, they reveal an underground of anti-Catholics, including many ex-Catholics. The Washington Post "On Faith" column, edited by Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn and crafted by David Waters, which includes a stable of diverse characters, I among them, stimulated discussion of the "Six Catholics on the Supreme Court" issue, referenced below. Waters first deals with the comment by Catholic editors left and right, and then turns it over to the bloggers. "On Faith" screens out the vile kind of bloggers who invent new variations on obscenity, blasphemy, and, well, bad manners. Still, along with good stuff, there is some venom.
What strikes me is how unrepresentative the self-named angry Christians in the string of commentators are, if measured against the wider church bodies and leadership. Some simple, raw, old-fashioned anti-Catholicism is present, but it has to share space with Catholics who argue how Catholic someone has to be to be Catholic, and all the rest. At the end, such blogs give us a license to yawn when the Catholic defense people rise to complain and rage about anti-Catholicism. We have instead important things to discuss. One hopes they can be argued amid the noisy and predictable debate this season.
For the Washington Post "On Faith" blog, see: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/undergod/2009/05/is_she_catholic_does_it_matter.html?hpid=talkbox1
Philip Hamburger, Separation of Church and State (Harvard, 2002).
Posted on: Monday, June 1, 2009 - 20:27
SOURCE: Commentary (6-1-09)
On January 21, 2009, President Barack Obama issued his first executive order: He was closing the detention center at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and calling a halt to the military commissions created in late 2001 to try terrorist suspects detained there. Like the startling opening chord of a Beethoven symphony, Obama’s action was intended to herald a new tone in America’s “war on terror” and a restoration of America’s moral standing. The response was electric. The facility at Guantánamo (Gitmo for short) had become “America’s most notorious prison,” as Fox News put it. In the minds of many, it was the American equivalent of the Bastille or the KGB’s Lubyanka prison: a dungeon used to isolate, intimidate, and torture generally hapless inmates, many of whom were innocent of any crime against the United States. Dana Priest of the Washington Post took to the paper’s front page to proclaim joyously that “with the stroke of his pen,” Obama had “effectively declared an end to the ‘war on terror,’ as President George W. Bush had defined it.” Now Obama could begin the process of rehabilitating America’s image around the world, the very image Gitmo had done so much to blacken.
Then several strange things happened. Obama’s order “closing” Gitmo actually left it open for a year, ostensibly until new arrangements could be made for the 240 or so inmates still detained there—though Obama admitted privately it might have to stay open longer than that. Later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that, far from being “the Bermuda Triangle of human rights” that Human Rights Watch’s Wendy Patten had dubbed it, Gitmo was in full compliance with the humane-treatment provisions of the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, the military commissions, which Human Rights Watch and others groups had denounced as a travesty of justice, were only being suspended for 120 days, pending a review—and, indeed, following that review, will be reinstated almost exactly as they were before.
If one adds to this mix:
• the twelve separate inquiries into the abuses alleged by critics and former detainees at Gitmo that found no evidence of those abuses taking place;
• the revelation during the release earlier this year of the so-called “torture memos” that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques had been applied to exactly three suspects in the course of eight years and had never been standard operating practice at Gitmo;
• the evaluation by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point that 73 percent of Gitmo detainees were “a demonstrated threat” to Americans;
• and, finally, the fact that the detention facility was created in the wake of a declaration by Congress in September 2001 that “all necessary and appropriate force” should be used “against those nations, organizations, or persons” [emphasis added] responsible for the attacks of September 11;
—one may be permitted to wonder why, exactly, the pressure to close the prison facility has been so intense and long-lasting.
The standard argument is that the public shift in attitude toward Gitmo was gradual, and reflected a growing disillusionment with the war on terror as the sordid details of how George W. Bush and his assistants chose to wage it came out, including the supposed secret use of torture. Once the detention center had become a cesspool of human-rights abuse, the evil spawned there then seeped into other facilities where prisoners in the Bush war on terror were being held, most notoriously the Iraqi prison at Abu Ghraib. In 2004, former Vice President Al Gore announced that Abu Ghraib “was not the result of random acts by a ‘few bad apples’: it was the natural consequence of the Bush administration policy” of retaining and interrogating inmates at Gitmo.
What this account and others like it fail to take into consideration are the aggressive and unending efforts of a cadre of lawyers, activists, left-leaning Democrats in Congress, and civil libertarians against the facility, its purpose, its goal, and its existence. These efforts began even before it was opened, in November 2001, and continue to this day. The anti-Gitmo forces worked tirelessly to shape the public perception that Gitmo was the red-hot center of an aggressive policy approach that led the leftist financier George Soros to declare: “The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush.”
The enemies of Bush and Gitmo have succeeded brilliantly. But in so doing, they have done grave violence to the truth about the Guantánamo Bay facility, have aided in the release of prisoners who have since committed acts of terrorism outside the United States, and may yet succeed in having Barack Obama’s government release young men with terrifying ambitions for murder and mass destruction onto the soil of the United States...
Posted on: Monday, June 1, 2009 - 11:34