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: NYT blog: Room for Debate (7-29-09)
Presidents need to accomplish two goals when pushing for major legislation: explain their vision and resolve the details. President Obama has been surprisingly reticent about explaining his vision for health care reform. To avoid President Clinton’s fate in 1994, when Congress killed health care as opponents framed the legislation as big government liberalism, President Obama has allowed Congress to work out the details of the legislation.
The problem is that he has neglected to keep working on the message. As Congress deliberates, reports inevitably emerged about the potential costs of the program and the limitations of the expected impact. Opponents of reform have steadily gained ground by warning of a government takeover. Support for reform has diminished. A coalition of centrist Democrats and Republicans are pushing legislation that falls far short of President Obama’s promise.
Obama must now sell a vision for health care where the government plays a larger role.
During the most successful struggle for health care reform — the passage of Medicare and Medicaid — Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were never shy in talking to the public about what they hoped to accomplish. Between 1961 and 1965, Kennedy and then Johnson took a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, like Obama, they allowed Congress to work out the details of the legislation.
At the same time, however, both of these presidents delivered speeches about what health care reform could accomplish. This was an era when liberals were comfortable talking to Americans about why government worked. At a rally at Madison Square Garden in May 1962, Kennedy rebutted every argument of his opponents and said, “This bill serves the public interest. It involves the Government because it involves the public welfare. The Constitution of the United States did not make the President or the Congress powerless. It gave them definite responsibilities to advance the general welfare, and that is what we are attempting to do.”
In January 1965, Johnson told Congress that “Thirty years ago, the American people made a basic decision that the later years of life should not be years of despondency and drift. The result was enactment of our Social Security program, a program now fixed as a valued part of our national life. Since World War II, there has been increasing awareness of the fact that the full value of Social Security would not be realized unless provision were made to deal with the problem of costs of illnesses among our older citizens. I believe this year is the year when, with the sure knowledge of public support, the Congress should enact a hospital insurance program for the aged.”
By the spring of 1965, following the 1964 Democratic landslide, public opinion was firmly on their side. Congress passed a bill.
Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, his news conference last week got bogged down by his “stupidly” comment about the Cambridge police. Congress will vote on a health care bill in September. That means that the battle to define this legislation will take place in August.
If President Obama wants to regain momentum for the type of reform he promised, he must now sell a vision for health care where the government plays a larger role. The tenor of his remarks in North Carolina on Wednesday suggests that he’s gotten the message about what he needs to do.
Posted on: Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 20:45
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (7-30-09)
It's 1999, summer, and night has just fallen. I'm a faculty fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard, and another young black faculty member, Arnold, and I are walking down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, near the campus. A passing police car veers abruptly across the avenue to cut off our path. The officer orders us against the hood of his car and frisks and cuffs us. No explanation, despite our repeated requests for one, despite identifying ourselves as Harvard faculty members. The officer doesn't want identification; he doesn't even ask for it.
Instead, Arnold and I are made to stand in the blue strobe of the patrol-car lights as three or four more cars roll up, passers-by staring. Finally, a police car arrives with a white woman in the back seat. She scrutinizes Arnold and me. After an interminable beat, she shakes her head "no," saying something to the officer behind the wheel. Her car pulls away and, in quick order, so do the others.
The officer who stopped us unlocks the cuffs. He explains that a house has been broken into in the adjoining neighborhood. "And you're stopping all black men on the street!?" Arnold or I or both of us said.
He doesn't reply. He doesn't apologize.
In that instance, and in others before and since, I used, or attempted to use, my class privilege to extricate myself from, or at least lessen the potential threat of, an encounter with the police. That night, Arnold and I had been joking and laughing (maybe even shucking and jiving) before being stopped. Yet though we'd done nothing wrong, I immediately switched to a mainstream style of speaking when addressing the officer, and called attention to my professional status. It was reflexive. I'd been in situations like that since I was a kid, and had responded at times in an accommodating manner; at others, belligerently, and had come to understand that the best way, however demeaning, is accommodation.
So when I read the details of the confrontation between Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James M. Crowley of the Cambridge police, I recognized the situation.
Gates acknowledges having brought up race. Gates, in an interview with his daughter for the online magazine The Root, recalled asking Crowley, "Is this how you treat a black man in America?" (The official police report says that Gates stated it as accusation, pugnaciously, repeatedly, and loudly.) The subtext of Gates's words, even calmly articulated, is clear. Gates was accusing Crowley of behaving in a racist manner; by extension, Gates was calling Crowley a racist, to his face, in front of other officers, at least one of whom is black.
Those are fighting words. And Gates knows it.
The brouhaha surrounding the July 16 arrest strikes me most for the reasonable voices that have lost all sense of reason in response. From President Obama to the countless others who have weighed in, all focus has been, in one way or another, on the victimization of Gates. Professor Gates has become a stand-in for the "average black man," subjected to humiliation and abuse at the hands of a racist police force. But Gates, while obviously black, is not a stand-in for the many African-Americans, men and women, who daily are victims of profiling and worse.
Was Gates profiled? Richard Thompson Ford makes a compelling argument on Slate that Gates was not. Sgt. Crowley was responding to a potential crime in progress; he was performing his duty, by all indications, in a professional manner.
The more interesting question, it seems to me, is, was Crowley himself profiled—as a racist police officer? The answer is, unequivocally, yes—not only by Gates but by the rest of us, in newspapers and magazines, online and on TV, even by the White House....
Posted on: Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 19:21
Following the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Mike Seidman, law professor at Georgetown, argued that the proceedings revealed only the “official version” of the American judicial system: that “fidelity to uncontested legal principles dictates results.” This simple claim, adopted by Sotomayor in her opening statements, funded most of the Senators’ affirmations and critiques over the four days of the hearings. It even appeared in the form of a now-famous metaphor coined by then-Judge Roberts who said, “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them.” The claim also exposed the deep effects of American religious anxiety on the theater of American justice as only our country’s Supreme Court has the capacity to reveal.
The claim that law is straight-forward and a judge merely applies it to the presenting facts served as the fork in Senator Jeff Sessions’ “dangerous crossroads.” Sessions outlined the two paths: “Our legal system is based on a firm belief in an ordered universe and the objective truth,” he said to clarify the correct path, calling the judge the “guide to truth.” The other direction is a “relativistic world” where “words have no true meaning.” Charles Grassley’s remarks rang the same tune, urging Sotomayor to “resist the temptation to mold the Constitution to your own personal beliefs and preferences.”
The terms “temptation,” “truth,” “ordered universe,” and even the metaphor of the path are only the terminological patina of religious effects on these deliberations. More fundamentally, the Constitution was often treated as a sacred text. The issues of fixed, self-evident meanings for words and the negative role of the interpreter are two of the most prominent anxieties felt in contemporary Christian Fundamentalist doctrines of Scripture. These were the same concerns driving the accusations against Sotomayor for her subjective, identity-based, empathetic judging. We even heard strange emphasis on the written Constitution in the hearings, particularly in John Cornyn’s remarks, which seemed to reduce the law to the textuality of our founding document: “It (the court) could continue to depart from the written Constitution. It could further erode the established rights we have in the text of the Constitution. And it could invent even more brand new rights not rooted in the text.” Whether a Senator referenced the written word or the entire body of law, the reduction was the same: Law is objective, self-evident, and clear; judges merely execute the truth of the law. A similar sentiment is expressed by the independent Southern Christian church billboard I saw yesterday: “We do not change the message. The message changes us.”
Other exchanges in the proceedings seemed engined by similar religious concerns. Ben Cardin used familiar theological language when he described the Constitution and Bill of Rights as “living documents,” which is consistent with some approaches to the Bible as requiring the completion of the church, or the sermon, or personal experience and reason to be authoritative. And Sheldon Whitehouse appealed to the documents’ “great principles.” Discussions of foreign law and mainstream values fell into place within the conceptual analogy as well. First, it was established that foreign law is often consulted but cannot be considered binding on an American legal outcome. However, some argued that foreign law should never be consulted because even when not treated as binding, foreign law acquires authority in the deliberation of justice. It’s as if priests were telling parishioners not to read the sacred texts of other religions, or to look for truth anywhere but in the Authority of our sacred text.
Second, much emphasis was placed on how mainstream are Sotomayor’s values. Such a concern is easily correlated with hermeneutical theory. When one concedes that subjectivity plays a role in interpretation, anxiety often follows about the identity of the community of interpreters. Here it fell to the Senators who affirmed the judicial role of subjectivity to insure Sotomayor’s status as mainstream. Leahy called her a “judge for all Americans,” Cardin talked about “mainstream American values,” and Charles Schumer itemized a list of statistics to prove Sotomayor’s membership in the mainstream. Almost everyone mentioned her “truly American” story.
In the end, however, it was a return to baseball that was supposed to provide the balm to all the religious anxiety. When Schumer asked Sotomayor about her ruling on the baseball strike, he got Chairman Leahy in on the most powerful hermeneutical example of horizons of interpretation: play. The Red Sox, Mets, and Yankees served as powerful proxies for differences of identity. As in baseball, so in hermeneutical theory: Play, more than shared interpretive horizons, determines who can be on the field. And for all Senators, regardless of their stated opinion about the metaphor, the judge does not stand outside the diamond only calling balls and strikes. She is a player, awaiting invitation to the field.
Complete transcripts of the Senate Judiciary hearings, including the manuscripts of the opening speeches, can be found at http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings.
Louis Michael Seidman’s comments can be found in “The Federalist Society Online Debate Series,” at http://www.fed-soc.org/debates/dbtid.30/default.asp.
Posted on: Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 18:10
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (7-30-09)
However ambitious President Barack Obama's domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.
According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there -- 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.
These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony -- that is, control or dominance -- over as many nations on the planet as possible.
We are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past -- including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union. There is an important lesson for us in the British decision, starting in 1945, to liquidate their empire relatively voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by defeat in war, as were Japan and Germany, or by debilitating colonial conflicts, as were the French and Dutch. We should follow the British example. (Alas, they are currently backsliding and following our example by assisting us in the war in Afghanistan.)
Here are three basic reasons why we must liquidate our empire or else watch it liquidate us.
1. We Can No Longer Afford Our Postwar Expansionism
Shortly after his election as president, Barack Obama, in a speech announcing several members of his new cabinet, stated as fact that"[w]e have to maintain the strongest military on the planet." A few weeks later, on March 12, 2009, in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington DC, the president again insisted,"Now make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world." And in a commencement address to the cadets of the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22nd, Obama stressed that"[w]e will maintain America's military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen."
What he failed to note is that the United States no longer has the capability to remain a global hegemon, and to pretend otherwise is to invite disaster.
According to a growing consensus of economists and political scientists around the world, it is impossible for the United States to continue in that role while emerging into full view as a crippled economic power. No such configuration has ever persisted in the history of imperialism. The University of Chicago's Robert Pape, author of the important study Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005), typically writes:
"America is in unprecedented decline. The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today's world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back on the Bush years as the death knell of American hegemony."
There is something absurd, even Kafkaesque, about our military empire. Jay Barr, a bankruptcy attorney, makes this point using an insightful analogy:
"Whether liquidating or reorganizing, a debtor who desires bankruptcy protection must provide a list of expenses, which, if considered reasonable, are offset against income to show that only limited funds are available to repay the bankrupted creditors. Now imagine a person filing for bankruptcy claiming that he could not repay his debts because he had the astronomical expense of maintaining at least 737 facilities overseas that provide exactly zero return on the significant investment required to sustain them… He could not qualify for liquidation without turning over many of his assets for the benefit of creditors, including the valuable foreign real estate on which he placed his bases."
In other words, the United States is not seriously contemplating its own bankruptcy. It is instead ignoring the meaning of its precipitate economic decline and flirting with insolvency.
Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books, 2008), calculates that we could clear $2.6 billion if we would sell our base assets at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and earn another $2.2 billion if we did the same with Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. These are only two of our over 800 overblown military enclaves.
Our unwillingness to retrench, no less liquidate, represents a striking historical failure of the imagination. In his first official visit to China since becoming Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner assured an audience of students at Beijing University,"Chinese assets [invested in the United States] are very safe." According to press reports, the students responded with loud laughter. Well they might.
In May 2009, the Office of Management and Budget predicted that in 2010 the United States will be burdened with a budget deficit of at least $1.75 trillion. This includes neither a projected $640 billion budget for the Pentagon, nor the costs of waging two remarkably expensive wars. The sum is so immense that it will take several generations for American citizens to repay the costs of George W. Bush's imperial adventures -- if they ever can or will. It represents about 13% of our current gross domestic product (that is, the value of everything we produce). It is worth noting that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the Euro Zone is a deficit no greater than 3% of GDP.
Thus far, President Obama has announced measly cuts of only $8.8 billion in wasteful and worthless weapons spending, including his cancellation of the F-22 fighter aircraft. The actual Pentagon budget for next year will, in fact, be larger, not smaller, than the bloated final budget of the Bush era. Far bolder cuts in our military expenditures will obviously be required in the very near future if we intend to maintain any semblance of fiscal integrity.
2. We Are Going to Lose the War in Afghanistan and It Will Help Bankrupt Us
One of our major strategic blunders in Afghanistan was not to have recognized that both Great Britain and the Soviet Union attempted to pacify Afghanistan using the same military methods as ours and failed disastrously. We seem to have learned nothing from Afghanistan's modern history -- to the extent that we even know what it is. Between 1849 and 1947, Britain sent almost annual expeditions against the Pashtun tribes and sub-tribes living in what was then called the North-West Frontier Territories -- the area along either side of the artificial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan called the Durand Line. This frontier was created in 1893 by Britain's foreign secretary for India, Sir Mortimer Durand.
Neither Britain nor Pakistan has ever managed to establish effective control over the area. As the eminent historian Louis Dupree put it in his book Afghanistan (Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 425):"Pashtun tribes, almost genetically expert at guerrilla warfare after resisting centuries of all comers and fighting among themselves when no comers were available, plagued attempts to extend the Pax Britannica into their mountain homeland." An estimated 41 million Pashtuns live in an undemarcated area along the Durand Line and profess no loyalties to the central governments of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The region known today as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is administered directly by Islamabad, which -- just as British imperial officials did -- has divided the territory into seven agencies, each with its own"political agent" who wields much the same powers as his colonial-era predecessor. Then as now, the part of FATA known as Waziristan and the home of Pashtun tribesmen offered the fiercest resistance.
According to Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, experienced Afghan hands and coauthors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story (City Lights, 2009, p. 317):
"If Washington's bureaucrats don't remember the history of the region, the Afghans do. The British used air power to bomb these same Pashtun villages after World War I and were condemned for it. When the Soviets used MiGs and the dreaded Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships to do it during the 1980s, they were called criminals. For America to use its overwhelming firepower in the same reckless and indiscriminate manner defies the world's sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghan people and the Islamic world even further against the United States."
In 1932, in a series of Guernica-like atrocities, the British used poison gas in Waziristan. The disarmament convention of the same year sought a ban against the aerial bombardment of civilians, but Lloyd George, who had been British prime minister during World War I, gloated:"We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers" (Fitzgerald and Gould, p. 65). His view prevailed.
The U.S. continues to act similarly, but with the new excuse that our killing of noncombatants is a result of" collateral damage," or human error. Using pilotless drones guided with only minimal accuracy from computers at military bases in the Arizona and Nevada deserts among other places, we have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have repeatedly warned that we are alienating precisely the people we claim to be saving for democracy.
When in May 2009, General Stanley McChrystal was appointed as the commander in Afghanistan, he ordered new limits on air attacks, including those carried out by the CIA, except when needed to protect allied troops. Unfortunately, as if to illustrate the incompetence of our chain of command, only two days after this order, on June 23, 2009, the United States carried out a drone attack against a funeral procession that killed at least 80 people, the single deadliest U.S. attack on Pakistani soil so far. There was virtually no reporting of these developments by the mainstream American press or on the network television news. (At the time, the media were almost totally preoccupied by the sexual adventures of the governor of South Carolina and the death of pop star Michael Jackson.)
Our military operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been plagued by inadequate and inaccurate intelligence about both countries, ideological preconceptions about which parties we should support and which ones we should oppose, and myopic understandings of what we could possibly hope to achieve. Fitzgerald and Gould, for example, charge that, contrary to our own intelligence service's focus on Afghanistan,"Pakistan has always been the problem." They add:
"Pakistan's army and its Inter-Services Intelligence branch... from 1973 on, has played the key role in funding and directing first the mujahideen [anti-Soviet fighters during the 1980s]… and then the Taliban. It is Pakistan's army that controls its nuclear weapons, constrains the development of democratic institutions, trains Taliban fighters in suicide attacks and orders them to fight American and NATO soldiers protecting the Afghan government." (p. 322-324)
The Pakistani army and its intelligence arm are staffed, in part, by devout Muslims who fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan to meet the needs of their own agenda, though not necessarily to advance an Islamic jihad. Their purposes have always included: keeping Afghanistan free of Russian or Indian influence, providing a training and recruiting ground for mujahideen guerrillas to be used in places like Kashmir (fought over by both Pakistan and India), containing Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan (and so keeping it out of Pakistan), and extorting huge amounts of money from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf emirates, and the United States to pay and train"freedom fighters" throughout the Islamic world. Pakistan's consistent policy has been to support the clandestine policies of the Inter-Services Intelligence and thwart the influence of its major enemy and competitor, India.
Colonel Douglas MacGregor, U.S. Army (retired), an adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, summarizes our hopeless project in South Asia this way:"Nothing we do will compel 125 million Muslims in Pakistan to make common cause with a United States in league with the two states that are unambiguously anti-Muslim: Israel and India."
Obama's mid-2009"surge" of troops into southern Afghanistan and particularly into Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, is fast becoming darkly reminiscent of General William Westmoreland's continuous requests in Vietnam for more troops and his promises that if we would ratchet up the violence just a little more and tolerate a few more casualties, we would certainly break the will of the Vietnamese insurgents. This was a total misreading of the nature of the conflict in Vietnam, just as it is in Afghanistan today.
Twenty years after the forces of the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in disgrace, the last Russian general to command them, Gen. Boris Gromov, issued his own prediction: Disaster, he insisted, will come to the thousands of new forces Obama is sending there, just as it did to the Soviet Union's, which lost some 15,000 soldiers in its own Afghan war. We should recognize that we are wasting time, lives, and resources in an area where we have never understood the political dynamics and continue to make the wrong choices.
3. We Need to End the Secret Shame of Our Empire of Bases
In March, New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert noted,"Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing." He continued:
"New data released by the Pentagon showed an almost 9 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults -- 2,923 -- and a 25 percent increase in such assaults reported by women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan [over the past year]. Try to imagine how bizarre it is that women in American uniforms who are enduring all the stresses related to serving in a combat zone have to also worry about defending themselves against rapists wearing the same uniform and lining up in formation right beside them."
The problem is exacerbated by having our troops garrisoned in overseas bases located cheek-by-jowl next to civilian populations and often preying on them like foreign conquerors. For example, sexual violence against women and girls by American GIs has been out of control in Okinawa, Japan's poorest prefecture, ever since it was permanently occupied by our soldiers, Marines, and airmen some 64 years ago.
That island was the scene of the largest anti-American demonstrations since the end of World War II after the 1995 kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor. The problem of rape has been ubiquitous around all of our bases on every continent and has probably contributed as much to our being loathed abroad as the policies of the Bush administration or our economic exploitation of poverty-stricken countries whose raw materials we covet.
The military itself has done next to nothing to protect its own female soldiers or to defend the rights of innocent bystanders forced to live next to our often racially biased and predatory troops."The military's record of prosecuting rapists is not just lousy, it's atrocious," writes Herbert. In territories occupied by American military forces, the high command and the State Department make strenuous efforts to enact so-called"Status of Forces Agreements" (SOFAs) that will prevent host governments from gaining jurisdiction over our troops who commit crimes overseas. The SOFAs also make it easier for our military to spirit culprits out of a country before they can be apprehended by local authorities.
This issue was well illustrated by the case of an Australian teacher, a long-time resident of Japan, who in April 2002 was raped by a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, then based at the big naval base at Yokosuka. She identified her assailant and reported him to both Japanese and U.S. authorities. Instead of his being arrested and effectively prosecuted, the victim herself was harassed and humiliated by the local Japanese police. Meanwhile, the U.S. discharged the suspect from the Navy but allowed him to escape Japanese law by returning him to the U.S., where he lives today.
In the course of trying to obtain justice, the Australian teacher discovered that almost fifty years earlier, in October 1953, the Japanese and American governments signed a secret"understanding" as part of their SOFA in which Japan agreed to waive its jurisdiction if the crime was not of"national importance to Japan." The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.
Since that time the U.S. has negotiated similar wording in SOFAs with Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Denmark. According to the Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces (2001), the Japanese practice has become the norm for SOFAs throughout the world, with predictable results. In Japan, of 3,184 U.S. military personnel who committed crimes between 2001 and 2008, 83% were not prosecuted. In Iraq, we have just signed a SOFA that bears a strong resemblance to the first postwar one we had with Japan: namely, military personnel and military contractors accused of off-duty crimes will remain in U.S. custody while Iraqis investigate. This is, of course, a perfect opportunity to spirit the culprits out of the country before they can be charged.
Within the military itself, the journalist Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007), speaks of the" culture of unpunished sexual assaults" and the"shockingly low numbers of courts martial" for rapes and other forms of sexual attacks. Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, 2009), quotes this figure in a 2009 Pentagon report on military sexual assaults: 90% of the rapes in the military are never reported at all and, when they are, the consequences for the perpetrator are negligible.
It is fair to say that the U.S. military has created a worldwide sexual playground for its personnel and protected them to a large extent from the consequences of their behavior. As a result a group of female veterans in 2006 created the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN). Its agenda is to spread the word that"no woman should join the military."
I believe a better solution would be to radically reduce the size of our standing army, and bring the troops home from countries where they do not understand their environments and have been taught to think of the inhabitants as inferior to themselves.
10 Steps Toward Liquidating the Empire
Dismantling the American empire would, of course, involve many steps. Here are ten key places to begin:
1. We need to put a halt to the serious environmental damage done by our bases planet-wide. We also need to stop writing SOFAs that exempt us from any responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.
2. Liquidating the empire will end the burden of carrying our empire of bases and so of the"opportunity costs" that go with them -- the things we might otherwise do with our talents and resources but can't or won't.
3. As we already know (but often forget), imperialism breeds the use of torture. In the 1960s and 1970s we helped overthrow the elected governments in Brazil and Chile and underwrote regimes of torture that prefigured our own treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See, for instance, A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors [Pantheon, 1979], on how the U.S. spread torture methods to Brazil and Uruguay.) Dismantling the empire would potentially mean a real end to the modern American record of using torture abroad.
4. We need to cut the ever-lengthening train of camp followers, dependents, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and hucksters -- along with their expensive medical facilities, housing requirements, swimming pools, clubs, golf courses, and so forth -- that follow our military enclaves around the world.
5. We need to discredit the myth promoted by the military-industrial complex that our military establishment is valuable to us in terms of jobs, scientific research, and defense. These alleged advantages have long been discredited by serious economic research. Ending empire would make this happen.
6. As a self-respecting democratic nation, we need to stop being the world's largest exporter of arms and munitions and quit educating Third World militaries in the techniques of torture, military coups, and service as proxies for our imperialism. A prime candidate for immediate closure is the so-called School of the Americas, the U.S. Army's infamous military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American military officers. (See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [Metropolitan Books, 2004], pp. 136-40.)
7. Given the growing constraints on the federal budget, we should abolish the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and other long-standing programs that promote militarism in our schools.
8. We need to restore discipline and accountability in our armed forces by radically scaling back our reliance on civilian contractors, private military companies, and agents working for the military outside the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater:The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books, 2007]). Ending empire would make this possible.
9. We need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the wounds our soldiers receive and combat stress they undergo.
10. To repeat the main message of this essay, we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.
Unfortunately, few empires of the past voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The two most important recent examples are the British and Soviet empires. If we do not learn from their examples, our decline and fall is foreordained.
Posted on: Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 15:17
SOURCE: China Beat (blog) (7-29-09)
The violence in Xinjiang took place almost a month ago, but it continues to generate interesting commentary (see, for example, this thoughtful essay by Pallavi Aiyar). The early July events have also recently had two reverberations in Australia, as Jia Zhangke and two other Chinese filmmakers pulled out of a Melbourne film festival where a documentary expected to present a sympathetic view of one of the people Beijing blames for the unrest was to be shown, and then hackers attacked the festival's website to protest that film’s inclusion in the line-up. In light of this, we asked James Millward, a leading specialist in the history of Xinjiang who has written about related issues for us before, to share with the readers of China Beat his take on what happened in early July and how it should be understood.
The ugly mob violence that roiled the western Chinese city of Urumchi in Xinjiang on July 5th was rather quickly suppressed, and Urumchi is now quiet. Thanks to an unprecedented degree of openness to the international press, moreover, we have a better idea specifically what happened than we have for other such incidents in China.
Students who are members of the Uyghur minority—a largely Muslim, Turkic-language speaking group who are natives of the Xinjiang region in far northwestern China—demonstrated on Sunday, July 5 to call for a more thorough investigation into a deadly brawl among Uyghur and Han workers that had occurred at a factory in Guangdong province the previous week. The demonstration turned violent, possibly while it was being repressed by security forces, and thousands of Uyghurs went on a rampage, attacking Hans and destroying property. By Monday, July 6, mobs of Han—the majority ethnic group in China—took to the streets armed with clubs, meat-cleavers and other makeshift weapons, seeking revenge. Police eventually calmed the situation with batons, tear-gas, firearms with live ammunition, curfews and mass arrests. At least 192 people died, and some 1000 were injured.
Though we know the broad outlines of what happened, why it happened remains in dispute. The official story from the Xinjiang regional and Chinese authorities is that the riot was instigated by Rebiya Kadeer and the World Uyghur Congress, an umbrella group made up of overseas Uyghur organizations in Europe, America and Central Asia that claims to represent Uyghur interests internationally. (A Uyghur economist and outspoken blogger, Ilham Tohti, has also been blamed by Xinjiang authorities for inciting the riot, and has apparently been detained.) The PRC routinely claims that the WUC and Kadeer—a charismatic spokeswoman for the Uyghur cause who enjoys sympathy in the US Congress and EU parliament—is surreptitiously engaged in separatist and even terrorist activity. Some of the commentary in Western media has harkened back to the issue of alleged Uyghur jihadism, involvement with Al Qaeda, and terrorist plots—issues much discussed with regard to the Uyghurs who wound up in Guantanamo.
When it comes to the recent Urumchi riots, however, terrorism and even separatism are red herrings. China’s control over Xinjiang is not threatened by these demonstrators or even the handful of jihadi Uyghurs outside of China who espouse terrorism or militancy. No government internationally has ever challenged the PRC’s sovereignty in Xinjiang or officially sympathized with calls for an independent Eastern Turkestan state. The mainstream Uyghur exile groups—World Uyghur Congress and Rabiya Kadeer’s Uyghur American Association among them—do not call for an independent Uyghur or East Turkestan state; rather, these groups lobby for cultural autonomy, legal rights, equal employment opportunity and similar issues—they could not lobby for an independent state without losing their access to members of Western governments or, in the case of Rabiya Kadeer’s Uyghur American Association, jeopardizing funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. But most telling of all is the fact that the Uyghur students in their initial demonstration marched under the flag of the People’s Republic of China, explicitly sending a non-separatist message of loyal dissent.
What Urumchi experienced was what Americans, recalling our own troubled history, might call a race riot. The reasons underlying it were likewise familiar: mundane prejudice including easy use of racial slurs by both Han and Uyghur about the other; a widespread perception by the minority Uyghurs, with some justification, that the political, legal and economic system, especially job opportunities, are stacked in favor of the majority Hans; and a simple lack of understanding or empathy for the different cultures of fellow citizens.
Diversity in the US is the result of the colonization of North America by northern Europeans, our proximity to parts of the Americas first colonized by Spain, subsequent migration from other parts of the world, and of course the African slave trade. Though China is of continental dimensions and has long been diverse, the most pressing ethnic issues today largely stem from the 17th and 18th century expansion of the Qing empire which brought Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Taiwan under Beijing’s rule. Regardless of the different historical background, however, China shares with the US, and, for that matter, with India, Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia, Russia and other large nations, the strengths and challenges of an ethnically diverse population. Economic growth, urban development, political evolution, globalization and other processes can exacerbate tensions among ethnic communities in any country.
The proximate cause of the Urumchi troubles was labor migration, both of Uyghurs from Xinjiang to Guangdong, and of Han from other parts of China to Xinjiang, all associated with China’s super-charged market economy and state program to develop western parts of the country. But the deeper problem is essentially the same as that in any large, modern state: how to incorporate ethno-cultural diversity into the national vision. Chinese official rhetoric and policies in the past—especially in the early 1950s and late 1980s—were directed at this goal, but more recent approaches have too often depicted Uyghurs and Tibetans as ungrateful “others,” and even as threats to security. Both Uyghurs and Han have absorbed this message from state media. It has fueled Uyghur frustration and violence, and instilled in Hans a sense of grievance against minorities, their fellow Chinese.
China faces problems of interethnic tension and civil rights all too familiar to other countries in the world. Chinese leaders could enjoy international sympathy and support should they address these issues directly. But claiming that all ethnic problems at home arise from the conspiracies of exiles or machinations of foreigners will only elicit more international sympathy for Chinese minorities and criticism of China's human rights record.
Posted on: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 23:17
SOURCE: Politico.com (7-27-09)
Woodrow Wilson, a student of Congress, moved with partisan efficiency, using his Democratic majority to steamroll the opposition. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man of multiple positions, flooded the zone, deluging legislators with a torrent of proposals — more than the institution had seen in decades — and sustaining momentum. Lyndon Johnson was famous for “the treatment,” keeping in close and constant contact with key legislators until deals were made.
In the history of the modern presidency, Wilson, Roosevelt and Johnson stand out for their legislative achievements, the result of a shrewd strategy and cagey timing. They offer President Barack Obama several different models as he attempts to push through Congress an ambitious domestic agenda of which health care is only one part.
Wilson was able to secure passage of much of his “New Freedom,” a program that included tariff reform, the creation of the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve, stronger antitrust measures and the enactment of the progressive income tax. He did it through the kind of skillful manipulation of the Democratic caucus that came naturally to a former college professor who had spent his academic career writing about the need for stronger parties in America.
Wilson coordinated with congressional leaders — “King Caucus,” as Republican critics called them — by using carrots and sticks to make sure Democrats voted the party line and limit Republican participation. Democratic leaders, for instance, used “binding” votes, whereby two-thirds of the party caucus could commit all its members to a vote a particular way on a bill. Legislators who did not abide by a binding vote would lose their party privileges such as treasured committee assignments. Republicans were left out of much of the legislative process, including many conference committee deliberations. “Never did the lash of the presidential and caucus whip cut so deep as today,” one Republican complained.
Roosevelt displayed even greater legislative acumen. While Wilson’s main tactic was to rely on disciplined partisanship, Roosevelt overwhelmed legislators with more proposals than the institution had seen in decades. Will Rogers joked that “Congress doesn’t pass legislation anymore. They just wave at the bills as they go by.” But in truth, Roosevelt often plucked proposals out of Congress and lent them the presidential stamp of authority. The political scientist David Mayhew astutely noted that the 1932 election provided Sen. Robert Wagner of New York a president who would finally sign his bills.
By keeping Congress in constant motion, Roosevelt helped create a legislative environment oriented toward action. He also had no problem allowing others to claim credit for legislation or to cut the deals that they needed to assure passage. He was a firm believer that it was better to obtain what was possible than what was perfect, since he believed programs could always be expanded or improved in the future. His attitude toward Social Security was typical: “With those taxes in there,” he said, “no damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program.”
Then there was Lyndon Johnson, the only one of the three who himself was a creature of Congress. After having watched the New Deal coalition struggle against anti-communist Republicans in the 1950s, Johnson concluded that the good times in Washington usually lasted for about five minutes. Following the 1964 Democratic landslide, Johnson jumped at his window of opportunity to push for as many programs as he could — federal aid to higher education, Medicare, voting rights, immigration reform, anti-poverty programs and more.
The president was relentless as he lobbied key legislators, giving them “the treatment” that he perfected in Congress and keeping in constant phone contact until a deal was reached. According to the columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, “the tone was supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint, the hint of threat. It was all these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction.”
Like FDR, Johnson was keenly aware of the need to create political space for legislators to reshape bills in the final stages of deliberations. This famously egocentric president was willing to let members receive public credit, as long as he got the bill that he wanted.
Other modern presidents have not been so successful. Harry Truman stumbled after his dramatic 1948 victory. Truman pushed for a Fair Deal that included civil rights, fair housing, farming assistance and health care, but his legislative skills were not very good. The only program that passed was housing.
A conservative coalition of Southern Democrats and Republicans used the committee system to block his proposals. In his drive for health care, Truman was outmatched by the American Medical Association, which successfully framed the fight as one about socialized medicine. Truman, who had embraced this kind of rhetoric toward of Republicans, did not offer a strong response. An economic downturn in 1949 further sidetracked his momentum. And then when the economy revived the following year, Truman became bogged down by the Korean War. Korea, and the politics surrounding the war, consumed the rest of his presidency. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 15:31
SOURCE: CNN (7-27-09)
Zelizer writes widely about current events.]
Health care reform has gotten off track. The president's news conference fell flat. Polls show growing unease with the proposals currently in play. And Congress will not meet the deadline that President Obama imposed.
The status quo, as the president correctly explained to reporters, is not sustainable. Our health care system is not working. Millions of people lack insurance, costs are out of control, businesses and workers are struggling to keep up with premiums, and there are tremendous inefficiencies plaguing many parts of the system.
Conditions will only become worse in coming years. Our health care system brings to mind the economist Herbert Stein's famous maxim: "When something can't go on forever, it will stop."
When Congress returns in September, Obama will only be able to revitalize the prospects for health care reform if he offers Americans a stronger argument about what government can do to improve this situation.
After years of being in the opposition, Democrats are still scared about defending the value of government. Their political nerves have been exacerbated by polls showing the public is growing increasingly concerned about the size of government spending. This reticence about government, in the aftermath of the Democrats' dramatic 2008 election victory, has been one of the most striking aspects of the administration's rhetoric in the past few months.
Before the 1970s, Democrats were full of confidence when pushing for federal programs. Indeed, 44 years ago this week, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation that created Medicare and Medicaid. The event took place at Harry Truman's presidential library in Independence, Missouri.
Sitting beside the 81-year-old former president, Johnson announced: "No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years."
The program succeeded. Government worked. Before Medicare started, only about 50 percent of Americans who were 65 or older possessed hospital coverage. Within five years of the program's creation, 97 percent of the elderly had hospital coverage. The same changes occurred with physician's coverage. Today, more than 40 million elderly Americans rely on the program -- as do their families who don't have to take responsibility for these costs.
Besides expanding coverage, Medicare has become instrumental to the health care industry. For all the complaints that we hear about Medicare, the reality is that most hospitals and doctors have come to depend on these federal payments into their system. Those who want to keep government "out" of the industry rarely acknowledge that government is already "in."...
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:53
SOURCE: LAT (7-28-09)
Should police Sgt. James Crowley have arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. on July 16, after Crowley responded to a 911 report of a possible break-in at Gates' Cambridge, Mass., house? And to what degree was the arrest related to the fact that Gates is black and Crowley is white?
I don't know the answers to these questions, and neither do you. But here's what I do know: We're lucky that we can ask them, lucky that possible police misbehavior demands an official response, lucky that the alleged outrage isn't worse. And if you think otherwise, take a look at how police behave in many other parts of the world.
According to Transparency International, which surveyed 73,000 people in 69 countries for its 2009 Global Corruption Barometer, 24% of respondents reported paying bribes to police in the last year. And people around the globe routinely identify the police force as the most corrupt institution in their societies, ahead of the judiciary, tax collection agencies and everything else.
Even worse, police officers frequently abuse or murder civilians with impunity. The 2009 country-by-country report by Amnesty International is a virtual dictionary of brutality by police, who assault citizens with truncheons (Armenia), electric shocks (Bahrain), cigarette burns (Mauritania), sexual assaults (Pakistan) and suspension by the wris ts or ankles (Yemen).
And then there's Togo, which I happened to be visiting when the Gates controversy exploded. According to Amnesty International, human rights activists and other Togolese detainees are routinely beaten by the police.
So I was on my best behavior as I crossed into Togo from Ghana with my teenage daughter and her friend. A policeman fumbled with our passports, seemingly uncertain about how and where to stamp them. Then he finally issued our visas and announced the fee: 15,000 African francs (about $30) each.
"Whom should I pay?" I asked him in French.
"Oh, you can pay me directly," he smiled.
So I did. There was no receipt, of course, so no one would ever know. And I knew better than to ask for one.
On our return to Ghana, a few days later, a border policewoman asked me if I would buy her a drink. I'm married and I wear a wedding ring, and I had two adolescent girls in tow, so it's pretty unlikely that she was flirting with me. Instead, she was probably soliciting a bribe.
I had heard stories of people who offer money in such situations, get arrested for the same and then have to pay a bigger bribe to get out. So I pretended that she was flirting with me. "Sorry, but I'm married," I protested, mock-horror style, flashing her a grin. She waved us on with a scowl.
Ghana is still basking from President Obama's brief visit earlier this month, when he correctly praised the country for it s strong democratic institutions and its efforts to reduce corruption. But it also has a long way to go. In the Transparency International survey, 42% of Ghanaian respondents said that they or a household member had paid a bribe in the last year.
When asked to rank their public officials on a scale of 1 to 5, meanwhile, with 1 being "not at all corrupt" and 5 "extremely corrupt," Ghanaians gave their officials an average score of 4.2. That's hardly a ringing endorsement. Instead, it's a reminder of how much malfeasance still infects most governments across Africa -- and around the world.
Our own system isn't perfect, that's for sure. Miscarriages of justice -- including police corruption and brutality -- happen every day. And no reasonable person will deny that some police officers unfairly target racial minorities, especially minority males.
That's what makes the arrest of Gates so emotionally charged, from our point of view. From an international perspective, though, it's a tempest in a teapot. Nobody got shot or assaulted. No money changed hands. And whatever indignities Gates might have incurred, they pale next to the abuse that so many people in other nations receive at the hands of their own police.
Ironically, Gates had just returned from a trip to China, which has one of the most ghastly records of police brutality on the planet.
According to Amnesty International, the Chinese police routinely torture people for criticizing their government or simply for practicing thei r religion; common targets include Tibetans, Uighurs, Christians and Falun Gong practitioners. The police in China get to do whatever they want, and woe to the innocent civilian who has the courage to criticize them. That too is a luxury that we too often take for granted.
So let's investigate Gates' arrest thoroughly, of course, especially the question of whether it was racially motivated. Ditto for any and all charges of bigotry in law enforcement, which loses credibility and legitimacy every time an American is treated unfairly on account of race.
But let's not exaggerate either, lest we forget the far greater injustices all over the planet. In a world in which police routinely abuse civilians or extort bribes from them, we're pretty darned fortunate to be debating the arrest of Gates. And let's not forget that either.
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:12
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (7-27-09)
WHAT, what, what,
What's the news from Swat?
Comes by the cable led
Through the Indian Ocean's bed,
Through the Persian Gulf, the Red
Sea and the Med-
Iterranean -- he 's dead;
The Ahkoond is dead!
-- George Thomas Lanigan
Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That's certainly one for the record books.
And it hasn't ended yet. Not by a long shot. Not with the headlines in the U.S. papers about the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, not with the CIA's drone aircraft striking gatherings in Waziristan and elsewhere near the Afghan border. This spring, for instance, one counter-terrorism analyst stridently (and wholly implausibly) warned that"in one to six months" we could"see the collapse of the Pakistani state," at the hands of the bloodthirsty Taliban, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Pakistan a"mortal danger" to global security.
What most observers don't realize is that the doomsday rhetoric about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It's at least 100 years old. During their campaigns in the northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British officers, journalists and editorialists sounded much like American strategists, analysts, and pundits of the present moment. They construed the Pashtun tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan as the new Normans, a dire menace to London that threatened to overturn the British Empire.
The young Winston S. Churchill even wrote a book in 1898, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, about a late-nineteenth-century British campaign in Pashtun territory, based on his earlier journalism there. At that time, London ruled British India, comprising all of what is now India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but the British hold on the mountainous northwestern region abutting Afghanistan and the Himalayas was tenuous. In trying to puzzle out -- like modern analysts -- why the predecessors of the Pakistani Taliban posed such a huge challenge to empire, Churchill singled out two reasons for the martial prowess of those Pashtun tribesmen. One was Islam, of which he wrote,"That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword -- the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men -- stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism."
Churchill actually revealed his prejudices here. In fact, for the most part, Islam spread peacefully in what is now Pakistan, by the preaching and poetry of mystical Sufi leaders, and most Muslims have not been more warlike in history than, for example, Anglo-Saxons.
For his second reason, he settled on the environment in which those tribesmen were supposed to thrive."The inhabitants of these wild but wealthy valleys" are, he explained, in"a continual state of feud and strife." In addition, he insisted, they were early adopters of military technology, so that their weapons were not as primitive as was common among other"races" at what he referred to as"their stage" of development."To the ferocity of the Zulu are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer," he warned.
In these tribesmen, he concluded,"the world is presented with that grim spectacle, 'the strength of civilization without its mercy.'" The Pashtun were, he added, excellent marksmen, who could fell the unwary Westerner with a state-of-the-art breech-loading rifle."His assailant, approaching, hacks him to death with the ferocity of a South-Sea Islander. The weapons of the nineteenth century are in the hands of the savages of the Stone Age."
Ironically, given Churchill's description of them, when four decades later the Pashtuns joined the freedom movement against British rule that led to the formation of independent Pakistan and India in 1947, politicized Pashtuns were notable not for savagery, but for joining Mahatma Gandhi's campaign of non-violent non-cooperation.
Nevertheless, the Churchillian image of primitive, fanatical brutality armed with cutting edge technology, which singled Pashtuns out as an extraordinary peril to the West, survived the Victorian era and has now made it into the headlines of our own newspapers. Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst, was tasked by the Obama administration to evaluate security threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Arnaud de Borchgrave of the Washington Times reported breathlessly on July 17th that Riedel had concluded:
"A jihadist victory in Pakistan, meaning the takeover of the nation by a militant Sunni movement led by the Taliban... would create the greatest threat the United States has yet to face in its war on terror... [and] is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future."
The article, in true Churchillian fashion, is entitled"Armageddon Alarm Bell Rings."
In fact, few intelligence predictions could have less chance of coming true. In the 2008 parliamentary election, the Pakistani public voted in centrist parties, some of them secular, virtually ignoring the Muslim fundamentalist parties. Today in Pakistan, there are about 24 million Pashtuns, a linguistic ethnic group that speaks Pashto. Another 13 million live across the British-drawn"Durand Line," the border -- mostly unacknowledged by Pashtuns -- between Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. Most Taliban derive from this group, but the vast majority of Pashtuns are not Taliban and do not much care for the Muslim radicals.
The Taliban force that was handily defeated this spring by the Pakistani army in a swift campaign in the Swat Valley in the North-West Frontier Province, amounted to a mere 4,000 men. The Pakistani military is 550,000 strong and has a similar number of reservists. It has tanks, artillery, and fighter jets. The Taliban's appeal is limited to that country's Pashtun ethnic group, about 14% of the population and, from everything we can tell, it is a minority taste even among them. The Taliban can commit terrorism and destabilize, but they cannot take over the Pakistani government.
Some Western analysts worry that the Taliban could unite with disgruntled junior officers of the Pakistani Army, who could come to power in a putsch and so offer their Taliban allies access to sophisticated weaponry. Successful Pakistani coups, however, have been made by the chief of staff at the top, not by junior officers, since the military is quite disciplined. Far from coup-making to protect the Taliban, the military has actually spent the past year in hard slogging against them in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Bajaur and more recently in Swat.
Today's fantasy of a nuclear-armed Taliban is the modern equivalent of Churchill's anxiety about those all-conquering, ultramodern Pashtun riflemen with the instincts of savages.
Frontier Ward and Watch
On a recent research trip to the India Office archives in London to plunge into British military memoirs of the Waziristan campaigns in the first half of the twentieth century, I was overcome by a vivid sense of déjà vu. The British in India fought three wars with Afghanistan, losing the first two decisively, and barely achieving a draw in the third in 1919. Among the Afghan king Amanullah's demands during the third war were that the Pashtun tribes of the frontier be allowed to give him their fealty and that Britain permit Afghanistan to conduct a sovereign foreign policy. He lost on the first demand, but won on the second and soon signed a treaty of friendship with the newly established Soviet Union.
Disgruntled Pashtun tribes in Waziristan, a no-man's land sandwiched between the Afghan border and the formal boundary of the British-ruled North-West Frontier Province, preferred Kabul's rule to that of London, and launched their own attacks on the British, beginning in 1919. Putting down the rebellious Wazir and Mahsud tribes of this region would, in the end, cost imperial Britain's treasury three times as much as had the Third Anglo-Afghan War itself.
On May 2, 1921, long after the Pashtun tribesmen should have been pacified, the Manchester Guardian carried a panicky news release by the British Viceroy of India on a Mahsud attack."Enemy activity continues throughout," the alarmed message from Viceroy Rufus Isaacs, the Marquess of Reading, said, implying that a massive uprising on the subcontinent was underway. In fact, the action at that point was in only a small set of villages in one part of Waziristan, itself but one of several otherwise relatively quiet tribal areas.
On the 23rd of that month, a large band of Mahsud struck" convoys" near the village of Piazha. British losses included a British officer killed, four British and two Indian officers wounded, and seven Indian troops killed, with 26 wounded. On the 24th,"a picket [sentry outpost] near Suidgi was ambushed, and lost nine killed and seven wounded." In nearby Zhob, the British received support from friendly Pashtun tribes engaged in a feud with what they called the"hostiles," and -- a modern touch --"aeroplanes" weighed in as well. They were, it was said," cooperating," though this too was an exaggeration. At the time, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was eager to prove its colonial worth on the imperial frontiers in ways that extended beyond simple reconnaissance, even though in 1921 it maintained but a single airplane at Peshawar, the nearest city, which had"a hole in its wing." By 1925, the RAF had gotten its wish and would drop 150 tons of bombs on the Mahsud tribe.
On July 5, 1921, a newspaper report in the Allahabad Pioneer gives a sense of the tactics the British deployed against the"hostiles." One center of rebellion was the village of Makin, inhabited by that same Mahsud tribe, which apparently wanted its own irrigation system and freedom from British interference. The British Indian army held the nearby village of Ladka."Makin was shelled from Ladka on the 20th June," the report ran.
The tribal fighters responded by beginning to move their flocks, though their families remained. British archival sources report that a Muslim holy man, or faqir, attempted to give the people of Makin hope by laying a spell on the 6-inch howitzer shells and pledging that they would no longer explode in the valley. (Overblown imperial anxiety about such faqirs or akhonds, Pashtun religious leaders, inspired Victorian satirists such as Edward Lear, who began one poem,"Who, or why, or which, or what, Is the Akond of Swat?")
The faqir's spells were to no avail. The shelling, the Pioneer reported, continued over the next two days,"with good results." Then on the 23rd,"another bombardment of Makin was carried out by our 6-inch howitzers at Ladka." This shelling"had a great moral effect," the newspaper intoned, and revealed with satisfaction that"the inhabitants are now evacuating their families." The particular nature of the moral effect of bombarding a civilian village where women and children were known to be present was not explained. Two days later, however, thanks to air observation, the howitzers at Ladka and the guns at"Piazha camp" made a"direct hit" on another similarly obscure village.
Such accounts of small, vicious engagements in mountainous villages with (to British ears) outlandish names fit oddly with the strange conviction of the elite and the press that the fate of the Empire was somehow at stake -- just as strangely as similar reports out of exactly the same area, often involving the very same tribes, do in our own time. On July 7, 2009, for instance, the Pakistani newspaper The Nation published a typical daily report on the Swat valley campaign which might have come right out of the early twentieth century. Keep in mind that this was a campaign into which the Obama administration forced the Pakistani government to save itself and the American position in the Greater Middle East, and which displaced some two million people, risking the actual destabilization of the whole northwestern region of Pakistan. It went in part:
"[T]he security forces during search operation at Banjut, Swat, recovered 50 mules loaded with arms and ammunition, medicines and ration and also apprehended a few terrorists. During search operation at Thana, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off causing injuries to a soldier. As a result of operation at Tahirabad, Mingora, the security forces recovered surgical equipment, nine hand grenades and office furniture from the house of a militant."
The unfamiliar place names, the attention to confiscated mules, and the fear of tribal militancy differed little from the reports in the Pioneer from nearly a century before. Echoing Viceroy Rufus Isaacs, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on July 14th,"Our national security as well as the future of Afghanistan depends on a stable, democratic, and economically viable Pakistan. We applaud the new Pakistani determination to deal with the militants who threaten their democracy and our shared security."
As in 1921, so in 2009, the skirmishes were ignored by the general public in the West despite the frenzied assertions of politicians that the fate of the world hung in the balance.
A Paranoid View of the Pashtuns, Then and Now
On July 21, 1921, a" correspondent" for the Allahabad Pioneer -- as anonymous as he was vehement -- explained how some firefights in Waziristan might indeed be consequential for Western civilization. He attacked"Irresponsible Criticism" of the military budget required to face down the Mahsud tribe. He asked,"What is India's strategical position in the world today?" It was a leading question."Along hundreds of miles of her border," he then warned darkly in a mammoth run-on sentence,"are scores of thousands of hardy fighters trained to war and rapine from their very birth, never for an instant forgetful of the soft wealth of India's plains, all of whom would descend to harry them tomorrow if they thought the venture safe, some of whom are determinedly at war with us even now."
Note that he does not explain the challenge posed by the Pashtun tribes in terms of typical military considerations, which would require attention to the exact numbers, training, equipment, tactics and logistics of the fighters, and which would have revealed them as no significant threat to the Indian plains, however hard they were to control in their own territory. The" correspondent" instead ridicules urban"pen-pushers," who little appreciate the"heavy task" of"frontier ward and watch."
Not only were the tribes a danger in themselves, the hawkish correspondent intoned, but"beyond India's border lies a great country [Afghanistan] with whom we are not even yet technically at peace." Nor was that all. The recently-established Soviet Union, with which Afghanistan had concluded a treaty of friendship that February, loomed as the real threat behind the radical Pashtuns."Beyond that again is a huge mad-dog nation that acknowledges no right save the sword, no creed save aggression, murder and loot, that will stay at nothing to gain its end, that covets avowedly a descent upon India above all other aims."
That then-Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, who took an extremely dim view of colonialism and seriously considered freeing the Central Asian possessions of the old tsarist empire, was then contemplating the rape of India is among the least believable calumnies in imperial propaganda. The" correspondent" would have none of it. Those, he concludes, who dare criticize the military budget should try sweet-talking the Mahsud, the Wazir and the Bolsheviks.
In our own day as well, pundits configure the uncontrolled Pashtuns as merely the tip of a geostrategic iceberg, with the sinister icy menace of al-Qaeda stretching beneath, and beyond that greater challenges to the U.S. such as Iran (incredibly, sometimes charged by the U.S. military with supporting the hyper-Sunni, Shiite-hating Taliban in Afghanistan). Occasionally in this decade, attempts have even been made to tie the Russian bear once again to the Pashtun tribes.
In the case of the British Empire, whatever the imperial fears, the actual cost in lives and expenditure of campaigning in the Hindu Kush mountain range was enough to ensure that such engagements would be of relatively limited duration. On October 26, 1921, the Pioneer reported that the British government of India had determined to implement a new system in Waziristan, dependent on tribal mercenaries.
"This system, which was so successfully inaugurated in the Khyber district last year," the article explained,"is really an adaptation of the methods in vogue 40 years ago." The tribal commander provided his own weapons and equipment, and for a fee, protected imperial lines of communication and provided security on the roads."Thus he has an interest in maintaining the tranquility of his territory, and gives support to the more stable elements among the tribes when the hotheads are apt to run amok." The system would be adopted, the article says, to put an end to the ruinous costs of"punitive expeditions of merely ephemeral pacificatory value."
Absent-minded empire keeps reinventing the local tribal levy, loyal to foreign capitals and paid by them, as a way of keeping the hostiles in check. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations reported late last year that"U.S. military commanders are studying the feasibility of recruiting Afghan tribesmen... to target Taliban and al-Qaeda elements. Taking a page from the so-called 'Sunni Awakening' in Iraq, which turned Sunni tribesmen against militants first in Anbar Province and then beyond, the strategic about-face in Afghanistan would seek to extend power from Kabul to the country's myriad tribal militias." Likewise, the Pakistani government has attempted to deploy tribal fighters against the Taliban in the Federally Administered areas such as Bajaur. It remains to be seen whether this strategy can succeed.
Both in the era between the two world wars and again in the early twenty-first century, the Pashtun peoples have been objects of anxiety in world capitals out of all proportion to the security challenge they actually pose. As it turned out, the real threat to the British Isles in the twentieth century emanated from one of what Churchill called their" civilized" European neighbors. Nothing the British tried in the North-West Frontier and its hinterland actually worked. By the 1940s the British hold on the tribal agencies and frontier regions was shakier than ever before, and the tribes more assertive. After the British were forced out of the subcontinent in 1947, London's anxieties about the Pashtuns and their world-changing potential abruptly evaporated.
Today, we are again hearing that the Waziris and the Mahsuds are dire threats to Western civilization. The tribal struggle for control of obscure villages in the foothills of the Himalayas is being depicted as a life-and-death matter for the North Atlantic world. Again, there is aerial surveillance, bombing, artillery fire, and -- this time -- displacement of civilians on a scale no British viceroy ever contemplated.
In 1921, vague threats to the British Empire from a small, weak principality of Afghanistan and a nascent, if still supine, Soviet Union underpinned a paranoid view of the Pashtuns. Today, the supposed entanglement with al-Qaeda of those Pashtuns termed"Taliban" by U.S. and NATO officials -- or even with Iran or Russia -- has focused Washington's and Brussels's military and intelligence efforts on the highland villagers once again.
Few of the Pashtuns in question, even the rebellious ones, are really Taliban in the sense of militant seminary students; few so-called Taliban are entwined with what little is left of al-Qaeda in the region; and Iran and Russia are not, of course, actually supporting the latter. There may be plausible reasons for which the U.S. and NATO wish to spend blood and treasure in an attempt to forcibly shape the politics of the 38 million Pashtuns on either side of the Durand Line in the twenty-first century. That they form a dire menace to the security of the North Atlantic world is not one of them.
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:08
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (7-27-09)
Probably like most of you, I am engaged in a daily attempt to make up my mind about President Obama. I was an early supporter. And as a former Washington "player," I am aware how difficult is his position. I began to worry when he failed to grasp what I have seen to be the early window of opportunity for a new administration -- the first three months -- when the government is relatively fluid. As the months have flown by, I have seen that there are many positive things, mainly in his eloquent addresses on world problems, notably his speech at the University of Cairo on world pluralism, but also quite a few negative things. With sadness and alarm I find that my list of the negatives keeps on growing. Among them are the following:
(1) the commitment to the war in "Af-Pak" which (I believe) will cost America upwards of $6 trillion but perhaps only a few hundred casualties since we are relying increasingly on drone bombing. Just the money costs could derail almost everything Obama's supporters hoped and thought his administration would do. That amount of money is roughly half the total yearly income (the GNP) of America. Of course, it will cost Afghanistan far more. Less dramatic perhaps but more crucial will be the further breakdown Afghan society, leaving behind when we ultimately get out an even more demoralized, fractured society and will probably lead to a coup d'etat in Pakistan, further enhancing the danger of war between the South Asian countries. The nominal leaders of Afghanistan (Hamid Karzai) and Pakistan (Asif Ali Zardari) whom we practically appointed and with whom we have chosen to work are hated by their people and are human monuments to the potential of government corruption. (Drugs, traffic in American arms even to insurgents, shakedowns of citizens, sale of public offices, outright stealing, kidnap for ransom...the list is long and as an old hand, it certainly reminds me of South Vie tnam.) We now have a window of opportunity to get out of this looming disaster, but it seems that the President is determined to "stay the course." Fundamental to my worry is that I do not hear anyone around the President or he himself saying things that indicate that they know anything about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir or India, much less "Pashtunistan" aka The Northwest Frontier. Ignorance is rarely a very rewarding guide.
(Parenthetically, I have recently read the British "how to do it" manual on "Tribal fighting on the Northwest Frontier" by General Sir Andrew Skeen. Skeen spent his life fighting the Pathans. He warned British soldiers back in the 1920s that the Pathans were "the finest individual fighters in the east, really formidable enemies, to despise whom means sure trouble." My copy is the only one I could find on the internet. it survived in a British officers' mess library. I doubt that Messrs Petraeus, McChrystal et al have ever heard of it. It makes more sense than Patraeus's Counterinsurgency Field Manual.)
(2) the choice of personnel is (to me) baffling:
In the military he has chosen to keep on Bush's Secretary of Defense (who signed if not wrote the latest version of the neoconservative-inspired US National Defense Doctrine calling for, among other things, the "right" of first striking almost anyone we choose if we don't like them), General David Petraeus whom I regard as a con man for breathing life into the Vietnam counterinsurgency program (which has never worked anywhere in the world in the last two centuries when tried by the British, the Russians, the French, the Germans or us) and General Stanley McChrystal who makes statements that sound terrifyingly like the SS. His main claim to fame appears to have come out of running the prison system in Afghanistan where, apparently, some of the worst cases of torture happened. Sy Hersh who just met with him came out of the meeting appalled. These men, allegedly, have told Obama that he could win t he war in Afghanistan "on the cheap." So when his then principal military adviser gave a more sober assessment -- nearly half a million men -- Obama fired him and listened to Petraeus' siren song. Again, as an old hand, I cannot help remembering Vietnam where we went from 1,700 to half a million soldiers and still lost.
The Pentagon budget is not only enormous but contains a number of potential scandals. . . Our overseas bases now cost us over $100 billion yearly. Since the DOD sops up over half of the disposable resources of the government, Obama must get control of it. His task will be difficult because the DOD and what President Eisenhower called the "military industrial complex" have cleverly portioned out the work and procurement on the program to virtually every congressional district. Congress will opt for the program even if it bankrupts America. Congress will be Obama's enemy if he tries any reforms. Even to try, he will need able advisers and staff. He should certainly know better than to appoint the foxes to guard the henhouse.
In the State Department activities, the most attractive person is Senator Mitchell but he does not seem to have any significant power. I hope I am wrong but he reminds me of my dear friend Governor Chester Bowles after JFK fired him and used him only for window dressing. The others have their own agendas. To be generous, one has to say that Hillary has not yet shown enough to judge, but some of her statements would be hard to worsen. I assume that she has begun to run for the presidency in 2012. She reminds me of the wise saying that when a president assembles his cabinet, he has all his enemies in one room. Dick Holbrooke has a bully's approach to diplomacy in one of the touchiest spots in the world. His browbeating, hectoring, shouting "Balkan" tactics are ill-suited to Central Asia.
In the White House, I think it would be hard to find a worse choice than the new Special Assistant to the President, Dennis Ross. Three examples of his skill: a) in the early negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, when he was supposedly the honest broker, he took a more disruptive position than even the Israelis, apparently shocking even them; b) in the build-up to the Iranian elections he sponsored and organized a program to "electronically invade" Iran with destabilizing messages trying, more subtly to be sure than the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup, to "regime change" it. Whatever else could be said about the "Iran-Syria Operations Group" , it played right into the hands of Ahmadinejad and the rightwing of the ulama and the military, giving them a proof text for American interference in the elections and thus may have backfired since no issue in Iranian politics is as sensitive as the fear of foreign espionage; (c) just before his appointment to be the chief honcho on all the Middle East, Ross published a book whose message was essentially 'let's try a bit of diplomacy for a short time. Of course it won't work, but it will justify our attacking.' That is, his approach to peace-seeking is consistent and negative. Since he is now Obama's point man, we are in for deeper trouble.
The Vice President, as you know, just reversed the final position of the Bush administration, where Bush told the Israelis that America would not approve an attack on Iran: Joe Biden essentially authorized it, saying what they decided to do was their business, not ours. But those of you who have read my occasional essays could tick off the list of potential disasters for America and the Western world such an attack would bring on. It is patently absurd to suggest that an Israeli attack (made with our weapons and implicit approval) is not our business; indeed, regardless of our weapons and our approval, the long-term consequences for our economy, our position in the world, and our exposure to terrorism would be almost impossible to exaggerate.
On the CIA I confess I am not a big admirer. It has taken on 3 tasks: gathering information, evaluating i t and performing dirty tricks. It is usually agreed that over 80%, perhaps more like 95%, of the information it accumulates comes from sources that you and I can access if we have the time, energy and interest. Most of the rest comes from technology (intercepts and code breaking which appear to be valuable for counter-terrorism but, at least in my experience, are of near zero value in 'strategy'; on satellite and overflight imagery much the same can be said.) The second task, evaluation or "appreciation" is very difficult at best, but the record, at least during the Bush administration, is pretty poor. It was far better done then and during the Vietnam war in the tiny Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the State Department. The third task often leads to disasters and violates all that America should stand for. There are scores of examples to back up this statement, but one that has now come back to haunt us is the 1953 coup d'etat that destroyed an elected and popular Iranian government that, had it survived, might have avoided the 1979 Iranian revolution and relieved us of our current worries there. We should get out of the business of espionage, kidnap, torture and murder. Period. The current leadership of the CIA does not seem to have addressed these issues and President Obama has gone out of his way to grant a sort of blanket pardon in advance lest anyone fear that what he did was illegal or, more accurately, knowing that it was illegal might be called to court.
Back to the President: From my experience with life at the "brink," during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I think that the President's initiatives on cutting back nuclear weapons is perhaps the best thing he has done so far. True, it is a very modest step, leaving thousands of "devices" in place on both the Russian and American sides, only urging Israel which has hundreds of bombs to join the NPT, actually encouraging India to forge ahead with its nuclear program and so probably moving inexorably toward at least doubling the num ber of nuclear-weapon-armed countries rather than (as I have strenuously advocated) moving from Russo-American cutbacks to nuclear free areas and ultimately toward worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons. But, at least it is a step in the right direction.
That's for foreign affairs.
On domestic affairs, I am really not qualified, but the only senior man to whom I would give high marks is former Federal Reserve Bank chairman Paul Volker. I predict that sooner or later, however, several of the men appointed to handle the financial problems will prove to be major political embarrassments to Obama. The phrase "no banker left behind" may prove a potent slogan.
Healthcare is the really tough but literally vital issue. I doubt that many Americans realize that it takes up about $1 in each $6 in our economy but that still 50 million Americans are uninsured. A June 2009 poll showed that 85% of the American public said the system either must be fundamentally changed or totally rebuilt. I think Obama is right that this is probably the make or break issue of his presidency. But I do not find a strategy to match his rhetoric. For some reason, on this issue as on some others, he does not seem to grasp the potential advocacy -- and educational -- powers of presidency. Too bad he could not learn from Lyndon Johnson.
On the environment, I see no significant concrete steps. Perhaps on this issue is the real test of a presidency's fundamental role in a democracy: educating the public so that it can understand and cope with the present and the future. I certainly pretend to no particular wit on the environment, but it doesn't take much wit to see what is happening. Never-mind what the scientists say, one would have to be blind not to see what the photographs show us of climate change. And where does this lead? I think there can be no other answer than a cutback, either voluntarily or enforced, in our material culture. It is going to come as a great shock to Americans who have grown up with SUVs, cheap gasoline, uninsulated houses, and rampant consumerism. We had better begin to prepare ourselves and for this, the President must be our shepherd. Arguably, it is much too early in his presidency for him even to consider this role, but as we look back it was taking on a comparable role that marked the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.
There are, of course, for President Obama as for all previous presidents, myriads of issues, but one that I believe will haunt him for his own term and beyond is moral and constitutional: What are we doing -- and what will we be seen to be doing -- to the vast but unknown number of prisoners -- terrorists, freedom fighters, accidents -- we are holding indefinitely, without charges, without recourse to the courts or that fundamental right in our heritage from the struggle against tyranny, habeas corpus. What we are doing at Guantanamo, Bagram and an unknown number of other "secret" prisons is, as the courts have rightly, if belatedly and guardedly, held, a violation of our legal system. We don't need the courts to tell us that it certainly a violation of our moral code. Obama began by urging transparency on this sordid issue, but he backed off . His Justice Department is now appealing a US District Court order that the Supreme Court decision on habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo also applied to a set of prisoners at Bagram who apparently arrived there by rendition or who, at least, are non Afghans. Of course, the most sordid issue is the evidence of sodomy, rape and torture captured in the photograph collection that Obama first wanted to release and then changed his mind. Those who profess to know say that what these pictures show is truly horrible. Some have compared them to the vivid record the Nazis kept of their sadism. Even pragmatically, since they are known -- indeed known worldwide -- it is questionable to say the least that hiding them will protect our reputation. For what little it is worth, my opinion is that making a clean bre ast of the evil and making an apology -- as we have repeatedly urged other countries to do in comparable cases -- would be or could be the beginning of the resurrection of America.
So it is that I read with further dismay . . . [a recent] article in The Washington Post [entitled] . . . "U.S. Rebuffs U.N. Requests for Guantanamo Visits, Data on CIA Prisons. . . "
# # #
I am waiting for the Obama we elected to show up. I hope this drama does not follow Samuel Beckett's script.
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 10:47
SOURCE: TPM (Liberal blog) (7-26-09)
For all the obvious reasons, I hesitate to even enter this discussion. But (famous last words) I can't help myself.
As you know, high on the list of current right-wing conspiracy theorizing (and sort of a stalking horse for underlying beliefs that President Obama's race and name make him rather less than fully American) is the claim that President Obama wasn't really born in Hawaii but was rather born abroad. And because of this, we're led to believe, he's ineligible to serve as president and therefore actually is not, as we speak, president.
Now, I don't want to get into all the claptrap about the birth certificate. Because the whole story is just unadulterated, raw nonsense. What I do want to figure out, however, is a question that's been rattling around my head for something like a year now. I have never seen any serious argument that the child of an American citizen, even if born abroad, isn't him or herself a natural born American citizen. Yes, it's now and again been raised as a topic with a wrinkle of ambiguity in the law; but the issue has never been that people actually believe such children aren't 'natural born', only that it's a phrase that was never expressly defined and there's never been an opportunity to have a court review it since there's never been a case with the relevant set of facts.
If my son Sam had been born while my wife and I were visiting Canada or Egypt, would he be ineligible to serve as president? Would have to apply for him to become a citizen? To have him naturalized? Clearly, not. Everyone agrees he's automatically a citizen. To indulge this nonsense you have to believe there are two categories of citizen -- one that is born a citizen (abroad) but not 'natural born' and another that is born a citizen (in the USA) and is 'natural born.'
How about US military families serving in Europe or South Korea? Are their children ineligible to serve as president? And wouldn't that be a tad rough on military families if it were true? Remember, this question came up during the last election since Sen. McCain was actually born in the Panama Canal Zone.
As far as I can tell, beside being transparently bogus on its face as to the facts (where President Obama was born) it is irrelevant on the law and the constitution since no one seems to question that his mother was an American citizen at the time of his birth.
Like I said, I know I probably shouldn't be feeding the wingnuts, even raising the issue. But can't they at least come up with a conspiracy theory that would have some practical import if it were actually true?
Late Update: Do I think any of this has any practical import? No, not at all. It's just been driving me crazy that in the context of talking about these 'birther' whackjobs, a lot of people are somehow assuming or taking it for granted that a child born to American citizens abroad would not be eligible to serve as president.
Later Update: This appears to be the lacunae the birthers hang their hat on (from the State Department website ...)
Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent in Wedlock: A child born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under Section 301(g) INA provided the citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. for the time period required by the law applicable at the time of the child's birth. (For birth on or after November 14, 1986, a period of five years physical presence, two after the age of fourteen is required. For birth between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, a period of ten years, five after the age of fourteen are required for physical presence in the U.S. to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child.
Their thinking seems to be that since Obama's mother was just shy of her 19th birthday at the time of his birth, she couldn't meet the"five after the age of fourteen" requirement, thus necessitating rushing home to get the phony certification of stateside birth to make the eventual run for president possible.
Posted on: Monday, July 27, 2009 - 17:35
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (7-24-09)
My first reaction to watching the unfolding Saga of Skip Gates's Cambridge Arrest was that America's postracial bubble, like its recent economic troubles, was about to pop. The fact that some observers had never bought into the story of a race-free America purged of its past sins by a watershed presidential election had done little to diminish either that narrative's moral resonance or political weight.
Since America's racial disparities remain as deep-rooted after Barack Obama's election as they were before, it was only a matter of time until the myth of postracism exploded in our collective national face. That they would rear their ugly head in the form of an intellectual and racial cause célèbre is fitting, since black scholars and activists have been engaged in a robust debate over the meaning of race in the Age of Obama.
Suddenly Obama's recent declaration before the NAACP—that American blacks have come farther than at any other time in our country's history—seems suspect, our national progress undone by the fact that Gates's predicament has become a metaphor for the nation's legacy of racial discrimination.
Our euphoria over Obama's historic election as the nation's first black president hit an unexpected speed bump in Cambridge, Mass., home to the bastion of academic decorum, of all places. The arrest on July 16 of the prominent Harvard professor of African-American studies in his own home has sparked a media firestorm that has interrupted the growing national consensus that America has been writing a new chapter in its tortured racial history.
Fresh from filming his latest PBS documentary in China, the 58-year-old Gates found himself locked out of his well-appointed Harvard home. With the help of his African-American taxi driver, Gates successfully entered his house—but not before arousing a suspicious neighbor, who phoned the police. What happened next is the subject of competing accounts. The police report characterizes Gates as an academic turned thug: loud, rude, uncooperative, and menacingly dangerous after being asked to produce identification. Gates has countered with an entirely different scenario, one wherein he obligingly showed his Harvard identification only to be met with rude behavior. After asking for and being refused the officer's badge number, Gates was arrested. Why several police officers were needed to secure a nearly 60-year-old man who relies on a cane to get around is one of many questions asked in ensuing days....
Posted on: Monday, July 27, 2009 - 16:28
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (7-25-09)
In October 1942 leaflets appeared in Egypt. The occasion was the British Eighth Army victory over Rommel’s Afrika Korps at El Alamein, which at last made the Allies confident they could drive the Axis out of the Middle East. Moreover, the first American observers had arrived in North Africa in preparation for Operation Torch, the invasion of Morocco and Algeria scheduled for the following month. The leaflets, printed in Arabic and signed by President Roosevelt. proclaimed:
“… Behold. We the American Holy Warriors have arrived. We have come here to fight the great Jihad of Freedom…. Assemble along the highways to welcome your brothers. We have come to set you free. Speak with our fighting men and you will find them pleasing to the eye and gladdening to the heart. We are not as some other Christians whom ye have known, and who trample you under foot. Our soldiers consider you as their brothers, for we have been reared in the way of free men. Our soldiers have been told about your country and about their Moslem brothers and they will treat you with respect and with a friendly spirit in the eyes of God…”
We may forgive such condescending propaganda on the grounds that Arabs, Persians, and other Muslims were hardly the focus of U.S. geopolitics then that they are today. During World War II they seemed just backward, superstitious, and thieving peoples who happened to be in the way of the armies fighting for control of the world.
That isn’t to say that the United States has not been engaged with the Middle East throughout its history, at first modestly but with increasing intensity. Moreover, the Middle East has always held a certain fascination for various groups of Americans whether or not their government was entangled there. But not until 1979, when Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski called the Islamic Crescent an Arc of Crisis, did the Middle East take center stage. By that time all the major U.S. foreign policy traditions were already in place.
It is my assigned task to provide the overarching context of American foreign relations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. My most telling message is that the strategies and methodologies—the ends and means of America as a world power—were all contrived to surmount crises and challenges elsewhere in the world. They had no initial relevance to Islamic cultures or Middle East geography, but had somehow to be applied to Middle Eastern policies once they had pushed themselves onto the American foreign policy agenda. That is why I shall have nothing more to say on the Middle East until the very end.
U.S. Foreign Policy Traditions
The genesis of these remarks date from 1988, when I left Berkeley to become chair of the international relations program at Penn. Since Penn’s U.S. diplomatic historian Bruce Kuklick was away that first year, I agreed to work up lectures for a survey course in that field. It occurred to me that a good way to structure the course would be to focus on the discrete traditions that Americans founded regarding their proper place in the world. I defined a genuine tradition as a principle or strategy that “commanded solid bipartisan support, outlived the era that gave it birth, entered the permanent lexicon of our national discourse, and continued to resonate with a portion of the American public even during eras when it did not directly inspire policy.”
I identified eight, divided into two groups (see handout, www.fpri.org/education/modernmiddleeast/). The first four, what I call our Old Testament, defined U.S. grand strategy during its first century: (1) Independence, Unity, and Liberty at Home, or “Exceptionalism” (as properly understood); (2) Unilateralism, or “Isolationism” (as mistakenly derided); (3) the American System, or Monroe Doctrine (as commonly called); and (4) Expansionism, or Manifest Destiny (as triumphantly touted). These were designed to prevent the outside world from shaping America on the assumption that the wicked Old World must threaten or corrupt. The last four, our New Testament, defined U.S. grand strategy during its second century: (5) Progressive Imperialism; (6) Wilsonianism, or Liberal Internationalism; (7) Containment; and (8) Global Meliorism. These were designed to help America shape the outside world on the assumption that the benevolent New World must uplift and reform.
It struck me that the frequent confusion in U.S. foreign policy stemmed not from false dichotomies between a mythical Realism vs. Idealism, or Isolationism vs. Interventionism, but rather from tensions among our twentieth-century traditions and between the twentieth- and nineteenth-century ones. Americans imagine theirs to be a Crusader State destined to transform the world in the pursuit of justice and freedom, but at the same time they want America to remain a Promised Land, uncorrupted by the world outside.
The Old Testament
One of my first discoveries was that America’s vaunted moral Exceptionalism had little to do with foreign relations. To be sure, American colonists believed their country was destined to be different and better than others. Colonial leaders imagined America a land set apart and called by Providence and Enlightenment Reason alike to “begin the world over again.” That is what historians mean when they refer to American messianism, mission, idealism, or the morally neutral term Exceptionalism.
But when I examined early American statecraft, I was struck by the virtual absence of policies born of idealism, pacifism, or mission. On the contrary, from the moment Benjamin Franklin sailed for Europe, U.S. diplomacy was shaped by power politics and the need to secure the new nation’s goals. Those goals, above all, were Liberty, Unity, and Independence at home, and what America was at home – a land of civil and religious liberty under law and growing equality and opportunity – was what made the nation exceptional.
The framers of the Constitution were careful to apply checks and balances to the President’s military and diplomatic power, but it never occurred to them to restrict how the federal government ought to conduct foreign policy. The goal of the federal government, rather, should be to create “one American system” strong enough “to dictate the terms of the connection between the old and the new world.” As John Adams wrote,
“America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own…. For she knows well that by once enlisting under other banners than her own … she would involve herself beyond the powers of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of avarice, envy, and ambition…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.”
American Exceptionalism did not require that the U.S. pursue a pacifist, revolutionary, or ideological foreign policy. To do so would only endanger what made America exceptional at home: free, united, and independent.
The second, third, and fourth traditions in U.S. foreign relations follow in such logical progression that Unilateralism, an American System of states, and Expansion across the continent were implicit from the very beginning. For if the nation was to preserve its hard-won Liberty, be spared the threat and expense of large armies and navies, avoid becoming a pawn of foreign powers, and instead exploit their conflicts in order to grow, then it must pursue a Unilateral policy, even (as in 1812) when it went to war. But Unilateralism in no way implied Isolationism, a term coined in the 1890s. Americans always pursued close commercial, financial, and cultural ties with Europe, the Caribbean, and Pacific, and the nation that dispatched one-third of its navy to open Japan was by no stretch of the imagination isolationist. So did Expansion, or Manifest Destiny, for if Europeans were not to occupy the empty lands of North America, and if the exploding American population was to enjoy its exceptional freedom and opportunity, then the U.S. itself had to fill the void from coast to coast.
These four traditions were coherent, mutually reinforcing, and spectacularly successful. They created the necessary conditions for the explosive territorial, demographic, and economic growth of the nation without compromise of its small government, free enterprise principles.
The New Testament
So what happened in 1898? Why did Americans suddenly embrace a form of Imperialism so at odds with all that they stood for? According to most historians this was a “great aberration”: by 1898 the U.S. was a potential world power in need of foreign markets; the Navy, big business, politicians, and the press were eager to junk what they now damned as isolationism; an assertive mood had swept the country; and the Western frontier had closed. But whatever motives historians stress, most conclude that President McKinley, once he intervened in Cuba’s war of independence against Spain, took the occasion to annex overseas colonies initiate 15 years of Yankee imperialism until Woodrow Wilson put us back on track.
But 1898 could not mark the end of Isolationism, because the U.S. had never been isolationist. Nor was overseas expansion anything new: the U.S. had purchased Alaska, bid for Samoa, and aggressively pursued commerce in Asia. Nor did U.S. exports, which were booming, require new markets. Nor, finally, were many Americans troubled by their little island empire as a moral issue—the leaders of the Progressive Movement and Protestant churches were eager to redeem colonial peoples from Spanish obscurantism.
In retrospect, the “great aberration” was really a culmination of trends that had been building up since the Civil War. America was now able to throw its naval weight around; Europe’s imperial powers were pressing against the edges of the American sphere in the Pacific and Caribbean; and reformers from Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Croly to evangelist Josiah Strong all claimed that God had made America great for the purpose of uplifting other peoples.
The truly new and risky departure in 1898 was not colonialism, but moral progressivism! Americans abandoned their traditions when they went to war with Spain in the first place to save a damsel in distress. Still thinking of itself as a Promised Land, America chose also to be a Crusader State. With that, our New Testament traditions began to be written.
In 1898, Americans were swept away by militant self-righteousness into a crusade and then stuck around to export American values. Even Woodrow Wilson had applauded the Spanish American War and annexation of colonies. As President, he intervened in the Caribbean more often and with more firepower than did TR and Taft put together. He invaded Mexico twice in order, he said, to “teach the Mexicans to elect good men.” He also said that to base foreign policy on one’s self-interest was an insult to other nations and a disgrace to one’s own. Accordingly, when war broke out in 1914, he put his energy into trying to mediate a Peace Without Victory in the belief that it was America’s calling to crusade on behalf of democratic diplomacy.
When the belligerents spurned his call for peace and the Germans multiplied their outrages, Wilson finally made the hard decision for war, but only because he persuaded himself that it was a moral act: that is, precisely the opposite definition of Exceptionalism from the one the Founding Fathers endorsed. He would go to war to end war everywhere. He would teach the Germans to elect good men just as he tried to teach the Mexicans. He would create a League of all Nations modeled on his abortive Pan American League of 1913.
Wilsonianism was not slain by Isolationists until it was resurrected by Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor. The Republican internationalist administrations of the 1920s endorsed such Wilsonian goals as disarmament, collective security, self-determination, and the Open Door, and thanks to the diplomacy of Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, the U.S. achieved far more than Wilson did in stabilizing Europe and Asia. What hurled the U.S. into its deep Isolation in the 1930s were the effects of the Great Depression, the Neutrality Acts of the Democratic Congress, and the eager support for them of FDR, at least until 1938.
Of course, after Pearl Harbor the Roosevelt administration instantly embraced Wilsonianism, if only because America had no other banner under which to wage world war. But thanks to Joseph Stalin, Wilsonianism failed a second time as a blueprint for world order. If Unilateralism had been discredited by Versailles, the Depression, Munich, and Pearl Harbor, the deadlock with the Soviets at the UN meant that Wilsonianism was no guide for America’s place in the world either.
The Truman administration came up with a new tradition, Containment, to convince the American people to wage another dangerous contest with another aggressive dictator. The Truman Doctrine passed the Senate by a margin of 3:1, the Marshall Plan by 4:1, NATO by 6:1, and support for the Korean War by 10:1. This was not all the result of anticommunist hysteria, though that played its part. Containment was in fact not such a sharp break with the past after all, but meshed well with the previous traditions. It was based on the premise that the nation’s Liberty at home was under assault by a global conspiracy that reached into American labor unions, government agencies, schools, churches, Hollywood, even atomic facilities.
Nor did Containment necessarily violate Unilateralism, for whereas the U.S. now made alliances all over the map, it was clearly the boss of them and so retained its freedom of action. Containment meshed well with Progressive Imperialism since it justified projecting American power across the oceans and made parts of the world into virtual protectorates. It did excellent duty on behalf of Expansionism in that it opposed both the communist and European colonial empires and opened up half the world to American enterprise. Containment even honored Wilsonianism insofar as it served liberal values and worked through the UN when possible. Finally, global anticommunism amounted to a veritable religious war for many millions of Americans, both secular and sectarian. It was a foreign policy expression of the American civil religion even more fervent and un-conflicted than Wilson’s war to end war had been.
Containment was by far the most successful twentieth-century U.S. strategy, but the cost was very high. At home, the Cold War meant conscription, high taxes, federal intervention in science, education, business, and labor, militarization of the economy, domestic surveillance, and loyalty oaths. Critics on the Left and Right echoed the Neutralists of the 1930s by predicting that global involvement would push America itself in the direction of fascism or socialism. And Containment was frustrating and wearisome abroad. If pursued too vigorously, it risked nuclear war; too feebly, it amounted to appeasement; and pursued moderately, it risked dragging the U.S. into limited wars in which stalemate was all it dared hope for.
In the end, Containment not only triumphed, it outlived the Soviet Union itself. George H. W. Bush applied it against Iraq, then against Iraq and Iran in “dual containment,” while pundits have repeatedly discussed the need to embrace Containment versus China, Putin’s Russia, or radical Islam. It is our seventh hallowed tradition.
How, one may ask, can Containment be construed as a success when it inspired such obvious disasters as the Vietnam War? Perhaps it did not, which leads us to the eighth and last tradition. Since 1898, the U.S. has sought a practical means of coping with a world ravaged by revolution and war. Wilson offered a legal, institutional answer; Truman a political, military one. Global Meliorism is the socioeconomic and cultural answer to how to make the world a better place by promoting economic growth, human rights, social reform, and democracy. The core belief is that the root causes of revolutions and militarism are poverty, ignorance, oppression, and despair. Hence we ought to seek to cure the disease rather than just combat the symptoms.
I trace Global Meliorism back to the nineteenth-century missionaries in the Pacific and East Asia. But it began to influence official policy in the Caribbean and Philippines under the Progressive Imperialists, then became a centerpiece of U.S. strategy with the Democratization pursued by Wilson and the massive famine relief pursued by Wilson’s food czar for Europe, Herbert Hoover. A Quaker pacifist, he pleaded for food to be shipped to the enemy lest starving Germans turn to extremists. He urged Wilson to fight Bolshevism in Russia with bread, not guns. Thanks in part to Hoover, the U.S. bankrolled European reconstruction in the 1920s.
During World War II Global Meliorism moved to the forefront of U.S. policy. Inspired by Hoover’s relief agencies, the New Deal, Keynsian economics, and the hardship and inflation of the interwar years, the U.S. founded the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the International Monetary Fund, and World Bank. The postwar occupations of Germany and Japan and the Marshall Plan seemed to prove America’s power to democratize and prosper whole nations.
This American mission to uplift the poor and oppressed was given new urgency by the Cold War, and the rhetoric and methods behind Truman’s Point Four Program for foreign aid were boldly Meliorist. Eisenhower at first was skeptical of governmental foreign aid, but the emergence of the third world—where the Soviets played the anti-imperialist card, supported guerilla wars, and claimed that communism was the best road to development—gradually convinced Ike that the U.S. had to try to export economic growth and democracy. Meanwhile, economists developed theories on how American investment and technology could lift any nation into economic takeoff and self-sustained growth.
John F. Kennedy, a convert, established the Peace Corps, Alliance for Progress, and USAID. But his most aggressive Meliorist offensive was in South Vietnam. Granted, the commitment to Vietnam grew out of the extension of Containment to Asia. But when Truman helped Greece, Turkey, and South Korea he did not ask those countries to become model democracies. JFK’s advisers, by contrast, believed that state-building, nation-building, and the “winning of hearts and minds” through social reforms were the keys to victory. So where Eisenhower, a military man thinking in terms of Containment, saw control of Laos as the key to South Vietnam’s security, Kennedy bargained away Laos, then overthrew Saigon’s Diem regime in 1963—not because Diem wasn’t anticommunist enough, but because he refused to push the reforms that Americans deemed necessary. When his successors proved even worse, the Americans had no choice but to go in and remake the country themselves.
Vietnam was the first war in which large U.S. forces were sent overseas not to defeat the enemy, but just to keep their ally from losing until such time as U.S. civilian agencies could fashion a state able to stand up to Hanoi on its own. Lyndon Johnson waged a Great Society war based on the same methods of social engineering that he practiced at home. The Vietnam War was a thorough repudiation of America’s Old Testament traditions. That is why the most effective critiques of it came not from the radical left, which shared most of the Meliorist assumptions, but from conservatives like George Kennan, Walter Lippmann, and J. William Fulbright, who saw the Vietnam War as arrogance and presumption.
Failure in Vietnam dealt Global Meliorism a serious blow, but did not kill it. Nixon and Ford practiced it in the form of billions of loan guarantees and a subsidized wheat deal to the Soviet bloc. Jimmy Carter then clearly separated Meliorism from Containment when he asked Americans to let go of their “inordinate fear of communism” and focus on human rights and third-world development. Of course, Soviet provocations culminating in their invasion of Afghanistan caused Carter to rediscover Containment, which in turn allowed Ronald Reagan to redeploy human rights rhetoric against the Soviets even as his administration ratcheted up the military and economic pressure on Moscow. That turned out to be just the right mix of policies needed to promote Gorbachev’s internal reforms and so bring the Cold War to an end.
George H.W. Bush shared Eisenhower’s skepticism about nation-building. He wanted no part of governing Iraq and confined the Somali intervention to humanitarian relief. But Global Meliorism returned in force when Carter veterans such as Anthony Lake and Warren Christopher returned to office under Bill Clinton. Their post-Cold War doctrines of assertive multilateralism and enlargement, and occupations of Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia, attested to their abiding faith that the U.S. had the power, duty, and know-how to reform and uplift whole countries. They were roundly criticized: Jeane Kirkpatrick observed that the military “doesn’t do windows,” and Michael Mandelbaum called Clinton’s “a Mother Teresa foreign policy.” Even Jimmy Carter noted that the U.S. had sent 20,000 soldiers to Bosnia while ignoring the holocausts occurring in Africa; he called Clinton’s policies racist. Most ironic, it was Clinton’s mentor, Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright, who questioned most sharply the United States’ ability “to create stability where there is chaos, the will to fight where there is defeatism, democracy where there is no tradition of it, and honest government where corruption is a way of life.”
Promised Land was published in 1997, hence that was the end of my story. Indeed, my FPRI colleague Paul Dickler recently reminded me that I had written precisely the following in that final chapter:
“For no international bureaucracy, much less a single nation, however powerful and idealistic, can substitute itself for the healthy nationalism of an alien people. Almost everyone agrees, for instance, that Saddam Hussein is bad for his country. But can Americans can be better Iraqis than Iraqis themselves, or presume to tell the Chinese how to be better Chinese”?
So what did I subsequently make of 9/11, the global war on terror, and the Bush Doctrine? Do the events and decisions of the Bush years mark a radical departure for U.S. traditions because our first Middle East-born existential crisis has created unprecedented circumstances? And may the Bush Doctrine yet qualify as a ninth tradition of American foreign relations?
Taking the second question first, the answer is not yet, because of my criteria for a tradition, and probably not at all, since Operation Iraqi Freedom may turn out to be a one-shot deal. Most telling, preemption is not new at all if we are at war. Since the seventeenth century at least, almost the whole world has understood a state of war to mean the declaration of hostilities between two or more sovereign states. After World War II, however, that clear definition began to break down.
The U.S. itself has played a major role in that breakdown, for not since 1941 has the U.S. Congress declared war against anyone. Korea was called a police action, engaged in with approval by the UN. Vietnam was called a conflict, engaged in on the dubious grounds of the Congressional Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The U.S. invasions of Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti were likewise executive police actions launched in the name, not of U.S. security, but universal human rights. Even the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were not preceded by declarations of war, although they clearly involved U.S. security as well as human rights. Does the existence of transnational, non-state terrorist movements imply that the U.S. and its allies are in a permanent state of something like warfare against people who may be lurking in every country on earth? If so, can the U.S. or any other government claim the right to intervene anywhere according to their traditional right of self-defense? Perhaps a major theme of twenty-first century international relations will be a great global debate over the redefinition of war itself.
Whether the Bush policies were a radical departure from our traditions is also a complicated issue. I believe the Bush Doctrine is rooted to a surprising degree in American traditions. Terrorism against the U.S. homeland is surely a devastating assault against our Exceptionalism, our Unity, Independence, and Liberty at Home, our Freedom to pursue our American Dream. If the Boston Massacre and Britain’s Intolerable Acts demanded an American Declaration of Independence, certainly 9/11 did. The War on Terror as waged by Bush also echoed some themes of Progressive Imperialism and Containment, and it brought to a deafening crescendo the theme of Global Meliorism. The Iraqi occupation has been called Wilsonianism with Guns. It is really Global Meliorism with Guns, which, to me, is the most persuasive analogy between Iraq and Vietnam, and therefore the most troubling as well.
How the Iraqi crusade comes out will be of surpassing importance for the short-range future of American statecraft and the place of the U.S. in the world. State-building, much less democratization, in Iraq and even more in Afghanistan is a fantastic proposition. But if I am wrong, then Bush’s stock may rise in decades to come as Truman’s did, the lessons of 2003-06 will be forgotten, and at some point Americans will over-reach all over again someplace else. Alas, failing to reckon with our own history and those of the countries we presume to invade and redeem is also a venerable U.S. tradition.
- ^ The leaflet was authored by two American officials and one local agent. See Anthony Cave Brown, Oil, God, and Gold: The Story of Aramco and the Saudi Kings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), pp. 104-105; see also http://www.meforum.org/45/fdr-addresses-the-arabs.
- ^ See Promised Land, Crusader State, p. 10.
- ^ See William Imboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy: The Soul of Containment (Cambridge, 2008).
- ^Promised Land, Crusader State, p. 220.
Posted on: Monday, July 27, 2009 - 16:00
SOURCE: NYT (7-25-09)
IN a speech delivered earlier this year, during Black History Month, Attorney General Eric Holder drew headlines by criticizing the tenor of public discourse on race. “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Mr. Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” The nation’s leading law enforcement officer — who happens also to be an African-American man — was widely criticized for making this provocative comment.
Yet during this past week — as I have watched the controversy unfold over the arrest of a black Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., by a white Cambridge, Mass., police officer, James Crowley — I have come to appreciate the prescience of Mr. Holder’s remark. It is as though we are determined to prove him right — as if our talk about race must be forced into a comfortable and familiar, if false, narrative where villains (“racists”) and heroes (“victims of racism”) are clear-cut, and where all one need do to stand on the right side of history is to engage in a bit of moral sanctimony.
This convenient story line is reflected in an all-too-familiar narrative: “Here we are, 45 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with a black man in the White House. And yet, it is still the case that a distinguished Harvard professor, standing on his own front step, can be treated like a common criminal simply because he’s black. Obviously it is way too soon to declare that we have entered a post-racial era ... .”
As far as I am concerned, the ubiquity of this narrative shows that we are incapable of talking straight with one another about race. And this much-publicized incident is emblematic of precisely nothing at all. Rather, the Gates arrest is a made-for-cable-TV tempest in a teapot. It is the rough equivalent of a black man being thrown out of a restaurant after having berated an indifferent maître d’ for showing him to a table by the kitchen door, all the while declaring what everybody is supposed to know: this is what happens to a black man in America....
Posted on: Monday, July 27, 2009 - 14:56
SOURCE: foreignpolicy.com (7-13-09)
As I mentioned awhile back, I devoted a good chunk of my vacation out west reading Piers Brendon's The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997. As you might imagine, I spent a lot of time thinking about possible parallels and lessons for America's current global position, just as English imperialists spent a lot of time pondering the Roman experience (ably documented by Edward Gibbon).
In a tapestry this rich and varied, it is easy to read into it just about any "lesson" one wants to draw. With that caveat in mind, here are the top ten lessons on empire that I drew from Brendon's book. Even if you don't agree with them, you should still read the book.
1. There is no such thing as a "benevolent" Empire.
In his classic history of ancient Rome, Gibbon had noted that "There is nothing more adverse to nature and reason than to hold in obedience remote countries and foreign nations, in opposition to their inclination and interest." Britons thought of the empire as a positive force for themselves and their subjects, even though they had to slaughter thousands of their imperial subjects in order to maintain their control. Americans should be under no illusions either: if you maintain garrisons all over the world and repeatedly interfere in the internal politics of other countries, you are inevitably going to end up breaking a lot of heads.
2. All Empires depend on self-justifying ideology and rhetoric that is often at odds with reality.
British imperialists repeatedly portrayed their role as the "white man's burden" and maintained that imperial control brought considerable benefits to their subjects. (This is an old story: France proclaimed its mission civilizatrice, and the Soviet empire claimed it was spreading the benefits of communism. Today, Americans say we are spreading freedom and liberty). Brendon's account describes the various benefits of imperial rule, but also emphasizes the profound social disruptions that imperial rule caused in India, Africa, and elsewhere. Moreover, because British control often depended on strategies of "divide-and-conquer," its rule often left its colonies deeply divided and ill-prepared for independence. But that's not what English citizens were told at the time.
3. Successful empires require ample "hard power."
Although the British did worry a lot about their reputation and prestige (what one might now term their "soft power") what really killed the Empire was its eroding economic position. Once Britain ceased to be the world’s major economic and industrial power, its days as an imperial power were numbered. It simply couldn't maintain the ships, the men, the aircraft, and the economic leverage needed to rule millions of foreigners, especially in a world where other rapacious great powers preyed. The moral for Americans? It is far more important to maintain a robust and productive economy here at home than it is to squander billions of dollars trying to determine the political fate of some remote country thousands of miles away. External conditions may impinge on U.S. power, but it is internal conditions that generate it....
Posted on: Sunday, July 26, 2009 - 15:07
SOURCE: China Beat (blog) (7-24-09)
It’s been moving to watch the response in China to the July 11 death of renowned scholar, Ji Xianlin (1911-2009). While Ji’s unsurprising departure at the ripe old age of 98 has not brought quite the same flood tide of emotion and cultural stock taking in China as Michael Jackson’s completely unexpected death a few weeks earlier at age 50 has in the United States and around the world, the way the venerable scholar is being remembered in Beijing is nevertheless remarkable. Long lines of people wishing to pay their last respects waited for hours to gain entrance to a memorial ceremony held on the Beijing University campus where Ji taught, the press was full of tributes, and Communist Party leaders were very public in the honors they paid to the man from academe. In the United States it is hard to imagine the death of an elderly scholar, of a humanist who worked on the ancient past no less, ever attracting anything approaching the level of attention that Ji’s passing has in China.
Ji Xianlin and Michael Jackson shared nothing in common except the coincidence of the timing of their deaths and the fact that in passing both were mourned as departed cultural symbols. Frankly, as the hysteria over Michael Jackson’s death has continued to pulsate through American society I have found it refreshing to follow the treatment that Ji Xianlin’s high-minded life has received in China. I feel this way even though it’s clear that the Chinese Communist Party’s highly public paeans to the deceased scholar have not been free of political considerations and while also acknowledging that Michael Jackson’s life and career certainly merit serious reflection and social commentary. Still, when looking at the way Ji’s death has been treated as compared with Jackson’s, and at what the two cultural symbols meant to their times and places, I find myself more drawn to the values and maturity on display in China than to the self-referential, entertainer-obsessed conversation that Jackson’s death has occasioned in the United States (even if much of that conversation has been about the sadness and oddity of Jackson’s life).
Ji Xianlin was without doubt an outstanding scholar whose career was noteworthy for its singular achievements and cosmopolitan dimensions. Originally a student of Western literature at Qinghua University, in 1935 Ji traveled to Germany for foreign study. At the University of Göttingen he moved in a dramatically new direction, choosing to major in Sanskrit and other ancient Indian languages under the direction of Ernst Waldschmidt and Emil Sieg. Ji received his Ph.D. in Germany and after World War II returned to China where he took a position at Beijing University and founded the Department of Eastern Languages. He chaired that department for the next three decades and built it into one of the most important academic departments at Beida and China’s premier center for the study of Eastern languages.
Ji’s greatest scholarly accomplishments came in the realm of the history of Indian Buddhism and comparative linguistics. According to his former student Zhang Baosheng, now a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at Beijing University, Ji’s academic achievements represented the next wave of greatness within the long, proud tradition of Chinese evidential scholarship after the great contribution made by Ji’s patron, the celebrated historian Chen Yinke, who helped bring Ji to Beida in the first place. Whereas Chen Yinke used literary works as a means of verifying history, Ji Xianlin pioneered a method of using comparative linguistics to verify historical events and to track changes over time. Ji’s scholarly findings attracted international attention and made him a world leader in his field; over the course of his career he was awarded major academic prizes in India, Iran and Japan.
In addition to pioneering new methodologies and creating new knowledge, Ji Xianlin also held important administrative positions in the later part of his life. Following the Cultural Revolution he was called upon to help re-build major Chinese academic institutions ravaged over the previous decade. In 1978 he became vice president of Beijing University (which position he held until 1984) and also director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ South Asia Research Institute. During his career he also served as chairman of various professional organizations, such as the Chinese Foreign Literature Association, the Chinese South Asian Association, and the Chinese Language Society.
Ji Xianlin’s achievements within academe distinguish him as one of the towering humanistic scholars of the Chinese twentieth century, as an intellectual whose name deserves to be mentioned, as it was again in a tribute piece recently published in Beijing, along with luminaries such as Chen Duxiu, Chen Yinke, Hu Shi, Li Dazhao, Liang Qichao, Lu Xun, Wang Guowei, and Zhao Yuanren. But Ji’s career, centered as it was in the esoteric academic field of Indology, which few people understand or appreciate, cannot account for the long lines of people wishing to pay their last respects at Beijing University nor for the tributes that poured in from highly placed people within the academic, publishing and cultural spheres upon news of his death. Likewise, Ji’s scholarly accomplishments and official positions at key academic institutions do not explain why the Chinese press has carried so much discussion of the scholar’s life, why Communist Party leaders Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Wu Bangguo and Xi Jinping sent flower wreathes and offered condolences upon news of his death, or finally why, on July 19, his corpse draped in the red flag of the People’s Republic (Ji joined the party in 1956) and laid out for a final viewing, other top officials, including Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Chanchun, and Li Keqiang, showed up to make their farewells in person....
Posted on: Saturday, July 25, 2009 - 13:06
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (7-23-09)
We've just passed through the CIA assassination flap, already fading from the news after less than two weeks of media attention. Broken in several major newspapers, here's how the story goes: the Agency, evidently under Vice President Dick Cheney's orders, didn't inform Congress that, to assassinate al-Qaeda leaders, it was trying to develop and deploy global death squads. (Of course, just about no one is going to call them that, but the description fits.) Congress is now in high dudgeon. The CIA didn't keep that body's "Gang of Eight" informed. A House investigation is now underway.
We're told that the CIA -- being the president's private army and part of the executive branch of our government -- has committed a heinous dereliction of duty. In fact, not keeping key congressional figures up to date on the developing program could even "be illegal," according to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin. (Not that Congress, when informed of Bush administration extreme acts, ever did much of anything anyway.)
This story, however, has a largely unexplored strangeness to it that has only been discussed on the fringes of the mainstream media (or in the press of other countries). After all, during the eight years this CIA assassination program was supposedly in formation, U.S. military special ops death squads were, as far as we can tell, freely roaming the planet conducting (or botching) assassination missions, and the CIA's own robot assassins, airborne death squads, were also launching operations -- sometimes wiping out innocent civilians -- from Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan. They continue to run such operations in the skies over the Pakistani tribal borderlands near Afghanistan. So we still await an explanation of just why the CIA spent close to eight years, under Vice Presidential oversight, getting its death squads almost operational, but never -- we're told -- off the ground.
If there seems to be something odd about this latest flap, if there's much that we don't know yet, we do, at least, know one thing: This particular small splash from the previous administration's deep dive into crime and folly will have its brief time in the media sun and then be swallowed up by oblivion, just as each of the previous flaps has been.
After all, can you honestly tell me that you think often about the CIA torture flap, the CIA-destruction-of-interrogation-video-tapes flap, the what-did-Congress/Nancy Pelosi-really-know-about-torture-methods flap, the Bush-administration-officials-(like-Condi-Rice)-signed-off-on-torture-methods-in-2002-even-before-the-Justice-Department-justified-them flap, the National-Security-Agency-(it-was-far-more-widespread-than-anyone-imagined)-electronic-surveillance flap, the should-the-NSA's-telecom-spies-be-investigated-and-prosecuted-for-engaging-in-illegal-warrantless-wiretapping flap, the should-CIA-torturers-be-investigated-and-prosecuted-for-using-enhanced-interrogation-techniques flap, the Abu-Ghraib-photos-(round-two)-suppression flap, or various versions of the can-they-close-Guantanamo, will-they-keep-detainees-in-prison-forever flaps, among others that have already disappeared into my own personal oblivion file? Every flap its day, evidently. Each flap another problem (again we're told) for a president with an ambitious program who is eager to "look forward, not backward."
Of course, he's not alone. Given the last eight years of disaster piled on catastrophe, who in our American world would want to look backward? The urge to turn the page in this country is palpable, but -- just for a moment -- let's not.
Admittedly, we're a people who don't really believe in history -- so messy, so discomforting, so old. Even the recent past is regularly wiped away as the media plunge us repeatedly into various overblown crises of the moment, a 24/7 cornucopia of news, non-news, rumor, punditry, gossip, and plain old blabbing, of which each of these flaps has been but a tiny example. In turn, any sense of the larger picture surrounding each one of them is, soon enough, lessened by a media focus on a fairly limited set of questions: Was Congress adequately informed? Should the president have suppressed those photos?
The flaps, in other words, never add up to a single Imax Flap-o-rama of a spectacle. We seldom see the full scope of the legacy that we -- not just the Obama administration -- have inherited. Though we all know that terrible things happened in recent years, the fact is that, these days, they are seldom to be found in a single place, no less the same paragraph. Connecting the dots, or even simply putting everything in the same vicinity, just hasn't been part of the definitional role of the media in our era. So let me give it a little shot.
As a start, remind me: What didn't we do? Let's review for a moment.
In the name of everything reasonable, and in the face of acts of evil by terrible people, we tortured wantonly and profligately, and some of these torture techniques -- known to the previous administration and most of the media as"enhanced interrogation techniques" -- were actually demonstrated to an array of top officials, including the national security adviser, the attorney general, and the secretary of state, within the White House. We imprisoned secretly at "black sites" offshore and beyond the reach of the American legal system, holding prisoners without hope of trial or, often, release; we disappeared people; we murdered prisoners; we committed strange acts of extreme abuse and humiliation; we kidnapped terror suspects off the global streets and turned some of them over to some of the worst people who ran the worst dungeons and torture chambers on the planet. Unknown, but not insignificant numbers of those kidnapped, abused, tortured, imprisoned, and/or murdered were actually innocent of any crimes against us. We invaded without pretext, based on a series of lies and the manipulation of Congress and the public. We occupied two countries with no clear intent to depart and built major networks of military bases in both. Our soldiers gunned down unknown numbers of civilians at checkpoints and, in each country, arrested thousands of people, some again innocent of any acts against us, imprisoning them often without trial or sometimes hope of release. Our Air Force repeatedly wiped out wedding parties and funerals in its global war on terror. It killed civilians in significant numbers. In the process of prosecuting two major invasions, wars, and occupations, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have died. In Iraq, we touched off a sectarian struggle of epic proportions that involved the" cleansing" of whole communities and major parts of cities, while unleashing a humanitarian crisis of remarkable size, involving the uprooting of more than four million people who fled into exile or became internal refugees. In these same years, our Special Forces operatives and our drone aircraft carried out -- and still carry out -- assassinations globally, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, sometimes of innocent civilians. We spied on, and electronically eavesdropped on, our own citizenry and much of the rest of the world, on a massive scale whose dimensions we may not yet faintly know. We pretzled the English language, creating an Orwellian terminology that, among other things, essentially defined"torture" out of existence (or, at the very least, left its definitional status to the torturer).
And don't think that that's anything like a full list. Not by a long shot. It's only what comes to my mind on a first pass through the subject. In addition, even if I could remember everything done in these years, it would represent only what has been made public. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was regularly mocked for saying:"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."
Actually, he had a point seldom thought about these days. By definition, we know a good deal about the known knowns, and we have a sense of an even darker world of known unknowns. We have no idea, however, what's missing from a list like the one above, because so much may indeed remain in the unknown-unknowns category or, as with the latest CIA assassination story, a known curiosity whose full shape and depths remain to be grasped. If, however, you think that everything done by Washington or the U.S. military or the CIA in these last years has already been leaked, think again. It's a reasonable bet that the unknown unknowns the Obama administration inherited would curl your toes.
Nonetheless, what is already known, when thought about in one place, rather than divided up into separate flaps and argued about separately, is horrific enough. War may be hell, as people often say when trying to excuse what we did in these years, but it should be remembered that, in response to the attacks of 9/11, we, as a nation, were the ones who declared"war," made it a near eternal struggle (the Global War on Terror), and did so much to turn parts of the world into our own private hell. Geopolitics, energy politics, vanity, greed, fear, a misreading of the nature of power in the world, delusions of military and technological omnipotence and omniscience, and so much more drove us along the way.
Perhaps the greatest fantasy of the present moment is that there is a choice here. We can look forward or backward, turn the page on history or not. Don't believe it. History matters.
Whatever the Obama administration may want to do, or think should be done, if we don't face the record we created, if we only look forward, if we only round up the usual suspects, if we try to turn that page in history and put a paperweight atop it, we will be haunted by the Bush years until hell freezes over. This was, of course, the lesson -- the only one no one ever bothers to call a lesson -- of the Vietnam years. Because we were so unwilling to confront what we actually did in Vietnam -- and Laos and Cambodia -- because we turned the page on it so quickly and never dared take a real look back, we never, in the phrase of George H.W. Bush,"kicked the Vietnam syndrome." It still haunts us.
However busy we may be, whatever tasks await us here in this country -- and they remain monstrously large -- we do need to make an honest, clear-headed assessment of what we did (and, in some cases, continue to do), of the horrors we committed in the name of... well, of us and our"safety." We need to face who we've been and just how badly we've acted, if we care to become something better.
Now, read that list again, my list of just the known knowns, and ask yourself: Aren't we the people your mother warned you about?
Posted on: Friday, July 24, 2009 - 13:29
SOURCE: Oxford University Press blog (7-22-09)
The surreal arrest of Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr. in Cambridge, MA, this week highlights as well as any bizarre event might that we are not citizens of a “post-racial” America.
There is, to be sure, President Barack Obama and his family. But, there is only one Obama family, and the police live with them. The rest of us who are black (and especially black and male) are simply, in the vernacular of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, “running men” with eyes necessarily in the back of our heads and that heart throbbing and humorous plea: “feet don’t fail me now.”
Seeing the sweetly dressed Cambridge Police Department spokeswoman on television yesterday reminded me how much the police state has altered its image way beyond the flat-out brutalism of the L.A., Philadelphia, and Chicago models of old. I mean Frank Rizzo just said to those Black Panthers something on the order of “[N word] drop your pants and grab the wall!” The Cambridge spokeswoman said something on the order of: “It was not the department’s finest hour, nor was it Professor Gates’ finest hour.” Darn tooting it was not the Professor’s finest hour, being ousted from his own home after showing his Harvard University ID and enough outrage to suggest that it was, indeed, his home. And handcuffs and mug shots and hours in detention?
Ironically, no black public intellectual in the US has been more complicit in publicizing the myth of “post racialism” as an American reality than Professor Gates. The police spokeswoman from Cambridge said something like: “It is our position that the incident had nothing to do with race.” All I could hear were whisper tones of QVC: “And when you all buy into the Gates/Cambridge ‘race had nothing to do with it,’ we have some fine swamp land in Florida at a great discount. Or, maybe you’d like a bridge?” Remember Malcolm’s question: “Do you know what they call a Negro Ph.D.?” Malcolm’s answer: “The N Word!”
Posted on: Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 16:45
SOURCE: CNN (7-22-09)
In response to the growing pressure for an investigation into potential abuses by the CIA and former Bush administration officials, Republican Sen. John Cornyn warned: "This is high-risk stuff. Because if we chill the ability or the willingness of our intelligence operatives and others to get information that's necessary to protect America, there could be disastrous consequences."
But Cornyn has it wrong. What chills our national security operations is not the discovery of wrongdoing. Rather, what chills our national security operations is tolerating programs that undermine the credibility of our institutions. When Americans are asked to go to war or are warned of dangerous threats, they must be able to believe the people they are hearing from.
Following the most recent revelations about the CIA, we have reached a tipping point where it is becoming impossible to continue dismissing these allegations as part of the past.
The House Intelligence Committee has announced that it will begin an investigation into the CIA's plans for a covert assassination program to target al Qaeda operatives, including allegations that then-Vice President Dick Cheney instructed the agency to hide the operation from Congress.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that he might appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the use of torture by the CIA. Congressional Democrats have suggested this might just be the start.
This will not be the first time that Congress and the executive branch have looked into intelligence activities. During the 1970s, Congress dealt with comparable revelations about the CIA between the 1950s and early 1970s.
The scandal began with the publication of shocking articles in December 1974 by Seymour Hersh that documented illegal activities by the CIA, including assassination plots and warrantless domestic surveillance. Hersh's stories were based on findings in a lengthy internal CIA report called the "Family Jewels." When CIA Director William Colby met with President Ford on January 3, 1975, to present the findings, he said: "We have a 25-year-old-institution which has done some things it shouldn't have."
Multiple investigations began. Democratic Rep. Otis Pike of New York led an investigation. Ford established a commission under Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and implemented some reforms through an executive order that included a ban on assassinations.
But the most influential of the investigations took place under Sen. Frank Church, who convened a set of dramatic hearings into the CIA in the fall of 1975. Church, who was planning to run for president in 1976, headed the 11-person panel that brought these revelations to the public.
The committee revealed that there had been attempts to assassinate numerous leaders such as Fidel Castro of Cuba and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republican. On the first day of the hearings, Church pulled out one of the CIA's poison dart guns, equipped with a telescopic sight, to open a discussion about how the agency had run an 18-year, multimillion dollar program to develop biological weapons.
A few days into the hearings, the committee revealed that the CIA had intercepted letters that came from overseas to influential politicians, including Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. The committee also revealed that the FBI was responsible for at least 238 illegal burglaries against dissident groups between 1942 and 1968.
The Church Committee and the other investigations served a crucial role in 1970s America. They offered Americans, weary from Vietnam and distrustful of their government, an unprecedented look into how the CIA worked and the ways in which the agency abused its authority.
The committee's efforts resulted in important reforms, including the establishment of congressional intelligence committees and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which imposed constraints on federal agents that have once again become the subject of contention. Most important, the public cleansing of the past gave Americans a better sense of what their government was doing and in some ways allowed the agency to regain its legitimacy
The Church Committee was far from perfect. The committee was not run with the same kind of efficiency as Sen. Sam Ervin's Watergate committee in 1973. There were also many moments when legislators, including Church, were grandstanding for the cameras. Church's run for the presidency would fizzle during the 1976 Democratic primaries. And some of the reforms imposed restraints on intelligence gathering that made less sense as technology changed -- along with the nature of our adversaries.
But the 1970s investigations were nonetheless essential in the process of making America's national security system more accountable to the citizenry and checking the virtually unlimited immunity from democratic scrutiny that federal agents had come to enjoy.
President Obama has thus far tried to avoid an investigation on the grounds that he wants to focus on the future, not the past.
But Obama's formulation, just like Cornyn's, is wrong. The president must support these investigations. This is not just about investigating the past. If our national security institutions are unaccountable, they will not be able to command the kind of public credibility they need in coming years.
Posted on: Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 16:40
SOURCE: China Beat (blog) (7-22-09)
The city of Shanghai will be the official host to Expo 2010, an international event celebrating the theme “A Better City, A Better Life,” with an opening celebration next May. As the event’s website and preview videos below reveal, Expo 2010 is intended as an example of a new and shared urban modernity. Visitors will have the opportunity to tour the site personally and, if lacking an opportunity to visit Shanghai next summer, also to take a virtual tour of its grounds online.
As the videos note, Expo 2010 is intended as an event that will fulfill and expand upon the legacy of world expositions while also helping to make the “world feel at home in China.” This endeavor of global exchange amidst the scene of the exposition is one in which China has, in fact, its own lengthy history of participation. An account of important events in this lesser-known history follows...
1. Chinese objects and merchants were both on hand for what is commonly considered the first major exhibition of the modern day. In 1851, a variety of actors displayed Chinese goods at London’s Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held at the Crystal Palace that summer. While the Qing state did not send an official contingent, at least one Chinese merchant participated alongside Western diplomats and merchants in offering displays of Chinese goods at the grand event, winning a commendation for fine silks.
2. Between 1851 and the First World War, China would participate in at least twenty-eight world’s fairs and expositions including grand events staged at London, Madrid, Paris, Philadelphia, and Vienna, among others.
3. Though originally planning to attend, the Chinese government would withhold official participation in Chicago’s “World’s Columbian Exposition” of 1893 as a protest against the exclusionary Geary Act. The passage of this act in 1892 by the United States Congress renewed restrictions on Chinese immigration and imposed a strict regulation system for Chinese laborers residing in the U.S.
4. In 1904, Prince Pu Lun of the Qing imperial clan would personally attend the St. Louis Exposition and host a grand reception for over three thousand guests at one of the city’s fine hotels that spring. His visit also would be preceded by the reformist critic (and temporary expatriate) Liang Qichao, who toured the exposition grounds during the course of their construction the previous year (this was not the first time Liang Qichao spent time thinking about Expos, as in 1902 he wrote a story that imagined a Chinese international exhibition taking place in Shanghai in the far-off future date of 1962...).
5. China staged its first national fair, the 1910 Nanyang Exposition in the city of Nanjing under the co-sponsorship of the Qing state and independent investors. Intended as an event that would further industrial development and “enlighten the people,” the exposition offered discounted tickets for students and soldiers and included presentations by Japan, the United States, England, and Germany, among other nations. The exposition grounds would also offer multiple theaters, musical arenas, shops, restaurants, and a grand display of over fourteen thousand electric lights. As organizers noted, China had, like other nations around the world, reached a day in which both an education in material things and popular amusement itself was indeed “a certain necessity.”
Posted on: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - 19:56