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: DanielPipes.org (9-30-09)
Almost unnoticed, Binyamin Netanyahu won a major victory last week when Barack Obama backed down on a signature policy initiative. This about-face suggests that U.S.-Israel relations are no longer headed for the disaster I have been fearing.
Four months ago, the new U.S. administration unveiled a policy that suddenly placed great emphasis on stopping the growth in Israeli "settlements." (A term I dislike but use here for brevity's sake.) Surprisingly, American officials wanted to stop not just residential building for Israelis in the West Bank but also in eastern Jerusalem, a territory legally part of Israel for nearly thirty years.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the initiative on May 27, announcing that the president of the United States "wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions," adding for good measure, "And we intend to press that point." On June 4, Obama weighed in: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. … It is time for these settlements to stop." A day later, he reiterated that "settlements are an impediment to peace." On June 17, Clinton repeated: "We want to see a stop to the settlements." And so on, in a relentless beat.
Focusing on settlements had the inadvertent but predictable effect of instantly impeding diplomatic progress. A delighted Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority responded to U.S. demands on Israel by sitting back and declaring that "The Americans are the leaders of the world. … I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements." Never mind that Abbas personally had negotiated with six Israeli prime ministers since 1992, each time without an offer to stop building settlements: why should he now demand less than Obama?
In Israel, Obama's diktat prompted a massive popular swing away from him and toward Netanyahu. Further, Netanyahu's offer of even temporary limitations on settlement growth in the West Bank prompted a rebellion within his Likud Party, led by the up-and-coming Danny Danon.
The geniuses of the Obama administration eventually discerned that this double hardening of positions was dooming their naïve, hubristic plan to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict within two years. The One's reconciliation with reality became public on Sept. 22 at a "summit" he sponsored with Abbas and Netanyahu (really, a glorified photo opportunity). Obama threw in the towel there, boasting that "we have made progress" toward settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and offering as one indication that Israelis "have discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity."
Those eight words of muted praise for Netanyahu's minimal concessions have major implications:
Settlements no longer dominate U.S.-Israel relations but have reverted back to their usual irritating but secondary role. Abbas, who keeps insisting on a settlement freeze as though nothing has changed, suddenly finds himself the odd man out in the triangle. The center-left faction of the Obama administration (which argues for working with Jerusalem), as my colleague Steven J. Rosen notes, has defeated the far-left faction (which wants to squeeze the Jewish state).
Ironically, Obama supporters have generally recognized his failure while critics have tended to miss it. A Washington Post editorial referred to the Obama administration's "miscalculations" and Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian columnist, noted that "Obama's friends worry that he has lost face in a region where face matters."
In contrast, Obama critics focused on his announcing, just one day after the mock summit, that "America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" – a formulaic reiteration of long-established policy that in no way undoes the concession on settlements. Some of those I admire most missed the good news: John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, stated that Obama "put Israel on the chopping block," while critics within the Likud Party accused Netanyahu of having "prematurely celebrated" an American policy shift. Not so. Policy winds can always change, but last week's capitulation to reality has the hallmarks of a lasting course correction.
I have repeatedly expressed deep worries about Obama's policy versus Israel, so when good news does occur (and this is the second time of late), it deserves recognition and celebration. Hats off to Bibi – may he have further successes in nudging U.S. policy onto the right track.
Next on the agenda: the Middle East's central issue, namely, Iran's nuclear buildup.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - 02:56
SOURCE: Madman of Chu (9-29-09)
In your speech of March 27, 2009, you laid out in clear terms why the conflict in Afghanistan is a vital security concern to the United States. As you stated then, Afghanistan was and is a "war of necessity;" the U.S. had no choice but to engage those harboring the murderers of more than 3,000 Americans. Unfortunately, under the previous administration the conflict was both under-resourced and conceptually ill-planned, resulting in eight years of stalemate. Your call for renewed effort, increased commitment, and a global strategic overhaul was absolutely correct, as was your decision to increase U.S. troop levels by 17,000 personnel.
I am distressed, therefore, to see signs that you are contemplating a retreat from this wise declaration of resolve. Partisan politics has predictably created a perfect storm of opposition to your Afghan policy, coming from all parts of the political spectrum. This should not, however, dissuade you from the correctness of the strategic principles on which you campaigned. As a long-time supporter and a donor from the days before the Iowa caucuses, I write to express my support for your position on Afghanistan and Pakistan as it was originally formulated: that this theater represents the true epicenter of the war against al-Qaeda, and must be engaged with all the strategic resources and energies of the United States. I would urge you not to capitulate to political pressure, but to implement the advice of the Commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.
Like you I opposed the invasion of Iraq, and agree that the mission there was an unfortunate distraction from the vital conflict in Afghanistan. Though almost every aspect of the previous administration's strategic thinking with regard to Iraq was deeply flawed, one important principle is exemplified by that experience. The resolve that the Bush administration evinced in Iraq must be doubly applied to Afghanistan, as the stakes in the latter mission are exponentially higher.
Withdrawal from Iraq was and is a viable strategic option from the perspective of U.S. security, where withdrawal from Afghanistan is not. Al-Qaeda never had genuine traction within Iraqi society. It was absent from Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein and only achieved a tenuous foothold there as a result of the power vacuum created by the U.S. invasion. We can be highly confident, therefore, that a worst-case scenario does not include a robust presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Iraqis have historically exhibited a low tolerance for al-Qaeda, and there is no reason to expect that will change in the near or short term.
Such calculations do not apply in Afghanistan.The Iraqis are deeply divided by sectarian allegiances and united (with the exclusion of the Kurds) by their common Arab ethnicity, thus religious ideologies like that of al-Qaeda have little political utility in Iraqi society. The situation is reversed in Afghanistan (and central Asia more broadly). There the community is riven by ethnic divisions but largely united by a common affiliation with Sunni Islam, thus a politicized religious ideology like that of al-Qaeda or the Taliban can be an effective mechanism for building broad strategic coalitions. Where the presence of U.S. troops boosted al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq, it is only the insertion of U.S. troops that effectively displaced both al-Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan. Where a U.S. withdrawal will not increase al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq, withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan will almost certainly result in the return of al-Qaeda to its bases of operation there.
Though the worst-case scenario for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq presents no compelling argument for constraint, the best-case scenario for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan gives genuine cause for alarm. It is true that the Taliban is deeply unpopular through much of Afghanistan, and may not possess the strategic power to retake Kabul in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal. Even if they do not, however, we can be certain that the Taliban, already deeply entrenched despite a robust ISAF presence, will enjoy an even broader and more deeply rooted position along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier once the ISAF is gone.
This would effectively constitute a "Talibanistan" quasi-state, one empowered, in the absence of either the ISAF or a robust Afghan government, to cultivate and manage its own revenues (from narcotics smuggling and other enterprises) and to conduct foreign policy with neighboring nations and international organizations. The mayhem that might be sewn by such a "Talibanistan" is difficult to overestimate. The possibilities range from abetting extremist groups in Pakistan and elsewhere to purchasing nuclear technology from rogue elements of the Pakistani intelligence services. Though al-Qaeda and the Taliban should of course be treated as distinct from a tactical perspective, in general strategic terms they both represent an equivalent threat to the security of the U.S.
Critics of the Afghan mission might protest that we are faced with the choice of either allowing a "Talibanistan" to emerge or committing to a permanent U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. This is not true. As General McChrystal observes in his strategic assessment, the Afghan people themselves are deeply disaffected with the Taliban and its history of abusive rule. They have lived through the results of rapid U.S. disengagement following the Soviet defeat of the 1980's, and are open to a partnership with NATO in pursuit of a more stable and progressive social contract, if only the U.S. and its allies will demonstrate the resolve that had been lacking in the past. A window of opportunity exists to assist the Afghans in establishing a robust state of their own, one that would effectively counter the influence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the region. The window will be lost, however, if the U.S. wavers at this critical moment in the mission.
It has been widely reported in the press that you are contemplating an alternative strategy championed by Vice President Biden, a plan to reduce our forces in Afghanistan and redirect their mission toward rooting out al-Qaeda along the Pakistan frontier. This would be an extremely unwise change of course. As General McChrystal and other analysts have noted, the crux of the struggle against both al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not military, but political. Al-Qaeda will not be dislodged from the region as long as state authority remains weak and local society remains embattled. There is no alternative remedy to a sustained counterinsurgency campaign that combines military operations with improved governance and efforts to bolster state legitimacy. Deploying a small force that ignores the plight of the Afghan people as it engages in a wild goose chase after al-Qaeda operatives is a recipe for disaster. Such a strategy would be rapidly self-subverting and surely leave the U.S. less secure in the long term.
General McChrystal lays out in stark terms the profound difficulties entailed by the strategic objectives of an intensified Afghan mission. The parallels to Vietnam are numerous and real. The insurgency enjoys the advantage of a difficult terrain, numerous outside sources of assistance, and the tactical cover of the frontier with Pakistan. One stark difference with Vietnam is determinative of our strategic priorities going forward, however. Unlike Vietnam, the Afghan-Pakistani theater harbors forces that have directly attacked the United States and are planning to do so again if given the opportunity. The U.S. thus has no choice but to pursue this counterinsurgency campaign despite its daunting obstacles.
Among the many outstanding policy shifts you initiated upon taking office was an overhaul of the mechanisms by which strategic decisions were made in the executive branch. The previous administration had all but completely politicized the strategic planning process, thus in most instances when the former President declared that he was "consulting with his generals" everyone understood that he was waiting to be told what he originally wanted to hear. Thus far you have demonstrably operated in a different mode. The past few years have brought to the fore a new generation of erudite and sophisticated commanders, such as General David Petraeus and Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, who have adapted to the strategic and tactical complexities of our ongoing engagements. You have demonstrated, with moves such as the appointment of General McChrystal in Afghanistan, your resolve to work with this new generation of commanders in the crafting of an effective strategy for mission success.
Having made these initial steps in the reform of executive strategic culture, I would urge you not to retreat now. Do not allow your planning of policy to be derailed by partisan politics. You tasked General McChrystal with developing an informed, coherent, and intelligent strategic plan for the mission in Afghanistan, and he has risen to those demands. Do not set aside his counsel, and your own strategic judgment, because of the pressure being exerted upon you by misguided or self-serving politicians. You have the opportunity to establish the kind of sober, deliberate strategic process our nation desperately needs in this time of crisis. Please do not let that opportunity pass.
The politics of an intensified Afghan mission here at home present obvious difficulties. The electorate has been disenchanted by eight years of official obfuscation and strategic inertia. The security stakes are too high, however, to admit faltering in the face of such challenges. Efforts must be made to explain the necessity of the mission to the public at large. Democrats like myself (to borrow a phrase, the "silent majority" who support the continued Afghan mission) should be systematically mobilized to counter and deflect pressure from the "left." Most importantly, the opportunity for genuine bipartisanship should be seized. Republicans like Senator John McCain and independents like Senator Joseph Lieberman may be persuaded to rally in support of a strategy derived from the assessment of General McChrystal. Though consensus may never be reached on contentious domestic issues such as health care and energy policy, our common national security interests may serve as the focal point of a broad centrist coalition that would drive the implementation of a difficult but necessary strategic engagement.
Like millions of Americans I was inspired by your tough yet elegant campaign and by your historic election to our highest office. I know that your patriotism is unsurpassed by any citizen's, and remain confident of your leadership in days ahead. Please accept my thanks for your attention and my prayers for your continued success in the execution of your duties.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - 01:36
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (9-28-09)
When they see footage in Michael Moore’s new film of FDR announcing his Second Bill of Rights, many Americans will wonder whatever happened to it. Harvey J. Kaye explains why we should honor his vision.
Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, not only takes on corporate power and greed in America. By featuring rarely seen footage of FDR calling for a “Second Bill of Rights” in January 1944 and of the Flint, Michigan, sit-down strikers fighting for their rights in 1937, the film also challenges our political passivity with the democratic ideals and struggles that made the men and women of the 1930s and 1940s the most progressive generation in American history. Conservatives and libertarians have rightly tried to portray Roosevelt and his New Dealers as revolutionaries. In the best American sense of the term, they were.
Running for president in the midst of the Great Depression, FDR made very clear his determination to renew the radical-democratic vision of Thomas Jefferson and the Founders. Recognizing Americans’ pronounced need for “work and security,” citing the imperative of a “more equitable distribution of the national income,” and insisting that “economic laws are not made by nature [but] by human beings,” Roosevelt promised initiatives that would oversee financial transactions, develop public-works projects, rehabilitate the nation’s lands and forests, ease the burdens of debt-ridden farmers and homeowners, and establish a system of “old age insurance.” Decrying how economic and industrial developments—aided by government largesse to railroads and other corporations—had led to both the “concentration of business” in the hands of a class of “financial titans” and the decline of economic opportunity and freedom for the majority of citizens, he proposed the enactment of an “economic declaration of rights” to renew the nation’s original “social contract” as articulated in the 1776 Declaration’s guarantee of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“I do not look upon these United States as a finished product. We are still in the making,” Roosevelt would say. Or as Solicitor General Robert H. Jackson told the National Lawyers Guild in 1938: “We too are founders… We too are makers of a nation… We too are called upon to write, to defend and to make live, new bills of right.”
FDR and the New Dealers saw as well that radical change required radical action not only by the administration, but also from the bottom up, for the president would need the backing—the propulsion—of organized working people. Responding to labor’s needs and demands, the administration in 1935 created the Works Progress Administration and secured passage of both the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act (aka the “Wagner Act”). Aided by the new National Labor Relations Board, union-organizing drives took off anew and battles like those at Flint ensued, for industrial democracy like any other progressive advance had to be won—or as FDR himself said: “New laws, in themselves, do not bring a millennium.”...
Posted on: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - 01:31
SOURCE: CNN (9-28-09)
PRINCETON, New Jersey (CNN) -- Vice President Joseph Biden is emerging as an important voice within the White House on the war in Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported that during a meeting in the situation room on September 13, Biden urged the president to consider reducing America's troop presence in Afghanistan. Rather than embracing a mission to protect the Afghan population, the U.S., Biden reportedly said, should target al Qaeda cells in the region through special operations forces and targeted missile attacks.
The emerging relationship between Biden and President Obama brings back memories of Vice President Hubert Humphrey and President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964, many congressional Democrats were strongly warning Johnson that it was not wise to escalate America's involvement in Vietnam.
While liberals such as Idaho's Frank Church were more predictably making this argument, so too were some of the most hawkish voices in the Senate. Georgia Senator Richard Russell, Johnson's mentor in the 1950s, privately told the president that Vietnam was the "damn worse mess I ever saw" and that if it came down to sending in American troops or getting out, "I'd get out." Russell added that the territory in Southeast Asia was not worth a "damn bit" to the U.S.
Russell was not alone. As the historian Fredrik Logevall has documented in his book "Choosing War," there were several prominent international leaders, such as France's Charles de Gaulle, who called for the U.S. to avoid sending forces into the region and embrace a policy of neutralization, which would attempt to negotiate an agreement to preserve the status quo of a country divided into communist and non-communist sections.
There were also secret memoranda from officials within the administration, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, warning of the high risks of escalation.
Johnson was sensitive to these arguments. In May, he had told national security adviser McGeorge Bundy that he had recently looked at a sergeant he knew, who had six children, and wondered why he should send him to Vietnam: "What in the hell am I ordering him out there for?"
Following the Democratic landslide in 1964, when Johnson decisively defeated Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater and Democrats gained huge majorities in the House and Senate, Humphrey wrote Johnson to urge him to call for a withdrawal from Vietnam, since 1965 was the "first year when we can face the Vietnam problem without being preoccupied with the political repercussions from the Republican Right."...
Posted on: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 - 02:43
SOURCE: Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (9-23-09)
As an adjunct faculty member at CSU San Marcos, I wear many hats in the classroom. The two I wear most often, however, are teaching U.S. foreign relations in the history department and teaching globalization in the global studies program. This semester, as it happens, I’ll be wearing both hats. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about globalization and its impact on diplomatic history.
We diplomatic historians presume that globalization should have a positive impact on the field. Way back in 2001, Thomas W. Zeiler spoke of the benefits of globalization for diplomatic historians. “Globalization should not be alien to us,” he argued. The framework of globalization “might help diplomatic historians to reintegrate themselves into the mainstream of the historic profession (in which we were once the leaders), end our incessant insecurity, and address topics of concern to the public and academics alike.” It poses an opportunity, he asserted, “to latch on to the phenomena of our times and place history in a new context.” Zeiler concluded by urging us to “heed the words of a foremost corporate globalizer and ‘Just Do It!’”
And I did. I was a convert to the idea of globalization. I heeded the call three years later by Michael Hogan and others to embrace globalization and its benefits for diplomatic history, to recognize that we’re in the midst of a new and very different paradigm shift in our field as a consequence of globalization. I thought long and hard about the need to redefine, redescribe, and, as Akira Iriye insists, “reinvent” ourselves accordingly. And, yet, when it comes to bringing this paradigmatic shift into the classroom, I have to confess that I must be doing it wrong. Or more discouraging still (but please don’t tell my fellow converts) I’m not convinced that everyone else is doing it right.
In preparing two courses that I was to teach simultaneously—the United States in the Cold War Era and Global Studies—a lack of congruity became apparent. I sought to make a more explicit, deliberate connection between the content of each course. How enlightening it was going to be, I thought, to be able to explain the history of the Cold War using globalization as a framework of analysis. How illuminating to reposition the Cold War in a more dynamic, international context. I assigned new readings that I was confident would provoke new kinds of discussion about the impact of the Cold War, for example, on the Global South. But the truth is that in the process of teaching about the United States in the Cold War, it quickly became apparent that finding ways to “globalize” that story is much trickier than one might expect. To decenter the role of the United States in the Cold War—as so many of my esteemed colleagues encourage me to do—is highly enticing. But to actually teach Cold War history with globalization as the driving force posed challenges for my students that I had not anticipated.
Put simply, I have found it to be extremely difficult to give students a clear, correct and accurate sense of what happened in the East-West standoff without treating Uncle Sam as one of the leading characters. It makes for a much more complex and compelling drama to bring onto the Cold War scene the numerous other actors—from Iran to Cuba to Vietnam—but as teachers, we risk the students’ losing the plot entirely if those minor (“minor” in a global sense) actors upstage the central protagonists of the global conflict.
The reason, it seems to me, is that the internationalization of diplomatic history and the globalization of diplomatic history are not the same thing. There’s a good justification for the creation of global studies as a separate field of study. Just as diplomatic history and international relations share much in common but remain fundamentally different disciplines, so too should it be with the study of globalization and the history of U.S. foreign relations...
Posted on: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 - 01:34
SOURCE: The End is Coming (History Blog) (9-28-09)
The Wilderness battlefield near Richmond, Virginia was once contested by both the Union and Confederacy but today, it has become the site of a legal tug-of-war between Wal-Mart and conservationists. Several American historical societies including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 6 outraged citizens and over 250 historians have joined a class-action suit against Wal-Mart, the retail giant that is set to open a store near Wilderness in the next year. After listening to both sides and acknowledging some very valid arguments a question should be asked: is this truly a battle for historical preservation or this just another exercise in anti-capitalist stubbornness?
For the lobby of preservationists and protestors, the main concern is the peaceful conservation of a historic site that is both greatly important to American History and immensely fragile as a natural site. Indeed, over 180,000 blue and grey soldiers fought on this land in May of 1864 and it was the site of the very first encounter between famed generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Furthermore, it is the pivotal battleground where momentum finally began to mount in favour of a northern victory during the American Civil War. Finally, Wilderness is the resting place of 30,000 American soldiers; all of this resulting in an important historic site rife with significance for American heritage. As for the natural fragility of the battlefield, protestors claim that “The Wal-Mart project would irrevocably harm the battlefield and seriously undermine the visitor’s experience to the National Park.” One can appreciate the sensibility of the issue yet condemn the vagueness and perhaps even demagogic aspect of that statement.
In the corner of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the tone is much more dispassionate, claiming that the protestors and lawsuit have “no merit or basis in fact”. It should be said that not only has Wal-Mart respected national norms when it comes to establishing a commercial building near a historical site but claims to have “exceeded the guidelines that were put before us.” Also, Wal-Mart rejects the contest to its claim simply because, by a vote of 4 to 1, county supervisors have already granted the special permit to the retail giant allowing it to construct a superstore by Wilderness battlefield. This is where this becomes less of a true legal battle but rather a clashing of a legally installed commerce and a passionate lobby group.
Having seen both sides, the question still stands, what are the protestors passionate about? Are they against encroaching commercial urbanization on historic sites or against the “evil” Wal-Mart organization that has often been on the receiving end of anti-capitalist protest?
Unfortunately, if we consider three crucial facts, we will be forced to lean in favour of a strictly anti Wal-Mart motivation hidden under the aegis of “historical preservation”. Firstly, this Wal-Mart (one of over 8,000 in the US), will be built on land that is zoned commercially. That’s right; it will actually be built in an area that already has two strip malls. Secondly, the lobby of national historians and societies are actually hogging the spotlight as another group of actual local citizens has voiced their welcome of the hundreds of jobs that this Wal-Mart will bring to the rural area as well as the million dollars in tax revenue it will produce each year while acknowledging that the impact of Wilderness will be minimal to nonexistent. Finally, as the penultimate nail in this coffin of righteous hypocrisy, the new Wal-Mart will not actually be visible from ANY of the 2,700 protected acres of Wilderness Battlefield.
I am not disputing that the Wal-Mart may “irrevocably harm the battlefield and seriously undermine the visitor’s experience to the National Park”, because the vagueness of the claim just makes it mean nothing at all. The worst that will happen to tourists is that they may have more parking and access to Twinkies and Ding-Dongs than the last time they visited the historic battlefield. Historical preservation is a thankless and crucial cause that is often endangered by the spectre of greed and unbridled ambition but this is not one of those times. Wal-Mart cannot be “evil” because it is simply a commercial enterprise. And as long as it follows the laws and regulations that WE implement, we should not be protesting this particular company on moral and personal grounds by claiming a more righteous and universal cause.
Having weeded through the arguments and facts, we can now call this what it is: a simple exercise in anti Wal-Mart sentiment maintained by a small group that has rallied nation-wide attention by hypocritically claiming an endangered battlefield even though the Wal-Mart is present in full respect of the law and there is no real threat to said site. There.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 - 01:11
SOURCE: Neve Gordon (9-27-09)
A simple google search with the words “Palestinian violence” yields over 86,000pages, while a search with the words “Palestinian civil disobedience” generates only 47 pages.
Sometime in 1846, Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail because he refused to pay his taxes. This was his way of opposing the Mexican-American War as well as the institution of slavery. A few years later he published the essay Civil Disobedience, which has since been read by millions of people, including many Israelis and Palestinians.
Kobi Snitz read the book. He is an Israeli anarchist who is currently serving a 20 day sentence for refusing to pay a 2,000 shekel fine.
Thirty-eight year-old Snitz was arrested with other activists in the small Palestinian village of Kharbatha back in 2004 while trying to prevent the demolition of the home of a prominent member of the local popular committee. The demolition, so it seems, was carried out both to intimidate and punish the local leader who had, just a couple of weeks earlier, began organizing weekly demonstrations against the annexation wall. Both the demonstrations and the attempt to stop the demolition were acts of civil disobedience.
In a letter sent to friends the night before his incarceration, Snitz writes that “I and the others who were arrested with me are guilty of nothing except not doing more to oppose the state’s truly criminal policies.” Snitz also explains that paying the fine is an acknowledgment of guilt which he finds demeaning. Finally, he concludes his epistle by insisting that his punishment is trivial when compared to the punishment meted out to Palestinian teenagers who have resisted the occupation. These thirteen, fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year olds, he claims, are often detained for 20 days before the legal process even begins.
Snitz is not exaggerating.
In a recent report, the Palestinian human rights organizations Stop the Wall andAddameer document the forms of repression Israel has deployed against villages that have resisted the annexation of their land. The two rights groups show that once a village decides to struggle against the annexation barrier the entire community is punished. In addition to home demolitions, curfews and other forms of movement restriction, the Israeli military forces consistently uses violence against the protestors—and most often targets the youth-- beating, tear-gassing as well as deploying both lethal and “non-lethal” ammunition against them.
Since 2004, nineteen people, about half of them children, have been killed in protests against the barrier. The rights groups found that in four small Palestinian villages -- Bil’in, Ni’lin, Ma’sara and Jayyous -- 1,566 Palestinians have been injured in demonstrations against the wall. In five villages alone, 176 Palestinians have been arrested for protesting against the annexation, with children and youth specifically targeted during these arrest campaigns. The actual numbers of those who were injured and arrested are no doubt greater considering that these are just the incidents that took place in a few villages.
Each number has a name and a story. Consider, for example, the arrest of sixteen year-old Mohammed Amar Hussan Nofal who was detained along with about 65 other people from his village Jayyous on February 18, 2009. According to his testimony, he was initially interrogated for two and a half hours in the village school.
“They asked me why I participated in the demonstrations, but I tried to deny [that I had]. Then they asked me why I threw a Molotov cocktail [at] them. I said I never had, which was true. My parents were there and witnessed [what happened]. They can confirm I never [threw a Molotov cocktail]. I later confessed to [having been at] demonstrations, but not [to having] thrown a Molotov cocktail.”
After being beaten for refusing to hold up a paper with numbers and Hebrew words on it in order to be photographed, Nofal was sent to Kedumim and was interrogated for several more hours. During this interrogation Captain Faisal (a pseudonym of a secret service officer) tried to recruit the teenager to become a collaborator.
“The Captain threatened that he would arrest my parents and my whole family if I did not collaborate. I said they could arrest [my family] any time, [but] it would be worse to become a spy. He then said they would confiscate my family’s permits so they could not pick olives.”
Nofal’s only crime was protesting against the expropriation of his ancestral lands. He spent three months in prison, during which time the Civil Administration decided to punish his family as well and refused to renew their permits to work in Israel.
When compared to Nofal and thousands of other Palestinians, Kobi Snitz is indeed paying a small price. But his act is symbolically important, not only due to his solidarity with his Palestinian partners, but also because he, like thousands of Palestinians, has decided to follow the lead of Henry David Thoreau and to commit acts of civil disobedience in order to resist Israel’s immoral policies and the subjugation of a whole people.
The problem is that the world knows very little about these acts. A simple google search with the words “Palestinian violence” yields over 86,000 pages, while a search with the words “Palestinian civil disobedience” generates only 47 pages - this despite the fact that for several years now Palestinians have been carrying out daily acts of civil disobedience against the Israeli occupation.
Thoreau, I believe, would have been proud of Nofal, Snitz and their fellow activists. It is crucial that the media and international community recognize their heroism as well.
Posted on: Sunday, September 27, 2009 - 19:17
SOURCE: NYT (9-24-09)
In previous global downturns, Americans have come to the rescue, getting out their credit cards and buying up what the rest of the world produces. “Our spending is currently equal to the entire economies of China and India added together and then doubled,” as Fareed Zakaria has pointed out, representing the single biggest chunk of the world economy.
But the American consumption option may not be available anymore and may also not be desirable. Is there another model, like the one outlined by the Nobel Prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen? (At Dot Earth, our Times colleague Andrew C. Revkin has covered this discussion in depth.) Meanwhile, why have consumers in other countries — like China and Germany, which produce far more than they spend — failed to step up to the plate?
Positive and Negative Consumption
Lawrence Glickman a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, is the author of “Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America.”
Throughout the 20th century and into this decade, commentators have predicted or encouraged a “return of thrift.” Time after time, however, restraint has lost against pent-up demand following recessions and depressions.
A major exception was World War II during which restraint on consumption was mandated by government policy, and strongly abetted by consumer activists, who were among the biggest advocates of rationing and the policies of the Office of Price Administration. Shortly after the war ended, however, America went on a massive and extended buying binge, whose parameters were largely shaped by a state policy favoring home buying, educational expansion, and an enlarged warfare/welfare state.
Historians are better at analyzing the past than predicting the future, but I think it’s safe to say that history provides little solace for those who hope that lasting restraint will emerge from the current recession. So much wealth has been lost in the last two years (especially in real estate and equities) that it may, in fact, take some time before spending reaches the levels of the early years of this decade...
End the “Throwaway” Culture
Regina Lee Blaszczyk is a visiting scholar in the Department of the History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of “American Consumer Society, 1865-2005: From Hearth to HDTV.”
Americans have always been consumers, spending their money on purchases and accumulating possessions that say something about themselves. Consumer society has never been static, but it has changed dramatically over the past 150 years. One central transformation that is relevant to the G-20 policy debates is the shift from the Victorian notion of a “treasure chest” consumer culture to the contemporary idea of a “throwaway” consumer society.
Like us, the Victorians wrestled with social upheavals that made them feel like their world was spiraling out of control. And they, like us, found comfort and connection in material consumption. Victorian consumers spent a larger percentage of their incomes on what they considered necessities, and they took pride in those purchases. People looking at old photographs of Victorian interiors sometimes recoil at the clutter: the patterned carpets, needlepoint pictures, horsehair sofas, and china bric-a-brac.
But what contemporary Americans might view as excess, our Victorian ancestors valued as badges of success. No one in Victorian America threw away a suit of clothes after one season. No one rushed out to buy a new parlor set after a few years...
Posted on: Sunday, September 27, 2009 - 02:51
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (8-29-09)
In terms of insurgencies occurring within sovereign states, foreign powers seek to (a) defend a regime installed by the foreign power against an insurgency, or (b) is invited by a central government to assist in the central government’s quest to defeat an insurgency. In terms of insurgencies within colonial territories, a foreign power, often referred to as a metropole, seeks to establish and maintain its centralized administration and in doing so is confronted by an anti-colonial insurgency. Thus, in general we remain uninterested in insurgencies that occur within a sovereign state and are in turn fought by a central government without the significant involvement by a foreign power (e.g., the Peruvian counterinsurgency against the Shining Path group during the 1980s and 90s.)
The American-led fight against anti-government insurgents in Afghanistan reflects an important quality with respect to the foreign power’s mode of intervention: Foreign powers commit significant military forces in the fight against the insurgents and engage in combat operations. While it is sometimes difficult to differentiate intervention by foreign powers that are advisory from those in which the military forces of the foreign power are overtly engaged in fighting the insurgents (an issue that we take up at greater length below), we are are not interested in cases of foreign power intervention that are either purely diplomatic or financial in nature, as we are most interested in matching the general character of the American-led intervention in contemporary Afghanistan.
One final issue concerns the identification of insurgencies. In general insurgencies reflect the presence of conflict-capable groups that are willing, or do, employ forces against a central authority. Therefore, insurgencies are qualitatively different from instances of “uprisings,” “rebellions,” and “mass unrest.” That said, as with our identification of insurgencies fought by foreign powers and the distinction between overt military versus advisory intervention, we employ an inclusive coding procedure when toeing the sometimes nebulous line separating insurgencies from other classes of intra- state conflict, due to the fact that uprisings and rebellions can evolve into insurgencies. Indeed, it is arguably the case that the strategy that foreign powers employ against uprisings and rebellions can serve as a selection mechanism that in turn conditions the set of insurgencies that are subsequently observable in the historical record. As such, a focus solely on insurgencies that achieved “maturity” might mask the role of strategy in moderating conflict before the insurgency phase. We plan to investigate this process of insurgency formation at a later date, but herein we seek to include those cases of uprising, for example, that are near-insurgencies.
Guided by these two criteria of insurgencies fought by foreign powers and overt military intervention, we identified a sample of 66 insurgencies fought by foreign powers during the twentieth-century. These cases are reported in Table 1. The sample of cases are evenly distributed across the century, with 33, or 50%, of the sample commencing pre-1946, and the remainder thereafter....
Here, we set aside the broader political goals and related success of foreign powers’ interventions abroad, focusing instead solely on foreign powers’ achievement of military success against insurgents. This decision is reasonable, we argue, because much of the contemporary discussion concerning Afghanistan focuses on whether the insurgents can be defeated. Relying on various histories and monographs, we determined whether a foreign power achieved military success against insurgent forces in the our sample of 66 cases, and our coding decisions regarding outcome are reported in Table 1.
In the full sample of 66 cases, 40 cases, or 60%, manifest military victory by a foreign power.
Furthermore, if we employ the conventional breakpoint of WWII, we find 24 cases, or 72%, of counterinsurgent military success in the pre-1946 period, while only 16 cases, or 48%, of counterinsurgent military success in the post-WWII sub- sample. Given this breakdown, the historical odds of success by foreign powers against insurgents witnessed a marked decline after WWII. The trend of decreasing success in counterinsurgency is consistent with the trend noted by Arreguin-Toft (2001) and Lyall and Wilson (2009)....
Posted on: Saturday, September 26, 2009 - 02:19
SOURCE: Talking Points Memo (9-19-09)
Two events this month suggest a transition from one conversation about the American republic to another.
The old conversation -- often little better than a shouting match or a dance of snarky repartees -- is petering out with the passing, at 89, of Irving Kristol, the"godfather" of neo-conservatism.
A different conversation is renewing itself in a voice coming from the center of the old republic, thanks to Nicholas Thompson's gripping, stirring new book,The Hawk and the Dove. Writing about the half-century-long rivalry and friendship of arms-race"hawk" Paul Nitze and Cold War strategic"dove" George Kennan, Thompson shows that even bitter antagonists can remain friends if they care more about the civic-republican spirit that is the secret of this country's true strength than they do about themselves or their grand strategies.
It's not an obvious or easy truth, but Thompson makes it live. Let me say a few words about the old conversation, though, before taking you to the even-older one that Thompson has revived.
Kristol's death coincides with the public discrediting of the long, sterile bickering between a generation of leftist liberals, who were legitimately angry at the country but ultimately naïve about it, and a generation (really two generations) of"neoconservative" apostates from left-liberalism, who presented themselves (and impressed their corporate and conservative patrons) as more worldly even though events have shown them really more naïve than their opponents.
Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Donald Kagan, and their sons, real and metaphorical, have sometimes been right about how left-liberals are wrong. But something in their make-up has driven them beyond the nuanced criticism that Kristol once practiced, into virtuoso college debating and nasty posturing that get this country's republican experiment wrong.
This isn't the place to detail how the their insecurities and opportunistic alliances have led them to mistake patriotic bombast for honor, decorum for dignity, loyalty for integrity, religiosity for faith, and the national-security state for the indomitable republican strength that is its near opposite and this country's only hope. Suffice it to say here that neo-cons (and some neo-liberal Democrats) have bound themselves to swift, dark, corporatist, violent currents that are displacing the republic's honor, integrity, faith and civic strength with flag-lapel-pin patriotism, jejune affectations of classical virtue, lockstep loyalty to ideological comrades, rancid religiosity, and a bloated, corrupting militarism that appalls even West Point instructors and ensures its own ignominious defeat.
Neoconservatives have done this not only because they've made bad bargains with dubious allies, but also because they were drawn to them in the first place out of a compulsion to discredit whatever they thought smelled of bleeding-heart liberal pietism or political correctness. Were ditzy post-modernists dismissing the humanities as the droppings of dead white males? Well, then, neo-cons would become Vulcan humanists, teaching Thucydides as if he'd masterminded the Global War on Terror. Were liberals trying to curb smoking in public places? Well, then, neo-cons would smoke like chimneys.
One of my first in-person impressions of Irving Kristol, in fact, came at a luncheon given early in the 1990s by the conservative Manhattan Institute for his wife Gertrude Himmelfarb, scholar of 18th Century political thought and crusader for a restoration of quasi-Victorian morals. Smoking in closed spaces wasn't yet illegal, but it was coming under censorious social pressure. Therefore, everyone at Kristol's and Himmelfarb's table -- and only at that table -- smoked defiantly throughout the luncheon, Kristol's cigarette ashes falling on his dessert.
The cause of his death last week was complications of lung cancer - a metaphor, perhaps, what went wrong with his faux-cheerful, snide and world-weary disdain for the follies of liberals. He was prone to express it with a hint of Mephistophelean or Grand Inquisitorial satisfaction, playing knowingly to the dark side in us all that can always be relied upon at some point or other to choose power over love. One didn't need to call oneself a neo-con to be drawn to this side, as many people of my age in New York have been since 9/11. Kristol was always ready and waiting, content even if they became only fellow-travelers.
I heard him express himself in these ways on two occasions. One was in the mid-1980s in Washington, at a conference devoted to the confessional"Second Thoughts" of repentant liberals who'd seen the neo-conservative light. The other was his delivery of the Manhattan Institute's Walter Wriston Memorial Lecture to a black-tied audience in a New York ballroom in 1995. Apparently well-juiced by whatever he'd been served and by Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Robert Whitewater Bartley's introduction, Kristol told a couple of scatalogical jokes and offered flatulent bromides consistent with evolution from thinker to pitchman and procurer over the years.
In some ways, though Kristol had new leftists' number, and he loved to tell them, in effect,"Been there, done that. You leftists and liberals are young, but you'll come over my way." But Kristol's own number was terribly wrong, as became clear at the 2008 Republican National Convention, a year before his death: Neo-cons discovered too late that their eagerness to discredit and defeat the left had driven them into the arms of a right they would never instruct or tame.
Kristol had announced years earlier that a neoconservative is a liberal who's been mugged by reality. He'd cited his own first"mugging" as a young radical who'd been thrown by World War II into the company of G.I.'s who were raping and looting."I can't build socialism with these people," he'd realized then, and he soon shed his youthful idealism to build something more sinuous and realistic with what he understood the be"the American people."
In a lecture on the future of conservatism at the American Enterprise Institute late in 2007, Sam Tanenhaus, the conservative historian, New York Times Book Review editor, and sometime neo-con fellow traveler, noted that Kristol's strategy was to lead conservatives on a long march through New Deal managerial and academic institutions, which they despised, to build an academic and managerial class of their own. In Tanenhaus' telling, Kristol showed business and conservative leaders that liberal managerialism had bred a"new class" of academic, think-tank, and media-savvy public intellectuals. He counseled his listeners to outdo liberals at this game in order to rescue liberal education and liberal democracy from liberals for the kind of capitalist democracy conservatives could profit from and enjoy. They might even secure the"national greatness" conservatism of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli that David Brooks and Kristol's son Bill would come to adore.
The elder Kristol's auditors took his advice, funding and nurturing a conservative chattering class of"on-message" talkers, squawkers, and intimidators. This"new class" turned American conservatism's deepest contradiction-- its inability to reconcile its yearning for an ordered, sacred liberty with its obeisance to every whim and riptide of capital -- into a tragic flaw that has poisoned conservative and Republican crusades. Those campaigns, straining to cover the conservative contradiction I've just mentioned, connive to drive Americans to fear and blame its cultural and economic consequences not only distant enemies but one another.
Knowing what this has come to, Tanenhaus hinted in his lecture that Kristol knew it, too, but that he'd become cynical and followed the money:"One could look over the trajectory of Mr. Kristol's brilliant career and see that he's in a different place in the 1990s than he was in the 1970s," Tanenhaus said, recalling that Kristol used to cite Matthew Arnold's nobler cultural visions against Milton Friedman's vindications of greed.
No more. What Kristol and neo-conservatives did instead conformed to a despicable jingoism embraced by a distempered minority of Jews in Europe for two or three centuries. Here it peaked during the run-up to the Iraq War, when they and other members of the"new class" served as catalysts and apologists for the populist stampede into Iraq.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other Vulcan conservatives didn't need encouragement from neo-cons to make war, but neo-cons insinuated themselves into the warmakers' ranks, partly by playing their propagandist and grand-strategist roles to the hilt, including harassing and intimidating the war's critics.
By 2006, William F. Buckley Jr., who had despaired of the Iraq venture, made clear that he considered its neo-conservative enthusiasts to have been one of the conservative movement's misfortunes. And at the ugly 2008 GOP convention, the neo-cons' contribution to Republican populism metastasized into the political equivalent of lung cancer. Speeches by Tom Ridge, Rudy Giuliani, and Sara Palin, and the chanting from the floor, displayed a populism that had become as phony, sinister, and cynical as that of the Stalinist Popular Front of the mid-1930s that had always been Kristol's bête noire.
Observing the swift undercurrents roiling the convention, Kristol must have known that neo-cons like David Brooks and fellow travelers like Ed Koch would soon bail out. But it may not have occurred to him that some of these defectors would end up as liberals who'd been mugged by the"reality" that Kristol had helped to create with his son Bill, the discoverer of Palin, whom he'd introduced to John McCain.
The elder Kristol's epitaph should be his dictum that neo-conservatism's mission is"to explain to the American people that they are right and to the intellectuals that they are wrong." Who are"the American people"? Kristol prided himself on knowing the answer better than liberals did.But he mistreated"the people" partly because he'd become one of"the intellectuals" of his own imagining and partly because, beneath his suave,"seen-it-all" cynicism he, like his movement, was so perversely bitter and insecure.
All this becomes clearer when one compares the neo-cons' collective persona and prose to that of Nicholas Thompson, a grandson of Paul Nitze, the preeminent arms-race"hawk" of the Cold War. In the 1970s, Nitze strode arm in arm with neo-cons in their Committee on the Present Danger, inflating the Soviet threat out of proportion to reality at a time when, as we now know, the USSR was beginning to implode.
If Thompson were a tribalistic, filopietistic neo-con, he'd launch into a pugnacious, Robert Kaganesque defense of his often-militaristic forebear. And he would cast George Kennan, the apostle of Cold War" containment," as the sinister, anti-American foil that many neo-cons did make of him, as they did of others who opposed their grand strategies.
Irving Kristol could make foils of liberals even while writing about Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist hysteria in 1952, acknowledging the senator's vulgar demagoguery yet adding darkly that"the American people" knew well that McCarthy,"like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they know no such thing."
But Thompson has something deeper in mind and at heart than writing such shaming, insinuating prose that became a hall-mark of neo-conservative propaganda, as it had been of the Communist variety in Kristol's youth. Thompson, by contrast, is intent upon telling a truer, more instructive story of two patriots, each annealed in a civic-republican discipline stronger and more supple than anything Kristol and Podhoretz ever absorbed.
While Nitze grew up in comfortable circumstances (his father was a distinguished philologist at the University of Chicago), Kennan grew up almost poor after his mother died when he was an infant. Yet both men attended civic-republican training schools (Kennan the Midwestern St. John's Military Academy, Nitze the elite Hotchkiss preparatory school in northwestern Connecticut) whose brooks seemed to bubble with moral instruction and whose eight-man river rowing taught that self-denial for the common good requires first a self that has been made strong enough to deny.
These schools encouraged self-scrutiny, plain living and high thinking, an understated felicity of expression, a quiet readiness to shoulder responsibility without reward, and a capacity to bear pain with grace (if only because spiritual grace was thereby assured.) A characteristic self-deprecating humor deflected others' envy. The term" character" is ridiculed these days as shorthand for elite breeding, but these lean, bonded boys honed not only the bookish but also the kinetic and moral intelligence that counts for more than the mere"merit" or distinction whose attainment so preoccupied Podhoretz.
But you don't need to have attended a private school like Nitze's or Kennan's to have acquired civic-republican discipline and faith that have been taught in countless black church basements and Little League lots, too. Indeed, neither Kennan nor Nitze really took his civic training to heart while undergoing it: Kennan was rather too introspective and bookish, Nitze boisterous and rebellious. But something of these schools' pedagogy took root and tempered each man's pride and resentments in ways that would benefit the country: It left each man knowing throughout life that his strategic differences with the other weren't as profound as their shared commitment to a kind of republican strength that no grand strategy can nurture or ultimately even defend.
"They often inspired or enraged each other with their ideas," Thompson writes."They did, however, greatly respect each other and admire each other's seriousness of purpose, demeanor, and dedication. They realized they shared an uncommon endurance. They also shared a similar fate: neither reached his ultimate ambitions, while many lesser men reached the positions of influence [Secretary of State or Defense] to which they both aspired."
"My research revealed two very different men who nevertheless shared a commitment to the United States and to their very different ways of serving it," Thompson also notes, and he carries that commitment forward himself in a way that gives it brighter prospects.
Such a commitment need not be elitist or naive, as aristocratic indulgences often are. A civic republican resists"solidarity" with either left or right yet draws from both, knowing that both have valid claims to certain truths: The left knows the necessity of public planning and sustenance for the village that raises the child; without that, the individual dignity and traditions that conservatives cherish would never flourish. The right knows the equally important truth that without irreducibly personal responsibility and initiative, even the best leftists social engineering can turn people into clients, cogs, or worse. A good society, like a healthy person, strides on both feet -- the left of social provision, the right of personal responsibilty -- without worrying whether all its weight is on one or the other foot at any given instant in a balanced stride. But ideologues of the left and right try to strengthen one foot at the expense of the other until it swells, each side clinging to its"own" truth until it becomes a half-truth that curdles into a lie, leaving it right only about how the other is wrong.
Thompson understands this, and he illustrates it by describing the somewhat-unlikely tributes Nitze and Kennan tendered each other, after decades of strategic rivalry, when Nitze dropped his arms-race work for a day to attend Kennan's 80th birthday party in 1984, at one of the tensest moments in the arms race.
Raising his glass, Nitze said,"George Kennan taught us to approach issue of policy, not just from the narrow immediate interest of the United States, but from a longer-range viewpoint that included the culture and interests of others, including our opponents, and a proper regard for the interests of mankind."
As Thompson tells it,"Kennan rose to respond: the main lesson he had learned from Nitze, he said, was that when one disagreed with government, 'it may be best to soldier on, and to do what one can to make the things you believe in come out right."
Kennan wasn't counseling a lockstep or"old school" loyalty without integrity. He was invoking a subtler, more tensile strength that's necessary to sustain both realism and principle in a world of imperfect institutions. But how and when to do that? Reading Thompson reinforces my belief that Kennan, although he was no democrat, understood better than Nitze that power flows not from top-down command but from bottom-up cooperation and from a voluntary acceptance of necessary authority that comes from democratic deliberation itself.
Thompson's account of the two men's trajectories also shows that both understood that the discipline citizens bring to their deliberations can come only, if at all, from a civic culture that doesn't rely on statist surveillance and coercion. Rather, it nurtures people's trust in one another and trains them to cooperate in ways that become second-nature.
By contrast, the more that a society has to rely on state enforcement to preserve"freedom," and the more that it surrenders its deliberative disciplines to a seductive, predatory consumer marketing and dog-eat-dog materialism, the more its freedom has already been lost and, with it, the strength to take a blow from outside without lashing out and squandering itself. Neo-cons are constitutionally unable to see this, because so little in their own historical memories, and therefore their temperaments, seems to confirm it.
Reading Thompson, I'm also drawn to Kennan's peculiar strengths, convictions, and writerly temperament -- and even to some of his insecurities, prejudices, and Gibbonesque despair of the republic -- though not to his anti-democratic biases. I also understand Nitze better and respect his record at least marginally more than I did before.
I've been able to reach these conclusions because Thompson's rendering of Kennan is as compelling, fair, and even sympathetic as is his portrait of his grandfather, whom he knew and loved until his death, when Thompson was 24. This book, then, is more than an effort to give a grandfather his due (or, as some will see it, more than his due) by pairing him with Kennan, whom people like me are inclined to admire more. Thompson is willing to risk my concluding that his grandfather suffers a bit in the comparison, because his true purpose is to present each man's interaction with the other -- and with world events and powers -- in a way that strengthens the civic-republican culture that is the real if elusive protagonist of the book:
"The two men were equally influential and equally important, yet vastly different. Nitze was the diligent insider, Kennan the wise outsider; Nitze the doer, Kennan the thinker. Kennan designed America's policy for the Cold War, and Nitze mastered it. With respect to America's ability to shape the world, Nitze was an idealist and Kennan a realist. In their old age, Nitze still wanted to win the Cold War, and Kennan wanted to be done with it. Their views overlapped at strange and crucial moments; but for most of their working lives, they disagreed profoundly. In [a] New Yorker article published just before his eightieth birthday party, Kennan had indirectly criticized Nitze - who marked the piece up vigorously and also sent a letter to a mutual friend complaining that the argument showed a 'complete separation from fact and logic.'"
Thompson doesn't rest with this quasi-poetic and perhaps pat balancing act. He complicates it with nuances and unexpected details as he unfolds each man's life. He never polemicizes or debates. He draws contradictory currents of perception and principle together, not as Kristol or Podhoretz would in order to swamp their enemies, but to show how the currents actually converged and buffeted one another in historical tides that always confound ideologues who think they can channel them.
Writing a book such as this takes formidable civic-republican strength, even a steely, sometimes chilly courage. It's a strength young neo-conservatives lack because their faith in the republic is over-matched by their insecuritiest. Thompson's writerly strength is palpable in spare, unadorned prose that is the more eloquent for declining to call attention to itself - an old WASP virtue that runs back to the poetry on the 18th-century gravestones standing a hundred yards from me as I write this on a weekend in western Massachusetts, where Kennan's ancestors settled in Puritan times.
Thompson's rendering is so well balanced (and maybe also ironic) that he even gives us the younger and wiser Norman Podhoretz, observing in 1968 -- in a rare moment of agreement with Kennan, who'd just written a condemnation of student militants and hippies -- that Kennan's voice is"an old-fashioned voice: cultivated, gentlemanly, poised, self-assured. There is strength in it, there is serenity in it, there is solidity in it, there is authority in it - but not the kind of authority that can easily be associated with repressiveness." That's not the kind of authority that Podhoretz's own more clamorous and churlish writing has ever achieved.
Thompson not only appreciates Kennan's quiet authority; he radiates it himself. He's not yet Kennan's equal as a writer, and I'm not an historian of the period who can second-guess his decisions about what to show us and how. But Nicholas Thompson has delivered a book that's not just a labor of love; it's a vindication of a tradition of civic-republican comity that can't be coerced but is quietly stronger than anything the republic's noisier claimants offer in this frightening, polarizing time.
Posted on: Saturday, September 26, 2009 - 01:11
SOURCE: Commentary Magazine (blog) (9-22-09)
The dynamic duo of Fred and Kim Kagan have just released a typically cogent and persuasive study of troop requirements in Afghanistan. The entire 46-slide PowerPoint presentation is well worth reading. In it they analyze the size of the population in southern and eastern Afghanistan—the key areas in which the Taliban are on the march—and compare them with the levels of existing Afghan and international forces.
One of the key points they make is that even nominal troop figures understate on-the-ground strength because so many troops are diverted for support functions. Thus the Afghan National Army may have a nominal strength of 103,475, but only 53,417 soldiers are assigned to kandaks (battalions). As for the U.S. force, they estimate that out of 64,000 total, only 23,300 soldiers are actually on the ground doing counterinsurgency, compared with 105,000 in Iraq at the height of the surge. Our allies add another 16,000 counterinsurgents, but that still leaves us well short of the numbers needed to control vital terrain if we estimate a force ratio of one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians. The ultimate answer is to grow the Afghan National Security Forces, but that’s a long-term process. In the meantime, the Kagans estimate that we need 40,000 to 45,000 more troops in Afghanistan, and we need them urgently...
Posted on: Saturday, September 26, 2009 - 01:10
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (9-24-09)
New York City, hard hit by the collapse of some of Wall Street's most venerable firms, has a mayoral election scheduled for Nov. 3. With the city's fiscal woes certain to deepen in the next few years, there would seem to be a great deal to debate in advance of the vote. But neither the incumbent, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, nor his challenger, Comptroller William Thompson, has had much to say about the tsunami of expenditures—for pensions, programs, salaries and debt—that is poised to break over Gotham. In "Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics," veteran New York Times journalist Joyce Purnick doesn't have much to say about it either.
And little wonder. Ms. Purnick, who had extensive access to the mayor and his staff, thinks that Mr. Bloomberg—a "benign plutocrat"—has been "one of the most effective mayors in the city's history." Her book is mostly an admiring portrait of the man and his mayoralty.
Ms. Purnick met the future mayor, she tells us, in the late 1990s, when Mr. Bloomberg was hosting a dinner party at his Manhattan townhouse. She remembers seeing network news anchors Dan Rather and Peter Jennings at the gathering, but Mr. Bloomberg "barely made an impression." Soon enough, though, she recognized that this self-made billionaire, who had amassed his fortune by providing information services to the financial industry, "is by nature a problem solver."
Ms. Purnick sees Mr. Bloomberg as he would like to see himself. He turned to public life, she says, quoting him approvingly, because he "wanted to make a difference." She describes him as relentlessly pragmatic, someone who exercises a "cold-eyed discipline over his frailties." At his core, she claims, Mr. Bloomberg is not the ambitious office seeker who, for instance, hoped to buy his way onto the 2008 presidential ticket but rather a consummate manager who rises above the petty concerns of conventional politics. He decides matters, she says, "on the merits, yielding little to the customary political lobbyists, interest groups, and . . . campaign contributors, since there was only one—Bloomberg himself."
When Ms. Purnick criticizes the mayor, it is generally because she perceives that he has failed his own better nature. Mr. Bloomberg's recent coup de main—overthrowing the term-limits laws that he had once supported so that he can run for a third term—is for Ms. Purnick merely an aberration, a "detour to the dark side" that shows the mayor acting, this once, like a "selfish pol." She gives only cursory coverage of the controversies of Mr. Bloomberg's tenure, such as the record property-tax increase during his first term and the failed campaign to bring the Olympics to New York.
It's only near the end of "Mike Bloomberg" that Ms. Purnick briefly focuses on the issue that his mayoralty is likely to be judged by: his second-term fiscal stewardship. Mr. Bloomberg, she says, "followed the pattern established by other mayors." Concerned with his re-election prospects, "he routinely granted all municipal union increases with no strings attached," hoping to ensure "labor peace." Astute reporter that she is, Ms. Purnick thus undercuts her own thesis about Mr. Bloomberg's ability to behave as a consummate manager, not a garden-variety politician, though she doesn't seem to notice the contradiction. ...
Posted on: Thursday, September 24, 2009 - 21:33
SOURCE: TomDispatch (website of Tom Engelhardt) (9-24-09)
Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley"Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose" classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael"Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a"deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")
On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of"the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad" clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.
He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the"next" ones.
Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.
On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to"protect the population." He also turned to a"team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.
As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.
Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed"the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.
There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a"rupture" between the military"pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers"increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how"mixed signals" from Washington were causing"increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling"frustration" over"White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described"a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss.""Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.
Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President
In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic"protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")
Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly"endorse""General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.
So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never"authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.
If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his"strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)
Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a" comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared:"This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.
As it happens, this was never Obama's"war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president:"Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.
It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation,"it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous"defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering"buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
A Petraeus Moment?
In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals'"revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")
Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of"MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of" civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the"war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.
But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.
We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.
Posted on: Thursday, September 24, 2009 - 21:23
SOURCE: National Review Online (9-23-09)
Obama went to Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard without much of a break, taught at the University of Chicago, and then surrounded himself with academics, first in his stint at community organizing and then when he went into politics. It shows. In his limited experience, those who went to Yale or Harvard are special people, and the Ivy League environment has been replicated in the culture of the White House.
Note how baffled the administration is by sinking polls, tea parties, town halls, and, in general, “them” — the vast middle class, which, as we learned during the campaign, clings to guns and Bibles, and which has now been written off as blinkered, racist, and xenophobic. The earlier characterization of rural Pennsylvania has been expanded to include all of Middle America.
For many in the academic community who have not worked with their hands, run businesses, or ventured far off campus, Middle America is an exotic place inhabited by aborigines who bowl, don’t eat arugula, and need to be reminded to inflate their tires. They are an emotional lot, of some value on campus for their ability to “fix” broken things like pipes and windows, but otherwise wisely ignored. Professor Chu, Obama’s energy secretary, summed up the sense of academic disdain that permeates this administration with his recent sniffing about the childish polloi: “The American people . . . just like your teenage kids, aren’t acting in a way that they should act.” Earlier, remember, Dr. Chu had scoffed from his perch that California farms were environmentally unsound and would soon disappear altogether, “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.”
It is the role of the university, from a proper distance, to help them, by making sophisticated, selfless decisions on health care and the environment that the unwashed cannot grasp are really in their own interest — deluded as they are by Wal-Mart consumerism, Elmer Gantry evangelicalism, and Sarah Palin momism. The tragic burden of an academic is to help the oppressed, but blind, majority.
In the world of the university, a Van Jones — fake name, fake accent, fake underclass pedigree, fake almost everything — is a dime a dozen. Ward Churchill fabricated everything from his degree to his ancestry, and was given tenure, high pay, and awards for his beads, buckskin, and Native American–like locks. The “authentic” outbursts of Van Jones about white polluters and white mass-murderers are standard campus fare. In universities, such over-the-top rhetoric and pseudo-Marxist histrionics are simply career moves, used to scare timid academics and win release time, faculty-adjudicated grants, or exemption from normal tenure scrutiny. Skip Gates’s fussy little theatrical fit at a Middle American was not his first and will not be his last.
Obama did not vet Jones before hiring him because he saw nothing unusual (much less offensive) about him, in the way that Bill Ayers likewise was typical, not an aberration, on a campus. Just as there are few conservatives, so too there are felt to be few who should be considered radicals in universities. Instead everyone is considered properly left, and even fringe expressions are considered normal calibrations within a shared spectrum. The proper question is not “Why are there so many extremists in the administration?” but rather “What’s so extreme?”...
Posted on: Thursday, September 24, 2009 - 18:17
SOURCE: Nation (9-9-09)
Is the conservative movement dead? In November, when many of its leading intellectuals publicly abandoned the McCain-Palin ticket, deserting their comrades and going over to the other side, the movement suffered not only electoral defeat but ideological apostasy. During the transition, as the stock indexes of the world tumbled, crushing the blithe confidence in free-market ideas universally espoused just a few years earlier, many seasoned political observers wondered whether the long-awaited "conservative crack-up"--to quote the title of R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.'s book of 1992, which predicted the imminent decline of the conservative project--might have at long last arrived. The old Reagan coalition had split into warring elements, with the traditionalists turning on the libertarians and Wall Street executives backing away from a Republican regime that proved to be inept at managing economic chaos. A movement that claimed to have descended from both Milton Friedman and Edmund Burke, wedding the fast pace of capitalism and the slow, stately march of tradition, might always have seemed ideologically strained. By the spring of 2009, the fissures had turned into cracks, and the movement collapsed in on itself.
Or did it? After all, the death of conservatism has been prophesied many times before. In 1964 the New York Times opined that Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater had "not only lost the Presidential election...but the conservative cause as well." In 1977 Fortune magazine pronounced that the Republican Party was "exceptionally weak," virtually "bereft of any 'turf' that is securely its own." Three years later Gerald Ford made a play for the Republican nomination by insisting that the country would never elect a movement conservative. "A very conservative Republican can't win in a national election," he told the Times. Even during the 1980s, when a genuine movement conservative occupied the White House, liberal journalist Richard Reeves declared Ronald Reagan's politics a mere "detour" from the country's liberal history.
Perhaps this time things really are different, but the apparent rifts and tensions within the conservative movement--between elitism and populism, capitalism and custom, the piety and fanaticism of the far right and the moderation of the old guard at the helm--have not caused dissolution, historically speaking. On the contrary, they have generated a strangely durable, tenacious politics that has avoided being shunted to the margins of American life. Goldwater may have been trounced in 1964--he lost every state except his own and the five of the Deep South, where voters were drawn to his opposition to the Civil Rights Act--but movement conservatives remained undeterred and ended up using his campaign's donor lists to fortify the ranks for future battles. Four years later the Republican Party, which had seemed a shambles during the Johnson presidency, retook the White House. When Richard Nixon left Washington in calumny in 1974, it seemed, again, that the GOP would be weakened for a generation. Instead, Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980 and was re-elected in a landslide. For conservatives, it seems that their most crushing defeats herald their greatest victories.
Given these Houdini acts, it is surprising that until recently there has been no significant body of scholarship on the history of postwar conservatism. In 1994 historian Alan Brinkley observed that the right had become "something of an orphan" in American political history. Most scholars--themselves liberals--believed that liberalism had triumphed in the United States over the course of the twentieth century. The disparate regional cultures of the country had been unified into one cosmopolitan nation. Ever since World War I and the Progressive Era, Washington had assumed greater management of the economy, culminating in the New Deal and later in the War on Poverty and Great Society programs. The Manichaean, parochial world of religious fundamentalism had given way to the subtle moral distinctions of modernity. Brinkley suggested that if scholars had overlooked the lingering sway of market ideology, the pervasiveness of antigovernment sentiment and the sustained vibrancy of fundamentalist Christianity, it was because they were utterly convinced of liberalism's triumph. Such assumptions left them unable to reckon with the lasting power of conservative politics and therefore incapable of understanding the collapse of the New Deal electoral coalition and resurgence of the right in the 1980s.
Fifteen years after the publication of Brinkley's article, the conservative movement is no longer an orphan in the academy. Indeed, writing its history has become something of a cottage industry, with every year bringing new monographs, articles and dissertations on a dizzying array of subjects: right-wing populism among long-haul truckers; the grassroots religious conservatism of Southern preachers who migrated to California in the postwar period; the role of Phoenix, Arizona, in the rise of laissez-faire ideology in the Republican Party; the intellectual influence of Ayn Rand; gay and African-American conservative thought; backlashes in communities ranging from Baltimore to Orange County; anti-unionism in American culture; histories of far-right preachers and the leaders of organizations like the John Birch Society.
As someone who has written about conservatism, I think that while the field has flourished for intellectual and professional reasons (nature, one might say, abhors a vacuum in the scholarly literature), there are political causes for its growth as well. The body of scholarship on the right grew as the movement leapt from one success to the next. Many (although not all) of the younger historians writing about the right are actually left of center, children of the Reagan era who came of age as scholars during the Bush years and have sought to understand the conservative movement partly to forge the tools to undermine it. This groundswell of rich and complex research has allowed a thousand monographs to bloom, but it has yet to produce a retelling of the larger narrative of the postwar period incorporating the insights of recent histories of the right--something on the order of James Patterson's powerful synthesis of postwar American history, Grand Expectations. And there have been few efforts to understand what the history of the right has to tell us about the movement's influence today, or its future, which is especially important at a time when conservatism has found itself on the defensive once again.
Before Reagan's election in 1980, academic scholarship about the conservative movement was meager. There were a few books on topics like the right in the 1930s, the history of McCarthyism, the Ku Klux Klan and the isolationist politics of the far right, but most academic historians spurned the subject of conservatism. The right was seen as a relic of American history--a menagerie of resentful oddballs and misfits, fanatical preachers, eccentric racists and assorted cranks who rejected the New Deal and the Great Society. This patronizing view followed from that of the "consensus" historians of the 1950s, such as Columbia University's Richard Hofstadter, who interpreted McCarthyism as the vicious politics of "status anxiety." According to Hofstadter, the paranoia of the right was fed by the resentment of members of social groups whose fortunes were declining in the newly prosperous mass-consumption society of the postwar era--"so many people do not know who they are or what they are or what they belong to or what belongs to them," Hofstadter wrote in "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt"--and who turned to the politics of conspiracy in an anxious attempt to shore up their sense of moral virtue. These "pseudo-conservatives" believed they were powerless victims menaced by evil outsiders, and they lashed out angrily at their perceived enemies, confident of their righteousness. More generally, in the 1970s and '80s scholarship on conservatism was scarce because old-fashioned political history was in decline: the study of culture and social life began to eclipse the analysis of elections, protests, strikes and legislative battles. But Reagan's election reawakened scholarly curiosity in the conservative movement. How could such hostility to government, such opposition to the tolerant, pluralistic politics of liberalism, such a belligerent temperament thought to be moribund, suddenly re-emerge at the center of political life?
The first generation of historians to take conservatism seriously focused closely on the politics of social backlash. The main characters of their stories were the working-class white voters of Northern cities and the South who had grown alienated from a Democratic Party that they thought was overly solicitous of African-Americans. They were angry about welfare, school busing and affirmative action--policies they felt helped people less deserving than themselves. More deeply, they were frustrated by the radical politics of the 1960s: the longhaired kids protesting Vietnam, the hippies slouching in parks, the feminists with the temerity to blame the nuclear family for their oppression, the black-power advocates with their clenched fists and ten-point programs. The recession of the 1970s drove these blue-collar workers away from their old faith in the power of the state to safeguard prosperity.
Most of the scholars who wrote about these reactionaries--such as Jonathan Rieder in Canarsie (1985), Ronald Formisano in Boston Against Busing (1991) and Dan Carter in The Politics of Rage (1995)--were far from sympathetic to their subjects; their commitments lay with the African-American families who sought to integrate the schools of white neighborhoods. Nonetheless, they endeavored to present their subjects as working-class people in a time of economic decline, desperate to protect the few institutions--home, family, school and neighborhood--over which they had control. As Rieder put it in his study of the backlash in Brooklyn, "The basic fact of life for the residents of Canarsie was the precariousness of their hold on middle-class status, the recency of their arrival in that exalted position, and the intense fear that it might be taken from them." In this, Rieder and others shared a set of assumptions with the 1950s historians of McCarthyism: they treated conservatism as a populist politics of displaced frustration, in which rage at liberalism reflected anger about the underlying problem of increasing economic insecurity.
During the years of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, historians turned away from an emphasis on working-class reaction against the social radicalism of the 1960s. While the backlash might explain why the New Deal electoral coalition collapsed and how Reagan won the presidency in 1980, studies of the Boston busing crisis and the protests over school curriculums in West Virginia's Kanawha County could not offer a convincing explanation of a more longstanding shift that had occurred in American politics. Why had the right proved able to win one election after another? How was it able to exercise such influence even when Clinton reclaimed the White House for the Democrats? Backlash histories were at heart local accounts of liberal decline, not synthetic analyses of conservative ascendancy. They could explain changes in voting patterns but not the rise of a new political force.
A new generation of historians began to shift the focus away from the politics of resentment and toward movement conservatism, not only in Washington but across the country. Many focused on the social origins of the conservative campaign. Here, the main actors were a group of "suburban warriors," to quote historian Lisa McGirr--prosperous, upwardly mobile men and women who carefully organized in support of a right-wing agenda by knocking on doors, distributing literature, screening films and holding meetings. They were driven not by irrational fears or anxieties but rather by a deeply held set of beliefs about how society ought to be organized, with anticommunism at the forefront of their politics. Far from being socially marginal, they were among the postwar economy's winners, and their politics reflected their sense of entitlement. They used the same kinds of strategies familiar to any left-of-center social movement, but for dramatically different ends.
Much distinguished this second, younger generation of scholars from historians like Carter and Formisano. The first generation wrote primarily about cities and the South, the second about suburbia. The first focused mostly on specific episodes or campaigns, while the second took a much longer view that often spanned the entire postwar period. But perhaps the biggest interpretive difference lay in their respective approaches to the tumultuous years of the 1960s. Those writing in the wake of the Reagan revolution had shared the vivid hopes of 1968 and the subsequent disappointment of those dreams. The radicalism of the decade and the backlash it had provoked still seemed to be the central events underlying the conservative shift. For some, the New Left's inability to moderate its strident moralizing and appeal to a broader public made it tragically culpable for the ultimate failure of consensus liberalism--the left had been unable to speak to working-class Americans, who turned instead to the right. For others, the clash simply revealed the intractable racism endemic to segments of American society, meaning that there was no particular tactical failure on the part of the left. Yet most of these earlier scholars, who focused on the collapse of the New Deal electoral coalition, agreed that the modern right was born in this furious, embittered reaction against civil rights, feminism and the antiwar movement.
By contrast, the newer wave of scholarship--books such as Jonathan Schoenwald's A Time for Choosing (2001), McGirr's Suburban Warriors (2001) and Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm (2001)--granted a much smaller place to the fiery emotions of the years of George Wallace, Jane Fonda and Bobby Seale, emphasizing that in important ways the conservative movement actually predates the 1960s. Far from being a sudden, explosive and negative reaction to the decade's tumult, the conservative movement simmered throughout the postwar period, motivated by its activists' positive vision of small government, the perfect social ordering promised by the free market and a world without communism. The social crises of the 1960s may have offered the movement an opportunity to broaden its base of support, but conservatism was thriving before that upheaval. The earlier generation of scholars, after all, never did explain how thirty years of conservative politics could have sprouted from a few explosive conflicts in the 1970s. Nor could they elucidate how the blue-collar workers who cheered for George Wallace wound up supporting a politics committed to promoting the free market, fighting unions and rolling back the welfare state. How had the politics of blue-collar resentment and fear of social change come to be joined to the stridently laissez-faire agenda of the movement faithful? To understand the connections, it was necessary to look at the rise of the conservative movement on its own terms--to study its internal logic, its intellectual history and the way its activists promoted their agenda.
Yet at the same time, although the second generation of historians made clear that the victory of conservatism was no mere accident of history but instead proof of a longstanding, concerted effort to shape American politics, their vision of the movement as simply another grassroots mobilization seems vexed. In their attempts to write respectfully about the conservative movement (many are still warring with Hofstadter's description of it as a paranoid politics), some of them risked smoothing over the baroque strangeness of the American right--such as the way that its prosperous believers and leaders portrayed themselves as aggrieved victims, or its searing hostility to government, to unions and even to the most minimal welfare state.
Moreover, both schools of historical interpretation share a sense of the conservative movement as in some sense populist--a trope that dates to writers like Hofstadter and that is also shared by many conservatives. The earlier generation of writers emphasized the anti-elitism of the backlash, while the later one suggested that the right gained strength by using the same social-movement organizing strategies that the left had employed. The image of conservative populism has penetrated deeply into everyday political chatter as well, thanks in no small part to the efforts of conservatives, who--as Thomas Frank argued in What's the Matter With Kansas? (2004)--have long sought to claim theirs as a plain-folks, common-sense mobilization against effete social dreamers. When Barack Obama spoke before an audience of wealthy donors in San Francisco in 2008 about the challenge of winning over Rust Belt towns in Pennsylvania, where voters clung desperately to "guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them," he was invoking this familiar image of populist working-class conservatism.
But this raises a larger question: is it correct to see the conservative ascendancy as a populist mobilization akin to the civil rights or labor movement? Some parts of the movement--like antiabortion activism--do seem similar to left organizing projects: they use direct-action strategies and cultivate grassroots commitments. Moreover, from the John Birch Society members who sought to imitate the communists they so hated and feared to the businessmen of the National Association of Manufacturers who wanted to mimic the labor movement's methods of organizing, there has been much self-conscious discussion among conservatives about learning from the left. And the simmering resentment that fueled the backlash against the civil rights movement and other social movements certainly helped shift voters away from the Democratic Party in the 1970s and '80s.
Still, it is hard to see the mobilization and political education of a massive number of people as critical to the actual victories of the right, the same way that it must be for any movement that seeks to challenge social hierarchies in a sustained way. For unions to organize in the 1930s, it was not enough for Congress to pass the Wagner Act--workers needed to put their livelihoods and lives on the line. For segregation to end, ordinary men and women had to come to the point of being willing to break the law or even risk losing their lives. Does it really require the same kind of commitment to cut taxes, end regulations or fight labor unions? And if it doesn't--if the way the conservative movement harnesses the discontent of its constituency is largely limited to certain moments of political theater, when the image of mass support is needed to garner television coverage--shouldn't we ask whether populism really is the backbone of the right at all?
The most recent scholarship about conservatism in the late twentieth century has taken a new direction. It has emphasized political economy instead of movement politics, looking at such topics as the development of Wal-Mart's distinctive free-market evangelism (Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Wal-Mart, from 2009); the origins of laissez-faire revival in the development politics of Southwestern cities (Elizabeth Tandy Shermer's dissertation "Creating the Sunbelt: The Political and Economic Transformation of Phoenix, Arizona"); and the organic emergence of a populist anti-statist politics among groups like rural long-haul truckers trying to avoid regulation (Shane Hamilton's Trucking Country, from 2008). Implicitly, this new body of work raises the question of whether the reasons for lasting conservative success might be related to deeper economic changes in the country. Perhaps the age of liberalism that followed World War II depended on the prosperity of a vibrant manufacturing economy (and wartime Keynesian spending) that has mostly vanished. The rise of a competitive service-oriented economy has created a new kind of voter with changed economic interests and a different relationship to politics--one to whom the old liberal vision no longer appeals. Perhaps conservative leaders enjoyed electoral success because their movement has simply been better able to adapt to deep changes in the bedrock of American society.
At the same time as they have started to emphasize an account of the transformation of the country's political economy to explain the durability of the conservative movement, historians have also started to describe postwar liberalism and its many triumphs with skepticism, if not pessimism. (While this interpretation goes back to the New Left, it has gained new strength today, even though there is also a countermove by historians like Kevin Mattson to rehabilitate postwar liberalism as a fighting faith.) Some scholars suggest that the entire postwar period was one of struggle and that the liberal order was always more fragile than its victories suggested. The North never truly supported racial equality, at least when it came to its own cities; the manufacturing companies so long thought to have given tacit support to the New Deal now seem to have done all they could to resist and fight it behind the scenes. Instead of a liberal period of consensus that was shattered in the late 1960s and '70s, there was a continued struggle throughout the postwar period over the legacy of New Deal liberalism.
Others go further still, arguing that the culture and society created during the postwar era contained elements that would prove fatal to liberalism. After all, the government underwrote the expansion of suburbia, which would become the home of an intransigent individualism hostile to the very state that had subsidized its creation. And the liberal project itself never had deep philosophical or cultural roots. It was created during the Great Depression out of expediency, in a moment of economic and political crisis, and never reflected a sustained or coherent agenda; even FDR was ambivalent toward labor and the welfare state. More than anything else, postwar liberals were committed to anticommunism--hence their support of the Vietnam War. The entire postwar era (as Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore have explained) might be seen as no more than a "long exception" to the more lasting conservative project of individualism and laissez-faire that has defined so much of American history.
Another version of this story can be found in the world of intellectual history--for example, in Patrick Allitt's The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History (2009). Here, conservatism is analyzed as one of the deep trends within the country's political life, a "reactive" politics that seeks to respond to "perceived political and intellectual challenges," to conserve what exists, to protect against social dissolution and to resist the march of social and political equality. In this view, the post-1945 conservative movement is one more development of a strain of politics reaching back to the founding fathers. Unlike historians who have noted how the modern conservative movement--in its determination to tear down the New Deal and its preference for a radical market vision rather than a cautious enthusiasm for capitalism--seems to break with the earlier style of conservatism, Allitt emphasizes the continuities between postwar conservatism and the laissez-faire politics of the nineteenth century.
When Alan Brinkley observed that American historians had lost interest in the right, the general interpretation of the United States in the twentieth century was one of liberal victory followed by tragic decline. Today a new vision seems to be emerging--one that sees the liberalism of the midcentury as always hemmed in by hostility and limited by its internal tensions. In the latest scholarship, the old narrative has been turned upside down: more and more, historians are depicting the century as one of conservative strength only briefly interrupted, some going back still further to see all of American history shot through with the power of forces sharply opposed to equality and democracy. Yet just as the earlier story of liberalism triumphant overlooked the continued existence of a conservative opposition, this bleaker vision may also be too stark. It comes close to substituting a new monolithic political force for the old one and eliding the reality of continued struggle, in which the two sides shape each other and the outcomes are controlled by neither alone. The next wave of scholarship on the history of the right will likely strive not only to tell the story of the movement's rise but also to account more fully for its internal tensions and the difficulties that it encountered--especially once it came to power in the 1980s.
What does recent historical scholarship say about the future of the right? On the one hand, there undeniably is a crisis--of leadership, of faith, of constituency--among conservatives at this point in history. Although the movement institutions (think tanks, talk-radio stations, churches) remain powerful forces, they are also catering to a narrow and frustrated segment of opinion. The far right's resentment is deepening: it angrily denounces Obama as a socialist, holds "tea parties" to protest taxation and has turned to Rush Limbaugh as a leader. "Birthers" seek to delegitimize the Obama presidency by attempting to prove that he was born in Kenya, not Hawaii. True believers on the right seem to be sinking deeper within their movement, insisting that George W. Bush failed to adhere sufficiently to first principles but never considering whether the principles themselves were the problem. Yet as they consolidate their faith, they also become more marginal, less a central part of American politics.
Meanwhile, the intellectuals who have brought conservatism to a broader public have been moving away from their old certainties. Ross Douthat, the young conservative tapped as an op-ed writer by the New York Times, has argued that Republicans need to win back the "Sam's Club" voters and convince working-class people that family values are actually in their economic interest--even though doing so may mean abandoning a hardline laissez-faire position. Times-men David Brooks and Sam Tanenhaus have described a putative "Burkean" strain on the right, a restrained, moderate and sentimental tradition whose adherents objected to the "excesses" of the Great Society but were willing to preserve the established structures of the New Deal out of respect for tradition and settled norms. (Whittaker Chambers, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and even Richard Nixon, in the first years of his presidency, are supposed to be a few of the people who practiced this politics, not all knowingly so.)
But this attempt to reinvent the right is fraught with difficulty. Leaving aside the question of whether Burke--who wrote in the heat and fury of counterrevolution--really held such genteel commitments, it is hard to make the case that the American conservative movement can easily be divided between moderates in the Burkean mold and radical reactionaries. Brooks's and Tanenhaus's turn to Burke recalls George Nash's 1976 classic The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. Like many conservatives who tell their own history, Nash placed the greatest emphasis on the history of ideas and the fusion of traditionalist, anticommunist and libertarian strains of conservatism. By portraying a conservative world teeming with ideas, he was able to refute the enduring 1950s image of conservatism as intellectually dead, even as he glossed over the social and political bases of the movement. Indeed, as Tanenhaus has written, the people who have always determined the course of American conservatism have been the passionate ideologues, the "revanchists" who are less interested in what they can "conserve" than what they can raze.
Although Tanenhaus has argued that left-leaning social historians, having abandoned intellectual history, are ill equipped to understand the appeal of conservative ideas, the project of inventing a tradition of conservative intellectual moderation as the road not taken for American politics seems to have more to do with the present dilemma of the movement than with historical inquiry. That Brooks and Tanenhaus find the motif of Burke appealing is largely a sign of their longing to revive a serious, sophisticated and mature conservatism, and their sense that, thanks to the radicals, the right is in desperate straits and has entered a period of decline. This situation holds a special irony for Tanenhaus, who believes we are living in a conservative era, "perhaps the most conservative since the Eisenhower years," as he writes in his new book, The Death of Conservatism.
But this narrative of conservative defeat and retrenchment--tightly focused on backlash politics and movement conservatism--is only one part of the story. The recent turn in scholarship toward economic change offers another way of understanding the fate of the movement. For despite the financial crisis of the past year, the faith in laissez-faire that conservatives promoted throughout the postwar period continues to exercise a deep hold on American politics. Think tanks, business organizations and corporate lobbying groups still wield great influence in Washington and throughout the country, their confidence hardly shaken by the disasters that their politics helped bring about. Wealthy individuals who financed the movement are still donating their dollars to fight healthcare reform. Companies such as Citibank are battling labor-law reform even as they take bailout funds. The self-righteous chutzpah of bankers who insist on paying themselves tremendous bonuses even after driving the country into financial turmoil reflects the triumph of an ideology in which the private sector can do no wrong. And the economic assumptions that the conservative movement advanced throughout the postwar period continue to prevail in our culture and politics overall, where it is hard for people to imagine a check on, much less an alternative to, a merciless market-driven world. Even the Obama administration is well stocked with Wall Street veterans and economists committed to preserving high-octane financial capitalism.
History has a strange way of rescuing the defeated. As a self-conscious movement, conservatism has sunk into one of the deepest crises in its history. But it may be only in this moment of apparent ruin that we can for the first time assess the full significance of all that the right has won.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Thursday, September 24, 2009 - 15:12
SOURCE: Slate (9-23-09)
A few years ago, in this column, I proposed a moratorium on drive-by references to historian Richard Hofstadter's classic essay"The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Too often, pundits invoked the title of that Goldwater-era exploration of right-wing fringe politics without giving much attention to the essay's actual content, let alone the context in which Hofstadter wrote it.
Not surprisingly, my plea worked about as well as a stop sign before a runaway 18-wheeler. Lately, from the rise of Sarah Palin to the spring's"tea parties" to the"birther" frenzies and health care town halls of this summer to the Joe Wilson contretemps, allusions to Hofstadter have never seemed more widespread.
It's hard to deny that the title recommends itself. Today's ultraconservative activists exhibit many core elements of the style that Hofstadter identified: the penchant for" conspiratorial fantasy," the apocalyptic stakes imagined to be involved in policy debates, the imperviousness to rational persuasion. Nonetheless, Hofstadter's thesis ought to be used carefully and sparingly. All too often, pundits wheel out Hofstadter's intellectual authority as a substitute for fresh analysis; sometimes they appear to be endorsing a psychological diagnosis of conservative activists—a reading of Hofstadter's work that he pointedly disavowed ("I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics"), but that his choice of words inevitably, and unfortunately, encouraged.
So, if"the paranoid style" is destined to stay with us as a concept, it's worth re-examining its meaning and the context in which Hofstadter developed it.
For Hofstadter, the essay (first given as a lecture at Oxford in 1963, published in short form in Harper's in 1964, expanded for the book in 1965) represented the final statement, if not exactly the culmination, of a decade of explorations into the American far right. It was during the heyday of Sen. Joe McCarthy—who claimed that Cold War espionage"must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man"—that a claque of intellectuals began to examine the sources and motives of these outré movements that were suddenly visible in American politics.
The thinkers who investigated the historical, psychological, and sociological roots of right-wing extremism ranged from social psychologists such as Gordon Allport to continental theorists such as Theodor Adorno to best-selling popularizers such as Eric Hoffer—many of them unsettled by the trauma of European fascism and its echoes in the McCarthy movement. (In the 1960s, with the rise of conspiratorial thinking in the New Left, many turned their attention to the paranoid style on the left as well.) A handful of these thinkers, collaborating in a Columbia University faculty seminar, wrote up their theories for a volume called The New American Right (1955), later updated as The Radical Right (1963).
Hofstadter's contribution to The New American Right was"The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt," which actually makes more of an effort than does"The Paranoid Style" to identify the sources and hallmarks of ultraconservative thought. Like many of his colleagues in the Columbia seminar, Hofstadter had by this point long ago dropped his youthful Marxism and come to regard the economistic worldview of the previous generation's leading historians as inadequate. He and his peers sought to mine richer veins of social thought, going back to Weber and Freud, to dig deeper into motive, values, ideology, and the habits of mind of subcultures.
Hofstadter's 1954 essay introduced the concept of"status politics." It suggested that the far right's obsessions—which he judged inexplicable solely by reference to conventional material interests—were tied to a distinctly modern anxiety:"[t]he rootlessness and heterogeneity of American life," felt as the old order of the rural village collapsed. Once-dominant WASPs of native stock feared displacement by rising ethnic groups, while Irish and German Catholics embraced"hyper-patriotism,""hyper-conformism," and kindred values to strut their American bona fides. Patriotic societies, veterans' groups, and McCarthyite causes helped these groups equate their own values with American ones.
"The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt," furthermore, situated these individuals within a rapidly shifting culture. Contributing to their frightened, aggressive, and bitter disposition were, among other factors, the"the growth of the mass media of communication," the"long tenure in power" of liberals, and the feeling during the Cold War of" continued crisis" rather than the periodic involvement in world affairs that the United States had enjoyed before 1939. Although Hofstadter didn't plumb these factors in depth, and although at times he let his contempt for his subjects overwhelm his capacity to explicate their thought, he was still able to describe the impulses behind the new conservatism nonjudgmentally, as"a response, however unrealistic, to realities."
Over the next decade, Hofstadter retained his interest in ultraconservatism. As the fury of McCarthyism gave way to the more quotidian conformity of the Ike Age (and the popular rejection of the cerebral Adlai Stevenson), Hofstadter trained his focus on the historical sources of America's long-standing hostility toward the life of the mind, producing perhaps his most brilliant work, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963). Just at that moment, however, right-wing extremism came roaring back. In 1964, the far right won the Republican presidential nomination for its own standard-bearer, Barry Goldwater. And the assassination of President Kennedy on a trip to seething, ultraconservative Dallas—where mobs had just verbally and physically harassed Stevenson and where a John Birch Society newspaper ad on Nov. 22 menacingly charged the president with communistic sympathies—made the extremists appear newly dangerous.
Hofstadter hints at the influence of the assassination on his thinking in"The Paranoid Style." He recounts a congressional hearing, following Kennedy's murder, on a gun-control measure that so exercised three Arizona men that they"drove 2,500 miles to Washington from Bagdad, Arizona, to testify against it … with what might be considered representative paranoid arguments, insisting that it was an 'attempt by a subversive power to make us part of one world socialistic government. '" If nothing else, the assassination crystallized the worries about a resurgent right that led historians in the 1960s to look again at conspiracy-mindedness.
Ironically, the historical portion of Hofstadter essay, though seldom cited these days by journalists, was groundbreaking, though not very controversial. It traced the tendency in our political culture, on the left and right, to see all-powerful conspiracies devoted to subverting the American way. In contrast, the essay's latter half, a portrait of the style and practices of the contemporary far right, is what usually gets cited.
No one would deny the cogent insights of the essay. Hofstadter identifies real aspects of a familiar right-wing type, from the hyper-competence he ascribes to his conspiring enemies ("he is a perfect model of malice; a kind of amoral superman") to his taste for pseudo-pedantry ("McCarthy's 96-page pamphlet McCarthyism contains no less than 313 footnote references, and Mr. Welch's fantastic assault on Eisenhower, The Politician, is weighed down by a hundred pages of bibliography and notes"). And as countless admirers have noted, some of Hofstadter's language about the right of that era—from anti-fluoridation cranks to John Birch Society members—perfectly describes today's extremists. To wit:"The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialist and communist schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major states—men seated at the very centers of American power." Direct links between the Goldwater-era conspiracism and today's are easy to find: the right's criticisms of President Obama's health care reform, for example, carries the distinct whiff of Ronald Reagan's early-1960s alarums against"socialized medicine."
But while dead-on in many details and useful in anatomizing angry fringe groups, Hofstadter's essay evaded the hardest questions. He never explained what moved particular people or subcultures to embrace the paranoid style. He's probably correct that"the paranoid disposition is mobilized into action chiefly by social conflicts that involve ultimate schemes of values and that bring fundamental fears and hatreds, rather than negotiable interests, into political action"—in essence, status politics again—but he was frustratingly silent about who, precisely, is drawn to the Manichaeism he described.
Moreover, at a time when a magazine called Fact used a (methodologically bogus) survey of American Psychiatric Association members to conclude during the 1964 campaign season that Goldwater was clinically paranoid, Hofstadter's psychological metaphor sounded like elite condescension—an impression of Hofstadter's work that has endured among not just the conservatives he studied but also his own academic heirs. Indeed, for all the continual journalistic hosannas to the relevance of"The Paranoid Style," professional historians have grown increasingly confirmed of late that Hofstadter, Bell, and company got conservatism wrong. For about 15 years now, ever since Ronald Reagan's ascent became grist for the historian's mill, there has been a" cottage industry" of dissertations and books seeking to understand how a fringe conservatism—famously dismissed by Hofstadter's Columbia colleague Lionel Trilling as"irritable mental gestures that seek to resemble ideas"—went mainstream and gained power. These new studies of postwar conservatism often begin with a ritual denunciation of Hofstadter and his contemporaries. They deem the Columbians to be patronizing toward their subjects, too dismissive of the grass-roots right's actual ideas, and above all too keen to place quasi-psychological neuroses, whether"status anxiety" or a nonclinical"paranoia" (whatever Hofstadter meant by that) at the center of their analyses. They fashion the right's midcentury critics as hopelessly elite liberals, peering down their noses at the Southern and Western riffraff mindlessly rallying behind screwball ideas, demagogic leaders, or ethnic hatreds.
It's true that Hofstadter often failed to grant the legitimacy of certain conservative principles that were at least defensible. What's more, his Olympian tone, despite his leavening wit, could come across as supercilious. Yet as easy as it is for today's historians to deride Hofstadter's condescension—and to take pride in feeling superior to him in the process—these historians themselves fall into an identical dilemma, without resolving it any more satisfactorily than Hofstadter did. The dilemma is how you understand an extremist movement with analytic detachment without legitimizing what are often deeply misguided (and sometimes despicable) beliefs. How do you offer a sympathetic account of paleo-conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly without glossing over their anti-Semitism—or explain the Klan without explaining its racism away?
The problem is compounded by writing about current politics: When Hofstadter examined the distant past—the paranoid style in the anti-Masonic movement of the 19th century, for example—he didn't worry that he might be seen as insufficiently judgmental toward a dim historical curiosity. But in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, even the most dispassionate historian would be hard pressed to muffle every note of contempt, anger, or even crankiness of his own.
This is, I think, the main problem with using Hofstadter and"The Paranoid Style" to understand the birthers and town hall screamers and Glenn Beck acolytes of today. It's difficult enough to write about McCarthyites and Goldwaterites with the proper proportions of imaginative sympathy and moral judgment. But when we're caught in the throes of our own contentious moment, it hardly seems possible to separate the political need to fight irrationalism and zealotry from the psycho-sociological project of distilling the motives of extremists. It's natural, even necessary, to try to make sense of a movement that appears—to many of us, at any rate—delusional. But the most that history, or historians, can do is what Hofstadter did in the first half of the"Paranoid Style": point to the many antecedents of today's right-wing fantasies and, by putting them in historical context, making them more comprehensible and perhaps less fearsome.
Those who talk about being frightened today or act as if Obama is the first president to suffer the slings of what Franklin Roosevelt called"nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror" would do well to note that on the back cover of my 1996 reissue of The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays is a quote from Hofstadter's sole equal among his generation of political historians, Arthur Schlesinger:
Recent months have witnessed an attack of unprecedented passion and ferocity against the national government. … Unbridled rhetoric is having consequences far beyond anything that antigovernment politicians intend. The flow of angry words seems to have activated and in a sense legitimized what the historian Richard Hofstadter called the"paranoid strain" in American politics.
Schlesinger published his comment in the Wall Street Journal on June 7, 1995.
The"paranoid" style did not return suddenly this summer. On the contrary, Hofstadter was surely correct when he wrote that while"it comes in waves of different intensity, it appears to be all but ineradicable."
Posted on: Thursday, September 24, 2009 - 15:06
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (9-24-09)
Five years ago today, Charles Duelfer, Head of the Iraq Survey Group, presented to Congress the final report of his 1200 member team, which concluded that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction when it was invaded by the United States in 2003. Because the danger posed by WMD was the Bush Administration’s chief justification for the Iraq war, the failure to discover the illicit arms provoked a fiery political scandal. The ensuing debate revolved around the following question: did the Bush Administration intentionally distort the truth about Iraq’s WMD, as the administration’s harsh critics charged, or did the WMD fiasco result from an unintentional if grave “intelligence failure,” as the administration’s more moderate critics would have it? Alas, the debate sidestepped another equally important question: what role did the use of the phrase “weapons of mass destruction”—a phrase that few Americans were familiar with prior to 2002—play in the successful marketing of the war to the American people? Did this ominous phrase merely describe an Iraqi threat or did its incantation rather create and magnify the threat?
Consider the following excerpt from a speech delivered by President Bush in Fort Hood, Texas, on January 3, 2003:
"The Iraqi regime has used weapons of mass destruction. They not only had weapons of mass destruction, they used weapons of mass destruction. They used weapons of mass destruction in other countries, they have used weapons of mass destruction on their own people. That’s why I say Iraq is a threat, a real threat."
This statement illustrates two key features of the way in which “weapons of mass destruction” was used to mobilize public support for the Iraq war.
First, note that the specific weapon the Iraqi regime actually used “in other countries” (Iran) and “on their own people” was poison gas; yet the president employed the more abstract term WMD—an expression that in the public’s mind was commonly associated with that ultimate weapon of terror: the nuclear bomb. Although the president’s usage of the term to allude to chemical weapons was technically in accord with a definition of WMD adopted by the United Nations in 1948 (WMD = atomic, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons), it was largely inconsistent with the typical usage of this phrase—to the extent that it has been used at all—by the American media. From the 1950s to the 1980s the media used “WMD” rather infrequently; on those occasions in which it has appeared in the press, the phrase has only rarely been associated with weapons other than nuclear arms. Neither the poison gas employed by the Egyptian army in Yemen in the 1960s nor the “Agent Orange” widely used by the United States in Vietnam was depicted as “weapons of mass destruction.” Most significantly, in contrast to the Bush Administration’s rhetoric in 2002–03, in the 1980s the American press did not employ the term WMD in its reporting on Iraq’s chemical warfare against Iran and the Kurds. Although the frequency of “weapons of mass destruction” in the press rose somewhat after the phrase was inserted into the 1991 UN resolution that established the weapons’ inspection regime in Iraq, familiarity with this term remained largely confined to specialists. Only during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq did this expression become a household phrase.
Because chemical weapons are nowhere nearly as destructive as nuclear arms (which Iraq never had or used), and because the American public, to the extent that it heard the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” before 2002, typically associated it with nuclear arms, the administration’s frequent declarations that Iraq had, or used, “weapons of mass destruction” rhetorically magnified the Iraqi threat.
The second feature of the rhetoric of WMD illustrated by the president’s Fort Hood speech was its repetitiousness. Beginning with the January 2002 State of the Union address, the president and senior administration officials uttered this term multiple times in most of their public appearances. The U.S. media echoed and amplified the administration’s WMD rhetoric—in the twelve months preceding the war, the frequency of the term’s appearance in the press had increased almost tenfold. Even the acronym WMD has become so ubiquitous that by the time the war broke out many journalists no longer felt compelled to spell it out. The American Dialect Society selected “weapons of mass destruction” as its 2002 “word of the year.”
The incessant incantation of “weapons of mass destruction” by the Bush Administration and the ricocheting of this phrase through the echo chamber of the mass media emptied it of any specific meaning. Just as the repetitive structure of many liturgical texts serves to divert the worshipper’s mind from his worldly situation and to affirm the axioms of his belief, so did the ceaseless incantation of “weapons of mass destruction” make Americans take the existence of these weapons as an article of faith, distracting the American mind from the realities of the Middle East. And just as the chanting of a mantra lifts the chanter above material reality and promotes the actualization of the idea being uttered, so did the chant “weapons of mass destruction” create the Iraqi threat as much as it described such a threat.
Posted on: Thursday, September 24, 2009 - 14:30
SOURCE: Private Papers (website of Victor Davis Hanson) (9-21-09)
It was certainly uncouth of Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., to scream out "You lie" at his commander-in-chief in the middle of Barack Obama's recent healthcare speech before a joint session of Congress.
And others who keep insisting that the president doesn't have an authentic U.S. birth certificate clearly come off as unhinged — much like just-resigned White House green-jobs czar Van Jones does for having signed his name to a petition stating that the Bush administration may have allowed the 9/11 murders of 3,000 people to happen.
During his speech the other night, the president calmly called for a new civility — although he had just accused his opponents of dissimulation in their attack on his healthcare plan, while himself presenting many dubious suppositions as fact.
Over the last three decades, we saw vicious attacks on Ronald Reagan and on Bill Clinton, and their tough replies in turn. But recently the vicious rhetoric has escalated far beyond anything in the past. The smears seem reminiscent more of the brawling on the eve of the Civil War, or the nastiness during the 1960s that took decades to heal.
No one knows what the rules of engagement are now. Republicans have not forgotten that Democratic legislators loudly booed Bush during his 2005 “State of the Union.” Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, not long ago boasted, "I hate Republicans!" Around the same time, the New Republic published an article entitled "Why I hate George W. Bush."
Major politicians like former Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W-Va., and former Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, have compared George W. Bush or his supporters to Nazis or the brown shirts. A major publishing house released a novel about killing President Bush; a movie won a prize at the Toronto Film Festival with the same theme. Bush Derangement Syndrome was no joke.
What exactly has gone wrong?
A number of things. For years, liberals were out of power. They became increasingly shrill in their frustration at George W. Bush — who seemed to set them off like no other Republican in memory.
Now that Democrats control both the Congress and the presidency, they are once more the establishment. Yet suddenly they have become angered that some conservatives, in tit-for-tat fashion, would dare resort to some of the crassness that was used to defame Bush — when any means were felt necessary to achieve the noble ends of opposing his policies...
Posted on: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - 23:59
SOURCE: Boston.com (9-13-09)
Since the global financial system started unraveling in dramatic fashion two years ago, distinguished economists have suffered a crisis of their own. Ivy League professors who had trumpeted the dawn of a new era of stability have scrambled to explain how, exactly, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression had ambushed their entire profession.
Amid the hand-wringing and the self-flagellation, a few more cerebral commentators started to speak about the arrival of a “Minsky moment,” and a growing number of insiders began to warn of a coming “Minsky meltdown.”
“Minsky” was shorthand for Hyman Minsky, a hitherto obscure macroeconomist who died over a decade ago. Many economists had never heard of him when the crisis struck, and he remains a shadowy figure in the profession. But lately he has begun emerging as perhaps the most prescient big-picture thinker about what, exactly, we are going through. A contrarian amid the conformity of postwar America, an expert in the then-unfashionable subfields of finance and crisis, Minsky was one economist who saw what was coming. He predicted, decades ago, almost exactly the kind of meltdown that recently hammered the global economy.
In recent months Minsky’s star has only risen. Nobel Prize-winning economists talk about incorporating his insights, and copies of his books are back in print and selling well. He’s gone from being a nearly forgotten figure to a key player in the debate over how to fix the financial system.
But if Minsky was as right as he seems to have been, the news is not exactly encouraging. He believed in capitalism, but also believed it had almost a genetic weakness. Modern finance, he
argued, was far from the stabilizing force that mainstream economics portrayed: rather, it was a system that created the illusion of stability while simultaneously creating the conditions for an inevitable and dramatic collapse.
In other words, the one person who foresaw the crisis also believed that our whole financial system contains the seeds of its own destruction. “Instability,” he wrote, “is an inherent and inescapable flaw of capitalism.”
Minsky’s vision might have been dark, but he was not a fatalist; he believed it was possible to craft policies that could blunt the collateral damage caused by financial crises. But with a growing number of economists eager to declare the recession over, and the crisis itself apparently behind us, these policies may prove as discomforting as the theories that prompted them in the first place. Indeed, as economists re-embrace Minsky’s prophetic insights, it is far from clear that they’re ready to reckon with the full implications of what he saw.
In an ideal world, a profession dedicated to the study of capitalism would be as freewheeling and innovative as its ostensible subject. But economics has often been subject to powerful orthodoxies, and never more so than when Minsky arrived on the scene.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - 22:57
SOURCE: Progressive Historians (9-23-09)
After the American Civil War, racial imagery came to be used as a tool of political and social oppression. Not that this wasn't the situation previously, but after the Civil War Africans had the legal right to vote. For racist whites this required new methods of intimidation, and imagery was as important as ever. Here we see an African American and an Irishman depicted as monkey-like, showing that in this early period the use of an ape to depict people of supposed"lower" racial orders wasn't confined to African Americans.
... And then we have this, regarding President Barack Obama, which is easy to parse in the context of several hundred years of racial imagery and intimidation...
Posted on: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - 21:25