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: The End is Coming (History Blog) (10-26-09)
Britain has recently succumbed to the televised political debate, a forum which has become the norm in America but that remains tentative and novel across the pond. Indeed, in a show of impartiality, the BBC-hosted event invited all the major players but one invitation, that of Nick Griffin from the British National Party (BNP), has stirred up a fair amount of protest. The BBC reiterates its impartiality and claims it was only fair to invite the representative of 15 council and 2 European parliamentary seats; on the other hand, protestors resent the invitation of a party founded on the “rights of the indigenous peoples of the UK”. The far-right ideology based around anti-immigration is a much older tradition in England than televised debates but its success has always been prevented by the country’s firmly rooted traditions of a constitutional monarchy and personal freedoms. Finally, is racism a freedom?
Freedom of speech and expression has had a long-standing feud with the tendencies towards defamation and blatant racism. One should have the right to speak his mind without having the censure of government and society impeding his/her words. Conversely, at what point does freedom of speech and expression overstep its bounds and restrict one’s freedom of safety from discrimination, personal harm and verbal abuse? In this instance, the BNP tends to champion just the basic freedom of words by such statements as “the audience was not representative of the UK as a whole as levels of immigration in London meant it was no longer a British city” referring to the audience present at the televised debate. Mr. Griffin affirms he is “not a Nazi”, he simply defends the Ku Klux Klan, chastises Islam and simply wants immigration to halt and all non-whites to be expelled from the “United” Kingdom.
Many around the world may scoff at Mr, Griffin’s eccentric ideals that cater to the very base of human hatred and reactionary impulses but the protestors in London on the night of the debate had a much more practical motivation for their dissent. Indeed, protestors claim and offer proof that every time the BNP is given ANY amount of national attention, their ranks grow (3,000 more members due to the debate) and there is a sharp spike in racially-motivated crimes around the nation. Nevertheless, the BBC’s generous impartiality was rewarded with a hefty 8,000,000 viewers during the event, a 400% increase from the last televised debate. Thus, the BBC won in ratings, the BNP won in popularity and the only real loser of the soirée were the power-holding parties that were shadowed by Mr. Griffin’s presence and views and indeed democracy was basically made fun of under the auspices of a purportedly “impartial” and “necessary” televised debate.
Britain is a multicultural nation that, as far as we can tell, only holds its ancient Celtic roots through the lineage of some Welsh families. Apart from these “indigenous” English people, Roman, Saxon, Scottish, Irish, French and a plethora of other nations have either invaded, adopted or immigrated to the British Isles and today constitute the “British” people. Claims of racial purity do not have much legitimacy in such a richly multi-cultural nation. The last time a right-wing British political group was this notorious, swastikas were spreading from Germany to Austria.
Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists (BUF) rose to prominence in the early 1930s on a platform of anti-communism, anti-immigration and more subtly of anti-democracy. The immediately obvious flaw in this doctrine was that to gain power, the BUF had to convince millions of people that the freedoms they had enjoyed for the past 250 years had to be surrendered in favour of an all-knowing dictator and party. Indeed the basis of fascism, as detailed by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, was that it wasn’t because many people agreed that they knew what was best.
Adolf Hitler concurred and gained the German chancellorship in 1932 permitting him to impose his will, views and policies to all levels of German society (and soon around the continent). The situation is however very different. The Germans had experienced a precarious 13 years of republican democracy and had recently been heavily penalized and humiliated by the end of the First World War and by the Treaty of Versailles which blamed all the Germans for the terrible war. England had not only enjoyed constitutional monarchy for centuries but had won the war and was growing weary of “fascism” and the German menace as the 1930s progressed.
All in all, Mosley won a peak of 36,000 electors yet once he created and maintained close ties with the Fuhrer by the late 1930s, anti-Semitism appeared on the BUF charter and indeed all support evaporated for the eccentric little party. Violence ensued at all BUF events, especially with pro-communist factions and finally in 1940, Winston Churchill ordered the arrest of Mosley and the outlawing of all fascist parties. Some may say this was a victory for ethical morality and decency but others may claim that this was a dark day for freedom of speech and democracy in general. That being said, not many people shed a tear for the BUF as German bomber raids were setting London ablaze.
After all is said and done, is there a place for racism in our free and open society? Or would this racism be the demise of a free and open society? I think there is too much at stake to test it either way and for now, allowing the Nick Griffins of the world to talk while protesting their very words may be the very best way to exercise democracy known to man. To quote Winston Churchill: “...democracy is the worst form of government; except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Posted on: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 - 03:07
SOURCE: The Chronicle of Higher Education (10-22-09)
In the current controversy over whether Rush Limbaugh is a racist, he and his supporters have based their denials on what they claim are inaccurate accounts of radio and TV broadcasts. A more verifiable source, however, is the text of his two mega-best-selling books published in the early 1990s.
The following passage from pages 117-18 of The Way Things Ought to Be (1992) reads sickeningly like a Ku Klux Klan tract.
The civil rights coalition in this country has had its way with the Democratic party since 1957. That was the last time the coalition, as a liberal constituency, was defeated. The coalition includes the ACLU and the leaders of such civil rights organizations as People for the American Way and the National Association for the Advancement of (Liberal) Colored People.
How have the leaders of these civil rights organizations become so empowered? They do not have normal jobs. Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP, for example, raises money and keeps a percentage of it for himself as head of the organization. The same is true for the head of People for the American Way. They do not have real jobs, yet they have power. They derive that power by utilizing the tools of class envy and hatred.
These people enjoy power for only one reason. Their sole source of strength is their monolithic constituency -- which determines the number of liberal votes they can deliver to Democrats on election day. This monolithic constituency delivers up to 90 percent of the minority vote to the Democratic candidate for president every presidential election year. The ability of all these civil rights groups to deliver the vote for Democrats has invested them with power. This vote, in turn, has invested the Democrats with power. It's a win-win situation. [On p. 41, Limbaugh also claimed, "The Democrats love giving money to the poor because it makes them dependent upon the Democrats and helps to ensure their reelection."] . . .
It is neither far-fetched nor unfair to draw an analogy between the civil rights leadership and the Soviet Communist leadership, insofar as exploitation of their people is concerned. The leaders of both enjoy the privileges of class at the expense of the masses, who do all the work and whom the leaders purport to serve. . . . Their efforts produce no goods or services to be contributed to the economy, but in fact have just the opposite effect.
These passages are classic demagogy, inciting the prejudices of the ignorant against "these people," with a barrage of unsubstantiated, sweepingly vague slanders. (Nowhere here or elsewhere did Limbaugh explain what specific abuses he was criticizing that warranted comparison with the massacres and imprisonment of millions in the Soviet Union.) Beginning with the first sentence, I defy anyone to explain what on earth Limbaugh could have been referring to in 1957. Prominent civil rights leaders at that time included Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers, head of the Mississippi NAACP, both of whom were to be murdered by white racists. Hundreds of other leaders were imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and attacked by police dogs and fire hoses for demonstrating peacefully for these rights in the decade following 1957. Given his timeline, we must infer that Limbaugh meant to include King, Evers, and the rest in his unqualified indictment of civil rights leaders who are only out for power (an unprovable, ad hominem charge in any case).
As for their "having their way" (a sexually suggestive phrase) with the Democratic party, 1957 was the year Republican President Eisenhower desegregated Little Rock High School, against armed resistance ordered by Democratic Arkansas governor Orval Faubus. The civil rights movement was waged in opposition to the Democratic segregationists who dominated the party and Southern governments then. The Democrats nationally and in the South only came around to supporting civil rights legislation between 1963 and 1965 -- immediately after which millions of white segregationists switched to become Republicans, forming the base of Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" in 1968. Can we again infer that passage of those laws ending segregation is what Limbaugh meant by civil rights leaders "having their way" with the Democrats since 1957? His defenders will rationalize that he only was talking about more recent leaders, not the earlier ones. But if that's what he meant, why didn't he just say so, instead of coy wink-wink-nudge-nudge innuendos keyed to that damning date of 1957?
The rest of Limbaugh's passage contains so many logical fallacies in so few words that it would take volumes to unpack them. For a sampling, his insulting account of the nature of the jobs of civil rights leaders (raising money and keeping a portion of it as salary) could be applied with equal accuracy to officials of any nonprofit organization including churches, charities, and such favorite Republican lobbies as the National Rifle Association, anti-abortion groups, and the Christian Coalition.
Or consider the logic of the claim that "the Democrats love giving money to the poor because it makes them dependent upon the Democrats and helps to ensure their reelection" -- with the implication, in context, that most of the poor are minorities. Why would any political party choose to "pander" to poor people, since they have the lowest rate of voter turnout and campaign contributions, and since -- by Limbaugh's own account -- they amount to a small percentage of the American population, even if 90 percent of the number who actually vote do vote for the same party? Wouldn't it be more advantageous to pander to the rich and middle class (and whites) -- in precisely the manner of Limbaugh and the Republicans? When Limbaugh wrote this, before Clinton's election in 1992, Republicans had won seven out of the last ten presidential elections. Which was the "win-win situation"? (Even in 2008, Obama could not have won without a substantial number of white, middle-class voters.) Limbaugh's tirade, of course, fails to recognize the possibility that Democrats might support, and be supported by, minorities and the poor out of genuine moral values, including the teachings of Christ about caring for the poor, rather than the selfishness that this avowed Christian assumes to be his opponents' motive no less than his own.
Limbaugh's other book, See, I Told You So (1993) is equally loaded with factual errors and appeals to ignorance in racial, sexual, religious, and a wide range of other issues. (The editors at Pocket Books, which has made millions from Limbaugh's books, apparently couldn't afford to fact-check them.) My favorite howler is on page 81: "Is it possible that supply-side economics could have existed before the 1980s? Yes. Read the story of Joseph and Pharoah in Genesis 41. Following Joseph's suggestion (Gen 41:34), Pharoah reduced the tax on Egyptians to 20% during the ‘seven years of plenty' and the ‘Earth brought forth in heaps' (Gen 41:47)."
One at least has to admire Rush's gall in figuring that his legion of religious conservative followers were so gullible they'd swallow this lie about one of the best-known passages in the Bible. Joseph's advice, of course, had nothing to do with taxes, but with the government laying up 20 percent of crops during the years of plenty, to consume during lean years. Sounds like socialistic stifling of the free market to me! Ditto, Rush?
Posted on: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 - 00:47
SOURCE: The Nation (10-21-09)
"Attack of the Drones," a homage to the lesser of the Star Wars trilogies, is the headline of choice in reports on the One Good Thing to come out of the "war on terror": very cool gadgets. With the media stoking laddish pleasure in "weapons porn" (Newsweek's phrase), we might be forgiven for forgetting that this "greatest, weirdest, coolest hardware in the American arsenal" has neither brought the war to a swifter end nor enabled the capture of archenemy Osama bin Laden.
Indeed, behind the glittering mirage of news about the technological wizardry of drones and the giddy success of manufacturers from California to Karachi lies a chilling void of information about their use. In June the UN Human Rights Council condemned the US failure to count and disclose, much less prevent, civilian casualties from drones in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, pledged to regulate their use (implying a disturbing lack of regulation till then). But the government still refuses to share even the most basic information about attacks, partly because in Pakistan they are run by the CIA. Independent reporters who dare to investigate--like Stephen Farrell, who went to Kunduz after an airstrike killed about a hundred civilians--court death as well as condemnation for taking "unnecessary" risks for something as trivial as the truth.
The US military's certainty of the drones' effectiveness is difficult to take on trust, when it neither counts nor identifies those killed. It claims a number of top Al Qaeda officials have been hit but provides no answer to the Pakistani figure of nearly 700 civilian deaths in Pakistan alone since 2006. Official secrecy fuels rumors of the worst, and scandals like the September 4 Kunduz massacre prove that often the worst is true. Regulation cannot solve the practical problem, so evident that day, of identifying bad guys in a war-torn society in which fuel tankers captured by the Taliban attract a range of youths willing to siphon off free fuel at 2:30 am.
Afghans are cynical (and wise) enough to assume from past experience that the secrecy covers up facts too grisly for public airing. Aerial counterinsurgency was invented in the Pakistani-Afghan borderland and Iraq by the British in the 1920s. Then, as now, it was a means of fighting insurgency without public scrutiny. Then, as now, no one counted the dead. British MPs pressed futilely for "particulars of where and why these bombardments have taken place...[and] whether inhabitants have been killed." Despite the government's twisted assurance that the regime worked primarily through "terror," bombardment was used routinely even for tax collection--the sort of perversion only Orwell could capture: "Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification." It failed miserably: anger at civilian deaths and continual foreign surveillance provoked frequent insurgency, mistrust of local governments and the anxiety about Western imperialism that led to our present discontents.
Americans who are confused by the grotesque transformation of the modest aim of capturing a few bad men into a conflagration that has destroyed the lives of millions echo the Guardian of the 1920s, which asked why the British government had to send "all this machinery, all these forces...if we were establishing a political system on the basis of popular consent?" To make this skeptical public more "air-minded," the Air Ministry produced the glamorous image of the warrior-airman, which today's press is obligingly updating with the sexy robotics and thermal dynamics of drones. Without distinguishing between drones that protect our troops and those that drop bombs and hover menacingly over an occupied people, The Economist taunts, "like them or not, drones are here to stay."
But they needn't be: some experts in the media echo chamber realize that behind the awesome special effects is a pretty weak story. Lord Bingham, a retired senior British judge, compares hunter-killer drones to cluster bombs and land mines, weapons that have been deemed too cruel for use; and David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert and former adviser in Iraq, calls their hit rate immoral.
But time is running out. Drone surveillance is fast becoming the excuse for an extended American presence over Iraq and Afghanistan, if not on the ground, making the spoken objective of state-building a canard.
Airstrikes, manned or unmanned, regulated or not, cannot build a better Afghan future. For every decapitated Al Qaeda leader, ten angry and desperate dupes join up. In their pursuit of a better technique of bombardment, General McChrystal, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Obama have forgotten the all-important politics of bombardment. While eagerly correlating any drop in US casualties with drone activity, they have missed the more revealing correlation between drone use, visceral hatred for the Kabul and Islamabad governments, and the expansion of the Taliban, who shrewdly portray their insurgency as nationalist resistance to the violence these governments connive in. As long as Afghans and Pakistanis see their governments as Janus-faced collaborators with the US military occupation, the governments will not be able to stand up, and US troops will not be able to stand down. Instead of sophomorically hailing the futuristic Attack of the Drones, it's time to revisit the homelier original, "A New Hope."
Posted on: Sunday, October 25, 2009 - 18:56
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (Website of Tom Engelhardt) (10-22-09)
When the Nobel Committee awarded its annual peace prize to President Barack Obama, it afforded him a golden opportunity seldom offered to American war presidents: the possibility of success. Should he decide to go the peace-maker route, Obama stands a chance of really accomplishing something significant. On the other hand, history suggests that the path of war is a surefire loser. As president after president has discovered, especially since World War II, the U.S. military simply can't seal the deal on winning a war.
While the armed forces can do many things, the one thing that has generally escaped them is that ultimate endpoint: lasting victory. This might have been driven home recently -- had anyone noticed -- when, in the midst of the Washington debate over the Afghan War, a forgotten front in President Bush's Global War on Terror, the Philippines, popped back into the news. On September 25th, New York Times correspondent Norimitsu Onishi wrote:
"Early this decade, American soldiers landed on the island of Basilan, here in the southern Philippines, to help root out the militant Islamic separatist group Abu Sayyaf. Now, Basilan's biggest towns, once overrun by Abu Sayyaf and criminal groups, have become safe enough that a local Avon lady trolls unworriedly for customers. Still, despite seven years of joint military missions and American development projects, much of the island outside main towns like Lamitan remains unsafe."
In attempting to explain the uneven progress of U.S. counterinsurgency operations against Muslim guerillas in the region after the better part of a decade, Onishi also noted, "Basilan, like many other Muslim and Christian areas in the southern Philippines, has a long history of political violence, clan warfare and corruption." While he remained silent about events prior to the 1990s, his newspaper had offered this reasonably rosy assessment of U.S. counterinsurgency efforts against Muslim guerrillas on the same island -- 100 years earlier:
"Detachments of the Twenty-third and Twenty-fifth Infantry, with constabulary and armed launches assisting, are engaged in disarming the Moros on Basilan Island. The troops are distributed around the coast and are co-operating in a series of closing-in movements."
Days after Onishi's report appeared, two American soldiers were killed on nearby Jolo Island. As a Reuters story noted, it "was the first deadly strike against U.S. forces deployed in the southern Philippines since a soldier in a restaurant was killed in 2002..." As in Basilan, however, the U.S. counterinsurgency story in Jolo actually goes back a long way. In early January 1905, to cite just one example, two members of the U.S. military -- the 14th Cavalry to be exact -- were killed during pacification operations on that same island.
That U.S. forces are attempting to defeat Muslim guerrillas on the same two tiny islands a century later should perhaps give President Obama pause as he weighs his options in Afghanistan and considers his recent award. It might also be worth his time to assess the military's record of success in conflicts since World War II, starting with the stalemate war in Korea that began in June 1950 and has yet to end in peace, let alone victory. That quiescent but unsettled conflict provides a ready-made opportunity for the president to achieve a triumph that has long escaped the U.S. military. He could help make a lasting peace on a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula and so begin earning his recent award.
Vietnam and Beyond
At the moment, Obama and his fellow Washington power-players are reportedly immersed in the literature of the Vietnam War in an attempt to use history as a divining rod for discovering a path forward in Afghanistan. At the Pentagon, many evidently still cling to the notion that the conflict was lost thanks to the weakness of public support in the U.S., pessimistic reporting by the media, and politicians without backbones.
Obama would do well to ignore their revisionist reading list for a simple reason: bluntly put, the U.S.-funded French military effort to defeat Vietnamese nationalism in the early 1950s failed dismally; then, a U.S.-funded effort to set up and arm a viable government in South Vietnam failed dismally; and finally, the U.S. military's full-scale, years' long effort to destroy the Vietnamese forces arrayed against it failed even more dismally -- and not in the cities and towns of the United States, nor even in the halls of power in Washington, but in the hamlets of South Vietnam. U.S. efforts in neighboring Cambodia and Laos similarly crashed and burned.
Victory aside, the U.S. military proved capable during the Vietnam War of accomplishing much. Its true achievement lay in the merciless pummeling it gave the people of Southeast Asia, leaving the region blood-soaked, heavily cratered, significantly poisoned, and littered with explosives, which kill and maim villagers to this day.
In the wake of out-and-out defeat in Indochina, Americans diagnosed themselves as suffering from a "Vietnam Syndrome" (resulting in a less muscular foreign policy -- embarrassing for a global superpower) and in need of a victory cure. In the 1980s and 1990s, this led to "triumphs" over such powers as the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada and Panama, a country whose "defense forces," in total, numbered just 12,000 (about half the size of the U.S. ground troops in the invading force) -- and cut-and-run flops in Lebanon and Somalia.
The "lessons" of Vietnam were declared officially buried forever in the scorching deserts of the Middle East in March 1991. "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!" President George H.W. Bush triumphantly exclaimed at the end of the First Gulf War -- and yet Saddam Hussein, the enemy autocrat, remained firmly ensconced in power in Baghdad and the conflict continued at a less than triumphant simmer for over a decade until his son, George W. Bush, again took the country to war against the same Iraqi leader his father had fought and again declared the mission accomplished.
Following a lightning-fast march on Baghdad in 2003, much like the speedy pseudo-victory in Kuwait in Gulf War I, U.S. forces again proved unable to seal the deal. Bush administration efforts to dominate the country politically by writing Iraq's constitution, while circumventing real elections, were quickly laid low by Iraq's most powerful religious leader, the Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Then, the U.S. military was sent reeling for years by a Sunni insurgency. Though violence is currently tamped down to what is often called "an acceptable level," Iraq remains a war zone and Barack Obama is the fourth president to preside over a seemingly never-ending, irresolvable set of conflicts in that country. (The U.S.-allied Iraqi government has already proclaimed the U.S. a loser, announcing a "great victory" over the U.S. occupation in June 2009 and comparing the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from the country's cities to a historic 1920 Iraqi revolt against British forces. American officials have not disagreed.)
During the 1980s, U.S. proxies in Afghanistan, Muslim mujahideen guerrillas, fought the Soviet occupation. Today, U.S. troops are the occupiers, fighting some of those same mujahidin and in the ninth year of this latest war in Afghanistan, victory still appears to be nowhere on the mountainous horizon, while failure, according to Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal, is once again a possibility.
Late last year, at the 26th Army Science Conference, I listened to one of the top-ranking enlisted men in the Army, a highly decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror, and a draftee during America's losing war in Vietnam, candidly admit that U.S. troops in Afghanistan simply could not keep up with enemy forces. The lightly-armed, body-armor-less guerrillas were too mobile and too agile, he said, for up-armored, heavily weighed-down American troops. When I asked him about the comment later, a colleague of the same rank and fellow Global War on Terror veteran quickly jumped to his defense, declaring, "Yeah, I can't run the mountain with them, but I'll still get them -- eventually." Almost a year later, the better part of a decade into the fight, the unanswered question remains, "When?"
The U.S. military is unquestionably powerful and has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to mete out tremendous amounts of destruction and death. From Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia to Iraq and Afghanistan, enemy fighters and unfortunate civilians, military base camps and people's homes have been laid waste by U.S. forces in decade after decade of conflict. Yet sealing the deal has been another matter entirely. Victory has repeatedly slipped through the fingers of American presidents, no matter how much technology and ordnance has been unleashed on the poor, sometimes pre-industrial populations of America's war zones.
Now, the Nobel Committee has made a remarkable gamble. It has seen fit to offer Barack Obama, who entered the Oval Office as a war president and soon doubled down the U.S. bet on the expanding conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan, an opportunity for a lasting legacy and real achievement of a sort that has long escaped American presidents. Their prize gives him an opportunity to step back and consider the history of American war-making and what the U.S. military is really capable of doing thousands of miles from home. It's an unparalleled opportunity to face up honestly to the repeatedly demonstrated limits of American military power. It's also the president's chance to transform himself from war-maker by inheritance to his own kind of peace-maker, and so display a skill possessed by few previous presidents. He could achieve a more lasting victory, while limiting the blood, American and foreign, on his -- and all Americans' -- hands.
More than 100 years after their early counterinsurgency efforts on two tiny islands in the Philippines, U.S. troops are still dying there at the hands of Muslim guerillas. More than 50 years later, the U.S. still garrisons the southern part of the Korean peninsula as a result of a stalemate war and a peace as yet unmade. More recently, the American experience has included outright defeat in Vietnam, failures in Laos and Cambodia; debacles in Lebanon and Somalia; a never-ending four-president-long war in Iraq; and almost a decade of wheel-spinning in Afghanistan without any sign of success, no less victory. What could make the limits of American power any clearer?
The record should be as sobering as it is dismal, while the costs to the peoples in those countries are as appalling as they are unfathomable to Americans. The blood and futility of this American past ought to be apparent to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Obama, even if his predecessors have been incredibly resistant to clear-eyed assessments of American power or the real consequences of U.S. wars.
Two paths stretch out before this first-year president. Two destinations beckon: peace or failure.
Posted on: Friday, October 23, 2009 - 23:06
SOURCE: History Unfolding (blog) (10-3-09)
Although I grew up amidst government decision-makers at various fairly high levels, I evidently decided at some unconscious level that their life was not for me. Like some of the characters in Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle, I prized time to think more than influence, and of that I have had plenty. Yet as you all know, I inevitably wish, from time to time, that I could bring a lifetime of study to bear at a critical moment. The trade off is real and clear: had I spent my life pursuing the positions that would give me influence, I would have much less to say. But I have seldom felt a stronger urge to make my views known than in the last two weeks, after the release of General McChrystal’s classified assessment of the situation in Afghanistan kicked off critical decisions in Washington about what to do.
General McChrystal’s assessment and his recommendations for the future lay out a detailed and very ambitious plan for the expansion of both American and NATO (ISAF) and Afghan forces in Afghanistan and for a change in strategy to take the initiative away from the Taliban and make major progress towards securing the country under the control of the Afghan government within several years. The unclassified version of the document, to begin with, does not specify exactly how many new forces will be needed or exactly where they will be stationed. The document boldly and courageously advocates changes in the approaches of US forces, including better language capabilities, a different relationship with the population, and more focus on governance, but some doubt whether current training and service schools generate enough troops who can perform these missions. The document also calls for a vastly increased civilian effort and we cannot know if the necessary resources will be available.
Historical examples—particularly China in the late 1940s, Vietnam, and Iraq—help put these recommendations in historical context and, in particular, raise certain questions involving both the resources that will be required from the United States on the one hand, and the political changes which must take place in Afghanistan, if such as a strategy as has been proposed is to work. More importantly, the Obama Administration has to answer questions about the broader purposes of our involvement and the consequences of various possible courses of action.
In historical perspective, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Initial Assessment is its characterization of the insurgency on the one hand, and the Afghan National Government. Although observers with experience in Afghanistan are nearly unanimous in their belief that the bulk of the Afghan people do not want a return to Taliban rule, the Quetta Shura Taliban emerges from the assessment as a formidable, well-organized force—far more similar in its scope, organization and tactics, it seems to me, to the Viet Cong than to the various different opposition groups that we have faced in Iraq. Like the Viet Cong, it is setting up a parallel shadow government in much of the country, levying taxes, and using effective information warfare. The Afghan government, on the other hand, is described as commanding little authority and even less confidence. “The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and [US and NATO forces'] own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government. These problems have alienated large segments of the Afghan population. They do not trust [the Afghan government] to provide their essential needs, such as security, justice, and basic services. This crisis of confidence, coupled with a distinct lack of economic and educational opportunity, has created fertile ground for the insurgency.”
The controversy over the recent election seems to represent a further step backward for the government. The blunt assessment is commendable, but inevitably raises questions as to whether the proposed strategy can succeed. In previous cases in which the United States has successfully assisted a local government in a counterinsurgency, such as South Korea during the Korean War, El Salvador in the 1980s, or the Philippines in the 1950s, the host governments, while far from perfect by American standards, have been far more effective than the Afghan government seems to be now. The description above inspires even less confidence than contemporary evaluations of the Chinese Nationalist government in the late 1940s or the various governments of South Vietnam, which were not successful. A new long-term American commitment requires either some confidence that the Afghan government can indeed make such revolutionary changes, or alternatively, a strategy that relies on traditional local elites rather than on a central government that as yet exists only on paper.
Recognizing current political problems, the assessment calls for a new, broad, deep commitment of American and other NATO forces to live and work among the Afghan people and help establish new, effective governmental structures linked to the national government in contested areas of the country. The numbers of people involved, which the assessment does not mention, must be carefully analyzed to provide a sense of the magnitude of the task. Afghanistan has about 31 million people, of which more than 40% are Pashtuns and thus the principle targets (at least for the time being) of the Taliban. Iraq’s population is estimated to be about the same as Afghanistan’s, but the Sunni population, which posed the bulk of the security problems, is only about 33% of the country. More importantly, the population of Afghanistan is far less dense, far less urban, and far more dispersed, suggesting that the provision and supply of adequate US forces for these new tasks will pose a substantially greater problem than the attempt to secure Iraq in 2007-9. After 8 years of war and repeated deployments in both Afghanistan and Iraq, our senior leadership must ask whether we can deploy and maintain resources adequate to General McChrystal’s proposed strategy. The supply of these forces may also present serious problems, since Afghanistan is a landlocked nation whose land communications with the outside world have recently proven vulnerable to attacks. The maintenance of public support within the United States will also remain a serious and critical problem.
Why are we fighting in Afghanistan? General McChrystal’s assessment reflects the Bush Administration’s original goals for Afghanistan in 2001 and its original approach to the war on terror. Those goals demanded the establishment of cooperative regimes in countries where terrorists had previously found safe havens. Since a friendly, unified, effective government of Afghanistan remains our objective, General McChrystal did his duty in making his best determination of how that might be achieved. Yet after eight years, it seems absolutely essential for the highest authorities, both civilian and military, to ask whether that sweeping objective is the best strategy for securing the United States and its allies against terrorist attacks. One can very easily argue—as a scholar at the Army War College in Carlisle did some six years ago--that it is either impossibly utopian or far too expensive in the long run to be practical. Two weeks, suspects in a plot to make terrorist attacks within the US have been arrested. According to press reports at least one of them was trained overseas—but in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Effective domestic intelligence and law enforcement, however, have evidently been sufficient to stop this plot here at home. The situation in Pakistan is of course also of tremendous concern to the government of the United States, but it is far from clear that our involvement in Afghanistan to date has improved it from our point of view. And indeed, as is now generally recognized, we face the continuing problem in Afghanistan that very important elements within the Pakistani government do not share our objectives there, but regard the Afghan Taliban as an important ally. More limited objectives in Afghanistan deserve attention. Taliban strength seems mostly confined to Pashtun areas, leaving the possibility of maintaining a foothold in the country, and a capability to strike against terrorist camps, without making an enormous and doubtful effort to establish the authority of the central government over the whole country.
More than 60 years ago, the Truman Administration and Congress debated the question of further US assistance to the Chinese Nationalist government, then locked in a civil war with the Chinese Communists. China at that moment was surely as important strategically to the United States as Afghanistan is today, and its eventual loss to Communist could, and most certainly did, have significant negative consequences for American foreign policy for a long time to come. Secretary of State (and former Chief of Staff) George C. Marshall—one of the very greatest strategic thinkers the United States has ever produced—knew the situation first hand when he testified in executive session before a Senate Committee in early 1948. He was entirely preoccupied with trying to secure important areas of the free world against Communism. Yet in analyzing the situation in China he spoke wisely and courageously. He began by listing the very significant aid which the United States had given the Chinese government already, and continued:
“All the foregoing means, at least to me, that a great deal must be done by the Chinese authorities themselves—and that nobody else can do it for them—if that Government is to maintain itself against the Communist forces and agrarian policies. It also means that our Government must be exceedingly careful that it does not become committed to a policy involving the absorption of its resources to an unpredictable extent once the obligations are assumed of a direct responsibility for the conduct of civil war in China or for the Chinese economy, or both. . . .
“There is a tendency to feel that wherever the Communist influence is brought to bear, we should immediately meet it, head on as it were. I think this would be a most unwise procedure for the reason that we would be, in effect, handing over the initiative to the Communists. They could, therefore, spread our influence out so think that it could be of no particular effectiveness at any one point.
“We must be prepared to face the possibility that the present Chinese government may not be successful in maintaining itself against the Communist forces or other opposition that may arise in China.”
General Marshall did not believe, in short, that dubious chances of success justified transferring the very substantial resources necessary to help the Nationalist government from other tasks, such as the establishment of the NATO alliance and the rebuilding of the European economy. And indeed it is very possible that a full-scale intervention in China—advocated at the time by powerful voices in Congress and the press—would have done incalculable harm to American foreign policy as a whole in that critical period. Both the United States and, ultimately, the Chinese people, weathered the very serious short- and medium-term consequences of the fall of China to Communism.
General McChrystal has done exactly what he was asked to do: he has provided a frank assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and of what he believes is necessary to achieve the broad objective which he has been given. But before proceeding, higher authorities must do at least three things. First, they must seek out independent assessments of the chances that this new strategy would be successful. Second, they must accurately estimate its material, human and political costs, and ask whether those costs are justified by the value of the object in comparison to other needs both foreign and domestic. And thirdly, in my view, those two exercises must inevitably lead to some re-evaluation of our goals in Afghanistan in general and our strategy in the war on terror in particular, in light of both our successes and failures during the last eight years.
Posted on: Friday, October 23, 2009 - 02:54
SOURCE: History Unfolding (blog) (10-17-09)
The Obama Administration's difficulties on the domestic front, I think, reflect a long-term shift in American opinion. In 1968, after 35 years of largely Democratic ascendancy which had created a relatively egalitarian economy and established a strong role for the government, the Republican Party, increasingly led after 1976 by its conservative wing, began its successful campaign to establish a national majority. Their strategy had two major aspects. The first--which was largely handed to them, as Lyndon Johnson himself realized, by the great civil rights act--involved picking up the southern white vote, which became nearly as reliably Republican as it had previously been reliably Democratic. The second involved a long campaign to change Americans' minds about the proper role of government. The Republican Party has temporarily at least lost its majority--but the enormous influence of that campaign remains.
We can see that influence reflected in three major, related issues: the economy, the federal budget, and health care. Taking the first two first, our economy has been (and is still being) enormously distorted by the enormous profits available to the financial industry. Because taxes on capital gains have become so low (and because some of the biggest players in the financial game, hedge fund managers, can evidently claim nearly all their income in that form), traders and private equity firms can make, and keep,enormous profits. Meanwhile, the federal budget defect--already swelled to gigantic size by eight years of George W. Bush--has doubled again because of the recession. (I strongly suspect, and hope to show, that one reason that federal revenues have become so recession-sensitive is that they are so largely composed of payroll taxes.)
Now the solution to both of these problems, is, actually, rather obvious: a return to high marginal tax rates--something between 50%, which is common in Europe,and 90%, which the US levied from the time of the Second World War until 1965--on high incomes--say, incomes of over $2 million a year--from whatever source derived. If quick profits will go the federal government, managers will no longer seek them. There will be far more incentive, as there was half a century ago, to re-invest profits in expanded firms, actually producing more, rather than fewer jobs. And we will have a prospect of a long-term reduction in the deficit.
Yes, by historical standards, this is obvious--but thirty years of Republican propaganda and lobbyists' contributions have made this solution not just impossible, but unmentionable. This morning's Washington Post informed me, to my amazement, that the Obama Administration does not even intend to allow various Bush tax cuts to lapse! We have found that enormous, largely untaxed incomes do not stimulate the economy: higher wages for average Americans do. But we can't even talk about this solution--it's comparable to suggestions that we stage a Leninist revolution, undo women's liberation, or bring back slavery.
Something even more striking is happening with regard to health care. Everyone seems to understand that we spend too much on it and can't afford to go on at this rate. But Republicans and lobbyists seem very close to having killed the public option because it would be a cheaper form of health care.. What we need, we cannot have. The broader problem is obvious. Cheaper health car4e means that many people will make less money out of health care--especially insurance companies and drug manufacturers. I have not heard even one participant in this debate suggest that there is something immoral about profiteering on medical care. Instead, the papers are filled with stories of the ways in which lobbyists are trying to make sure that a new bill will mean no less, and perhaps more, money for health care interests.
I am concerned by all this because I think that both the political future and that of the Obama Administration depend on facing these issues squarely. A health insurance "reform" that costs even more money will eventually have huge political costs for Democrats. Endless deficits with no end in sight will pose the same problem, and the collapse of yet another Wall Street bubble could easily return the Republicans to power. We cannot solve these problems without removing some of these taboos. The press, which consistently gives the most space to the shrillest voices on the right, has been no help either. The Administration has shown the courage to defy the conventional wisdom on several foreign policy issues, including missile defense and Iran, without apparently incurring political costs. Let us hope that it finds the courage to do the same on the far more critical domestic front.
Posted on: Friday, October 23, 2009 - 02:52
SOURCE: Private Papers (website of Victor David Hanson) (10-21-09)
Obama recently promised $250 to seniors (who got no cost-of-living increases in Social Security because there had not been sufficient official inflationary pressures to merit them), and a good-paying job to every American who needs one. Apparently, the president did not say that in this period of $1.6 trillion dollar deficits and $12 trillion paper-printing national debts, he is going to borrow several more billions of dollars from the Chinese to spread around as the proper duty of the great benefactor in Roman bread-and-circuses fashion.
This madness, of course, of dressing up borrowing as “stimulus” will come to an end when the debts pile up and creditors begin to sniff that just maybe, in the style of Germany in the 1920s, we may be inflating our currency to prepare to pay off debts at a discount, and therefore they will want not 3 percent, but as in the days of Jimmy Carter, 10,12, or 15 percent to subsidize American entitlements not accorded to their own far poorer Chinese citizens. The servicing of the debt is going to be so large and take such a percentage of the annual budget that these same present beneficiaries will soon have to help to pay it all back with interest, given there are not enough greedy rich geese left to pluck...
Posted on: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - 23:59
SOURCE: Private Papers (website of Victor David Hanson) (10-19-09)
Norway stunned the world by awarding the coveted Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, who was nominated for the honor after being in office less than two weeks. But the award is in keeping with Europeans' behavior over these first nine months of Obama's presidency. They've gone gaga over the guy.
In return, however, their crush is not quite being reciprocated.
Obama did his best to avoid British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the recent G-20 summit. The tabloids in Britain still whine about the tawdry gifts the cool Obama gave Brown when he came to Washington earlier this year.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy — ogled by the global press as a rock star before Obama replaced him — seems schizophrenic in his attitude toward the president — fawning over him one minute, exasperated with him the next. The press there calls the syndrome Sarkozy's "Obama complex."
At the U.N., he was so frustrated by Obama's soaring but empty rhetoric that he finally blurted out about Iran and North Korea: "President Obama dreams of a world without weapons . . . but right in front of us two countries are doing the exact opposite."
Sometimes this European exasperation goes deeper than just unrequited love. Obama promised the Russians he would not deploy a planned anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Whether intended or not, that decision was seen as a snub. And it scared many in Eastern Europe — given their long, unhappy history with Russia.
Obama earlier this year gave enthusiastic pep talks to our NATO allies, urging them to send more troops to Afghanistan. Yet right now he is wavering on the critical question of doing the same himself.
Europe was said to have hated George W. Bush. But in President Bush's second term, friendly governments in Britain, France, Germany and Italy could count on American support in any crisis that might threaten the wealthy but defenseless European Union. Now, with Obama's real interests unclear, these countries are, like spurned teenage lovers, acting out their worries in neurotic fashion.
Sometimes love-struck Europe gets sassy and slights its indifferent heartthrob. Obama flew into Copenhagen for an hour, thought he could charm the infatuated Europeans who dominate the International Olympic Committee to give Chicago the 2016 Games, and then blithely jetted out — only to learn on his way home that his hometown bid had been rejected.
At other times, as with the Nobel Peace Prize, a gushing and desperate Europe gives him almost anything to gain his affection and attention. Now that Obama has been granted the award, the Norwegians are babbling about "vision" and "hope" rather than real achievement as the basis for their decision.
Perhaps the tiny country hopes that if it gives Obama an award for utopian pacifism, then he most surely will have to act like a European utopian pacifist rather than commander-in-chief of the most powerful nation in history.
A number of things are going on here. America is changing. Millions of Americans now trace their heritages not to Europe, but to Africa, Asia or Latin America. For a generation, the schools have emphasized all sorts of non-Western ethnic studies courses instead of the old core curriculum based on Western civilization...
Posted on: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - 23:57
SOURCE: WSJ (10-21-09)
Next month will mark the 45th anniversary of the publication by Harper's Magazine of Richard Hofstadter's famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," a work that seems to grow more relevant by the day.
I was not always a fan. When I first read it two decades ago, I thought Hofstadter was being needlessly insulting by equating political views with mental illness—despite his insistence that he wasn't using the word that way. Besides, I thought, who really cared about the strange notions that occurred to members of marginal groups like the John Birch Society? Joe McCarthy's day was long over, and even in the age of high Reaganism, I thought, the type of person Hofstadter described was merely handing out flyers on street corners.
As the historian himself admitted, "in America it has been the preferred style only of minority movements." Why bother with it, then?
How times have changed! Hofstadter's beloved liberal consensus has been in the grave for decades now. Today it would appear that his mistake was underestimating the seductive power of the paranoid style.
The essential element of this mindset, Hofstadter explained, was its predilection for conspiracy theory—for understanding history as a theater in which sinister figures control the flow of events from behind the scenes, nudging us constantly and secretly in the direction of communism.
Back in Hofstadter's day this sort of thinking at least had something supremely rational going for it: The existence of the Soviet Union and its desire to bring the West to its knees.
But take that away and the theories become something far more remarkable. Consider, by contrast, the widespread belief that President Barack Obama's birth certificate was forged. What could have been his parents' motives for committing such a bizarre deed, or his home state's motive for colluding in it, or the courts' motives for overlooking it?...
Posted on: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - 22:51
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (10-17-09)
The left may be pressuring President Obama to exit Afghanistan. But their heroes—from FDR to JFK—promoted U.S. involvement in more wars than all modern GOP presidents combined.
Should President Barack Obama continue his escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will be the liberal thing to do.
What too few Americans realize—especially the president’s anti-war supporters, who accuse him of betraying liberal or "progressive" values—is that if he accedes to General Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops in Afghanistan and intensifies the drone attacks in Pakistan, he will follow squarely in the footsteps of the great liberal statesmen he has cited as his role models. Though opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cheered loudly when Obama spoke reverentially in his campaign speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, those heroes of the president promoted and oversaw U.S. involvement in wars that killed, by great magnitudes, more Americans and foreign civilians than all the modern Republican military operations combined.
What should be even more troubling to those who call themselves progressives but oppose the current wars: Obama's motivations for pursuing them are rooted in the central tenet of progressivism, enunciated by his idols, that the American national government is responsible for the reform and uplift of those "we" deem to be living below "our" standards, and that "they" must be protected from their oppressors. Obama's role models followed the logic of that moral calling to the ends of the earth.
And though liberals are routinely chastised for their "secular relativism," as Bill O'Reilly puts it, liberal statesmen who waged the largest wars were driven by the Christian doctrine of "good works," often enunciated in Obama's speeches as the duty to be "our brother's keeper." Whereas the traditional conservative notion of Christian communal obligation is limited to one’s family or nation, Obama’s political ancestors extended it to the world.
Both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson declared that God had given American leaders—"Christ's Army," according to Wilson—the divine duty to "improve" the backward peoples of America and the world. Roosevelt and Wilson used that rationale to establish modern progressivism and American imperialism, both of which were part of what Roosevelt called "the long struggle for the uplift of humanity." They argued that greater government intervention, through social welfare and regulatory programs at home and military incursions abroad, would remake American slums and all the countries of the world into the Puritan ideal of a "city on a hill."...
Posted on: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - 22:15
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (10-10-09)
President George H.W. Bush thought that after the victory in the Gulf war we had "kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all." How wrong he was.
The syndrome was on full display during the 1990s, when pundits and politicos rushed to compare American interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo, which resulted in no American casualties, to the worst military defeat in our history. Announced a military analyst in the Los Angeles Times on June 3, 1995: "If you liked Dien Bien Phu, you'll love Sarajevo--this policy is nuts." The analogy industry really hit overdrive in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. "Echoes of Vietnam Grow Louder," a Newsweek headline ominously proclaimed on October 29, 2003. The next month, a New York Times article began, " 'Quagmire,' 'attrition,' 'credibility gap,' 'Iraqification'--a listener to the debate over the situation in Iraq might think that it truly is Vietnam all over again." Howard Dean certainly thought so. He told Dan Rather, "We sent troops to Vietnam, without understanding why we were there and it was a disaster. And Iraq is gonna become a disaster under this presidency."
Iraq was difficult, but hardly an irretrievable disaster and certainly not a Vietnam-size disaster. After six and a half years of war, the United States has lost over 4,300 service personnel in Iraq--a sobering and substantial figure but still 13 times fewer fatalities than we suffered in Vietnam. Just as important, all indications in Iraq are that we are winning.
But, rest assured, a history of being consistently wrong has not deterred all those Boomers who came of age in the 1960s from once again evoking the specter of you-know-what to warn against involvement in Afghanistan. Actually the "Afghanistan as Vietnam" meme is hardly new. The late R.W. Apple Jr. of the New York Times notoriously wrote a front-page article with that very headline on October 31, 2001. In portentous Times-speak, Apple wondered:
Could Afghanistan become another Vietnam? Is the United States facing another stalemate on the other side of the world? Premature the questions may be, three weeks after the fighting began. Unreasonable they are not, given the scars scoured into the national psyche by defeat in Southeast Asia.
He was right about one thing: The questions were premature. A few weeks later the Taliban government was toppled. Thereafter we were spared "Afghanistan as Vietnam" tropes until the comparison returned with a vengeance amid the Taliban's gains this year. Newsweek kicked things off with a cover article on February 1 on "Obama's Vietnam." More recently, retired general and erstwhile presidential contender Wesley Clark wrote in an op-ed in the New York Daily News, "The similarities to Vietnam are ominous." Senator John Kerry, who seems to mention Vietnam in every other breath (did he have some connection to the conflict, one wonders?), proclaimed on October 1, "The fact is that we've been through this before. You know, in Vietnam, we heard the commanding general on the ground saying we need more troops. We heard the president of the United States say if we just put in more troops, we're going to see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Barack Obama, however, hasn't been saying anything about light at the end of the tunnel. The president, who (mercifully) came of age after the Vietnam war, seemingly put the kibosh on these mindless comparisons on September 15 when he said, in response to a question, "You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam." Yet the evocation of Vietnam keeps cropping up among the president's aides and supporters, who warn, as E.J. Dionne did in an October 5 Washington Post column, that involvement in Afghanistan could harm the president's domestic agenda as badly as the Vietnam war harmed LBJ's Great Society. It has been widely reported that the "must read" book in the White House now is Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam by Gordon Goldstein, a study of the Kennedy-Johnson national security adviser and his role in the war. And a Times of London correspondent wrote on September 24 that "one senior official" in the White House, while speaking to him, "introduced the word 'Vietnam' into a discussion of Afghanistan."
Far be it from me--a military historian--to dispute the usefulness of history in policymaking. Properly applied, the study of past wars can be essential in guiding the course of current and future conflicts. But the key is to take lessons selectively and intelligently and not become enthralled by lazy reasoning along the lines of "Vietnam was an American war; X is an American war; therefore, X will be another Vietnam."..
Posted on: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - 12:07
SOURCE: Private Papers (website of Victor David Hanson) (10-16-09)
I get confused by the news quite often. Here are five anomalies that make no real sense.
1) Football as Ethical Sermonizing. Most watch football as a release from anxieties, work, and even the race/class/gender obsessions of our age, and see players in non-racial terms. And I think viewers put up with the growing hypocrisies, pretensions, and repugnancies of the NFL — star players involved in drugs, assaults, shootings, (even the creepy base cruelty to animals), the dubious origins of some of the owners’ vast fortunes, hack sportswriters masquerading as Platonic thinkers, high-priced, crass spoiled multimillionaires occasionally offering cheap sound bites as if they were civil rights leaders of the Gandhi or King caliber — because of the courage of hundreds of gladiators to engage each Sunday in an incredibly dangerous, nearly pre-civilized struggle in the arena.
But with the Limbaugh matter, the entire Potemkin edifice is exposed. The race mongers Jackson (‘hymie-town”) and Sharpton (“white folks was in caves…”), the latter whose incendiary antics defamed a DA and led to rioting and death, talking of decorum is like, well, NFL players talking about proper role-model behavior. And are proper politics now, in this brave new world of government control of an increasing number of businesses, criteria for private enterprise? Is Ted Turner never allowed to buy another sports team, given his outrageous political statements about Iran, Israel, Bush, global warming, etc? Perhaps we need a federal “acquisition board” with “nonpartisan” humanists and former federal officials like a Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, or Van Jones to adjudicate the moral character of potential buyers?
2.To Russia With Love. Do you laugh or cry about our policy with Russia? When we serially cried out “reset” button, blamed Bush for the new Cold War with Russia, and promised to “listen,” we knew the U.S. was walking blindfolded up the steps of Putin’s guillotine. So we humiliated the Czechs and the Poles (who have suffered far worse from the Russians) in exchange for the mythical “help” with sanctions on Iran. Today, Putin’s brief verdict of “premature” on sanctions said it all. If we can reconstruct the Obama/Hillary disaster, it goes something like this: Putin always liked the win/win/win/win idea of a nuclear Iran (the missiles point at the U.S., good profits for Russian companies, tensions in the Gulf always a help with high oil prices, everyone begs Russia to “leash” their new feral nuclear bulldog). So he entraps the idiotic Americans by vague promises of Iranian sanctions in exchange for reestablishing Russian fear and obedience in the former Soviet sphere — while revealing how America’s economic dive and strategic hesitation are proof of a more endemic decline. When Hillary talks of how delighted she is that Russia is “so supportive”, are we to cry for the beloved country? It is as if Putin not only knew he would win on this one, but also get the added bonus of showing the world how obsequious, naïve, and impotent the new U.S. was in the bargain.
3. Not to be Spoken. What is this recent confusion about sodomy in the news, which transcends even the context of rape and coercion? I don’t quite understand how “sodomy” in the current press is presented as a sort of force multiplier to all sorts of sins. For example, the grotesque Polanski matter is not just presented as a repugnant rape of a child, but emphasized ad nauseam as even more repulsive and horrendous due to the additional wage of sodomy. Almost anytime the press wishes to emphasize the particular cruelty or the unpleasant carnality of a sexual crime, they include, if applicable, the word sodomy, with the understanding that such an act is sensationalized and fraught with depravity. And, again, it is not always just the matter of coercion, but rather what the Greeks called para phusin(contrary to nature, as in the notion of confusing sexuality with the excretory system [see Aristophanes on this]). Popular culture has all sorts of expressions that correlate the act with a certain physical unpleasantness, from prison jokes to the generic “We got screwed” by this or that. But yet at the same time, the act seems to be an absolutely taboo subject in even the most generic referencing to the male homosexual movement.
I know the issue of civil rights is a separate one (and one I support as equality of all before the law), but if popular culture has all but suggested that heterosexuals who engage in such an act are depraved when carried out consensually, and especially worthy of odium beyond that accorded to the rapist, when as an act of coercion, why is the subject simply taboo in matters of public discussion of male homosexuality? When it was touched upon in the days of worries over co-factors for the increased vulnerability to the HIV virus, a firestorm followed that such discussions were indirect expressions of homophobia. (As a father of three, who in the 1990s went through the California public schools’ explicit sex education classes, I can attest that my children were taught that unprotected sex in general, not especially particular types of unprotected sex, were equivalent to a near death sentence.)
So what is the politically-correct stance to take the next time a talking head on the news grimaces and then in sober tones goes on to relate that case A involving coercion or incident B without coercion or revelation C involved sodomy — are we to be outraged at his deprecation of a particular act more associated with a particular group and to think this is selective moralizing if not homophobia, or to be outraged that suspect A or person B crossed the lines of behavior and is even more morally repellant for such an act that went beyond rape, or as now simply to think in paradoxical fashion, “wow, that is a really awful act” or “wow, I am not supposed to think that is a really awful act”?...
Posted on: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - 01:37
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (Website of Tom Engelhardt) (10-18-09)
Is it too early -- or already too late -- to begin drawing lessons from "the Long War"? That phrase, coined in 2002 and, by 2005, being championed by Centcom Commander General John Abizaid, was meant to be a catchier name for George W. Bush's "Global War on Terror." That was back in the days when inside-the-Beltway types were still dreaming about a global Pax Americana and its domestic partner, a Pax Republicana, and imagining that both, once firmly established, might last forever.
"The Long War" merely exchanged the shock-'n'-awe geographical breadth of the President Bush's chosen moniker ("global") for a shock-'n'-awe time span. Our all-out, no-holds-barred struggle against evil-doers would be nothing short of generational as well as planetary. From Abizaid's point of view, perhaps a little in-office surgical operation on the nomenclature of Bush's war was, in any case, in order at a time when the Iraq War was going disastrously badly and the Afghan one was starting to look more than a little peaked as well. It was like saying: Forget that "mission accomplished" sprint to victory in 2003 and keep your eyes on the prize. We're in it for the long slog.
When Bush officials and Pentagon brass used "the long war" -- a phrase that never gained much traction outside administration circles and admiring think tanks -- they were (being Americans) predicting the future, not commenting on the past. In their view, the fight against the Islamist terrorists and assorted bad guys who wanted to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and truly bloody the American nose would be decades long.
And of that past? In the American tradition, they were Fordian (as in Henry) in their contempt for most history. If it didn't involve Winston Churchill, or the U.S. occupying Germany or Japan successfully after World War II, or thrashing the Soviet Union in the Cold War, it was largely discardable bunk. And who cared, since we had arrived at a moment of destiny when the greatest country in the world had at its beck and call the greatest, most technologically advanced military of all time. That was what mattered, and the future -- momentary pratfalls aside -- would surely be ours, as long as we Americans were willing to buckle down and fund an eternal fight for it.
Arm and Regret
With the arrival of the Obama administration, "the Long War," like "the Global War on Terror," has largely fallen into disuse (even as the wars that went with it continue). Like all administrations, Obama's, too, prefers to think of itself as beginning at Year Zero and, as the new president emphasized more than once, looking forward, not backwards, at least when it came to the CIA, the Bush Justice Department, and torture practices.
Perhaps, however, the Long War shouldn't be consigned to the dust bin of history just yet. It might still have its uses, if we were to do the un-American thing and look backward, not forward.
As we call a contentious era in European history the Hundred Years' War, so our war in "the Greater Middle East" has already gone on for 30 years, give or take a few. If you wanted to date its exact beginning you might consider choosing President Ronald Reagan's brief, disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1983, the occasion for the first suicide truck bombings of the modern American era. (As Mike Davis has written, "Indeed, the suicide truck bombs that devastated the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 prevailed -- at least in a geopolitical sense -- over the combined firepower of the fighter-bombers and battleships of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and forced the Reagan administration to retreat from Lebanon.")
An even more reasonable date, however, might be July 3, 1979, when, at the behest of national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter signed "the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul." In other words, six months before the actual Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began, the U.S. threw its support to the mujahideen, the Afghan anti-Soviet fundamentalist jihadists.
As Brzezinski later described it, "[O]n the same day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained that in my opinion this aid would lead to a Soviet military intervention." Asked whether he regretted his actions, given the results so many years after, he replied: "Regret what? The secret operation was an excellent idea. It drew the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: 'We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.'"
Another inviting date for the start of our 30-years' war might be January 23, 1980, when Carter, in a speech officially billed as a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, outlined what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine, which would put an armed American presence in the middle of the globe's oil heartlands. Having described the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf as a "vital interest" of the United States, Carter went on to state in the speech's key passage: "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."
What followed was the creation of a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, meant in a crisis to get thousands of U.S. troops to the Gulf region quickly. In the Reagan years, that force was transformed into the Central Command (Centcom, of which General David Petraeus is now commander), while its area of responsibility grew as the U.S. built up a massive military infrastructure of bases, weaponry, ships, and airfields in the region.
Since then, war, however labeled, has been the name of the game: in Afghanistan, our war began in 1979 and, in start-and-stop fashion, still continues; in Iran, it's gone on largely in a proxy fashion, from 1979 to the present moment; in Iraq, from the First Gulf War in 1990 to now; briefly and disastrously in Somalia in 1993 and intermittently in this new century; and more recently in Pakistan.
The future is, of course, unknown, but as our president and his foreign policy team prepare to make crucial decisions in the coming months about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq, shouldn't our 30-years' war across the oil heartlands of the planet, essentially one disaster-hailed-as-a-victory after another, offer some cautionary lessons for us? Shouldn't it raise the odd red flag of warning?
Let me suggest just one lesson that seems to be on no one else's mind at a moment when a key "option" being offered in Washington -- especially by Democrats not eager to see tens of thousands more U.S. troops heading Afghanistan-wards -- is to arm and "train" ever more thousands of Afghans into a vast army and police security force for a government that hardly exists. Based on the last three decades in the region, don't you think that we should pause and consider who exactly we may be arming and who exactly we may be supporting, and whether, given those 30 years of history, we have the slightest idea what we're doing?
With those questions in mind, here's a little potted history of our own 30-years' war:
In the Afghan branch of it, our fervent American jihad of the 1980s involved the CIA slipping happily into a crowded bed with the Saudis, the Pakistanis, and the most extreme Islamist fundamentalists among the anti-Soviet Afghan fighters. In those years, the Agency didn't hesitate to organize car-bomb and even camel-bomb terror attacks on the Russian military (techniques endorsed by CIA Director William Casey). The partnership of these groups wasn't surprising at the time, given that Casey, himself a Cold War fundamentalist and supporter of Opus Dei, believed that the anti-communism of the most extreme Islamist fundamentalists made them our natural allies in the region.
With that in mind, in tandem with Saudi funders, the CIA provided money, arms, training, and support (as well as thousands of American-printed Korans). The funds and arms were all funneled through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization (ISI). At the time, our generosity even included offering Stinger missiles, the most advanced hand-held, ground-to-air weapon of the era, to our favored Afghans. The CIA also came to favor the most extreme of the jihadists, particularly two figures: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
In the early 1990s, after the Soviets left in defeat, the jihadists descended into a wretched civil war, and Washington essentially jumped ship, a new movement, the Taliban, initially a creation of the ISI (with at least implicit American backing at least some of the time), almost swept the boards in Afghanistan, creating a fundamentalist Islamic state in most of the country.
Now, leap forward a couple decades. In that same country, who exactly is the U.S. military fighting? As it happens, the answer is: the forces of the old Taliban, rejuvenated by an American occupation, as well as its two key allies, the warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, who are now our sworn enemies. And we are, of course, pouring more billions of dollars, weaponry, and significant blood into defeating them. In the process, with hardly a second thought, the Obama administration is attempting to massively bulk up a weak Afghan army and thoroughly corrupt police force. The staggering ultimate figure for the future combined Afghan security forces now regularly cited in Washington: 400,000.
In other words, 30 years after we launched our jihad against the Soviets by arming the Afghans, we are now fighting almost all the people we once armed and arming a whole new crew. All sides in the debate in Washington find this perfectly sensible.
Then, of course, no one should forget al-Qaeda itself, which emerged from the same anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan in the late 1980s -- Osama bin Laden first arrived there to fight and fund in 1982 -- part of the nexus of Islamist forces on which the U.S. bet at the time.
Our Man (and Mortal Enemy) Saddam
Above all, let's not forget Iraq. Indeed -- not that anyone mentions it these days -- back in the early 1980s, the Reagan administration threw its support behind the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein against the hated Iranian Shiite regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in the brutal eight-year Iran-Iraq War that began when Saddam launched an invasion in 1980. According to Patrick Tyler of the New York Times, Washington went far indeed in its support of Saddam's military on the battlefield:
"A covert American program during the Reagan administration provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program."
In other words, when it came to Iraq, we were for weapons of mass destruction before we were against them. Of course, you know the story from there. Next thing, Saddam Hussein had transmogrified into a new Adolf Hitler, and after his next invasion (of Kuwait), Gulf War I commenced -- another smashing American "victory" in the region that only led to ever more war and greater disaster. A decade of regular U.S. air attacks on Saddam's various military facilities and defenses ensued before, in March 2003, the Bush administration launched an invasion to "liberate" his country and its oppressed Shiite and Kurdish populations.
Soon after, Washington's viceroy in occupied Baghdad would demobilize what was left of Saddam's largely Sunni-officered 400,000-man army. (According to Bush administration plans, liberated Iraq was to have only a lightly armed, 40,000-man border-patrolling military and no air force to speak of.) Soon, however, the U.S. found itself in yet another war, a bitter, bloody Sunni Party insurgency amid a developing sectarian civil war. Once again, we chose a side and, after some hesitation, began rebuilding the Iraqi military and its intelligence services, as well as the country's paramilitary police force. The result: a largely Shiite-officered army for the new government we set up in Baghdad, which we proceeded to arm to the teeth.
Now, Iraq has a U.S.-created army of approximately 262,000 men, and the interior ministry, which oversees the police, employs another 480,000 people. This is, of course, a gigantic security infrastructure, and not even counted are an estimated 94,000 members of the Sunni Awakening, mostly former insurgents and erstwhile opponents of the army and police that the U.S. paid and armed to make the "surge" of 2007 a relative success. The Iraqi government has recently purchased 140 Abrams tanks from the U.S. through the Foreign Military Sales Program and, as soon as the price of oil rises and it feels less financially strapped, it's eager to buy F-16s for its still barely existent air force.
Let me point out the obvious: No one yet knows whom all this fire power may someday be turned upon, but given that there is now a significantly Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and little short of a shuttle of key Shiite leaders heading Tehran-wards, there's no reason to assume that the Iraqi military will be our "friend" forever. The same would obviously be true of a gigantic Afghan army, if we were capable of creating one.
In a region where the law of unintended consequences seems to go into overdrive, you choose and arm your allies at your peril. In the past, whatever the U.S. did had an uncanny propensity for blowing back in our direction -- something the Israelis also experienced when, in the 1980s, they chose to support an embryonic fundamentalist Islamist organization we now know as Hamas as a way of containing their then dreaded enemy Fatah. (This "law" may turn out to apply no less to the Palestinian army that U.S. Lieutenant General Keith Dayton has been creating on the West Bank for Fatah. As Robert Dreyfuss recently reported, the general, speaking in Washington, warned that the Palestinian troops he's training "can only be strung along for just so long. 'With big expectations, come big risks... There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you're creating a state, when you're not.'")
We now tend to think of blowback as something in our past, something that ended with the attacks of 9/11. But in the Greater Middle East, one lesson seems clear enough: for 30 years we've been deeply involved in creating, financing, and sometimes arming a blowback world. There's no reason to believe that, with the arrival of Barack Obama, history has somehow been suspended, that now, finally, it's all going to work out.
There is a record here. It's not a pretty one. It's not a smart one. Someone should take it into account before we plunge in and arm our future enemies one more time.
[Note on further reading: As those of you who have clicked on links in this piece will realize, I've made good use of the work of Robert Dreyfuss who writes the Dreyfuss Report for the Nation website. His 2003 Mother Jones piece, "The Thirty-Year Itch", was a canny consideration of our Long War long ago. Little wonder, since he's a man who knows a lot about the unsavory crew of Islamist extremists Washington bedded down with back when. He wrote a superb -- even prophetic -- book on the subject, The Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.
If you want to check out how "the Long War" lingers inside the military, check out Tom Hayden's striking recent piece, "Kilcullen's Long War" in the Nation magazine, or read Dexter Filkins' puff piece profile of General McChrystal in the New York Times magazine last Sunday.
Thanks for research on this piece goes to Nick Turse. I would cease to exist without him.]
Posted on: Monday, October 19, 2009 - 22:37
SOURCE: Ponderings on a Faith Journey (blog) (10-12-09)
Israel, its politics and policies and its religion(s) past and present, is the subject of so much pro and con (never neutral) comment in media, politics, and religious circles, that we could do enough sighting each week to fill this column. In such a complex scene, one trusts commentators who have won our trust already on other themes. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis, in his American Judaism, writes the best history of the subject that I have seen, and is a respected participant in most projects which deal with American Judaism. I count him a wise and trusted friend. So when he writes from his sabbatical in Israel, I pay attention. And he does write, in the October 9th Forward, “After Utopia, Loving Israel.”
That he loved and loves and will love Israel is clear from this and other writings. That he is pained by many of its actions in recent years is equally obvious, but his point in this week’s column is to assess the issue of what happened to the Zionist dreams, which he sees as having been Utopian, impossible to see fulfilled. His opening line jolts: “Why are American Jews abandoning us?” is a question he is frequently asked by his this-year colleagues in Israel. There many refer to Steven Rosenthal’s 2001 book Irreconcilable Differences, especially about “the waning American Jewish love affair with Israel.” The “dangerous neighborhood” and threats to Israel’s survival count for less, he observes, especially among younger American Jews, in their perceptions.
Israelis take notice when Steven M. Cohen, sociologist at Hebrew Union College in the U.S., warns of “a growing distancing from Israel of American Jews…most pronounced among younger Jews.” This is not a problem for the ten to twenty percent of them who are Orthodox, but the waning-love syndrome among others is troubling. Forward columnist Jay Michaelson has written that in his social circle “supporting Israel is like supporting segregation, apartheid or worse.” Brandeis researcher Ted Sasson contends that the waning-love pattern is not new, but it is newly intense. In olden days American Jews who supported the dream of an eventual Israel or of Israel in its early times were, in Sarna’s term, Utopian. The great Justice Louis Brandeis once gasped, “Our aim is the Kingdom of Heaven” in Israel. Things did not turn out their way. They never do.
Sarna writes that “that dream…lies shattered beyond repair.” Young Jews see Israel not as Utopia manqué but through the eyes of hyper-critical media. The Israelis who question Sarna understand the disillusionments in the face of “middle-aged realities” which have replaced “young love.” Sarna is concerned that Jewish critics, like many middle-aged people when relationships are in trouble, “prepare for divorce.” Sarna counsels cautiously: “The deepest and most meaningful of relationships, however, survive disappointments. By focusing upon all that they nevertheless share in common, and all that they might yet accomplish together in the future, American Jews and Israelis can move past the crisis in their relationship and settle in…for the long haul ahead.”
Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr drew his ironic view of history from the Hebrew Scriptures, Psalm 2:4, referring to God sitting in the heavens and laughing in the face of human pretensions. Yet Niebuhr used that vision not to show what fools mortals are but to call for repentance, revision, renewal – always possible when Utopian dreams and uncritical present-day outcomes are replaced by nitty-gritty actions in “the long haul ahead.” Sarna, “middle-aged” with his generation, is not settling for divorce or even separation, but he is plumping for action that mixes realism and hope.
Posted on: Sunday, October 18, 2009 - 16:21
SOURCE: The Armenian Weekly (10-16-09)
The protocols signed by Armenia and Turkey on October 10 engage in denial of the Armenian Genocide on several levels. Not only are the injustices of the past ignored. Those injustices rather than be acknowledged as a condition of peace are relegated to an undesignated commission that will pursue “an impartial scientific examination of the historical records.” This statement is in effect a call for a commission to bury the issue of the Armenian Genocide once and for all by reducing it to a “historical dimension” rather than a genocide, a massacre, or any source of conflict for that matter.
To begin, the term “impartial” indicates that the protocols are written in state language, not the language of historians. In the field of history, we have come a long way towards realizing that impartiality doesn’t exist. Many of us in the field concede that it is impossible for an historian to put aside their subjectivity while researching and writing history. Historians choose their archives and their sources. That selection process, although it can be based on a balanced scientific method, can on many occasions alter the results. Most importantly, impartiality is called into question when we recognize that the historian’s ability to write history is greatly impacted by the sources in their possession. I often imagine the following scenario: after World War II, Germany provides only controlled access to its archives and releases only documents relating to Jewish uprisings, for example the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. With limited sources, a history much like the “provocation thesis” popular in Turkey today would have taken shape in Germany. The thesis goes: Armenians rebelled, Turks defended themselves, and the result was mutual death, a civil war not a genocide. This kind of history could easily be written based on scientific and “impartial” methods especially if a historian thought they had covered all sources available. Many of us in the field of history are familiar with the kinds of sources made public regarding the Armenians that emphasize the moments in which Armenians rebelled against orders of deportation; these sources are easily found in Turkish publications that line library bookshelves and are sometimes placed on exhibition.
What the commission proposal fails to recognize is that although historians can sometimes agree upon the facts of history; debates often multiply once historians answer the “how” and “why” questions. Historians may be settled on facts of history; for example, “the American Revolution happened,” but how or why it happened is another matter. How would a commission as part of a dialogue between nations manage the multiplicity of historical interpretations? How would Turkey, a state that currently legally bars any discussion of atrocities committed against Armenians in World War I according to Article 301 of its penal code, be a trustworthy partner in any dialogue? Currently, Turkey threatens intellectuals who dare to speak out, Orhan Pamuk currently faces yet another trial, how could it, at the same time, allow freedom of expression on such a commission?
Freedom of speech issues aside, as a history professor, I struggle against attempts to homogenize history, especially as many incoming students are taught with high school textbooks that present history as fixed, while in the academic world history is much more complex. I point to this tendency existing in students, but truth be said, most people want a one-dimensional answer to complex historical issues and states most certainly do. As do states, the internet, particularly Google, is a place people go to get those easy one-dimensional answers. One student came to class having searched the internet on that day’s subject matter and asked: “So, I was surfing the internet last night and saw that according the web the Armenian Genocide didn’t really happen even though your syllabus frames it as though it did. What’s up with that?” Although our reading that day covered the issue of genocide denial explaining how the Armenian Genocide had devolved from a historic reality to a “debate” in history, it was the googleability of the subject that took precedent that day because it offered the One fixed answer. Of course, Google is based on algorithims, rather than the truth of claims found on one website versus another. It can’t replace science; it is no oracle of Delphi. But none of this reasoning can undermine the fact that a first hit is often interpreted as the most important answer and in cases its not, it is usually the first link clicked on. On Google, where the Armenian Genocide is concerned, it is a historical “debate” next to global warming and Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The protocols, like Google, treat the Armenian Genocide as a debate by avoiding the admission of guilt and by reducing the complexities of history into a singular answer in the service of the state. Imbedded in the logic of the protocols is the notion that if we are scientific and impartial enough we can find the One answer to our unnamed problem. If there is to be any future commission, even if it does result in one uniform statement, it is not the end of a debate as there will still be independent historians writing different histories. However, the commission’s ruling will be presented as the new golden rule, Google’s first hit; the one singular answer to the historical question of genocide. This answer will be cited by journalists and students alike as a definitive study because it was balanced and mutually agreed upon. Outside historians will be marginalized as the commission will be “impartial” whereas historians working independently will not have the same weight for they will be biased and partisan.
The idea of a commission is a concession granted to Turkey that indicates there really will be no scientific process at play. History-by-commission, in itself is a partial process. It will begin with the premise that the genocide needs to be proven first putting Armenia in the weakest possible position even as a majority of scholars agree the genocide in fact happened. By signing the agreement as currently worded, Armenia has taken the minority position of denial over the majority position of acceptance...
Posted on: Saturday, October 17, 2009 - 21:09
SOURCE: The Washington Post (10-13-09)
BEER SHEBA, Israel - Educating children in a conflict zone is no simple matter. More often than not, those responsible for the curricula succumb to the masters of war and adopt a pedagogical approach that exacerbates rather than diffuses strife. Israel, unfortunately, is no exception.
Consider the way Jewish and Palestinian children are educated. Segregation in the classroom is the rule so that Jewish and Palestinian children only rarely mix. This strict segregation exists despite the fact that the Palestinians are citizens of Israel, comprising 19.5 percent of Israel's population--around 1.37 million people--and 25 percent of all school children. Unlike the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, these Palestinians vote and pay taxes like Jewish citizens.
Notwithstanding their incorporation into the citizen body, Palestinian citizens do not enjoy full equality. In comparison to their Jewish counterparts, Arab schools receive half the per capita budget. It is therefore not very surprising that Palestinian students have the highest dropout rates and lowest achievement levels in the country.
Equality in education is reserved to the uniformity of the school curriculum, particularly the texts dedicated to teaching the history of the Israeli state. The existing history textbooks adopt the Zionist historical narrative, erasing all trace of the Palestinian nakba (Arabic for "catastrophe", referring to the events of 1948, when approximately 750,000 Palestinians out of a population of 900,000 either fled or were expelled from their homes). Furthermore, these textbooks emphasise the significance of the Land of Israel for Jews and attempt to prove that the State of Israel could only have been created in historical Palestine, while simultaneously portraying the connection between the Arabs and Palestine as purely incidental. Along similar lines, the study of literature in the Arab schools is oriented toward Zionist portrayals and is conspicuously lacking in any patriotic or nationalistic Palestinian sentiments.
It is, no doubt, a truism that public schools in modern liberal democracies inculcate their students with the dominant national worldview. In the US, for example, children still recite the pledge of allegiance and in France children sing La Marseillaise. But while the public schools in these democracies are today more willing to provide students with a multicultural curriculum that includes the historical narratives of those who have been oppressed and marginalised over the centuries, Israel is arguably becoming less tolerant to any pedagogy that challenges the dominant Zionist national narrative.
Posted on: Saturday, October 17, 2009 - 20:07
SOURCE: DanielPipes.org (10-15-09)
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has, since its founding in 1994, served as the Islamist movement in North America's most high-profile, belligerent, manipulative, and aggressive agency. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., CAIR also sets the agenda and tone for the entire Wahhabi lobby.
A substantial body of criticism about CAIR exists, some of by me, but until now, the group's smash-mouths and extremists have managed to survive all revelations about its record. The publication today of Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Conspiring to Islamize America (WND Books) may, however, change the equation.
Written by P. David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry, the investigation is based largely on the undercover work of Gaubatz's son Chris who spent six months as an intern at CAIR's D.C. headquarters in 2008. In that capacity, he acquired 12,000 pages of documentation and took 300 hours of video.
Chris Gaubatz's information reveals much that the secretive CAIR wants hidden, including its strategy, finances, membership, and internal disputes, thereby exposing its shady and possibly illegal methods. As the book contains too much new information to summarize in small compass, I shall focus here on one dimension – the organization's inner workings, where the data shows that CAIR's claims amount to crude deceptions.
Claim 1: According to Ibrahim Hooper, the organization's communications director, "CAIR has some 50,000 members." Fact: An internal memo prepared in June 2007 for a staff meeting reports that the organization had precisely 5,133 members, about one-tenth Hooper's exaggerated number.
Claim 2: CAIR is a "grass-roots organization" that depends financially on its members. Fact: According to an internal 2002 board meeting report, the organization received $33,000 in dues and $1,071,000 in donations. In other words, under 3 percent of its income derives from membership dues.
Claim 3: CAIR receives "no support from any overseas group or government." Fact: Gaubatz and Sperry report that 60 percent of CAIR's income derives from two dozen donors, most of whom live outside the United States. Specifically: $978,000 from the ruler of Dubai in 2002 in exchange for controlling interest in its headquarters property on New Jersey Avenue, a $500,000 gift from Saudi prince al-Waleed bin Talal and $112,000 in 2007 from Saudi prince Abdullah bin Mosa'ad, at least $300,000 from the Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference, $250,000 from the Islamic Development Bank, and at least $17,000 from the American office of the Saudi-based International Islamic Relief Organization.
Claim 4: CAIR is an independent, domestic human rights group "similar to a Muslim NAACP." Fact: In a desperate search for funding, CAIR has offered its services to forward the commercial interests of foreign firms. This came to light in the aftermath of Dubai Ports World's failed effort to purchase six U.S. harbors in 2006 due to security fears. In response, CAIR's chairman traveled to Dubai and suggested to businessmen there: "Do not think about your contributions [to CAIR] as donations. Think about it from the perspective of rate of return. The investment of $50 million will give you billions of dollars in return for fifty years."
Combining these four facts reveals a CAIR quite unlike its public image. Almost bereft of members and dues, it sustains itself by selling its services to the Saudi and U.A.E. governments by doing their ideological and financial bidding.
This in turn raises the obvious question: should CAIR not be required to register as a foreign agent, with the regulations, scrutiny, and lack of tax-deductible status that the designation implies? Data in Muslim Mafia certainly suggests so.
Looking further ahead, I expect CAIR's days are numbered. It's a dirty institution, founded by Islamic terrorists and with many subsequent ties to terrorists. Over the years, it has established a long record of untrustworthiness that includes doctoring a photograph, fabricating anti-Muslim hate crimes, and promoting suspect polling. It has also intimidated critics via libel suits, boasted of ties to a neo-Nazi, and allegedly paid hush money. Eventually, close scrutiny of this outfit will likely lead to its demise.
That's the good news. Less happy is my expectation that CAIR's successor will be a more savvy, honest, respectable institution that continues its work of bringing Islamic law to the United States and Canada while avoiding the mistakes and apparent illegalities that render CAIR vulnerable. In that sense, the fight to preserve the Constitution has just begun.
Posted on: Saturday, October 17, 2009 - 19:30
SOURCE: The End is Coming (History Blog) (10-15-09)
The United Nations has released its most recent statistics concerning world hunger and the prognosis is dire. Despite decades of governmental programs, celebrity-incited events, charity-organized fundraisers and all the good-will in the world, the number of hungry and malnourished people on the planet has grown to over 1 billion. Not only has the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicated that hunger isn’t disappearing, the “global food security” indicators actually demonstrate that hunger’s grasp on humanity is accelerating.
Cancer is a nuisance, AIDS is a pestilence and war is an epidemic but it is hunger that is responsible for 58% of all adult and 60% of all children’s deaths worldwide every year (2004-2008 figures). Recently, the problem has been compounded by a global recession and the subsequent increase in basic food prices. Indeed, there have been over 115 million new arrivals in the “hungry” or “malnourished” categories in the last year and a half alone. We now have to take a step back and analyze the way we’ve been dealing with the problem. We’ve thrown handfuls of money at it but we haven’t even dented the issue. Our Governments have failed, celebrities have failed, we have failed and the world is dying of hunger despite the fact that we already produce enough food to adequately feed 6 billion people and could potentially produce enough for 12 billion (FAO estimates). Where have we gone wrong?
Decades of Trying
Since the 1970s, there have been several attempts to nip hunger in the bud so to speak. First in 1970, a United Nations resolution committed most of the industrialized world into investing at least 0.7% of their Gross National Product every year towards the fight against global poverty. Within five years and to this day, only Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have maintained this promise. Good intentions had seemingly already failed almost 40 years ago. Despite this grim reality, many countries such as the United-States still use the 1970 resolution to show they are committed to the problem, without actually adhering to the obligations of the resolution.
One year later in August 1971, “The Concert for Bangladesh” welcomed George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Ravi Shankar among others, raising funds to help famine relief in Bangladesh. Attended by over 40,000 spectators in Madison Square Garden, this was a first in a long line of concerts that raised a decent sum of money for hunger relief. It was also a pioneer as a concert that ate up all mediatization and left nothing for the issue at hand. Famine continued unimpeded on the Indian subcontinent, the ex-Beatle experienced continued success and the world forgot about Bangladesh.
The next philanthropic experiment was conducted in 1984-85 by the Irish artist Bob Geldof. Band Aid and USA for Africa were amongst the projects he encouraged; the world’s most famous artists joined hands to sing for hunger relief. “We are the world” and “Do they know it’s Christmas” became instant chart toppers but once again, the artists and their song received a lot more coverage than the famine itself. To solve this dilemma, Geldof organised a two-day mega concert to raise funds and end hunger in Africa (ignoring Asia and the Pacific which had and continue to shelter two thirds of the world’s hungry and malnourished). 1985’s “Live Aid” raised an impressive 100 million$ and significantly assisted aid and food relief programs in Africa, at least for a while. Hunger rates then began to plummet in the late 80s and continued in the early 90s as the world finally acknowledged the problem..
As an epilogue, global prices began rising in the late 90s along with inflation. With our renewed recession, not even Geldof’s 2005 “Live 8” concert that made a heart-felt appeal to the industrialized countries of the world was able to curb the accelerating hunger and hunger-related deaths in the world. Furthermore, famine in Asia and the Pacific continue to increase exponentially as the world continues to focus exclusively “African” facet of the crisis.
Recession and no-good money
The past few years of economic turmoil have seen the progressive reduction of aid coming from individual countries and thus an already dire situation is getting much worse.
Hundreds of Billions of dollars have not necessarily solved anything but there once was a visionary that single-handedly eliminated hunger, if only for a time. Recently deceased scientists Norman Borlaug was a pioneer of the “Green Revolution” in the mid XXth century. By producing new strains of flood and disease resistant crops, food production in the Third World began to increase exponentially. Mr. Borlaug thus potentially saved over 1 billion hunger-related deaths. Unfortunately, his work and his life have greatly been overshadowed in the past decades by a return to “organic” and “natural” foods against the harms of GMO-containing alternatives. Indeed, Borlaug was the very inventor of Genetically Modified Organisms or man-made crops but without these today, we simply wouldn’t be able to feed even half the world. Organic food is good but exclusively organic food would mean the genocide of over 3 billion people.
Finally, in 2009, hunger and malnutrition are much more than a problem of the Third World, a faraway ill of foreign peoples simply less fortunate than those in the “developed” countries. On the contrary, the new UN statistics have confirmed a growingly alarming and surprising trend: the hungry are all around us. As of today, only 17% of the world’s hungry live in the Third World as opposed to 40% in the late 1960s. The rest surround us and are victims of poorly organised responses to a truly imminent crisis. Money has been and will continue to be but a stop-gap measure. It is through research, science and innovation that, as Norman Borlaug already knew, we will eventually find the keys to a nourished and more productive future.
Posted on: Saturday, October 17, 2009 - 01:44
SOURCE: Unpublished letter to the editor of the NYT (10-10-09)
The award to President Obama is seriously questionable if one remembers what the NYTIMES disclosed in publishing a letter 7 December 2007, properly titled"International Law Matters, that candidate Obama, promised to hunt down bin Laden in Pakistan"without Pakistani permission if necessary."
That prompted an international scholar here to ask,"What about international law?" He referred to the UNCharter's outlawry of such actions"without Security Council Authorization"
In that letter Professor Schlesinger asked 'Does the notion that Mr Obama is a good-guy liberal make it OK to violate internationl law?" This was never satisfactorily answered, by Obama or his faithful.
The grave doubt that reflects will render the Nobel Award a cruel joke unless in his acceptance remarks our President plainly supports the U N Charter's barriers to unauthorized war. Howard N Meyer
Posted on: Friday, October 16, 2009 - 21:14
SOURCE: NYT (10-13-09)
When it comes to dealing with North Korea, the United States and its allies have no efficient methods of coercion at their disposal; the regime is remarkably immune to outside pressure. Its leaders cannot afford change, so they make sure their state continues to be an international threat, using nuclear blackmail as a survival tactic while their unlucky subjects endure more poverty and terror.
Since outside pressure is ineffective, change will have to come from the North Koreans themselves. The United States and its allies can best help them by exposing them to the very attractive alternatives to their current way of life.
This is a well-tested approach: It is, essentially, the one that allowed liberal democracies to win the Cold War. Americans sometimes credit containment with cracking the Soviet Union, but it was the West’s economic prosperity and political freedom that irrevocably undermined popular support for Communism. This approach might be even more efficient in the case of North Korea.
Aware of their vulnerability, North Korean leaders have taken information control to extremes unprecedented even among Communist dictatorships. Since the late 1950s, it has been a crime for a North Korean to possess a tunable radio. Private trips overseas are exceptional, even for government officials. North Korea is the only country without Internet access for the general public. These measures seek to ensure that the public believes the official portrayal of North Korea as an island of happiness in an ocean of suffering.
To crack Pyongyang’s control over information and bring about pressure for change from within, truth and information should be introduced into North Korean society. As the Cold War demonstrated, cultural exchanges can be effective in transferring forbidden knowledge and fostering critical thinking. Exchanges can also bring young members of the North Korean intelligentsia into contact with the outside world. Away from police surveillance (and close to Internet-equipped computers), they would learn much about the true workings of the world...
Posted on: Thursday, October 15, 2009 - 23:10