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: Tabsir.net (1-22-10)
Not since Tammy Faye Baker embroidered Bible verses on her underwear has there been as eye-opening a scriptural scandal as the recent revelation that an American manufacturer routinely engraves Bible verses on U.S. military gun sights. As reported earlier this week, the Michigan-based corporation Trijicon has supplied the gun sights used by American marines to aim at and shoot the Taliban and their sympathizers in Afghanistan. The company may now be in quite a few critics’ sights given the new publicity. The Wikipedia entry already details the controversy. But the main company website has nothing to say. In the detailed descriptions of the gun sights on the website the biblical abbreviations are nowhere in sight. But it does say that “Trijicon self-luminous night sights are proven to give shooters five times greater night fire accuracy- with the same speed as instinctive shooting.” Five times, got it? Try MARK 6:38 (do look this up) and don’t forget the fishes. It may very well be that the procurement officers never noticed the addition of gospel acronyms after the serial numbers, but the company is not shy about its Christian views: “We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals.”
The actual verses are not inscribed, only the chapter and verse in code. It appears that all of the verses are from the New Testament, so at least it cannot be claimed to be a Zionist plot (or perhaps it could be said to be a very clever Zionist plot…). I have no idea how many verses have appeared on the 800,000 units contracted for $660 million by the U.S. Marine Corps. I suspect that MATT 5:44 (do look it up) is not one of them. Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount is not part of what the company defines as “biblical standards.”
The irony is that most of the soldiers using the guns probably never bothered to read the extra letters and numbers attached to the serial number and were unaware these were meant as an evangelistic tool. I doubt that any Taliban coming into possession of the guns would have realized what the code meant. But the revelation that some Bible-belt capitalist felt God’s call to New Testamentize military guns becomes a great recruiting tool for Muslim extremists and suicide bombers. This only confirms the suspicion that America is promoting Christianity at the expense of Islam. We might as well call it “Operation New Crusade.” Waging war is never morally pure, but keeping religion out of it seems far more pragmatic than promoting Bible sword drills. At least in World War II our fighter pilots were far more likely to paint hot blondes on their plane fuselages than they were Bible verses.
This mix of bibliolatry and patriotism should not really be a surprise for a country that still displays the banner “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the backs of its filthy lucre (not to mention what it does to the backs of individuals who think that freedom of religion should also mean freedom from religion) or that added “under God” to the school-mandated pledge of allegiance. The much vaunted separation of church and state may be proscribed in our constitution, but it certainly is not in our national rhetoric. Nor is it separable from nationally televised sports. Imagine a World Series game where the man sitting in the row directly behind the catcher is not holding up a sign that reads JOHN 3:16, or a post-game interview with either NFL star quarterback Brett Favre or Florida sensation Tim Tebow that does not start with thanks to Jesus.
Whatever the intention of the founder of Trjicon, it is telling that God is always being invoked by those who do the fighting. A Muslim mujahid raising his kalashnikov and shouting “Allahu Akbar” is obviously dragging religion into militant politics. Of course, we secular church-separated-from-state defenders of democracy and freedom no longer formally “praise God and pass the ammunition.” But God only knows what would be written on the bullets, if Trijicon ever gets into the ballistic business. Of course America might have avoided the whole debacle in Iraq, if Bush and Cheney had read more Bible. I’m thinking Revelation 18:2. Just read it and tell me why anyone in their right pre-apocalyptic mind would invade Iraq?
Posted on: Friday, January 22, 2010 - 11:18
SOURCE: Daily Beast (1-19-10)
Probably the most important thing to think about in evaluating the first year is what it reveals about the temperament of the leader. The events and challenges may change in years two, three, and four, but the style of leadership, the strengths and weaknesses of the leader have usually been revealed in that first year.
If you look at John F. Kennedy’s first year from the outside, it was a disaster. There was the Bay of Pigs, a tough summit with Khrushchev when he seemed weak, and the construction of the Berlin Wall, which lost America credibility.
When Kennedy heard that several reporters were planning to write books about his first year, he joked: Who in the world will want to read about a series of disasters?...
In contrast to Kennedy, Obama’s first year has been much more successful. But even more important is that he has shown some of the same temperamental qualities that should allow him to keep learning on the job as Kennedy did. And we have learned a great deal about him....
He’s made mistakes, but like JFK, he’s owned up to them. With Tom Daschle’s nomination for the Cabinet, he said, “I screwed up.” There could not be a double standard on taxes for ordinary people and people in government. With Skip Gates, he was able to get beyond his original statement that the policeman acted stupidly by calling both men to the White House.....
That he still seems self-confident and still enjoys the job is reminiscent of FDR. FDR was once asked how he was able to sleep with all the tough decisions he had to make. He answered that so long as he knew he had gathered all the information possible and had considered the question fully, then he put his head on the pillow and went straight to sleep. Obviously, the combination of problems that Obama faced turned out to be far more difficult than he had foreseen. Yet, he has not seemed terribly rattled and has been able to juggle a lot of complex things.
There is one way he reminds me of LBJ and that is in setting large goals. LBJ was once asked, when he was deciding to go for the Civil Rights Act in 1964, why are going to do that? It will split the party. His response: What’s the presidency for if it doesn’t tackle big problems? Obama, too, has set a number of interconnected big goals. When criticized for trying to do too much, his reply was similar to LBJ’s: That’s what I’m here for.
Yet, there is much he could still learn from LBJ in dealing with Congress. LBJ said you’ve got to court the Congress more carefully and lovingly than you courted your wife... When he needed Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to help break the filibuster on civil rights, he told him: Everett, if you come with me on this bill, 200 years from now schoolchildren will only know two names: Abraham Lincoln and Everett Dirksen. In other words, he appealed to Dirksen’s sense of history.
That was, I think, the kind of message that Obama delivered to the senators before their vote on health care....
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010 - 14:35
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (1-20-10)
President Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated a year ago, and this is a good time to review his major foreign policy success.
It is, of course, important that he has repaired the reputation of the US in much of the world and replenished the stock of 'soft power' that has been so important a part of US success and leadership. His approval ratings in Western Europe and even in Saudi Arabia were in the 80s and 90s this summer. Veteran journalist Tom Fenton confirms that he remains enormously popular in Europe, and that the public there understands that he could not turn US policy around on a dime.
But Obama's biggest practical foreign policy success has been in keeping to his withdrawal timetable in Iraq. Most observers have paid too little attention to this, among his most important decisions. When he became president, his top generals, including Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, reportedly came to him and attempted to convince him to modify the withdrawal timeline adopted by the Iraqi parliament as part of the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated shortly before he took office. They did not want US troops to cease patrolling independently in mid-June 2009. They did not want to get all combat troops out by summer 2010. They wanted to finesse the agreement. Reclassify combat troops under some other heading, they said....
Most Americans do not realize that US troops seldom patrol or engage in combat in Iraq anymore, accounting for why none were killed in hostile action in December. The total number of US troops in Iraq has fallen from a maximum of 160,000 during the Bush administration's 'surge' to about 110,000. After the early March parliamentary elections, another big withdrawal will begin, bringing then number down to 50,000 or so non-combat troops by September 1.
Critics of Obama often charge him with failing to end the Iraq War. But there is no longer an Iraq War. There are US bases in a country where indigenous forces are still fighting a set of low-intensity struggles, with little US involvement. Obama is having his troops leave exactly as quickly as the Iraqi parliament asked him to. Most US troops in Iraq seem mainly to be in the moving business now, shipping out 1.5 million pieces of equipment....
Not only will the US drawdown in Iraq greatly improve the image of the US in the Arab world and allow for more cooperation with Arab countries, but it will probably help US-Turkish relations, as well. Turks often blame the US for backing Iraqi Kurds and allowing a resurgence in Kurdish terrorism via the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), to some 5,000 of whose fighters Iraqi Kurdistan has given safe harbor. The US will soon be out of that picture, and Turks and Kurds will have to pursue their relations on a bilateral basis.
Obama was handed a series of catastrophes. He has done better in handling some than others. But his decision on Iraq was the right one, the one that allows the US to depart with dignity, and allows Iraqis to work out their own internal problems. It is in this sense that Obama won the Iraq War.
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010 - 13:29
SOURCE: danielpipes.org (1-20-10)
Jan. 20, 2010 update: From today's Associated Press:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has signed orders enabling the re-entry of professors Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University in England and Adam Habib of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa once they obtain required admittance documents, department spokesman Darby Holladay said.
Clinton"has chosen to exercise her exemption authority for the benefit of Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib," Holladay said."We'll let that action speak for itself." In a prepared statement, Holladay noted the change in U.S. posture since both professors, who are frequently invited to the United States to lecture, were denied admittance after making statements counter to U.S. foreign policy. Both the president and the secretary of state have made it clear that the U.S. government is pursuing a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
Comments: (1) I always expected this outcome, that Ramadan would be allowed in, because so many forces were aligned in his favor. That the exclusion lasted over five years was impressive.
(2) Note that this change was ordered from the very top, specifically invoking Obama.
(3) Note also the sleaziness of the State Department spokesman, ascribing Ramadan's exclusion to his"making statements counter to U.S. foreign policy." No, the reason was explicitly his having provided funds to a terrorist-related organization. Why the gratuitous lie, State Department?
(4) The Obama administration puts this case into the context of"pursuing a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and mutual respect." But it's always been a terrorism case, with no connection to issues of Islam. What amateurs.
(5) Note the term"mutual respect," the hackneyed phrase repeatedly applied to the U.S. government and Muslims – so much so that I have devoted a whole blog to Obama's use of these words.
(6) So, fellow Americans, how many of you feel safer with the prospect of Tariq Ramadan present in person to talk to our Islamists?
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010 - 11:32
SOURCE: National Review Online (1-21-10)
In Plato’s ideal society, philosopher kings and elite Guardians shepherded the rabble to force them to do the “right” thing.
To prevent the unwashed from doing anything stupid, the all-powerful, all-wise Guardians often had to tell a few “noble” lies. And, of course, these caretakers themselves were exempt from most rules they made for others.
We are now seeing such thinking in the Obama administration and among its supporters.
A technocracy — many Ivy-League-educated and without much experience outside academia and government — pushes legislation most people do not want but is nevertheless judged to be good for them.
Take the Obama proposal for health care. A large percentage of Americans do not trust those who run the Postal Service to oversee the conditions of one-sixth of the U.S. economy.
No matter. Our philosopher-king president says of our fierce resistance: “I . . . know what happens once we get this done. The American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like.”
How about energy policy? Unlike Obama, most Americans believe we should fully utilize our own gas, oil, and nuclear resources so that we don’t go broke waiting for a promised solar-and-wind revolution.
In fact, on a number of other major issues, polls show more than half of all Americans are at odds with the Obama agenda: more federal takeover of private enterprise, gargantuan deficit spending, and “comprehensive” immigration reform, for starters.
Why, then, does the Obama administration persist with such an apparently unpopular agenda?
Like Plato’s all-knowing elite, Obama seems to feel that those he deems less informed will “suddenly” learn to appreciate his benevolent guidance once these laws are pushed through.
Liberal columnist Thomas Frank once promoted similar assumptions in his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? Frank argued that clueless American voters can’t quite figure out what their own self-interests are.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, another Obama supporter, also reflected the philosopher-king thinking in a recent column praising China’s “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. Unlike the messiness of American democracy, he argued, a few smart strongmen in China can ram through the necessary policies “to move a society forward in the 21st century.”
President Obama has now apparently convinced himself that his old promises about a new transparency get in the way of giving the American people what they need.
Obama campaigned against lobbyists in government. But lobbyists in government are now necessary to accelerate the Obama hope-and-change agenda.
The president on several occasions promised to air the health-care debate on C-SPAN. But now negotiations take place behind closed congressional doors. That must be a necessary price if the people are going to get the health care they must have.
Obama, in addition, once ridiculed John McCain’s idea of taxing “Cadillac” health plans. He promised not to raise “any” taxes on those who make less than $250,000 a year. And he lectured President Bush on his foolishness of pushing Social Security reform when only 35 percent of the people were in favor it.
But now our philosopher-king has determined that he really needs to tax some premium health-care plans — even if that means additional costs will be passed onto those who make less than $250,000. And he certainly doesn’t mind pushing noble legislation that most people oppose...
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010 - 09:47
SOURCE: National Review (1-20-10)
Voters are sick and tired of a terrible year of big spending and big deficits — especially the sight of Obama and his congressional allies almost daily talking breezily about spending what we do not have....
No one likes a serial whiner. It has been a year now — and Obama still blames George W. Bush ad nauseam. He did it in Massachusetts again — and on the eve of the election, no less. Blaming the past for the mistakes of the present gets old quickly. And when one adds in the constant What’s the Matter With Kansas? brand of condescension about naïve yokels not knowing what’s good for them, it gets even worse....
Elite liberals are not good class warriors. Factor in multi-millionaire Nancy Pelosi’s government mega-jet or Barack Obama’s various overseas junkets or the big Wall Street money that went into Obama’s near billion-dollar campaign coffers, and it is hard to take seriously Obama’s constant war against “them.” The voters have figured out that their president likes the elite plutocracy and the lower middle classes, but not so much the wannabe rich who aspire to cross his hated $250,000 income threshold — at which point suddenly they become unpatriotic, unwilling to pay their fair shares, and reluctant to spread the wealth around....
Devotees turn on false prophets with a special vengeance. Obama is beginning to grate. His flip-the-switch-on, evangelical cadences at rallies sound more like a Harvard nerd doing blues imitations than Martin Luther King Jr. Purple-state presidents don’t appoint Van Joneses and Anita Dunns, or turn the NEA into a quid pro quo Ministry of Approved Culture. A healer doesn’t start in on the “rich,” “Wall Street,” the “big” oil companies, drug companies, insurance companies, or “fat-cat bankers” — especially when he has done his best to shake them all down for campaign money, hire as many of them as he can in his own administration, and arrange cut-rate loans, insider deals, bailouts, and guarantees for all of them....
Almost immediately after Obama showed his ideological cards last spring, I suggested in the first weeks of his presidency that the bait-and-switch president would soon face a Carter/Clinton moment in which he could either press on with his polarizing ideology, damage his party for a generation, and eventually end up churlish and sneering at the electorate, who did not appreciate his exalted morality and genius — or triangulate and follow the Dick Morris/Bill Clinton model of talking and acting sort of centrist....
We’re either down to all that — or Obama’s more principled road to perdition.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 19:00
SOURCE: The Nation (1-14-10)
The first year may not be the best way to judge a president. After one year in office, Abraham Lincoln still insisted that slavery would not become a target of the Union war effort, Franklin D. Roosevelt had yet to address the need for social insurance in the wake of the Great Depression and John F. Kennedy viewed the civil rights movement as an annoying distraction. If we admire them today, it is mostly for what happened during the rest of their presidencies.
Nonetheless, it is difficult to view Obama's initial year without a feeling of deep disappointment. This arises from more than unrealistic expectations, although his candidacy certainly aroused a great deal of wishful thinking among those yearning for a change after nearly thirty years of Reaganism. Nor does disappointment result from too exacting a standard of judgment. In fact, the bar has arguably been set too low. Too many of us have been willing to fall back on a comparison between Obama and his predecessor, arguably the worst president in American history, and leave it at that....
Obama has no evident desire to address the questions that defined New Deal liberalism and remain all too relevant today--economic inequality; mass unemployment; unrestrained corporate power; and the struggle of workers, through unions, to enjoy "industrial democracy." Where Obama has been good is on issues that were subordinate themes during the 1930s but have become central to post-World War II liberalism--women's reproductive rights, respect for civil liberties and the rule of law, environmentalism and racial and ethnic diversity, especially in government employment.
Obama also embodies a strain of thought alien to the New Deal but associated with the Progressivism of the early twentieth century, the desire to take politics out of the hands of politicians. Like the old Progressives, he seems to believe that the government can move beyond partisan politics to operate in a businesslike manner to promote the public good (despite clear evidence that the other side is not cooperating). As in the Progressive Era, this outlook goes hand in hand with a strong respect for scientific expertise (quite different from George W. Bush's approach)....
One lesson we should learn from Obama's first year is the difficulty of effecting change, even in times of crisis. Fearful of popular democracy, the men who wrote the Constitution created a government system designed to make it far easier to prevent change than to implement it. Today this structural inertia is compounded by the power of money in politics and by an entrenched military establishment. Obama has failed to heed the lesson Kennedy learned from the Bay of Pigs debacle at the outset of his presidency--not to accept at face value the advice of his generals (a realization that served Kennedy and the world well during the Cuban missile confrontation of 1962)....
Given this country's tortured racial history, Obama's election will always represent a symbolic watershed. To make sure that it amounts to more than this, progressives must stop making excuses or falling back on extenuating circumstances in assessing Obama. Without forgetting the differences between Obama and his increasingly retrograde Republican opposition, we must reject the outdated assumptions to which Obama clings on economic and foreign policy and forthrightly press for genuine change, speaking truth to power even when that power is held by men and women we helped put into office.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 12:34
SOURCE: NYT (1-20-10)
When in power, Republicans have always struggled to maintain control. During the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower engaged in fierce battles with Midwestern Republicans who were opposed to excessive foreign intervention and who did not think Eisenhower was doing enough to fight communism at home.
In the 1970s, Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford faced problems of their own. Ronald Reagan, the California governor at the time, and other fellow conservatives railed against the policy of détente, claiming that the G.O.P. was too willing to negotiate with the Soviets over arms control....
The reality is that unity frequently turns on presidential leadership. Successful presidents either have to form grand compromises, like Roosevelt did, or they have to be willing to govern with a strong hand over members of their own party, like George W. Bush. If they are not willing or able to employ one of those tactics, they run the risk of watching their coalition implode.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 12:25
SOURCE: The End is Coming (History Blog) (1-18-10)
Stating “The majority of the world’s countries have chosen to abolish the death penalty. We should follow this path”, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj has refused to sign any further orders to execute the country’s inmates. He is in full constitutional right to impose a moratorium on the measure but it will be up to the parliament in Ulaan Bator to pass a complete ban on capital punishment or rather to continue offering the punishment for their most serious crimes. This will bring us to 96 countries that have abolished the penalty, excluding of course the four most populous nations on earth: Indonesia, the United States, India and China.
As we cross over into a new decade, we must review the historical reasons why most of the planet still had the legal execution of its most incurable criminals but a short century ago and if the measure is still relevant, desirable and affordable in the world of today. But first, you may denote a clear bias on my part as a pro-abolitionist of the death penalty but I should say that this view has not impeded an impartial research on my part. Indeed, I have always been against the death penalty not on the grounds that it is barbaric or useless but on the more practical grounds that it is decided and applied by humans, flawed, error-prone and imperfect humans. And finally, this is not a discussion of ethics. I believe in democracy above all else and, indeed, four separate international polls in the last five years have confirmed that approximately 55% of those consulted were for the death penalty, so there’s that.
Historically, trivially administered death penalties were the norm in the monarchies and empires of Antiquity. The very first “Code” at least establishing impartial criteria for such a penalty was the law edict of King Hammurabi of Babylon around 1790 BC. A few short centuries later, the Bible’s first five Books (Torah or Pentateuch) also seemed to support the legal execution of criminals with the famed “Eye for an eye” doctrine.
Further along, the logic that an infallible and ultimately impartial human even existed began to be questioned. Already in the Bible’s New Testament, Jesus reversed the “Eye for an eye” and instead, gave us the equally known “Turn the other cheek”. Later in medieval times, the Thousand and one Nights voiced an opposition to the death penalty, Tang Dynasty China outlawed the punishment and XIIth-century lawyer Moses Maimonides said “It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent man to death”. That being said, The Muslim World maintained an important amount of criminal executions (much like today), China reinstated the measure after 15 years (759 AD) and, as we’ve seen earlier, a majority of national populations continued to support the legal killing of accused suspects.
It was only in the XIXth century, with the birth of the Nation, the spread of democracy and the slow dusk of world empires that support for capital punishment began to wane. The State of Michigan did away with it in 1849 but to this day, only 15 of the 50 States have done so. Similarly, regional abolition of capital punishment was as far as it went for a long time. Finally in the XXth century, decolonization, global mediatization and the advent of new forensic and investigative technologies have convinced most countries to opt out of the execution measure. In fact, the United Nations now encourage abolition and the European Union has it as a requirement for joining the organization. Mongolia is simply the most recent in a long line of nations crossing over to the realization that condemning a man to death and carrying out the execution in a democratic state is indeed putting the gun/button/switch in the hands of every elector which that government represents. Not everyone may be comfortable with the prospect of one day irrefutably executing an innocent man by accident.
President Elbegdorj said that “The road a democratic Mongolia has to take ought to be clean and bloodless” and has suggested that all men on death row should simply have their sentence commuted to a 30-year prison stay (rather than the common Mongolian method of execution: a bullet to the back of the head). Many have applauded the initiative but this decision actually evokes quite a historical irony. The land of Genghis Khan and of the Mongolian Hordes has now chosen to do away with the death penalty as something that is backwards, dangerous and simply not what a modern country can afford to do in the XXIst century. There are some more “developed”, industrialized and democratically seasoned nations that should take note and reflect.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 18:38
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (1-17-10)
...Pundits have come to label the current economic downturn a "he-cession." In the summer issue of Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam, a fellow at the New America Foundation, suggested that because men's traditional jobs (particularly in finance and construction) have declined faster than women's (particularly in health care and the service sector), we might see a rise in angry, unemployed men—a source of social instability in 1990s Russia and today's Middle East.
There have been a lot of economic downturns in American history. While economists in the Reagan years tended to highlight the slow, gentle increase in American GDP that seemed to feed economic growth from the American Revolution forward, heterodox economists have argued that the American economy has been riven with crises, shocks, and other bear-market calamities. Where orthodox economists have read back into history the "Great Moderation," heterodox economists have seen hysteria, chaos, and violence. Cultural historians, meanwhile, have noticed a lot of hysterical talk about manhood, violence, and chaos during the panics of 1785, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873—the list goes on. So what do scholars have to tell us about the tribulations of previous American panics? Was manhood in peril then? Were unemployed men really dangerous?...
As [historian Woody] Holton demonstrated, the crisis between the end of hostilities in the Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution was dangerous: lots of boys and lots of guns. In the so-called Newburgh Conspiracy, recently unemployed officers who had served under George Washington threatened a coup if they were not paid for their services; Congress, fearing anarchy, demanded $2-million from the states. When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts responded by taxing whiskey, hard-up farmers in the middle and Western part of the state rose up in Shays' Rebellion. Ordinary Americans were not yahoos who demanded inflationary currency to avoid paying off their debts; they wanted to ease the pain of all the new taxes, taxes that were going to pay off speculators like Abigail Adams. Backers of the Constitution tended to favor bondholders and feared state rebellions; they sought to prevent episodes of runaway inflation. Those mixed motives pushed Americans toward a Constitution that removed monetary power from the states (no more state inflation) yet protected ordinary Americans from a government that might grow oppressive and punitive. The nation, it turns out, was conceived in a financial crisis. Mad men were not just in the background: The fear of violence by unemployed or economically insecure men shaped American economic policy; the Constitution became an instrument to protect creditors from future he-cessions of angry, numerous, and armed people concerned about their debts....
In Jackson's era, collective violence against the Republic seemed a thing of the past. Nothing as coherent as the Newburgh Conspiracy, Shays' Rebellion, or the Whiskey Rebellion seemed in the works. By the 1819 and 1837 panics, the nation's police powers seemed effective at preventing angry young men from lacing up their moccasins and threatening the nation's sovereignty. National violence was more often personal than collective. In an age of unlimited liability and debtors' prisons, a man's reputation could mean the difference between success and jail. For men whose reputation, credit, and gender were tightly bound together, individual violence became a socially acceptable method for coping with the economic tensions of the day. From the 1790s through the 1830s, one sees a tight connection between dueling and a rage at the banks: Aaron Burr versus Alexander Hamilton; the future senator Thomas Hart Benton versus the attorney Charles Lucas; the Kentucky Representative and bank attorney Henry Clay versus the antibank Virginia Representative John Randolph; the journalist James Watson Webb versus the editor William Leggett. Jackson represented tens of thousands of men who were inclined to solve conflicts with canes, horsewhips, and pistols. A fair portion were slaveholders, men who sought to keep their slaves frightened by cultivating an air of unpredictable rage....
...Fresh mischief emerged with the panic of 1873, a long and violent depression. David O. Stowell's edited collection, The Great Strikes of 1877 (University of Illinois Press, 2008), explores the last and most violent upheaval that followed that six-year depression. The contributors show that the panic of 1873 pushed railroads on the edge of receivership into agreements to collectively reduce wages across all the major railroads. The announcement of those cuts in 1877 precipitated the Great Strike, the largest nationwide strike America has ever seen. Begun in railroad repair shops in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, it quickly spread through important junctions in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Nashville, Tenn. On the one hand, the coordination among striking engineers, brakemen, and firemen appeared to be the first stage of what labor officials would later call industrial unionism. On the other hand, anti-Chinese violence in California suggested that race-baiting was an important rallying point. And who was raising hell? Apparently mostly well-dressed gentlemen and riotous women destroyed railroad hubs all over the country. The diversity of the crowds proved interesting and sobering. In the longest term, the burning of Pittsburgh and the deaths of strikers and soldiers in the mayhem led many middle-class citizens to form citizens' councils and build armories in major cities. The Great Strike also helped justify the creation of a national guard for confronting the threat of armed insurrection in major cities. By 1877 a Constitution and credit reports were not enough to restrain violence, and so Congress called on a more permanent police force to protect itself from the angry unemployed, men and women....
Men's failure during panics, once viewed as a moral failing or a loss of masculinity, became more routine as panics became more routine in America. Reforms like the Bankruptcy Act eased the sting of depression for angry young men and did appear to minimize violence. As bankruptcy became more familiar and less harrowing than a prison sentence, tempers over indebtedness appeared to cool.
Are unemployed American men as dangerous as their counterparts in Russia or Pakistan? Probably not. The American political system has been jiggered and rejiggered through two centuries of angry, impulsive, violent men. Sometimes political institutions have been calibrated to deploy that violence, sometimes to redirect it, sometimes to quash it....
As for a coming Armageddon, statistics on bullet sales and macaroni purchases may be overreactions. Analysts have also noted a rapid rise in condom sales. One explanation for that is a rise in leisure time. Another explanation might be a rise in family planning. Male rage may go hand in hand with reflections on men's irrational exuberance in the past, and frank concerns about the shape of the future.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 17:37
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-19-10)
The wars in distant lands were always going to come home, but not this way.
It’s September 2016, year 15 of America’s “Long War” against terror. As weary troops return to the homeland, a bitter reality assails them: despite their sacrifices, America is losing.
Iraq is increasingly hostile to remaining occupation forces. Afghanistan is a riddle that remains unsolved: its army and police forces are untrustworthy, its government corrupt, and its tribal leaders unsympathetic to the vagaries of U.S. intervention. Since the Obama surge of 2010, a trillion more dollars have been devoted to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries in the vast shatter zone that is central Asia, without measurable returns; nothing, that is, except the prolongation of America’s Great Recession, now entering its tenth year without a sustained recovery in sight.
Disillusioned veterans are unable to find decent jobs in a crumbling economy. Scarred by the physical and psychological violence of war, fed up with the happy talk of duplicitous politicians who only speak of shared sacrifices, they begin to organize. Their motto: take America back.
Meanwhile, a lame duck presidency, choking on foreign policy failures, finds itself attacked even for its putative successes. Health-care reform is now seen to have combined the inefficiency and inconsistency of government with the naked greed and exploitative talents of corporations. Medical rationing is a fact of life confronting anyone on the high side of 50. Presidential rhetoric that offered hope and change has lost all resonance. Mainstream media outlets are discredited and disintegrating, resulting in new levels of information anarchy.
Protest, whether electronic or in the streets, has become more common -- and the protestors in those streets increasingly carry guns, though as yet armed violence is minimal. A panicked administration responds with overlapping executive orders and legislation that is widely perceived as an attack on basic freedoms.
Tapping the frustration of protesters -- including a renascent and mainstreamed “tea bag” movement -- the former captains and sergeants, the ex-CIA operatives and out-of-work private mercenaries of the War on Terror take action. Conflict and confrontation they seek; laws and orders they increasingly ignore. As riot police are deployed in the streets, they face a grim choice: where to point their guns? Not at veterans, they decide, not at America’s erstwhile heroes.
A dwindling middle-class, still waving the flag and determined to keep its sliver-sized portion of the American dream, throws its support to the agitators. Wages shrinking, savings exhausted, bills rising, the sober middle can no longer hold. It vents its fear and rage by calling for a decisive leader and the overthrow of a can’t-do Congress.
Savvy members of traditional Washington elites are only too happy to oblige. They too crave order and can-do decisiveness -- on their terms. Where better to find that than in the ranks of America’s most respected institution: the military?
A retired senior officer who led America’s heroes in central Asia is anointed. His creed: end public disorder, fight the War on Terror to a victorious finish, put America back on top. The United States, he says, is the land of winners, and winners accept no substitute for victory. Nominated on September 11, 2016, Patriot Day, he marches to an overwhelming victory that November, embraced in the streets by an American version of the post-World War I German Freikorps and the police who refuse to suppress them. A concerned minority is left to wonder (and tremble) at the de facto military coup that occurred so quickly, and yet so silently, in their midst.
It Can Happen Here, Unless We Act
Yes, it can happen here. In some ways, it’s already happening. But the key question is: at this late date, how can it be stopped? Here are some vectors for a change in course, and in mindset as well, if we are to avoid our own stealth coup:
1. Somehow, we need to begin to reverse the ongoing militarization of this country, especially our ever-rising “defense” budgets. The most recent of these, we’ve just learned, is a staggering $708 billion for fiscal year 2011 -- and that doesn’t even include the $33 billion President Obama has requested for his latest surge in Afghanistan. We also need to get rid of the idea that anyone who suggests even minor cuts in defense spending is either hopelessly naïve or a terrorist sympathizer. It’s time as well to call a halt to the privatization of military activity and so halt the rise of security contractors like Xe (formerly Blackwater), thereby weakening the corporate profit motive that supports and underpins the American version of perpetual war. It’s time to begin feeling chastened, not proud, that we’re by far the number one country in the world in arms manufacturing and the global arms trade.
2. Let’s downsize our global mission rather than endlessly expanding our military footprint. It’s time to have a military capable of defending this country, not fighting endless wars in distant lands while garrisoning the globe.
3. Let’s stop paying attention to major TV and cable networks that rely on retired senior military officers, most of whom have ties both to the Pentagon and military contractors, for “unbiased” commentary on our wars. If we insist on fighting our perpetual “frontier” wars, let’s start insisting as well that they be covered in all their bitter reality: the death, the mayhem, the waste, the prisons, and the torture. Why is our war coverage invariably sanitized to “PG” or even “G,” when we can go to the movies anytime and see “R” rated, pornographically violent films? And by the way, it’s time to be more critical of the government’s and the media’s use of language and propaganda. Mindlessly parroting the Patriot Act doesn’t make you patriotic.
4. It’s time to elect a president who doesn’t surround himself with senior “civilian” advisors and ambassadors who are actually retired military generals and admirals, one who won’t accept a Nobel Peace Prize by defending war in theory and escalating it in practice.
5. Let’s toughen up. Let’s stop deferring to authority figures who promise to “protect” us while abridging our rights. Let’s stop bowing down before men and women in uniform, before they start thinking that it’s their right to be worshipped and act accordingly.
6. Let’s act now to relieve the sort of desperation bred by joblessness and hopelessness that could lead many -- notably male workers suffering from the “He-Cession” -- to see a militarized solution in “the homeland” as a credible last resort. It’s the economy, stupid, but with Main Street’s health, not Wall Street’s, in our focus.
7. Let’s take Sarah Palin and her followers seriously. They’re tapping into anger that’s real and spreading. Don’t let them become the voices of the angry working (and increasingly unemployed) classes.
8. Recognize that we face real enemies in our world, the most powerful of which aren’t in distant Afghanistan or Yemen but here at home. The essence of our struggle to sustain our faltering democracy should not be against “terrorists,” with their shoe and crotch bombs, but against various powerful, perfectly legal groups here whose interests lie in a Pentagon that only grows ever stronger.
9. Stop thinking the U.S. is uniquely privileged. Don’t take it on faith that God is on our side. Forget about God blessing America. If you believe in God, get out there and start trying to earn His blessing through deeds.
10. And, most important of all, remember that fear is the mind-killer that makes militarism possible. Ramping up “terror” is an amazingly effective way of shredding our Constitution. Putting our “safety” above all else is asking for trouble. The only way we’ll be completely safe from the big bad terrorists, after all, is when we’re all living in a maximum security state. Think of walking down the street while always being subject to a “full-body scan.”
That’s my top 10 things we need to do. It’s a daunting list and I’m sure you have a few ideas of your own. But have faith. Ultimately, it all boils down to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words to a nation suffering through the Great Depression: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. These words came to mind recently as I read the following missive from a friend and World War II veteran who’s seen tough times:
"It’s very hard for me to accept how soft the American people have become. In 1941, with the western world under assault by powerful and deadly forces, and a large armada of ships and planes attacking us directly, I never heard a word of fear as we faced three powerful nations as enemies. Sixteen million of us went into the military with the very real possibility of death and I never once heard of fear, except from those exposed to danger. Now, our people let [their leaders] terrify them into accepting the destruction of our economy, our image in the world, and our democracy... All this over a small group of religious fanatics [mostly] from Saudi Arabia whom we kowtow to so we can drive 8-cylinder SUV’s. Pathetic!
"How many times have I stood in ‘security lines’ at airports and when I complained of the indignity of taking off shoes and not having water and the manhandling of passengers, have well educated people smugly said to me, ‘Well, they’re just keeping us safe.’ I look at the airport bullshit as a training ground to turn Americans into docile sheep in a totalitarian state."
A public conditioned to act like sheep, to “support our troops” no matter what, to cower before the idea of terrorism, is a public ready to be herded. A military that’s being used to fight unwinnable wars is a military prone to return home disaffected and with scores to settle.
Angry and desperate veterans and mercenaries already conditioned to violence, merging with “tea baggers” and other alienated groups, could one day form our own Freikorps units, rioting for violent solutions to national decline. Recall that the Nazi movement ultimately succeeded in the early 1930s because so many middle-class Germans were scared as they saw their wealth, standard of living, and status all threatened by the Great Depression.
If our Great Recession continues, if decent jobs remain scarce, if the mainstream media continue to foster fear and hatred, if returning troops are disaffected and their leaders blame politicians for “not being tough enough,” if one or two more terrorist attacks succeed on U.S. soil, wouldn’t this country be well primed for a coup by any other name?
Don’t expect a “Seven Days in May” scenario. No American Caesar will return to Washington with his legions to decapitate governmental authority. Why not? Because he won’t have to.
As long as we continue to live in perpetual fear in an increasingly militarized state, we establish the preconditions under which Americans will be nailed to, and crucified on, a cross of iron.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 17:35
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-10-10)
Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University's Center for the United States and the Cold War. He is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books). His website is NickTurse.com.]
It was a Christmas and New Year’s from hell for American intelligence, that $75 billion labyrinth of at least 16 major agencies and a handful of minor ones. As the old year was preparing to be rung out, so were our intelligence agencies, which managed not to connect every obvious clue to a (literally) seat-of-the-pants al-Qaeda operation. It hardly mattered that the underwear bomber’s case -- except for the placement of the bomb material -- almost exactly, even outrageously, replicated the infamous, and equally inept, “shoe bomber” plot of eight years ago.
That would have been bad enough, but the New Year brought worse. Army Major General Michael Flynn, U.S. and NATO forces deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, released a report in which he labeled military intelligence in the war zone -- but by implication U.S. intelligence operatives generally -- “clueless.” They were, he wrote, "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced... and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers... Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy."
As if to prove the general’s point, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor with a penchant for writing inspirational essays on jihadi websites and an “unproven asset” for the CIA, somehow entered a key Agency forward operating base in Afghanistan unsearched, supposedly with information on al-Qaeda’s leadership so crucial that a high-level CIA team was assembled to hear it and Washington was alerted. He proved to be either a double or a triple agent and killed seven CIA operatives, one of whom was the base chief, by detonating a suicide vest bomb, while wounding yet more, including the Agency’s number-two operative in the country. The first suicide bomber to penetrate a U.S. base in Afghanistan, he blew a hole in the CIA’s relatively small cadre of agents knowledgeable on al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
It was an intelligence disaster splayed all over the headlines: “Taliban bomber wrecks CIA’s shadowy war,” “Killings Rock Afghan Strategy,” “Suicide bomber who attacked CIA post was trusted informant from Jordan.” It seemed to sum up the hapless nature of America’s intelligence operations as the CIA, with all the latest technology and every imaginable resource on hand, including the latest in Hellfire missile-armed drone aircraft, was out-thought and out-maneuvered by low-tech enemies.
No one could say that the deaths and the blow to the American war effort weren’t well covered. There were major TV reports night after night and scores of news stories, many given front-page treatment. And yet lurking behind those deaths and the man who caused them lay a bigger American war story that went largely untold. It was a tale of a new-style battlefield that the American public knows remarkably little about, and that bears little relationship to the Afghan War as we imagine it or as our leaders generally discuss it.
We don’t even have a language to describe it accurately. Think of it as a battlefield filled with muscled-up, militarized intelligence operatives, hired-gun contractors doing military duty, and privatized “native” guard forces. Add in robot assassins in the air 24/7 and kick-down-the-door-style night-time “intelligence” raids, “surges” you didn’t know were happening, strings of military bases you had no idea were out there, and secretive international collaborations you were unaware the U.S. was involved in. In Afghanistan, the American military is only part of the story. There’s also a polyglot “army” representing the U.S. that wears no uniforms and fights shape-shifting enemies to the death in a murderous war of multiple assassinations and civilian slaughter, all enveloped in a blanket of secrecy.
Black Ops and Black Sites
Secrecy is, of course, a part of war. The surprise attack is only a surprise if secrecy is maintained. In wartime, crucial information must be kept from an enemy capable of using it. But what if, as in our case, wartime never ends, while secrecy becomes endemic, as well as profitable and privitizable, and much of the information available to both sides on our shadowy new battlefield is mainly being kept from the American people? The coverage of the suicide attack on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman offered a rare, very partial window into that strange war -- but only if you were willing to read piles of news reports looking for tiny bits of information that could be pieced together.
We did just that and here’s what we found:
Let's start with FOB Chapman, where the suicide bombing took place. An old Soviet base near the Pakistani border, it was renamed after a Green Beret who fought beside CIA agents and was the first American to die in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It sits in isolation near the town of Khost, just miles from the larger Camp Salerno, a forward operating base used mainly by U.S. Special Operations troops. Occupied by the CIA since 2001, Chapman is regularly described as “small” or “tiny” and, in one report, as having “a forbidding network of barriers, barbed wire and watchtowers.” Though a State Department provisional reconstruction team has been stationed there (as well as personnel from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), and though it “was officially a camp for civilians involved in reconstruction,” FOB Chapman is “well-known locally as a CIA base” -- an “open secret,” as another report put it.
The base is guarded by Afghan irregulars, sometimes referred to in news reports as “Afghan contractors,” about whom we know next to nothing. (“CIA officials on Thursday would not discuss what guard service they had at the base.”) Despite the recent suicide bombing, according to Julian Barnes and Greg Miller of the Los Angeles Times, a “program to hire Afghans to guard U.S. forward operating bases would not be canceled. Under that program, which is beginning in eastern Afghanistan, Afghans will guard towers, patrol perimeter fences and man checkpoints.” Also on FOB Chapman were employees of the private security contractor Xe (formerly Blackwater) which has had a close relationship with the CIA in Afghanistan. We know this because of reports that two of the dead “CIA” agents were Xe operatives.
Someone else of interest was at FOB Chapman and so at that fateful meeting with the Jordanian doctor al-Balawi -- Sharif Ali bin Zeid, a captain in the Jordanian intelligence service, the eighth person killed in the blast. It turns out that al-Balawi was an agent of Jordanian intelligence, which held (and abused) torture suspects kidnapped and disappeared by the CIA in the years of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror. The service reportedly continues to work closely with the Agency and the captain was evidently running al-Balawi. That’s what we now know about the polyglot group at FOB Chapman on the front lines of the Agency’s black-ops war against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the allied fighters of the Haqqani network in nearby Pakistan. If there were other participants, they weren’t among the bodies.
The Agency Surges
And here’s something that’s far clearer in the wake of the bombing: among our vast network of bases in Afghanistan, the CIA has its own designated bases -- as, by the way, do U.S. Special Operations forces, and according to Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill, even private contractor Xe. Without better reporting on the subject, it’s hard to get a picture of these bases, but Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal tells us that a typical CIA base houses no more than 15-20 Agency operatives (which means that al-Balawi’s explosion killed or wounded more than half of the team on FOB Chapman).
And don’t imagine that we’re only talking about a base or two. In the single most substantive post-blast report on the CIA, Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times wrote that the Agency has “an archipelago of firebases in southern and eastern Afghanistan,” most built in the last year. An archipelago? Imagine that. And it’s also reported that even more of them are in the works.
With this goes another bit of information that the Wall Street Journal seems to have been the first to drop into its reports. While you’ve heard about President Obama's surge in American troops and possibly even State Department personnel in Afghanistan, you’ve undoubtedly heard little or nothing about a CIA surge in the region, and yet the Journal’s reporters tell us that Agency personnel will increase by 20-25% in the surge months. By the time the CIA is fully bulked up with all its agents, paramilitaries, and private contractors in place, Afghanistan will represent, according to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, one of the largest “stations” in Agency history.
This, in turn, implies other surges. There will be a surge in base-building to house those agents, and a surge in “native” guards -- at least until another suicide bomber hits a base thanks to Taliban supporters among them or one of them turns a weapon on the occupants of a base -- and undoubtedly a surge in Blackwater-style mercenaries as well. Keep in mind that the latest figure on private contractors suggests that 56,000 more of them will surge into Afghanistan in the next 18 months, far more than surging U.S. troops, State Department employees, and CIA operatives combined. And don’t forget the thousands of non-CIA “uniformed and civilian intelligence personnel serving with the Defense Department and joint interagency operations in the country,” who will undoubtedly surge as well.
The efforts of the CIA operatives at Forward Operating Base Chapman were reportedly focused on “collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders,” especially those in the Haqqani network in North Waziristan just across the Pakistani border. They were evidently running “informants” into Pakistan to find targets for the Agency’s ongoing drone assassination war. These drone attacks in Pakistan have themselves been on an unparalleled surge course ever since Barack Obama entered office; 44 to 50 (or more) have been launched in the last year, with civilian casualties running into the hundreds. Like local Pashtuns, the Agency essentially doesn’t recognize a border. For them, the Afghan and Pakistani tribal borderlands are a single world.
In this way, as Paul Woodward of the website War in Context has pointed out, “Two groups of combatants, neither of whom wear uniforms, are slugging it out on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Each group has identified what it regards as high-value targets and each is using its own available means to hit these targets. The Taliban/Qaeda are using suicide bombers while the CIA is using Hellfire missiles.”
Since the devastating explosion at FOB Chapman, statements of vengeance have been coming out of CIA mouths -- of a kind that, when offered, by the Taliban or al-Qaeda, we consider typical of a backward, “tribal” society. In any case, the secret war is evidently becoming a private and personal one. Dr. al-Balawi’s suicide attack essentially took out a major part of the Agency’s targeting information system. As one unnamed NATO official told the New York Times, “These were not people who wrote things down in the computer or in notebooks. It was all in their heads... [The C.I.A. is] pulling in new people from all over the world, but how long will it take to rebuild the networks, to get up to speed? Lots of it is irrecoverable.” And the Agency was already generally known to be “desperately short of personnel who speak the language or are knowledgeable about the region.” Nonetheless, drone attacks have suddenly escalated -- at least five in the week since the suicide bombing, all evidently aimed at “an area believed to be a hideout for militants involved.” These sound like vengeance attacks and are likely to be particularly counterproductive.
To sum up, U.S. intelligence agents, having lost out to enemy “intelligence agents,” even after being transformed into full-time assassins, are now locked in a mortal struggle with an enemy for whom assassination is also a crucial tactic, but whose operatives seem to have better informants and better information.
In this war, drones are not the Agency’s only weapon. The CIA also seems to specialize in running highly controversial, kick-down-the-door “night raids” in conjunction with Afghan paramilitary forces. Such raids, when launched by U.S. Special Operations forces, have led to highly publicized and heavily protested civilian casualties.
Sometimes, according to reports, the CIA actually conducts them in conjunction with Special Operations forces. In a recent American-led night raid in Kunar Province, eight young students were, according to Afghan sources, detained, handcuffed, and executed. The leadership of this raid has been attributed, euphemistically, to “other government agencies” (OGAs) or “non-military Americans.” These raids, whether successful in the limited sense or not, don’t fit comfortably with the Obama administration’s “hearts and minds” counterinsurgency strategy.
The Militarization of the Agency
As the identities of some of the fallen CIA operatives at FOB Chapman became known, a pattern began to emerge. There was 37-year-old Harold Brown, Jr., who formerly served in the Army. There was Scott Roberson, a former Navy SEAL, who did several tours of duty in Iraq, where he provided protection to officials considered at high risk. There was Jeremy Wise, 35, an ex-Navy SEAL who left the military last year, signed up with Xe, and ended up working for the CIA. Similarly, 46-year-old Dane Paresi, a retired Special Forces master sergeant turned Xe hired gun, also died in the blast.
For years, Chalmers Johnson, himself a former CIA consultant, has referred to the Agency as “the president’s private army.” Today, that moniker seems truer than ever. While the civilian CIA has always had a paramilitary component, known as the Special Activities Division, the unit was generally relatively small and dormant. Instead, military personnel like the Army’s Special Forces or indigenous troops carried out the majority of the CIA’s combat missions. After the 9/11 attacks, however, President Bush empowered the Agency to hunt down, kidnap, and assassinate suspected al-Qaeda operatives, and the CIA’s traditional specialties of spycraft and intelligence analysis took a distinct backseat to Special Activities Division operations, as its agents set up a global gulag of ghost prisons, conducted interrogations-by-torture, and then added those missile-armed drone and assassination programs.
The military backgrounds of the fallen CIA operatives cast a light on the way the world of “intelligence” is increasingly muscling up and becoming militarized. This past summer, when a former CIA official suggested the agency might be backing away from risky programs, a current official spit back from the shadows: “If anyone thinks the CIA has gotten risk-averse recently, go ask al-Qaeda and the Taliban... The agency's still doing cutting-edge stuff in all kinds of dangerous places.” At around the same time, reports were emerging that Blackwater/Xe was providing security, arming drones, and “perform[ing] some of the agency’s most important assignments” at secret bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also emerged that the CIA had paid contractors from Blackwater to take part in a covert assassination program in Afghanistan.
Add this all together and you have the grim face of “intelligence” at war in 2010 -- a new micro-brew when it comes to Washington’s conflicts. Today, in Afghanistan, a militarized mix of CIA operatives and ex-military mercenaries as well as native recruits and robot aircraft is fighting a war “in the shadows” (as they used to say in the Cold War era). This is no longer “intelligence” as anyone imagines it, nor is it “military” as military was once defined, not when U.S. operations have gone mercenary and native in such a big way. This is pure “lord of the flies” stuff -- beyond oversight, beyond any law, including the laws of war. And worse yet, from all available evidence, despite claims that the drone war is knocking off mid-level enemies, it seems remarkably ineffective. All it may be doing is spreading the war farther and digging it in deeper.
Talk about “counterinsurgency” as much as you want, but this is another kind of battlefield, and “protecting the people” plays no part in it. And of course, this is only what can be gleaned from afar about a semi-secret war that is being poorly reported. Who knows what it costs when you include the U.S. hired guns, the Afghan contractors, the bases, the drones, and the rest of the personnel and infrastructure? Nor do we know what else, or who else, is involved, and what else is being done. Clearly, however, all those billions of "intelligence" dollars are going into the blackest of black holes.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 17:17
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-14-10)
Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University's Center for the United States and the Cold War. He is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books). His website is NickTurse.com.]
In his book on World War II in the Pacific, War Without Mercy, John Dower tells an extraordinary tale about the changing American image of the Japanese fighting man. In the period before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, it was well accepted in military and political circles that the Japanese were inferior fighters on the land, in the air, and at sea -- “little men,” in the phrase of the moment. It was a commonplace of “expert” opinion, for instance, that the Japanese had supposedly congenital nearsightedness and certain inner-ear defects, while lacking individualism, making it hard to show initiative. In battle, the result was poor pilots in Japanese-made (and so inferior) planes, who could not fly effectively at night or launch successful attacks.
In the wake of their precision assault on Pearl Harbor, their wiping out of U.S. air power in the Philippines in the first moments of the war, and a sweeping set of other victories, the Japanese suddenly went from “little men” to supermen in the American imagination (without ever passing through a human phase). They became “invincible” -- natural-born jungle- and night-fighters, as well as “utterly ruthless, utterly cruel and utterly blind to any of the values which make up our civilization.”
Sound familiar? It should. Following September 11, 2001, news headlines screamed “A NEW DAY OF INFAMY,” and the attacks were instantly labeled “the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century.” Soon enough, al-Qaeda, like the Japanese in 1941, went from a distant threat -- the Bush administration, on coming into office, paid next to no attention to al-Qaeda’s possible plans -- to a team of arch-villains with little short of superpowers. After all, they had already destroyed some of the mightiest buildings on the planet, were known to be on the verge of seizing weapons of mass destruction, and, if nothing was done, might soon enough turn the Muslim world into their “caliphate.”
Al-Qaeda was suddenly an organization against which you wouldn’t launch anything less than the full strength of the armed forces of the world’s “sole superpower.” To a surprising extent, they are still dealt with this way. You can feel it, for instance, in the recent 24/7 panic over the thoroughly inept underwear bomber and the sudden threat of a few hundred self-proclaimed al-Qaeda members in Yemen. You can feel it in the ramping up of the Af-Pak War. You can hear it in the “debate” over moving al-Qaeda detainees from Guantanamo to U.S. maximum security prisons. The way some politicians talk, you might think those detainees were all Lex Luthorsand Magnetos, super-villains incapable of being held by any prison, just like the almost magically impossible-to-find Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in the wild borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Because most Americans have never dealt with or thought of al-Qaeda as a group made up of actual human beings or accepted that, for every televisually striking success, they have an operation (or several) that go bust, the U.S. can’t begin to imagine what it’s actually up against. The current president, like the last one, claims that we are “at war.” If so, it’s a war of one, since al-Qaeda and the U.S. military are essentially not in the same war-fighting universe, which helps explain why repeatedly knocking off significant punortions of al-Qaeda’s leadership (even if never finding bin Laden and Zawahiri) doesn’t seem to end the threat.
But let’s stop here and try, for a moment, to imagine these two enemies side by side in the same universe of war. What, in that case, would the line-up of forces look like?
Assessing al-Qaeda’s “Troops”
According to U.S. intelligence estimates, there are currently about 100 al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, as well as “several hundred” in Pakistan and, so the latest reports tell us, a similar number in Yemen. Members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania) and those based in Somalia undoubtedly fall into the same category at several hundred each. According to authorities from the Iraq Study Group to the U.S. State Department, even at the height of the insurgency and civil war in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia never had more than 1,300-4,000 active fighters. Today, it is believed to consist only of “small, roving cells.”
Combined, these groups -- think of them as al-Qaeda’s shock troops -- add up to perhaps 2,100 fighters, about one-fifth the number of U.S. troops now based in Italy. As the 9/11 attacks, the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and the failure to disrupt the underwear-bomber’s plot indicate, U.S. intelligence has long been flying blind, but even if al-Qaeda turned out to have sleeper cells with 300 additional committed members in every nation on Earth, its clandestine operatives would only moderately exceed the number of U.S. forces now based in Germany.
Al-Qaeda does, of course, have some “training camps” in the backlands of countries like Yemen, and it has civilian supporters, financiers, and other scattered allies. Over the years, and sometimes with good reason, Washington has lumped Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan with al-Qaeda and counted various militant groups, including Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamic rebels, as al-Qaeda affiliates. Add such fighters in and you would swell these numbers by many thousands.
Additionally, al-Qaeda has an arsenal of weaponry. Members have access to rocket-propelled grenades, small arms of various sorts, the materials for making deadly roadside bombs, car bombs, and of course underwear bombs.
Assessing America’s Troops
U.S. efforts to crush al-Qaeda have certainly not failed for lack of resources. The U.S. military has spent about one trillion dollars on its post-9/11 wars so far. It has an Army, a Navy, an Air Force, and a Marine Corps which, like the Navy, has its very own air force. It possesses trillions of dollars in weapons, materiel, and other assets. It can mobilize spy satellites, advanced fighter planes and bombers, high-tech drones and helicopters, fleets of trucks, tanks, and other armored vehicles. It has advanced missiles and smart bombs, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and state-of-the-art ships in all shapes and sizes.
It also has incredibly well-trained special operations forces -- almost 56,000 elite troops, including Army Rangers and Special Forces, Navy SEALs and Special Boat Teams, Air Force Special Tactics Teams, and Marine Corps Special Operations Battalions, armed with incredibly advanced weaponry. It has military academies that churn out highly-educated officers and specialized training camps, schools, and universities. It has more than half-a-million buildings and structures on more than 800 bases sitting on millions of acres of prime real estate scattered around the world, including in or near lands where various branches of al-Qaeda operate.
In addition, the U.S. military has manpower -- lots of it. All told, the United States has approximately 1.4 million active duty men and women under arms and another 1.3 million reserve personnel. It employs more than 700,000 civilians in support roles -- from stocking shelves and serving food at stateside bases to assisting in intelligence analysis in war zones -- and utilizes untold tens of thousands of private security hired-guns and various other kinds of private contractors all around the globe. These numbers would be further swelled by intelligence agents who aid military efforts, including 100,000 members of the civilian intelligence community. And then there are the allies the U.S. can draw on ranging, in Afghanistan alone, from the Afghan army and police to tens of thousands of NATO and other foreign allied troops from more than 40 countries.
Comparing the Sides: The Mark of the Beast or the Mark of Futility?
Even excluding from the U.S. side of the equation all those U.S. reserves, Defense Department civilians, intelligence operatives and analysts, private contractors and allies of various sorts, if you compare the two enemies in the current “war,” you still end up with either the Mark of the Beast or a marker for futility.
The active duty U.S. military alone enjoys a 666:1 advantage over the estimated number of al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Somalia. Adding in the reserves, the ratio jumps to an embarrassingly-high 1,286:1. Even if you were to factor in those hordes of nonexistent al-Qaeda sleeper agents, 300 each for 195 countries from Australia to Vatican City, the U.S. military would still enjoy a 23:1 advantage (or 45:1 if you included the reserves, now regularly sent into war zones on multiple tours of duty).
In sum, after the better part of a decade of conflict, the United States has spent trillions of taxpayer dollars on bullets and bombs, soldiers and drones. It has waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have yet to end, launched strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, dispatched Special Ops troops to those nations and others, like the Philippines, and built or expanded hundreds of new bases all over the world. Yet Osama bin Laden remains at large and al-Qaeda continues to target and kill Americans.
Founded in 1988, bin Laden’s al-Qaeda formally issued a “declaration of war” on the United States in 1996, primarily over the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. While Washington has been hunting bin Laden and al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s, a post-9/11 Congressional resolution authorized the president to use force against that group and the Taliban. Ever since, the Pentagon has been waging one of the most ineffective campaigns of modern times in an effort to destroy it.
During these years, President George W. Bush declared himself a “war president” heading a country “at war” and living in “wartime.” In a milder way, President Obama has repeatedly declared the U.S. to be “at war” and, as in his surge speech at West Point in December, has identified the main enemy in that war as al-Qaeda. In the process, the U.S. military has unleashed tremendous destructive power on parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia causing the deaths of al-Qaeda fighters, non-Qaeda militants, and innocent civilians. Thousands of its own troops have died and tens of thousands have been wounded in the process, not to mention the losses to allied forces.
In these years, new al-Qaeda “affiliates” like al-Qaeda in Iraq/Mesopotamia have nonetheless sprung to life regularly and, as in Yemen, have even been officially crushed, only to be reborn. These groups have often made up their own “al-Qaeda” membership requirements, and focused on their own chosen targets. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda wannabes and look-alikes have proliferated and the organization (or those sympathetic to it or praising it) has reportedly spurred further attacks in the U.S. and encouraged men from New York to California, Nigeria to Jordan, to join the movement, and then work, fight, kill, and die for it, sometimes in attacks on Americans.
Al-Qaeda has no tanks, Humvees, nuclear submarines, or aircraft carriers, no fleets of attack helicopters or fighter jets. Al-Qaeda has never launched a spy satellite and isn’t developing advanced drone technology (although it may be hacking into U.S. video feeds). Al-Qaeda specializes in low-budget operations ranging from the incredibly deadly to the incredibly ineffectual -- from murderous car bombs and airplanes-used-as-missiles to faulty shoe- and underwear-explosives.
Of course, comparisons of the strengths of the U.S. military and al-Qaeda “at war” would be absurd, if it weren’t for the fact that the United States actually went to war against such a group. It was a decision about as effective as firing a machine gun at a swarm of gnats. Some may die, but the process is visibly self-defeating.
In the present War on Terror, called by whatever name (or, as at present, by no name at all), the two “sides” might as well be in different worlds. After all, al-Qaeda today isn’t even an organization in the normal sense of the term, no less a fighting bureaucracy. It is a loose collection of ideas and a looser collection of individuals waging open-source warfare.
You don’t sign up for al-Qaeda the way you would for the U.S. Army. If you and two friends are sitting around a table in some country and you’re angry, alienated, and dissatisfied with the state of the world, you can simply claim to adhere to the basic ideas of Osama bin Laden and declare yourself al-Qaeda in [fill in the blank]. Who then gets into your organization and how you link up, if at all, with other “al-Qaedas” is up to you.
That’s why groups like al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia are always referred to in the press as ”homegrown.” What you have, then, in this post-War-on-Terror war is a massive global military force aided and abetted by allied troops, “native” forces, and all sorts of corporate contractors facing off against something fluid and “homegrown,” fierce but strangely undefined, constantly morphing and shape-shifting. Every one of its “members” could be destroyed without the “enemy” being destroyed, because the enemy is a set of ideas, however extreme or strange to most Americans.
The Pentagon, with its giant bureaucracy and its miles of offices and corridors, is the headquarters of the U.S. war effort, but there is no central al-Qaeda headquarters, not in Afghanistan or Pakistan -- not anywhere. There is probably no longer even an “al-Qaeda central.” Osama bin Laden has vanished or, for all we know, may be dead. Think of it, at best, as an open-source organization that is remarkably capable of replicating by a process of self-franchising.
Isn’t it time, then, to stop imagining al-Qaeda as a complex organization of terrorist supermen capable of committing super-deeds, or as an organization that bears any resemblance to a traditional enemy military force? With al-Qaeda, the path of war has undoubtedly been the road to perdition -- as we should have discovered by now, more than one trillion dollars later.
When this “war” began, George W. Bush and his followers, like Osama bin Laden and his followers, were eager to proclaim future “victory” and to say with bravado to the other side: “Bring ‘em on!” The word “victory” has long since fled Washington’s lips, along with boasts that the U.S. is a new Rome.
So far, no matter how many of its operatives may be dead, “victory” remains on the lips of those calling themselves al-Qaeda-in-anywhere. After all, they did get Washington to “bring ‘em on” and the results have been disastrous and draining for the United States. The U.S. military has killed many al-Qaeda operatives, but it cannot annihilate its appeal by “surging” in Afghanistan and making war, with all the civilian destruction involved, in Muslim lands.
It’s time to put al-Qaeda back in perspective -- a human perspective, which would include its stunning successes, its dismal failures, and its monumental goof-ups, as well as its unrealizable dreams. (No, Virginia, there will never be an al-Qaeda caliphate in or across the Greater Middle East.) The fact is: al-Qaeda is not an apocalyptic threat. Its partisans can cause damage, but only Americans can bring down this country.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 17:13
SOURCE: LA Times (1-17-10)
Two Democratic senators and one governor announced their retirements earlier this month, and days later, the smart money has Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat falling to the GOP for the first time in nearly 60 years. Suddenly, the Republicans are crowing and Democrats are trembling -- everyone says the Democratic Party is doomed in 2010.
What is the source of this breathless hysteria? Memories of the 1994 Republican midterm landslide. But everyone should take a deep breath: The 2010 midterms will not be a repeat of 1994. Why? Because almost everything we think we know about the 1994 election is wrong....
According to received wisdom, the Contract with America -- the agenda the GOP ran on -- capitalized on widespread discontent with Clinton and the Democratic Party and articulated a conservative vision that resonated with Americans. Newt Gingrich, soon to be speaker of the House and the putative architect of the rout, boasted, "We have a clear mandate, and we intend to be revolutionaries." Never mind that only 39% of voters showed up for the supposed referendum on the state of the nation....
If the GOP landslide wasn't due to Gingrich's Contract with America, nor to the votes of disaffected, populist white men, what did happen in 1994? A different set of trends altogether: the unexpected rise of the Christian right and the move of white Southerners into the GOP....
Neither evangelicals nor white Southerners can swing this year's election, because they *are* the Republican Party.
Tea-party activists do share the ideological intensity of some GOP voters of 1994. But they are neither new voters, like 1994's evangelicals, nor are they party switchers, like 1994's white Southerners. There is no good evidence -- in surveys or reporting -- that they are anything other than disaffected conservatives who have previously voted Republican. At this moment, the odds are better that they'll split the GOP than that they'll sweep the Democrats out of power.
Historical patterns will allow the GOP to pick up seats this year. The out-of-power "base" will be more enthusiastic. The demographics of traditionally low-turnout midterms will favor the GOP. Democrats must defend more seats and will be held responsible for any problems in the country come election day. In 2010, Democrats will lose some seats, as have all but three incumbent parties in midterm elections since the New Deal. But the demographics are clear: 1994 won't repeat itself.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 17:04
SOURCE: National Review (1-19-10)
Who is the most important European alive today? I nominate the Dutch politician Geert Wilders. I do so because he is best placed to deal with the Islamic challenge facing the continent. He has the potential to emerge as a world-historical figure.
That Islamic challenge consists of two components: on the one hand, an indigenous population’s withering Christian faith, inadequate birthrate, and cultural diffidence, and on the other an influx of devout, prolific, and culturally assertive Muslim immigrants. This fast-moving situation raises profound questions about Europe: Will it retain its historic civilization or become a majority-Muslim continent living under Islamic law (the Shari’a)?
Wilders, 46, founder and head of the Party for Freedom (PVV), is the unrivaled leader of those Europeans who wish to retain their historic identity. That’s because he and the PVV differ from most of Europe’s other nationalist, anti-immigrant parties.
The PVV is libertarian and mainstream conservative, without roots in neo-Fascism, nativism, conspiricism, antisemitism, or other forms of extremism. (Wilders publicly emulates Ronald Reagan.)...
Although I disagree with Wilders about Islam (I respect the religion but fight Islamists with all I have), we stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the lawsuit. I reject the criminalization of political differences, particularly attempts to thwart a grassroots political movement via the courts. Accordingly, the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project has worked on Wilders’s behalf, raising substantial funds for his defense and helping in other ways. We do so convinced of the paramount importance of talking freely in public during time of war about the nature of the enemy....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 15:32
SOURCE: Seattle Times (1-17-10)
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of other Americans from all backgrounds took to the streets to advocate equal treatment for all Americans. The civil-rights movement was organized from the grass roots. Voluntary groups — from African-American fraternal clubs and churches to student associations on college campuses — mobilized ordinary citizens to demonstrate and to march peacefully for change.
The streets echoed in the halls of government. Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson both felt the heat, and they responded to it. In a famous moment, Johnson stood before Congress in 1965 and, invoking the language of the streets outside, promised his fellow Americans that "we shall overcome."
The 1960s civil-rights movement demonstrates the power of citizens in civil society — the realm of action outside the privacy of the home but independent of the official public institutions of the state. But we often forget that the civil-rights movement built on earlier struggles by Americans following the Revolution....
Like African Americans in the 20th century, Americans after the Revolution took to the streets. They advocated causes that political leaders wished to avoid, from temperance, peace and female suffrage to, most controversially, the abolition of slavery. They believed democratic citizens should appeal directly to their fellow citizens....
As we celebrate the Rev. King and the other Americans who participated in the civil-rights movement, it is worth remembering they too had to defend their right to organize and to speak in the face of intense, often violent resistance. Let us thank King for reminding us of how important a free civil society is to citizens in a democracy, and let us take this moment to remember our own past in order to sympathize with ongoing struggles around the world today.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 12:03
SOURCE: American Interest (1-15-10)
Between 1950 and 1989, the world was divided into clearly demarcated groups of countries. There was the “First World” of advanced industrial democracies also known as ‘the West’: western Europe; the British and European diaspora in North America, Australia and New Zealand, Japan; the “Second World” of countries under communist rule; and the “Third World” of developing countries emerging from colonial rule.
More recently, that old division has been breaking down; in the 2010s these old categories will largely disappear. The Second World, of course, has already been relegated to the junkyard of history. Some of its members have headed west — joining the EU and becoming, or at least trying to become, advanced industrial democracies. Some, like China and Vietnam, have gone east and no longer form a coherent ideological or economic bloc. Others, like Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, are unhappily wondering what they can or should do.
Less dramatic, but more important, is the accelerating breakdown of what used to be the “Third World.” Latin America, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and South Asia were once very much more like each other than they are now. Many Asian countries now enjoy living standards once reserved to the ‘West’ and many others hope to do so in the near future. Latin America and Africa are following economic and political courses very different from each other and very different from what is happening in East or South Asia. The Middle East, again, is moving in a direction of its own.
In retrospect it seems clear that the very concept of the Third World was a hangover from the era of imperialism. Before European imperialism brought peoples from all over the world under the rule of a group of European powers, someone from Indonesia and someone from Mexico had very little in common. The experience of foreign domination and exploitation followed by revolt and the effort of state building (along with the linguistic and cultural consequences of the imported European educational systems) created some commonalities, but over time these are fading and the natural, historic diversity of human cultures and interests is reasserting itself. The new decade will likely see the disaggregation of the Third World; the term will sound increasingly old-fashioned and even patronizing.
Within the old Third World, countries are likely to divide issue by issue based on economic and strategic concerns. Countries that are exporters of primary commodities have a set of common interests; rapidly growing exporters of manufactured goods have another. As we saw at Copenhagen, poor countries with low lying territories do not see eye-to-eye with rapidly industrializing nations like China — much less with the oil exporting economies of the Middle East. India, China and Brazil currently believe that they have either arrived at the VIP lounge in the nightclub of world politics or are shortly about to be ushered through the velvet ropes; these countries increasingly believe they can best advance their interests on their own, rather than through large and cumbersome coalitions like the Group of 77.
The biggest surprise, however, in the 2010s may be the breakup of the West. Just as the glue that once held the Third World is dissolving over time, the forces that once brought western Europe, the United States and Japan into a single economic and political bloc are gradually losing their strength. On the one hand, the economic and even the political differences that once marked this group as unique are beginning to fade. There are non ‘western’ countries now who enjoy the kind of middle class-based affluence that once only the western countries could boast. Europe is no longer the center of gravity for American foreign policy; increasingly Americans find their most serious foreign policy concerns and their most vital interests in East and South Asia and the Middle East rather than in western and central Europe. Indeed the concept of ‘the west’ as a diplomatic and even a cultural term is probably a liability for an American foreign policy that is increasingly focused on building relations with countries for whom ‘the west’ represents the colonial past...
Posted on: Saturday, January 16, 2010 - 17:54
SOURCE: CNN.com (1-16-10)
When baseball slugger Mark McGwire admitted he had used steroids in his record-breaking 1998 season, he recalled refusing to talk about the subject in his 2005 testimony to Congress.
"After all this time, I want to come clean," McGwire announced. "I was not in a position to do that five years ago in my congressional testimony, but now I feel an obligation to discuss this and to answer questions about it. I'll do that, and then I just want to help my team."
McGwire's admission come as the House Judiciary Committee has been investigating the problem of brain injuries to football players, following heated discussions October 28, when the committee aggressively questioned NFL officials to figure out why the league had done so little to curb this well-known problem....
...[I]nsisting on a firewall between sports and politics ignores the long-standing relationship between these two parts of American society. At the state and local level, sports teams depend on government assistance. There have been a large number of public subsidies, ranging from appropriations for stadium construction to the placement of public transportation near stadiums to tax breaks which the sports industry has depended on for growth....
Football has a political history of its own. According to the sports historian Richard Davies, the National Football League started a team in New Orleans in 1966, right after Rep. Hale Boggs and Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana helped push through legislation that exempted the NFL from antitrust laws so that there could be a merger with the successful American Football League....
There is also a long history of congressional investigations into sports.
In 1960, the Senate conducted hearings about the influence of organized crime in professional boxing. Americans were shocked when former middleweight champion Jake LaMotta admitted that he had thrown a fight against Billy Fox in November 1947. Members of the mafia threatened to kill LaMotta, but he testified anyway.
During similar hearings in 1961, the boxer Rocky Marciano told legislators that "it seems absolutely essential that a federal czar be named to head the professional sport of boxing."...
The government must help guide the industry toward better practices. There is a precedent for investigation. And sports has depended too much on government to now claim to be a free agent.
Posted on: Saturday, January 16, 2010 - 14:34
SOURCE: American Conservative (1-15-10)
President Obama’s decision to escalate U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan earned him at most two muted cheers from Washington’s warrior-pundits. Sure, the president had acceded to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops. Already in its ninth year, Operation Enduring Freedom was therefore guaranteed to endure for years to come. The Long War begun on George W. Bush’s watch with expectations of transforming the Greater Middle East gained a new lease on life, its purpose reduced to the generic one of “keeping America safe.”
Yet the Long War’s most ardent supporters found fault with Obama’s words and demeanor. The president had failed to convey the requisite enthusiasm for sending young Americans to fight and die on the far side of the world while simultaneously increasing by several hundred billion dollars the debt imposed on future generations here at home. “Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?” asked a querulous Charles Krauthammer. Obama ought to have demonstrated some of the old “bring ’em on” spirit that served the previous administration so well. “We cannot prevail without a commander in chief committed to success,” wrote Krauthammer.
Other observers made it clear that merely prevailing was nowhere near good enough. They took Obama to task for failing to use the V-word. Where was the explicit call for victory? “‘Win’ is a word that Obama avoided,” noted Max Boot with disapproval. The president “spoke of wanting to ‘end this war successfully’ but said nothing of winning the war.” Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard read off the same talking points. “The personal commitment of the president to pursue the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda until they are defeated was not there,” he lamented. “…To have rallied the country and the world, Obama needed to indicate he would lead a fight to win in Afghanistan, with the help of allies if possible, but with the armed forces of the U.S. alone if necessary. He didn’t say anything like that. He didn’t come close.”
Oddly enough, the military leaders to whom Krauthammer, Boot, and Barnes all insist that Obama should defer also eschew the V-word. McChrystal and McChrystal’s boss, Gen. David Petraeus, have repeatedly said that military power alone won’t solve the problems facing a country such as Afghanistan. Indeed, the counterinsurgency doctrine that Petraeus revived and that McChrystal is keen to apply in Afghanistan in effect concedes that violence alone is incapable of producing decisive and politically useful outcomes. Expend as much ammunition as you want: what today’s military calls “kinetic” methods won’t get you where you want to go. Acknowledging that battle doesn’t work, counterinsurgency advocates call for winning (or bribing) hearts and minds instead. And they’ll happily settle for outcomes—take a look at Iraq, for example—that bear scant resemblance to victory as traditionally defined.
That the post-Cold War United States military, reputedly the strongest and most capable armed force in modern history, has not only conceded its inability to achieve decision but has in effect abandoned victory as its raison d’être qualifies as a remarkable development.
Since 1945, the United States military has devoted itself to the proposition that, Hiroshima notwithstanding, war still works—that, despite the advent of nuclear weapons, organized violence directed by a professional military elite remains politically purposeful. From the time U.S. forces entered Korea in 1950 to the time they entered Iraq in 2003, the officer corps attempted repeatedly to demonstrate the validity of this hypothesis.
The results have been disappointing. Where U.S. forces have satisfied Max Boot’s criteria for winning, the enemy has tended to be, shall we say, less than ten feet tall. Three times in the last 60 years, U.S. forces have achieved an approximation of unambiguous victory—operational success translating more or less directly into political success. The first such episode, long since forgotten, occurred in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson intervened in the Dominican Republic. The second occurred in 1983, when American troops, making short work of a battalion of Cuban construction workers, liberated Granada. The third occurred in 1989 when G.I.’s stormed the former American protectorate of Panama, toppling the government of long-time CIA asset Manuel Noriega.
Apart from those three marks in the win column, U.S. military performance has been at best mixed. The issue here is not one of sacrifice and valor—there’s been plenty of that—but of outcomes.
A seesawing contest for the Korean peninsula ended in a painfully expensive draw. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs managed only to pave the way for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vietnam produced stupendous catastrophe. Jimmy Carter’s expedition to free American hostages held in Iran not only failed but also torpedoed his hopes of winning a second term. Ronald Reagan’s 1983 intervention in Beirut wasted the lives of 241 soldiers, sailors, and Marines for reasons that still defy explanation. Reagan also went after Muammar Qaddafi, sending bombers to pound Tripoli; the Libyan dictator responded by blowing up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland—and survived to tell the tale. In 1991, George H.W. Bush portrayed Operation Desert Storm as a great victory sure to provide the basis for a New World Order; in fact the first Gulf War succeeded chiefly in drawing the United States more deeply into the vortex of the Middle East—it settled nothing. With his pronounced propensity for flinging about cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs, Bill Clinton gave us Mogadishu, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo —frenetic activity with little to show in return. As for Bush and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the less said the better.
What are we to make of this record?..
Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010 - 22:44
SOURCE: Salon.com (1-14-10)
While American security officials are focused laser-like on the 300 or so al-Qaeda members in rural Maarib province of Yemen, and worry about further strikes on the US planned by this small group, a regional food fight has broken out between Iran and Saudi Arabia about a different sort of local insurgency, the Huthis, who have so far not been seen by the US as an international terrorism threat.
Yemen is on the face of it an unlikely object of contention between Shiite Iran and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. This country of about 23 million in the southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula is about 53% Sunni and 47% Zaidi. Most of the Sunnis belong to the rationalist Shafi'i school of jurisprudence rather than to the fundamentalist Hanbali school favored by Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. Many Yemeni Sunnis are traditionalists or even mystical Sufis, schools that the Wahhabi clergy in Saudi Arabia hate.
The Zaidis are a kind of Shiite, though some have seen them as in between Sunnism and Shiism. In Christianity, Roman Catholicism tends to honor Peter more and Paul less, whereas most Protestants foreground Paul. Neither wholly rejects either apostle-- it is a matter of emphasis. Likewise the Zaidis favor Ali (the son-in-law and first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad), but they have nothing against the early caliphs or religious leaders honored by the Sunnis-- Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman. Zaidis have a doctrine that Ali should have been the first caliph, but the others were also qualified and it was basically all right if Ali was passed over 3 times before he became the leader of Islam in 656 CE. In contrast, Twelver Shiites believe that only Ali and his descendants should have headed up early Islam.
Zaidis often study Sunni works and some have been influenced by Sunni schools of thought. They are more rationalist than the Sunnis in theology, many favoring the Mu'tazili school, which maintained that God is always rational and good in ways human beings can understand, rather than being arbitrary and inscrutable, as many Sunnis insist. Zaidis do not believe that there were only Twelve Imams, or leaders of the Muslim community drawn from the ranks of the descendants of the Prophet, nor do they insist on primogeniture. The Prophets' progeny, or Sayyids, have a special place of honor and often are asked to mediate tribal feuds. Many become clergymen. In each generation, one could become the over-all religious leader or Imam....
Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010 - 16:04