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: CNN.com (3-22-10)
As a co-author of an American history textbook that was effectively banned in Texas eight years ago, I get a strong feeling of déjà vu all over again as I follow the state's latest curricular wars.
Historians and teachers have reason to be deeply concerned over the latest actions taken by the Texas Board of Education regarding social studies curriculum standards.
The board has moved aggressively to put its hard-right conservative stamp on what students need to learn about the American past. Among the changes made by the board was the elimination of Thomas Jefferson from a list of thinkers who had inspired revolutions around the world. Conservatives object to Jefferson's support for a clear separation of church and state.
This trend is troubling in terms of the writing and the teaching of U.S. history....
...Many conservatives are simply unwilling to accept how much the writing and teaching of American history has changed over the past 40 years.
They want an American history that ignores or marginalizes African-Americans, women, Latinos, immigrants and popular culture. Rather than genuinely engaging the fundamental conflicts that have shaped our past, they prefer a celebratory history that denies those fundamental conflicts....
Future historians may look back at the Texas textbook wars as a prime example of how contemporary political movements shape how we engage history.
I can't think of a better example of that than the current campaign waged by conservatives to remove "bias" from textbooks. Their success threatens to impoverish our students, teachers, and classrooms.
Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2010 - 13:40
SOURCE: CNN.com (3-22-10)
The passage of health care will certainly rank as one of the major political achievements of recent decades.
Legislation that will eventually extend health care coverage to more than 30 million more Americans, greatly expand the number of options that citizens have when purchasing health care, bring healthy citizens into the pool of the insured and thus lower costs and create important regulations on health care companies will be remembered as one of the biggest domestic policy changes since the Great Society of the 1960s.
While most attention will focus on President Obama for pulling off a Herculean task that eluded many of our great presidents, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi emerges from this battle as the real powerhouse in Washington....
From the start of Obama's presidency, Pelosi has argued that Democrats should focus on maintaining partisan unity rather than on achieving bipartisan coalitions. She has implored her colleagues to act with confidence rather than out of fear. Her goal has always been to find ways to keep Democrats together rather than bringing Republicans on board.
In an era where partisan polarization makes true bipartisanship impossible, this is the most effective and realistic approach for Democrats....
Rather than the cartoonish caricature that Republicans often use of Pelosi as a left coast, left-wing fanatic, she is something much more powerful -- and threatening to their party.
When Kennedy died, many Democrats wondered who would take his place as the party's deal-maker. Now they have their answer.
Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2010 - 09:43
SOURCE: Bloomberg News (3-18-10)
Lack of balance is the charge being levied against the Texas State Board of Education after it inserted changes to new standards in social studies programs in public schools. An Associated Press story said that a "far-right faction" of the board had succeeded "in injecting conservative ideals" into the curriculum.
The Texas flap matters because Texas is so big. Publishers will revise textbooks to win the prized Texas contract. But the debate also reminds us that our definition of balance is distorted. After all, what's wrong with "injecting conservative ideals" into a curriculum, as long as they aren't the only ideals?
At its most devilishly aggressive — and whatever lines it inserts about church, state, hip-hop or the Alamo — the board will not restore true balance. It will merely manage to make the curriculum a little less skewed to the left.
These days, the word "balance" means what policymakers say it does, not more or less. That kind of definition is responsible for the vertigo that impedes logical cooperation in crucial debates such as this week's over health-care....
In a more general way, the left also hijacked American culture. The most obvious example of this was the mainstream media, the broadcast networks and the big-city newspapers, with their centrist-to-left-leaning editorial stands. True, there were always token conservatives, but they were just that.
Conservatives were driven nuts by the pretense of balance. Eventually, those who understood the intensity of this rage were able to exploit it to undreamt-of commercial advantage — thus Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and Roger Ailes of the Fox News Channel. New technology, of course, did its part as well....
View the Texas social studies issue as a small check on a larger problem, and it makes sense...
Posted on: Friday, March 19, 2010 - 10:39
SOURCE: Anchorage Daily News (3-19-10)
In a conversation with Dick Cavett published in The New York Times last week, David Brooks, one of the more thoughtful and effective conservative political analysts now writing, noted the American empire is in significant decline....
It might seem logical that literate Americans would turn to major professional historians for meaningful analyses of an American decline. But as most historians themselves acknowledge, there are a number of reasons why readers do not. First, detailed examination of something as amorphous as decline can be difficult reading, and it's not always written well. Second, the conclusions are necessarily speculative; the writer could be quite wrong. But by far, the most pervasive reason is that decline is not a story the American public wants to hear. It cuts hard against the grain of American optimism, exceptionality and nationalism.
The Texas Board of Education made this point graphically last week with the adoption of new social studies curriculum standards. By a series of strict party-line 10-to-5 vote, the board, which includes no historians, decided to eliminate Thomas Jefferson from a list of thinkers who inspired 18th-century revolution, eliminated any Latinos as historical role models, declared that there is no basis for the constitutional separation of church and state, and replaced the word "capitalism" with "free enterprise system," among other less egregious changes. This is writing history by emotion, rather than by facts. It is like making a medical diagnosis by Ouija board rather than by the study of anatomy and physiology....
In a perceptive new book, "Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History," Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan notes that societies use history to glorify national identity and that such use often becomes abuse when it violates the facts or the consensus toward which the facts drive. Brits and Americans, for example, don't want to acknowledge the superiority of the individual German soldier in World War II. The Japanese don't want to accept responsibility for killing as many as 50 million Chinese during that war. Hindus in India fight recognizing Muslim contributions to Indian history.
As the political manipulation of science has raised ire in informed society, so should the political manipulation of history. If America is in decline, we're better off knowing it than denying it.
Posted on: Friday, March 19, 2010 - 10:13
SOURCE: Democracy : A Journal of Ideas (3-15-10)
Going Rogue: An American Life By Sarah Palin • HarperCollins • 2009 • 413 pages • $28.99
The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down A Rising Star By Matthew Continetti • Sentinel • 2009 • 226 pages • $25.95
I will never forget the first picture I saw of Sarah Palin. There she was on the cover of Vogue, in early 2008–the "Governor Issue," no less. Her long, thick hair streamed wildly around her head, her well-toned body pressed against her sleeveless dress. That beauty-queen smile lit up her face. It turned out the cover was a fake, an Internet hoax; the hair, the body, and the dress were all photo-shopped by an anti-Palin website that wanted to make her look as un-gubernatorial as possible.
But that smile was certainly real. It is the smile of a woman who knows she has been saved and hopes you are, or soon will be, too. "I thanked our Lord for every single thing we’d been through," she writes in Going Rogue about the year that began when John McCain chose her to run for vice president. "I believed there was purpose in it all." The most important thing to know about the most popular conservative in America may be that, as a teenager, she vowed "to put my life in my Creator’s hands" and has never doubted that he is guiding her down "my life’s path."...
In his strident defense of Palin’s character and ideology–more a pamphlet or super-extended blog post than an actual book–Matthew Continetti, an editor at The Weekly Standard, accuses that all-purpose villain, the "liberal media," of tarring Palin as a theocratic bigot. He maintains his heroine is a tolerant believer who always "separate[s] personal opinion from public practice." Why, he asks, did reporters not grill Joe Biden, a Catholic, about the Virgin Birth or transubstantiation? But Biden, like most liberal Catholics, has never worn his faith on his well-tailored sleeve. If a politician claims that God stands behind every major decision she makes, and some minor ones as well, it is logical to inquire what her "opinions" (to use Continetti’s mundane term) are and how they shape her politics....
Palin’s mode of Christianity can be traced back, ironically, to the arch-liberal revolt against Calvinist orthodoxy in the nineteenth century. Ministers like Henry Ward Beecher preached a buoyant Protestantism that banished the concept of hell and made the process of redemption seem as simple as asking for it. No longer was salvation available only to a mysteriously chosen elect. Beecher and his like-minded brethren considered sinfulness a temporary malady, which the love of God could burn away as a fierce noonday sun dries up a noxious mold. This new, welcoming gospel inspired many believers to throw themselves into political causes that every conservative of their day abhorred. Beecher earned a reputation as a militant abolitionist who at one point publicly shipped guns to antislavery settlers in Kansas, while his sister Harriet was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the most influential attack on slavery ever written.
Following the Civil War, exponents of the Social Gospel applied their romantic faith to other burning issues. Self-taught economist Henry George predicted, in his best-selling treatise Progress and Poverty, that a confiscatory tax on private land ownership would bring about "the City of God on earth, with its walls of jasper and its gates of pearl!" Populists–the original species–vowed, in the words of one populist newspaper, that "God has promised to hear the cry of the oppressed" and claimed that "no man in this nation can live a consistent Christian life" unless he joined the agrarian insurgency. Frances Willard, the radical evangelical who headed the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, urged her many followers to "hear the cry of the world and help to hush it into peace, as a mother soothes the baby on her breast." And when Socialist leader Eugene Debs was jailed for speaking out against World War I, many of his supporters compared him to Christ. Like "the Nazarene Carpenter," wrote one lawyer from Oklahoma, "Debs had taught us continually… to Love one another and not to shoot one another."...
But Palin draws the line at any hint that the country might benefit from stricter regulation of corporate America or a health system that provided coverage to all. White evangelicals have long been divided between advocates of a moral commonwealth and those who preached moral self-control and self-reliance. The latter have dominated since the 1960s, due largely to the twin shocks of gay rights and legalized abortion and their vigorous advocacy by secular spokespeople; the identification of liberals more with anti-authoritarian values than with economic grievances played a role as well....
So liberals should not comfort themselves in assuming that Going Rogue is, in Jonathan Raban’s words, "a four-hundred page paean to virtuous ignorance." It is instead a tribute to Palin’s ability to draw a sizeable gathering of people who long for a politician who is, at the same time, a pious Christian, a stalwart conservative, and an aggressively modern woman. While that combination may not be virtuous, there is nothing ignorant about it.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 20:36
SOURCE: burtfolsom.com (3-15-10)
Race is a delicate issue in American politics, and the misuse of history to promote racial intolerance should always be challenged. Tom Hanks is an excellent actor but is sadly ignorant of Japanese-American relations. In promoting a new miniseries on the Pacific front in World War II, Hanks said the Japanese “were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different.” There are several major errors here.
Most important, the major issue with the Japanese was not race. In fact, the United States, under Commodore Perry in 1853, established cordial relations with Japan and opened that country to Western ideas. Our countries worked well together for years–President Theodore Roosevelt helped settle the Russo-Japanese War, and after World War I, the U. S. worked carefully and thoughtfully with our Japanese allies to regulate and reduce the number of warships in circulation. From 1911 until the beginning of World War II, the United States and Japan shared a trade agreement for a mutually beneficial commerce.
Our historical relationship with Japan was friendly until the 1930s, when Japan invaded China. Beginning in 1937, Japanese soldiers killed civilians, destroyed property and virtually enslaved millions of Chinese, culminating in Japan’s “New Order.” (The “order” meaning that Japan was on top, and all other people groups in the Pacific would be subordinate to them.)
The U. S. objected to that, and to growing Japanese imperialism in other areas of the Far East. In 1940 and 1941 we began to refuse to export steel and oil to Japan because we opposed Japanese aggression. On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed our fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, before issuing any declaration of war. As Japanese troops swept through the Far East, they continued their inhuman practices of mass killings of civilians in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Singapore, to name only a few areas. Hundreds of thousands of POWs died at their hands as well.
We Americans should not be ashamed of our reaction to Japanese imperialism. And if Japan were in the Far East committing those war crimes today, all of Hollywood would rise up to protest. Yes, by 1941, they did want to kill us, but not “because our way of living was different” unless Mr. Hanks means that our peaceful way of living was different from their military aggression. Japan wanted an empire across all of the Pacific, and the United States and its allies stood in the way. We fought them not because “we wanted to annihilate them” but because they bombed us at Pearl Harbor, killing over 2,400 of our military personnel, and threatened to establish a murderous regime over hundreds of millions of people.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 19:09
SOURCE: The Nation (3-18-10)
The changes to the social studies curriculum recently approved by the conservative-dominated Texas Board of Education have attracted attention mainly because of how they may affect textbooks used in other states. Since Texas certifies texts centrally rather than by individual school districts, publishers have a strong incentive to alter their books to conform to its standards so as to reach the huge Texas market. Where was Lee Harvey Oswald, after all, when he shot John F. Kennedy? In the Texas School Book Depository--a tall Dallas building filled with textbooks....
More interesting is what the new standards tell us about conservatives' overall vision of American history and society and how they hope to instill that vision in the young. The standards run from kindergarten through high school, and certain themes obsessively recur. Judging from the updated social studies curriculum, conservatives want students to come away from a Texas education with a favorable impression of: women who adhere to traditional gender roles, the Confederacy, some parts of the Constitution, capitalism, the military and religion. They do not think students should learn about women who demanded greater equality; other parts of the Constitution; slavery, Reconstruction and the unequal treatment of nonwhites generally; environmentalists; labor unions; federal economic regulation; or foreigners....
In grade one, Veterans Day replaces Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the list of holidays students should be familiar with. (Later, "building a military" has been added as one of two results of the Revolution--the other being the creation of the United States--an odd inclusion, given the founders' fear of a standing army.) The Double-V Campaign during World War II (blacks' demand that victory over the Axis powers be accompanied by victory over segregation at home) has been omitted from the high school curriculum. Japanese-American internment is now juxtaposed with "the regulation of some foreign nationals," ignoring the fact that while a few Germans and Italians were imprisoned as enemy aliens, the vast majority of people of Japanese ancestry who were interned were US citizens....
Clearly, the Texas Board of Education seeks to inculcate children with a history that celebrates the achievements of our past while ignoring its shortcomings, and that largely ignores those who have struggled to make this a fairer, more equal society. I have lectured on a number of occasions to Texas precollege teachers and have found them as competent, dedicated and open-minded as the best teachers anywhere. But if they are required to adhere to the revised curriculum, the students of our second most populous state will emerge ill prepared for life in Texas, America and the world in the twenty-first century.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 17:48
SOURCE: InsiderIowa.com (3-17-10)
In the aftermath of a crushing defeat in Massachusetts, President Obama found himself in a dreadful political predicament and, more pointedly, at a defining crossroads. Surely, it was time to cut his losses on health care. To survive, pundits advised, Obama would need to follow the example of Bill Clinton and move to the center. Seemingly on the brink of total ruin, the President defiantly disregarded the calls for course correction and tenaciously embraced an audacious path. Obama elected to employ another Clinton strategy, albeit an apparently less-memorable one, the carefully choreographed confrontation.
The impending vote on health care reform is still a toss-up to be sure, but passage looks increasingly believable. The President, fully engaged and charging with all his energy toward completion, understands his presidency hangs in the balance. The Speaker, thoroughly committed ideologically and politically, using the full power of her office, vows to deliver on this seventy-year promise. Having come this far, merely a handful of votes away from final passage, Democratic Leadership appears intent on breaking through regardless of the means necessary to achieve this long-awaited end....
Two things saved the Clinton presidency. First and foremost, Bill Clinton benefited from a timely resurgence in the national economy. Not as obvious, but nevertheless significant, the Clinton White House understood political theater. The Clinton team made excellent use of the wall-to-wall media attention surrounding modern presidents to disseminate and reinforce their expertly crafted and well-aimed political messages.
More specifically, in a moment of extreme misery, the Clinton White House picked an important fight and won: the dramatic budget showdown with Newt Gingrich and the newly elected Republican Congress that culminated in the government shutdown of 1995-1996.
Intoxicated with their momentous midterm triumph, the Congressional Republicans of 1995 understandably overestimated the strength of their own ascendancy. Likewise, relying too heavily on a self-serving caricature of the President as a craven draft dodger, they carelessly miscalculated the true measure of Bill Clinton, expecting the untested former governor of a backwater state to fold in the face of determined opposition. In the end, contrary to GOP expectations, Republicans were the ones who lost their nerve and suffered the embarrassing reversal. The moment marked a critical turning point. Securing an unanticipated victory of great consequence over his then-surging opponents, President Clinton emerged as a rejuvenated leader exuding an enhanced air of competence and vitality.
Are contemporary Republicans walking into the same trap?...
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 14:53
SOURCE: Huffington Post (3-18-10)
...There's a... specific reason... that I'm eager to get to Philadelphia, which has to do with Shanghai. Admittedly, Philadelphia was not one of the Western cities to which Old Shanghai circa 1930 was frequently compared, and New Shanghai, with its elevated freeways and giant video screens, leads more people to liken it to Tokyo and Los Angeles than to any Pennsylvania metropolis. Nevertheless, the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the first World's Fair held in the United States, took place in Philadelphia. And in May, the 2010 Expo, China's first World's Fair, will begin in Shanghai.
There's an enormous difference between 1876 and 2010 when it comes to many things, including World's Fairs. When Philadelphia hosted its World's Fair there was no more important genre of international spectacle. Now, by contrast, World Expos operate in the shadow of the Olympics, a more telegenic sort of mega-event. Two years ago, nearly every American knew that the Beijing Games were coming up, but when I mention that I'll be checking out the Shanghai Expo this summer, to see if it lives up to its hype, I sometimes still get blank stares (even though there's now a billboard touting it in New York Time's Square, it is still, as Shanghai-based writer Adam Minter has noted, stayed very far under the radar in the U.S.).
The upcoming Expo, while largely ignored in the West (despite the fact that it will be the biggest World's Fair in history, with more countries involved than any previous one), has been attracting enormous attention in China. There, it's being pitched as a sequel not just to the World's Fairs of old but also to the 2008 Games (the terrible phrase "Economic Olympics" is even being used), and some people are complaining that it isn't just being publicized but ridiculously over-sold and over-publicized. Given this situation, it's sure to be the case that the overwhelming majority of people attending the event will be Chinese tourists. This is no break with precedent, however, for massive international exhibitions of this kind have always functioned mainly to offer citizens of the host country a chance to take virtual world tours without leaving their homeland. And complaints about World's Fairs being over-hyped by publicists and civic boosters also fit into a longstanding tradition that stretches back more than a century....
It should come as no surprise, then, that I plan to spend one afternoon during the AAS meetings taking a tour of Memorial Hall, the only major building left from the 1876 World's Fair. I'll prepare for this outing by re-reading the account of a visit to the Centennial Exhibition penned by a man named Li Gui, a Chinese globetrotter I've written about before who checked out the event during a trip around the world that began and ended in Shanghai and whose book about his travels has been translated by Philadelphia-based scholar Charles Desnoyers. And because I'll be taking the tour during this particular conference, the small group I'll be seeing Memorial Hall with will be able to include the perfect person to put what we are seeing into a Chinese historical context: Susan Fernsebner of the University of Mary Washington. She's the author of a very fine dissertation (soon to be a book) on the history of China's participation in World's Fairs and smaller scale World's Fair-like events, has blogged about the Shanghai Expo, and will be revisiting that topic in an "Asia Beyond the Headlines" essay that will be the lead article in a forum on 2010 mega-events slated to appear in the August issue of the Journal of Asian Studies, the flagship publication of the AAS.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 14:33
SOURCE: The Huffington Post (3-18-10)
Having spent ten years on the Cornell University campus as a graduate student, lecturer, and visiting assistant professor, I can tell you that it is one of the most beautiful and picturesque college campuses in the country. Its waterfalls and gorges surrounding the oldest part of the college fulfill Ezra Cornell's vision for a lovely spot where students would do their best work. Perched up on the East Hill overlooking Cayuga Lake it's an amazing setting, especially in the fall when the foliage changes.
But the winters are long and brutal. Coming from California it was quite an adjustment for me. The cruel thing about Ithaca is the gray sky. The air hangs thick and moist over the finger lake and the fog gets socked in over the town. The sun disappears behind dark cloud cover around the first week of November and doesn't reemerge until around the first week of May. That means December, January, February, March, and April are pretty damn miserable, especially March and April. In those two months where "spring" is supposed to begin to emerge, the weather seems to get colder, grayer, more blistery and blustery, the winds pick up, cabin fever sets in....
The suicides are the tragic consequence of going to school on top of an ice-age glacier zone. But it sure is beautiful. And the summers, when they finally come, (and thank goodness they always do), with the lush foliage and green grass and bushy trees everywhere, Ithaca is really a paradise -- for a few months. Then the air begins to shift in September and October and after a few winters there you understand at that time of year that you're not going to see the sun for six months so you try to drink it in as much as you can....
My advice to Cornell students during the brutal months of March and April is to go to the Chapter House or to Rulloff's or the Nines join your friends and drink lots of beer and eat pizza and chicken wings and listen to live music every night after you're done studying for your exams and writing your papers. Then go home and crawl into bed. Don't even take a peek at those gorges when you're crossing over them.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 12:34
SOURCE: Salon.com (3-17-10)
[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com.]
As a Middle East expert who lived in the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, travels widely there, speaks the languages, writes history from archives and manuscripts and follows current affairs, I found that none of my experience counted for much when I entered the public arena in the United States. It isn't that I am thin-skinned or can't dish it out as good as I get it. It is that it is like being a professional baseball player ready for the World Series, who gets in the van and instead of being delivered to Yankee Stadium is blindfolded and taken to a secret fight club where people are betting on whether he can go 12 rounds with a giant James Bond villain. And he says, "But I'm not a boxer, I bat .400." And they sneer, "You will pay for insulting our great aunt."...
More recently I have provoked the ire of a burly former Israeli military prison guard at the notorious Ketziot detention camp during the first Intifada, who is among our foremost journalists of the Middle East and given a prominent perch at The Atlantic magazine -- Jeffrey Goldberg....
Jeffrey Goldberg just now accused me of wanting "to deny to the Jewish people a state in their ancestral homeland." The fact is that, A) I'm generally sympathetic to the states recognized as United Nations members. But, B) wounded romantic nationalism of Goldberg's sort is a pathetic remnant of the twentieth century, which polished off tens of millions of human beings over wet dreams about "blood and soil." There isn't any "blood" or "pure" "races," and human groups have no special relationship to territory. My complaint about the treatment of the Palestinians is that they have been left stateless and without citizenship or rights. I'm not a Palestinian nationalist who insists that they return to what is now Israel (though they should receive compensation for lost property if they don't). The Germans weren't always in Germany (in fact they are relative newcomers), and they aren't of "pure blood," and the 200,000 Jews in contemporary Germany -- some of them Israelis -- have as much right to be there as anyone else. Most Germans and most Ashkenazi Jews have a relatively recent female common ancestor. As a species and subspecies, we are from southern Africa, and that only about 100,000 years ago. If someone is nostalgic for the Old Country, they should try Gabarone, Botswana....
But here are some problems with Goldberg's position, nevertheless:
He doesn't seem to understand that simply having a vague notion that maybe a two-state solution is desirable (for the good of his vision of an ethno-nationalist state in Israel) is different from actively working for it and being willing to criticize publicly those leaders attempting to forestall it. It isn't a talisman you can use to justify warmongering or bigotry. George W. Bush, after all, took the same position. In. One. Speech. I don't see the sense of urgency and passion about this issue in Goldberg that was visible in his wretched so-called "journalism" about Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which was riddled with ridiculous assertions about Saddam sleeping nude every night with Osama Bin Laden while playing with his miniature atomic bombs, and which Dick Cheney used to get up the horrific invasion and occupation of Iraq....
Does Goldberg have a plan "B"? Because his two-state solution is so 1993. The problem is, it is almost certainly past the point where any such thing is possible, given the size and extent of Israeli colonies in the Palestinian West Bank. Goldberg admits that the only two likely outcomes of the current policies of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman are apartheid or a one-state solution.
Would Cpl. Goldberg like to specify which he would prefer, in case it comes to that (as it likely already has)?
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 12:08
SOURCE: CNN.com (3-18-10)
President Obama has had trouble sticking with his decisions. In several high-profile cases during his first year in the White House, there has been a pattern where the president takes a position on an important matter, feels the political heat for what he has said, and then backs off.
If President George W. Bush was the self-proclaimed "The Decider" who insisted on staying the course regardless of how many problems emerged with a policy, President Obama is starting to run the risk of becoming known as "The Undecider" who is unable to stand firm after announcing a position.
In the case of President Bush, what might have been a source of political strength turned into a political weakness.
President Bush's famous Harvard Business School/CEO mentality led him to believe that he should not second-guess his decisions. But when conditions suggested that his decision might not have been good, he could stubbornly refuse to change course. Many believe this was the case in the first few years of the Iraq war, when the strategy for rebuilding civil society was not working and the country was descending into chaos....
With President Obama, it seems that the danger is just the opposite. On national security, there have been several instances when the president has backed off critical decisions....
The willingness to deliberate and to adjust can be a huge political asset. Despite the constant criticisms about "flip-flopping," Americans should in fact seek political leaders who are willing to listen, to analyze and to adjust in the process of forming policy. Voters should demand politicians who are willing to correct their own mistakes.
At the same time, the perception that a president is not willing to defend his decisions can quickly become debilitating to the White House. The more Republicans see they can force the president to back down, the more they will demand that he do so on future issues. It is like throwing red meat into a pool of sharks....
This was a problem that President Jimmy Carter frequently encountered....
electorate and no benefits to deliver.
President Obama can't afford to become "The Undecider." If he wants to re-energize his presidency and improve
President Obama can't afford to become "The Undecider." If he wants to re-energize his presidency and improve his legislative scorecard, opponents need to know that when the White House proposes something it will fight tooth and nail for it. Supporters need to know that when they stand behind the president, he will not walk away.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 11:38
SOURCE: TomDispatch (3-18-10)
[William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular. He currently teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology and may be reached at email@example.com.]
When it comes to our nation’s military affairs, ignorance is not bliss. What’s remarkable then, given the permanent state of war in which we find ourselves, is how many Americans seem content not to know.
There are many reasons for this state of affairs. Our civilian leaders encourage us to be deferential toward our latest commander/savior, whether Tommy Franks in 2003, David Petraeusin 2007, or Stanley McChrystal in 2010. Our media employs retired officers, most of them multi-starred generals, in a search for expertise that ends in an unconditional surrender to military agendas. A cloud of secrecy and “black budgets” combine to obscure military matters, ranging from global strategy to war goals to weapons procurement. The taxpayer, forced to pony up about one trillion dollars yearly to fund our military, national security infrastructure, and wars, is sent a simple message: stay clear and leave it to the experts in uniform.
The powerlessness of ordinary Americans in military matters is no accident. Recall the one-word reply -- “So?” -- Dick Cheney offered in March 2008, when asked to comment on popular opposition to the war in Iraq. The former vice president was certainly far blunter than Washington usually is, and for that we may owe him a measure of thanks. By highlighting the arrogant dismissiveness of Washington’s warrior-elite when it comes to American public opinion, he revealed more than he intended.
Time for Vatican II at the Pentagon
If military power is the church at which we worship and the Pentagon is our American Vatican, then it is desperately in need of the equivalent of Vatican II which, in the early 1960s, opened the Catholic Church to greater participation by the laity, a vitally important change in ethos. Instead of continuing to pray at the altar of their particular services, we need our Pentagon “priests” to turn to the laity -- us -- and seek our input and sanction. Instead of preaching in unintelligible Pentagonese, with its indecipherable acronyms, secret doctrines, and spidery codenames, it’s long past time for them to talk to us in a language that reasonably informed adults can understand.
Think about this: last year, our country held innumerable public hearings on health-care reform. Congress continues to fight about it. It’s constant news. There’s a debate alive in the land. All this for a program that, in ten years, will cost the American people as much as defense and homeland security cost in a single year.
Yet runaway defense budgets get passed each year without a single “town hall” meeting, next to no media coverage, and virtually no debate in Congress. Indeed, you’d think each Pentagon budget was an ex cathedra pronouncement, given the way Congress genuflects before them and Americans accept them without so much as a peep of protest.
Those “Crazy” Kiwis
Imagine, for a moment, if Pentagon officials, supposedly toiling in our name, actually condescended to ask us for our thoughts. What do we think about global military strategy, garrisoning the planet, the ways in which our forces are structured, and how, where, and for what they should be deployed abroad?
Sound crazy? Here in the U.S.A. it most distinctly does, but not to the citizens of New Zealand. A Kiwi friend of mine recently sent me “Defence Review 2009,” a publication of New Zealand’s Ministry of Defence (MoD). And catch this: it includes a survey soliciting the advice of ordinary New Zealanders with respect to military affairs. It actually asks for the counsel of civilians on a “top ten” list of questions whose topics are remarkably comprehensive, including what the priorities of the country’s Defence Force should be, both now and in the future. Citizens can even present their views on military matters at a public hearing attended by MoD representatives, all in the name of public consultation. And the Defence Minister responds to the people in clear English sans the cobwebs of jargon that typically entangle our military pronouncements.
In case you haven’t noticed, here in the U.S.A., requests from the Pentagon for citizen feedback aren’t flooding our email boxes. So I thought -- since no one in that five-sided fortress on the Potomac has asked a thing of me -- the least I could do was ask a few questions on my own. Here, then, is my own top-five list of questions that we, the American people, should ask the Pentagon, even if none of its officials want to hear from us. Maybe they’re a tad more pointed than those in the Kiwi survey, but that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, they’ve been a long time in coming.
1.Our military is supposed to be a means to an end: national security. Due to its immense size and colossal budget, has our military not become an end as well as means?
2.In World War II, Americans could explain “Why We Fight” in part because the government provided a clear and compelling rationale for war. Why are the goals of today’s wars so opaque to most Americans?
3.If our military provides us with our way of “nation building” abroad, won’t countries and peoples be more likely to copy our military ways and weaponry than our democratic teachings?
4.America is facing painful budgetary belt tightening. Why is the military immune?
5.Why does “support our troops” seemingly end when they leave the service, leading us to tolerate such inequities as an unemployment rate of 21% for young veterans?
Keep in mind that there are 10, 20, 30 more questions where those five came from -- and our military badly needs to hear and respond to them all.
Every recruit is taught to stretch, to go the extra mile, to push until you can go no further. Our military needs some stretching and push-back: this time, from us. Unfortunately, most of us don’t think our opinions matter when it comes to our military -- unless, that is, they consist solely of slavish adoration. The fact is most of us are detached from military affairs precisely because we know in our hearts that the Pentagon serves its own needs, that it may be interested in listening in on us, but certainly not in listening to us.
Challenge the Pentagon Church Militant
Kiwis have the reputation of being practical types with an admirable dash of humility, and I like to think that their Ministry of Defence solicits the views of its citizenry not just because it’s required by statute, but because their officials don’t believe they have a monopoly on good ideas.
Perhaps the MoD recognizes as well the difficulty military professionals have in thinking outside the box. Despite its gargantuan size and its endless advisory committees and boards, our Department of Defense is, in essence, a well-insulated church of likeminded believers, administered by tightly-wound power-brokers. It sees the world only as an arena of, and for, conflict. Wherever it looks, even within its own ranks, it sees rivals and enemies. It cannot help dividing the world into believers and heretics, friends and foes.
And it’s true that the world is a dangerous place. The problem is: the Pentagon is part of that danger. Our military has grown so strong and so dominates our government, including its foreign policy and even aspects of our culture, that there’s no effective counterweight to its closeted, conflict-centered style of thinking.
In fact, the Pentagon’s heft gives new meaning to the term “full spectrum dominance” and helps explain the lack of change in war policy since the 2008 elections. A vote that constituted an unmistakable call to end our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and so lessen the military’s influence -- has led only to fresh war “surges” and mushrooming Pentagon budgets. And yet, as the Pentagon charges forward, debate is nearly nonexistent and Congress can muster just 65 votes for a resolution to curtail the endless conflict in Afghanistan.
It’s shameful that only a so-called far left congressman like Dennis Kucinich has enough sense (and guts) to insist on Congressional debate about our forever-war in Afghanistan. Equally shameful: that Congress allotted only three hours to that debate on matters of life, death, and even financial well-being. Do we really need reminding that debate makes democracy stronger? Evidently so. Take it from me as a retired Air Force officer: our troops won’t be demoralized by more debate and greater citizen participation.
Let’s face it, all of this represents a long-term sea change in American consciousness. Sadly, the old idea of the citizen army is dead, and because of this, most of us lack any direct connection to the military (and seemingly could care less). In the name of safety, security, and solidarity, we’ve buttoned our lips. We worship, but don’t partake.
Centuries from now, historians will look back on American history and wonder how so many gave away so much to so few. It should be our right to have a say in what defines the “defense” of our country. That right has been surrendered to the few. Our future may depend on genuine input from the many.
How about it? Are you ready to challenge the Pentagon church militant? Or are you content to mouth the usual catechism, while continuing to dump billions each week into the collection basket?
Citizens of courage will surely choose the path of challenge.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 11:11
SOURCE: LA Times (3-17-10)
Once upon a time, Americans did some very bad things. They enslaved Africans, displaced Indians, oppressed women and exploited laborers. Then the Great American Government came to the rescue.
Spurred by protest movements for freedom and equality, the government instituted changes that brought the nation progressively closer to its founding promise.
That's the theme of most American history textbooks. And it's also what offended the Texas Board of Education, which voted last week to approve a new set of social studies standards that emphasize America's timeless virtues. The current standards, one board member explained, "are rife with leftist political periods and events: the Populists, the Progressives, the New Deal and the Great Society."
And here's what most of my fellow liberals won't admit: He's right. These bursts of reform are the spine of the story that we tell ourselves, about who we are and who we want to be. When a social problem arises, we press our elected representatives to devise new laws and institutions that will make America more compassionate, decent and fair.
That's how most liberals -- and, I should add, most historians -- see the world. Our heroes are the champions of social justice -- Frederick Douglass, Jane Addams, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and so on -- and the presidents who tried to put their ideas into practice: Abraham Lincoln, both Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
It's not an unalloyed embrace, mind you. Many of us have criticized these politicians for their errors, blind spots and inconsistencies. Kennedy takes a pummeling every few years for the Bay of Pigs, as does Johnson for escalating the war in Vietnam.
But even our disparagement of liberal icons demonstrates our overall adherence to the liberal script. In the great national drama, our leaders are supposed to harness the power of government to the principle of social justice. And when they don't, we take them to task.
Our scholarship about conservatism reflects a similar bias. Over the last few decades, historians have produced brilliant studies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the rise of the so-called Christian right. But most of this work proceeds from the basic assumption that the right was wrong: about religion, race, the economy and everything else.
And now -- surprise -- conservatives are fighting back. Look closely at the new Texas social studies standards and you'll find attacks on every sacred cow in the liberal pantheon, starting with the separation of church and state. While liberals often impute the principle to the Founding Fathers, the Texas standards hold that the founders imagined America as a "Christian nation."
The new standards also reject the idea of American imperialism, preferring to call it "expansionism." They insist on the superiority of America's "free enterprise system," which will replace the prior standards' reference to "capitalism." (Capitalism, one school board member explained, "does have a negative connotation. You know, 'capitalist pig.' ")
When we get to the Cold War, the new standards note that recent archival discoveries "confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in the U.S. government." And for the 1960s and beyond, the standards advise, students should examine the "unintended consequences" of Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX.
Conservatives on the Texas school board claim that these changes will simply provide "balance" to the dominant liberal paradigm. But their red-meat rhetoric says otherwise. Would these people rest easily if students -- following a "balanced" discussion -- concluded that the Great Society and affirmative action were really great ideas?..
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 11:06
SOURCE: Salon.com (3-17-10)
Gen. David Petraeus, commander of United States Central Command, may or may not have asked to add the West Bank and Gaza to the 4.6 million square miles of land and sea comprising his Area of Responsibility (AOR).
Writing in Foreign Policy magazine' s "Middle East Channel," journalist Mark Perry reports that he did. Petraeus, leaving himself plenty of wiggle room, says it's not so.
This much is certain, however: Gen. Petraeus, easily the most influential U. S. officer on active duty, has discovered the Holy Land. And his discovery is likely to discomfit those Americans committed to the proposition that the United States and Israel face the same threats and are bound together by identical interests.
With regard to the plight of the Palestinians, Petraeus says that this is emphatically not the case. Here, he believes, U. S. and Israeli interests diverge -- sharply and perhaps irreconcilably....
It seems increasingly clear that a thoroughgoing reappraisal of the U. S.-Israeli strategic partnership is in the offing. Much of the credit (or, if you prefer, blame) for that prospect belongs to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the famous (or infamous) tract "The Israel Lobby."...
Out of this candor has come a rolling reassessment, with the ultimate outcome by no means clear. That David Petraeus, hitherto not known to be an anti-Semite, has implicitly endorsed one of Mearsheimer and Walt's core findings -- questioning whether the United States should view Israel as a strategic asset -- constitutes further evidence that something important is afoot....
How long the United States can tolerate the denial of Palestinian self-determination is one question demanding urgent attention. Yet behind that question there lurks an even larger one: Is the progressive militarization of U.S. policy in the Greater Middle East -- entrusting ever more authority to proconsuls like Gen. Petraeus and flooding the region with American troops -- contributing to peace and stability? Or is it producing precisely the opposite result?
Let a thousand flowers bloom.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 10:12
SOURCE: PajamasMedia (3-16-10)
A word of caution: we are not talking about hoi polloi versus hoi oligoi, or the commune on the barricades fighting the estate owners. No, not this time around.
Instead, the present attempt to remake America is the effort of the liberal well-to-do — highly educated at mostly private universities, nursed on three decades of postmodern education, either with inherited wealth or earning top salaries, lifestyles of privilege indistinguishable from those they decry as selfish, and immune from the dictates they impose on others.
Such are basically the profiles of the Obama cabinet and sub-cabinet, the pillars of liberalism in the Congress and state legislatures, the public intellectuals in the universities and foundations, the arts crowd, and the Hollywood elite. Let us be clear about that....
They are all battling on behalf of “them,” the poorer half of America, currently in need of some sort of housing, education, food, or legal subsidy, whom the above mentioned elite, in the way they live, send their children to school, socialize, and vacation so studiously avoid....
Note well the term “poor.” These are not Dickensian or Joads poor, but largely Americans who by the standards of the 1940s would be considered lucky. Partly because of globalized Chinese consumer goods, and partly redistributive practices of a half-century, our current “underclass” has access to clothes, electronics, entertainment, apartments, cell phones, transportation, etc., undreamed of by the middle class of the recent past. I live in one of the poorest areas of one of the poorest counties in a bankrupt state; and those I see poor are not like those I saw 40 years ago in the same locale....
Some of the revolutionaries are guided by genuine noblesse oblige. Others act out of guilt and can justify their own consumption if they “care” for a distant poorer other. Still more explain their own privilege through using government to redistribute income. A few are driven by genuine hatred — stemming from the fact that the highly educated academic or artist makes far less than the doctor, lawyer, CEO, or — heaven forbid — tire store owner, family orthodontist, or owner of a half dozen Little Caesar pizza franchises.
How can that be that the PhD who reads Old English, or the painter who emulates Pollock, or the writer who is the next Fitzgerald, or the AP teacher is given so much less by society than the crass, smug captain of industry, who reads less, has no real taste, and hardly understands his own existential dilemma? Should not salary and capital be predicated on good intentions, high education, rhetoric and argumentation, and a bit of necessary sarcasm?...
There is no appreciation that scrappy, often grubby Americans this minute are scrambling on their computer terminals, on their forklifts, in their commuting cars to run a business, provide a service, or move up the employment ladder in hopes of improving their lot and leaving behind something for their kids. They are the engines of capitalism and they don’t often go to Yale, or Rev. Wright’s church, or work at Human Resources Department. And when they all do, we will be in sorry shape....
So fascinating these modern revolutionaries. A Buffet does not choose to pay the high income tax rate on his earnings, though he surely could in lieu of lecturing how taxes are too low. A Gates Sr. does not plan for his offspring to pay into the strapped treasury needed inheritance taxes, though he remonstrates that they must be raised on everyone else. A Geithner does not comply with the tax code, though he assumes it should be raised on others. A Gore lectures on honesty and truth and science on his way to a $100 million con that turns him from an affluent ex-politician into a global grandee.
I’m sorry — I don’t take seriously much of anything from this wannabe revolutionary bunch.
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010 - 10:09
SOURCE: victorhanson.com (3-15-10)
Almost every element of Barack Obama's once-heralded new "reset" foreign policy of a year ago has either been reset or likely soon will be.
Consider Obama's approach to the 8-year-old war on terror. Plans made more than a year ago to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay by January 2010 have stalled. Despite loud proclamations about trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, in a civilian court in New York, such an absurd pledge will probably never be kept.
Talk of trying our own former CIA interrogators for being too tough on terrorist suspects has also come to nothing. And why not put an end to the second-guessing of anti-terrorism protocols since the Obama administration, in a single year, has quadrupled the number of assassinations by Predator drones of suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan? After all, the targeted killing of hundreds of suspects is far more questionable than waterboarding three confessed killers.
The Obama administration seems to have embraced the once widely criticized Bush-Petraeus strategy in Iraq of gradual withdrawal in concert with Iraqi benchmarks. Indeed, Vice President Joe Biden in Orwellian fashion claims that our victory in Iraq may be one of the administration's "greatest achievements." Was it not a defeatist Biden who not long ago advocated the trisection of Iraq into separate nations?
And after months of waiting, Obama finally sent more troops to Afghanistan, adopting a surge strategy that looks a lot like Bush's 2007 escalation in Iraq — this after he once assured the country that Bush's surge, in a tactical sense, "wasn't working."
Almost all of the once derided Bush anti-terrorism protocols are still in place — wiretaps, intercepts, tribunals, and renditions. And given that there were more foiled radical Islamic terrorist plots in 2009 than in any year since 2001, President Obama will probably stop his outreach speeches to the Islamic world and his serial recitations of American sins.
Our efforts to reach out and negotiate directly with Iran failed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton effectively acknowledged the impasse, citing the unexpected de facto military coup by the Revolutionary Guard. In any case, does anyone believe that more Obama speeches, videos, new diplomacy and imposed deadlines will halt an Iranian nuclear bomb?
President Obama was once a fierce critic of the former administration's Mideast policies. A year ago, he thought new outreach to the Palestinians and rebuke to the Israelis might lead to a breakthrough. It did not. In a Time magazine interview with Joe Klein, Obama confesses of the 70-year struggle: "I'll be honest with you. This is just really hard."
Obama assumed we could borrow a trillion dollars from the communist Chinese and then turn around and lecture them on Tibet, human rights, and international trade and currency — sort of like a debtor admonishing his lender about his bank's shortcomings. Now the Chinese claim that their relations with America are "seriously disrupted," as they seek to dethrone the dollar as the global currency.
I don't think there will be anymore grand deals with the Russians either, the sort that saw the United States withdraw anti-missile defense accords with Poland and the Czech Republic in hopes of halting the Iranian nuclear program. Instead, Russia and China are blocking American efforts to impose tougher sanctions on Iran.
For all the outreach to Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman is still causing trouble in Latin America.
So why is the reset foreign policy being reset?..
Posted on: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - 06:42
SOURCE: www.danielpipes.com (3-16-10)
Shortly after Yasir Arafat died in late 2004, the U.S. government established the Office of the U.S. Security Coordinator to reform, recruit, train, and equip the PA militia (called the National Security Forces or Quwwat al-Amn al-Watani) and make them politically accountable. For nearly all of its existence, the office has been headed by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton. Since 2007, American taxpayers have funded it to the tune of US$100 million a year. Many agencies of the U.S. government have been involved in the program, including the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Secret Service, and branches of the military....
Looking ahead, however, I predict that those troops will more likely be a war partner than a peace partner for Israel. Consider the troops' likely role in several scenarios:
No Palestinian state: Dayton proudly calls the U.S.-trained forces "founders of a Palestinian state," a polity he expects to come into existence by 2011. What if – as has happened often before – the Palestinian state does not emerge on schedule? Dayton himself warns of "big risks," presumably meaning that his freshly-minted troops would start directing their firepower against Israel.
Palestinian state: The PA has never wavered in its goal of eliminating Israel, as the briefest glance at documentation collected by Palestinian Media Watch makes evident. Should the PA achieve statehood, it will certainly pursue its historic goal – only now equipped with a shiny new American-trained soldiery and arsenal.
The PA defeats Hamas: For the same reason, in the unlikely event that the PA prevails over Hamas, its Gaza-based Islamist rival, it will incorporate Hamas troops into its own militia and then order the combined troops to attack Israel. The rival organizations may differ in outlook, methods, and personnel, but they share the overarching goal of eliminating Israel.
Hamas defeats the PA: Should the PA succumb to Hamas, it will absorb at least some of "Dayton's men" into its own militia and deploy them in the effort to eliminate the Jewish state.
Hamas and PA cooperate: Even as Dayton imagines he is preparing a militia to fight Hamas, the PA leadership participates in Egyptian-sponsored talks with Hamas about power sharing – raising the specter that the U.S. trained forces and Hamas will coordinate attacks on Israel.
The law of unintended consequences provides one temporary consolation: As Washington sponsors the PA forces and Tehran sponsors those of Hamas, Palestinian forces are more ideologically riven, perhaps weakening their overall ability to damage Israel....
The Dayton mission needs to be stopped before it does more harm. Congress should immediately cut all funding for the Office of the U.S. Security Coordinator.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 - 16:19
SOURCE: American Interest (blog) (3-16-10)
Last week the Israelis handed the Obama administration an important advantage in the continuing struggle between the US and Israel over policy towards the Palestinians. By announcing a decision to move forward with 1600 housing units in East Jerusalem, the Israelis embarrassed the administration in a way that created problems for Prime Minister Netanyahu and gave Washington an opportunity to push back. But by going public with a set of tough demands without securing its domestic support, the Obama administration may lose the advantage it gained.
With Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scheduled to address AIPAC’s annual meeting next weekend in Washington, the stage is set for high drama. The greatest danger at this point is that one or both sides may misjudge the state of American public opinion. Israel’s political support in the United States is ultimately based much less in the highly visible network of organizations like AIPAC than it is in the strong support for Israel well beyond the Beltway. I’ve been writing a series of posts over the last week about this; it is the gentile supporters of Israel, not American Jews, who ultimately define the boundaries of American foreign policy on this issue, and the Obama administration’s ability to put pressure on its most important Middle Eastern ally ultimately depends on the reaction of American gentile supporters of Israel to administration policy. The administration may be in danger of overestimating its support in a drawn out debate.
The politics of American support for Israel can be hard to read. For the last generation, Israel has been losing popularity and support among some groups of Americans. The shift in sentiment is particularly notable among Democrats, among some of the more liberal mainline churches, among African-Americans and among people with graduate and professional degrees.
Despite these losses, overall public support for Israel in the United States has been rising, not falling, for most of the last generation. 9/11, which galvanized many American liberals to think harder than ever about the desirability of distancing the United States from Israel, immeasurably deepened the determination of a large number of their fellow citizens to stand by Israel no matter what. Just as Israel was seen as America’s most reliable and important Middle Eastern ally during the Cold War by these people, it now looked like a country whose survival depended on the defeat of America’s enemies in the war on terror. That today Israel is engaged in a confrontation with Iran, a country which poll after poll shows that Americans think of as their most dangerous adversary, only deepens this bond.
During most of the twentieth century, politically active American gentile supporters of Zionism were most visible on the left. Solidarity with Jews, the desire to offer Jews a refuge while keeping them out of the United States, a generalized concern for the rights and security of minority groups, and the traditional liberal sympathy towards Jews based on common attitudes toward historic forms of illiberal European oppression were all factors.
Liberal Zionism peaked in many ways during the Truman administration. The Communist Party, which still enjoyed some moral prestige and organizational strength in parts of the left, obediently fell in line with Stalin’s support for the Zionist objectives in Palestine. African-Americans, whose sympathy for European Jews had grown during the imposition of Nazi discrimination similar to Jim Crow laws in the United States, forged an alliance with American Jews based on common support for the growing civil rights movement. The UN’s endorsement of the Partition of Palestine in 1947, accepted by Palestinian Jews and rejected by the Arabs, led many supporters of the UN to support the Jewish position on Partition so that the UN’s first high profile international decision would not fall flat.
During the era of liberal Zionism, the State of Israel–weak and poor, secular and socialist–was seen as a client rather than a strategic asset or ally. While many conservative Protestants in the United States supported the return of the Jews to the Holy Land on both humanitarian and religious grounds (and perhaps in some cases also in gratitude that those destitute Jews were not coming to the United States), conservative political activism at this time was much more focused on the domestic and international fight against communism. Socialist Israel, whose independence had been supported by Stalin at the UN, was not seen as part of this fight.
Since 1967, liberal gentile Zionism has been on the wane both in the United States and in Europe. Israeli politics have moved to the right. Moreover the aggressive rise of religious parties, the settlement movement, and the drift in Israel away from the ‘European’ norms of the state’s early years to a more ‘eastern’ culture and political system (as Jews of Middle Eastern and ex-Soviet origin have gained demographic and political power) make Israel less attractive to the western left. Additionally, as Israel’s regional position shifted from embattled refuge to occupying power, it seemed equally less necessary and less moral among liberals to support the Jewish state. In the years since 1967 the western left has also reflected more deeply on the shortcomings of past western treatment of other parts of the world, including the Middle East. The Arab argument that Israel was a colonial imposition like French Algeria or white South Africa gained plausibility with many people.
As a result, in both Europe and the United States, liberal gentile Zionism has been slowly fading away. In the United States, this process not only moved more slowly than in Europe, it was countered by something else which, until recently, was almost unknown in the old world: rising populist support for the Jewish state on the right. I think we will see more of this in the future in Europe, where pro-Israel sentiment is likely to appeal to movements and people who fear and resent the impact in Europe of immigration from the Middle East. For now, though, this is mostly an American phenomenon.
In America, the strong upsurge in Jacksonian Zionism begins with the same event and same changes that contributed to the decline of liberal Zionism. Israel’s victory in the Six Day War electrified populist nationalists in the United States...
Posted on: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 - 08:59
SOURCE: Scoop.co.nz (3-15-10)
Censors, it has been said, are paid to have dirty minds. Education panellists, at least in certain jurisdictions, are paid to prevent the exercise of one at all. For that reason, fifteen unknown individuals in a state should not be vested with the power to centrally control what is read or taught in texbooks. But that is certainly not the case in Texas, where educational expertise is less prized than political expediency in the coverage of such subjects as history and economics. The Texas Board of Education members have endorsed a draft proposal on the state’s social studies curriculum that is a miracle in not only being long but patchy. The [Republican] faction was glowing with triumph after the vote.
These events will hardly come as any surprise to the student of Texan curricula. Each curriculum reform tends to return to basic, patriotic principles in Texas. ‘American, and especially Texan, history is glorified,’ claimed a 2006 study from the Fordham Institute’s review of Texas’ existing history standards. Jim Crow’s legacy and the KKK are not so much condemned as wholly ignored. The history makers that matter are corporate giants who represented the best type of capitalism. History is made by robber barons rather than the sweat of the ‘common’ folk. The Texan class room is evidently no place for the pedagogical techniques of Howard Zinn....
One wonders whether the board has simply missed the point to this whole, rather silly exercise. Irrespective of what subject matter, erroneous, contentious, or otherwise is fixed in such a curriculum, fundamental matters such as literacy and lack of resources in teaching remain. Texas remains a considerable offender in that regard, with a functional literacy level of 19 percent. This is compounded by a considerable number of undocumented immigrants, mainly Hispanic, whose role in Texan history, like those of other minorities, has been airbrushed in this curriculum. Whether any of these considerations will be addressed by the time the final vote takes place in May is unlikely. Illiteracy, and a considerable degree of ignorance, is set to flourish.
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010 - 16:13