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: National Review (9-30-10)
The bookish, twice-unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson once sighed that if most thinking people supported him, it still wouldn’t be enough to get elected in America because “I need a majority.”
For some reason, Democrats have chosen to follow the disastrous model of Stevenson and not that of the feisty, man-of-the-people Missourian Harry Truman — though the former nearly wrecked the party and the latter got elected.
Former president Jimmy Carter likewise seems to feel that he’s still too smart for us. Carter, who turns 86 on Friday, is hitting the news shows to explain why he remains America’s “superior” ex-president — and why more than 30 years ago he was so successful yet so underappreciated as our chief executive.
Most Americans instead remember a very different President Carter, who finished his single term with 18 percent inflation, 18 percent interest rates, 11 percent unemployment, long gas lines, and a world in chaos, from hostage-taking in Teheran to Soviet Communist aggression in Afghanistan and Central America.
Now, John Kerry — who failed to win the presidency in 2004 and recently tried to avoid state sales taxes on his new $7 million yacht — is voicing similar frustrations about Americans’ inability to fathom what their betters are trying to do for them. He is furious that an unsophisticated electorate might not return congressional Democratic majorities in 2010. Kerry laments that “we have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on.” Instead, it falls for “a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening.”
In 2006, Kerry warned students that if they did poorly in school, they could “get stuck in Iraq.” He apparently had forgotten that soldiers volunteer for military service and are overwhelmingly high-school graduates....
Posted on: Thursday, September 30, 2010 - 18:36
SOURCE: TomDispatch (9-30-10)
[Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books), has recently been published.]
Sometimes it’s the little things in the big stories that catch your eye. On Monday, theWashington Post ran the first of three pieces adapted from Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars, a vivid account of the way the U.S. high command boxed the Commander-in-Chief into the smallest of Afghan corners. As an illustration, the Post included a graphic the military offered President Obama at a key November 2009 meeting to review war policy. It caught in a nutshell the favored “solution” to the Afghan War of those in charge of fighting it -- Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Petraeus, then-Centcom commander, General Stanley McChrystal, then-Afghan War commander, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others.
Labeled “Alternative Mission in Afghanistan,” it’s a classic of visual wish fulfillment. Atop it is a soaring green line that represents the growing strength of the notoriously underwhelming “Afghan Forces,” military and police, as they move toward a theoretical goal of 400,000 -- an unlikely “end state” given present desertion rates. Underneath that green trajectory of putative success is a modest, herky-jerky blue curving line, representing the 40,000 U.S. troops Gates, Petraeus, Mullen, and company were pressuring the president to surge into Afghanistan.
The eye-catching detail, however, was the dating on the chart. Sometime between 2013 and 2016, according to a hesitant dotted white line (that left plenty of room for error), those U.S. surge forces would be drawn down radically enough to dip somewhere below -- don’t gasp -- the 68,000 level. In other words, three to six years from now, if all went as planned -- a radical unlikelihood, given the Afghan War so far -- the U.S. might be back close to the force levels of early 2009, before the President’s second surge was launched. (When Obama entered office, there were only 31,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.)
And when would those troops dwindle to near zero? 2019? 2025? The chart-makers were far too politic to include the years beyond January 1, 2016, so we have no way of knowing. But look at that chart and ask yourself: Is there any doubt that our high command, civilian and military, were dreaming of, and most forcefully recommending to the president, a forever war -- one which the Office of Budget and Management estimated would cost almost $900 billion?
Of course, as we now know, the military “lost” this battle. Instead of the 40,000 troops they desired, they “only” got 30,000 from a frustrated president (plus a few thousand support troops the Secretary of Defense was allowed to slip in, and some special operations forces that no one was putting much effort into counting, and don’t forget those extra troops wrung out of NATO as well as small allies who, for a price, couldn’t say no -- all of which added up to a figure suspiciously close to the 10,000 the president had officially denied his war commanders).
When, on December 1, 2009, Barack Obama addressed the cadets of West Point and, through them, the rest of us to announce the second surge of his presidency, he was at least able to slip in a date to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. (“But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”) Hardly a nanosecond passed, however, before -- first “on background” and soon enough in public -- administration spokespeople rushed to reassure the rest of Washington that such a transfer would be “conditions based.” Given conditions there since 2001, not exactly a reassuring statement.
Meanwhile, days before the speech, Afghan war commander McChrystal was already hard at work stretching out the time of the drawdown date the president was still to announce. It would, he claimed, begin “sometime before 2013.” More recently, deified new Afghan War commander General David Petraeus has repeatedly assured everyone in sight that none of this drawdown talk will add up to a hill of beans.
More, Never Less
Let’s keep two things in mind here: just how narrow were the options the president considered, and just how large was the surge he reluctantly launched. By the end of the fall of 2009, it was common knowledge in Washington that the administration’s fiercely debated Afghan War “review” never considered a “less” option, only ones involving “more.” Now, thanks to Woodward, we can put definitive numbers to those options. The least of the"more" options was Vice President Biden’s “counterterrorism-plus” strategy, focused on more trainers for the Afghan military and police plus more drone attacks and Special Forces operations. It involved a surge of 20,000 U.S. troops. According to Woodward, the military commanders, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the Secretary of Defense more or less instantly ruled this out.
The military’s chosen option was for those 40,000 troops and an emphasis on counterinsurgency. Between them lay a barely distinguishable 30,000-35,000 option. The only other option mentioned during the review process involved a surge of 85,000, and it, too, was ruled out by the military because troops in that quantity simply weren’t available. This, then, was the full “range” of debate in Washington about the Afghan War. No wonder the president, according to Woodward, exclaimed in anger,"So what's my option? You have given me one option."
It’s also important to remember that this round of surgification involved a lot more than those 30,000 troops and various add-ons. After all, the “president” -- and when you read Woodward, you do wonder whether a modern president isn’t, in many ways, simply a prisoner of Washington -- also managed to surge CIA personnel, triple State Department, USAID, and other civilian personnel, and expand the corps of private contractors.
Perhaps more significant, that December the president and his key advisors set the Af/Pak War -- to use the new term of that moment -- on an ever widening gyre. Among other things, that escalation included a significant acceleration in U.S. base-building activity which has yet to end; a massive increase in the CIA’s drone war over the Pakistani tribal borderlands (a quadrupling of attacks since the last year of the Bush administration, including at least 22 attacks launched this September, the most yet in a month); a recent uptick in Air Force bombing activity over Afghanistan (which General McChrystal actually cut back for a while), an increase in Special Operations activity throughout Afghanistan; and an increase in border crossings into Pakistan.
The last of these, in particular, reflects the increasing frustration of American commanders fighting a war going badly in Afghanistan in which key enemies have sanctuaries across the border. Thanks to Woodward’s book, we now know that, in 2002, the Bush administration allowed the CIA to organize a secret Afghan “paramilitary army,”modeled after the U.S. Special Forces and divided into “counterterrorist pursuit teams.” Three thousand in all, these irregulars have operated as proxy fighters and assassins in Afghanistan -- and, in the Obama era, they have evidently also been venturing into the Pakistani tribal borderlands where those CIA drone attacks are already part of everyday life. In addition, just days ago, U.S. helicopters upped the ante in the first of two such incidents by venturing across the same border to attack retreating Taliban fighters in what U.S. military spokespeople have termed “self-defense,” but what was known in the Vietnam era as “hot pursuit.”
In addition, U.S. military commanders, the New York Timesreports, are threatening worse. (“As evidence of the growing frustration of American officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has recently issued veiled warnings to top Pakistani commanders that the United States could launch unilateral ground operations in the tribal areas should Pakistan refuse to dismantle the militant networks in North Waziristan, according to American officials.”) In the next year, that label “Af/Pak” could come into its own as a war-fighting reality.
All of this is, of course, part of the unspoken Pentagon doctrine of forever war. And lest you think that the 2016 date for an Afghan drawdown was a one-of-a-kind bit of planning, consider this line from a recent New York Timesreport by Michael Gordon and John Burns on Pentagon anxiety over the new British government's desire to cut defense spending by up to 20%: “American and British officials said that they did not expect any cutbacks to curtail Britain’s capabilities to fight in Afghanistan over the next five years.” Let that sink in for a moment: “over the next five years.” It obviously reflects the thinking of anonymous officials of some significance and, if you do the modest math, you once again find yourself more or less at January 1, 2016. In a just released Rolling Stone interview, even the President can be found saying, vaguely but ominously, of the Afghan War:"[I]t's going to take us several years to work through this issue."
Or consider the three $100 million bases (or parts of bases) that Walter Pincus of the Washington Postreported the Pentagon is now preparing to build in Afghanistan. These, he adds, won’t be ready for use until, at best, “later in 2011,” well after the Obama troop drawdown is set to begin. According to Noah Shachtman of the Danger Room blog, one $100 million upgrade for a future Special Operations headquarters in northern Afghanistan, when done, will include: a “communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility... dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs... Supporting facilities include roads, power production system and electrical distribution, water well, non-potable water production, water storage, water distribution, sanitary sewer collection system, communication manhole/duct system, curbs, walkways, drainage, and parking. Additionally, the project will include site preparation and compound security measures to include guard towers.”
A State of War to the Horizon
Tell me: Does this sound like a military getting ready to leave town any time soon?
And don’t forget the $1.3 billion in funds pending in Congress that Pincus tells us the Pentagon has requested “for multiyear construction of military facilities in Afghanistan.” We’re obviously talking 2012 to 2015 here, too. Or how about the $6.2 billion a year that the Pentagon is projected to spend on the training of Afghan forces from 2012 through 2016? Or what about the Pentagon contract TomDispatch’s Nick Turse dug up that was awarded to private contractor SOS International primarily for translators with an estimated completion date of September 2014? Or how about the gigantic embassy-cum-command-center-cum-citadel (modeled on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, now the largest in the world) which the Obama administration has decided to build in Islamabad, Pakistan?
And let’s not leave out the Army’s incessant planning for the distant future embodied in a recently published report, “Operating Concept, 2016-2028,” overseen by Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, a senior advisor to Gen. David Petraeus. It opts to ditch “Buck Rogers” visions of futuristic war, and instead to imagine counterinsurgency operations, grimly referred to as"wars of exhaustion," in one, two, many Afghanistans to the distant horizon.
So here’s one way to think about all this: like people bingeing on anything, the present Pentagon and military cast of characters can’t stop themselves. They really can’t. The thought that in Afghanistan or anywhere else they might have to go on a diet, as sooner or later they will, is deeply unnerving. Forever war is in their blood, so much so that they’re ready to face down the commander-in-chief, if necessary, to make it continue. This is really the definition of an addiction -- not to victory, but to the state of war itself. Don’t expect them to discipline themselves. They won’t.
Posted on: Thursday, September 30, 2010 - 10:57
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (9-28-10)
China and Japan's recent showdown over the Diaoyu (or Senkaku, to the Japanese) archipelago seems to have cooled down with the release of the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel who was detained by the Japanese coast guard earlier this month. Quite a few official Chinese media outlets ran big headlines proclaiming that the Japanese had capitulated. Yet it's by no means clear that China was the victor.
Indeed, the extraordinary lengths to which Beijing has gone to rein in public protests over the alleged Japanese occupation of the Diaoyu, as the islands are called in China, has exposed a critical shortcoming of the so-called China model: the Chinese Communist Party leadership's inability to make effective use of public opinion to advance domestic as well as diplomatic goals. Instead of leading public opinion, these days Chinese leaders are sometimes pushed into uncomfortable stances that reduce their options.
The row with Japan is a case in point. At the height of the dispute, Chinese authorities pulled out all the stops to prevent patriotic Chinese from airing their views. Protest organizers of protests, such as the editors of www.cfdd.org.cn, a website well-known for its advocacy of Diaoyu-related issues, were given warnings by the police "not to break the law" by holding demonstrations and other radical actions....
Why? Why does China fear its own people so much?
Apart from the party leadership's well-known tradition of undemocratic governance, the main reason behind "black-box diplomacy" is to avoid taking responsibility for failing to stand up to foreign powers such as the United States or Japan. Despite the relative efficacy of the Great Firewall of China, fast-growing numbers of nationalists have frequently been able to use the Internet to express their views, including negative ones about Beijing's foreign and security policies. These increasingly vocal nationalists generally believe that rising China has become a mature power and deserves a place in world affairs to match its burgeoning economic clout....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - 19:11
SOURCE: openDemocracy (9-27-10)
The Task Force Report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy called for greater "religious literacy" across the "whole of government" and greater levels of interaction between nongovernmental institutions, American higher education and business, and select religious communities around the world. Not least, it urged the Obama dministration to bolster U.S. advocacy and enforcement of religious freedom around the world.
The question is: With what kind of religious communities, specifically, should the United States engage? To what ends?
Many Americans and Europeans are taken aback, to say the least, by our suggestion that collaborating with religious groups on matters of shared concern is a necessary element of advancing democratisation and prosperity in many parts of the world. They demand an answer: Is not religion the province of absolutism, intolerance and repression—especially when it is publicly empowered? The answer is complicated, of course. The largely untold story of religion is its demonstrated power to oppose injustices, defend human dignity, reduce violence, practice compassion, mediate conflicts, deliver social services to the marginalized, encourage repentance and forgiveness, and, yes, foster good governance and honesty in business. In some cases—the headline-grabbing cases—extremists betray the core principles of the religion and prioritise violence and punishment as a response to injustice.
But the same can be said of dogmatists who proclaim the creed of secularism, as if they were the sole bearers of truth and righteousness. And the secular fundamentalists control vast resources of their own....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - 12:22
SOURCE: NYT (9-28-10)
President Obama is having trouble connecting....
Part of the problem does have to do with his personality and public persona....
In this respect, he does face similar challenges that Jimmy Carter confronted in the 1970s. Carter learned that in bad economic times the public would reacted poorly to a leader who seemed professorial and clinical about the problems of the day. Voters wanted a leader who could save them, not one who could explain things or tell them what to do....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - 21:02
SOURCE: NYT (9-29-10)
With trade imbalances helping make billionaires of more than a few Chinese, business pages have been abuzz with the promise of at least one American export to China: philanthropy.
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are visiting China this week to coax commitments to charity out of their Chinese counterparts. The Americans will be in China to “spread the word that it’s good to give,” said a host on America’s National Public Radio. The visit “underscores what experts say is the relatively immature state of philanthropy in China,” we hear from the Associated Press.
In fact, Mr. Buffet and Mr. Gates might as well be bringing gunpowder and fireworks to China.
The relatively small amount of charitable giving in modern, Communist China is an aberration in the longer sweep of Chinese history. In late imperial China, bridges, ferries or schools — what a modern person might see as public or civic facilities — were often run with charitable land or cash endowments set up by local notables. Village social-welfare — in the form of clinics, refugee shelters or soup kitchens — was often paid for and managed by prominent resident households....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - 17:38
SOURCE: Salon (9-28-10)
John Kerry isn’t usually someone that many people get that riled up about, so I was shocked to discover that the right-wing has decided this week to claim to take offense at his statement during a tour of the Boston Medical Center that the electorate “doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on so people are influenced by a simple slogan.”...
In Kerry’s defense it should be noted that nothing he said was actually the least bit controversial -- if one takes into account the facts, something admittedly that is not terribly popular in American politics. Studies since the 1940s have consistently shown that Americans by and large don’t pay much attention to politics, and when they do it is apt to be because somebody has nicely captured their feelings about the times in a reductionist bumper sticker slogan.
Just how ignorant are Americans? Three facts. Only one out of two know the Constitution was drafted in Philadelphia. Only one in five know there are a hundred U.S. senators. Only two in five can name the three branches of government. Please note that in each case the part of the electorate that has been found to be knowledgeable about our history and our government is in the minority.
Poor John Kerry. He has the facts on his side and thinks that matters. Does the man not understand how politics is played these days? How it has been played for going on 40 years, ever since George Wallace denounced pointy-headed intellectuals and Richard Nixon discovered the virtues of the Silent Majority?...
Posted on: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - 11:58
SOURCE: China Beat (Blog) (9-27-10)
[Caroline Reeves is Assistant Professor of History at Emmanuel College.]
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are throwing a charity banquet in Beijing. On September 29th, the two American tycoons will host a dinner for China’s wealthiest magnates to convince them to give their monies away to charity. This event has caused a stir in the Chinese world. Everyone from movie stars to industry moguls is involved. Doonesbury is talking about it. Some billionaires have publicly declined to dine with the dynamic duo, wondering aloud if the event was planned to publicly part them from their new fortunes. Their response has called into question China’s “charitable impulse” and given rise to questions about China’s ability to “do philanthropy.”
Headlines in the international press have sharpened this controversy. The Financial Times’ “US Tycoons Take Philanthropy to Chinese Peers” [editor’s note: the headline has since been changed to “Buffett and Gates on Chinese mission”]; the Global Times’ “Uncaring rich may stifle Buffett-Gates”; or the NYT’s “Chinese Attitudes Towards Generosity are Tested” portray the visit as an American effort to bring an enlightened stance on giving to a nation of billionaires badly in need of tutelage.
Though Gates’ and Buffett’s efforts are certainly well meaning, in fact the Chinese do not need Americans to teach them about philanthropy. China has a centuries-old tradition of charitable work, funding education, cleaning up after natural disasters, and helping the poor and elderly. My own work on the Chinese Red Cross Society, founded in 1904 by dedicated Chinese philanthropists—the billionaires of the age—shows that the Chinese have been engaged in these kinds of activities, as well as feeding the hungry, clothing the destitute, caring for the sick and burying the dead, through well articulated networks of charitable giving long before America was even born. A growing literature on China’s charitable traditions (Joanna Handlin Smith on the late Ming, Nara Dillon and Jean Oi on the 1930s and 40s, Vivienne Shue in the contemporary period (see Stanley Katz’s Philanthropy in the World’s Traditions)) confirms these findings, and the topic has rightly become a hot one in academic circles. While Mao’s Communist experiment did indeed interrupt the normal course of Chinese philanthropy for five or six decades, this hiatus is trivial in light of the five or six centuries that China’s wealthy have been caring for their poor in China and beyond.
In recent newspaper articles, references to the Great American Philanthropic Past are rife. Gates and Buffett are called the Rockefeller and Carnegie of the age (NYT). But China’s history of philanthropy is either misrepresented or reduced to the last twenty years, a period hardly representative of China’s past. Rupert Hoogewerf, an expert on China’s wealthy, is also cited as an expert on China’s philanthropic traditions. He seems to be sadly misinformed, however. Hoogewerf is quoted as trumpeting worn and baseless assertions about Chinese philanthropy, the same ones this author has heard from other Western mouths:
“The Chinese have been very generous for a long period of time,” Rupert Hoogewerf, who publishes the Hurun Report, said by telephone. “The difference has been that they do it between families, and don’t publicize it. What we’re seeing now is a new era of transparency.” (NYT)
Here Hoogewerf—who elsewhere has characterized Western philanthropy as “pure” and Chinese philanthropy as its opposite (FT)—falls prey to a stereotyped vision of China’s charitable activity promoted by EuroAmerican missionaries at the turn of the twentieth century. These missionaries, anxious to legitimate the social gospel they were preaching to the Chinese, coined these characterizations to highlight the importance of their own work in China, ignoring the indigenous activities occurring all around them. Later social reformers and well-meaning Americans—such as the head of the American Red Cross in China during the 1910s and 20s—perpetuated these cultural myths to underscore China’s need for Western (particularly American) social and political interventions.
In fact, China’s philanthropists in the pre-Communist period confronted some of the largest natural and manmade disasters in the world with generosity and remarkable initiative. They gave to strangers across their large country—for example, Shanghai capitalists donating for refugee repatriation from Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905—publicly and proudly, with newspapers heralding their work and keeping public records of donations. They donated to San Francisco Fire victims in 1906 and to the victims of the Tokyo earthquake of 1923. This is hardly the clannish and secretive philanthropy suggested by some Western “experts.”
Many Chinese are themselves not aware of their own philanthropic past, including Chinese film star Jet Li, who (according to AFP) called China “a newcomer to the charity business.” The article quotes him: “‘China’s real development has only happened in the past 10 years,’ [Li] said, adding the United States had 100 years of experience in philanthropy.” Li apparently made this speech just as he was being named a Goodwill Ambassador of the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose Chinese affiliate has operated for over 105 years.
Despite the New York Times’ dismissal of the importance of situating contemporary Chinese philanthropy within China’s own tradition (“Academics grumble…about efforts to impose Western philanthropic values on Chinese tradition,” writes journalist Michael Wines), Buffet’s and Gate’s “crusade for converts” might well be viewed as another instance of US finger-wagging or even cultural imperialism by China’s nationalistic citizenry. China’s nouveau riche are no more in need of shaming to part with their newfound wealth than any other nouveau riche around the globe. I agree with Harvey Dzodin’s view that Gates and Buffett would be better off inviting Chinese tax officials to dinner (Global Times), and discussing with them tax incentives to encourage Chinese giving. Through that tactic, the American team might encourage the kind of state-private cooperation in charitable work that worked so well in pre-Maoist China. In light of the recent revelation of Bono’s well known ONE Foundation’s misadventures, Bill and Warren’s excellent adventure might not seem so excellent after all.
Posted on: Monday, September 27, 2010 - 18:51
SOURCE: VDH's Private Papers (9-25-10)
The Problem. Obama succeeded in getting elected where other Northern liberals like McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry had failed because of a perfect storm of events: the novelty of our first African-American serious presidential candidate; Obama’s teleprompted rhetorical gifts and charisma; Obama’s misleading moderate and centrist proclamations; the inept McCain campaign; the September 2008 meltdown; Bush’s Iraq; and the first orphaned election without an incumbent since 1952. Take any of those criteria away, and he would probably have lost.
But instead of accepting that flukish reality, in hubristic fashion Obama either figured his singular divine powers won us over or a national yearning for neo-socialism had spread among a majority of Americans — or probably both.
So rather than being a Clinton in 1995 and moving to the center, curbing debt, working with centrist congressional Democrats, or praising the opposition in the no more red/blue state fashion of yesteryear, he went the hard left route and quickly alienated the country.
The Solution. We are now told there is a Carter/Clinton choice for the president: persist in Carterism and 2012 follows the losses of 2010. Or change, and get reelected on some updated form of school uniforms, space exploration, more cops, an end to big government, no more welfare, balanced budgets, or a Republican shut-down of government.
But the latter would require Obama to be Clinton, and quite simply he is not — either by skill, experience, temperament, or volition. He is petulant and angry at us for not appreciating his genius and divinity. We in the 70% who oppose his sermons are the proverbial Pennsylvania clingers who can’t figure out Ground Zero, Arizona, or the Skip Gates mess. We forgot we killed thousands at Hiroshima, killed off native Americans, and were mean to Muslims. We are a nation of greedy fats cats on the wrong side of the new $250,000 Mason-Dixon income divide.
A savior like Obama comes around once in a century. If we cannot see that we are blessed with a Mandela-like laureate, then let us lose our souls. We shall sink into reactionary irrelevance; he shall trump the Bill Clinton lucrative post-presidency.
Sort of at least. He will also for the next thirty years parrot a Carter on 60 Minutes assuring us how awful were his successors, how brilliant his unappreciated record was, and how illiberal and dense we remain — as he jets from Indonesia to Paris on missions of world peace from a corporate and Middle East funded Obama Peace Center.
The Prognosis. There is only one mystery left. Will the Republicans screw it up? Or do they have the courage and skill to tell the American people that the mega-deficits and entitlements are our road to serfdom? Or, in contrast, will they return to 2004-6 and gorge the beast while talking of how it could be much worse without them?
I have no idea.
Posted on: Monday, September 27, 2010 - 16:42
SOURCE: CNN.com (9-27-10)
In an extraordinarily powerful moment last Monday, a middle class mother named Velma Hart confronted the president for whom she had enthusiastically voted.
During the town hall, Hart expressed to President Obama her deep frustration with the current state of affairs: "I've been told that I voted for a man who said he's going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I'm one of those people, and I'm waiting sir. I'm waiting. I just don't feel it yet . . . I need you to answer this honestly: Is this my new reality?"
With this simple question, Ms. Hart articulated a feeling that is shared by millions of Americans who are growing more desperate for our current economic situation to change....
If the nation is serious about responding to Velma Hart's complaint, and we should be, the government and private sector will need to generate much bolder ideas than anything currently on the table. This will require public-private partnerships that can stimulate investment and research in new economic areas that will allow us to compete in international markets.
The U.S. must look for the kinds of public investment that took place in the 1940s and 1950s, when government and private funds, combined with entrepreneurial genius, fueled the high technology sector and resulted in rapid development in areas such as the Silicon Valley in California and Route 128 in Massachusetts....
Posted on: Monday, September 27, 2010 - 16:07
SOURCE: Huffington Post (9-24-10)
[Nigel Hamilton’s"American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush" is now available (Yale University Press)]
The much-vaunted "Pledge to America" is long on platitudes and faux-patriotism -- the notion that your political opponents are not patriots. It sickens me.
Worst of all, in my view as an historian who has studied the last seventy years of American empire, is the utter indifference the "Pledge" shows to America's place in the wider world. What I hear are not so much the frightening racist drumbeats of 1930s fascists who produced 'leaders' like Hitler, Mussolini and their ilk, but echoes of my own growing-up in Britain, after World War II.
You see, the Second World War not only bankrupted Britain economically, as the centerpiece of the British Empire, but it exhausted the island nation. The centuries of military campaigns, of civil administrations in occupied or colonized countries, and then the six years of "total war," including the Blitz, the food shortages, and the mounting casualties, left Britain prostrate even in eventual victory -- retreating as fast as possible from imperial obligations (India, Palestine, Africa) that it could neither afford to fulfill, nor felt morally confident enough to undertake once again.
The United States, as I narrate in my new book American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush, stepped into the vacuum. The United States, not Britain, became, for better of for worse, the guardian of peace and capitalist prosperity in the post-war world. Instead of retreating into isolationism, as the U.S. had done after World War I, America's presidents led the nation through the many global crises and challenges that ensued, with some disasters but on the whole, many successes -- from the Berlin Airlift to peace in Bosnia. Even when America's presidents sent, as Commanders-in-Chief, American soldiers into the wrong wars -- in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq -- American sons never failed to do their duty, far from home: confident in their belief that, in the larger perspective, America was doing its best to "do the right thing", as the world's most powerful and productive democratic nation.
Those young soldiers are still doing their best. But are we? Where are the politicians -- either in the Republican or the Democratic party -- willing to show courage in combating the inanities of Tea Party extremists, or to remind fellow-Americans of America's noble leadership in a challenging world?
I'd like to quote, if I may, from my chapter on President Eisenhower in my new book. Now, I have to confess I am a centrist and a Democrat -- but I honor President Eisenhower's performance as the third of America's great Caesars, once FDR established the American empire in World War II. Not only did President Eisenhower bring the war in Korea to an end, but he invented the means to destroy the egregious antics and excesses of Senator Joe McCarthy at home -- the apotheosis of 1950s Tea Party-style extremism. Using "executive privilege" for the first time, the Republican president turned the tables on Senator McCarthy in his hearings on the U.S. Army -- and after watching the televised hearing in which Joseph Welch, the Army's chief counsel, finally felled McCarthy, the President invited Welch to the White House to congratulate him in person. "You handled a tough job like a champion," Eisenhower beamed.
Eisenhower's close encounter with McCarthy's evil altered the President's whole view of his own role as Caesar. Senator McCarthy was declared persona non grata at the White House, indeed all government receptions, on the express orders of the President. In retaliation McCarthy announced he was "breaking" with the Republican leader and accused the President publicly of "weakness and supineness" in ferreting out Communists, indeed claimed he himself had made a terrible mistake -- namely to have voted for Eisenhower in 1952! As I write on page 103:
The President was undaunted. He seemed, in fact, energized by the fight with McCarthy, telling his press secretary, Jim Hagerty, he was "glad the break has come." "I have just one purpose, outside of keeping this world at peace," Eisenhower explained, "and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they're going to get it. If they want to leave the Republican Party and form a third party, that's their business, but before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won't be with them anymore." And if the fanatics thought they could nominate a right-wing ideologue like McCarthy for the Presidency, he declared, "they've got another thought coming. I'll go up and down this country, campaigning against them. I'll fight them right down the line." (American Caesars, Yale, 2010)
Where are our Eisenhowers today? Where are our Kennedys? Our Trumans? Where is American courage?
The coming midterm election will decide the composition of our next legislative session in Congress. It may already be too late to halt the same right-wing poison from spreading in our body politic that overwhelmed us in 1994, under that crazed political messiah, Newt Gingrich, who shut down the U.S. Government, and made the U.S. a laughing stock among civilized -- even uncivilized -- nations. But in the next two years we will have to choose who we wish as President to lead -- or continue to lead -- our great nation in its noble endeavor, on behalf of the free world. And the lessons embedded in my account of our last twelve Caesars will become more and more important... If you can't afford American Caesars, borrow it from a friend, or your local library -- and let me know what you think!
Posted on: Monday, September 27, 2010 - 14:49
SOURCE: The American Conservative (9-24-10)
[Thomas E. Woods Jr. is the author of ten books, including the just released Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century.]
According to Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg, a specter is haunting America: the specter of anarchism. Not real anarchism – that’s Weisberg’s emotional hypochondria at work – but merely a growing skepticism of authority.
This won’t do at all. Americans were born to be ruled by people and ideas of which Jacob Weisberg approves, and they are supposed to like it, or at least shut up about it. If they absolutely must complain, their complaints and modes of resistance must be kept within bounds approved of by Slate, a division of the Washington Post Company....
And the masses are losing confidence in the experts. Imagine that....In any case, says Weisberg, we all know nullification was “settled” in 1819, with McCulloch v. Maryland. McCulloch held that when the federal government exercised a constitutional power the states could not interfere with it. That of course begs rather than settles the question, since a nullifying state contends precisely that the federal government is not exercising a constitutional power. But in Weisberg’s world, everyone leaped to accept John Marshall’s ridiculous and unsupportable nationalist rendering of American history, a rendering completely at odds with what people had been told about the nature of the Union at many of the state ratifying conventions, and indeed at odds with the most obvious facts of American history. Back on planet Earth, states continued to resist the national bank for years afterward, “settled law” to the contrary notwithstanding, until its charter went unrenewed in the 1830s. Spencer Roane, the chief judge of Virginia’s Supreme Court, completely dismantled Marshall and his reasoning in a series of unrelenting critiques. James Madison said Virginia would never have ratified the Constitution had anyone thought the federal government’s powers to be as expansive as John Marshall was proposing, given that exactly the opposite view of the new government was expressly promised to the people at the Richmond ratifying convention (where Marshall sat mute instead of correcting this impression). Thomas Jefferson wrote the following year: “The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated republic. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone.”...
Posted on: Monday, September 27, 2010 - 10:03
SOURCE: CS Monitor (9-23-10)
Until recently, President Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) were the international community’s aid darling, heralded for their role in stopping the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of as many as one million Rwandans. They now stand accused of a long list of crimes.
A recently-leaked UN report accuses the RPF of atrocities “that could be classified as genocide” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1996-1997 – mass murdering tens of thousands of Hutu refugees. The regime’s legitimacy and its leaders’ individual criminal responsibility are now being contested.
But how wise is it to swap one set of dangerous simplifications for another? Is Rwanda the model of progress and reconciliation, or is Kagame’s RPF the genocidal eye of Central African storms? And what does this tell us about international intervention in a region with an immensely troubled past?
Rwanda has long suffered from powerful imagery projected onto it by self-declared friends of the country. The analyses of socio-political trends often reveal more about the “expert” expounding his truths than about what actually happens to Rwanda’s people.
A century ago, Belgian colonialists, biased by the Flemish-Walloon cleavage that undermined nation-statehood back home, portrayed the complex Hutu-Tutsi relationship as fundamentally irreconcilable, mixing racist theories with political expediency.
During the cold war, the regime of Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana was the “enfant chéri” of development practitioners, the Catholic Church, and French President François Mitterrand. A 20-year dictatorship was deemed “a peaceful outpost” in the “dangerous” African jungle. When Mr. Habyarimana was assassinated on April 6, 1994, the regime’s core members unleashed a genocidal hell against Tutsis and some moderate Hutus.
Habyarimana’s old allies disbelievingly went into shock (Brussels) and continued support for the Hutu extremists through denial (Paris). Seeing their illusions go up in smoke was something Belgium and France handled with great difficulty, but with terrible consequences for Rwandans themselves....
Posted on: Monday, September 27, 2010 - 09:36
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (9-24-10)
All history is contemporary history -- even for histories the future still holds in store for us. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the publication in France of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou. The book's subject -- everyday life in an isolated village in 14th-century France -- as well as its narrative (there isn't one) should have led to instant and enduring obscurity.
Instead, the book became a surprise bestseller and remains popular enough to have justified an anniversary edition of the English translation a few years ago. The reasons for this historical investigation's unlikely success in the France of the 1970s have endured through today; understanding them will help us fathom the massive strikes that are currently paralyzing the country and threatening to eviscerate the economic and social reforms proposed by the conservative government of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Montaillou quietly placed itself in the French literary tradition that treats laziness with the gravity and intelligence it deserves. An earlier representative of this tradition is Paul Lafargue's call to arms, The Right to Be Lazy, while a more recent addition to this genre is Corinne Maier's Bonjour Laziness. While Lafargue's pamphlet was published in the late 19th century and Maier's small book appeared in the early 21st century, they address the same phenomenon: the soul-numbing nature of modern work. Whether it takes place at the factory or office, work has become mechanical and meaningless. Rather than a trend, it is a perennial subject in France.
It is not accidental that the syndicats, or unions, behind the recent strikes in Paris represent France's great mass of fonctionnaires, or white-collar workers whose job it is, well, to make the state institutions function. This is the sort of job, according to Maier, where "qualifications are irrelevant -- the only requirement is that you leave your intellect, personality, and imagination at the door." Lafargue would not have disagreed: The modern workplace, he declared, condemns man "to play the part of a machine turning out work."
But as Ladurie makes clear in his remarkable book, the jig was already up more than half a millennium ago....
Posted on: Monday, September 27, 2010 - 08:29
SOURCE: American Interest (blog) (9-26-10)
Is China the best friend of American power?
Beijing’s recent missteps in Asia — moving ahead with reactor sales to troubled Pakistan and crudely threatening Japan over the arrest of a Chinese fishing captain — are swiftly solidifying America’s Asian alliances. The new Japanese government came into office hoping to rebalance Japan’s foreign policy and reduce tensions with China. That dream is now dead. And China’s deepening relationship with Pakistan, intended in part as a counter to America’s nuclear opening to India, is driving Asia’s other emerging nuclear power closer than ever into the arms of America (and Japan). South Korea, once drifting peacefully toward China, has moved back towards the United States following China’s support for Pyongyang after the sinking of a South Korean naval boat.
In all this there is one clear theme. America isn’t containing China. China is containing itself. As China’s economy grows and its military develops new capacities, it is looking for ways to turn that potential power into actual power over events. In the past, China has tried to attract its neighbors into its orbit with sweeteners like trade deals and aid.
But these measures apparently strike a new generation of Chinese policy makers as unsatisfactory. China is too great a power to play nice, they think. So they assert their territorial claims more and more boldly, and blow up disputes with Japan out of all proportion.
The last great power to make this shift was Imperial Germany. Once Wilhelm I had put his empire together (defeating Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War), he and his brilliant chancellor Otto von Bismarck realized that Germany’s greatest danger was to unite the surrounding powers against it. It was time for sweet talk and flowers, or as the last generation of policymakers in Beijing used to put it, “peaceful rise”. Wilhelm and Bismarck were nice to everyone who might join a coalition against them: Russia, England, Austria, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, America — and even France. This was an exhausting policy and German foreign policy sometimes looked like a French bedroom farce as Bismarck hid Austria in the closet when Russia stormed into the bedroom. Nevertheless, it worked. Germany rose peacefully after 1871; it overtook Britain in manufacturing and its exports filled the world. German financial firms developed a world reach and Germany even built up a colonial empire with dependencies in Africa and the Pacific.
But the old Wilhelm died and a new Wilhelm (Wilhelm II) brought a new generation of Germans into power. Firing the elderly and crotchety Bismarck, Wilhelm read Admiral Mahan’s Importance of Sea Power in History and dreamed of the blue water navy that would turn Germany into a true Weltmacht, world power. Moreover, ‘Willi’ was sick and tired of deferring to all the neighbors. Enough of this insipid “Dreikaiserbund“, the complicated three-way alliance between Russia, Germany and Austria! And enough of this being nice to France. The French were losers, has-beens. It was time they were made to feel it. Germany was the greatest power in Europe and it was high time people accepted this fact.
Wilhelm’s new policies led to series of unsettling crises in Europe and to the shocking development of a firm alliance between staunchly republican France and the arch-conservative Russians. The unthinkable happened; the autocratic Tsar of all the Russias stood for La Marseillaise (the bloody-minded French revolutionary hymn that his ancestors had once banned) and the Republic and the Tyrant joined forces against the Bully.
That was only the start; German ambitions ultimately turned this odd couple into an even unlikelier ménage à trois; first the French and then the Russians composed their differences with the hated Brits to form the Triple Alliance — the only combination of powers that could possibly thwart German ambitions. Germany was left with the most decrepit and useless European powers: the imploding Ottoman state, the ramshackle Austrian monarchy and (temporarily) the disorganized but appealing mess known as the Kingdom of Italy.
Chinese policy today seems bent on following Wilhelm’s road to ruin...
Posted on: Monday, September 27, 2010 - 07:53
SOURCE: University of Florida News (9-23-10)
Somewhere beneath Gulf of Mexico waters lies the archive of Spanish West Florida. When Americans invaded Pensacola in 1818, Spanish officials fled for Cuba. Intercepted en route by pirates, they heaved the colony’s records overboard.
The watery resting palce is fitting. Much of the history of five U.S. states is entombed in the Gulf of Mexico. And every so often, a major event involving that extraordinary ocean basin reminds us that we are not the sole animating force in our history.
Nature is an equal, sometime greater, influence (something history books fail to teach), and from Texas to Florida, the Gulf is nature supreme.
Before the Houdini spin on disappearing oil leads us to minimize, even forget, the Deep Horizon tragedy, we should pause to understand that for the past 150 years our behavior has been on a collision course with the Gulf and its enriching presence. Whenever we have tried to get the upperhand on nature–believing we can rewrite its laws with the pen of scientific knowledge, engineering and technology–we have diminished the value of that presence and steered ourselves into disastrous waters....
Posted on: Friday, September 24, 2010 - 09:08
SOURCE: Stauton News Leader (VA) (9-24-10)
The greatest threat to liberty is not economic bailouts, education departments or health reform. It's the armed power of the state. At least that's what the American founders believed. James Madison wrote: "... of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded."
The Constitution (much of which written by Madison) is clear about limiting the concentration of power, and in the historical context of the 18th century, limiting power was often synonymous with limiting the military and police powers of the government. Seven of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution make this fact clear....
Yet despite the lessons of history, America finds itself in a continuous state of war. We post more of our military personnel abroad than any other nation. We possess the largest armed force in world history, and pay dearly for it. Should we —can we — continue to police the world with the lives of our brave soldiers, and at our own financial peril? If yes, then how much longer do we shoulder the burden alone?...
Posted on: Friday, September 24, 2010 - 09:04
SOURCE: South Bend Tribune (9-24-10)
"While we are contending for our own liberty," wrote George Washington to one of his officers during the Revolution, "we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case, they are answerable."
Washington was explaining why he was ordering his troops to cease their practice of burning effigies of the pope. Anti-pope parties were practiced in England and in the American colonies for decades. It was a time when colonists remembered the danger represented by Roman Catholicism, and how grateful they were to have escaped it. "Pope's Day," after all, was celebrated on the anniversary of the thwarted "Gunpowder Plot," when a group of English Catholics tried to blow up Parliament....
Washington's tolerant attitude was unusual. Most Americans believed then (as they would well into the next century) that Catholics were more than an erring, superstitious, frightening church. They believed the Pope was literally the Antichrist spoken about in the Bible, "the man of sin" who, in league with Satan, was intent on destroying God's kingdom. America, with its religious liberties and its open voting policies, was a sitting duck ripe for the taking by the Pope's minions....
America's experiment in religious liberty is a bold, difficult venture. It's never been easy, and it is not without risk. We've been tempted many times to go back, to find some easier, safer course. So far, we've stuck with it, and we're a better nation, more worthy of our pride, and envied throughout the world, because we have.
Posted on: Friday, September 24, 2010 - 09:01
SOURCE: NYT (9-23-10)
LIKE many popular insurgencies in American history, the Tea Party movement has attempted to enlist the founding fathers as fervent adherents to its cause. The very name invokes those disguised patriots who clambered aboard ships in Boston Harbor in December 1773 and dumped chests of tea into the water rather than submit to the hated tea tax. At Tea Party rallies, marchers brandish flags emblazoned with the Revolutionary slogan “Don’t Tread on Me” while George Washington impersonators and other folks in colonial garb mingle with the crowds.
Many Tea Party candidates and activists have tried to seize the moral high ground by explicitly identifying with the founders. Sharron Angle, who is mounting a spirited run against Harry Reid for a Senate seat from Nevada with Tea Party support, bristled at Mr. Reid’s contention that she is overly conservative. “I’m sure that they probably said that about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and Benjamin Franklin,” she protested. “And, truly, when you look at the Constitution and our founding fathers and their writings ... you might draw those conclusions: That they were conservative. They were fiscally conservative and socially conservative.”
The Tea Party movement has further sought to spruce up its historical bona fides by laying claim to the United States Constitution. Many Tea Party members subscribe to a literal reading of the national charter as a way of bolstering their opposition to deficit spending, bank bailouts and President Obama’s health care plan. A Tea Party manifesto, called the Contract From America, even contains a rigid provision stipulating that all legislation passed by Congress should specify the precise clause in the Constitution giving Congress the power to pass such a law — an idea touted Thursday by the House Republican leadership.
But any movement that regularly summons the ghosts of the founders as a like-minded group of theorists ends up promoting an uncomfortably one-sided reading of history....
Posted on: Friday, September 24, 2010 - 08:31
SOURCE: Houston Chronicle (9-23-10)
Islamophobia has reached America. In Austin today, a resolution by members of the Texas State Board of Education to rectify "pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias" in "past Texas Social Studies textbooks" is being put to a vote.
The board determines Texas public school curriculum standards for well over 4 million public school children. There is nothing wrong with honest debate, but there is something wrong with xenophobia, fear-mongering and patently obvious distortions of basic historical truths in the name of education and objectivity. The resolution egregiously takes different quotations out of context from different textbooks and strings them together to create the misleading impression of a pro-Muslim narrative. Above all, there is the appeal to anti-Muslim sentiment by claiming that Middle Easterners desire to "buy into [sic] the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly." As absurd as this allegation is in fact, it nevertheless evokes the conspiratorial idea that foreigners are attempting to brainwash unsuspecting Americans. Substitute the word "Jews" or "Reds" for "Middle Easterners" and you get the idea. The same Texas State Board of Education voted earlier this year to introduce major changes to the social studies curriculum in line with the prejudices of its extremist members: McCarthyism was effectively whitewashed, and the secular democratic basis of the United States was downplayed in favor of a "Judeo-Christian" view of America. Moreover, teachers were instructed not to teach a balanced view of the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Palestinians were the only national group associated with "terrorism" and Islam was the only religion associated with "fundamentalism." Needless to say, it is not Texas educators who are the forefront of this radical revisionism; it is demagogic individuals who are blatantly politicizing education and exploiting a wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and ignorance that is sweeping across America....
Posted on: Thursday, September 23, 2010 - 21:27