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: openDemocracy (10-31-10)
It is rather striking, at first sight, to note how much the Dutch politician Geert Wilders and the Chinese Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo have in common. Both threaten the political and ideological status quo of their countries; both have been legally prosecuted by their nation states for their public pronouncements; both speak in the name of democracy; both have received significant ideological and economic support from abroad; both have had their personal lives severely disrupted as a result of their public statements; and both are seen widely as martyrs for free speech. These similarities mark them out as men who at this moment have caught the pulse of the planetary transformations taking place in the practice of liberal democracy as a form of politics, social mobilisation and ambition.
Yet despite these important similarities, these two men could not be more different in the actual politics they represent: the one – Liu Xiaobo – a politics of dialogue and the other – Geert Wilders – a politics of fear. In this, they show us the two potential futures of liberal democracy in its broadest sense: as a comprehensive politics of possibility and as an excluding politics of domination. This difference reveals a crucial irony. At the same time as Liu Xiaobo seeks to enact democratic practices within China that have been a feature of western Europe for the last fifty years, Wilders makes use of Dutch democracy to promote an authoritarian style of leadership and social order remarkably similar to those promoted not so long ago under the banner of “Asian values.”
Like Singapore´s Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia´s Mahathir Mohamad, Wilders embodies a form of authoritarianism that offers to strictly regulate ethnic and religious diversity, along with the social order more generally, through a stringent regime of law and order over which he would like to preside. In the process, he is willing to transform both the law and tradition in the name of honouring and protecting indigenous culture, as well as his own interests. In this sense, European politicians like Wilders are following in the footsteps of their Asian counterparts, who already in the 1990s were experimenting with effective ways of linking economic liberalism to authoritarianism, regional nationalism and civilizational self-assertion....
Posted on: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 15:04
SOURCE: The Nation (11-1-10)
When the votes are counted on Tuesday night in California, Democrats will easily sweep the top contests. Senator Barbara Boxer is likely to defeat challenger Carly Fiorina, 51-46 percent (Nate Silver’s projection at 538.com), and last week’s California Field poll shows Democrat Jerry Brown ahead of Republican Meg Whitman in the gubernatorial race by ten points.
Across the nation, the Republicans have a better-than-even chance of winning fifty seats held by Democrats—but none of those seats are in California.
Why are the Republicans doing so badly in California, when they are anticipating sweeping victories so many other places?...
Posted on: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 14:59
SOURCE: The New Republic (11-1-10)
Demonstrators have been coming to Washington since Coxey’s Army trudged up the steps of the Capitol during the depression of the 1890s. So it was probably inevitable that the traditional repertoire of protest would, by now, have grown rather stale. These days, passionate orators, earnest singers, and fist-shaking marches down the National Mall rarely matter much. The “One Nation” rally held by the NAACP, labor unions, and other liberal groups on a perfect day in early October barely managed to fill the lawns around the Reflecting Pool and offered no coherent message other than hostility toward the Tea Parties and their favorite candidates. Most of the nation probably didn’t even know the event had occurred. In contrast, Glenn Beck’s call to “Restore Honor” drew twice as many people, nearly all of whom were united by the strong twin desires to crush the left and praise the Lord. Still, even with its clear purpose and large turnout, the rally slipped from the limelight very quickly.
This weekend, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s massive “Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear” was, at least, a novel sort of political demonstration. And I do mean political. Granted, Stewart and his merry band of satirists, as promised, presented themselves as the bards of civil discourse and didn’t suggest how people should vote this year—or whether they should vote at all. They talked, and/or joked, about how to think, not what to think. Yet nearly every sign I saw and conversation I had, or overheard, among the masses gathered near the Capitol confirmed what should have been obvious to anyone who has ever watched The Daily Show or The Colbert Report: This was a liberal crowd of mostly young, white people who voted for Obama and are contemptuous of his conservative opponents....
Posted on: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 14:50
SOURCE: Legal History Blog (11-1-10)
[Mary L. Dudziak is the Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science at the University of Southern California.]
Here’s a snippet from the book I’m finishing up this fall. This passage is about what I think of as President Obama’s “Mission Accomplished” moment, and it raises questions about how to think about the role of wartime in American history during a period when wars don’t seem to end.
On August 18, 2010, the conflict in Iraq ended, live on NBC. “It’s gone on longer than the civil war, longer than World War II,” said NBC news anchor Brian Williams. “And tonight, U.S. combat troops have pulled out of Iraq.” The station and its cable affiliate MSNBC broadcast live footage of Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, embedded with the 4th Stryker Brigade, as soldiers drove across the border from Iraq into Kuwait. “This has been a historical moment that we have just seen,” noted Engle, although the history-making quality of this episode required some explaining. 50,000 American troops were remaining in Iraq, fully armed, and reports of American casualties in Iraq would continue.
On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, progressives’ favorite new media celebrity, explained in her reporting from the Green Zone: “War’s end like this....They end with a political settlement.” NBC and its cable affiliate had been given an exclusive ability to cover these events, yet this moment’s ambiguity seemed to necessitate their insistence that this really was an ending of the war. The evidence that this day was historic came only from the reporters’ insistence that it was historic. There were no dramatic images like those accompanying the American pullout from Vietnam, with refugees clambering after a departing helicopter on the rooftop of the U.S. embassy. There were no photographs of the signing of an armistice agreement. Just troops in trucks. Maddow said: “As the combat mission ends, that means the war is ending...The combat mission is over; the war is over.”
Then, on August 31, President Obama announced “the end of combat operations in Iraq”in a televised speech to the American people. As mid-term elections neared, the president sought to turn attention to domestic matters, including a struggling economy. He called it a “historic moment,” coming after “nearly a decade of war.” Obama persisted in a rhetorical effort to ratchet back the “war on terror.” Rather than casting the many years of conflict as a wartime in which the nation battled a militant form of Islam, he instead invoked a more limited set of ideas. In Obama’s words, President Bush had simply “announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq.” Compared to Bush’s fiery rhetoric at the opening of the Iraq campaign, Obama’s description seemed technocratic. His delivery was dispassionate. He seemed more bureaucrat than war leader. It was as if, rather than declaring an end to violent state-sponsored killings to serve a compelling national interest, he was announcing the close of a bloodless government program.
Although the nation’s unity was tested during this era, Obama argued, there was one constant: “At every turn, America’s men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve.” American troops had “completed every mission they were given.” The nature of that mission seemed obscure, but once deployed, the personalization of American war support by the president and others meant that the nation could rally behind its soldiers without engaging the war’s broader purpose and what it may have accomplished. The pullout of the last combat brigade was simply “a convoy of brave Americans, making their way home.” Of the members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade who had “made the ultimate sacrifice,” Obama quoted a staff sergeant who said equivocally: to them, “this day would probably mean a lot.”
Even as Obama announced that “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended,” he also said that troops would remain “with a different mission.” It would also have a new name: Operation Iraqi Freedom was replaced by Operation New Dawn. Just how different the mission would be was clarified when practical questions surfaced. If combat was over, would American troops no longer be eligible for hostile fire pay, or for combat service medals? The Army responded with a message to all troops: The “end to combat operations in Iraq” was effective September 1, “however, combat conditions are still prevalent. Due to the nature of combat conditions, wartime awards will continue to be issued in theater until a date to be determined.” Other combat service benefits would still be available. “It is unusual for the Army to come right out and say the emperor has no clothes,” noted reporter Thomas E. Ricks, “but I think it had to in this case, because soldiers take medals seriously.” And Associated Press pushed back from the White House message. “Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is,” said an internal AP memo. “To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months.”
Perhaps the paradoxical nature of this ending that was not an ending explains the absence in Obama’s speech of the president’s usual rhetorical power. Grasping for metaphors, he emphasized that American troops “are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.” And so the mission had devolved to supporting the troops, while the troops themselves gave the mission meaning. The circularity befitted what the president called “an age without surrender ceremonies;” an age when conflict could end, even as it remained on-going.
Posted on: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 10:53
SOURCE: Commentary (10-31-10)
The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.
That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.
Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?
He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.
Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration...
Posted on: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 08:23
SOURCE: NYT (10-31-10)
The past may be a foreign country, as L. P. Hartley famously observed, but at least one of its landscapes — the political scene on election eve, a century ago — looks familiar to this time traveler.
Having ridden, in a sense, on the campaign train of Theodore Roosevelt, as the former president barnstormed in behalf of Congressional candidates in 1910, I am struck by some parallels between then and now. That year, the party dominant in Washington and in most state governments was the G.O.P. However, Democrats in those days could comfortably have accepted Newt Gingrich as their chief ideologue. (By the same token, I think T. R., reconstituted today, would support Mr. Obama. He had many of the racial prejudices of his generation, but he profoundly admired any black man who prevailed against them.)
Instead of Republican and Democrat, therefore, I’ll borrow Charles Dickens’s terms “Buff” and “Blue” to denote mutually contemptuous political opposites. The Buffs were in charge of Congress, and a Buff stalwart, William Howard Taft, was president. T. R. himself was Buff, and had chosen Taft as his successor. He now regretted this, feeling that Taft was much too comfortable with tycoons, lobbyists and pro-business lawmakers.
The Buff National Committee had long been owned by such men. There was no question — yet — of T. R. bolting and becoming an anti-conservation, anti-feminist, anti-Negro, states’-rights Blue. He ardently believed in a centralized government revolving around a forceful, moralistic presidency, with federal agencies regulating giant corporations and corrupt local governments. These beliefs had been so much a feature of his own two terms in office that he had inspired a white, middle-class insurgency that called itself the progressive movement (with a small “p”). Although most progressives were Buff, a growing number were Blue. They made up about a fifth of the electorate. Their discontents, vague but strident, varied region by region, but one cause linked them: they felt excluded from federal power, and were determined to make Washington listen to them...
Posted on: Monday, November 1, 2010 - 08:17