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: Foreign Policy (3-23-11)
Saudi Arabia's ruling elders are anxious. Recent decisions in Riyadh, including dispatching a Saudi military contingent to help violently smash the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, suggest that the kingdom's elites are more than a little unsettled by the unraveling of the old order in the Middle East.
They seem equally troubled by the prospect of political unrest at home. So far, the kingdom has weathered the storm that has blown across the region. But it is clear that the ruling Al Saud are not entirely comfortable, even though many observers in the West keep uttering assurances that their regime is stable and mostly invulnerable to serious shocks. In reality, Riyadh is struggling to find ways to fend off the possibility of popular dissent -- while strengthening reactionary forces at home and exacerbating tensions in the region in the process....
The one thing the kingdom's rulers have so far proved unwilling to seriously consider is political reform, which is precisely what their critics at home are asking them to do. King Abdullah, who is about as popular as an aged autocrat can be, came to power in 2005 with the reputation of a reformer, someone whom many Saudis believed would pry open a corrupt political system. He has not. Abdullah has more often than not used the language of reform to shore up his family's grip on power. Amid the current crisis, Saudi Arabia's rulers have demonstrated even greater resolve in holding on tightly to their prize. They have also demonstrated a willingness to resort to well-established political strategies to avoid parting with control.
In addition to issuing threats and doling out cash, the ruling elite are also looking to burnish its relationship with its traditional power base, the religious establishment. While many assume the Al Saud have always relied principally on the clergy for support, the truth is that the relationship has often been contentious. By the late 1970s, amid the oil boom, the clergy had been partially marginalized as a political force. Over the course of the 20th century, the Saudis' primary objective was building a strong centralized state. While the clergy had been useful to the process of imperial expansion in the first part of the century, it was seen as an obstacle later on.
Events in the late 1970s brought the clergy back to the fore. Confronted with the siege of the Mecca Grand Mosque in 1979 by a group of religious militants -- a serious assault on the ruling family's political authority -- Saudi Arabia's rulers sought direct help from the establishment clergy. To outmaneuver potential criticism and end the siege, they asked for and received religious sanction to use force inside the mosque and drive the rebels out. In exchange, the Saudis rewarded the religious establishment with an influx of financial and political support. The political cost was high. The kingdom's ruling elite had to reinvent itself and restore its credibility as custodian of Islam's holy land, and it has been compelled to accommodate the clerics' interests ever since....
Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 11:48
SOURCE: The Atlantic (3-24-11)
...It's hard to shake the public impression that there's no such thing as a principled, "veil of ignorance"-style case against the filibuster -- a case that boils down to more than helping the majority enact its policy preferences. More importantly, the senators with the power to restrict the filibuster understand that today's majority is tomorrow's bystander. The most recent attempt at reform -- which would have forced would-be obstructionists to talk nonstop, rather than merely threaten to -- failed in January, in large part because Democrats could easily imagine the day (perhaps starting in 2013) when "they might soon need the filibuster themselves."
The most powerful case against the filibuster, then, wouldn't appeal to senators' self-interest as members of the majority or the minority -- it would appeal to their more lasting self-interest as legislators invested in keeping the Senate relevant. It would show how a Senate that tolerates obstruction for too long will ultimately see its influence leach away. When supermajority votes become business as usual, writes Ezra Klein , "it's bad for Congress and bad for democracy. It means power devolves from the legislature and towards unelected, unaccountable organizations."...
Some of the best evidence for this comes not from the recent past but from ancient history -- history that was familiar to our classically-educated Founders. The Senate of the ancient Roman Republic was the first legislature to use the filibuster, the first to abuse it, and the first to suffer the consequences.
One Roman senator, in particular, had a special fondness for the host of obstructionist tools scattered across Rome's constitution: Cato the Younger, Rome's fiercest traditionalist and the leading voice of the optimates, the Republic's conservative elite....
Our democratic norms are too strong for senators to ever fear a president governing like a Caesar. And our legislatures aren't hurt by the occasional obstruction that forces public debate on a divisive issue under extraordinary circumstances -- yet ultimately gives way, as in Wisconsin, to the majority and the next election.
But when the filibuster starts to become the rule, rather than the exception, the minority may find itself with more and more power in a Congress that matters less and less. Minority rule will ultimately mean more power for the presidency, the lawyers who draft executive orders, unelected judges, and the federal bureaucracy. Placing limits on the filibuster is the wisest course for any senator who cares about the institution's future.
There's a reason, after all, that there's no filibuster written into the Constitution. Our Founders were deeply read in classical history, and they had good reason to fear the consequences of a legislature addicted to minority rule. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist No. 22, "If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority...[the government's] situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy." It was true in the time of Cato, and it's still true today.
Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 11:37
SOURCE: Times Higher Education (UK) (3-24-11)
Our institutions tremble and sway, but it's a rare week that passes without opinion leaders reminding us of the stability, excellence - nay, glory - of the US higher education system. Here is the last American piety, a liturgy incanted in newspaper columns by Thomas Friedman (Brandeis University, 1975) and Nicholas Kristof (Harvard University, 1981) in The New York Times and in think-pieces by the likes of James Fallows (Harvard, 1970) in The Atlantic magazine.
Dispatched in January-February 2010 to discover "How America can rise again", as the publication described his mission, Fallows listened to "experts around the country" whistle Alma Mater among the ruins.
"US higher education has essentially been our innovation engine," Shirley Tilghman, Princeton University's president, told him. "I still do not see the overall model for higher education anywhere else that is better than the model we have."
Laura Tyson, who has served as dean of the business schools at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of London, chimed in: "There is not another country's system that does as well - although others are trying aggressively to catch up."
In higher education, Fallows reports, lies "America's advantage".
Certainly, a degree from a leading school is an "advantage" in national politics. Like his presidential predecessor George W. Bush (Yale University, 1968), Barack Obama (Columbia University, 1983) has surrounded himself with graduates of elite private universities. The members of his Cabinet, his chief of staff and three senior advisers are together a tribute to ethnic and racial diversity. But only Vice-President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis received undergraduate degrees from public colleges....
Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 11:04
SOURCE: NYT (3-23-11)
ON Tuesday, Denny Chin, a federal judge in Manhattan, rejected the settlement between Google, which aims to digitize every book ever published, and a group of authors and publishers who had sued the company for copyright infringement. This decision is a victory for the public good, preventing one company from monopolizing access to our common cultural heritage.
Nonetheless, we should not abandon Google’s dream of making all the books in the world available to everyone. Instead, we should build a digital public library, which would provide these digital copies free of charge to readers. Yes, many problems — legal, financial, technological, political — stand in the way. All can be solved....
Perhaps Google itself could be enlisted to the cause of the digital public library. It has scanned about 15 million books; two million of that total are in the public domain and could be turned over to the library as the foundation of its collection. The company would lose nothing by this generosity, and might win admiration for its good deed.
Through technological wizardry and sheer audacity, Google has shown how we can transform the intellectual riches of our libraries, books lying inert and underused on shelves. But only a digital public library will provide readers with what they require to face the challenges of the 21st century — a vast collection of resources that can be tapped, free of charge, by anyone, anywhere, at any time....
Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 09:55
SOURCE: WSJ (3-23-11)
The right thing, at last. The cavalry arrived in the nick of time. Help came as Moammar Gadhafi's loyalists were at the gates of the free city of Benghazi. There was no mystery in the fate that awaited them. The despot had pretty much said what he intended. He would hunt down those who had found the courage to stand up to him, show them no mercy and no pity.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had seemed particularly obtuse. A decent opposition had coalesced in Benghazi—judges and teachers, businessmen and former members of the Ghadafi regime who wanted to cleanse the shame of their association with the tyranny. Rather than embrace them, rather than give them the diplomatic recognition that France would come to grant them, the secretary of state of the pre- eminent liberal power worried aloud that we didn't know this opposition, that there were "opportunists" within their ranks. And to cap it all, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper took away from the uprising the slender hope that it could still hold back the tide. The despot, he said, out in the open for one and all to hear, was destined to prevail.
We don't yet have the details of what can be called the Holbrooke moment—after the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke who all but dragged a reluctant Bill Clinton into Bosnia in 1995.
In Bosnia, as in Libya a generation later, the standard-bearer of American power had a stark choice: It was either rescue or calamity. Benghazi would have been Barack Obama's Srebrenica, the town that the powers had left to the mercy of Ratko Mladic and his killers. No less than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys had paid with their lives for that abdication...
Posted on: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - 04:10
Of the many images of disaster coming to us from Japan, one continues to haunt me: a dark, angry, roiling wave of water, thick with cars and homes and soil, sweeps across a flat landscape and swallows farms and fields into its churning blackness.
I can’t help but be reminded of the climax of the classic 1988 animated film Akira, when the title character, mutated by government experimentation and adolescent hormones, finds his body swelling out of control and consuming everything that gets in its way....
In the years since World War II, fictional disaster has been visited upon Japan—and especially its capital city, Tokyo—more frequently than any other place on the globe. From silent movies depicting the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 to the 2006 blockbuster Japan Sinks, the country has fallen victim to fires, floods, cyclonic winds, volcanoes, alien invasions, supernatural curses, viruses, toxic pollution, all nature of giant monsters, robots, blobs, and repeated nuclear explosions. Through most of the postwar period, and certainly since the mid-1960s, Japanese audiences could view the fictionalized destruction of their nation on television or at a nearby movie theater at least every week, and sometimes every day.
These fictional disasters have mirrored Japan’s real-world vulnerability to catastrophic events. In its five centuries of history, Tokyo may well have been destroyed and reconstructed more than any other major world city, suffering numerous horrific fires, a devastating earthquake in 1923, and the 1945 firebombings. Other Japanese cities have also suffered substantial catastrophes—the storm surge that swept across Osaka in 1934; the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which struck Kobe in 1995; the wartime bombings of 66 urban areas, including the atomic attacks that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 10:14
Over the past year, I have traveled the nation speaking to nearly 100,000 educators, parents, and school-board members. No matter the city, state, or region, those who know schools best are frightened for the future of public education. They see no one in a position of leadership who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.
They feel keenly betrayed by President Obama. Most voted for him, hoping he would reverse the ruinous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of George W. Bush. But Obama has not sought to turn back NCLB. His own approach, called Race to the Top, is even more punitive than NCLB. And though over the past week the president has repeatedly called on Congress to amend the law, his proposed reforms are largely cosmetic and would leave the worst aspects of NCLB intact.
The theory behind NCLB was that schools would improve dramatically if every child in grades 3 to 8 were tested every year and the results made public. Texas did exactly this, and advocates claimed it had seen remarkable results: test scores went up, the achievement gap between students of different races was closing, and graduation rates rose. At the time, a few scholars questioned the claims of a “Texas miracle,” but Congress didn’t listen....
Emboldened by the Obama administration, as well as by hundreds of millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, many districts and states now plan to use test scores to evaluate teachers. Most of our nation’s leading testing experts think this is a risky path.
Teachers see these measures as an attack on their profession. Recently elected governors such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio are ratcheting up the attack, pushing hard to end teachers’ collective-bargaining rights, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City, Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey, and Gov. Rick Scott in Florida would like to eliminate seniority and due-process rights for teachers. Destroying the unions will silence the only organized voice that opposes draconian cuts to education budgets. Without that voice, schools can expect larger class sizes and reduced funding for the arts, school nurses, libraries, and other programs....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 10:00
[Niall Ferguson is a Harvard professor and Newsweek columnist.]
“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” Macbeth’s famous line before he kills Duncan came to mind last week, when President Obama belatedly changed his mind about military intervention in Libya. Like Obama, Macbeth fervently hopes that “this blow might be the be-all and the end-all”:
But in these cases … we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips.
The president has been more Hamlet than Macbeth since the beginning of the revolutionary crisis that has swept the desert lands of North Africa and the Middle East. To act or not to act? That has been the question. The results of his indecision have been unhappy. Hosni Mubarak, for so long an American ally, has been overthrown in Egypt. Muammar Gaddafi, the erstwhile sponsor of terrorism so foolishly rehabilitated by the West just four years ago, has—until now—lived to fight another day in Libya. Meanwhile, in Bahrain, another insurrection is being quelled with the help of Saudi Arabia—an American ally even more important than Libya....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 09:45
SOURCE: National Review (3-22-11)
The Obama administration’s Libyan strategy is a paradox — resulting from the president’s belatedly announcing that Moammar Qaddafi must go, using military force against him, and then denying that our objective is to see him leave. The president seems more knowledgeable about the tournament chances of two dozen college basketball teams than he does about the Libyan labyrinth. So let us review what follows from a campaign that has not been approved by Congress and is not supported by the American people — but which we must now hope works, given the commitment of American troops.
The Obama administration, after over two weeks of unrest in Libya, grandly declared that Qaddafi had to go. Why? I think because it seemed then almost certain that the rebels were just about to throw him out. We did not wish to seem calculating, opportunistic, and on the wrong side of history, as we had when we belatedly piggy-backed on the rather easy departures of dictators/not dictators — and former allies — Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
But any student of the Middle East could have reminded the president that Qaddafi is not Mubarak or Ben Ali, but more akin to Ahmadinejad, Assad, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. Tyrants of that stripe don’t leave when told to. They equate exile with a noose. Such thugs stay in power until they are killed or driven out by overwhelming military force — usually well beyond what dissidents and insurgents can muster.
After nearly three months, there is also still no typology, even if informal, offered of Middle Eastern unrest. The Obama administration has not explained how our muscularity with Libya fits into our larger policy of embracing “outreach” to Syria, not “meddling” in Iran, and keeping silent about Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain and about the popular unrest in the Gulf and Jordan. Where do we intervene in the region, for what and on behalf of whom, and how and for how long?...
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 09:35
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (3-22-11)
Here are the differences between George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current United Nations action in Libya:
1. The action in Libya was authorized by the United Nations Security Council. That in Iraq was not. By the UN Charter, military action after 1945 should either come as self-defense or with UNSC authorization. Most countries in the world are signatories to the charter and bound by its provisions.
2. The Libyan people had risen up and thrown off the Qaddafi regime, with some 80-90 percent of the country having gone out of his hands before he started having tank commanders fire shells into peaceful crowds. It was this vast majority of the Libyan people that demanded the UN no-fly zone. In 2002-3 there was no similar popular movement against Saddam Hussein.
3. There was an ongoing massacre of civilians, and the threat of more such massacres in Benghazi, by the Qaddafi regime, which precipitated the UNSC resolution. Although the Saddam Hussein regime had massacred people in the 1980s and early 1990s, nothing was going on in 2002-2003 that would have required international intervention.
4. The Arab League urged the UNSC to take action against the Qaddafi regime, and in many ways precipitated Resolution 1973. The Arab League met in 2002 and expressed opposition to a war on Iraq. (Reports of Arab League backtracking on Sunday were incorrect, based on a remark of outgoing Secretary-General Amr Moussa that criticized the taking out of anti-aircraft batteries. The Arab League reaffirmed Sunday and Moussa agreed Monday that the No-Fly Zone is what it wants)....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 09:19
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (3-21-11)
Vanderbilt University Press, 2009.]
As they weigh up whether to support the attack on Muammar Gaddafi's regime, some western commentators are taking comfort from the 1999 Nato air war against Serbia, which is widely viewed as a successful humanitarian mission that protected Kosovans from Serbian aggression. Moreover it was done at low cost to the intervening powers, who suffered no combat casualties. And ultimately it led to the ousting of Serbia's villainous leader, Slobodan Milosevic. The Libya intervention, it is hoped, will have a similarly positive outcome.
In reality, Kosovo presents little basis for optimism with regard to Libya. Its success is based on a series of myths.
The first is that in Kosovo, war constituted a morally simple conflict, between aggressive Serbs and victimised Kosovan Albanians; and that Nato, in backing the Albanians, was furthering the cause of human rights. In fact, none of the parties were particularly moral. The war crimes of Serbian forces are well known, but their Kosovan adversaries committed crimes too. In early 1999, Tony Blair believed that the Kosovo Liberation Army was "not much better than the Serbs", according to Alastair Campbell's memoirs. And the UK defence minister George Robertson stated that until shortly before the Nato bombing campaign, "the KLA were responsible for more deaths in Kosovo than the Yugoslav [Serb] authorities had been."
Despite this record, Nato selected the KLA as its ground force, while its planes bombed the Serbs. And after Milosevic capitulated and the bombing ended, Nato forces in effect put the KLA in charge of Kosovo. Once in power, it promptly terrorised ethnic Serbs, Roma and other ethnic groups, forcing out almost a quarter million people.
The record of Nato complicity in KLA war crimes is very relevant for the intervention in Libya. Once again western states will be seeking local allies, in Benghazi and elsewhere, among the Libyan opposition to Gaddafi. We must hope that they are more careful in choosing them. However, the Kosovo case gives us little assurance. The states leading the Libya intervention clearly do not have a positive record in their past selection of allies in the Middle East. Indeed, such unsavoury figures as Hosni Mubarak, Zine Ben Ali or Gaddafi himself had close ties to the states now claiming the moral high ground in their interventionist actions...
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 09:08
SOURCE: NYT (3-22-11)
FOR weeks, I’ve argued that the United States and our allies should impose a no-fly zone over Libya and mount airstrikes to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s advance against the embattled rebels. Last week, the United Nations Security Council authorized precisely those actions. Over the weekend, missile strikes began.
I should be elated, right? Instead, I can’t stop worrying about everything that could go wrong....
The question is whether this will be enough to stop his attacks. Colonel Qaddafi’s forces are operating in urban areas where it is extremely difficult to use airpower without killing civilians. His soldiers pulled out of Benghazi after the initial bombing on Sunday, but a rebel attack on the strategically important town of Ajdabiya was repulsed on Monday.
Will the rebels be able to root out Qaddafi loyalists? If not, are we prepared to use Western ground forces? So far President Obama has ruled out that option, which runs the danger of a protracted stalemate. Colonel Qaddafi could simply cling to power, while international support for the whole operation frays....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 08:18
SOURCE: NYT (3-22-11)
...Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.
Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a “laboratory of democracy.” The state pioneered many social reforms: It was the first to introduce workers’ compensation, in 1911; unemployment insurance, in 1932; and public employee bargaining, in 1959.
University of Wisconsin professors helped design Social Security and were responsible for founding the union that eventually became the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Wisconsin reformers were equally active in promoting workplace safety, and often led the nation in natural resource conservation and environmental protection.
But while Americans are aware of this progressive tradition, they probably don’t know that many of the innovations on behalf of working people were at least as much the work of Republicans as of Democrats....
Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But there is something about the style of the two men — their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views — that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered. McCarthy helped create the modern Democratic Party in Wisconsin by infuriating progressive Republicans, imagining that he could build a national platform by cultivating an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him.
The turmoil in Wisconsin is not only about bargaining rights or the pension payments of public employees. It is about transparency and openness. It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect. Joe McCarthy forgot these lessons of good government, and so, I fear, has Mr. Walker. Wisconsin’s citizens have not.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 08:13
SOURCE: The Atlantic (3-21-11)
Pundits have, in recent days, sought to explain our latest war by analogy, debating whether Libya most closely resembles Iraq and Afghanistan, Darfur, Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia, the Ivory Coast, or none of the above. Others have reached back to earlier fights on the shores of Tripoli. In the First and Second Barbary Wars, waged intermittently from 1801 until 1815, we defended our commerce, our citizens, and our national pride. But in the run up to this, our Third Barbary War, the case for intervention was mounted most enthusiastically by Britain and France, and couched in terms of universal human rights. So if we must have a historical analogy, the most appropriate precedent may be the Anglo-Dutch expedition of 1816, when a European armada employed overwhelming firepower to achieve humanitarian aims.
At issue then was piracy by the city states of the Barbary Coast -- Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli -- plundering ships, enslaving their crews and passengers, and extorting tribute in exchange for safe passage. During the long Napoleonic Wars, the British largely subordinated their concerns to strategic considerations, preferring to use the North African ports to resupply their Mediterranean fleet and contain Bonaparte's ambitions. With peace came renewed attention to the free flow of commerce.
Even more important, however, were humanitarian concerns. At the Congress of Vienna, Britain pressed the other powers to bar the trade in slaves but achieved only a commitment in principle to its eventual abolition. Those profiting from slavery mocked the hypocrisy of British concern for African slaves while His Majesty's own subjects languished in involuntary servitude along the Barbary Coast. The taunts stung....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 07:47
SOURCE: American Interest (blog) (3-19-11)
“Vote for a Republican,” my grandfather used to say, “and you get a depression. Vote for a Democrat and you get a war.” That seemed like a pretty good rule of thumb in the twentieth century: Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover gave us depressions, and Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy (with an assist from Lyndon Johnson) all gave us wars.
Then came the twenty first century and all bets were off. George W. Bush gave us two wars and a depression; President Obama has already presided over two slack economic years and now seems bent on giving us his first war.
It’s not that the President suffered from a war shortage, with two inherited conflicts (both of which I supported and continue to believe the US must fight) from his predecessor. He escalated the one in Afghanistan and has followed George W. Bush’s proposed timetable in Iraq. Now he has committed US forces to a third conflict in the Middle East in ways that eerily echo the last administration.
This President is, to be sure, doing what he can to distinguish his policies from a Bush administration he vociferously opposed when running for office. With open support from the Arab League, a vote from the Security Council and the support of France (though not of Germany, which also abstained at the Security Council), President Obama has a broader international mandate for action in Libya than President Bush had for Iraq. And President Obama understands one thing that President Bush never quite did: that American power works best when others perceive us as reluctant rather than over-eager to act. Getting the French and the British to take the lead won’t legitimize the military campaign in the eyes of Islamic militants, but letting others step out in front sometimes in not a bad thing for an American president to do.
Yet when it comes right down to it, this President’s approach is not all that different from the last administration’s on matters of peace and war...
Posted on: Monday, March 21, 2011 - 14:25
SOURCE: Truthdig (3-18-11)
Onward ride the old familiar horses of colonialism. France and Britain have enthusiastically endorsed the U.N. resolution calling for a “no-fly zone” over Libya. Within hours of the vote both countries announced that their planes were at the ready. British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that Britain had deployed warplanes, along with aerial refueling and surveillance aircraft. “To pass a resolution like this and they just stand back and hope someone in the region would enforce it is wrong,” Cameron said (emphasis added).
The United States, a relative newcomer to Western imperialism, seemed more hesitant, more reluctant, but nevertheless endorsed the resolution. The U.S. indicated its support for the air operations and offered the usual complement of 400 Marines offshore. Perhaps the Pentagon is eager to give new life to the Marines’ hymn and have the Marines return to “the shores of Tripoli.” Italy, the old colonial master of Libya, has been strangely silent, undoubtedly because Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is preoccupied with other things....
The Libyan rebellion, part of a general Arab uprising against despotic regimes, naturally should be welcomed, particularly by the United States and its “democratic, anti-colonial” tradition. But Gadhafi’s regime has enormous power and resources to quash the disparate, poorly armed rebels, and it is unlikely that a no-fly resolution will succeed in stopping him from brutalizing his own people.
The heavy patrolling and bombing over Bosnia and Serbia in the 1990s did nothing to prevent the massacre at Srebenica and other places. Even more significant, and strangely absent from commentary now, is the destruction the U.S. and its allies visited upon Iraq, also in the 1990s, in a futile attempt to bring down Saddam Hussein. What we destroyed instead was much of the professional and middle classes in Iraq. That nation’s medical delivery system, arguably the best in the Arab region, was destroyed and denied to the Iraqi people by coalition attack. The military tactics combined with heavily enforced sanctions shattered the Iraqi infrastructure and economy, and the invasion in 2003 only visited further disaster on what was a shell of a nation....
The president has been mired in a quandary over Libya. He seems to know better than to bog us down in another military adventure, yet his fundamental decency and regard for some measure of human rights in all probability propelled a desire on his part to do something for the Libyan rebels. But he missed a splendid opportunity to call the Arab League on its own pronouncement. Had he done so, he might well have imposed a new dimension to the concept of collective security—one that might have restored and fulfilled our original hopes.
Posted on: Sunday, March 20, 2011 - 12:46
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (3-16-11)
Like it or not, Germany still provides the global benchmark for political evil. Hitler is the devil of a secularised Europe. Nazism and the Holocaust are comparisons people reach for everywhere. Godwin's Law, named after the American free speech lawyer Mike Godwin, famously states that "as an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or to Nazis approaches 1".
That is something today's Germans have to live with. But there is a brighter side to this coin. For out of the experience of dealing with two dictatorships – one fascist, one communist – contemporary Germany offers the gold standard for dealing with a difficult past. Modern German has characteristically long words such as Geschichtsaufarbeitung and Vergangenheitsbewältigung to describe this complex process of dealing with, working through and even (the latter implies) "overcoming" the past. Using skills and methods developed to deal with the Nazi legacy, and honed on the Stasi one, no one has done it better. Just as there are the famous DIN standards – German industrial norms for many manufactured products – so there are DIN standards for past-beating.
Arab nations, struggling to emerge from years of darkness under their own dictators, can therefore learn from Germany. Besides the important business of restitution and compensation to victims, past-beating usually takes three main forms: trials, purges and history lessons...
Posted on: Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 04:47
SOURCE: National Review (3-16-11)
There are plenty of good arguments for imposing a no-fly zone in Libya. Without Libyan-government air strikes, the rebels might have a better chance of carving out permanent zones of resistance. Qaddafi has a long record of supporting anti-American terrorism, whether in the form of killing Americans in Europe during the Reagan administration or masterminding the Lockerbie bombing that took down a Pan Am 747 jumbo jet, killing 270 in the air and on the ground. In humanitarian terms, Libyans have been living an ungodly nightmare since Qaddafi’s coup in 1969, and it would be a fine and noble thing to lend them a hand to end their four-decade-long misery. The world would be a better and safer place without Qaddafi and his odious clan in power.
Unlike our military action under Ronald Reagan in 1986 (I visited the country on the 20th anniversary of that strike, only to happen upon an unexpected Lionel Richie commemorative concert), intervention now would find the proverbial “people” on our side. Many of our European allies would also favor some sort of military action. So supposedly would the majority of Libya’s neighbors. Even the Arab League is on record as supporting a no-fly zone imposed from the outside. Ostensibly, Arab countries would be supporting our efforts rather than undermining them, as they so often did in Iraq.
Former war critic Barack Obama is now president. He could bomb Qaddafi any time he wished, without incurring the vitriol that once met President Bush — and without having to make the effort Bush did to win congressional approval. Hollywood, the Democrats in Congress, and the mainstream media would all rally behind whatever the president wished. Most conservatives surely would support the president’s decision. The Cindy Sheehan crowd would either be silent or be silenced by the liberal community.
Unlike the 26 million–plus in Afghanistan and a like number in Iraq, there are only 7 million people in Libya, a country that poses none of the physical challenges of Afghanistan or even Iraq. The country is flat, with mostly clear weather, and is far more accessible than Afghanistan or Iraq — with its long Mediterranean coastline and plenty of American and NATO bases of operation in southern Europe. Many supporters apparently believe that we could redeem our messy efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq by a cleaner, short, and more popular intervention in Libya — akin more to a Serbian no-fatality operation than a hard slog in the Hindu Kush.
But all that said, using military force at this moment in Libya is a bad idea, and for a variety of reasons...
Posted on: Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 04:39
SOURCE: WSJ (3-16-11)
I have not been one of those castigating President Obama for decreasing American power—either deliberately or inadvertently. His muscular policy in Afghanistan, for example, belies this charge. But there is no question that his weak, vacillating response to the slaughter now unfolding in Libya will reduce American power and prestige in ways that will do us incalculable long-term harm.
On March 3, President Obama said that "Colonel Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave. That is good for his country. It is good for his people. It's the right thing to do."
When the president of the United States publicly proclaims that the head of another state needs to "step down," his words carry considerable weight—or at least they should. Yet what has Mr. Obama done to back up his rhetoric? Not much beyond saying that "no option" is "off the table" and that he is actively "consulting" with American allies about how to act. At the rate those consultations are going, Gadhafi will have snuffed out the rebellion by the time that Mr. Obama decides on a course of action.
A month has now elapsed since the revolt began on Feb. 15. At first, Gadhafi appeared to be on the way out as rebels seized much of eastern Libya and many officials of Gadhafi's own government defected to their cause. But since then, employing his own troops and foreign mercenaries, Gadhafi has mounted an effective counteroffensive. Not only has he secured the capital, Tripoli, but he has begun to drive the rebels back, recapturing several towns along the Mediterranean coast. At this rate, he could be in Benghazi—Libya's second city, which the rebels captured early—within days.
Some policy makers in Washington may be fine with this outcome, because in 2003 Gadhafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction and his support for terrorism. But make no mistake: A resurgent Gadhafi would be a catastrophe on many levels...
Posted on: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 06:47
SOURCE: Truthdig (3-15-11)
The claim that George W. Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq somehow opened up the Middle East to reform is an affront to the brave crowds that have risked their lives to change the American-backed order in that part of the world. Bush’s invasion was followed by no significant reforms in the region, whereas the outbreak of people power today has scared autocratic regimes into making unheard-of concessions. Iraq itself is no shining beacon on a hill for the people of the Middle East, but rather is a target of protests and an object lesson among the protesters of what to avoid....
If Bush’s misadventure in Iraq had indeed been a positive impetus for change in the region, then at least some protesters elsewhere would have credited it as an inspiration. If the U.S. occupation had actually produced a functional, democratic system, so many Iraqis would not have emulated the Egyptian protesters and taken to the streets. Moreover, we would have seen political openings in the years after 2003 in the Arab world. Rather, the reforms are coming only now, impelled by the protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt....
The demands of the protesters throughout today’s Arab world have nothing in common with earlier U.S. neoconservative plots. Today’s democratic forces want the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. They want a better deal economically, and government intervention to ensure the public welfare. They want genuine grass-roots input into legislation and governance. They want an end to censorship and secret police. They want national resources to benefit the common person, not foreign corporations. Their ideals are far closer to FDR’s New Deal than to W.’s White Tie Society. And they are well on the way to realizing their goals in key countries of the region even as the Kleptocratic Bush era recedes into the mists of history, attendant with more major failures of policy than any other regime in American history.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 17:21