Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: CNN.com (3-15-11)
Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- The success of Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Wisconsin Republicans at stripping most collective bargaining rights from public unions has triggered a fierce political backlash.
Organized labor and its supporters have mobilized. They are prepared to fight the outcome in Wisconsin and, more broadly, to campaign across the nation against other state and national officials who seek to extend this assault on unions.
Commentators have noted that Republicans have unintentionally stimulated the kind of political energy within union ranks that has been lacking for years. They have also revealed that there is more public support for collective bargaining than many thought existed. Unions, many of whom have been disenchanted with President Obama's policies, are now more aware of the stakes of the 2012 election....
Still, there is a big question looming about what the Democrats will do. While the position of Republicans is predictably anti-union, the reality is that for many decades the Democratic Party has maintained only a lukewarm relationship, at best, with organized labor.
The party leaders have embraced many of the arguments of their conservative opponents, characterizing organized labor as just another special interest group. The focus of Democratic officials on suburban middle class voters has caused them to drift away from some of the bread-and-butter issues that once animated their party....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 15:53
SOURCE: LA Times (3-13-11)
The Middle East will undoubtedly continue to be unstable. Its legacy of colonialist exploitation, badly drawn borders, decades of power struggles, the scramble for oil and, since 1948, the Arab-Israeli conflict has ensured a rocky future. For every American president, the question is not whether but when and where the next Middle East crisis will erupt.
As President Obama considers his options in the region, which president should he look to as a model for effective leadership in the Middle East? Ronald Reagan is the favorite of pundits these days, but Reagan's actions in the Middle East bordered on disastrous....
A better president to emulate is Dwight D. Eisenhower. Like every president since World War II, Ike confronted the unexpected in the Middle East, but he was ready, having hammered out his principles and priorities in advance. Eisenhower captured his approach in a maxim: "Plans are worthless — but planning is everything." His planning process examined multiple contingencies and meticulously defined policy goals so that he, as president, could "do the normal thing when everybody else is going nuts."...
Posted on: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 14:50
SOURCE: TomDispatch (3-15-11)
[Nick Turse is an historian, essayist, investigative journalist, the associate editor of TomDispatch.com, and currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books).]
The men walking down the street looked ordinary enough. Ordinary, at least, for these days of tumult and protest in the Middle East. They wore sneakers and jeans and long-sleeved T-shirts. Some waved the national flag. Many held their hands up high. Some flashed peace signs. A number were chanting, “Peaceful, peaceful.”
Up ahead, video footage shows, armored personnel carriers sat in the street waiting. In a deadly raid the previous day, security forces had cleared pro-democracy protesters from the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain’s capital, Manama. This evening, the men were headed back to make their voices heard.
The unmistakable crack-crack-crack of gunfire then erupted, and most of the men scattered. Most, but not all. Video footage shows three who never made it off the blacktop. One in an aqua shirt and dark track pants was unmistakably shot in the head. In the time it takes for the camera to pan from his body to the armored vehicles and back, he’s visibly lost a large amount of blood.
Human Rights Watch would later report that Redha Bu Hameed died of a gunshot wound to the head.
That incident, which occurred on February 18th, was one of a series of violent actions by Bahrain’s security forces that left seven dead and more than 200 injured last month. Reports noted that peaceful protesters had been hit not only by rubber bullets and shotgun pellets, but -- as in the case of Bu Hameed -- by live rounds.
The bullet that took Bu Hameed’s life may have been paid for by U.S. taxpayers and given to the Bahrain Defense Force by the U.S. military. The relationship represented by that bullet (or so many others like it) between Bahrain, a tiny country of mostly Shia Muslim citizens ruled by a Sunni king, and the Pentagon has recently proven more powerful than American democratic ideals, more powerful even than the president of the United States.
Just how American bullets make their way into Bahraini guns, into weapons used by troops suppressing pro-democracy protesters, opens a wider window into the shadowy relationships between the Pentagon and a number of autocratic states in the Arab world. Look closely and outlines emerge of the ways in which the Pentagon and those oil-rich nations have pressured the White House to help subvert the popular democratic will sweeping across the greater Middle East.
Bullets and Blackhawks
A TomDispatch analysis of Defense Department documents indicates that, since the 1990s, the United States has transferred large quantities of military materiel, ranging from trucks and aircraft to machine-gun parts and millions of rounds of live ammunition, to Bahrain’s security forces.
According to data from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the branch of the government that coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment to allies, the U.S. has sent Bahrain dozens of “excess” American tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopter gunships. The U.S. has also given the Bahrain Defense Force thousands of .38 caliber pistols and millions of rounds of ammunition, from large-caliber cannon shells to bullets for handguns. To take one example, the U.S. supplied Bahrain with enough .50 caliber rounds -- used in sniper rifles and machine guns -- to kill every Bahraini in the kingdom four times over. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency did not respond to repeated requests for information and clarification.
In addition to all these gifts of weaponry, ammunition, and fighting vehicles, the Pentagon in coordination with the State Department oversaw Bahrain’s purchase of more than $386 million in defense items and services from 2007 to 2009, the last three years on record. These deals included the purchase of a wide range of items from vehicles to weapons systems. Just this past summer, to cite one example, the Pentagon announced a multimillion-dollar contract with Sikorsky Aircraft to customize nine Black Hawk helicopters for Bahrain’s Defense Force.
On February 14th, reacting to a growing protest movement with violence, Bahrain’s security forces killed one demonstrator and wounded 25 others. In the days of continued unrest that followed, reports reached the White House that Bahraini troops had fired on pro-democracy protesters from helicopters. (Bahraini officials responded that witnesses had mistaken a telephoto lens on a camera for a weapon.) Bahrain’s army also reportedly opened fire on ambulances that came to tend to the wounded and mourners who had dropped to their knees to pray.
"We call on restraint from the government," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in the wake of Bahrain’s crackdown. "We urge a return to a process that will result in real, meaningful changes for the people there." President Obama was even more forceful in remarks addressing state violence in Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen:"The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries, and wherever else it may occur."
Word then emerged that, under the provisions of a law known as the Leahy Amendment, the administration was actively reviewing whether military aid to various units or branches of Bahrain’s security forces should be cut off due to human-rights violations. "There's evidence now that abuses have occurred," a senior congressional aide told the Wall Street Journal in response to video footage of police and military violence in Bahrain. "The question is specifically which units committed those abuses and whether or not any of our assistance was used by them."
In the weeks since, Washington has markedly softened its tone. According to a recent report by Julian Barnes and Adam Entous in the Wall Street Journal, this resulted from a lobbying campaign directed at top officials at the Pentagon and the less powerful State Department by emissaries of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and his allies in the Middle East. In the end, the Arab lobby ensured that, when it came to Bahrain, the White House wouldn’t support “regime change,” as in Egypt or Tunisia, but a strategy of theoretical future reform some diplomats are now calling “regime alteration.”
The six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council include (in addition to Bahrain) Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which have extensive ties to the Pentagon. The organization reportedly strong-armed the White House by playing on fears that Iran might benefit if Bahrain embraced democracy and that, as a result, the entire region might become destabilized in ways inimical to U.S. power-projection policies. "Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule," according to a U.S. official quoted by the Journal."Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail."
It’s an oddly familiar phrase, so close to “too big to fail,” last used before the government bailed out the giant insurance firm AIG and major financial firms like Citigroup after the global economic meltdown of 2008. Bahrain is, of course, a small island in the Persian Gulf, but it is also the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which the Pentagon counts as a crucial asset in the region. It is widely considered a stand-in for neighboring Saudi Arabia, America’s gas station in the Gulf, and for the Washington, a nation much too important ever to fail.
The Pentagon’s relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries has been cemented in several key ways seldom emphasized in American reporting on the region. Military aid is one key factor. Bahrain alone took home $20 million in U.S. military assistance last year. In an allied area, there is the rarely discussed triangular marriage between defense contractors, the Gulf states, and the Pentagon. The six Gulf nations (along with regional partner Jordan) are set to spend $70 billion on weaponry and equipment this year, and as much as $80 billion per year by 2015. As the Pentagon looks for ways to shore up the financial viability of weapons makers in tough economic times, the deep pockets of the Gulf States have taken on special importance.
Beginning last October, the Pentagon started secretly lobbying financial analysts and large institutional investors, talking up weapons makers and other military contractors it buys from to bolster their long-term financial viability in the face of a possible future drop in Defense Department spending. The Gulf States represent another avenue toward the same goal. It’s often said that the Pentagon is a “monopsony,” the only buyer in town for its many giant contractors, but that isn't entirely true.
The Pentagon is also the sole conduit through which its Arab partners in the Gulf can buy the most advanced weaponry on Earth. By acting as a go-between, the Pentagon can ensure that the weapons manufacturers it relies on will be financially sound well into the future. A $60 billion dealwith Saudi Arabia this past fall, for example, ensured that Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and other mega-defense contractors would remain healthy and profitable even if Pentagon spending goes slack or begins to shrink in the years to come. Pentagon reliance on Gulf money, however, has a price. It couldn’t have taken the Arab lobby long to explain how quickly their spending spree might come to an end if a cascade of revolutions suddenly turned the region democratic.
An even more significant aspect of the relationship between the Gulf states and the Department of Defense is the Pentagon’s shadowy archipelago of bases across the Middle East. While the Pentagon hides or downplays the existence of many of them, and while Gulf countries often conceal their existence from their own populations as much as possible, the U.S. military maintains sites in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and of course Bahrain -- homeport for the Fifth Fleet, whose 30 ships, including two aircraft carriers, patrol the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea.
Doughnuts Not Democracy
Last week, peaceful protesters aligned against Bahrain’s monarchy gathered outside the U.S. embassy in Manama carrying signs reading “Stop Supporting Dictators,” “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” and “The People Want Democracy.” Many of them were women.
Ludovic Hood, a U.S. embassy official, reportedly brought a box of doughnuts out to the protesters. "These sweets are a good gesture, but we hope it is translated into practical actions," said Mohammed Hassan, who wore the white turban of a cleric. Zeinab al-Khawaja, a protest leader, told Al Jazeera that she hoped the U.S. wouldn’t be drawn into Bahrain’s uprising. “We want America not to get involved, we can overthrow this regime," she said.
The United States is, however, already deeply involved. To one side it’s given a box of doughnuts; to the other, helicopter gunships, armored personnel carriers, and millions of bullets -- equipment that played a significant role in the recent violent crackdowns.
In the midst of the violence, Human Rights Watch called upon the United States and other international donors to immediately suspend military assistance to Bahrain. The British government announced that it had begun a review of its military exports, while France suspended exports of any military equipment to the kingdom. Though the Obama administration, too, has begun a review, money talks as loudly in foreign policy as it does in domestic politics. The lobbying campaign by the Pentagon and its Middle Eastern partners is likely to sideline any serious move toward an arms export cut-off, leaving the U.S. once again in familiar territory -- supporting an anti-democratic ruler against his people.
"Without revisiting all the events over the last three weeks, I think history will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt that we were on the right side of history," President Obama explainedafter the fall of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak -- an overstatement, to say the least, given the administration’s mixed messages until Mubarak’s departure was a fait accompli. But when it comes to Bahrain, even such half-hearted support for change seems increasingly out of bounds.
Last year, the U.S. Navy and the government of Bahrain hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for a construction project slated to develop 70 acres of prime waterfront property in Manama. Scheduled for completion in 2015, the complex is slated to include new port facilities, barracks for troops, administrative buildings, a dining facility, and a recreation center, among other amenities, at a price tag of $580 million. "The investment in the waterfront construction project will provide a better quality of life for our Sailors and coalition partners, well into the future," said Lieutenant Commander Keith Benson of the Navy’s Bahrain contingent at the time."This project signifies a continuing relationship and the trust, friendship and camaraderie that exists between the U.S. and Bahraini naval forces."
As it happens, that type of “camaraderie” seems to be more powerful than the President of the United States’ commitment to support peaceful, democratic change in the oil-rich region. After Mubarak’s ouster, Obama noted that “it was the moral force of nonviolence, not terrorism, not mindless killing, but nonviolence, moral force, that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.” The Pentagon, according to the Wall Street Journal, has joined the effort to bend the arc of history in a different direction -- against Bahrain’s pro-democracy protesters. Its cozy relationships with arms dealers and autocratic Arab states, cemented by big defense contracts and shadowy military bases, explain why.
White House officials claim that their support for Bahrain’s monarchy isn’t unconditional and that they expect rapid progress on real reforms. What that means, however, is evidently up to the Pentagon. It’s notable that late last week one top U.S. official traveled to Bahrain. He wasn’t a diplomat. And he didn’t meet with the opposition. (Not even for a doughnut-drop photo op.) Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived for talks with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to convey, said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, “reassurance of our support.”
“I’m convinced that they both are serious about real reform and about moving forward,” Gates said afterward. At the same time, he raised the specter of Iran. While granting that the regime there had yet to foment protests across the region, Gates asserted, “there is clear evidence that as the process is protracted -- particularly in Bahrain -- that the Iranians are looking for ways to exploit it and create problems."
The Secretary of Defense expressed sympathy for Bahrain’s rulers being “between a rock and hard place” and other officials have asserted that the aspirations of the pro-democracy protesters in the street were inhibiting substantive talks with more moderate opposition groups. “I think what the government needs is for everybody to take a deep breath and provide a little space for this dialogue to go forward,” he said. In the end, he told reporters, U.S. prospects for continued military basing in Bahrain were solid. "I don't see any evidence that our presence will be affected in the near- or middle-term," Gates added.
In the immediate wake of Gates’ visit, the Gulf Cooperation Council has conspicuously sent a contingent of Saudi troops into Bahrain to help put down the protests. Cowed by the Pentagon and its partners in the Arab lobby, the Obama administration has seemingly cast its lot with Bahrain's anti-democratic forces and left little ambiguity as to which side of history it’s actually on.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 13:33
SOURCE: American Interest (blog) (3-15-11)
Is America turning into Dixie? And, if it is, is that a bad thing?
The controversy over the blue social model keeps heating up. With the controversy over Wisconsin’s restrictions on public employee unions metastasizing from the Madison protests to what increasingly looks like a national political battle, the blue state and red state models of social development and economic governance seem to be at daggers drawn.
The South — anti-union, anti-government and ‘pro-business’ — looks to be squaring off against what remains of the industrial North with its historically higher wages, stronger unions and more interventionist government.
Many liberals worry that what we are seeing with the assault on public sector unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere is the triumph of red state capitalism over the blue state model — and that the result will be the export of classic southern poverty and ignorance to the rest of the country. This is not, on its face, an unreasonable fear; many southern states rank at the bottom for school achievement, teacher pay, life expectancy and per capita income. (I remember hearing as a kid that South Carolina’s motto should be “Thank God for Mississippi!” since Mississippi was often the only state keeping the Palmetto State out of dead last on national comparisons.)
Wisconsin doesn’t want to thank God for Mississippi, and rightly so.
But jumpy Wisconsin liberals should relax — and Southerners should not feel so smug. The policies associated with red state economics aren’t the cause of Southern poverty; they are if anything associated with its cure. And in any case, the South is going to have to change its development strategy too. Red state ‘catch-up’ capitalism is as dead as blue state ‘coaster’ capitalism and the United States is going to have to strike out in a new direction that, while ultimately very promising, is going to cause trouble in every section of the country...
Posted on: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 06:37
SOURCE: The New Republic (3-12-11)
Americans tend to be fascinated by what’s new and to be indifferent to the past, except when they can use “tradition” to reinforce current prejudices and power arrangements. This has had an unfortunate effect on how we govern ourselves. We forget important lessons, and repeat old mistakes.
A century ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant girls in their teens and twenties, perished after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Even after the fire, the city’s businesses continued to insist they could regulate themselves, but the deaths clearly demonstrated that companies like Triangle, if left to their own devices, would not concern themselves with their workers’ safety. Despite this business opposition, the public’s response to the fire and to the 146 deaths led to landmark state regulations.
Businesses today, and their allies in Congress and the statehouses, are making the same arguments against government regulation that New York’s business leaders made a century ago. The current hue and cry about “burdensome government regulations” that stifle job growth shows that the lesson of the Triangle has been forgotten. Here, to refresh our fading memories, is what happened....
Posted on: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 16:45
SOURCE: Miller-McCune (2-24-11)
Have the latest advances in communication technology radically altered the fundamental dynamics of struggles for change in authoritarian settings? Or have cell phones and social media merely brought about small shifts in the dynamics of revolution? Is the Web a godsend to those trapped in oppressive states, as Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo suggests in his essay “The Internet is God’s Gift to China”? Or does this thinking give in to a form of “cyber-utopianism” that glosses over the potential of new media to be used by autocrats, their propaganda ministries and security forces to massage public opinion, keep tabs on dissidents and ensure that populations stay docile and distracted, as Evgeny Morozov argues in The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom?
This is a fascinating moment to ponder such questions, due both to what is happening on the streets in the Middle East and in the offices of publishing, where Morozov’s book is one of many to stake out bold claims about the pros and cons of the newest new media.
When it comes to mass protests, it can seem that cyberspace changes everything. This is the implication of a strain of analysis that generated references to a “Twitter Revolution” when demonstrations broke out in Tehran in 2009, and that has more recently led some to present the 2011 struggle in Tahrir Square as fueled by Facebook. But it’s also clear that many things that were part of the revolutionary mix long before the arrival of blogs and BlackBerrys still matter. Many of us kept up with developments in Cairo by looking at displays on decidedly 21st-century devices like iPads and smart phones, but what we saw in pixels often looked like scenes the French painter Jacques-Louis David presented in brush strokes in 1789. When disaffected Egyptians erected barricades, they were doing something already old hat when done by the Parisian Communards in the 1870s.
Posted on: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 15:11
SOURCE: Dissent Magazine (3-11-11)
ON CHRISTMAS Eve, 2010, an Indian court sentenced Binayak Sen, a doctor who has for decades given medical care to indigenous people in forests of central India, to life imprisonment for sedition and conspiracy. Sen’s real crime was to have investigated and publicized the forced expulsion, accompanied by killing, rape, torture, and house-burning, of about 350,000 aboriginal villagers in a state-sponsored campaign against Maoist guerillas. Months earlier, policemen had shot dead Maiost leader Cherukuri “Azad” Rajkumar, who had emerged from his jungle hideout to engage in peace talks with the Indian government; a journalist accompanying him was also killed. The close range from which the shots were fired point to murders in custody. (According to the Asian Centre for Human Rights, the Indian administration reports the deaths, in police and judicial custody, of more than 1,500 prisoners each year, and the number has increased steeply in recent years.) In October 2009, when security forces razed the village of eighteen-month-old Katam Suresh, they chopped off three of his fingers and killed his mother, grandmother, grandfather, and eight-year-old aunt. His twenty-year-old father was saved by being away. But this January, possibly because their names had featured in a court petition filed by human rights workers, the boy and his father were taken away by the police. Both remain missing.
Why is the world’s largest democracy “killing its own children,” as a judge on India’s Supreme Court recently remarked? There are several answers, but when it comes to the jungles of central India, most observers point to a 2009 statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: “if [Maoist] extremism continues to flourish in important parts of our country which have tremendous natural resources of minerals and other precious things, that will certainly affect the climate for investment.” Almost all of India’s Maoist guerillas are indigenous people who shelter in rugged terrain that is rich in minerals and water. As the state fights them back, it appears to be clearing the land of residents in order to access these resources—and motivating ever more of the dispossessed to join the insurgency in the process. The real reason behind India’s worsening human rights record could be the investment boom and resource rush that underpin its explosive economic growth.
Last year, for instance, the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh—one of the worst human rights offenders—posted a growth rate of 11.5 percent, leading its chief minister to boast that the state was on the “fast track of progress and prosperity.” The state’s officials have in the past decade signed at least 117 MoUs, or Memoranda of Understanding, with national and international companies. These deals, almost all of which involve the extraction, processing, or use of coal, iron, limestone, and other underground sources of wealth, constitute an investment of about $40 billion. (Chhattisgarh’s gross domestic product is $13 billion, deriving mainly from minerals.) In addition, De Beers, Rio Tinto, and BHP Billiton are fervently prospecting in the state for diamonds, half the deposits of which are in areas held by insurgents. At least $145 billion in investments has been pledged to India’s Maoist-affected areas as a whole, almost all of it for mineral-related industries....
Posted on: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 14:57
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (3-14-11)
In 1935 Lieutenant-Colonel Hodgen, the British political agent for Kuwait, wrote to the British foreign office about a new and popular form of communication in Kuwait and the other Arab monarchies along the coast of the Persian Gulf: Arabic radio broadcasts emanating from Egypt. He observed that the new form of communication "is not only significant" but also "contains very great possibilities for both good and harm".
His warnings proved to be prophetic. In the 1950s, Egyptian radio broadcasts in Arabic helped to inspire young activists and military officers to challenge Arab autocratic regimes allied with the West in much the same way that social media and other new forms of mass media have done this year in the Arab world. The seemingly strong pro-Western monarchies in Egypt and Iraq fell to popular revolutions.
But the Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf region (what we know today as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) survived by making large investments in radio and television broadcasting, harnessing the support of social and tribal networks, and tapping the unique 'legitimacy' afforded by the fact that these states, along with Morocco, were the only governments in the Middle East that could claim a continuous tradition of governance predating World War I. Steadily rising revenues from oil and gas production also helped to maintain stability....
The United Arab Emirates and other Arab monarchies in the Gulf that have escaped unrest are now contemplating a large financial aid package for both Bahrain and Oman. Further complicating politics in the Gulf are the millions of expatriate workers. Their presence is an important political issue in some Gulf states, and if these workers were forced to leave the Gulf quickly, they would spark a massive humanitarian crisis that dwarfs the one currently afflicting North Africa....
Posted on: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 14:40
SOURCE: LA Times (3-14-11)
To understand the Muslim Brotherhood, and to assess its role today in a shifting Middle East, it is necessary to first examine the forces that led to the organization's birth. And that takes us back to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
The Ottoman Empire had been, before World War I, the strongest and most visible face of Islam in the world. At its height in the 16th and 17th centuries, it controlled a vast swath of territory that extended from southeastern Europe into Asia and northern Africa. Its territory was greatly diminished by the 20th century, but it was the empire's alliance with Germany in the war that led to its final destruction.
In the aftermath of the war, the remains of the Ottoman Empire were partitioned by the victors, which gave the Western powers far more influence in the Middle East and created enormous tension in Islamic populations.
In Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (later given the last name Ataturk, or father of the Turks) eventually ascended to power. The hero of Gallipoli, who blunted and then defeated the British-French invasion at the straits of the Dardanelles in 1915, Kemal was also the man who thwarted Western plans to partition Turkey into imperial holdings and who rallied the Turkish army to defeat a Greek invasion. The result was a Turkified nation, one in which religion was separated from power. Ataturk's Turkey was committed under his leadership to joining the Western world — in language, in dress, in its commitment to development and to military power. And in this project, Ataturk by and large succeeded. Turkey today is his greatest achievement.
But Ataturk's insistence on a largely secular government also sparked a counter-movement of Muslims who wished to save Islam from the polluting contact with the West. In Egypt, this led to the Muslim Brotherhood...
Posted on: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 11:05
SOURCE: Newsweek (3-13-11)
President Obama is reluctant to intervene in the bloody civil war now underway in Libya. As a senior aide told The New York Times last week, “He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic.” I like that notion of organic revolutions—guaranteed no foreign additives, exclusive to Whole Foods. I like it because, like so much about this administration, it is both trendy and ignorant.
Was the American Revolution “completely organic”? Funny, I could have sworn those were French ships off Yorktown. What about Britain’s Glorious Revolution, the one that established parliamentary rule? Strange, I had this crazy idea that William III was a Dutchman.
The reality is that very few revolutions, good or bad, succeed without some foreign assistance. Lenin had German money; Mao had Soviet arms. Revolutions that don’t get some help from outside aren’t so much inorganic as unsuccessful. Indeed, they generally don’t go down in history as revolutions at all. More than one revolt has been brutally crushed by an Arab dictator—think of the Marsh Arabs’ fate at the hands of Saddam Hussein. Such events tend to be remembered as massacres. We must hope that someone gives President Obama a history lesson before thousands of Libyans share their fate. It will be tragic indeed if America concludes from the experience of overthrowing murderous tyrannies in Afghanistan and Iraq that the correct policy is to turn a blind eye to murder in Libya. That, remember, was the policy pursued by the last Democrat to occupy the White House, in Rwanda as well as, for much too long, in Bosnia....
Posted on: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 10:06
SOURCE: National Review (3-11-11)
I have been as critical as anyone of the administration’s finger-in-the-wind, “Mubarak is a dictator, Mubarak is not a dictator” policy during the last two months. In the case of Libya, Obama has seemed almost Shakespearean in his public musings about whether to be or not to be. In general, from the very beginning of the unrest in Tunisia, the United States has appeared erratic, inconsistent, and contradictory, often pontificating and talking loudly while carrying a tiny stick. It also apparently has no clue that Iran, Libya, and Syria are different sorts of autocracies from a dictatorial Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, or the Gulf states.
That said, however, we should not take too seriously the sudden European chest-thumping about jumping in to support Libya. The British government has a tawdry record of cynicism in its money-making diplomacy with Qaddafi the last few years. The Italians cozied up to him for gas and oil, and the French and Germans will sell anything to anyone at any time. No European government will back up any of their ongoing humanitarian rhetoric with force; they will launch no Euro air sorties from Spain, southern France, Malta, Italy, or Crete to stop Qaddafi’s use of airspace to put down the rebels....
Posted on: Sunday, March 13, 2011 - 12:29
SOURCE: WaPo (3-11-11)
This past week, Mohamed ElBaradei finally announced what people who have been watching Egypt's political transformation had long assumed: "When the door for presidential nominations opens, I intend to nominate myself," he said in a television interview.
ElBaradei, who in January joined the popular movement that eventually unseated longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has a sparkling resume and plenty of international support. He ran the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, for more than a decade, starred in several international crises and even picked up a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
But is working in a big multilateral organization good training to run a country?
Many seem to think so. ElBaradei is just one of several prominent figures who have tried to move from international secretariats to presidential palaces. Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of recent elections, served for years as an International Monetary Fund economist. Olara Otunnu, a former top U.N. official, ran for Uganda's presidency this year. The current head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, may soon enter presidential politics in France, where most opinion polls rate him higher than President Nicolas Sarkozy. Kurt Waldheim, the U.N. secretary general in the 1970s, became Austria's largely ceremonial president. And Waldheim's successor at the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar, ran (unsuccessfully) for Peru's presidency in the mid-1990s....
Posted on: Sunday, March 13, 2011 - 11:40
SOURCE: LA Times (3-13-11)
The Middle East will undoubtedly continue to be unstable. Its legacy of colonialist exploitation, badly drawn borders, decades of power struggles, the scramble for oil and, since 1948, the Arab-Israeli conflict has ensured a rocky future. For every American president, the question is not whether but when and where the next Middle East crisis will erupt.
As President Obama considers his options in the region, which president should he look to as a model for effective leadership in the Middle East? Ronald Reagan is the favorite of pundits these days, but Reagan's actions in the Middle East bordered on disastrous.
Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Reagan landed a token military force that set the stage for the deaths of 241 U.S. Marines in a terrorist attack on their U.S. barracks at the Beirut airport. He climaxed a confusing policy toward Libya with a two-day bombing campaign in 1986 that left Moammar Kadafi in power stronger than ever. Reagan betrayed his own policy of not bargaining with terrorists when his administration sold antitank and antiaircraft missiles to Iran to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and then used the proceeds to secretly arm the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
A better president to emulate is Dwight D. Eisenhower. Like every president since World War II, Ike confronted the unexpected in the Middle East, but he was ready, having hammered out his principles and priorities in advance. Eisenhower captured his approach in a maxim: "Plans are worthless — but planning is everything." His planning process examined multiple contingencies and meticulously defined policy goals so that he, as president, could "do the normal thing when everybody else is going nuts."..
Posted on: Sunday, March 13, 2011 - 11:01
SOURCE: Charlotte News-Observer (2-27-11)
CHICAGO -- Picture the state of Wisconsin trying to clean up after a devastating economic slump. Foreclosed farms and homesteads, high unemployment. Schools overcrowded and streets badly in need of repair. The gap between rich and poor more gaping than ever before. With rising property taxes (due in part to discounts for favored corporations), some people called for more budget cuts, but that had been practiced until whole counties had been driven into effective bankruptcy. The Republican Party, with a lock on state government, was forced to make difficult choices. How would it respond?
The picture above approximates today's Wisconsin, but it also describes the state of the state circa 1900. Conditions in the earlier period hatched the "Wisconsin Idea," a forward-looking set of policies developed under four Republican governors (most notably Robert M. La Follette and Francis McGovern) that proved a blueprint for a nationwide Progressive Era.
The Wisconsin Idea, as first popularized by state legislative librarian Charles McCarthy in 1912, helped lift Wisconsinites from the doldrums of the great depression of the 1890s into a prosperous "mixed" economy combining the resources of farm and factory with science, engineering and human welfare expertise rooted in a state university system centered in Madison.
Wisconsin's Progressive Republicans were not utopians. They proposed no wholesale rejection nor systemic reformulation of the industrial capitalist system they inherited. Yet, in attacking "monopoly" and "predatory wealth," they were determined to fashion a future in which workers and business people, farmers and students could all find respect and a bright future. And they adopted a favorite institution and characteristic principle for resolving deep social conflicts. It was the independent state commission as governed by "tri-partism."
In the case of the industrial commission, for example, appointed, university-trained "experts" representing the "public" huddled directly with representatives of organized labor and leading employers in overseeing relevant planning and regulatory processes.
It was a formula that soon made Wisconsin the envy of the nation on questions ranging from taxation to industrial relations to land use policy. All told, the Wisconsin Idea suggested that through a close working relationship among major stakeholders, as pioneer labor economist John R. Commons put it, "order, intelligence, care, and thought could be exercised by the state."...
Posted on: Friday, March 11, 2011 - 13:46
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (3-11-11)
I received an email from BAE Systems the other day. According to the company's website, BAE is the largest military contractor on earth, with 100,000 employees globally "engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defence, security and aerospace systems in the air, on land and at sea."
The subject line of the email read "International Employment for Social Scientists". I couldn't imagine what BAE would want with me, given that my published views on the military industrial complex don't exactly resonate with the company's business model....
I had assumed that the Human Terrain System was retired along with president Bush and the neocons who spent much of the 2000s trying to militarise academia in the service of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the email informed me otherwise. Instead, like so much of Bush administration policy towards the Middle East, the HTS program is clearly continuing under his successor.
Originally conceived in the mid-2000s as the Iraqi insurgency gained strength and the US was making little headway in Afghanistan, the "Human Terrain Systems" program brought anthropologists and other scholars or so-called experts into the military "kill chain" to advise field commanders on how better to interact with the local populations in the territories under occupation.
Sociologists and particularly anthropologists are considered crucial to the HTS program because, the argument goes, they have the skills to collect data - what the CIA would likely call "intel" - on "key regional personalities, social structures, links between clans and families, economic issues, public communications, agricultural production, and the like."...
As funding for graduate studies and teaching positions dries up across the country, HTS boosters have imagined retaining young academics as "an Individual Ready Reserve" of scholar-warriors who could be deployed as needed to situations where the US military is engaged.
Ironically, the methodologies the program utilises includes concepts like "cultural scripts", with which few young scholars would have more than a passing familiarity.
Such antiquated notions fell out of favour among anthropologists a generation or more ago because of the simplistic and misleading representations of local cultures they offer....
Posted on: Friday, March 11, 2011 - 13:26
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (3-11-11)
I did not attend Brigham Young University, and I'd be shocked if either of my teenage daughters decided to go there. But Brandon Davies did decide to attend BYU, where every student signs an annual pledge to refrain from premarital sex. And, as every sports fan now knows, Davies broke it....
...I like BYU's decision to suspend Davies for [this] reason: diversity.
Remember diversity? My fellow liberals love diversity. We want diversity in our neighborhoods, diversity in our workplaces, diversity in our classrooms....
By diversity, we usually mean representation of different races and ethnicities, and sometimes of different genders and sexual orientations. But that leaves out religion, which never really made it into the multicultural pantheon.
And that's too bad, because religion is intimately linked to all the other identities. A Catholic Hispanic woman isn't Hispanic on Monday, female on Tuesday, and Catholic on Wednesday. She is all those things all the time. So if we care about diversity, we should defend and develop all three....
Posted on: Friday, March 11, 2011 - 13:16
SOURCE: National Review (3-10-11)
The Obama administration figures it has read the national mood well. This therapeutic generation of Americans loves to talk and worry about problems and then assume that either someone else will solve them or they will go away on their own. And why not, since we have had periodic “energy crises” since 1974, have run budget deficits in most years since World War II, and have been warned about a looming Social Security meltdown for the last decade — yet we remain a wealthy society.
But now gasoline costs more than $4 a gallon in many places in California, and averages more than $3.50 a gallon nationwide. In response, the Obama administration is reportedly considering tapping into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supplies and drive down high prices brought on by a recovering world economy and unrest in the oil-rich Middle East.
The reserve depot was not designed to alleviate periodic gas-price spikes, but to ensure our very survival during a global catastrophe that might result in a cutoff of most petroleum imports from overseas. There are now more than 700 million barrels of stored oil in the reserve. In times of near-Armageddon, even that huge supply would provide for all of the nation’s oil needs for only a single month. It would make up for all imported-oil cutoffs for only two months.
So how is it wise to tap this critical but finite reserve — especially when the current administration had prohibited new oil and gas production in large parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the western United States? The administration certainly will not reconsider new drilling in oil-rich areas in Alaska or elsewhere off the American coasts. The message to Americans seems to be that it is okay to consume old oil stockpiled by previous generations (the reserve was begun in 1975), but quite wrong to drill for new oil to be used by the present generation....
Posted on: Friday, March 11, 2011 - 11:53
SOURCE: CS Monitor (3-10-11)
With the current unrest in Egypt and across the Middle East, Americans would do well to consider the collective messages we send to the Muslim world, including the Muslims of America. Along these lines, I recently wrote an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle advancing what seemed to me a fairly uncontroversial argument: The state of Texas should not put an anti-Muslim amendment into the state constitution....
My modest piece clearly touched a nerve, with a range of letters, emails, and online comments suggesting that I was an effete academic, a dupe of a great Muslim conspiracy, or worse. This response reminded me that Muslims have become, in the minds of many Christians, America's great spiritual enemy....
Here is another case where historical understanding could spare us from repeating the mistakes of the past. American Christians have always tended to cast one particular group as their primary spiritual enemy. At the time of the American Founding, there was no doubt as to the identity of this adversary: It was the Catholic Church. Even leading Founding Fathers indulged the dread of Catholicism. Boston's Samuel Adams, for example, wrote in 1768 that new taxes and British political power were not America's most formidable foes: "What we have above everything else to fear," he declared, "is POPERY."...
But some Founders, including George Washington, rose above fear and realized that they needed to win Catholic allies, both in North America and in France itself. So General Washington forbade the celebration of "Pope's Day," Nov. 5, which had long featured the burning of the pope in effigy. (Nov. 5 commemorated the infamous "Gunpowder Plot" by Guy Fawkes, a Catholic, to blow up Parliament in 1605.)...
Posted on: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 21:34
SOURCE: National Review (3-10-11)
An observer is entitled to wonder if this administration has taken leave of its senses. I have often written here that it might do better at some point, but it has been in office for 26 months and its policy record is a shambles. It has given precisely no indication of what it proposes to do about the trillion-dollar-plus deficits it is serenely racking up and projecting. The latest budget, in lockstep with its precedents, is a farcical mockery of prudent management: It forecasts no improvements, and such forecasts as there are are based on pie-in-the-sky euphoric assumptions that Treasury officials cannot render with a straight face. Habitués of this column would be aware that I consider these deficits to be effectively increases in the money supply, since the money has been spent and infused into the economy, even though most of the bonds that backed the deficits of the last three years were acquired by the Federal Reserve. I don’t believe that this alters the eventual nature of the impact of the spending on the economy.
There is nothing to indicate that the administration has any will to pay the debt down, rather than just devalue the currency in which it is denominated, which it can do now that the Europeans and Japanese are essentially doing the same, after putting up a smokescreen of austerity, given that the three currencies have no value yardstick except in relationship to each other. This is not responsible policy, and it is not consistent with retention of the U.S. dollar as the world’s principal currency. The dollar is likely to remain so only because of the similar European and Japanese conduct, and the fact that no one can believe a word the Chinese say about their currency or economy. The only hard currencies in the world by traditional standards — the Canadian, Australian, and Singapore dollars, the Swiss franc, and the Norwegian Krone — have a combined money supply of only about a quarter of what the U.S.’s M1 was before this administration and Federal Reserve discovered the joys of vertiginous “quantitative easing.” None of the Deficit Commission’s suggestions has resonated much with the administration that set it up and fobbed off queries about its own policies for almost two years by silently referring to its upcoming recommendations, like Richard Nixon campaigning in 1968 and saying on the subject of Vietnam, as he patted his breast pocket, “I have a plan.”...
Posted on: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 21:09
SOURCE: Austin American-Statesmen (3-6-11)
When my friends and I were growing up, public education was held sacred by our parents. As the children of immigrants, education had been their way into American society and their way up the economic ladder.
The Russians launched Sputnik on Oct. 4, 1957, two days before my sixth birthday. The Cold War with the totalitarian Soviet Union gave our parents, who had sacrificed greatly during World War II, an even stronger reason to vote for school bonds and support with their tax dollars government initiatives like the National Defense Education Act and the National Defense Student Loan Program in 1958.
Seven years later, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Higher Education Act of 1965 at his alma mater, Southwest Texas State College, he proclaimed that it would "swing open a new door for the young people of America — the door to education." He called public education "a way to deeper personal fulfillment, greater personal productivity, and increased personal reward."
It had been so for him. He wanted it to be so for others.
The Higher Education Act supported libraries, equipped college laboratories and gave teachers a chance to become better teachers. Because of it, in 1966 alone, 140,000 young men and women who never would have gone past high school went to college....
Posted on: Thursday, March 10, 2011 - 14:21