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: AlterNet (9-28-11)
Ruth Rosen, Professor Emerita of History at U.C. Davis, is a former columnist for The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Right-Wing Studies at U.C. Berkeley and the author, most recently, of The World Split: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America, 2006.
Baby Boomers, who have now morphed into “young seniors,” certainly did not contribute to the economic decline of America. On the contrary, this huge demographic bulge—as we have moved through our highly-publicized life cycle-- helped create the country’s consumerist prosperity with our teenage allowances and middle age purchases.
Yet running through the debate on the national debt is the subterranean belief that “young seniors,” once known as Baby Boomers, are stealing from future generations by having too many hip replacements and using up too much medical care to stay healthy and active.
Just recently, for example, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, as he wandered through the streets of Greece, wrote with Athenian authority that Baby Boomers were responsible for this country’s huge debt. Just because Eric Cantor and seventy-eight million other people fit into the rather vague category (1946-1964) of the Baby Boomer generation doesn’t mean that a particular generation caused the housing bubble, or turned our nation into one gigantic gambling casino.
Yes, Virginia, there truly are people who daily bet against the economic health of the nation....
Posted on: Friday, September 30, 2011 - 17:10
SOURCE: CNN.com (9-26-11)
Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter," published by Times Books, and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration, published by Princeton University Press.
With all the talk about the ideological and strategic divisions within the GOP, the real choice that primary voters will have to make next year is a simple one.
Republicans have to decide whether to pick a candidate who appeals to their hearts or to their minds. The field is still fluid, but so far Texas Gov. Rick Perry appears to be the candidate who appeals most strongly to the ideological passion of conservatives, even though he stumbled in last week's debate.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who doesn't inspire that passion seems to be the right man at the right time to defeat a struggling incumbent president. In recent weeks, at least based on the polls, logic seems to be a stronger pull.
Traditionally, voters tend to go for the candidate who appeals to their hearts, even if the choice may be less likely to win. The primary process favors candidates who play to the base of the party and voters want someone they can believe in.
The outcome of making this choice has been mixed. When voters selected the unknown former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter over establishment Democrats like Henry "Scoop" Jackson and Birch Bayh in 1976, going for the person who promised to rebuild trust in American politics, their candidate defeated President Gerald Ford....
Posted on: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 19:21
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (9-29-11)
Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
I spent the summer going to rallies and demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, and was even in Barcelona during their protest.
(Nighttime Protest at Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, July 2011)
I was in New York city to give at talk at NYU on Wednesday, and I wanted to follow up on the impact of this year of protests on the US. So I went to see the folks at Occupywallstreet.org. in Liberty Square (i.e. Tahrir Square). They are inspired by the Egyptian and Spanish protests this past summer. It was hard to walk there from Wall Street because there were police barricades around all the buildings and you had to make detours. The easier way would have been just to go on Broadway. There were probably three hundred people there, some visiting, some camping out (it is not a big square, and was pretty packed). Some say that last Saturday, several thousand people rallied in the vicinity, so the numbers clearly fluctuate enormously.
I asked them what they wanted, and they admitted that probably everyone there wanted something different. It isn’t an organization. But they said one thing they wanted was a voice, so they could be heard. They wanted to know why the corporations and the top 1% of American income earners are represented in Congress, but they are not. I asked them whether changing all that would not require campaign finance reform, and pointed out that the Supreme Court had made the latter almost impossible by defining giving money to politicians as a form of protected speech. They said, that’s bullshit, man. Money is not speech. They said that anyway first they had to gain a voice, and then they could discuss concrete reforms.
But not everyone there was anti-business. One woman had a sign saying that she liked business and she liked freedom and she wanted to find a way to combine the two. I was told that the square was visited by a man who said he had been worth $120 million, but had been victimized by some sort of shorting scheme. He was angry and bitter, convinced that the game he once played so successfully was ultimately rigged. Has that really changed since 2008?...
Posted on: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 18:54
SOURCE: American Interest (9-25-11)
Walter Russell Mead is professor of foreign affairs and the humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest.
I’ve just come back from a week of teaching, lecturing and conversation in Israel and the West Bank, and nothing I saw there has led me to change my basic view of the situation. Peace is not at hand in the Middle East because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are really willing to accept the only kind of peace they can get.
The only peace now possible is one in which Palestinians become an independent nation on most of the West Bank and Gaza with “swaps” of land (probably in the Negev) to compensate for land annexed to Israel. Most of historical Jerusalem will go to Israel; Palestinians will get a few scraps of the historical city with some sort of arrangement to cover the Islamic holy places and suburban developments that can more or less plausibly be called Jerusalem. (This is more or less what the Israelis had until 1967 on the western side of historical Jerusalem, though Jews were banned from visiting their holy places.) A few family reunifications may be possible and a handful of aged refugees may go back to pre-1967 Israel, but otherwise there will be no literal “right of return”. There may be some compensation and large amounts of foreign aid will be committed to the new state.
The State of Palestine will be lightly armed for internal security purposes only; there may well be foreign troops of some kind on its soil. Water rights and other difficult issues will be governed by treaties with Israel, Jordan and, perhaps, Syria; the Palestinian state will not negotiate those treaties from a position of strength.
Some Palestinians will be satisfied by this arrangement and others, though thinking it grossly inadequate and unfair, will choose to accept it as a way of ending the conflict. Many will accept it grudgingly for now, but would expect Palestine to seize any favorable opportunity to revise the treaty in Palestinian favor, and would want their government to probe for ways of doing that. Still others will reject it outright, consider those who sign it as traitors to the Palestinian cause, and like the IRA but on a much larger and more dangerous scale continue armed resistance both against Israel and what they will see as an illegitimate quisling government of Palestine. Given the way the Middle East works, these groups will probably be able to get financial and other support from various governments looking to stir the pot....
Posted on: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 18:26
SOURCE: National Review (9-29-11)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
When President Obama’s approval rating hit 40 percent, he fumed at “billionaires and millionaires,” “fat-cat bankers,” and “corporate-jet owners.” In his sloppy targeting, Obama doesn’t care much that a billionaire has 1,000 times more than a millionaire — or that his new tax proposals will take a lot more from those making $200,000 than from the few making $1 million.
Instead, the president is in a populist frenzy to rev up his base against “them,” who supposedly “are not paying their fair share.” The president’s argument apparently is not that the top 5 percent haven’t paid enough in taxes. Indeed, they pay almost 60 percent of all income taxes collected, while nearly 50 percent of households pay no income taxes. Obama seems angry that the top 5 percent will still have more money after taxes than do others, and so they should pay a redistributive government still more taxes.
But 21st-century class warfare is a weird thing.
Take the technology that gives most what only the few once could afford. Most Americans now expect as a birthright iPhones, iPods, laptops, DVDs, and big-screen televisions, thanks to cheap overseas fabrication and fierce price-cutting global competition. The typical welfare recipient now owns a sophisticated cellphone; a fat-cat corporate CEO not long ago did not.
For the president, riding on a private jet from New York to Los Angeles is supposed to be a privilege. But a poor person on a discount nonstop ticket can still get there as safely and almost as quickly for about one-thousandth of the cost in fuel and overhead. Once they land minutes apart at LAX, was the Gulfstream passenger all that blessed, the guy in steerage with headphones and a TV screen all that deprived?...
Posted on: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 18:13
SOURCE: National Review (9-29-11)
...Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille in 1890, to the family of a monarchist schoolteacher. De Gaulle was a Flaubertesque haut bourgeois, as well as an officer of the French army when it was rivaled only by the German army as the greatest in the world, and was unrivaled as the most storied army of all. He was imbued with the middle-class concept of the value of savings, frugality, pay-as-you-go. To him, greatness and security could never be bought or sustained on the installment plan. And mere politicians, whom he considered a lesser breed swimming in a sticky fondue of moral weakness and opportunism, could never be trusted to resist the temptation to pander, devalue, or seek short-term gain.
De Gaulle’s farsightedness was not confined to national projections of household economics; he also warned of the dangers of Euro-integration. He was the chief architect of the Franco-German friendship treaty of 1963, and — as a veteran of the terrible hecatomb of the Battle of Verdun and a World War I prisoner of war of the Germans, as well as the founder of the Free French in World War II — he knew as well as anyone the horrors of the centuries-long conflict along the Rhine. He also favored a common market and the end of violent ancient rivalries among the many European nationalities. But he always saw a homogenized, centralized Europe as a dangerous fantasy. He believed that a Continental interest, composed of as many as 20 or 25 languages and cultures, would be only an alphabet gruel, blended and stirred by faceless bureaucrats from the little countries, and not representing any real popular interest at all....
He would never have subscribed to the romantic fraud that Europe, with its many nationalities standing on each other’s shoulders, could have resumed its place as the political epicenter of the world that it had forfeited when it trooped deliriously off to war in the summer of 1914. But it is the merest speculation to suppose that even de Gaulle would have foreseen that an over-united Europe would so soon degenerate into a dyspeptic, demographically dwindling, Islam-raddled lumpen mass of welfare addicts. From 1965, when he was reelected president of France, to now, the reproductive rate of native Europeans of traditional stock has declined by about 40 percent, to levels that will lead to an extinction as easily plotted as that of the American carrier pigeon (which darkened the skies in its numbers in Audubon’s time, and passed into posterity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1922). GDP growth in Europe in the first three post-war decades fell by over 50 percent over the last three. As Bret Stephens recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal: “In 1973, Europeans worked 102 hours for every 100 worked by an American. By 2004 they worked just 82 hours for every 100 American ones.”...
Posted on: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 18:12
SOURCE: TomDispatch (9-29-11)
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.
In the world of weaponry, they are the sexiest things around. Others countries are desperate to have them. Almost anyone who writes about them becomes a groupie. Reporters exploring their onrushing future swoon at their potentially wondrous techno-talents. They are, of course, the pilotless drones, our grimly named Predators and Reapers.
As CIA Director, Leon Panetta called them “the only game in town.” As Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates pushed hard to up their numbers and increase their funding drastically. The U.S. Air Force is already training more personnel to become drone “pilots” than to pilot actual planes. You don’t need it in skywriting to know that, as icons of American-style war, they are clearly in our future -- and they’re even heading for the homeland as police departments clamor for them.
They are relatively cheap. When they “hunt,” no one dies (at least on our side). They are capable of roaming the world. Someday, they will land on the decks of aircraft carriers or, tiny as hummingbirds, drop onto a windowsill, maybe even yours, or in their hundreds, the size of bees, swarm to targets and, if all goes well, coordinate their actions using the artificial intelligence version of “hive minds.”
“The drone,” writes Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, “has increasingly become the [Obama] administration's 'weapon of choice' in its efforts to subdue al-Qaeda and its affiliates.” In hundreds of attacks over the last years in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, they have killed thousands, including al-Qaeda figures, Taliban militants, and civilians. They have played a significant and growing role in the skies over Afghanistan. They are now loosing their missiles ever more often over Yemen, sometimes over Libya, and less often over Somalia. Their bases are spreading. No one in Congress will be able to resist them. They are defining the new world of war for the twenty-first century -- and many of the humans who theoretically command and control them can hardly keep up.
Reach for Your Dictionaries
On September 15th, the New York Times front-paged a piece by the estimable Charlie Savage, based on leaks from inside the administration. It was headlined “At White House, Weighing Limits of Terror Fight,” and started this way:
“The Obama administration’s legal team is split over how much latitude the United States has to kill Islamist militants in Yemen and Somalia, a question that could define the limits of the war against al-Qaeda and its allies, according to administration and Congressional officials.”
Lawyers for the Pentagon and the State Department, Savage reported, were debating whether, outside of hot-war zones, the Obama administration could call in the drones (as well as special operations forces) not just to go after top al-Qaeda figures planning attacks on the United States, but al-Qaeda’s foot soldiers (and vaguely allied groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and al-Shabab in Somalia).
That those lawyers are arguing fiercely over such a matter is certainly a curiosity. As presented, the issue behind their disagreement is how to square modern realities with outmoded rules of war written for another age (which also, by the way, had its terrorists). And yet such debates, front-paged or not, fierce or not, will one day undoubtedly be seen as analogous to supposed ancient clerical arguments over just how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. In fact, their import lies mainly in the fascinating pattern they reveal about the way forces that could care less about questions of legality are driving developments in American-style war.
After all, this fierce “argument” about what constraints should be applied to modern robotic war was first played out in the air over Pakistan’s tribal borderlands. There, the CIA’s drone air campaign began with small numbers of missions targeting a few highly placed al-Qaeda leaders (not terribly successfully). Rather than declare its latest wonder weapons a failure, however, the CIA, already deeply invested in drone operations, simply pushed ever harder to expand the targeting to play to the technological strengths of the planes.
In 2007, CIA director Michael Hayden began lobbying the White House for “permission to carry out strikes against houses or cars merely on the basis of behavior that matched a ‘pattern of life’ associated with al-Qaeda or other groups.” And next thing you knew, they were moving from a few attempted targeted assassinations toward a larger air war of annihilation against types and “behaviors.”
Here’s another curiosity. The day after Charlie Savage’s piece appeared in the Times, the president’s top advisor on counterterror operations, John O. Brennan, gave a speech at a conference at Harvard Law School on “Strengthening our Security by Adhering to our Values and Laws,” and seemed to settle the “debate,” part of which he defined this way:
“Others in the international community -- including some of our closest allies and partners -- take a different view of the geographic scope of the conflict, limiting it only to the ‘hot’ battlefields. As such, they argue that, outside of these two active theatres, the United States can only act in self-defense against al-Qaeda when they are planning, engaging in, or threatening an armed attack against U.S. interests if it amounts to an ‘imminent’ threat.”
He then added this little twist: “Practically speaking, then, the question turns principally on how you define ‘imminence.’”
If there’s one thing we should have learned from the Bush years, it was this: when government officials reach for their dictionaries, duck!
Then, the crucial word at stake was “torture,” and faced with it -- and what top administration officials actually wanted done in the world -- Justice Department lawyers quite literally reached for their dictionaries. In their infamous torture memos, they so pretzled, abused, and redefined the word “torture” that, by the time they were through, whether acts of torture even occurred was left to the torturer, to what had he had in mind when he was “interrogating” someone. (“[I]f a defendant [interrogator] has a good faith belief that his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture.”)
As a result, “torture” was essentially drummed out of the dictionary (except when committed by heinous evil doers in places like Iran) and “enhanced interrogation techniques” welcomed into our world. The Bush administration and the CIA then proceeded to fill the “black sites” they set up from Poland to Thailand and the torture chambers of chummy regimes like Mubarak’s Egypt and Gaddafi’s Libya with “terror suspects,” and then tortured away with impunity.
Now, it seems, the Obama crowd is reaching for its dictionaries, which means that it’s undoubtedly time to duck again. As befits a more intellectual crowd, we’re no longer talking about relatively simple words like “torture” whose meaning everyone knows (or at least once knew). If “imminence” is now the standard for when robotic war is really war, don’t you yearn for the good old days when the White House focused on “what the meaning of the word 'is' is,” and all that was at stake was presidential sex, not presidential killing?
When legalisms take center stage in a situation like this, think of magicians. Their skill is to focus your attention on the space where nothing that matters is happening -- the wrong hand, the wrong face, the wrong part of the stage -- while they perform their “magic” elsewhere. Similarly, pay attention to the law right now and you’re likely to miss the plot line of our world.
It’s true that, at the moment, articles are pouring out focused on how to define the limits of future drone warfare. My advice: skip the law, skip the definitions, skip the arguments, and focus your attention on the drones and the people developing them instead.
Put another way, in the last decade, there was only one definition that truly mattered. From it everything else followed: the almost instantaneous post-9/11 insistence that we were “at war,” and not even in a specific war or set of wars, but in an all-encompassing one that, within two weeks of the collapse of the World Trade Center, President Bush was already calling “the war on terror.” That single demonic definition of our state of existence rose to mind so quickly that no lawyers were needed and no one had to reach for a dictionary.
Addressing a joint session of Congress, the president typically said: "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there." And that open-endedness was soon codified in an official name that told all: “the Global War on Terror,” or GWOT. (For all we know, the phrase itself was the invention of a speechwriter mainlining into the zeitgeist.) Suddenly, “sovereignty” had next to no meaning (if you weren’t a superpower); the U.S. was ready to take out after terrorists in up to 80 countries; and the planet, by definition, had become a global free-fire zone.
By the end of September 2001, as the invasion of Afghanistan was being prepared, it was already a carte-blanche world and, as it happened, pilotless surveillance drones were there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for a moment like this, yearning (you might say) to be weaponized.
If GWOT preceded much thought of drones, it paved the way for their crash weaponization, development, and deployment. It was no mistake that, a bare two weeks after 9/11, a prescient Noah Shachtman (who would go on to found the Danger Room website at Wired) led off a piece for that magazine this way: “Unmanned, almost disposable spy planes are being groomed for a major role in the coming conflict against terrorism, defense analysts say."
Talk about “imminence” or “constraints” all you want, but as long as we are “at war,” not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but on a world scale with something known as “terror,” there will never be any limits, other than self-imposed ones.
And it remains so today, even though the Obama administration has long avoided the term “Global War on Terror.” As Brennan made utterly clear in his speech, President Obama considers us “at war” anywhere that al-Qaeda, its minions, wannabes, or simply groups of irregulars we don’t much care for may be located. Given this mentality, there is little reason to believe that, on September 11, 2021, we won’t still be “at war.”
So pay no attention to the legalisms. Put away those dictionaries. Ignore the “debates” between the White House and Congress, or State and Defense. Otherwise you’ll miss the predatory magic.
Within days after the news about the “debate” over the limits on global war was leaked to the Times, unnamed government officials were leaking away to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal on an allied subject of interest. Both papers broke the news that, as Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller of the Post put it, the U.S. military and the CIA were creating“a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.”
A new base, it seems, is being constructedin Ethiopia, another somewhere in the vicinity of Yemen (possibly in Saudi Arabia), and a third reopened on the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean -- all clearly intended for the escalating drone wars in Yemen and Somalia, and perhaps drone wars to come elsewhere in eastern or northern Africa.
These preparations are meant to deal not just with Washington’s present preoccupations, but with its future fears and phantasms. In this way, they fit well with the now decade-old war on terror’s campaign against will-o-the-wisps. Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal, for example, quotes an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying: "We do not know enough about the leaders of the al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa. Is there a guy out there saying, 'I am the future of al-Qaeda'? Who is the next Osama bin Laden?” We don’t yet know, but wherever he is, our drones will be ready for him.
All of this, in turn, fits well with the Pentagon’s “legal” position, mentioned by the Times’ Savage, of “trying to maintain maximum theoretical flexibility.” It’s a kind of Field-of-Dreams argument: if you build them, they will come.
It’s simple enough. The machines (and their creators and supporters in the military-industrial complex) are decades ahead of the government officials who theoretically direct and oversee them. “A Future for Drones: Automated Killing,” an enthusiastic article that appeared in the Post the very same week as that paper’s base-expansion piece, caught the spirit of the moment. In it, Peter Finn reported on the way three pilotless drones over Fort Benning, Georgia, worked together to identify a target without human guidance. It may, he wrote, “presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial ‘Terminators,’ minus beefcake and time travel.”
In a New York Review of Books piece with a similarly admiring edge (and who wouldn’t admire such staggering technological advances), Christian Caryl writes:
“Researchers are now testing UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] that mimic hummingbirds or seagulls; one model under development can fit on a pencil eraser. There is much speculation about linking small drones or robots together into ‘swarms’ -- clouds or crowds of machines that would share their intelligence, like a hive mind, and have the capability to converge instantly on identified targets. This might seem like science fiction, but it is probably not that far away.”
Admittedly, drones still can’t have sex. Not yet anyway. And they can’t choose which humans they are sent to kill. Not so far. But sex and the single drone aside, all of this and more may, in the coming decades, become -- if you don’t mind my using the word -- imminent. It may be the reality in the skies over all our heads.
It’s true that the machines of war the Obama administration is now rushing headlong to deploy cannot yet operate themselves, but they are already -- in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words -- “in the saddle, and ride mankind.” Their “desire” to be deployed and used is driving policy in Washington -- and increasingly elsewhere as well. Think of this as the Drone Imperative.
If you want to fight over definitions, there’s only one worth fighting over: not the phrase “the Global War on Terror,” which the Obama administration tossed aside to no effect whatsoever, but the concept behind it. Once the idea took hold that the United States was, and had no choice but to be, in a state of permanent global war, the game was afoot. From then on, the planet was -- conceptually speaking -- a free-fire zone, and even before robotic weaponry developed to its present level, it was already a drone-eat-drone world to the horizon.
As long as global war remains the essence of “foreign policy,” the drones -- and the military-industrial companies and lobbying groups behind them, as well as the military and CIA careers being built on them -- will prove expansive. They will go where, and as far as, the technology takes them.
In reality, it’s not the drones, but our leaders who are remarkably constrained. Out of permanent war and terrorism, they have built a house with no doors and no exits. It’s easy enough to imagine them as beleaguered masters of the universe atop the globe’s military superpower, but in terms of what they can actually do, it would be more practical to think of them as so many drones, piloted by others. In truth, our present leaders, or rather managers, are small people operating on autopilot in a big-machine world.
As they definitionally twitch and turn, we can just begin to glimpse -- like an old-fashioned photo developing in a tray of chemicals -- the outlines of a new form of American imperial war emerging before our eyes. It involves guarding the empire on the cheap, as well as on the sly, via the CIA, which has, in recent years, developed into a full-scale, drone-heavy paramilitary outfit, via a growing secret army of special operations forces that has been incubating inside the military these last years, and of course via those missile- and bomb-armed robotic assassins of the sky.
The appeal is obvious: the cost (in U.S. lives) is low; in the case of the drones, nonexistent. There is no need for large counterinsurgency armies of occupation of the sort that have bogged down on the mainland of the Greater Middle East these last years.
In an increasingly cash-strapped and anxious Washington, it must look like a literal godsend. How could it go wrong?
Of course, that’s a thought you can only hang onto as long as you’re looking down on a planet filled with potential targets scurrying below you. The minute you look up, the minute you leave your joystick and screen behind and begin to imagine yourself on the ground, it’s obvious how things could go so very, very wrong -- how, in fact, in Pakistan, to take but one example, they are going so very, very wrong.
Just think about the last time you went to a Terminator film: Who did you identify with? John and Sarah Connor, or the implacable Terminators chasing them? And you don’t need artificial intelligence to grasp why in a nanosecond.
In a country now struggling simply to guarantee help to its own citizens struck by natural disasters, Washington is preparing distinctly unnatural disasters in the imperium. In this way, both at home and abroad, the American dream is turning into the American scream.
So when we build those bases on that global field of screams, when we send our armadas of drones out to kill, don’t be surprised if the rest of the world doesn’t see us as the good guys or the heroes, but as terminators. It’s not the best way to make friends and influence people, but once your mindset is permanent war, that’s no longer a priority. It’s a scream, and there’s nothing funny about it.
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Posted on: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 17:23
SOURCE: National Review (9-28-11)
In the current racial circus, the president of the United States, in addressing an assembly of upscale black professionals and political leaders, adopts the style of a Southern Baptist preacher of the 1960s. He alters his cadences and delivery to both berate and gin up the large audience — posing as a messianic figure who will “march” them out to speak truth to power. In response, the omnipresent Rep. Maxine Waters goes public yet again, to object that the president has no right to rally blacks in this way, when he does not adopt similar tones of admonishment with Jews and gays. (Should Obama try to emulate the way he thinks gays and Jews talk in his next address to them?)
Hope-and-change has now sunk into little more than a tawdry spectacle of racial spoils, as the president of the United States desperately cobbles together squabbling special-interest racial, ethnic, and gender groups in lieu of restoring the nation’s prosperity. Before the age of Obama, I don’t recall that some members of the Black Caucus were so ready to invite political opponents to “go straight to hell,” or to allege that they were veritable murderers eager to lynch blacks and restore slavery.
Unspoken, of course, is the truth that Obama’s statism, deficits, interferences in the private sector, and spread-the-wealth rhetoric have frightened business owners into stasis — and the resulting slowdown hurts blacks most of all. But in this fantasy world of racial spoils, Obama’s profligate spending and borrowing can be faulted only for not being profligate enough. To suggest any other diagnosis would be to call into question the entire federal racial industry of the last 50 years — and those who have benefited the most by administering it.
Instead, a new insidious racism is supposedly energizing opposition to Obama, most expressly on the part of the Tea Party. Generally beloved actor Morgan Freeman alleged just that: Racism, not stupid policies, is what is hurting Obama — and by extension blacks in general....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 - 11:06
SOURCE: Newsweek (09-25-11)
Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University and a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His latest book, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, was published in November.
The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for full U.N. membership was dead on arrival in New York. So why bother even raising the subject? The answer: to drum up international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. Yet other defeated peoples have suffered far more than they. Think only of how—and at whose expense—the U.N. itself began.
Born in the gently foggy city of San Francisco, the U.N. was conceived in the Ukrainian resort of Yalta. Though nestled amid the green Crimean hills and lapped by the Black Sea’s languid waves, the city was severely battle-scarred in February 1945; Winston Churchill dubbed it “the Riviera of Hades.” Its diabolical master was the Soviet despot Joseph Stalin, who acted as host to Churchill and the ailing American President Franklin Roosevelt.
Of the Big Three, as Sergei Plokhy shows in his riveting study Yalta: The Price of Peace, Roosevelt alone truly believed in the dream of a world parliament, and even he knew the U.N. would need to give greater weight to the great powers than its ill-starred predecessor, the League of Nations. Thus it was Roosevelt who proposed a Security Council on which the war’s victors—plus France and China—would be permanently represented and armed with veto powers.
Churchill and Stalin were realists...
Posted on: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 04:54
SOURCE: NYT (9-25-11)
Posted on: Monday, September 26, 2011 - 12:42
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (9-26-11)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advocates of the extraction process known as "fracking" say it's safe, yielding vast quantities of natural gas without polluting our land and water. So, they say, federal environmental regulators should back off.
And that, my friends, is what philosophers call a non sequitur. Let's hope it's a nonstarter, too.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping chemical- and sand-laden water deep into the ground to break up rock formations and release gas. If it's as safe as its supporters say it is, they should welcome federal oversight. Their very resistance to scrutiny suggests it might not be so safe after all.
Consider the FRAC Act, cosponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), which would allow the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the chemicals gas drillers use. The bill has sparked outrage within the industry and the Republican Party, whose leaders seem to be trying to outdo each other in condemning the EPA.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, for example, has promised to padlock the EPA's doors if she's elected to the White House. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, pledges to impose a moratorium on all federal environmental regulation, saying it should be left to the states....
Posted on: Monday, September 26, 2011 - 11:37
SOURCE: NYT (9-24-11)
Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown, a co-editor of Dissent and the author of “American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.”
SOMETIMES, attention should be paid to the absence of news. America’s economic miseries continue, with unemployment still high and home sales stagnant or dropping. The gap between the wealthiest Americans and their fellow citizens is wider than it has been since the 1920s.
And yet, except for the demonstrations and energetic recall campaigns that roiled Wisconsin this year, unionists and other stern critics of corporate power and government cutbacks have failed to organize a serious movement against the people and policies that bungled the United States into recession.
Instead, the Tea Party rebellion — led by veteran conservative activists and bankrolled by billionaires — has compelled politicians from both parties to slash federal spending and defeat proposals to tax the rich and hold financiers accountable for their misdeeds. Partly as a consequence, Barack Obama’s tenure is starting to look less like the second coming of F.D.R. and more like a re-run of Jimmy Carter — although last week the president did sound a bit Rooseveltian when he proposed that millionaires should “pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare.”
How do we account for the relative silence of the left? Perhaps what really matters about a movement’s strength is the years of building that came before it. In the 1930s, the growth of unions and the popularity of demands to share the wealth and establish “industrial democracy” were not simply responses to the economic debacle. In fact, unions bloomed only in the middle of the decade, when a modest recovery was under way. The liberal triumph of the 1930s was in fact rooted in decades of eloquent oratory and patient organizing by a variety of reformers and radicals against the evils of “monopoly” and “big money.”
Similarly, the current populist right originated among the articulate spokespeople and well-funded institutions that emerged in the 1970s, long before the current crisis began. The two movements would have disagreed about nearly everything, but each had aggressive proponents who, backed up by powerful social forces, established their views as the conventional wisdom of an era.
Posted on: Sunday, September 25, 2011 - 13:13
SOURCE: Sandbox (Blog) (9-22-11)
Martin Kramer is Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and President-designate of Shalem College (in formation). He is also the Wexler-Fromer Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Fawaz Gerges, media-friendly academic, is out and about, telling us that Al Qaeda is over, it’s had its day, it’s history. Al Qaeda is “organizationally moribund.” Indeed, it “peaked with the 9/11 attacks.”
After bin Laden, his cohort, and the Taliban were expelled from Afghanistan, al-Qaeda was effectively decapitated. The leadership was on the run or captured. Dispersed haphazardly into various countries, most of which were unwelcoming, bin Laden’s men were rounded up by vigilant local security services competing to show Americans how cooperative they were.
Al Qaeda’s numbers have also plummeted: “At the height of its power in the late 1990s, al Qaeda marshaled 3,000–4,000 armed fighters. Today its ranks have dwindled to around 300, if not fewer.” For years now, it has faced “a serious shortage of skilled recruits in the Muslim heartland.” Gerges has written a book—more an extended essay—devoted to this proposition, entitled The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda. There he complains that “American’s political culture remains obsessed with al-Qaeda and the terrorism narrative continues to resonate both with ordinary Americans and with top military commanders.”
Maybe, maybe not. The problem is that I remember having heard the same thing from Gerges sometime in the past—to be precise, just one year before 9/11. Here is Gerges, fall 2000:
Despite Washington’s exaggerated rhetoric about the threat to Western interests still represented by Bin Ladin—US officials term Bin Ladin “the pre-eminent organizer and financier of international terrorism” and have placed him on the FBI’s “10 most wanted” list—his organization, Al-Qa’ida, is by now a shadow of its former self. Shunned by the vast majority of Middle Eastern governments, with a $5 million US bounty on his head, Bin Ladin has in practice been confined to Afghanistan, constantly on the run from US, Egyptian, and Saudi Arabian intelligence services. Furthermore, consumed by internecine rivalry on the one hand, and hemmed in by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt on the other, Bin Ladin’s resources are depleting rapidly. Washington plays into his hands by inflating his importance. Bin Ladin is exceptionally isolated, and is preoccupied mainly with survival, not attacking American targets. Since the blasts in Africa [in 1998], not a single American life has been lost to al-Qa’ida.
Not a single one! And here was Gerges, only six months before 9/11:
Should not observers and academics keep skeptical about the U.S. government’s assessment of the terrorist threat? To what extent do terrorist “experts” indirectly perpetuate this irrational fear of terrorism by focusing too much on farfetched horrible scenarios? Does the terrorist industry, consciously or unconsciously, exaggerate the nature and degree of the terrorist threat to American citizens?
These have to go down as the most embarrassing assessments of Al Qaeda and terrorism made by anyone prior to 9/11. But while Gerges obviously didn’t know much about Al Qaeda at the time, he did know something about America: everything you’ve said quickly gets forgotten if you keep talking, especially if you actively cover your tracks. This is how he tried to do it one week after the 9/11 attacks:
Sadly, I’m not surprised that the evidence for the most devastating terrorist attack in history points to a Middle East connection.
I have just returned from the area after almost two years there as a MacArthur fellow. I was conducting field research on how Islamic movements perceive and interact with the West, particularly the United States. The writing was all over the wall.
Not surprised! Writing all over the wall! Well, it would have been a total surprise to anyone who’d read Gerges before 9/11, and I’d wager it was a total surprise to him as well.
Gerges only knows one tune: Muslims hate the terrorists among them, so the terrorists are always losing popularity, struggling to survive, “on the run,” and so on. Just leave the Muslims alone, they’ll sort it out. The idea may look debatable to you, but it’s worked for him—professorships, book contracts, media gigs. How well it holds up in practice doesn’t really matter, given the public’s memory deficit. Still, it’s amazing (to me) that Gerges shows not a smidgeon of the humility usually imparted by a rough encounter with reality. Not him! He just repeats his same old arguments, made with the same measure of cocksure certitude.
I don’t know if Al Qaeda is up for another round or has gone down for the count, and experts disagree on it. I do know that Fawaz Gerges doesn’t know either. And if it were my day job to know, I’d be worried—should Gerges, by some strange aberration of nature, actually be some sort of negative oracle, whose assertions are reliably and consistently false.
Posted on: Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 12:17
SOURCE: National Review (09-22-11)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.
Will Israel survive? That question hasn’t really been asked since 1967. Then, a far weaker Israel was surrounded on all sides by Arab dictatorships that were equipped with sophisticated weapons from their nuclear patron, the Soviet Union. But now, things are far worse for the Jewish state.
Egyptian mobs just tried to storm the Israeli embassy in Cairo and kill any Israelis they could get their hands on. Whatever Egyptian government emerges, it will be more Islamist than before — and may renounce the peace accords with Israel.
One thing unites Syrian and Libyan dissidents: They seem to hate Israel as much as the murderous dictators whom they have been trying to throw out.
The so-called Arab Spring was supposed to usher in Arab self-introspection about why intolerant strongmen keep sprouting up in the Middle East. Post-revolutionary critics could freely examine self-inflicted Arab wounds, such as tribalism, religious intolerance, authoritarianism, endemic corruption, closed economies, and gender apartheid.
But so far, “revolutionaries” sound a lot more like reactionaries...
Posted on: Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 06:40
SOURCE: openDemocracy (9-21-11)
James Renton is Senior Lecturer in History at Edge Hill University and the author of The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914-1918
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is expected this Friday to submit to the United Nations Security Council an application for full membership. Success would mean the recognition of Palestinian statehood. The Obama administration has been desperate to stop this from happening. The US would be forced, they say, into vetoing such a bid; an act that would severely damage Obama’s reputation in the Arab world. US and European diplomats are trying desperately to talk Abbas out of it. Political sweeteners have been offered, along with dire warnings.
The US government claims that a unilateral step of this kind will damage the chances of a negotiated peace with Israel. The only real path to peace, they argue, is through talks with Israel. Worse, a failed bid would raise and dash expectations on the Palestinian street, with the possibility of violence as a result. And here is the final argument against: legal recognition of statehood will not affect the facts on the ground.
In fact, the bid is a clever move that has the potential to change the rules of the game. The Israeli coalition government of Binyamin Netanyahu has made clear by their actions that they do not want to see the establishment of a Palestinian state. Over the last two years, they have strived to avoid meaningful negotiations. Despite some tough talk, the weak Obama administration failed to resuscitate the dialogue between the two parties. The resulting impasse has finally killed off the Oslo process that began in 1993....
The new approach of the Palestinians echoes the successful Zionist strategy of the early twentieth century. By the time of the First World War, many Zionist leaders believed that their aims could not be realised without the declared support of the major powers of the day. They understood that the success of their movement required the decisive imposition of a legal and political reality from the outside. The war brought them the public backing that they were after. In November 1917, a month before Britain occupied Jerusalem, the British government declared its support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Until the Jewish State was established in 1948, the Zionists used this statement, the Balfour Declaration, as the basis for their claims in the Holy Land. It became their Magna Carta, cited at every opportunity.
Armed with the Declaration in 1917, the Zionists faced a choice as to how they would advance their cause further. They did not choose to negotiate with the Palestinian Arab elite, who were adamantly opposed to political Zionism. Instead, they focused on pressuring Britain to fulfil their pledge, and to adopt the best possible post-war peace settlement for Zionism in Palestine. Having issued the Declaration, and under unrelenting Zionist pressure, the British government felt morally bound to adhere to it; their good name, their prestige, depended upon its implementation....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 11:14
SOURCE: The American Interest (9-20-11)
Walter Russell Mead is professor of foreign affairs and the humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest.
Recently I posted a short piece saying that the specter of a “Christianist” takeover of the United States is a figment of overheated imaginations, mostly on the left. Every few years a leftie journalist dabbles in right wing websites and obscure theological debates and emerges with horrifying tales of totalitarian Dominionist plots to turn the United States into something like the dystopian world of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.
Andrew Sullivan thinks I am blind to the inquisitorial realities of Republican politics today. Writes Sullivan:
Has he [Mead] been conscious since Roe vs Wade? The point here, it seems to me, is that Focus on the Family is no longer necessary. Its positions – once radical – are now litmus tests for every GOP candidate save one. It controls the party on social issues so completely the likeliest nominee began his campaign at a prayer rally. The winner of the Iowa straw poll is not just anti-gay, but actually has a business “curing” them. Criminalizing all abortion is now not even up for debate within the GOP, and blind, faith-based support for Greater Israel in a global war against Islam is also de rigueur. Mead can dream on … but you don’t need a religious right when the GOP has itself become synonymous with it.
Many younger readers will have trouble believing that anybody older than Andrew Sullivan exists, but I am not only a good bit older than Mr. Sullivan, I’ve been immersed in American life much longer, and I can remember when the Right was really Right. I remember KKK billboards on the roadside, and I especially remember one showing a picture of Martin Luther King in a photograph captioned “Martin Luther King in a Communist training school.” I remember when you couldn’t buy a drink in much of the South, when mixed race dating led to bloody beatings if not death, when the liberal position on homosexuality was that it was a terrible and destructive disease that might, possibly, be treated by years of psychotherapy, when divorced people couldn’t get re-married in mainline Protestant churches, abortion was illegal, Ulysses was banned, marijuana was a life-threatening drug that beatniks and jazz musicians used in New York, and members of the Communist Party couldn’t speak on university campuses or hold teaching jobs.
Posted on: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 11:12
SOURCE: Tablet Magazine (9-21-11)
Samuel Moyn, who teaches history at Columbia University, is the author of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.
It’s further proof of the law of unintended consequences. This week’s showdown over the creation of a Palestinian state is playing out at an institution some of whose most fervent early adherents hoped would be a vehicle for transcending nationalism entirely. Indeed, though the United Nations—a collection of all the world’s nation-states—played a critical role in the establishment of the State of Israel in the late 1940s, a group of Jews committed their lives to building a world organization that would be focused instead on protecting individuals from state power rather than making new states.
Influenced by the state-sponsored barbarism of the Holocaust, these Jewish activists believed that the nation-state should be supplemented by a system of international, not state-based, human rights. And the United Nations would be the body through which this new world order would be birthed.
“I wanted to work for something which was permanent, of universal importance, and indestructible,” Moses Moskowitz, one of the most dogged of these Jewish internationalists, said in an oral history. “I didn’t believe it will bring the redemption, but I believed that we could not proceed unless this principle [of human rights] was established solidly in an international treaty.”
But the international regime of human rights that Moskowitz and others had imagined, he bitterly reported, “died in the process of being born.” Indeed, the very treaty that founded the United Nations, though its preamble references universal human rights, made it clear that the main fulcrum of world order would remain statehood. Ironically for Jewish internationalists, the most significant thing the United Nations would soon do for the Jews would be to abet the creation of the Jewish nation-state—marginalizing Jewish internationalism and paving the way for a cascade of new states that the Palestinian Authority hopes could now result in one more....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 11:08
SOURCE: National Review (9-21-11)
The media finally conceded the Obama administration to be inexperienced and inept, reminiscent of the Carter administration — but, they maintained, not possibly involved in any corruption. Then suddenly scandals erupted on nearly every conceivable front: the crony-capitalist half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to a now bankrupt Solyndra; the Fast and Furious gun deal, in which, in lunatic fashion, the U.S. government sold deadly automatic weapons to Mexican drug-cartel killers; the administration’s pressure on a four-star general to fudge his testimony as a favor to a big campaign donor whose suspect company, LightSquared, was doing business with the Pentagon; and the politically inspired dropping of investigations by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
The administration got itself into these messes because it customarily counts on a medieval notion of compartmentalized exemption. In the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama’s loud and welcomed hope-and-change promises to end insider influence, lobbying, and earmarks were essential to his well-crafted image of the outsider reformer. Once that liberal narrative was embraced by the media, few seemed to care whether the other, cynical Obama was the first candidate in the history of public financing of presidential campaigns to renounce the program — in order to maximize his campaign stash, much of it pouring in from firms like Goldman Sachs and BP.
The country shrugged at such contradictions: Surely such a saintly progressive had saintly reasons; or, if he didn’t, exemption must be given for a messianic figure to use questionable means to achieve his noble ends. Yet, according to PolitiFact, the fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times, of the 17 grand promises candidate Obama made on ethics reform, he has so far kept only five....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 10:55
SOURCE: LA Times (9-20-11)
Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott are professors of law at Yale and the authors of "The Stakeholder Society."
President Obama is right to insist on the "Buffett rule": Millionaires should not be paying income tax at a rate lower than their secretaries'. But correcting this inequity is only a small step toward fairness.
The more serious inequality problem facing the United States involves overall wealth, not just income. While the top 1% of Americans earned 21% of the nation's income, they owned a staggering 35% of the wealth in 2006-07, the most recent year for which statistics are available. We should be taxing that wealth directly, and not merely focusing on million-dollar incomes....
There is more at stake than fairness. Our proposal would address a deeper issue. There comes a point at which extreme wealth concentration threatens the very existence of democracy, and we are reaching that point.
This is one of the tragic lessons of Latin American history, where democracy has repeatedly bumped up against tight economic oligarchies that feel threatened by majority rule. Though reliable statistics on wealth equality aren't available, we do know that income inequality in the U.S. today far exceeds that in Europe, and it is getting into the Latin American range. Because wealth is generally more concentrated than income, we are clearly in the danger zone.
Remarkably enough, the CIA has investigated the matter, and its website contains some sobering estimates. It reports that income is already more concentrated in the U.S. than in Venezuela, though we still have a way to go to reach the dizzying heights of Brazil and Chile....
Posted on: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 09:01
SOURCE: The New Republic (9-19-11)
Michael Kazin is the author of the new book, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is co-editor of Dissent.
Whatever their differences, the leading Republican candidates all swear that they love states’ rights. If elected president, Rick Perry vows to “try to make Washington as inconsequential as I can.” Mitt Romney declares his faith in the Constitution, which, he says, declares that the government “that would deal primarily with citizens at the local level would be local and state government, not the federal government.” Michele Bachmann “respect[s] the rights of states to come up with their own answers and their own solutions to compete with one another.” With lots of help from the Tea Party, the Tenth Amendment which, not so long ago was familiar mainly to constitutional lawyers and scholars, may now be as popular as the First or the Second. But, what this resurgence of federalism overlooks is not just the historical consolidation of federal power but also the inanity of attempts to reverse it.
For most of U.S. history, the primacy of federalism was taken for granted. Except during major wars, states exerted far more power over the daily lives of their residents than did any of the three branches of a national government located in a swampy river city on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard that most Americans had never visited. In the nineteenth century, as the historian Gary Gerstle explains, states funded canals, highways, and railroads. They decided which groups could vote and which could not. Some tried to regulate working hours. Others outlawed a variety of private acts—interracial marriage, drinking, and theater-going. In 1837, Illinois even forbade “playing at ball or flying of kites” as public nuisances....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 - 18:33