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: WSJ (02-28-2012)
Mr. Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, due out next January.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 18:28
SOURCE: TomDispatch (2-28-12)
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), has just been published.
Nick Turse is associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His new TomDispatch series on the changing face of American empire is being underwritten by Lannan Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.
Is it all over but the (anti-American) shouting—and the killing? Are the exits finally coming into view?
Sometimes, in a moment, the fog lifts, the clouds shift, and you can finally see the landscape ahead with startling clarity. In Afghanistan, Washington may be reaching that moment in a state of panic, horror, and confusion. Even as an anxious U.S. commander withdrew American and NATO advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul last weekend—approximately 300, military spokesman James Williams tells TomDispatch—the ability of American soldiers to remain on giant fortified bases eating pizza and fried chicken into the distant future is not in doubt.
No set of Taliban guerrillas, suicide bombers, or armed Afghan “allies” turning their guns on their American “brothers” can alter that —not as long as Washington is ready to bring the necessary supplies into semi-blockaded Afghanistan at staggering cost. But sometimes that’s the least of the matter, not the essence of it. So if you’re in a mood to mark your calendars, late February 2012 may be the moment when the end game for America’s second Afghan War, launched in October 2001, was initially glimpsed.
Amid the reportage about the recent explosion of Afghan anger over the torching of Korans in a burn pit at Bagram Air Base, there was a tiny news item that caught the spirit of the moment. As anti-American protests (and the deaths of protestors) mounted across Afghanistan, the German military made a sudden decision to immediately abandon a 50-man outpost in the north of the country.
True, they had planned to leave it a few weeks later, but consider the move a tiny sign of the increasing itchiness of Washington’s NATO allies. The French have shown a similar inclination to leave town since, earlier this year, four of their troops were blown away (and 16 wounded) by an Afghan army soldier, as three others had been shot down several weeks before by another Afghan in uniform. Both the French and the Germans have also withdrawn their civilian advisors from Afghan government institutions in the wake of the latest unrest.
Now, it's clear enough: the Europeans are ready to go. And that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, we’re talking about NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—whose soldiers found themselves in distant Afghanistan in the first place only because, since World War II, with the singular exception of French President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, European leaders have had a terrible time saying “no” to Washington. They still can’t quite do so, but in these last months it’s clear which way their feet are pointed.
Which makes sense. You would have to be blind not to notice that the American effort in Afghanistan is heading into the tank.
The surprising thing is only that the Obama administration, which recently began to show a certain itchiness of its own—speeding up withdrawal dates and lowering the number of forces left behind—remains remarkably mired in its growing Afghan disaster. Besieged by demonstrators there, and at home by Republican presidential hopefuls making hay out of a situation from hell, its room to maneuver in an unraveling, increasingly chaotic situation seems to grow more limited by the day.
The Afghan War shouldn’t be the world’s most complicated subject to deal with. After all, the message is clear enough. Eleven years in, if your forces are still burning Korans in a deeply religious Muslim country, it’s way too late and you should go.
Instead, the U.S. command in Kabul and the administration back home have proceeded to tie themselves in a series of bizarre knots, issuing apologies, orders, and threats to no particular purpose as events escalated. Soon after the news of the Koran burning broke, for instance, General John R. Allen, the U.S. war commander in Afghanistan, issued orders that couldn’t have been grimmer (or more feeble) under the circumstances. Only a decade late, he directed that all U.S. military personnel in the country undergo 10 days of sensitivity “training in the proper handling of religious materials.”
Sensitivity, in case you hadn’t noticed at this late date, has not been an American strong suit there. In the headlines in the last year, for instance, were revelations about the 12-soldier “kill team” that “hunted” Afghan civilians “for sport,” murdered them, and posed for demeaning photos with their corpses. There were the four wisecracking U.S. Marines who videotaped themselves urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans—whether civilians or Taliban guerrillas is unknown—with commentary (“Have a good day, buddy… Golden—like a shower”). There was also that sniper unit proudly sporting a Nazi SS banner in another photographed incident and the U.S. combat outpost named “Aryan.” And not to leave out the allies, there were the British soldiers who were filmed “abusing” children.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how Afghans have often experienced the American and NATO occupation of these last years. To take but one example that recently caused outrage, there were the eight shepherd boys, aged six to 18, slaughtered in a NATO air strike in Kapisa Province in northern Afghanistan (with the usual apology and forthcoming “investigation,” as well as claims, denied by Afghans who also investigated, that the boys were armed).
More generally, there are the hated night raids launched by special operations forces that break into Afghan homes, cross cultural boundaries of every sort, and sometimes leave death in their wake. Like errant American and NATO air operations, which have been commonplace in these war years, they are reportedly deeply despised by most Afghans.
All of these, in turn, have been protested again and again by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has regularly demanded that the U.S. military cease them (or bring them under Afghan control). Being the president of Afghanistan, however, he has limited leverage and so American officials have paid little attention to his complaints or his sense of what Afghans were willing to take.
The results are now available for all to see in an explosion of anger spreading across the country. How far this can escalate and how long it can last no one knows. But recent experience indicates that, once a population heads for the streets, anything can happen. All of this could, of course, peter out, but with more than 30 protesters already dead, it could also take on a look reminiscent of the escalating civil war in Syria—including, as has already happened on a small scale in the past, whole units of Afghan security forces defecting to the Taliban.
Unfolding events have visibly overwhelmed and even intimidated the Americans in charge. However, as religious as the country may be and holy as the Koran may be considered, what's happened cannot be fully explained by the book burning. It is, in truth, an explosion a decade in coming.
Precursors and Omens
After the grim years of Taliban rule, when the Americans arrived in Kabul in November 2001, liberation was in the air. More than 10 years later, the mood is clearly utterly transformed and, for the first time, there are reports of “Taliban songs” being sung at demonstrations in the streets of the capital. Afghanistan is, as the New York Times reported last weekend (using language seldom seen in American newspapers) “a religious country fed up with foreigners”; or as Laura King of the Los Angeles Times put it, there is now “a visceral distaste for Western behavior and values” among significant numbers of Afghans.
Years of pent up frustration, despair, loathing, and desperation are erupting in the present protests. That this was long on its way can’t be doubted.
Among the more shocking events in the wake of the Koran burnings was the discovery in a room in the heavily guarded Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul of the bodies of an American lieutenant colonel and major, each evidently executed with a shot in the back of the head while at work. The killer, who worked in the ministry, was evidently angered by the Koran burnings and possibly by the way the two Americans mocked Afghan protesters and the Koran itself. He escaped. The Taliban (as in all such incidents) quickly took responsibility, though it may not have been involved at all.
What clearly rattled the American command, however, and led them to withdraw hundreds of advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul was that the two dead officers were “inside a secure room" that bars most Afghans. It was in the ministry's command and control complex. (By the way, if you want to grasp some of the problems of the last decade just consider that the Afghan Interior Ministry includes an area open to foreigners, but not to most Afghans who work there.)
As the New York Times put it, the withdrawal of the advisors was “a clear sign of concern that the fury had reached deeply into even the Afghan security forces and ministries working most closely with the coalition.” Those two dead Americans were among four killed in these last days of chaos by Afghan “allies.” Meanwhile, the Taliban urged Afghan police and army troops, some of whom evidently need no urging, to attack U.S. military bases and American or NATO forces.
Two other U.S. troops died outside a small American base in Nangarhar Province near the Pakistani border in the midst of an Afghan demonstration in which two protestors were also killed. An Afghan soldier gunned the Americans down and then evidently escaped into the crowd of demonstrators. Such deaths, in a recent Washington Post piece, were termed “fratricide,” though that perhaps misconstrues the feelings of many Afghans, who over these last years have come to see the Americans as occupiers and possibly despoilers, but not as brothers.
Historically unprecedented in the modern era is the way, in the years leading up to this moment, Afghans in police and army uniforms have repeatedly turned their weapons on American or NATO troops training, working with, or patrolling with them. Barely more than a week ago, for instance, an Afghan policeman killed the first Albanian soldier to die in the war. Earlier in the year, there were those seven dead French troops. At least 36 U.S. and NATO troops have died in this fashion in the past year. Since 2007, there have been at least 47 such attacks. These have been regularly dismissed as “isolated incidents” of minimal significance by U.S. and NATO officials and, unbelievably enough, are still being publicly treated that way.
Yet not in Iraq, nor during the Vietnam War, nor the Korean conflict, nor even during the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of the twentieth century were there similar examples of what once would have been called “native troops” turning on those training, paying for, and employing them. You would perhaps have to go back to the Sepoy Rebellion, a revolt by Indian troops against their British officers in 1857, for anything comparable.
In April 2011, in the most devastating of these incidents, an Afghan air force colonel murdered nine U.S. trainers in a heavily guarded area of Kabul International Airport. He was reportedly angry at Americans generally and evidently not connected to the Taliban. And consider this an omen of things to come: his funeral in Kabul was openly attended by 1,500 mourners.
Put in the most practical terms, the Bush and now Obama administrations have been paying for and training an Afghan security force numbering in the hundreds of thousands—to the tune of billions dollars annually ($11 billion last year alone). They are the ones to whom the American war is to be “handed over” as U.S. forces are drawn down. Now, thanks either to Taliban infiltration, rising anger, or some combination of the two, it’s clear that any American soldier who approaches a member of the Afghan security forces to “hand over” anything takes his life in his hands. No war can be fought under such circumstances for very long.
Apologies, Pleas, and Threats
So don’t say there was no warning, or that Obama’s top officials shouldn’t have been prepared for the present unraveling. But when it came, the administration and the military were caught desperately off guard and painfully flatfooted.
In fact, through repeated missteps and an inability to effectively deal with the fallout from the Koran-burning incident, Washington now finds itself trapped in a labyrinth of investigations, apologies, pleas, and threats. Events have all but overwhelmed the administration’s ability to conduct an effective foreign policy. Think of it instead as a form of diplomatic pinball in which U.S. officials and commanders bounce from crisis to crisis with a limited arsenal of options and a toxic brew of foreign and domestic political pressures at play.
How did the pace get quite so dizzying? Let’s start with those dead Afghan shepherd boys. On February 15, the U.S.-led International Security Force (ISAF) “extended its deep regret to the families and loved ones of several Afghan youths who died during an air engagement in Kapisa province Feb 8.” According to an official press release, ISAF insisted, as in so many previous incidents, that it was “taking appropriate action to ascertain the facts, and prevent similar occurrences in the future.”
The results of the investigation were still pending five days later when Americans in uniform were spotted by Afghan workers tossing those Korans into that burn pit at Bagram Air Base. The Afghans rescued several and smuggled them—burnt pages and all—off base, sparking national outrage. Almost immediately, the next act of contrition came forth. “On behalf of the entire International Security Assistance Force, I extend my sincerest apologies to the people of Afghanistan,” General Allen announced the following day. At the same time, in a classic case of too-little, too-late, he issued that directive for training in “the proper handling of religious materials.”
That day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was on the same page, telling reporters that the burning of the Muslim holy books was “deeply unfortunate,” but not indicative of the Americans’ feelings toward the religious beliefs of the Afghan people. “Our military leaders have apologized... for these unintentional actions, and ISAF is undertaking an investigation to understand what happened and to ensure that steps are taken so that incidents like this do not happen again.”
On February 22, an investigation of the Koran burnings by a joint ISAF-Afghan government team commenced. "The purpose of the investigation is to discover the truth surrounding the events which resulted in this incident," Allen said. "We are determined to ascertain the facts, and take all actions necessary to ensure this never happens again."
The next day, as Afghan streets exploded in anger, Allen called on “everyone throughout the country—ISAF members and Afghans—to exercise patience and restraint as we continue to gather the facts surrounding Monday night’s incident.”
That very same day, Allen’s commander-in-chief sent a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that included an apology, expressing “deep regret for the reported incident.” “The error was inadvertent,’’ President Obama wrote. “I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.’’
Obama’s letter drew instant fire from Republican presidential candidates, most forcefully former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called it an “outrage” and demanded instead that President Karzai issue an apology for the two Americans shot down by an Afghan soldier. (Otherwise, he added, “we should say goodbye and good luck.”)
Translated into Washingtonese, the situation now looked like this: a Democratic president on the campaign trail in an election year who apologizes to a foreign country has a distinct problem. Two foreign countries? Forget it.
As a result, efforts to mend crucial, if rocky, relations with Pakistan were thrown into chaos. Because of cross-border U.S. air strikes in November which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, ties between the two countries were already deeply frayed and Pakistan was still blocking critical resupply routes for the war in Afghanistan. With American war efforts suffering for it and resupply costs sky-high, the U.S. government had put together a well-choreographed plan to smooth the waters.
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to issue a formal apology to Pakistan’s army chief. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would then follow up with a similar apology to her Pakistani counterpart.
Fearing further Republican backlash, however, the Obama administration quickly altered its timetable, putting off the apology for at least several more weeks, effectively telling the Pakistanis that any regrets over the killing of their troops would have to wait for a time more convenient to the U.S. election cycle.
Trading apologies to Afghans for those to Pakistanis, however, turned out to mean little on the streets of Afghanistan, where even in non-Taliban areas of the country, chants of “Death to America!” were becoming commonplace. “Just by saying ‘I am sorry,’ nothing can be solved,” protester Wali Mohammed told the New York Times. “We want an open trial for those infidels who have burned our Holy Koran.”
And his response was subdued compared to that of Mohammed Anwar, an officer with the U.S.-allied Afghan police. “I will take revenge from the infidels for what they did to our Holy Koran, and I will kill them whenever I get the chance,” he said. “I don’t care about the job I have.”
A day later, when Anwar’s words were put into action by someone who undoubtedly had similar feelings, General Allen announced yet another investigation, this time with tough talk, not apologies, following. "I condemn today's attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave individuals lost today," he said in a statement provided to TomDispatch by ISAF. "We are investigating the crime and will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack. The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered."
Allen also took the unprecedented step of severing key points of contact with America’s Afghan allies. "For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul."
Unable to reboot relations with allies in Islamabad due to the unrest in Afghanistan (which was, in fact, already migrating across the border), the U.S. now found itself partially severing ties with its “partners” in Kabul as well. Meanwhile, back home, Gingrich and others raised the possibility of severing ties with President Karzai himself. In other words, the heat was rising in both the White House and the Afghan presidential palace, while any hope of controlling events elsewhere in either country was threatening to disappear.
As yet, the U.S. military has not taken the next logical step: barring whole categories of Afghans from American bases. “There are currently no discussions ongoing about limiting access to ISAF bases to our Afghan partners,” an ISAF spokesperson assured TomDispatch, but if the situation worsens, expect such discussions to commence.
The Beginning of the End?
As the Koran burning scandal unfolded, TomDispatch spoke to Raymond F. Chandler III, the Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army, the most senior enlisted member of that service. “Are there times that things happen that don’t go exactly the way we want or that people act in an unprofessional manner? Absolutely. It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We have a process in place to ensure that when those things don’t happen we conduct an investigation and hold people accountable.”
In Afghan eyes over the last decade, however, it’s accountability that has been sorely lacking, which is why many now in the streets are demanding not just apologies, but a local trial and the death penalty for the Koran burners. Although ISAF’s investigation is ongoing, its statements already indicate that it has concluded the book burnings were accidental and unintentional. This ensures one thing: those at fault, whom no American administration could ever afford to turn over to Afghans for trial anyway, will receive, at best, a slap on the wrist— and many Afghans will be further outraged.
In other words, twist and turn as they might, issue what statements they will, the Americans are now remarkably powerless in the Afghan context to stop the unraveling. Quite the opposite: their actions are guaranteed to ensure further anger among their Afghan “allies.”
Chandler, who was in Afghanistan last year and is slated to return in the coming months, said that he believed the United States was winning there, albeit with caveats. “Again, there are areas in Afghanistan where we have been less successful than others, but each one of those provinces, each one of those districts has their own set of conditions tied with the Afghan people, the Afghan government’s criteria for transition to the Afghan army and the Afghan national police, the Afghan defense forces, and we’re committed to that.” He added that the Americans serving there were “doing absolutely the best possible under the conditions and the environment.”
It turns out, however, that in Afghanistan today the “best” has not been sufficient. With even some members of the Afghan parliament now calling for jihad against Washington and its coalition allies, radical change is in the air. The American position is visibly crumbling. “Winning” is a distant, long-faded fantasy, defeat a rising reality.
Despite its massive firepower and staggering base structure in Afghanistan, actual power is visibly slipping away from the United States. American officials are already talking about not panicking (which indicates that panic is indeed in the air). And in an election year, with the Obama administration’s options desperately limited and what goals it had fast disappearing, it can only brace itself and hope to limp through until November 2012.
The end game in Afghanistan has, it seems, come into view, and after all these fruitless, bloody years, it couldn’t be sadder. Saddest of all, so much of the blood spilled has been for purposes, if they ever made any sense, that have long since disappeared into the fog of history.
To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 13:37
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (2-28-12)
Juan Ricardo Cole is a public intellectual, prominent blogger and essayist, and the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.
Rick Santorum said Monday that when he first heard John F. Kennedy’s speech on religion and politics, it made him want to puke. Santorum misrepresented what Kennedy said, of course. Kennedy welcomed the participation of religious people in American public life. Santorum is a secret dominionist, desiring a takeover of the US by rightwing religion, which is why he really objects to Kennedy’s statement. (Santorum is deeply under the influence of the scary Opus Dei cult.) But Santorum’s attack on President Kennedy started me thinking about the differences between these two Americans who put themselves forward as leaders of this country.
10. John F. Kennedy was a war hero who fought in the Pacific theater after America was the victim of a war of aggression.
Santorum is a chickenhawk who voted to send US soldiers into Iraq on false pretenses.
9. John F. Kennedy wanted universal health care to help the poor
Santorum wants to repeal the Health Care Reform that provides for every American to have health insurance....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 12:48
SOURCE: Truthout (2-27-12)
One of my favorite books as a teenager was Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" (1959). Heinlein imagined a future in which an elite all-volunteer military force would defend the Earth against a terrifyingly clever arachnid-like species of "bugs." One could never predict where the bugs would strike next, so one had to be on guard all the time and everywhere. And one had to take the fight to the bug enemy, capturing their controllers or "brain bugs" and torturing the same to get actionable intelligence. High-tech weaponry featured prominently as "force multipliers"; so, too, did private contractors, whose role it was to support the troopers so that all of the latter could focus on fighting and killing (a symbiotic warrior/corporation, if you will).
Vital as they were to societal preservation, only troopers, ex-troopers or other public servants had full citizenship rights, notably an exclusive right to vote and to hold office.
Heinlein's futuristic militarized society of hyper-capable troopers resonates today in the USA. Consider the latest Hollywood exaltation of our very own hyper-capable elite, the "real" Navy SEALs celebrated in the movie "Act of Valor." Consider President Obama's hyperbolic paeans of praise to America's "generation of heroes," members of "the finest military force the world has ever known." Consider our military's increasing reliance on unmanned drones (Predators and Reapers) - reminiscent of starships unleashing hellfire from orbit as in Heinlein's imagined universe - to smite the terrorist "bugs" from a distance.
America today celebrates the lethality of our all-volunteer "warriors" and "warfighters" even as we rely increasingly on private contractors to supply them and support them. We've effectively turned the Earth into a global kill zone as we reach out to squash "bugs" irrespective of national borders and international laws. We've become so enamored with our own "starship troopers" and our own drone ships that we deploy them to the most unpromising of situations and the most inhospitable of places (think Afghanistan) and expect them to prevail - or at least to keep the bugs over there.
At the same time as we celebrate our troopers, most Americans remain curiously detached from them and their wars, a situation again echoed in Heinlein's book. Heinlein himself depicted most people as weak-minded sheep in need of doers and defenders, the latter to be nurtured in harsh combat against a ruthless enemy. And while the USA today is, of course, led by a civilian commander in chief, our recent past suggests that our presidents are increasingly constrained if not controlled by a surging military establishment, a fact they are more than eager to praise, at least in public.
The dangers of a militarized society are many, but perhaps the most insidious is how global violence directed against "bugs" spills over into the domestic realm. Consider the response to the various "Occupy" movements, including the increasing use of "eye in the sky" surveillance platforms and police outfitted with the very latest in high-tech riot gear. Like Heinlein's troopers, police are striking hard and fast, using the element of surprise to corral and quash domestic "bugs" that are seen by our leaders as posing a threat to civil order in the homeland.
At least the police are forced to come to grips with their "bug" opponent, a process that sometimes leads to a level of comprehension, if not always compassion. Our military has increasingly detached itself from its killing violence, a fact illustrated by an ongoing transition from an "air" to a "chair" force. Today's warrior-drone pilots are at no risk whatsoever as they "fly," via remote control, their drone ships over foreign skies. These chair-bound snipers of the skies inflict death at a distance - both emotional and physical. They're like corporate severance specialists, rightsizing the bug enemy with Hellfire missiles - kinetic termination notices that once unleashed cannot be recalled.
And precisely because our chair-bound warriors are never at risk, precisely because our defense contractors are so eager to serve and empower them (and profit from them), we blithely accept their actions as being praiseworthy, even heroic. After all, they're keeping us safe by killing bugs.
If you're not windshield, you're bug. America may praise the former in the form of troopers and drones, but how many Americans are eager to admit to being the latter?
Societal "acts of valor" come in all forms. In choosing to elevate the most violent acts, even when such violence is needed for self-defense, we drink deeply from the wellsprings of militarized passion while spurning the serene waters of compassion.
"Above all else, a god needs compassion," a proud starship captain by the name of Jim Kirk once said. Today's proto-starship troopers - indeed, all of us - would do well to heed the valor and wisdom of his words.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 12:37
SOURCE: Dissent Magazine (2-28-12)
Michael Kazin is co-editor of Dissent and teaches history at Georgetown University. His most recent book is "A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan."
Fifty years ago, liberals and radicals were eager and able to think big. Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, sparked a campaign to defend and develop diverse urban neighborhoods. In 1962, Michael Harrington’s The Other America, with its startling revelations about the depth and extent of poverty, as well as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the first environmental best-seller, appeared. That summer, a band of twentysomethings, led by Tom Hayden, produced the “Port Huron Statement,” the manifesto of the white New Left, which offered participatory democracy as the antidote to an over-managed, bureaucratic society. Then, in 1963, James Baldwin’s angry yet hopeful The Fire Next Time branded racism “a recipe for murder”; and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique provided a candid, stirring diagnosis of female submission which helped galvanize the fledgling women’s movement.
The prose in all these works was forceful and often eloquent in its urgency. “Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living,” wrote Hayden and his comrades. Friedan’s “problem that has no name” would soon acquire one, sexism, which identified a set of grievances shared by millions of women. All six authors did much to set the agenda for the American Left, broadly defined, for the next two decades and more. Every major social movement echoed some or all of their ideas, and Democrats in the White House or with aspirations to live there had to respond. So why, a half-century later, has no one emulated these authors’ achievements?
Part of the answer, of course, is that American politics has marched decisively rightward since the 1970s and turned liberals into a defensive breed. The most prominent liberal writers—Paul Krugman, for example—now dedicate themselves to defending the reforms enacted from FDR to LBJ’s administration and rebutting free-market fantasies, rather than proposing fresh models or theories. The best-known radicals—like Michael Moore or Naomi Klein—produce witty critiques of global capitalism, but they lack both a credible alternative and a sensible strategy to achieve it. Perhaps another Hayden or Baldwin will emerge from the ranks of the Occupy protestors. But so far, that movement has generated memorable slogans rather than persuasive statements. It’s hard today to invoke a sustained passion for beginning the world over again....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 12:20
SOURCE: The New Republic (2-28-12)
Jeffrey Herf is a professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author, most recently, of Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World.
The world is nearing the point where it is going to have to make some difficult decisions about how to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon—among them, a decision about whether to use military force. Given Iran’s deep hostility to the United States and Israel, as well as its history of sponsoring terrorism, the importance of denying Iran a nuclear weapon cannot be overstated.
But, while President Obama says he believes Iran must be denied the bomb, his rhetoric on the subject has been curiously circumscribed. He has not made a major speech explaining to the American and global public why an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a threat to the United States or to the countries of the Middle East. He has not used his bully pulpit to detail the content of Iran’s genocidal threats to Israel. He has not explained why an Iranian bomb would doom his hopes for preventing further proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries. Even as he says things like “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” he has not explained to the country why a policy of containment and deterrence—which worked in the case of the Soviet Union—is deeply problematic in the case of Iran....
First, it is not true that the world “stands as one” regarding stopping Iran’s progress towards the bomb. For instance, while China supports some form of economic sanctions, it also continues to buy a great deal of oil from the country. So while the world may “stand as one” in wishing that Iran does not get the bomb, there is no unified position on how to translate this wish into reality....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 12:15
SOURCE: LA Times (2-24-12)
Max Boot is a contributing writer to Opinion. He is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present," due out in January 2013.
What is the logic behind the Obama administration's policy toward Afghanistan? On its face, it makes no sense.
In 2009, President Obama ordered a major buildup of forces to counter alarming gains by the Taliban and the Haqqani network. The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan increased from 34,000 when he took office to nearly 100,000 in 2010. To oversee the buildup he sent two top Army generals, Stanley A. McChrystal and then David H. Petraeus, to design and implement a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that the president signed off on.
In June of last year, however, Obama announced that 32,000 "surge" troops would come home by September 2012 — earlier than Petraeus and his superiors judged prudent. That move throws into peril their plan, which had called for shifting operations from the south — where U.S. troops have made considerable gains — to the wild and dangerous east....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 11:14
SOURCE: LA Times (02-26-12)
James Romm is a professor of classics at Bard College and author of Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire.
Posted on: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 17:07
SOURCE: New Republic (02-22-12)
Geoffrey Kabaservice’s most recent book is Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party.
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 13:17
SOURCE: Salon (2-22-12)
Michael Lind’s new book, "Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States", will be published in April and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.
Manufacturing is back in the news. The combination of Obama administration initiatives to help American manufacturing with criticism of China’s unfair trade and industrial policies by candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has produced a bipartisan backlash by prominent academic economists including Christine Romer, a Democrat and a former Obama economic adviser, in the New York Times., and Michael Boskin, a Republican and adviser to the first President Bush....
Basic theory. Mainstream academic economists like Romer and Boskin base their views of trade, not on the study of economic history or the actual policies of contemporary industrial countries, but on the theories of Adam Smith (absolute advantage) and David Ricardo (comparative advantage), dressed up in recent generations in seemingly-impressive but superficial mathematics. Despite their differences, the theories of absolute and comparative advantage assume that, in a technologically-static world, global economic efficiency, defined as the lowest prices for consumers, can be maximized if all countries, as well as firms and individuals, specialize in particular lines of production.
In contrast, proponents of industrial policy and other government aid to manufacturing base their views on the actual history of the world since the late 1800s and early 1900s, after Smith and Ricardo wrote. The four greatest economic powers in today’s world—the U.S., China, Japan and Germany—all became leading countries by ignoring the unrealistic theories of Smith and Ricardo and fostering selected national industries by some combination of tariffs, nontariff barriers, subsidies, public or publicly-funded R&D and credit policies favorable to manufacturing. If market fundamentalists were correct, these countries should be economic basket cases, instead of the world’s leading manufacturing powers. Even Japan, despite the aftermath of its real estate and stock bubble, remains a leader in many high-value-added industries.
Most growth in the last two centuries has resulted, not from the specialization of countries in one or a few sectors, but from the substitution of machinery powered by mineral energy for human and animal muscle power and the energy generated by wind, water and biomass. The unwise nations that followed the advice of Smith and Ricardo and specialized according to their preindustrial absolute or comparative advantages have been backward, non-industrialized, one-crop “banana republics” like those of Central America....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 16:52
SOURCE: Inside Story (AU) (2-22-12)
David Hayes is Deputy Editor of openDemocracy. He writes each month for Inside Story.
THE theme is familiar in many classic films with a Scottish setting. A questing outsider, usually English or American, enters a remote, rural, “highland” community where he finds himself seduced by the locals’ charm, intrigued by their difference, frustrated by their elusiveness and deflected by their guile. Some form of catharsis ensues, invariably signalled by a pivotal cèilidh (party) around halfway through. In the process, and as the tale hurtles towards resolution, both visitor and host are changed.
The focus of the search may be pillaged alcohol (Whisky Galore), oil-exploration rights (Local Hero), a missing girl (The Wicker Man) or an island marriage (I Know Where I’m Going!). The first two observe the hallowed formula by having respectively an English and American protagonist, the last two underline a singularity by making this figure respectively a “lowland” Scot and (as well as being English) a woman.
But the precise ingredient that raises these films to classic status is that they do more than portray, with joyous wit and insight, a collision of worlds: they also reflect on and subvert the very lenses (Anglicist romanticism, Celticist stereotype, and what Malcolm Chapman in a pathbreaking study, The Gaelic Vision in Scottish Culture, calls “symbolic appropriation”) through which this collision has historically been framed.
It is too early to say how far London’s political entry into Scotland, heralded with some fanfare in early January 2012 – its mission, thwarting at all costs the country’s “separation” from the rest of the United Kingdom – will unfold according to this time-honoured narrative arc; even more, what kind of outcome its encounter with the locals will achieve.
What can be said at this point of the constitutional tussle – which will culminate in a referendum on Scotland’s independence, probably in autumn 2014 – is that each side is intensely rehearsing its part; that those pesky Scots are both acutely aware of and unfazed by the high-stakes play they are involved in; and that the major speech by prime minister David Cameron in Edinburgh on 16 February, the highlight of the opening phase, suggests that the outsider is beginning, creatively, to explore the possibilities of its own more limited repertoire....
ALEX Salmond is fond of quoting the maxim of the great Irish home-ruler Charles Stewart Parnell: “No man may fix the boundary to the march of a nation.” Again uncharacteristic in its raising of a visionary standard, it is also an appropriate reminder that behind the sometimes all-consuming frenzy of the daily headlines – David Cameron makes a speech in Edinburgh! An opinion poll shows support for independence down by 2 per cent! – lies a history that continues to inform and, albeit in often less than straightforward ways, to shape the present.
Indeed, the appeal to history, the effort to bend it in a direction that serves the cause – of Scottish independence, British union, or whatever half-way house suits the moment or party – is an expected feature of all sides in the debate. On one side: ancient kingdoms (Pictland, Alba), martial heroes (Robert the Bruce, William Wallace), medieval battles (Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn), documents (the Lübeck letter, the Declaration of Arbroath), principles (the community of the realm, the sovereignty of the people), institutions (education, law), values (egalitarianism, smallness). On the other: ancient bonds (family, military), intellectual heroes (David Hume, Adam Smith), modern battles (Waterloo, two world wars), documents (the Treaty of Union), principles (freedom, globalisation), institutions (the monarchy, the BBC), values (pluralism, greatness)....
WHEN was Scotland? The sheer depth of the change seems to compel this variant of the question famously posed of his Welsh homeland by that unclassifiable historian, Gwyn A. Williams. It is implicit in much of the new Scotland’s rich historiography, including Tom Nairn’s pioneering The Break-Up of Britain, Michael Lynch’s Scotland: A New History, Tom Devine, Michael Fry and John Mackenzie’s books on Scotland and empire, Michael Keating’s The Independence of Scotland, Tom Gallagher’s sceptical The Illusion of Freedom: Scotland under Nationalism (and his major works on religious sectarianism in Glasgow and Edinburgh), Murray Pittock’s The Road to Independence? Scotland since the Sixties, Christopher Harvie’s Scotland and Nationalism (and his extraordinary inland-sea study The Atlantic Coast), and Neal Ascherson’s reverberative Stone Voices.
A canvas of centuries seems often to focus on the post-1945 decades, when the shared experience of war in Britain was then solidifed by state-led development, full employment and what Anthony Crosland called “welfare citizenship,” as both high-point of and turning-point in the British-unionist dimension inside Scotland (the “moment of Britain,” in Christopher Harvie’s words). The Conservative Party’s oft-cited 50.1 per cent of the vote in Scotland in the election of 1955 – a record achievement for any party – is another measure of “the world we have lost.” At the time the SNP was still miniscule, though the huge support for a “Scottish covenant” in 1947–50 calling for “a Parliament with adequate legislative authority in Scottish affairs” and the popular reaction to the “Stone of Destiny” escapade, expressed underlying national sentiments that as yet lacked political confidence....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 14:38
SOURCE: NY Review of Books (2-21-12)
Last week, the New York State Education Department and the teachers’ unions reached an agreement to allow the state to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. The pact was brought to a conclusion after Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the parties that if they didn’t come to an agreement quickly, he would impose his own solution (though he did not explain what that would be). He further told school districts that they would lose future state aid if they didn’t promptly implement the agreement after it was released to the public. The reason for this urgency was to secure $700 million promised to the state by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, contingent on the state’s creating a plan to evaluate teachers in relation to their students’ test scores.
The new evaluation system pretends to be balanced, but it is not. Teachers will be ranked on a scale of 1-100. Teachers will be rated as “ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.” Forty percent of their grade will be based on the rise or fall of student test scores; the other sixty percent will be based on other measures, such as classroom observations by principals, independent evaluators, and peers, plus feedback from students and parents.
But one sentence in the agreement shows what matters most: “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective overall.” What this means is that a teacher who does not raise test scores will be found ineffective overall, no matter how well he or she does with the remaining sixty percent. In other words, the 40 percent allocated to student performance actually counts for 100 percent. Two years of ineffective ratings and the teacher is fired....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 11:37
SOURCE: CNN.com (2-20-12)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" (Times Books) and author of the book "Governing America" (Princeton University Press).
Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- The outcome of the election of 2012 is becoming even tougher to predict, since there are many political landmines facing both parties.
President Barack Obama has enjoyed a resurgence in his political standing, with polls showing him ahead of the GOP rivals in hypothetical matchups for the general election. Recent statistics showing an improving economy have bolstered the president's position, while his budget proposal and increasingly populist rhetoric have generated some excitement within the base of the Democratic Party.
On the Republican side, Mitt Romney remains the front-runner, though barely, still enjoying the kind of edge in campaign contributions that is essential to victory....
For Obama, the biggest threat is Europe. Even though leaders have put bailout plans in place and nations have started to grapple with their budget problems, the governments of Greece, Italy and other nations remain fiscally unstable. If any of these countries should default, they could trigger the kind of financial chaos in world markets that could doom Obama's re-election bid....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 20:46
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (2-21-12)
The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The History of American Presidential Elections. Follow Gil on Twitter: @Gil_Troy
I had a disorienting experience in New York two weeks ago. I attended a discussion about Israel on campus that lacked hysteria, acknowledged complexity, and advocated nuance. The David Project launched its white paper “A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges.” The question mark after “Burning Campus” reflected a growing sophistication in American Jews’ conversation about Israel on campus.
The writers of the David Project’s analysis – with whom I consulted and for whom I wrote the foreword – dared announce that “Campus is largely not a hostile environment for Jewish students.” Actually, Jews are enjoying a golden age in American universities. There have never been so many Jewish students and professors, Jewish studies programs and identity-building experiences. “Relatively few” of the more than 4000 post-secondary American institutions “have an anti-Israel problem.” Yet, this also is a golden age for Israel-bashing on campus. The study correctly warns that “pervasive negativity toward Israel on key leading American university and college campuses is likely to erode long-term bipartisan support for the Jewish state.”
We cannot be complacent. American university culture welcomes hard left views that trend against Israel. Too many professors commit academic malpractice, preaching not teaching, frequently propagandizing to demonize Israel. Outside class, an aggressive, self-righteous anti-Israel movement intimidates many pro-Israel students and has discouraged pro-Israel forces from using the Z-word – Zionist. This anti-Israel movement will soon launch anti-Israel hate weeks in a dozen or two campuses across North America, perpetuating the New Big Lie that Zionism is racism and comparing Israel to South Africa’s racist apartheid....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 20:39
SOURCE: National Review (02-21-12)
NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of the just-released The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 19:18
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (02-17-12)
The writer’s books include The Storm of War and A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900.
Posted on: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 16:35
SOURCE: The New Republic (2-8-12)
Michael Kazin is the author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is co-editor of Dissent.
Every significant political movement creates, or inherits, a compelling image of the people it vows to liberate and serve. The contemporary American right, for instance, idealizes the self-reliant, nuclear family in its modest home, with Bible verses on the wall and a flagpole in the yard. But what image comes to mind when progressives think about the Americans who would benefit from a more egalitarian society? None of the images or phrases currently in vogue are all that inspiring. “Middle class” merely describes a bland, imprecise economic status. “The 99 percent,” the slogan of Occupy Wall Street, is certainly majoritarian and inclusive; but it begs the question of what, besides wealth, distinguishes that vast throng from the tiny, super-rich minority. Bill Clinton’s praise, two decades ago, of those who “work hard and play by the rules” certainly had the ring of virtue; but it never stuck politically.
Liberals and radicals did not always have such trouble describing the group for whom they were fighting. Throughout much of U.S. history, activists and politicians on the left spoke glowingly about “the producers”—those Americans who used their bodies and their minds to grow, manufacture, or transport goods that everyone needed or who, through medicine, education, or some other professional field, provided important services.
The “producer ethic” had its origins in the eighteenth century. The Jeffersonian farmer William Manning saw the new nation divided “between those that Labour for a living and those that git a Living without Bodily Labour.” A century later, Ignatius Donnelly, in his bravura address to the first convention of the People’s Party, argued that “wealth belongs to him who creates it.” Then, for support, he quoted St. Paul: “If any will not work neither shall he eat.” In 1909, the magazine of the American Federation of Labor ran a long, anonymously authored poem in praise of “the average man” who “is the man of the mill/The man of the valley, or man of the hill/The man at the throttle, the man at the plow— ... There is not a purpose, a project, or plan/But rests on the strength of the average man.”...
Posted on: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 13:34
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (2-19-12)
As someone who teaches both history and international relations, I have one foot in each camp. I'm interested in what has already happened. And I'm interested in what will happen next. In my teaching and my writing, I try to locate connecting tissue that links past to present. Among the devices I've employed to do that is the concept of an "American Century."
That evocative phrase entered the American lexicon back in February 1941, the title of an essay appearing in Life magazine under the byline of the publishing mogul Henry Luce. In advancing the case for U.S. entry into World War II, the essay made quite a splash, as Luce intended. Yet the rush of events soon transformed "American Century" into much more than a bit of journalistic ephemera. It became a summons, an aspiration, a claim, a calling, and ultimately the shorthand identifier attached to an entire era. By the time World War II ended in 1945, the United States had indeed ascended—as Luce had forecast and perhaps as fate had intended all along—to a position of global primacy. Here was the American Century made manifest....
Luce's essay manages to be utterly ludicrous and yet deeply moving. Above all, this canonical assertion of singularity—identifying God's new Chosen People—is profoundly American. (Of course, I love Life in general. Everyone has a vice. Mine is collecting old copies of Luce's most imaginative and influential creation—and, yes, my collection includes the issue of February 17, 1941.)
Alas, the bracing future that Luce confidently foresaw back in 1941 has in our own day slipped into the past. If an American Century ever did exist, it's now ended. History is moving on—although thus far most Americans appear loath to concede that fact....
Posted on: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 09:35
SOURCE: WaPo (2-16-12)
Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history and education at New York University, is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”
I’m an Ivy League graduate and a crazed basketball fan. That gives me two very good reasons to celebrate the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin, the Harvard-educated point guard who has brought the New York Knicks back to life.
But I’m also a university professor. So I’m troubled by the much-heard refrain that Lin — whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants — has “overcome the Asian stereotype.” In the popular mind, this story goes, Asian Americans are quiet, studious and really good at math. By scoring 20 or more points in each of his first six NBA starts, including 38 against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin supposedly dealt a decisive blow against an insidious ethnic caricature.
But isn’t that stereotype — especially the part about studying hard — a very good model to follow? Why should anyone want or need to “overcome” it?
Here’s one sad answer: In our college admissions process, especially, we punish Asian Americans who hew too closely to the stereotype. Rather than rewarding students for their individual effort and achievement, we effectively penalize them for doing so well as a group....
Posted on: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 11:23
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (02-15-2012)
Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist. His personal website is www.timothygartonash.com.
..Individuals make history. If the last leader of the Soviet Union had not been a man called Mikhail Gorbachev, the world would be a different place. So the character and views of China's leader-designate, Xi Jinping, who is currently visiting the United States, do matter. After spending several years failing to obtain a clear impression of President Hu, attention now turns to the man who will, barring accidents, succeed him.
The best thumbnail summary that I have read comes in a forthcoming book by Jonathan Fenby, titled Tiger Head, Snake Tails. (The title refers to modern China, not vice-president Xi.) As you would expect, the available evidence is thin and inconclusive. The fact that Xi suffered personally in the Cultural Revolution ("I ate a lot more bitterness than most people"), the reformist communist sympathies of his father, his evident pragmatism, the discovery that he has a sister in Canada, a brother in Hong Kong and a daughter studying under a pseudonym at Harvard: all this suggests someone who might push forward essential political reforms at home and be equipped with a better understanding of the west.
The fact that he has risen to the top by carefully staying on the right side of all the main groups in the communist establishment, his close ties to the People's Liberation Army, his remarkable outburst in Mexico in 2009, denouncing "some bored foreigners, with full stomachs, who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us": these straws point to a potentially colder wind from the east.
Every little phrase and gesture in his current American trip will be pored over with neo-Kremlinological zeal, to identify him as either great reformer or hardnosed realist. Or, inevitably, "enigmatic". As with Gorbachev, western leaders may get hints of the personality now, but we won't really know until he's firmly in the saddle, which means 2013 at the earliest...
Posted on: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 13:59