Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
Pierre Trudeau may get his place in the mountains after all.
Four years after an avalanche of criticism prompted then-prime minister Jean Chretien to abandon plans to rename Canada's highest peak - Mount Logan in the Yukon - for his former cabinet colleague, other plans for a Mount Trudeau are in the works.
This one comes from the village of Valemount, a community of about 1,400 people in the picturesque mountains of northeast British Columbia. Residents of the sawmill town that is a popular centre for heli-skiing and summer hiking want a peak in the nearby Premier Range of the Cariboo Mountains named Mount Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
"This seems like the perfect spot because he was a real outdoors and nature enthusiast," says Valemount Mayor Jeannette Townsend of Trudeau, who died in 2000. She says she hopes to have the designation completed over the next few months with a ceremony sometime next year.
Within a few years, Townsend sees the mountain as the backdrop for a new interpretive centre on the shores of Swift Creek. It would offer visitors historical and cultural information on the region, including its aboriginal communities and salmon spawning grounds.
Chretien's attempt to supplant Sir William Logan, the 19th-century explorer-surveyor who founded the Geological Survey of Canada and is regarded as one of the country's most important scientists, was met with howls of protest. Complaints came from historians, politicians, aboriginal groups and rank-and-file Canadians who wrote angry letters and flooded radio talk shows and Internet polls to denounce the plans.
Within two weeks, the government relented.
"The message that has been sent by Canadians is that we have to make sure that in respecting Mr. Trudeau's memory, we do not cause any difficulty for the history of Mount Logan," then-heritage minister Sheila Copps told reporters. She added that the late prime minister's family wanted any commemoration to have"great public support" while the government's intention was to avoid" controversy" in the way it paid tribute.
George Bush has insisted repeatedly on the campaign trail that his presidency has been characterized by unwavering policies based on core convictions. But a key component of his security and military strategy -- a willingness to wage war"pre-emptively" against perceived enemies -- lies largely in tatters, say experts and policy-makers.
These experts, from both sides of the political spectrum, say the brutal experience in Iraq has eroded many elements of what has come to be called the"Bush doctrine," leaving the United States with less flexibility in the war on terror.
President Bush himself appeared to dial back on the doctrine during Thursday night's debate when asked whether he would launch future pre-emptive strikes in the wake of the Iraq war. Bush replied, somewhat unenthusiastically, that"a president must always be willing to use troops," but only"as a last resort."
That is a far cry from the bold policy the president articulated in 2002, which rejected the traditional focus on containing threats or responding only after an enemy had staged a clear act of aggression.
In fact, say policy experts, the violent insurgency in Iraq, which has tied down 140,000 U.S. troops, has all but removed Americans' stomach for a similar pre-emptive engagement against an enemy who has not actually launched or prepared an imminent attack on the United States.
Iraq"will leave a long and damaging legacy," said Fred Ikle, a senior government arms control expert for decades who has argued that the United States must be more willing to use military might to achieve its goals."It will inhibit us more than is good for our future. We fumbled."
Ikle was one of the founders of the Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative group that has long pressed for a more muscular American military posture, and includes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- key architects of the Iraq war -- among its members.
Ikle's views are echoed by other prominent neoconservative thinkers.
"The appetite for this kind of action in the country is pretty low at the moment," said Max Boot, a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Boot, an early supporter of the Iraq war, said that the United States is likely to launch small-scale pre-emptive strikes as needed in the future, much as Israel does against its enemies, but not the kind of large-scale attacks that were at the center of the Bush doctrine's aim of pressuring enemies to change or risk being destroyed.
"If, by some miracle, Iraq looks better in a few years, maybe there will be greater interest in the idea," said Boot.
The Bush administration continues to insist that the doctrine remains U.S. policy. It has a number of elements, including an insistence that any state that supports terrorists will be considered an enemy, that the United States has the right to attack such countries pre-emptively -- even, as in the case of Iraq, before an enemy has mounted a challenge or the president feels there is an imminent threat of an attack.
Under the doctrine, the United States would also act to prevent any country from even attempting to match American military might.
Most of these elements were outlined in speeches in 2002 and then codified in September 2002, in a 33-page document called"The National Security Strategy of the United States." It stated that terrorism presented a new kind of danger and needed a new kind of response.
Michael Schwartz, at www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute (Oct. 6, 2004):
[Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has worked for 30 years measuring and analyzing public opinion. Once upon a time, he was also a founding partner of MarketCast, where he pioneered the use of multivariate analysis in measuring attitudes toward movies while designing and executing over 1000 attitude surveys for major movie studios. He writes regularly for Tomdispatch.com. His email address is email@example.com.]
If your anti-Bush sentiments have turned into electoral passion, then you probably restrained your exhilaration after last Thursday's debate until you got a sense of how it played to the American electorate; which means, how it played in the polls that began to pour out only moments after the event ended. The first"instant" polls seemed to indicate a Kerry victory, and by Sunday the Newsweek poll (considered notoriously unreliable by the pros) had appeared with the news that Kerry had pulled even or might be ahead in the presidential sweepstakes. If it was then that the real rush of excitement hit you, face it, like a host of other Americans, you're a polls addict.
Opinion polls are the narcotic of choice for the politically active part of the American electorate. Like all narcotics, polls have their uses: they sometimes allow us to function better as political practitioners or even as dreamers, and don't forget that fabulous rush of exhilaration when our candidate shows dramatic gains. But polls are an addiction that also distort our political feelings and actions even as they trivialize political campaigns -- and they allow our political and media suppliers to manipulate us ruthlessly. The negatives, as pollsters might say, outweigh the positives.
But let's start with the good things, the stuff that makes people monitor polls in the first place, relying on them to determine their moods, their attitudes, and their activities. The centerpiece of all that's good in the polls lies in the volatility of public opinion, a trait that polls certainly discovered. The scientific consensus before World War II had it that political attitudes were bedrock, unchanging values.
Take, for example, Bush's"job rating", as measured by that tried and true polling question:"How would you rate the overall job President George W. Bush is doing as president?' The Zogby Poll's results are typical; until September 11, 2001, the President had low ratings -- about 50% of Americans rated him"excellent" or"good." Then his approval ratings surged to a stratospheric 82%. This makes sense; people rally around a president during a time of crisis.
What happened next is harder to explain. Despite the fact that wartime presidents almost always have huge support for the duration of the conflict, Bush's approval rating began a sustained decline, losing 20 points in the next 12 months (leading up to the first anniversary of 9/11) and another 12 points the following year. By September 2003, his approval rating had hit the 50% level again.
Virtually every group of political activists quickly grasped the significance of this decline: Something surprising was happening to our"war president." In this case, the polls helped to inspire peace activists to rebuild a quiescent anti-war (or at least anti-Bush) movement, because they knew (from the polls) that the decline in his approval rating was largely due to the war. The same figures convinced a whole host of important Democratic politicians to declare for the presidency, bringing well-heeled financial backers with them. And they triggered a campaign by Karl Rove and his posse of Bush partisans to discredit Bush's attackers.
Poll results can be a boon to informed and effective politics; they alert activists and others to the receptiveness of the public on important issues. But the key fact that makes polls valuable -- that public opinion is a volatile thing -- also turns polls into an addictive drug that distorts and misleads. Once the addiction forms, we all want to know (immediately, if not sooner) the"impact" of every event, large or small, on the public's attitudes, so that we can frame our further actions in light of this evidence. And this responsiveness means that instead of sustained organizing around important issues that can have long-lasting impact on political discourse, we increasingly go for the"quick fix," especially attention-getting gimmicks that can create short-term shifts in the public-opinion polls which then, of course, feed more of the same.
The use of polls to determine the immediate impact of less-than-monumental events is a fruitless -- and often dangerous -- enterprise. There are two interconnected reasons why this is true. First, polls are at best blunt instruments. They can measure huge changes over time, like the enduring shifts of 30%, 20% and 12% in Bush's ratings, but they are no good at measuring more subtle changes of opinion in, say, the 3-5% range. As the famous (and much ignored)"margin of error" warning that goes with all polls indicates, this incapacity is built into the technology of polling and cannot be eliminated by any means currently available. One sign of it is the often-used phrase in news reports that a 3% difference between candidates is a"statistical tie" (which everyone promptly ignores and which in any case might actually indicate a 6% difference in the candidates). And that 3%"margin of error" is only one of five or six possible inaccuracies. The sad fact is that even a 15% difference between two candidates might not exist, unless it is replicated over time and/or across several different polls.
Let's take an example that, for most people, no longer carries the emotional weight it once did -- the 2000 election. If you had consulted the Gallup poll on most days late in that campaign, you would not have known that the vote would prove to be a virtual dead heat. On October 21, with a little more than two weeks to go, Gallup did show Gore ahead by 1%. Three days later, Bush had surged in the same poll and was ahead by a staggering looking 13%. The election appeared to be over.
We now know that this surge was a blunder by Gallup. For one thing, other polls simply did not record it. But more important we know that, as volatile as public opinion can indeed be, it is not nearly this volatile, except under the stimulus of events like 9/11. This"surge," like virtually all such surges, actually reflected the fundamental inability of polls to measure day-to-day changes in attitudes -- especially voting intention. This is so because of all sorts of arcane polling problems which would take a semester of graduate school to fully review. But let's look at just two examples.
Consider, for instance, the fact that many young adults party on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Since the trends recently have been for young singles to be Democratic, you can expect fewer Democrats and more Republicans to be home during polling hours on those days. And that's but a single example of changes in polling audiences. Daily polls, in other words, often record large fluctuations in attitudes because questions are being asked of very different audiences. Even time of day can make a big difference. (Think of who is at home on Sunday afternoons during football season.) This, in turn, forces pollsters to make all sorts of adjustments (with fancy scientific names like"stratified sampling" and"weighted analysis"). And these adjustments are problematic; in the context of daily electoral polls they often add to that margin or error instead of reducing it.
No One Knows Who is Going to Vote
There are lots of other problems, but the big kahuna, when it comes to an election, is that we only want to interview people who are actually going to vote (a little over 50% of all eligible voters in a typical presidential election -- and possibly closer to 60% in this atypical year). One way to eliminate the non-voters is by looking only at registered voters, but that is just a partial solution, since in most elections fewer than 80% of registered voters actually vote. What pollsters need to find out is: Which of those registered voters are actually going to vote. This is made particularly crucial, because while there are a great many more registered Democrats than Republicans, the Republicans usually narrow that gap by being more diligent in getting to the polls.
But there is no way to figure out accurately who is going to vote. Going to the polls on Election Day is a very complicated phenomenon, made even more so this year by the huge number of new registrations in swing states. It is almost impossible for pollsters to know who among these new voters will actually vote. While many potential voters have a consistent track record -- always voting or rarely voting -- many others are capricious. For these"episodic voters," factors like weather conditions and distance to the polls mix with levels of enthusiasm for a favorite candidate in an unstable brew that will determine whether or not they get to the polling station. In fact, who is"likely to vote" actually varies from day-to-day and week-to-week and there's just about no way of measuring (ahead of time) what will happen on the only day of the only week that matters, November 2.
Pollsters, in fact, are really in a pickle. If they rely on previous voting behavior (as many polls do), they're likely to exclude virtually all first-time voters. Since the preponderance of newly registered voters are young singles (who, we remember, tend to be Democrats), they will be underestimating the Democratic turnout. So many polls (including Gallup) ask episodic and first-time voters about their enthusiasm for their candidate and their commitment to voting, in order to weed out those who have little real interest and very little energy for dragging themselves to the polls.
But this creates new distortions. For example, a big news story, including a polling-influenced one like the recent Bush"surge," can suddenly (but usually briefly) energize potential new Bush voters, turning them into"likely voters"; at the same time, it may demoralize Kerry backers, removing some of them from the ranks of"likely voters." Two days or two weeks later another event (the first Presidential debate, any sort of October surprise, or you name it) may create an entirely different mixture. And come election time, none of this may be relevant. On that day the weather may intervene, or any of a multitude other emotions may arise. So"likely voter" polls are always extremely volatile, even though the underlying proportion of people who support each candidate may change very little.
What this means is that a large proportion of all dramatic polling fluctuations --this year and every year -- are simply not real in any meaningful sense. But this does not stop election campaign managers and local activists from developing or altering their activities based on them, which only contributes to a failure to mount sustained campaigns based on important issues, while focusing on superficial attention-getting devices.
You Can't Tell Which Poll is Right
This leads us to the second huge problem with polls: Different polls taken at the same time often produce remarkably different results. Fifteen percent discrepancies between polls are not all that rare. If a group of polls use just slightly different samples (all of them reasonably accurate), slightly different questions (all reasonable in themselves), and slightly different analytic procedures (all also reasonable), the range of results can be substantial indeed. If, in addition, they call at different times of the day or on different days of the week, the differences can grow even larger. And if they use different definitions of"likely voters," as they almost surely will, the discrepancies can be enormous.
To see how such a cascade of decisions really screws up our ability to rely on polls, consider the now famous"bounce" that Bush got from the Republican Convention. The media, using selected opinion polls, conveyed the impression that Bush surged from a"statistical tie" to a double-digit lead. Many of my friends -- Kerry supporters all -- felt the election was lost. (Some of them would certainly have fallen from the ranks of Gallup's"likely voters"). Things got so bad that Michael Moore sent a letter to all the Kerry supporters he could reach, telling them to stop being crybabies and get back to work.
This is a prime example of the polls having a profoundly detrimental effect on public behavior, because the bounce for Bush was moderate at best. In fact, the most reasonable interpretation of the polls as a group suggests that there may have been a shift in public opinion from slightly pro-Kerry (he may have had as much as a 3% advantage) to slightly pro-Bush (perhaps as much as 4%). A plausible alternative view, supported by a minority of the reliable polls, would be that the race was a"statistical dead heat" before the convention and remained so afterward, interrupted only by an inconsequential temporary bounce.
To see why a moderate interpretation is a reasonable one, you need to consider all the polls, not just the ones that grabbed the headlines. I looked at the first 20 national polls (Sept 1 to Sept 22) after the end of the Republican convention, as recorded by PollingReport.com, the best source for up-to-date polling data. Only three gave him a double-digit lead. Two others gave him a lead above 5%, and the remaining 15 showed his lead to be 4% or less -- including two that scored the race a dead heat. In other words, taking all the polls together, Bush, who was probably slightly behind before the convention, was probably slightly ahead afterward. Certainly the media are to blame for our misimpression, but before we get to the media, let's consider how various polls could disagree so drastically.
Fortunately there are some energetic experts, especially Steve Soto and Ruy Teixeira, who have sorted this discrepancy out. The bottom line is simple: the double-digit polls far overestimated the relative number of Republicans voters. Gallup, the poll that has been most closely analyzed, had 40% Republicans in their sample of likely voters, and only 33% Democrats along with 27% Independents. This might seem okay to the naked eye, but it turns out that in the last two elections, about 4% more Democrats than Republicans trooped into the voting booths; and this, logically enough, was the proportion that the other polls used. Since 90% of Republicans right now claim they will choose Bush and 85% of Democrats say they will choose Kerry, this explains the gross difference between Gallup and most other polls; Gallup, that is, would have given Bush a 4% lead if it had used the same party proportions as the other polls.
How, then, could Gallup do such a thing? Though Gallup's explanation is complicated, it relies on the fact that, until Election Day, nobody can actually know how many Republicans and Democrats are going to show up at the polls. All polling agencies are actually predicting (or less politely, guessing) how many Democrats and Republicans will vote. Scientific and journalistic ethics might seem to dictate basing your present guesses closely on past elections, but Gallup can always simply claim that their information suggests a shift toward Republican affiliation and/or a much higher Republican turnout. In this case, the lack of any substantiating evidence for such a claim has led to accusations that Gallup's decision was politically motivated.
But in some ways, those exaggerated Gallup results are only a side issue when it comes to polls and this election. Don't lose track of the fact that even the"good" polls show a startling range of results that renders them almost useless in accurately determining the relative position of the candidates. Remember… the post-convention non-corrupt polls still ranged from zero to 8% in favor of Bush. That spread may sound modest, but in real-world terms its extremes represent the difference between a dead heat and a landslide. And there is really no way to tell who is right. In addition, because the media are under no obligation to report all of them, they can select the poll or polls that come closest to their predilection (or that simply offer the most shock or drama) and present them as the definitive results, ignoring or suppressing those that offer a contrasting portrait of the situation.
To see how pervasive this problem is, consider this sobering fact: The media have been reporting that the first debate pulled Kerry back into a"statistical dead heat." This is a source of exhilaration in the Kerry camp and (if we can believe media reports) significant re-evaluation in the Bush camp. It has certainly affected the moods of their supporters. But there is a good chance that this Kerry bounce was inconsequential. According to Zogby and Rasmussen -- two of the most reliable and respected polling agencies -- the Bush lead had already devolved into a"statistical dead heat" and the debate had no significant impact on the overall race.
Granted, these two polls are a minority, but in polling, unfortunately, the minority is often right. For a vivid example, consider the polls taken the last weekend before the 2000 presidential election. Since the election itself was a virtual dead heat, well conducted polls should have called it within that 3% margin of error -- with some going for Gore and some going for Bush. But that is not what happened: PollingReport.com reports scientifically valid polls taken in the last weekend before the 2000 presidential election. Fully 17 gave Bush a lead, ranging from 1% to 9%, while only two predicted that Gore would win (by 2% and 1%); one called it a tie. Even if you remove the absurd 9% Bush advantage, the average of the polls would have been a Bush would win by 3% -- which in our Electoral College system would have translated into something like a 100 vote electoral majority. In other words, even in a collection of the best polls doing their very best to predict an election, the majority was wrong and only a small minority was right.
Consider then that there are three extant interpretations of what has happened since just before the Republican Convention. In one rendering, promulgated almost unanimously by the media, Bush experienced a double-digit convention surge and held onto most of this lead until Kerry brought the race back to even with his sterling debate performance. This widely held interpretation is almost certainly wrong, but two plausible interpretations remain. The first, supported by the preponderance of polls, tracks a modest post-convention bounce for Bush and an offsetting modest bounce for Kerry after the initial debate. The second, supported by at least two respected polling agencies, finds no real bounce after either media event. We don't know which of these is correct, but it would certainly be refreshing if the American electorate was making up its mind on the basis of real issues and not staged media circuses that center on essentially unreadable polling results.
Kicking the habit
Three things are worth remembering, if you can't kick the poll-watching habit:
(1) Any individual poll can be off by 15%.
(2) Any collection of honestly conducted polls, looked at together, will show a very wide range of results and you won't be able to tell which of them is right.
(3) Even the collective results of a large number of polls probably will not give you an accurate read on a close election.
From these three points comes the most important conclusion of all -- don't let the polls determine what you think or what you do.
Watch out for the pushers
Finally, let's look briefly at the way the mass media -- the pushers of this statistical drug -- use the polls to build their ratings or sales and advance their political agendas.
The Gallup double-digit lead after the Republican convention was certainly an attention-getter: Bush supporters couldn't hear enough about their winner and Kerry supporters compulsively began to view their campaign as a train wreck. After the first shock, everyone -- addicts all -- came back for more just as the media might have desired. Bush supporters were ready to hear more good news and Kerry supporters were waiting for better news.
So why not the same in reverse? Based on subsequent polls, the media could easily have claimed that Kerry was on his way to a remarkable comeback -- a number of polls seemed to indicate this within days -- which would have triggered the same pattern in reverse. They didn't do it, however, and as a result created an ongoing pattern of demoralization among Kerry supporters and confident enthusiasm among Bush supporters for the better part of a month.
This political favoritism was, in fact, part of a larger pattern in which even the"liberal media" give the administration a"pass" on certain issues. (The New York Times and the Washington Post have even admitted that they did this on the run-up to the war.) Such favoritism is by no means inevitable, as the exposure stories on Abu Ghraib demonstrate and as the present post-first-debate Kerry"bounce" makes clear enough. Driven by poll-addicted reporters, that"bounce," based on no less reliable polling procedures than the original"Bush Convention Bounce," is getting a full measure of media attention, belatedly but effectively reversing the exhilaration-demoralization equation.
The emotional roller coast that results from misleading fluctuations in poll results, managed by manipulative media outlets is the most dramatic symptom of the larger problem. They keep us riveted on the minutia of the debates (in this case,"presentation and demeanor" are the major foci of the analyses of why Kerry won), while distracting the electorate from the underlying issues that have animated people's discontent with the Bush administration in the first place. Lost in the excitement over the Kerry first-debate victory are his promises of more troops and a more aggressive foreign policy. The rise in the polls makes this belligerent posture acceptable, and even dedicated anti-war activists end up suspending their politics in the excitement over the return of the Presidential race to a"statistical dead heat."
Our reliance on polls for political validation combines with unscrupulous press coverage of these polls to create a lethal threat to our political sanity and our political effectiveness. Our addiction to polls has done more than enhance the already unacceptable power of the media; it has also redirected our attention and efforts away from policy and toward trivial personality contests at a time when much is at stake.
Isn't it about time we began to think about how to kick the habit?
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
JOHN KERRY is famously hard to pin down; you can reach out to grasp his opinion only to find that it has flitted away like a bashful butterfly, or a goldfish you are trying to catch with your bare hands. But nowadays his pronouncements and campaign ads are easy to read. They suggest that Iraq is like Vietnam; that our top priority is accordingly not to win but to get out. John Kerry evidently believes, a propos Vietnam, that we should have run away sooner. Many Americans disagree. Many Americans believe that we should have stood by our friends until a free and stable South Vietnam had taken root.
What is the "lesson of Vietnam"? It's a hard question, in a way; virtually all Americans agree that Vietnam was a tragedy and a national humiliation--and, at least during the years when William Westmoreland was in command, a badly fought war. Kerry seems to believe that these propositions lead to only one possible conclusion. By shouting "Vietnam!" he thinks he can induce desperation and make Americans turn in horror to the Democrats begging for relief, begging to be pulled out of this awful quagmire. His mistake is something like Abu Musab al Zarqawi's. I don't say Kerry is like Zarqawi, of course not. But Zarqawi believes that by committing barbarities on videotape, he has made Americans tremble with fear; in fact we are trembling with rage. (And someday this mistake will be vividly brought home to him.) Kerry believes that by saying "we
are facing another Vietnam," he can frighten people; and some Americans will indeed be frightened. Far more will say: If this be Vietnam, make the most of it. Let's do it right this time.
President Bush should announce: You want to talk Vietnam? Fine, let's talk. Kerry believes that Iraq is turning into a Vietnam-like "quagmire"; the assertion is false, and it's important that voters know why it is false. But there is a more important, deeper-lying disagreement under the surface. Bush obviously stands with the large contingent of Americans who are determined that, if we ever did face another Vietnam, never again would we pull out in a headlong rush and leave our allies sinking in the mud, clutching at our helicopter skids as we fly away, with the wreck of the new and better nation we had tried to build collapsing around their heads. Never again will we treat America's trustworthiness and honor, and the hopes of our friends, and the blood-sacrifices of our soldiers, like bad debts to be written off with a shudder.
We fought in South Vietnam to protect that country from a torrent of Communist evil threatening to roll down from the North. I suppose not many Americans remember the details. But surely a fair number do remember how Congress concluded that Vietnam was a quagmire, a mistake, the wrong war at the wrong time. Whereupon it refused to vote any more money for the war, not one more cent; whereupon we pulled out in a gathering panic, and South Vietnam fell to the invading tanks of the North. Then the picture goes blank. Totalitarian regimes don't like network cameramen advertising the little clean-up that invariably accompanies the establishment of a brand new absolute dictatorship. But many Americans surely recall that, after we ran away, something awful happened. The evil rolled down in a flood. Huge numbers put to sea in rickety rowboats. Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge and its bosses, a group of French-trained Communist intellectuals who created a virtually indescribable hell-on-earth. Millions died.
The truth about Communist South Vietnam leaked out gradually. Hundreds of thousands were executed; many more were thrown into "reeducation" camps--estimates range from a few hundred thousand to over a million inmates. "What Vietnam has given us," wrote Tom Wicker of the New York Times after the Communist victory, is "a vast tide of human misery in Southeast Asia." Two sentences convey more about the regime's character than a page of statistics. In Why We Were in Vietnam, Norman Podhoretz quotes Doan Van Toai, a political prisoner jailed by the Communists after we left and they triumphed. "I was thrown into a three-foot-by-six-foot cell with my left hand chained to my right foot and my right hand chained to my left foot. My food was rice mixed with sand." There in two sentences is the reason we were right to fight and wrong to run. Americans have g ood cause to reject John Kerry's suggestion that, if Iraq is like Vietnam, getting out is our number one priority. If it is truly like Vietnam, all the more reason to fight relentlessly and to think of victory, only victory, until the enemy has been beaten to bits. Americans want to erase the worst national humiliation we have ever suffered, not recreate it.
But Iraq is not like Vietnam. We control most of the country. A strong and able Iraqi government fights alongside us. The enemy has no phony romantic aura bearing it up, wafting it along; Jane Fonda has failed to materialize in Falluja. (At
least, as this magazine goes to press.) But there is something to the Vietnam analogy. Thanks to Vietnam we now understand how a credulous press corps can turn a massive enemy defeat into a first-class victory. At the end of January 1968, the North Vietnamese and the (indigenous-to-the-South) Vietcong launched attacks throughout the South, known as the Tet offensive. They failed disastrously. The attackers suffered more than 40,000 casualties; the Vietcong were virtually wiped out. "Intended to destroy South Vietnamese officialdom and spark a popular uprising," writes Derek Leebaert, "Tet ironically had more of an effect in turning South Vietnam's people against the North." But the press reported Tet as a smashing Communist victory.
The Tet offensive could happen all over again in Iraq any day now....
But where does Mr. Kerry go from there? He now gets an exceedingly rare historical second chance: Vietnam II, getting it right this time. What then is he offering as a solution? He will begin withdrawing troops by next summer and get us out by the end of his first term.
But this makes no sense. Why wait four years? If it is a quagmire, then one has to ask the question that John Kerry asked Congress in 1971, the most memorable line he has ever uttered:"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
If Mr. Kerry had not had such tortured history on Vietnam and on Iraq, he might have run as a straightforward antiwar candidate and simply said: We are getting out.
Instead, Mr. Kerry is offering to magically get allies to replace us while accelerating Iraqification. (Does he imagine the administration is operating at anything less than breakneck speed to transfer the burden from American soldiers to Iraqis?) In 1968, Richard Nixon ran and won on a similar platform -- Vietnamization -- and got us out of Vietnam almost precisely by the end of his first presidential term.
Nixon, remember, was vilified by Mr. Kerry and his antiwar colleagues for prolonging the suffering and dying in Vietnam for four unnecessary years. Yet here is Mr. Kerry, after 30 years of torturous re-examination of Vietnam, coming full circle and running as Nixon 1968: Mysterious plan, Iraqification, out in four years. A novelist could not have written this tale. It would be too implausible.
The sand-toned, curved limestone walls of the new National Museum of the American Indian make it the most sensuous and serene structure on the Mall, a powerful and immediate sign that this nation's roots lie deeper than Roman temples and English gardens.
But as alluring a reminder as this building is of who was here first, the inside of the museum -- the story it tells -- is an exercise in intellectual timidity and a sorry abrogation of the Smithsonian's obligation to explore America's history and culture.
The exterior of the Indian museum deserves to rocket to the top of the list of Washington must-sees. But inside, the three main exhibits fail to confront the clash between foreign colonists and the native people they found here. There is no effort to trace Indians' evolution from centuries of life alone on this land to their place in reservations and among the rest of us today.
Instead, the Smithsonian accepted the trendy faux-selflessness of today's historians and let the Ind
ians present themselves as they wish to be seen.
"A history is always about who is telling the stories," says the opening to the exhibit,"Our Peoples.""Official histories often ignored Indians completely. Others portrayed us as primitive and cruel." A introductory film concedes that this museum"like all makers of history, has a point of view, an agenda. We offer self-told histories of selected native communities."
The narrator asks visitors to"view what's offered with respect, but also with skepticism."
That's the right spirit, but the museum fails to give visitors the basic tools needed to ask good, skeptical questions. There's not nearly enough fact or narrative to give us the foundation we need to judge the Indians' version of their story.
So when the Campo Band of Southern California presents an exhibit on its Golden Acorn Casino, a case displays a casino baseball cap, T-shirt and gambling chips, but nothing about the economic impact of Indian casinos, non-Indian consultants who siphon off profits or gambling addiction. Instead, we get a single sentence:"Some feel that gaming is not our way and will bring new problems to our territories."
A display about the Mohawk ironworkers who build Manhattan skyscrapers asks why generation after generation of Indians can work so well at such dizzying heights. But instead of offering any science or sociological theories, the museum merely quotes an Indian named Kyle Karonhiaktatie Beauvois saying,"A lot of people think Mohawks aren't afraid of heights; that's not true. We have as much fear as the next guy. The difference is that we deal with it better." Gee, thanks.
Poverty and substance abuse, domestic violence and unemployment -- the social ills that developed over generations of displacement, discrimination and disconnect from the wider society are mentioned, but not explored.
Rather, we get repetitive stories of survival, of how tribal customs and rituals are nourished today -- a painfully narrow prism through which to view American Indians.
The museum feels like a trade show in which each group of Indians gets space to sell its founding myth and favorite anecdotes of survival.
Each room is a sales booth of its own, separate, out of context, gathered in a museum that adds to the balkanization of a society that seems ever more ashamed of the unity and purpose that sustained it over two centuries.
The Holocaust Memorial Museum started us down this troubling path. A first-rate endeavor with a rigorous, probing approach to history, the Holocaust museum -- a privately funded enterprise on government land -- should nonetheless never have been given a spot near the Mall. Its location there opened the gate for the deconstruction of American history into ethnically separate stories told in separate buildings. Museums of black and Hispanic history are in the works.
American history is a thrilling and disturbing sway from conflict to consensus and back again. But the contours of the battle between division and coalition are too often lost in the way history is taught today. Now, sadly, the Smithsonian, instead of synthesizing our stories, shirks its responsibility to give new generations of Americans the tools with which to ask the questions that could clear a path toward a more perfect union.
Although both President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry have repeatedly said they have made public their complete military service records, neither presidential candidate has yet permitted independent access to original files held in a high-security vault.
The lack of outside verification of the military personnel records of the candidates has made it more difficult for journalists and historians to evaluate their Vietnam War-era service, which has been the subject of lively election-year debate. In Bush's case, Texas Air National Guard officials have also delayed or prevented public access to 30-year-old unit records that could shed light on whether he received favorable treatment from the Guard because of his father's political connections, as his Democratic opponents have alleged.
More than seven months after the White House announced that Bush's records had been"fully released," files continue to trickle out almost weekly from the Pentagon and elsewhere. Some of the newly released records contradict earlier claims by the Bush camp, such as his assertion in a 1999 campaign autobiography that he gave up flying"because the F-102 jet I had trained in was being replaced by a different fighter."
In the past few weeks, both candidates have been forced to deal with questions about what they were doing in the Vietnam War even as they honed their debating points about Iraq and the war on terrorism.
Assembling a full Vietnam War-era record for the two men is complicated by the fact that the files are scattered around more than a dozen repositories. In addition to master personnel files on each candidate, which are at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, researchers have been looking for the records of the units in which they served. Typically, unclassified unit records are available to the public under much less restrictive conditions than individual files.
Both Bush and Kerry have made public hundreds of documents about their military service and posted them on the Internet. At the same time, they have retained control over their personnel records, making it impossible for outsiders to tell whether anything is being held back.
Chad Clanton, a Kerry campaign spokesman, replied to a request for independent verification of Kerry's master personnel file by saying it was unnecessary"since we've already placed John Kerry's entire military file on our Web site." White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said yesterday that the White House was"working with the Defense Department to accommodate [The Washington Post's] request to independently verify the completeness of the president's personnel records."
An analysis of records released by the White House and the Kerry campaign shows internal discrepancies that raise doubts about whether the full files have been released. Bush aides have made public two versions of the president's master personnel file, one in 2000 and one this February. Each version contains at least half a dozen pages missing from the other, suggesting that neither is complete.
In Kerry's case, it is difficult to tell which documents on his Web site come from his master personnel file. At least one document first posted on the Web site in August -- a recommendation for a Bronze Star -- appears to have come from his personnel file, contradicting earlier assertions by his campaign that everything in the file had already been made public.
Although the St. Louis repository is under the control of the National Archives, officials at the Archives say that the records belong to the military unit that generated them. In practice, they can be released to outsiders only with the permission of the veteran concerned. Such access is usually granted through the signing of a release known as Standard Form 180, a step that neither candidate has so far taken.
Go on the attack. Make your opponent angry. Use your authority, not your reason. And if all else fails, claim victory in the teeth of defeat.
It's tried and true advice for U.S. presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry, as they belly up to the cameras at University of Miami tonight for the first of three debates that may decide the fate of the country, and much of the world, for the next four years after the Nov. 2 election.
The strategist behind the advice, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, died 144 years ago, making it too late to recruit him for the campaign finale. But his words, experts say, are just as telling today as they were in the 19th century.
In spite of the crucial foreign and domestic policy issues at stake, they point out, the most important factor is the image, not the intellect, the candidates project. As Schopenhauer put it, in his essay"The Art of Controversy," the"will to power" is more important than the facts on the ground.
"Specific issues matter less than image, especially who projects the quality of leadership and ability to protect the country," says Carrol Doherty, editor of the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press."The world changed after 9/11. Toughness and resoluteness are the things people want to see now."
Kerry enters the debate as the underdog, polls indicate. The points won by his exceptional Vietnam War record were wiped out by a"flip-flop" image and failure to stand up to hard-hitting attacks mounted by Bush's campaign team, accused by opponents of dirty tricks.
But, pollsters say, Kerry is also in a bind if he tries to launch a counter-attack: Democratic hopeful Howard Dean, who let rip with public anger, lost the bid to run for his party when he was caricatured as an unelectable"loose cannon."
For both presidential candidates, getting the image right for the debate is the most vital decision they will make in their political lives. And it requires skill and coaching that have little to do with the job itself. The candidates must capture and transmit the image expressing the prevailing emotions of their day with near-perfect accuracy.
The theatrical nature of the debates, says Canadian political analyst John von Heyking of the University of Lethbridge stems from cynicism and the effects of liberal democracy.
"The idea of working for the common good isn't something that exists now," he says."Instead people talk about the public interest, in individualistic liberal terms. If there isn't a sense of common good, there isn't much to argue over. It's charisma over rationality. Whoever argues the best, wins."
Jimmy Carter grinned his way to victory over a gaffe-prone Gerald Ford, only to have Ronald Reagan take revenge in the next election, asking voters in a soon-to-unmistakable husky baritone,"Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
Tonight, John F. Kerry joins the realm of challengers to presidents, called upon to establish their fitness on the field of debate, in what history shows is a would-be president's best chance to prove he belongs in people's living rooms.
Kerry's opportunity is real: Since presidential debates resumed in 1976, three challengers have gone on to win the election and two have lost. In both cases the losers were thought to be too far behind when the debates began to have made up the difference.
Carter, Reagan, and Bill Clinton stood up against sitting presidents and soon became incumbents themselves.
Kerry does not come into tonight's debate with quite the same standing as those three. Carter's first opponent, Ford, was not a true incumbent, having taken over after Richard Nixon's resignation. Clinton was a fresh face after 12 years of Republican rule. And only Reagan in 1980 was arguably behind in the polls when he debated Carter.
But the history of presidential debates strongly confirms that such events provide Kerry's best chance to energize his campaign and raise fresh doubts about President Bush. With a few exceptions, such as Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Bob Dole in 1996, debates have helped the lesser-known figure more than his better-known rival.
"This is the challengers' chance to put themselves forward and say, 'You can put your trust in me. I can stand up at the same level as the incumbent can,'" said Boston University history professor Michael T. Corgan, who has observed presidential debates since 1960.
One dark night in Iraq in February 1991, a U.S. Army tank unit opened fire on two trucks that barreled unexpectedly into its position along the Euphrates river. One was carrying fuel and burst into flames, and as men scattered from the burning trucks, the American soldiers shot them.
"To this day, I don't know if they were civilians or military - it was over in an instant," says Desert Storm veteran Charles Sheehan-Miles. But it wasn't over for him.
"For the first years after the Gulf War it was tough," says the decorated soldier. He had difficulty sleeping, and when he did, the nightmares came."I was very angry and got drunk all the time; I considered suicide for awhile."
Like many young Americans sent off to war, he was highly skilled as a soldier but not adequately prepared for the realities of combat, particularly the experience of killing.
Much is rightly made of the dedication and sacrifice of those willing to lay down their lives for their country. But what is rarely spoken of, within the military or American society at large, is what it means to kill - to overcome the ingrained resistance most human beings feel to slaying one of their own kind, and the haunting sense of guilt that may accompany such an action. There is a terrible price to be paid by those who go to war, their families, and their communities, say some experts, by ignoring such realities.
"We never in our military manuals address the fact that they go forward to kill," says Lt. Col. David Grossman, a former Army Ranger."When the reality hits them, it has a profound effect. We have to put mechanisms in place to help them deal with that.
The devastating impact of war on soldiers was visible after World Wars I and II and the Korean War as well. But particularly evident today is the ongoing toll of the Vietnam War, whose vets are overrepresented in the homeless and prison populations. One-third are said to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In July, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 16 percent of veterans of the war in Iraq suffer from depression or PTSD, and that fewer than 40 percent have sought help.
Along with several studies, the efforts of two men are stirring thinking within the US military: Grossman, who wrote"On Killing: the Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society," and Dr. Shay, who has worked with vets for 20 years at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Boston. Shay has written two books ("Achilles in Vietnam" and"Odysseus in America") that provide in-depth analyses of how combat can affect individual character and the homecoming to civilian society.
The military has hired both to help improve training and recommend changes to military culture.
Once known as the land of futurists and dreamers, California is increasingly home to pessimists. Often nostalgic, newspaper commentators, novelists, journalists and social critics issue jeremiads about paradise lost and the coming dystopia. California has always had its share of apocalyptic prophets, but these voices are no longer cries in the wilderness; they reflect a growing public mood in the once Golden State.
There is a racial dimension to all the gloominess. The downbeat outlook is in large part driven by Anglos, the state's largest minority. Although they enjoy the highest per capita income and are significantly more likely to own a home than any other group, Anglos appear to be suffering from a bad case of"declinism."
One reason for California's post-World War II success was the willingness of government and civic institutions to invest in the aspirations and hard work of newcomers to the state. California built an extraordinary infrastructure -- aqueducts, roads, universities and schools -- to enable largely Anglo migrants to realize their dreams. Taxpayers gladly footed the cost because their future depended on the improvements. Because the electorate had an optimistic vision, they were willing to bear the sacrifices. California's leading social, political and cultural institutions echoed this sentiment and articulated the goals of the ascendant Anglo population. The editorial visions of the state's leading newspapers resonated with the energy and outlook of a hopeful, striving population.
Whites still make up a disproportionate share of the electorate. They dominate the state's business, intellectual and cultural elites. They remain the principal authors of the California story. And they have become the most pessimistic of any group in the state, according to an August survey of the Public Policy Institute of California. Fully 57% felt that the state would be a worse place to live in two decades. At 49%, blacks were the second most pessimistic group. Latinos (39%) and Asians (34%) were significantly less downbeat.
Anglo pessimism in California is not a new phenomenon. In a similar poll taken five years ago, Anglos were considerably more pessimistic about living in the state in 2020 than were Latinos, the group with the lowest per capita income and second-lowest homeownership rate.
This apparent disconnect between wealth and outlook suggests that Anglo declinism does not stem from material circumstances. Indeed, pessimism tends to increase with education and income. Are Anglos simply better informed about the state's problems than everyone else, and thus gloomier?
If educational achievement is an indicator, the answer is no. Asians in California have higher rates of academic attainment than whites, and they are far more optimistic.
What these polls do measure is expectations. A majority of Anglos clearly believe that their best days in the state are behind them.
"Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight. But Roaring Bill, who killed him, thought it right." - Hilaire Belloc
Inside the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, among books bearing the names of more than 115,000 Canadians killed overseas on military service, a solemn epitaph declares:"War has not spared our people."
The words are a testament not to a bellicose nation, but to Canada's record of courage and fortitude in the face of foreign peril. Like Hilaire Belloc, the English poet and philosopher, Canadians have understood through most of our history that military power is the price of inhabiting a world with real enemies and real evil, where peace can sometimes only be purchased through the harsh rigours of realpolitik.
Lt.-Col. Lockhart Fulton, a retired Canadian army officer, knew dozens of the men whose names are inscribed in the memorial books at the Peace Tower. Fulton was one of the first Canadians ashore at Juno Beach on D-Day, leading soldiers of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles through months of bloody combat in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during the Second World War.
He says he volunteered for battle not simply to defeat the Nazis, but to make Canada a stronger nation - powerful enough to influence world affairs and help preserve the hard-won peace.
"I thought at the end of the war, after all our sacrifices, that Canada was set to be one of the great countries in the world. But I don't think this country has lived up to that role," says Fulton today, at 87.
"After World War II, we had one of the best-equipped, best-trained, most powerful armies in the world. Today, we don't seem to have an army at all. I find it a great shame."
Fulton isn't the only Canadian distressed by the decline of Canada's Armed Forces. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the country has been awash in warnings about the fragile state of its military, its international influence and its domestic security.
"No developed nation in post-modern times has experienced military bankruptcy," declared the Conference of Defence Associations, an Ottawa-based think-tank, in 2002.
"Canada, however, is embarking on a course that would demonstrate military bankruptcy."
"Why is it," asked Royal Military College of Canada professor Sean Maloney, writing last May for the Institute for Research on Public Policy,"that Canada, a G8 power, can sustain only one or two battle groups of fewer than a thousand personnel each overseas, while other NATO nations such as France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom are able to deploy self-contained brigades, and even divisions, to stabilize critical areas?
"Why is it," he asked,"that Bangladesh and Nigeria deploy larger forces than Canada, for all of its peacekeeping rhetoric, to UN operations?"
Call it the body politic. How you say something matters as much as what you say.
President Bush winks and smiles and is known for sidelong glances. Sen. John Kerry clenches his fists and points his index finger. Sen. John Edwards does the arms-stretched-to-the side, two-thumbs-up move. And Vice President Dick Cheney, well, body language experts agree he could use a little more motion.
Salutes, waves, clasped hands, pumped fists . . . where would presidential candidates be without them?
"If someone is not gesturing, it signals that there is something wrong," said Elissa Foster, who teaches interpersonal communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio."It's natural, instinctive, for a human being to use gestures."
Much of a politician's gesturing is coached, of course, and therefore, often the timing is off and the"whole thing looks fake," said Atlanta body language expert Patti Wood, who trains business executives in the fine art of nonverbal communication.
"Words go to the rational part of the brain," Wood said."The delivery, the emotional content goes to a more primitive part of the brain. Words only win when that's all you see. The success of 75 to 85 percent of speeches depends on delivery."
A WINK AND A SMILE
President Bush's winks and warm smiles go a long way in connecting with audiences even when his words are not completely on target, said Atlanta body language expert Patti Wood. Bush's gestures and demeanor at the GOP convention revealed a man in total control, a man"who owned the stage," Wood said.
GOOD HUGS, BAD HUGS . . .
When Sen. John Kerry appeared with Sen. John Edwards at a rally in July, they could not stop hugging each other. The media tore into the duo's frequent hugfests, calling them awkward and staged.
It was like watching two boys on a playground, Wood said. At first, the hugs were competitive."You could see Kerry being very controlling by wrapping his arm all the way around Edwards and Edwards patting him on the back as if to say, 'Don't do that.'"
But now, Woods thinks, the two men convey unity, teamwork and that they"know each other really well."
.. . . OR NO HUGS
At the Republican convention, Bush said he was honored to have Vice President Dick Cheney at his side, but there were no hugs. They rarely appear side by side, much less hug, Wood said.
While he was campaigning for the Democratic nomination, Edwards used a two-thumbs-up gesture at the end of every stump speech. It became such a big part of his image that the media learned to anticipate it."Here it comes," they would say before Edwards' arms went flying up.
After he became Kerry's running mate, Edwards switched to a single thumbs-up. Wood interpreted that as a way of showing the audience that he was no longer the star of the show.
All candidates could take pointers from Edwards, Wood said. Many of his techniques --- eye contact, hand motions and movements on stage --- were honed during years of addressing courtroom juries.
IS THAT TOM CRUISE?
Kerry's fist-clenching and finger-pointing served him well in his nomination acceptance speech, Wood said. He also has a distinctive wave; he's so tall that it almost becomes a hail. He puts his arms way up high, a la Tom Cruise, Wood said."It's almost a high-five gesture," she said.
Gestures are often what is most remembered about a politician's speech."Just as certain words are remembered, certain gestures can be associated with particular candidates," Colgate University professor Spencer Kelly said."They can even become signature moves."
Remember Richard Nixon's double V-for-victory sign? He used it for all occasions, from accepting the nomination to bidding farewell as he entered the plane that carried him off after his resignation.
Or John Kennedy's wagging of the forefinger as he admonished the nation:"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
On a temperate, crystal-clear Texas day in April 1972, Lt. George W. Bush took what turned out to be his last flight as a National Guard pilot.
Over the next 18 months of his tour, the man who is now America's commander in chief paid little attention to his military duties, lost his flying status and was granted an early exit from the assignment that shielded him from combat in Vietnam.
A reexamination of Texas Air National Guard documents, Air Force regulations and accounts from former Guard officials and military experts depicts a capable young pilot who initially excelled, then barely scraped together enough credits in his final two years to meet the Guard's minimum requirements.
Texas Guard officials seemed to tolerate Bush's minimal compliance, including a six-month absence in 1972, and accommodated Bush's request to end his military obligation early. His honorable discharge in October 1973 came eight months before his six-year service commitment was due to end, allowing him to enter Harvard Business School.
Questions about Bush's military service are not new. They have shadowed him since his father first ran for president in 1988. Yet the issues have not been fully resolved today, as many records that typically would be in his military file have not been found, and others have continued to trickle out from the Pentagon and the White House.
Although Bush initially earned praise as"an outstanding young pilot" -- with a seasoned veteran's agility in an F-102 interceptor jet -- he appeared impatient after several years to get out of the Guard.
Bush said in a brief interview this month with a New Hampshire newspaper that his transfer to nonflying status in Alabama came after he was granted permission by his superiors in Texas.
"I did everything they asked me to do and met my requirements and was honorably discharged. I'm proud of my service," he said.
[Editor's Note: The end of the article contained a chronology of Bush's service time.]
Only weeks after Israel publicly threatened to take its war with the Islamic militant group Hamas onto Syrian soil, a Hamas official in Damascus was killed Sunday when a powerful explosion tore through his sport utility vehicle.
Israeli officials disavowed knowledge of the blast that killed 42-year-old Izzedine Sheik Khalil, who had lived in the Syrian capital for the last 13 years and was reportedly a member of the group's military wing.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government expressed satisfaction over the death, and some news reports here cited security sources as indicating that Israel was responsible.
If so, it would be Israel's first known assassination of a Hamas operative outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip, though it has on rare occasions struck at prominent Palestinian militant leaders on foreign soil.
In its nearly two decades of existence, Hamas has always ruled out widening its war on Israel to the outside world."Our struggle is here," Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas spiritual leader whom Israel assassinated in March, often said.
Hamas spokesmen, though, made thinly veiled appeals to other groups to act to avenge the death of Khalil.
"Our conflict arena is still the Palestinian area," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. But he added:"We are confident that our Arab and Islamic nation will not stand by with hands tied."
Over the last 18 months, Israeli assassinations have decimated the leadership ranks of Hamas in Gaza, and driven the survivors deep underground -- which has had the perhaps unintended effect of shifting the balance of power toward the group's principal leadership in exile, in Damascus.
Syria has provided a haven for Palestinian radical groups since the 1960s, but Israel has almost never sought to pursue them there. Last October, Israeli warplanes bombed what Israel described as a base of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad outside Damascus, the deepest airstrike in Syrian territory in more than two decades.
At the time, Islamic Jihad had just claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the Israeli port city of Haifa that killed 19 people in a crowded restaurant.
Syrian officials urged President Bush to condemn Sunday's attack.
"This may not be a threat to Syria's national security, but it's a grave act of aggression and terrorism," said George Jabbour, a Syrian lawmaker.
Israel has conducted other operations against militants outside its borders, mostly in the 1970s and '80s. Its Mossad spy agency tracked down and killed most of the Palestinians responsible for slaying 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. One of them, Ali Hassan Salameh, an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, died in a 1979 Beirut car bombing.
In 1988, Arafat's chief deputy, Khalil Wazir, was slain by Israeli commandos in Tunisia. And in 1995, Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shikaki was shot to death in Malta. Israel was widely blamed for the killing but never admitted carrying it out.
In Gaza City on Sunday, mourners flocked to Izzedine Sheik Khalil's family home in the run-down Sajaiya district. Koranic verses blared from loudspeakers in the traditional mourning tent.
Khalil was one of a group of Hamas activists expelled by Israel to south Lebanon in late 1990. Most were eventually allowed to come home, but he settled in Damascus.
Israeli officials said Khalil was a onetime mentor to Yehiya Ayash, known as"The Engineer," who was one of Hamas' most lethal bomb makers. Ayash was assassinated in 1996 in Gaza with a booby-trapped mobile phone, a killing widely attributed to Israel, but which Israel never publicly acknowledged.
Iraq lies on a political and economic faultline that the world cannot afford to ignore.
IN THE 1960s Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein was invited to address the Staff College on the principles of strategy. In the middle of the Vietnam war, he opened with the words:"Gentlemen, there are two principles of strategy. The first is 'Never march on Moscow'. The second is 'Never fight a ground war in south-east Asia'." We must now be asking ourselves whether he should not have added a third rule:"Never invade Iraq."
Certainly, the precedents are discouraging. Apart from the difficulties the Ottoman Empire experienced in governing Mesopotamia, governing Iraq, with its national and religious divisions and ancient hatreds, has perplexed heroic leaders from Tamburlaine the Great to Winston Churchill. The old Arab hands in the Foreign Office are not always right, but they warned against the US invasion in terms which have proved prophetic. It is arguable that the policy of containing rather than removing the Saddam Hussein regime would have been more realistic.
At the time, I took the Government's view, and supported the Prime Minister's decision to back President Bush. The initial invasion was rapidly successful; at that point, the decision to cut out the Saddam cancer seemed justified. There was, however, a gross failure to plan for the aftermath of the war. No doubt the Americans bear the main responsibility for that, but Tony Blair shares the blame..
The alternative policy of continuing containment was not attractive. It depended on the unity of the major powers but the European powers, including France and Russia, were dealing with Saddam and undermining the policy. Saddam himself had been responsible for millions of deaths. No Iraqi was safe. The neighbouring countries felt that he was a permanent threat to their security.
From the British Government's point of view, refusal to support the United States would have been a breach of the Anglo-American alliance. The Americans would anyway have gone ahead without us. Even with the benefit of hindsight, the arguments for Mr Blair's policy remain strong, though he should have had a better understanding of the risks. That might have led to a better postwar plan -the biggest failure -and to greater frankness in arguing the case for war. In my judgment, Tony Blair did not lie, but neither did he tell the whole truth.
Beside these arguments there is the question of oil. This appears on placards as though the world's governments ought not to concern themselves about the world's supply of energy. That is impossible. All the major global economic equations include oil, whether one is talking about the development of China, the US deficit, the level of interest rates, the prospect for inflation, the level of unemployment or the survival of the European Union itself, with its expensive welfare systems. In the 1970s, almost every democratic government in the world was turned out of office by a global inflation based on the oil market.
The last sanctuary of the West Douglas wild horse herd is a desolate, forbidding place, which is just how the horses like it. As many as 60 skittish sorrels and bays make their home on the steeper slopes and stony ridges north of here, abandoning the valleys to growing throngs of oil and gas men looking for places to drill.
Now, even this refuge may soon be lost. The U.S. Interior Department, which has leased 93 percent of the horses' preserve to energy companies, recently unveiled plans for evicting the entire herd. Under the proposal, the animals will be rounded up with nets and tranquilizer darts and then hauled away for adoption. The reason cited: Wild horses are incompatible with the region's intensive gas production.
The removal of the horses, if accomplished, will be little felt outside the area. But the move to strip Colorado's West Douglas Herd Area of its only herd is emblematic of a larger effort underway to rewrite the rules governing millions of acres of undeveloped federal lands in the West. With few exceptions, the changes decisively favor energy development at a cost of reduced protections for some of the country's last wild spaces, a Washington Post analysis shows.
From his first days in Washington, President Bush has built an environmental record marked by extraordinary controversy, with decisions that have outraged environmentalists while drawing praise from industry trade groups and political conservatives.
In the view of the administration and its supporters, Bush's solutions to problems such as global warming and mercury pollution reflect pragmatism and a preference for consensus over confrontation. Opponents contend that Bush's policies unabashedly favor industry at the expense of the environment. With support from Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress, environmentalists have rallied to block or stall several key initiatives, including a high-profile effort to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
But the administration's most enduring environmental legacy may lie here in the West, where a series of policy decisions and little-noticed administrative actions have eased development restrictions on millions of acres of federal lands. More than 60 million acres -- an area twice the size of Virginia -- are more vulnerable to logging or drilling as a result of policies that weakened federal restrictions on their development. Other administration actions have made it harder for government officials to apply the most stringent protections to federal wild lands. As part of a legal settlement reached last year with Utah, the administration banned government workers from surveying public lands to identify areas worthy of being set aside by Congress as federal preserves off-limits to development of any kind. More than 3 million acres that had been nominated for a congressional designation lost their protected status.
In addition, Interior officials have worked rapidly to revise dozens of federal land-use plans. The documents, developed without congressional oversight, determine whether large swaths of federal territory will be protected or thrown open to businesses seeking gas, oil, grazing lands or timber.
Under the Bush presidency, this little-known policy tool is being used to increase energy companies' access to federal lands, an analysis of the documents shows. Draft plans that have been made public in the past year would open millions of acres that were previously off-limits to drilling.
Rebecca Solnit, in www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, run by Tom Engelhardt (Sept. 28, 2004):
[The New York Times said that in River of Shadows, Rebecca Solnit's next-to-last book, "an extraordinary mind seizes hold of an unexpected topic and renders it with such confidence, subtlety and grace that one finds it hard to remember what things looked like before the book appeared in the world." That "extraordinary mind" is still trying to make the Times retract its statements about widespread arson in Seattle. Solnit's most recent book is Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.]
About a month ago I planned to commit civil disobedience in New York -- there were some Republicans in town, as you may remember -- but circumstances beyond my control put me a few hundred miles further north at the crucial moment, so I did the next best thing: stopped at Walden Pond on my way back to Manhattan. Walden, the book, not the pond, turns 150 this year, but the people at the pond that day were paying more homage to cool water than to cultural history. Most of the swimmers seemed to be locals for whom the site was part of their familiar landscape, not outlanders like us paying homage to the pond and the guy who cultivated beans and contrary thoughts by its side from 1845 to 1847. It wasn't what I expected: The trees shrouded everything up to the water's edge; a secondary thoroughfare full of commuters ran very nearby, so that after paying to park in a large lot you had to dodge speeding commuter vehicles. I didn't mind that it had become a social or a suburban place, for Thoreau, in his legendary sojourn at the pond, never intended to be remote from society for long and reported on the train speeding by his retreat.
If it was a retreat. In one of the most resonant passages in his book, he enumerates among his many visitors "runaway slaves with plantation manners, who listened from time to time, like the fox in the fable, as if they heard the hounds a-baying on their track, and looked at me beseechingly, as much as to say, -- 'Oh Christian, will you send me back?' One real runaway slave, among the rest, whom I helped to forward toward the north star."
Politics came tramping through those woods, which were never far from Concord, where his mother and sister housed runaway slaves, or from the conflicts of the era. After his time spent at Walden, Thoreau became an outspoken antiwar activist and tax resistor, spent that famous night in jail, and delivered as a talk at the Concord Lyceum on January 26, 1848, the great American landmark, "Civil Disobedience."
I did wonder a little about which Thoreau the sesquicentennial of Walden events and reprints was commemorating. The pond is now "Walden Pond State Reservation," a 411-acre reserve with lifeguards on duty that day, but Thoreau is still unreserved and unsafe in his writings, advocating that "when a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize." Homages to Thoreau sometimes seem to have domesticated him first, as have the avalanches of books of nature quotes taken from his longer writings. Those passages leave out the dangerous Thoreau, the one who went around suggesting that the abolition of the government might be a good thing and defending John Brown when he was already in jail for taking up arms against slavery.
Of course Thoreau is no longer dangerous in the sense that he was in 1849, the year "Civil Disobedience" was first published. That transcript of an earlier talk, given while he was resident at Walden, inveighs against slavery and the 1846-1848 war with Mexico (whereby we acquired that nation's northern half, now known as the American Southwest). Slavery is ended, and the long-ago war on Mexico is concluded. But Henry David is still dangerous as a man who cared more about justice than law and saw that the two were not uncommonly in conflict. He was the man who argued that voting was not enough, that any cooperation with an unjust government was complicity in that injustice, the one who still shames me for paying taxes during wartime, the voice that declares, "I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn."
People in public and private argued about whether demonstrating in New York against Bush and the war was strategic for the election or whether it would feed into portrayals of progressives as dangerous fringe elements. Within the argument that we should have stayed home was a larger argument about whether political demonstrations and civil disobedience are largely media stunts or whether they're moral acts taken to change the world with less of an eye to press coverage.
We should always, especially when it is difficult, exercise our freedoms of speech and assembly, and I mean the word exercise. Rights are like muscles, they atrophy and aren't there when you need them if you don't use them. The first amendment is in trouble not just because of John Ashcroft and the USA Patriot Act, but because of a pall of self-censorship -- some have spoken up with great courage, but many have been silenced not simply by the acts of the authorities but by the prison of their own fear. Still, if people could stand up to Pinochet, if the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo could march in Buenos Aires during the time of the generals, if people spoke up in Prague in the 1980s, we can take a stand here, far more than we do. An atmosphere of repression exists specifically because people don't speak up against it. When you speak up, you are not repressed -- you might be suppressed or punished, but you have freed yourself. Too, a tyranny can rise more easily by shutting up a thousand people than a million, and that's a reason to stand up and speak out.
Thoreau was more optimistic, writing, "I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name -- if ten honest men only, -- ay, if one honest man in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefore, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be ."
The National Lawyers Guild, in its new report titled "The Assault on Free
Speech, Public Assembly and Dissent," has been more pessimistic of late.
"The facts assembled in the following pages attest to the pathology of
a government so frightened of its own citizens that it classifies them as probable
enemies," the report's introduction begins. It's a statement that might
answer quite a different question about the war on terror: Why have the young
soldiers in Iraq been so
under-equipped for their war, while the Miami police last November at the FTAA and the NYPD for the Republican Convention had endless new technologies and resources to draw on? "The abuses have been so aggressive that rights of free assembly and free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution are simply no longer available to the citizens of this country," states the report's preface.
Those rights are indeed under assault, but they are not unavailable for those willing to take the risks or pay the costs. "No, you can't have my rights, I'm still using them," said a sign one woman was carrying in that long, passionate, stymied August 29 march against George Bush, the Republican Party and the war, up Seventh Avenue to Madison Square Garden and then to -- wherever -- not to Central Park, since the city's Republican mayor claimed that the right of the people peaceably to assemble was bad for the grass.
Being afraid of how the media would represent us was just part of a larger landscape of fear I met with on the East Coast. "Don't get arrested," acquaintances told me over and over, as though getting arrested were some road of no return, as though going to a demonstration with half a million others were a terrible risk even for those of us who won't ever want security clearances.
Certainly, the mayor, the New York police, and the Attorney General had done everything they could to discourage people from coming. As had the media. For one of the worst problems facing democracy in America is that a free press, while not entirely eradicated, has gone underground on the internet and into the small magazines. The mainstream media have generally taken up and run with the allegations used by the Bush Administration to justify putting the first amendment in mothballs and staging preemptive strikes against potential exercisers of free speech and assembly.
Exercising your rights was pretty much, by these accounts, tantamount to terrorism. ABC News reported that the NYPD was tracking "56 potentially dangerous people the anarchist groups which disrupted the W.T.O. conference in Seattle in 1999." The FBI "interviewed" -- or in the words of civil rights advocates, "intimidated" -- activists across the country whom "the government believed were plotting to firebomb media vehicles at the Democratic National Convention," a rather improbable crime for people committed to public actions and nonviolent principles. After the Republican convention, the New York Times reported that "five years ago in Seattle, for example, there was widespread arson," and then spoke admiringly of New York City's reign of repression, stating that "Starbucks survived, the streets were not ablaze, and the police did not wipe acid from their faces."
I saw the widespread arson in Seattle. It consisted of one mostly empty dumpster with feeble flames contesting with the northwestern drizzle. Nor was there ever evidence that anyone planned to set the streets ablaze or assault fellow human beings in such a vicious manner, as the Times insinuated (with the implication that, if those crimes did not happen, credit must go to law enforcement). Still beat your wife? No? Thank the police. Seattle was constantly referenced as a moment of criminal violence. In fact, it was one of the great moments of civil disobedience in American history. Ten thousand or so people, in concert with protests from India to Iceland, took an oppositional step beyond the big march that was vocally opposed to the World Trade Organization's summit downtown. They sat down in intersections all around the WTO meeting and shut it down as it was supposed to begin. The Seattle police had not anticipated this and went berserk afterwards with clubs, tear-gas, and enough violence against activists and scads of passersby to keep a lot of class-action suits afloat for a long time.
"On the tear gas-shrouded streets of Seattle," reported the Los Angeles Times, "the unruly forces of democracy collided with the elite world of trade policy. And when the meeting ended in failure on Friday, the elitists had lost and the debate had changed forever." It was a world-changing moment, the golden dawn of a so-far not-so-rosy new millennium. But there wasn't any activist violence against living beings. (Some "black block" kids did do a little downtown window smashing and spray-painting, and stirred up an interesting side-debate about whether property damage alone constitutes violence.) 1999 was the otherwise uncommemorated 150th anniversary of the publication of "Civil Disobedience"; though, come to think of it, ten thousand anarchists and environmentalists standing up against giving the world away to corporations is perhaps the most apt anniversary event that eco-anarchist Henry David could have dreamed of.
The police and the media willfully, if not consciously, mistake what kind of danger civil disobedients pose. Martin Luther King, that reader of Thoreau and great advocate of nonviolent civil disobedience, was a dangerous man in his time, because he posed a threat to the status quo, and it was for that reason that the FBI followed him and many hated him. Like Thoreau, he went to jail; like Thoreau he posed no physical danger to anyone. But to admit that activists can be dangers to the status quo is to admit, first, that there is a status quo; second, that it may be an unjust and unjustifiable thing; and third, that it can indeed be changed, by passionate people and nonviolent means. Better to portray activists as criminals and the status quo as the natural order -- and only celebrate revolutionaries long after their causes are won and their voices are softened by time, or misrepresentation; for Thoreau and King are still dangerous men to those who pay attention to their words. And so, for my own as-yet unassimilated generation of activists, the fiction of a violent past has been manufactured, just as the fiction of spitting in returning soldiers' faces was fabricated to damn the activists who opposed the war in Vietnam.
In 1999, civil disobedients in this country changed the world by bringing the conversation about globalization to the first world and joining the movements that brought the WTO into its current state of stalemate. Exercising your rights doesn't always achieve something so remarkable, but the exercise is important anyway. Rights are only as valuable as their usage. My heroine from the recent spell of first-amendment wrestling matches in New York is a fellow San Franciscan, the sister of a friend, June Brashares, who along with many other members of Code Pink got into the Republican Convention (in her case, she thinks it was her fake pearls, along with a nice blue suit, that got her through security). "I wanted to get inside to show some of that dissent that was not being shown," she told me, "I'm very much in opposition to the war in Iraq and the lives that have been destroyed and the people that have been killed. I care very much about those things."
She stood up during Bush's acceptance speech to unfurl a banner that said, "Bush lies, people die." June is very polite and didn't interrupt the president, and she would have left if asked but she was immediately tackled by burly security guards just for holding up dissenting words. And so, as she was dragged away, she shouted the words on her confiscated banner, but was drowned out by the nearby party loyalists attempting to mask her voice by chanting "four more years." That ruckus was so loud it rattled the president who paused, looked cranky, and lost his place. June says of the many taped versions of the president's speech she's watched, "He's got this frozen moment like the Pet Goat moment and looks to the side and kind of smiles and goes to go on and then he stumbles. It made a lot of activists really happy, it made their night watching him drone on and on and then seeing this protest." Some television stations showed the disruption clearly, some did not. Thoreau said, "I say, break the law. Let your life be a counterfriction to stop the machine." She did. We should. And could.
Copyright C2004 Rebecca Solnit
Conditions were horrible when Salvadorans went to the polls on March 28, 1982. The country was in the midst of a civil war that would take 75,000 lives. An insurgent army controlled about a third of the nation's territory. Just before election day, the insurgents stepped up their terror campaign. They attacked the National Palace, staged highway assaults that cut the nation in two and blew up schools that were to be polling places.
Yet voters came out in the hundreds of thousands. In some towns, they had to duck beneath sniper fire to get to the polls. In San Salvador, a bomb went off near a line of people waiting outside a polling station. The people scattered, then the line reformed. "This nation may be falling apart," one voter told The Christian Science Monitor, "but by voting we may help to hold it together."
Conditions were scarcely better in 1984, when Salvadorans got to vote again. Nearly a fifth of the municipalities were not able to participate in the elections because they were under guerrilla control. The insurgents mined the roads to cut off bus service to 40 percent of the country. Twenty bombs were planted around the town of San Miguel. Once again, people voted with the sound of howitzers in the background.
Yet these elections proved how resilient democracy is, how even in the most chaotic circumstances, meaningful elections can be held.
They produced a National Assembly, and a president, José Napoleón Duarte. They gave the decent majority a chance to display their own courage and dignity. War, tyranny and occupation sap dignity, but voting restores it.
The elections achieved something else: They undermined the insurgency. El Salvador wasn't transformed overnight. But with each succeeding election into the early 90's, the rebels on the left and the death squads on the right grew weaker, and finally peace was achieved, and the entire hemisphere felt the effects. ...
In case you were lucky enough to miss it, here's a recent fund-raising letter from New Jersey Democratic Senator Jon Corzine:
"Voter suppression and intimidation . . . in Florida again!? The GOP used voter intimidation and outright fraud to hand Florida to George W. Bush in 2000, and if we don't stop them, they'll do it again."
Yes, the political urban legend that black voters in Florida were harassed and intimidated on Election Day four years ago is making a comeback. Only yesterday Jimmy Carter, fresh from blessing Hugo Chavez's dubious victory in Venezuela, moaned that in 2000 "several thousand ballots of African Americans were thrown out on technicalities" in Florida, and that this year more black than (Republican) Hispanic felons are being disqualified to vote--as if all felons weren't supposed to be barred, regardless of race.
As the Corzine letter and the "Jim Crow" pamphlet nearby suggest, this is all election-year demagoguery. Democrats and their acolytes are raising this myth from the dead to scare up black turnout and lay the groundwork for challenges in court if John Kerry loses. So, before Dan Rather concludes this is another scoop, let's all remember the fraud that didn't happen in 2000.
In June 2001, following a six-month investigation that included subpoenas of Florida state officials from Governor Jeb Bush on down, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report that found no evidence of voter intimidation, no evidence of voter harassment, and no evidence of intentional or systematic disenfranchisement of black voters.
Headed by a fiercely partisan Democrat, Mary Frances Berry, the Commission was very critical of Florida election officials (many of whom were Democrats). For example, "Potential voters confronted inexperienced poll workers, antiquated machinery, inaccessible polling locations, and other barriers to being able to exercise their right to vote." But the report found no basis for the contention that officials conspired to disenfranchise voters. "Moreover," it said, "even if it was foreseeable that certain actions by officials led to voter disenfranchisement, this alone does not mean that intentional discrimination occurred," let alone racial discrimination.
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division conducted a separate investigation of these charges and also came up empty. In a May 2002 letter to Democratic Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, who at the time headed the Judiciary Committee, Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd wrote, "The Civil Rights Division found no credible evidence in our investigations that Floridians were intentionally denied their right to vote during the November 2000 election."...
Which leaves the "stolen election" crowd with these inconvenient facts: In 24 of the 25 Florida counties with the highest ballot spoilage rate, the county supervisor was a Democrat. In the 25th county, the supervisor was an Independent. And as for the "felon purge list," the Miami Herald found that whites were twice as likely to be incorrectly placed on the list as blacks.
The real spectacle here is that some Democrats are only too willing to exploit the painful history of black voter disenfranchisement for some short-term partisan advantage. And it just might backfire. Democrats played up the Florida fiasco in the 2002 midterm elections, repeatedly telling blacks that their votes hadn't been counted in 2000. Rather than being riled up, many black voters believed what they were told and stayed home.