Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
Jimmy Breslin. in Newsday (March 30, 2004):
I just made a professional appearance in Washington and as I am a working person, as differing from these Pekinese of the Press, I found Ms. Condoleezza Rice's contention shady that she cannot appear under oath and in public in front of the 9/11 committee because of precedent and separation of powers.
Bush the president has told her not to appear. This makes him somewhat more than an innocent bystander in this.
Zbigniew Brzezinski says he was national security adviser in 1980 and that he appeared -"under oath!" - in front of a Senate committee in 1980.
We present herewith - and prominently - the proof that she has been lying.
Wednesday, Sept. 17, 1980
U.S. Senate Subcommittee to Investigate the Activities of Individuals Representing the Interests of Foreign Governments of the Committee on the Judiciary. Washington, D.C.
Senator Pell: Mr. Chairman, it seems to me that we have a mandate to be as wide-ranging as we care to be as a committee, but from the viewpoint of the White House this is already a historic occasion. It is the first time that I can recall that the National Security Adviser has come up in quite a while, if ever, or even a limited area and they chose to waive executive privilege only in the area concerning Libya and Billy Carter.
Mr. Brzezinski: I think it is the first time ever, Senator.
Sen. Pell: The first time ever in history that they have waived executive privilege, and I think that fact should be noted.
Mr. Brzezinski: That is my recollection, and I believe in testimony by other participants it's supported by them as well.
Sen. Dole: Now, were you aware of Mr. Kirbo's trip to Saudi Arabia in the spring of 1980 which related to the National Bank of Georgia, just a few days before the public Saudi F-15 decision by the White House?
Mr. Brzezinski: What was the date?
Sen. Dole: It was in the spring of 1980, a few days before the Saudi F-15.
Mr. Moses: What decision are you referring to?
Sen. Dole: Pardon?
Mr. Moses: What announcement was there from the White House that you're referring to? May we have the announcement?
Sen. Dole: The question was whether or not they should have more - or whether they should have the F-15s, but I was just wondering if Dr. Brzezinski was aware of Mr. Kirbo's trip to Saudi Arabia in the spring of 1980.
Mr. Brzezinski: (Are) you retracting the reference to some decisions about F-15?
Senator Dole: That's only a time frame.
Mr. Brzezinski: So you're not referring to any decision regarding F-15?
Sen. Dole: I'm just asking if you're familiar, personally familiar, with that trip to Saudi Arabia of Mr. Kirbo, whether you had briefed Mr. Kirbo, whether you had any discussion with Mr. Kirbo in the spring on 1980.
Mr. Moses: Senator are you associating Mr. Kirbo's trip with any decision made or considerations given F-15's or has that been withdrawn from your questions.
Sen. Leahy: Were you aware at the time of his [Billy Carter] public appearance around the country with Libyans?
Mr. Brzezinski: I have some recollection of the fact that he either hosted or was a co-host of a Libyan group in this country.
Sen. Leahy: Were you aware of ...
Mr. Brzezinski: May I finish?
Sen. Leahy: Were you aware of his financial problems?
Mr. Brzezinski: No, I was not aware at all of his financial situation.
Sen. Thurman: I ask you did you alert U.S. intelligence? Do you care to answer or not?
Mr. Brzezinski: I cannot allege someone to do something which they're already doing.
Sen. Thurman: Then you were satisfied with what you were doing then?
Mr. Brzezinski: Pardon?
Sen. Thurman: You were satisfied with what they were doing?
Mr. Brzezinski: I was satisfied that info they were giving indicated that they knew what was going on.
Sen. Thurman: From testimony we have heard so far there is substantial evidence that Admiral Taylor was not acting as director of Central Intelligence but as messenger ...
I have as I type this, 1,600 pages of this testimony in case somebody still feels that no national security adviser ever testified in front of a congressional committee. Anybody who wants to learn the rest of this testimony can call my newspaper and I will read it to you over the phone, and to Condoleezza Rice, who says what you just read never happened.
Neil A. Lewis, in the NYT (March 31, 2004), writing about the history of executive privilege:
A study published in 2002 by the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress, cited 20 instances since World War II in which presidents, waiving the privilege, had allowed senior White House aides to testify before Congressional committees.
In the case of Ms. Rice, however, the White House said no other incumbent national security adviser had ever testified in public concerning policy matters.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter did allow his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss efforts by the president's brother, Billy, to lobby on behalf of Libya. But that proceeding was considered something akin to a criminal investigation.
Some members of the Sept. 11 commission have noted that in 1994, President Bill Clinton allowed Samuel R. Berger, then his deputy national security adviser, to testify about American policy in Haiti. But Alberto R. Gonzales, the Bush White House counsel, pointed out in a letter to the commission last week that Mr. Berger's appearance had been in closed session.
In a letter on Tuesday in which the administration agreed to make Ms. Rice available for public testimony, Mr. Gonzales said the White House was making an"extraordinary accommodation" that"does not set any precedent."
One authority on executive privilege, Peter Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University, disagreed. Professor Shane said that if anything, Ms. Rice's testimony would bolster the idea that there is no impediment to having the national security adviser testify publicly.
"If the argument is that such testimony will damage the presidency and she goes ahead and testifies and the presidency remains undamaged," he said, that only makes it more difficult to resist the next time.
Matthew Stannard, in the San Francisco Chronicle (March 29, 2004):
When famous whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg boarded a plane to Cincinnati earlier this week, he took along a little light reading: a stack of articles about former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, who has stirred controversy with allegations in his book and testimony before a special panel that the Bush White House was somewhat indifferent to al Qaeda before Sept. 11 and obsessed with Iraq afterward.
Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers documenting government misrepresentations about the Vietnam War, sees Clarke as part of a trend:
well-placed individuals in the government who have gone public with books or interviews outlining their concerns and criticisms about their country's government--while that government is still in power.
Ellsberg is not alone in that observation--observers from across the political spectrum, whether they support Clarke's actions or not, agree that a new willingness exists to tell all far sooner, and far more publicly, than in the past.
Ellsberg cites officials such as Scott Ritter, the former lead inspector for the U.N. Special Commission on Concealment and Investigations team, and Katharine Gun, a British government linguist who leaked an e-mail purportedly from U.S. intelligence services asking for help spying on U.N.
Opinions differ on whether the willingness to tell all is a good thing, but to Ellsberg, who has been sharply critical of the war in Iraq and even written articles encouraging current government employees to leak what he calls "Iraq's Pentagon Papers," the phenomenon is a source of optimism.
"I think these people are heroes. They're really acting appropriately in a very dangerous situation," he said. "It's as if we are learning about the Tonkin Gulf a month or two later instead of years later."
Although Ellsberg, now 72 and living in Kensington, considers Clarke somewhat of a kindred spirit, he doesn't quite see him as a whistle-blower.
Clarke was no longer an employee of the administration when he spoke out and did not provide documentation to back up his accusations--accusations the administration has rejected.
Ellsberg said the only real whistle-blower of recent times is Gun, who briefly faced charges under the British Official Secrets Act and supported her claims with documents.
"I find her really admirable," Ellsberg said, but he considers the rest remarkable, too, for being willing to go public in a way and with a speed that simply didn't occur 40 years ago.
"Why are they acting differently from people in my generation?" he said. "We knew (Vietnam) was just as deceptive and the policy was just as bad, but we certainly weren't tempted to leak."
At least, not until Ellsberg did it. But since then, a number of observers said, going public early and often has become more and more acceptable, even among ranking government officials....
Robert Scheer, in the LAT (March 30, 2004):
"Worse Than Watergate," the title of a new book by John Dean, Richard Nixon's White House counsel, is a depressingly accurate measure of the chicanery of the Bush/Cheney cabal. According to Dean, who began his political life at the age of 29 as the Republican counsel on the House Judiciary Committee before being recruited by Nixon,"This administration is truly scary and, given the times we live in, frighteningly dangerous." And when it comes to lies and cover-up, the Bush crowd makes the Nixon administration look like amateurs. As Dean writes, they"have created the most secretive presidency of my lifetime … far worse than during Watergate."
Dean knows what he's talking about. He was the one who dared tell Nixon in 1973 that the web of lies surrounding the Watergate break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters had formed"a cancer on the presidency." When Dean went public about that conversation, the Nixon White House smeared him as a liar. Fortunately, the conversation had been taped, and Dean was vindicated.
The dark side of the current White House was on full display last week when top officials of the Bush administration took to the airwaves to destroy the credibility of a man who had honorably served presidents Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes.
The character assassination of Richard Clarke, the former White House anti-terrorism chief, was far more worrisome than Nixon's smears of Dean because it concerned not petty crime in pursuit of partisan political ambition but rather the attempt to deceive the nation and the world as to the causes of the 9/11 assault upon our national security — and to justify an unnecessary war in Iraq.
First, Bush's aides suggested that Clarke had invented the meeting in which Clarke said the president pressured him to find a link between the 9/11 attack and Iraq, ignoring Clarke's insistence that intelligence agencies had concluded that no such link existed. But on Sunday, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice was forced to admit that Bush had pressed Clarke on an Iraq connection. This backed up earlier assertions by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill as to Bush's obsession with Iraq from the very first days of his administration at the expense of focusing on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
That the Bush lies didn't work this time may be because just too many veterans of the U.S. intelligence community are finding their voices and are willing to denounce an administration that has seriously undermined the nation's security.
They are speaking out, as 23 former CIA and other defense intelligence agents did in Robert Greenwald's devastating documentary,"Uncovered." They have stepped forward, as did David Kay, Bush's former chief weapons inspector in Iraq.
This is an administration that has been dominated by the neoconservative ideologues who condemned the logical restraint of the first Bush administration on foreign policy as a betrayal of the national interest.
Is Sen. John F. Kerry a liberal? As the presidential campaign unfolds over the next seven months, the parties will no doubt spend a lot of time debating this question, with Republicans insisting that he is and Democrats just as vehemently denying it.
The question of how to measure a senator's or representative's ideology is one that political scientists regularly need to answer. For more than 30 years, the standard method for gauging ideology has been to use the annual ratings of lawmakers' votes by various interest groups, notably the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and the American Conservative Union (ACU).
The ADA, which describes itself as"the nation's oldest independent liberal organization," was founded in 1947 by a group of distinguished postwar liberals -- including Eleanor Roosevelt, labor leader Walter Reuther and historian Arthur Schlesinger -- to rally support for progressive causes. Shortly afterward, the ADA began publishing an annual legislative score card. Every year, the ADA's Legislative Committee selects what it considers to be the 20 most important votes cast in each house of Congress. Senators and representatives then receive a score ranging from 0 to 100, based on the percentage of times they voted for the liberal position, as identified by the ADA. In 1971, a group called the American Conservative Union began publishing a conservative counterpart to the ADA ratings, using the same method.
The ADA and ACU ratings are valuable as yardsticks for several reasons. Both have been around for a long time, thus providing some historical perspective. Both groups are able to speak with some authority about what constitutes the"liberal" and" conservative" positions on various issues. And both are good at distinguishing between meaningful and unimportant votes. Voters back home might be taken in if the House passes a resolution saying that all Americans have the right to adequate health care or a strong national defense -- but doesn't take any action or provide any money toward that goal. The ADA and ACU almost certainly won't...
...Either way, Kerry's voting record is a very liberal one, according to both rating systems. The ADA's Web site notes that"those Members of Congress considered to be Moderates generally score between 40% and 60%." By that criterion, Kerry's record falls well outside the"moderate" range.
The same point is borne out by a comparison of Kerry's ratings with those of other Democrats who are often classified as moderates, such as Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana. Breaux's lifetime average ADA score through 2002 is 55. When Lloyd Bentsen of Texas was a senator, his lifetime ADA score was 41. Former Georgia senator Sam Nunn had a lifetime ADA average of 37. Al Gore had a 65 average. Joe Lieberman, who is sometimes described as a liberal and sometimes as a moderate -- he has a generally liberal voting record but also dissents from several important liberal positions -- has a lifetime ADA score of 76 through 2002.
At the other end of the spectrum, three senators are often singled out as the most liberal: Barbara Boxer of California, Pat Leahy of Vermont and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Their lifetime ADA scores through 2002 are, respectively, 96, 93 and 90 -- statistically indistinguishable from Kerry's.
In recent weeks, a number of commentators have asserted that Kerry's voting history is complicated to classify. The evidence doesn't bear this out. If you were to take the numbers shown here, cover up Kerry's name and then ask a sample of American political scientists,"I have here a senator who in the past 10 years has had an average ADA score of 92 and an average ACU score of 6. Is he a liberal, a moderate or a conservative?" they would have no difficulty in classifying the 2004 Democratic candidate as, for better or worse, a liberal.
ACCEPTING responsibility is an essential part of everyday life, something every parent and child, every boss and worker, every friend and colleague wrestle with, or know they should. But for a president it is quite rare, and at least in the view of some historians and government experts, getting rarer, as a national culture of shifting blame permeates American politics.
So it was last week that some powerful words were spoken to the spouses and families of those who died two and a half years ago in the terror of Sept. 11.
"Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you." The words of apology were unmistakable, but the face was hard to place. It belonged to none of the recognizable leaders of the government -- not President Bush or Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Powell or Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. Here was a middle-aged man with disappearing white hair and an American flag pinned in his left lapel: a former middle-level foreign policy official of three presidential administrations named Richard A. Clarke...
Did the Bush people lack confidence in his ability? Not really; after all, on the terrible day of 9/11, Condoleezza Rice, Clarke's boss, instructed Clarke to run the crisis-management operation in the White House Situation Room while she chose to hunker down in a secure bomb shelter...
...It is one thing for a deputy at the National Security Council to accept blame on behalf of not one but several administrations, an act perched between admirable and presumptuous. But it is quite something else for a president of the United States to say he is sorry.
In October 1983, terrorists in Lebanon drove a truckload of explosives into a building housing American marines, killing 241. That December, a Defense Department commission prepared to release a report castigating officers in the chain of command for failing to safeguard their troops.
A copy was sent to President Reagan before its release. He read through it, David R. Gergen, then an aide, recalled, and with little discussion headed for the press room."If there is to be blame," Mr. Reagan said before the assembled corps,"it properly rests here in this office and with this president. And I accept responsibility for the bad as well as the good."
The commanders, Mr. Reagan said, should not be punished"for not fully comprehending the nature of today's terrorist threat."
There was some criticism at the time that Mr. Reagan had pre-empted the military disciplinary process. But over all, Mr. Gergen said, the acceptance of responsibility for something that happened during his term vastly improved Mr. Reagan's status with the military and strengthened him for the rest of his presidency...
...Of course, accepting responsibility, let alone blame, for the events of Sept. 11 is on a scale different from virtually anything else a modern president has had to deal with. Certainly, an argument could be made that Sept. 11 is more analogous to Pearl Harbor than to Beirut, and Franklin D. Roosevelt never accepted responsibility for that sneak attack. Indeed, he talked the Republicans out of making it an issue in the 1944 campaign, saying it would hurt the war effort.
Within hours after the World Trade Center towers crumbled, Bush and Clinton partisans began blaming each other for the failure to stop Al Qaeda, and have been doing so ever since in any venue they can find.
The record is actually surprisingly clear, that there was a series of moments stretching back from Sept. 11 across at least eight years when more aggressive actions might have produced a different outcome that crisp, blue morning. For example:
In 1997 a commission led by Vice President Al Gore recommended steps to tighten airline security, including tougher screening of passengers and stronger locks on cockpit doors. Civil libertarians and the airline industry resisted...
...The most famous presidential keepsake in American history is arguably a 2 1/2-by-13-inch glass sign made at the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Okla. On one side, the side that faced the president, it said,"I'm from Missouri." The other side, the side that faced visitors to the Oval Office, said,"The Buck Stops Here."
To Harry S. Truman that meant accepting responsibility for making tough decisions, including firing Gen. Douglas MacArthur. But it did not necessarily mean expressing regret for them later. He was proud of saying he never lost sleep over his decision to drop the atom bomb, and 10 years later when he was invited to Japan he said he would go only if he did not have to kiss the posterior portion of any Japanese citizen's anatomy. (He didn't go.)
Mr. Bush made it clear last week that he was more in the Roosevelt than the Reagan mode of the responsible commander in chief, offering a narrow test of presidential responsibility in the Sept. 11 context.
"Had I known," President Bush said the day after Mr. Clarke's testimony,"that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people."
It is hard to imagine that anyone -- even Mr. Bush's fiercest critics -- doubts that.
But Mr. Bush's statement illustrates the transition from a political culture where accepting responsibility demonstrated strength to one in which it exposes weaknesses.
Compare the actions of another young president faced with a crisis early in his administration. It was mid-April 1961, and a C.I.A.-organized invasion of Cuba had collapsed at a place called the Bay of Pigs.
"There is an old saying," President John F. Kennedy said,"that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan." The president added,"I'm the responsible officer of the government."
Despite the debacle, Mr. Kennedy's popularity increased.
But statesmanship is not always everything it seems, said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian. Even as Kennedy was taking responsibility, his aides were out quietly -- on background as they say in Washington -- blaming the fiasco on Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had set the invasion in motion. Eventually, one Kennedy administration official, Stuart L. Udall, blamed Eisenhower in public, which brought a fierce rebuttal from his vice president, Richard M. Nixon, and forced the White House to retreat. President Kennedy, his spokesman, Pierre E. Salinger, said, bears sole responsibility and wanted everyone to know it.
In those days, a leader took responsibility in public and his aides spread the blame only in private. Today, those aides spread the blame on cable TV and only former mid-level officials take responsibility. In the culture of today's politics, presidents may well be afraid to admit they can't make everything perfect.
There was enough in the 9/11 hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday to make partisans on all sides unhappy. Partisans for the truth, however, have some ground for optimism.
If one were a Bill Clinton partisan, one would not be happy about the portrayal of the 42nd president and his anti-terror record. It appears that the Clinton administration had as many as four opportunities to try to kill Osama bin Laden in 1998-9, and seized upon none of them.
Sandy Berger, national security adviser during those years, testified on Wednesday that Clinton had ordered using"the full measure of the CIA's capabilities" to eliminate bin Laden...
...At the same time, if one were a George W. Bush partisan, one would not be pleased by the depiction of the 43rd president and his War on Terror record. In 2001, the Bush people inherited a holdover terrorism" czar," Richard Clarke, but they demoted him and cut his access and clout.
Did the Bush people lack confidence in his ability? Not really; after all, on the terrible day of 9/11, Condoleezza Rice, Clarke's boss, instructed Clarke to run the crisis-management operation in the White House Situation Room while she chose to hunker down in a secure bomb shelter...
...When they came into power, Bush & Co. had the idea that they needed a comprehensive review of national security policy, which called for less emphasis on terrorist networks, such as al-Qaida, and more emphasis on terrorist-sponsoring states, such as - in their minds, at least - Iraq.
That review took more than seven months; the first cabinet meeting on the administration's anti-terror policy took place on Sept. 4, 2001.
Do changes in policy, from one president to another, take time? Of course. But the Bush folks managed to reverse Clinton policies on taxes, global warming and abortion within weeks of taking office; it's obvious that unlimbering a new anti-terror policy was a second-tier priority for them...
...If an anti-terror czar is like a fireman, the Bush people left Clarke with the power to see what was happening but without the power to send out the fire engines. He had been worrying about al-Qaida for a decade, and yet even as he saw terror flames growing on the horizon, the Bush people pushed him aside.
No wonder Clarke is an angry man. In his memoir,"Against All Enemies," he recalls being in the Situation Room on 9/11 when he got a call from an FBI colleague:"We got the passenger manifests from the airlines. We recognize names, Dick. They're al-Qaida."
Clarke wondered, expletive-ly, how those killers had gotten on board."CIA forgot to tell us about them," came the FBI reply. In other words, his worst nightmare had come true: Al-Qaida operatives had slipped between the jurisdictional cracks of the federal government; the CIA had a list of al-Qaida names, but hadn't passed them on to the FBI, nor to airport security officials...
...What's striking about Clarke is not that he expressed his apologies to the 9/11 families for their loss, and for his own degree of responsibility for that loss. That was a bit of political theater that his fellow panelists must be kicking themselves for not having thought to do themselves.
No, what's striking about Clarke is that he delivered detailed testimony that bulls-eyed the incompetence of his ex-colleagues in the Bush administration. While all the other witnesses were generous in their praise for each other - leaving one hard-pressed to recall, as they spoke, that 3,000 people had died on their watch - Clarke was blunt. The Bush administration, in particular, had done a bad job, he said - and he said it under oath.
Of course the Bushies have a right to call Clarke's credibility into question. They can point to his smarmy letter of resignation, addressed to Bush, dated Jan. 20, 2003, in which Clarke praised Bush for his" courage, determination, calm, and leadership." But if the White House really wants to knock a hole in Clarke's chronicle, then top officials should joust with him on a level playing field - on which they, too, are under oath...
...The White House pleads"executive privilege," but that's a dodge. If the issue is important enough, constitutional nuance ought to give way to the people's right to know. In 1974, for example, the sitting president of the United States, Gerald Ford, testified, under oath, before the House of Representatives about his pardon of Richard Nixon. And ever since then, Ford has enjoyed a deserved reputation as a straight-talker...
...For the moment, the Clintonians and Bushites seem to be playing for narrow personal and political advantage.
By contrast, Clarke, warts and all, seems to be thinking about the truth - which means he is thinking about the national interest, as well as the long haul of history.
These hearings have the potential to embarrass all concerned. But while the truth might hurt top government officials, former as well as present, America will benefit from a full, if painful, account of mistakes that were made.
The 9/11 Commission is due to issue its final report on July 26; the 10 commissioners have an opportunity to help their country - if they can put aside their partisan differences and deal with the truth.
The grave of Senator Joe McCarthy has been pillaged. In the think tanks of the Republican right, in the broadcasts of Fox News, and in the pages of some of the most popular books in America, he lives again. From the mid-1950s until 2001, there was a consensus in America that McCarthyism was a brief period of political psychosis. The Senator's drunken belief that the democratic American left consisted mainly of closet Reds working to subvert the United States was seen as risible; a sulphuric firework that threatened American civil liberties and democracy for a moment but then deservedly died away.
No longer. The fourth best-selling book in the US last year - Ann Coulter's Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism - was an explicit apologia for McCarthy."What this country needed in the 1950s was Joe McCarthy," she says."Amid all the mandatory condemnations of Joe McCarthy, the little detail about his being right always seems to get lost. His fundamental thesis was absolutely correct... He was not terrorising people purposelessly. His targets were Soviet sympathisers and Soviet spies." She describes the Hollywood blacklisting of suspected Communists as"honourable", and concludes,"McCarthy's gravest error was in underestimating the problem of Communist subversion."
She is not a lone madwoman. The rehabilitation of McCarthy is currently a major theme on the US right. William Buckley Jr, the grande dame of American conservative intellectuals, has published a tedious but aggressive novel, The Redhunter, which glorifies the Senator. The historian Arthur Herman has published an acclaimed revisionist biography which says McCarthy's fears"weren't paranoid delusions. They were true." Campaigning group Accuracy in Academia recently staged a conference entitled"Rethinking McCarthy". Henry Kissinger has noted - echoing Coulter - that McCarthy"did not go far enough."
Is it possible that there was a vast Communist plot to subvert American democracy, and only McCarthy understood the depth of the problem? The new McCarthyites claim their reappraisal was triggered by new evidence: the declassification of a series of documents from the Soviet archives known as the Verona cables. These documents do indeed show that some of the individuals defended by the 1950s left and savaged by McCarthy were actually Soviet spies. The most prominent is the left's old cause celebre, Alger Hiss.
This is a serious blow, and it should be honestly acknowledged. A minority of people on the left are still inclined to see 1950s Stalinists as misguided idealists, decent believers in equality and liberty who somehow went astray. This is unsustainable. By the time Hiss was offering his secrets to Stalin's agents, the news about the gulags - vast concentration camps which slaughtered over 15 million innocent people - was out and beyond dispute. The US has many flaws, but it is lunatic to believe it is domestically equivalent to this; there are no mass graves in Kansas.
Too much of the left for too long implied there was moral equivalence between the two sides in the Cold War. They're wrong: the defence of a basically free society is not the same as the defence of a totalitarian state. A society where minorities can organise and fight for recognition is not the same as a society where minorities are herded up and executed. Hiss was not swapping secrets between two equally bad tribes.
But it's a wild leap to say that these cables therefore vindicate McCarthy. A handful of his allegations have turned out to have been right. A handful of Mystic Meg's predictions no doubt end up being accurate too. McCarthy made so many accusations - with virtually no evidence - that it would be extraordinary if he did not hit the target a few times.
More than this, it is a blatant distortion of the historical record to claim that only McCarthy was opposed to Communist spies. Most of the democratic left saw the menace of Stalinism and the crucial importance of defending America's imperfect democracy. If anything, McCarthy damaged the cause of anti-Communism by associating it with paranoid madness.
Some people will see this as an arcane historical debate. They are wrong. The Verona cables were decoded in 1995, but they have only been vigorously debated since 11 September 2001. There's a reason: at the start of a long war against Islamic fundamentalism, Americans are thinking about the launch of their last long war. How McCarthy is viewed provides us with an indication of how the"War on Terror" will proceed.
If the errors of the early stages of the Cold War are not acknowledged now, they will be repeated. The history of the 1950s is a must-read today. The first lesson is clear: within America, dissent must be defended vigorously from Coulter-style charges of treachery. The way to defend democracy is not to shut it down but to embrace it. Public debate and a frank analysis of American mistakes will make the battle against Islamic fundamentalism more efficient, not less.
In particular, it will help us to distinguish between when the US acts in a legitimate war against Islamic fundamentalism, and when it uses this as a pretext aggressively to extend its own business interests. This blurring went on throughout the Cold War: uppity democracies trying to fend off US business exploitation, like Guatemala, were crushed in the name of the war on communism. The neo-McCarthyites must not be allowed to silence opponents of aggressive US businesses with a howl of"Treachery!" It is one thing to die fighting Stalinism or Bin Laden; it is another to kill for the United Fruit Company or Halliburton.
The second lesson is that to oppose Islamic fundamentalism, Americans must repudiate their own far right. A Cold War in which America was led by McCarthy and his acolytes might not have been winnable at all. An America that jailed people for their political beliefs or that launched"limited nuclear wars" (another McCarthy obsession) might have been an America that collapsed under its own lunacies before the Soviet Union did. The US side in the Cold War was at its weakest - and its most morally indefensible - when it was fought by the President politically closest to McCarthy: Richard Nixon.
The third lesson is that the US and Britain should not back the far right abroad - foreign McCarthys - in the mistaken belief that they will help us to prevail. The Cold War led the US to overthrow many decent democratic regimes that it feared were pro-Soviet (or simply found economically inconvenient): Salvador Allende in Chile, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Mohammed Mossadeq in Iran. This damaged the American cause by making it - in foreign policy terms - for a time as totalitarian as the Soviet Union.
The same mistake may be repeated today. If the US continues to back fascistic dictatorships like the House of Saud, Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan and now Colonel Gaddafi, in the mistaken belief that they will help us in the"War on Terror", then the US will continue to haemorrhage its moral superiority over Islamic fundamentalists. The best way to defend democracy is to spread democracy, not supress it in the interests of fair-weather friends.
The corpse of Joe McCarthy is being paraded before us. The more extreme wing of the US right believe he offers us a model for how to fight a war against Islamic fundamentalism. They're right - and it's a model that leads straight to liquidated democracy and defeat.
Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman, in the Straits Times (March 22, 2004):
THE brutality of the 20th century has given George Santayana's observation that 'those who forget history are condemned to repeat it' the standing of an absolute truth. Less noted but equally true is that dictators study history in order to repeat it.
Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were students of political history, including the works of Machiavelli. Saddam Hussein carried a well-worn Arabic translation of Mein Kampf.
Now, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il shows he is a no less apt pupil of history, having learnt from his mentors how to use terror to gain and exercise power, crush domestic opposition and build and maintain brutal concentration camps to rival anything built by Hitler and Stalin.
MR KIM also excels at the propaganda war, especially when it comes to brainwashing the country's children. Consider how he uses The Diary Of Anne Frank, the touching chronicle of a child desperate for love and hope while hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.
Anne's moving plea for tolerance and peace in the midst of despair and brutality is presented in North Korea's schools as a manual for preparing for the next war against 'the American imperialists' who, as one student puts it, are 'worse than Hitler's fascists'. Like his totalitarian predecessors, who contorted hope into hatred, Mr Kim's regime twists the message of Anne Frank to teach hatred of 'Nazi America'.
Unfortunately, the Nazi analogy is devastatingly appropriate - not for the United States, but the brutal North Korean regime. In the past few weeks, new information has come to light bolstering charges that political prisoners are being gassed in 'experiments' worthy of Josef Mengele, Auschwitz's 'angel of death'.
Korean human rights activist Do Hee Youn revealed top secret documents from North Korea's secluded Vinalon Complex - site of a factory producing nerve gas and blister and choking agents.
The factory's former chief engineer Kang Byong Sop smuggled out papers showing political prisoners were trucked in twice a week for experiments. He also provided this personal witness: 'I saw human hands scratching a round glass window inside a chamber that was locked with a heavy metal door.'
The factory is in the remote town of Hamhung, along with Camp No. 22, Mr Kim's largest concentration camp.
Mr Kang's revelations are new confirmation of what Mr Kwon Hyuk, former security chief at Camp No. 22, told the world a few months ago. 'I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,' he charged.
'The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save their children with mouth-to-mouth breathing.'
North Korea 'stonewalled' and attacked the credibility of these reports. The most prestigious Western media, and even US Secretary of State Colin Powell ('optimistic' about six-power talks with Pyongyang on nuclear weapons) downplayed or chose to ignore the horrifying claims of North Korean concentration camps and gas chambers.
The resulting virtual non-story is not only eerily similar to initial reports
of Saddam's 1988 gassing of Kurds but another haunting reminder of the Holocaust,
when so many early reports of Nazi killing squads and death camps were also
dismissed as biased or erroneous by Allied governments and media.
John D. Podesta and Judd C. Legum, in Salon (March 22, 2004):
Every time our nation faces a threat to national security there is a powerful tension between the need to keep the people informed and the need to keep the enemy in the dark....
On July 20, 1916, a group of German saboteurs blew up a large munitions dump on the New York Harbor, creating what the New York Times later described as"a colossal, ear-splitting, ground-shaking, glass-breaking explosion" that could be heard as far away as Maryland. Shrapnel pierced the Statue of Liberty. Thus, terrorism was an issue of great national concern nearly 90 years ago.
The attack on the New York Harbor and, more broadly, the beginning of the United States involvement in World War I marked the birth of the modern secrecy movement. During the first days of World War I, the Army implemented the first modern information-classification system. And just weeks after the United States entered the war, Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it unlawful to disseminate information relating to the broad categories of"national defense" or"public defense."
In October 1917, Theodore Roosevelt expressed the prevalent attitude of the day:"The men who oppose the war; who fail to support the government in every measure which really tends to the efficient prosecution of the war; and above all who in any shape or way champion the cause and the actions of Germany, show themselves to be the Huns within our own gates and the allies of men whom our sons and brothers are crossing the ocean to fight."
Attorney General John Ashcroft, in an eerie echo of Roosevelt's comment, made it clear that the"Huns within" syndrome is alive and well. Testifying in support of the USA PATRIOT Act, a law which significantly expanded the ability of the government to act in secret, Ashcroft infamously said:"To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."
It has always been this combination of the fear of the enemy as well as the fear of disloyalty -- what Roosevelt referred to as the"Huns within" -- that has been the rationale for withholding government information from the American public. As apprehension of subversives rises, so does the scope of government secrecy.
The lesson of the Cold War
Secrecy became more formalized and pervasive during the Cold War. The Soviet Union heightened anxieties of external attack, domestic infiltration and espionage. Communists and"fellow travelers" became the new"Hun within."
As fears of the Communism increased, the executive branch expanded the role of the intelligence communities, continually placing more of the government's operations under a shroud of secrecy. Stunningly, by 1957, the epidemic of over-classification was acknowledged by the government. That year a presidential Commission on Government Security concluded that a"vast, intricate, confusing and costly complex of temporary, inadequate, uncoordinated programs and measures designed to protect secrets and installations vital to the defense of the National against agents of Soviet imperialism" had grown unrestrained. But the commission's advice to reduce and control that system went unheeded. That same system, although somewhat narrowed or expanded by succeeding presidents, underpins our classification system today.
The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 demonstrated the unfortunate consequences of increasing reliance on government decision making performed exclusively through secret channels. The aim of the limited invasion, planned and carried out in a narrow and covert channel, was intended to spark a popular revolt against Castro. Instead the failed mission set in motion a chain of events that led to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
The year before the invasion, Lloyd Free, a Princeton University social scientist, conducted an extensive public-opinion survey in Cuba. The study revealed that at the time Cubans were quite optimistic about the future. Free unambiguously concluded that Cubans"are unlikely to shift their present overwhelming allegiance to Fidel Castro." Even though this public information was specifically given to the U.S. government, it was ignored. This is one of the most tragic consequences of the culture of secrecy: Crucial public information becomes devalued, easily disregarded or dismissed.
Nearly 40 years later the U.S. invasion of Iraq mirrors the problems associated with the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The Bush administration concluded that Iraq currently possessed weapons of mass destruction based on information that it was provided largely in secret, even though much of this information was self-serving, secondhand or otherwise unreliable. For example, the government relied heavily on information provided to it by Ahmed Chalabi, its favorite exile who hadn't been in Iraq for decades and had a strong self-interest in precipitating a U.S. invasion.
Rev. Mark Gallagher, minister of the Michael Servetus Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Vancouver, WA, in Columbian.com (March 21, 2004):
Two men of my Vancouver congregation recently got a marriage license from Multnomah County, and I traveled to their Portland home to conduct the ceremony. Given their loving and committed relationship of over 13 years, they were perhaps the most deeply ready of any couple I have married.
I ask,"Why on Earth should these men be excluded?" Objectors answer:"You can't go tampering with an institution like marriage. It has always been this way!"
Which way would that be?
In ancient and medieval Europe, marriage was not about love but property. It was arranged by parents, often prior to the bride reaching puberty, with a dowry paid to the husband upon consummation. The overriding concern was economic.
According to the Bible, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were children of the same father. We call that incest today. Old Testament men routinely took multiple wives. We call that polygamy today. After failing to get pregnant, Sarah offered her slave Hagar for Abraham to have children with. I'm not sure what we'd call that today.
Marriage has not always been any particular way.
[We hear:] "Change marriage and civilization will collapse!" This hysteria echoes throughout history. From the Boston Quarterly Review in 1859:"The family, in its old sense, is disappearing from our land, and not only our free institutions are threatened but the very existence of our society is endangered."
The prospect of divorce also spelled society's downfall. In 1816 Timothy Dwight, president of Yale University decried Connecticut's new divorce law:"Within a moderate period, the whole community will be thrown into general prostitution." Horace Greeley suggested that a partnership with the possibility of divorce should be called something other than marriage. ("Civil union" perhaps?)
The specter of interracial marriage was a grave threat to civilization. At one point, 41 states banned interracial marriage. It was not until 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional. At the time of that"activist court" decision, according to one survey 72 percent of Americans disapproved of interracial marriage; 48 percent believed it should be a crime. That is significantly higher disapproval than we see today regarding same-sex relationships.
From the Rush Limbaugh Show, transcript by Limbaugh (March 22, 2004):
RUSH: Now, I'm not going to use any video of Clarke from 60 Minutes, but he was on Good Morning, America today, and here's just a couple, maybe three sound bites. Charlie Gibson says,"So, you deal with the exigencies of the day on September 11th. You come in September 12th ready to plot what response we take to Al-Qaeda. Let me talk about the response that you got from top administration officials. On that day, what did the president say to you?"
CLARKE: Well, the president wanted us to look to see if Iraq was involved. Now, the White House is trying to say he very calmly asked me to do due diligence and see who might have done it to look at all the possibilities. That wasn't it, and the White House is also saying maybe the meeting didn't take place, and there are witnesses who have said the meeting took place. The president in a very intimidating way left us, me and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word that there was an Iraqi hand behind 9-11, because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office.
RUSH: You know, all this would really be powerful if the first thing we had done is go into Iraq. But my memory tells me, my friends, that the first thing we didn't do was go to Iraq, that we went to Afghanistan. You know, and plus, Mr. Clarke, this is an opinion. He’s indulging here in opinion, what he thinks of what the president wanted, what he thinks was on the president's mind. The president was faking him out, the president, look, I want you to come back here, I don't care what you find, it better say Iraq. Well, the president didn't get what he wanted, apparently, and so how can that be? If the president had his mind made up and wanted to see Iraq in this report, and it wasn't there, then what would we logically expect the president to do, fire the people who didn't do what he wanted to do and then launch a salvo on Iraq the next day?
By the way, you know, folks, I want to take you back, if you care to traverse back to September 12th, 2001, when this first happened, who did you think it might be? Who was it that you thought it might be? I tell you what, my first thought was Saddam Hussein. Here's Bush's kid, Bush 41's son in the White House, who is still steaming over the Gulf War. That was my first thought, and a lot of other people's first thoughts as well. The administration was mum. The administration didn't say anything, and we were wondering why. We didn't know what they were thinking. This idea that Richard Clarke is sitting here on the inside, he was a holdover from the Clinton years. And it's obvious there were people keeping him at arm's length even though he was on board. The next sound bite, Richard Clarke answers Charlie's question on Good Morning, America, today. Did Bush ask about any other nations other than Iraq?
CLARKE: Oh, no, no. No. Not at all. It was Iraq, Saddam, fight find out, get back to me.
GIBSON: And were his questions more about Iraq than about Al-Qaeda?
CLARKE: Absolutely. Absolutely. He didn't ask me about Al-Qaeda. I think they had an"idee fixe," a plan from day one, that they wanted to do something about Iraq, while the World Trade Center was still smoldering, while they were still digging bodies out, the people in the White House were thinking, ah, this gives us the opportunity we've been looking for to go after Iraq.
RUSH: Yeah, while the bodies were being dug out and the World Trade Center was still smoldering the administration trying to concoct and arrange a scenario to allow them to go into Iraq no matter what? Well, the only problem here, uh, Mr. Clarke is that Bush didn't go into Iraq no matter what. Once we knew it was Al-Qaeda we went to Afghanistan, not Iraq. I mean, it's one thing for you to go out and say all this and offer these opinions but history doesn't bear him out. History doesn't bear him out. Well, he's claiming he was in on the big meetings but he obviously wasn't in on the big meetings. We'll get to that in just a second. So Gibson says,"All right, you write in the book.." And, by the way, there's no challenge to anything this guy said on 60 Minutes, there's very little challenge to what he said on Good Morning, America today. Oh, you say this, okay, well what do you say about this, what do you say about that? He wasn't challenged on much of anything. Gibson says,"You write in the book no doubt the U.S. could have brought true stability to Afghanistan with a larger force, could have made the return of the Taliban and the terrorists virtually impossible. Instead, the larger force was held back for Iraq?"
CLARKE: That's right. And to this day Afghanistan is not stable. To this day we're hunting down Osama bin Laden. We should have put U.S. special forces in immediately, not many weeks later. U.S. special forces didn't get into the area where bin Laden was for two months and we tried to have the Afghans do it. You know, basically the president botched the response to 9-11. He should have done right after Afghanistan, right after bin Laden, and then he made the whole war on terrorism so much worse by invading Iraq.
RUSH: You know, this is just the amazing thing. How many times had Al-Qaeda via bin Laden acted when Richard Clarke meant something in the counterterrorism force, and we never once went after bin Laden. In fact, bin Laden was offered to us at least twice from Sudan, recall? When Richard Clarke was there. And we said no, the Clinton administration said no because there are lawyers in the justice department, i.e., Janet Reno advised against it,"we don't have enough evidence to hold him" or some other concoction. All this talk, you should have done this, you should have done that - he was in the White House for nine months when all this happened, you guys were in there eight years, Mr. Clarke, with event after event after event, terrorist attack after terrorist attack after terrorist attack, and you are the ones that strengthened bin Laden by not pursuing him, by not retaliating and in fact by caving to him in Somalia.
And then there's this line again,"made the whole war on terrorism so much worse by invading Iraq." Oh, yeah, the terrorists really got mad then, that's going to really make 'em mad. As though we did go to Afghanistan, whether our special forces got there when he wants them there or not we did go to Afghanistan, we blew up Tora Bora, we have imprisoned terrorists of al-Qaeda down at G'itmo. What do you mean, we're going to make 'em mad? He is espousing here, espousing a recipe for not pursuing these people, because"he's only going to get mad, they're only going to get mad." I mean, let me ask you a question. During the Clinton administration was there ever a war on terrorism? Did they ever mount a war on terrorism? I don't recall one! I don't recall terrorism being a big focus of the Clinton administration.
I do recall after the embassy bombings, Madeleine Albright saying,"We're declaring war on terrorism," and that's when they launched the salvo at the aspirin factory in Sudan and the missiles at the empty terrorist camp in Afghanistan and the missiles in Baghdad and that's all they did and those events happened to coincide with key grand jury testimony of people, witnesses, in the Monica Lewinsky case, which led at an impeachment case. You know, they had a terrorism summit somewhere on some island off of Egypt somewhere, a Clinton photo op. What war on terrorism did this administration fight? I've got a piece here on Richard Clarke written a year ago -- I have to double-check where it is, it's in the stack here in just a second, but this piece is written by an expert in the field who said that Clarke when he was in the Clinton administration running around warning everybody of the dangers posed by electronic warfare and terrorism, that the Internet was going to be the focal point of it. He couldn't have been more wrong. The only war that the Clinton administration fought, ladies and gentlemen, was on Ken Starr, and now they're mounting a war on George W. Bush as they seek to protect their own keisters. That would be rear ends for those of you in Rio Linda.
The Balkans risk being plunged into a new cycle of instability and bloodshed if the three main international decision-makers in the region do not act quickly and start political negotiations over the status of Kosovo, diplomats and analysts warned yesterday...
...Nato, the EU and the UN have invested much time, money and personnel in the small province that the US-led military alliance defended against Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader indicted by the Hague Tribunal for alleged war crime and genocide.
However, since the 1999 Nato bombing campaign against Serbia, all three organisations have been reluctant to address the main issue that dogs stability in the Balkans: Kosovo's future political relationship with Serbia...
...The EU started negotiations last year but they have made no progress, partly because of the rise of Serb nationalists in Belgrade and a weak, nationalist leadership in Kosovo."But there is also a lack of political will by the EU," said a European diplomat. Yet Balkan experts warned yesterday that if political negotiations did not start soon, it was likely violence would continue in the province and spill over to the rest of the region.
In Kosovo, the small ethnic Serb minority - which has never felt secure since 1999 - could call on Serbia to help them.
The ethnic Albanian majority could be tempted to use the unrest, fanned by some Serb nationalists in Belgrade, as a means to push their case for independence.
Next door in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the EU is expected to take over from the 12,000-strong Nato-led Sfor later this year, Bosnian Serbs could use the chance to break away from the federation of Croats, Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs.
The EU and Nato have been trying to sew this republic back together since the bloody civil wars of the 1990s, but Bosnian Serbs still hanker to join with Serbia.
Were that to happen, nationalist Croats, both in Croatia and Bosnia, might seize a similar chance, say analysts.
Diplomats suggest that Montenegro, now linked with Serbia, could use unrest in Kosovo to push its own claims for independence from Belgrade. There is also concern about what might happen in Macedonia....
Last week, an obscure government actuary named Richard S. Foster rocked Washington with accusations that the Bush administration had muzzled his economic forecasts for overhauling Medicare. Mr. Foster calculated that it would cost more than $500 billion to provide a prescription drug benefit over the next 10 years, but says his boss threatened to fire him if he shared the information with Congress. Lawmakers passed the bill relying on a much lower -- and politically palatable -- figure of $400 billion.
The health and human services secretary, Tommy G. Thompson, immediately ordered an internal investigation, while Mr. Foster's boss, who has since left government to become a health industry lobbyist, denied making any threats. But Democrats wasted no time in charging that the White House had tampered with the truth.
The Foster case was only the latest in a string of high-profile controversies over how the Bush White House handles information, from scientific data to health facts to intelligence in the war in Iraq.
In recent weeks, Environmental Protection Agency employees have said they were told to forgo the customary scientific and economic studies in developing a rule on mercury emissions. Nobel laureates issued a statement asserting the administration had distorted scientific fact on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry. Mr. Thompson acknowledged his agency had altered a report on racial disparities in health to sound more positive. And the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan research institution, found that administration officials"systematically misrepresented" the threat from Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs...
...But the line between spin and deception is a thin one indeed, as Mr. Clinton ("I did not have sex with that woman") amply demonstrated. And as the Medicare controversy unfolded last week, Republicans noted pointedly that President Bush won election by vowing to restore integrity to the White House, a goal they say he has more than achieved...
...So the question is not whether the Bush administration has shaded the facts, but whether in doing so, it has approached a tipping point, beyond which even its Republican allies in Congress no longer trust what it says.
"I think the White House has come under such disrepute over the years that whether we have approached what would be the tipping point is hard to say," said James MacGregor Burns, a presidential historian at the University of Richmond, who studies leadership."A lot of the cynicism among the public results from failures on the part of not only this president, but also earlier presidents, in putting out full and accurate information."
With its agencies and research institutions churning out analyses, Washington is awash in facts and figures. Alice Rivlin, who has served Democratic presidents from Johnson to Clinton, said Americans have been"very lucky as a nation" to have career bureaucrats dedicated to producing accurate information."What has characterized our government, over all the time I've been in it, is that the numbers are honest," she said...
In 1981, David A. Stockman, who ran the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, nearly lost his job after he confessed to a magazine reporter that upon discovering that the White House could not simultaneously reduce taxes, increase military spending and cut the deficit, he altered his computer models to suggest that it could.
"This thing pales in comparison to what David Stockman did," said Lou Cannon, a biographer of President Reagan, referring to the Medicare controversy. Of the Bush administration, he said,"If you invented some deceptiveness scale, I don't think this administration stands out."
Others, though, say the Bush administration bends the facts more than most.
"I think the Bush administration, for various reasons, seems to have a higher ratio of statistical prevarication than most," said Kevin Phillips, the author of"American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush," a book that is highly critical of the president.
One reason may be the ballooning deficit, which Mr. Phillips said is forcing the White House to put a positive spin on its economic numbers -- especially in an election year. The deficit was clearly an issue with the Medicare bill. With conservative Republicans balking at the $400 billion cost, it might have been defeated, or significantly altered, had Mr. Foster's estimates been widely known.
While Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to evoke memories of Watergate ("What did the president know; when did he know it?" Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts asked last week about the Medicare numbers), Mr. Cannon, the Reagan biographer, says it is difficult to imagine the president paying attention to the work of a lowly actuary. Questions about Mr. Bush's credibility, he said, will ultimately be decided on the far bigger issue of how the administration handled intelligence information leading up to the Iraq war.
Mr. Burns, the presidential historian, agrees."If you make a mistake or a misstatement about domestic policy, you can retrieve it, but if you make a mistake in military policy of the sort that involves bad information, there may be no remedy," he said."That, it seems to me, is the tipping point."...
A year ago we were present at the destruction. The march of US and British troops into Iraq did more than divide old allies over how best to confront Saddam Hussein. It marked the final collapse of the geopolitical architecture that had safeguarded the peace for 50 years. Amid the rubble of the postwar order, we now have incoherence and argument. The consequent risks to the west's security far outweigh the immediate threat of another al-Qaeda atrocity.
The old system, of course, was crumbling before George W. Bush decided to go to war with Iraq. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 removed the existential threat that had bound the US and Europe into the transatlantic alliance. The terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 awakened America to both its unique power and its new vulnerability.
We have heard half a dozen other reasons during the past year or two why the old transatlantic relationship was no longer sustainable. For some, it is simply a question of relative power. America is militarily strong, Europe weak. Once attacked, the US was always bound to discard the old constraints on its freedom of action. After all, the multilateralist impulse that had seen America create the common institutions of the postwar order had been as much an act of realpolitik as of Wilsonian idealism.
The Bush administration, the argument continues, never accepted the bargain under which Europe embraced US leadership in return for a say in the way it was exercised. Primacy meant America could make its own choices and opt for the flexibility of ad hoc coalitions over the obligations of fixed alliances.
There were changes too on the European side of the Atlantic. Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall meant that Europe ceased to be the centre of Washington's geopolitical universe, so too Europe felt less dependent on the US defence guarantee. Germany's implacable opposition to the invasion of Iraq would have been unimaginable during the cold war.
These are all part of the explanation. Behind them lies a deeper divide, rooted in history, culture and geography. Europe's central historical experience has been that military victories produce only temporary peace. The European Union encapsulates a visceral conviction that shared sovereignty, multilateral organisations and the rule of law are the essential explanation for the absence of war. As Jean Monnet once put it:"Institutions govern relationships between people. They are the real pillars of civilisation."
Europeans, though, failed from the outset to understand how profound was the psychological shock delivered to the US by September 11 2001. Flanked by two great oceans, America had considered itself immune from significant attack. The demonstration of vulnerability transformed a status quo power into a revolutionary one.
What we are left with is incoherence. The best that can be said of relationships between Washington and some of its erstwhile allies is that a certain public civility has returned to the conduct of diplomacy. Gerhard Schroder has visited the White House, the president has shaken the hand of France's Jacques Chirac.
A more optimistic view would say that circumstance has also obliged the antagonists to modify their views. I was rereading the other day a speech given by Richard Cheney, the US vice-president, in late August 2002. Historians will see Mr Cheney's text, which seethes with contempt for the United Nations, as a vital moment in the transatlantic rupture.
Yet the grim experience of its forces in Iraq has taught the US something of the UN's value. Only after Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, conferred his legitimacy on the process could Washington press ahead with plans to return sovereignty to the Iraqis. Mr Bush, if not Mr Cheney, has learned something of the importance of combining military might with legitimacy.
Europe, of course, has its own confusions and divisions. Tony Blair rested his hopes of keeping the US in the international system on getting up close to the president. Mr Chirac preferred traditional balance-of-power resistance. Both failed. Now the terrorist bombing of Madrid and the outcome of the subsequent Spanish election have added to the fog.
We can dismiss the charge by Mr Bush's Republican allies that the decision of the Spanish electorate to overturn the government of Jose Maria Aznar was an act of terrorist appeasement. You can be resolute against al-Qaeda and yet believe that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake. Those in Washington who now attack Spain's exercise of democracy would presumably argue that a victory for John Kerry in November's presidential election would also mark the triumph of Islamist fundamentalism.
Europe, though, does not have a single or convincing narrative as to how the Pax Americana might work. It is one thing to laud multinational institutions, another to say how they can be remade to meet the new strategic realities and threats. To tell America that it must work through alliances is not enough.
There are, of course, plenty of specific ideas around as to how to reinvigorate the transatlantic partnership. Among those under discussion in coming months will be a new mission statement for Nato and a joint commitment to encourage liberal democracy in what is now called the Greater Middle East.
These are worthy endeavours. But to have meaning they require a change of mindset on both sides of the Atlantic to fit them into a wider framework. There is no need to pretend that the postwar order was perfect. Nor should we think that it can, or should, be rebuilt precisely as it was. But the transatlantic relationship will be fixed only when America and Europe begin to talk seriously about the shape of a new bargain that can accommodate both America's power and Europe's fears. Pace Donald Rumsfeld, the sheriff and his posse will not do it.
I have heard it said that we should be patient. The system that emerged after 1945 was not a single, neat construction. It took many years to create. There was improvisation alongside vision, pragmatism stirred in with principle. That is true, in as far as it goes. But Islamist extremism has not shown itself indulgent of delay. Al-Qaeda will exploit the west's disunity at every turn. And where are today's Trumans and Adenauers, Marshalls and Schumans?
Hans de Vreij
Security and Defence editor
The battle of Poitiers in 732, Spain 1492, Vienna 1693 and Turkey 1917. These combinations of years and places most probably mean little or nothing at all to the average Westerner in 2004. Yet the events to which they refer are all significant moments in the history of two religions: Islam and Christianity.
In 732, Christian forces engaged in battle near the French town of Poitiers with a Muslim army which had managed to advance some considerable way across the continent. The Muslim forces were defeated.
Prior to 1492, southern Spain Andalusia and Granada had been an important Islamic stronghold inside Europe. In that year, however, the Muslims were driven from Spain completely by Catholic forces.
In 1693, a decisive battle was fought and won outside the gates of Vienna against Muslim forces which had left Turkey, crossed the Balkans, and were marching across Europe. And 1917 saw Turkey's Islamic Ottoman Empire crumble and then collapse following its defeat by the allied powers chief among them Great Britain and France during the First World War.
According to some academic researchers, these events from history play a very significant role in the thought processes of the al-Qaeda terrorist network and related radical Islamic groups.
As these specialists see it, the idea of wreaking revenge for past defeats and humiliations is a key goal for such groups, alongside more contemporary motivations such as the desire to wage war against the "Western" and "Christian" occupation of Iraq or against those who launched attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Israeli security expert Giora Shamis believes Osama bin Laden's so-called "fatwas" and the thousands of documents placed on the Internet by al-Qaeda and similar groups even provide a basis to draw up a list of likely "historical targets" for attacks in or close to Europe. Turkey heads that list, followed by Spain. The next target could be Rome the centre of power of Roman Catholicism followed by Vienna, where al-Qaeda might attempt to avenge the aforementioned defeat of 1693.
According to Mr Shamis "Only now is the intelligence community beginning to search the Internet thoroughly for relevant information. Much has already been said there, quite openly." He adds that: "Curiously enough, the attacks in Madrid had already been announced in advance on the Web. A researcher at Norway's FFI defence institute came across the relevant document in December last year, but did nothing with the information."
Hans Jansen, a Dutch expert on the Arab World and Islam, also stresses that,
in addition to the more immediate issues on which al-Qaeda focuses, history
is a key factor in its philosophy. Asked about the possibility of Rome being
a future target, he replies: "I can well imagine that being the case because
there are certain statements attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, who
died in the year 632 AD in which the speaker says that Rome will fall.
The men who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 also spoke
of Rome being conquered in the name of Islam".
Sunanda Kisor Datta-Ray
Visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
Iraq could explode again as soon as American troops have gone, because American administrator Paul Bremer seems to have learned nothing from the past. He is inviting disaster by defying the logic of numbers to placate US allies among Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbours and to contain Shi'ite Iran. No wonder Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani looks to the United Nations for redress. A UN mandate might be the only way of averting another disaster.
Current wisdom - more propaganda than fact - is wrong on two counts. First, it attributes Shi'ite and Kurdish truculence only to former dictator Saddam Hussein's having brutalised both communities. Second, the Bush administration appears to believe that never before has the Middle East, not just Iraq, seen such a liberal democratic charter as the TAL, which comes into force on July 1.
To take the second fallacy first, the British beat the Americans by 80 years when they tried to saddle Iraqis with Westminster-style parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The 1925 constitution proclaimed that Iraqis had "confided ... a trust" in their foreign king, Faisal, who had been chased out of Syria and arrived from his European exile in a British gunboat. Though Britain's pro-consul, Sir Percy Cox, claimed that 99 per cent of Iraqis wanted Faisal, he timed the installation for 6am when there was hardly anyone around to object.
An Iraqi aspirant to the throne was seized and bundled off to Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known then. The British also crushed a Shi'ite revolt against the infant, artificially created kingdom. They were desperate to secure the route to India as well as grab the oil that Iraq's Ottoman rulers had been negotiating to sell to the Dutch, Germans and Americans since 1906.
It is anyone's guess how many of the TAL's 25 signatories, hand-picked by Mr Bremer, can claim more convincing credentials than Faisal. Mr Bremer's ingenious system, which relies on "local caucuses" instead of elections, is even more arbitrary than the British-imposed constitution. That document theoretically vested power in parliament's elected lower house, because sovereignty "resides in the people" whom the British endowed with "complete freedom of conscience" as well as a glittering array of other democratic "rights".
But though 16 parliaments sat under the 1925 constitution and 58 cabinets came and went, they were all dummies. It was the boy king's uncle and regent who exercised all authority until the end in 1958.
It suited imperial Britain to back control by the Sunni minority. Hussein benefited from Britain's precedent, which the Americans are now following. Hence, no elections. Naturally, Ayatollah al-Sistani resents this denial of the majority's political rights. Hussein also followed the west in discriminating against the Kurds. The victorious first world war powers reneged at the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne on their pledge of Kurdish self -determination. Then, both the Nixon and first Bush administrations double -crossed the Kurds, encouraging them to revolt, then withholding support.
Political manipulations to prop up minority rule while promising fancy rights on paper can never last, let alone ensure stability. Syria's constitution outlaws torture, Jordan's guarantees freedom of expression and Egypt's forbids imprisonment without charges. Even the Revolutionary Command Council diktats, through which Hussein ruled for 23 years, upheld many libertarian rights in theory.
It is a truism that men make constitutions and not the other way round. Just
as the Iraqis gave short shrift to the 1925 document, they will reject the new
dispensation if it subordinates 60 per cent of the people to fewer than 20 per
cent. Asked about the wisdom of his decisions, Mr Bremer retorted, "I'll
let the historians worry about that!" The real worry is that the new imperium
is repeating all the blunders of the old. Only the UN can rescue Iraqis from
the consequences of US folly.
Peter Kammerer, in the South China Morning Post (March 16, 2004):
United States Democratic Party presidential contender John Kerry is under increasing pressure to prove his Vietnam war bravery, which has become the centrepiece of his election campaign.
Senator Kerry, the commanding officer of a US naval boat in the Mekong river delta for four months at the height of the war, rarely fails to invoke Vietnam, its legacy or his service record during campaign speeches for November's presidential election. His entourage includes fellow servicemen, who also appear in his election advertising.
Using war service as part of a wider debate on patriotism, the Democrats have questioned why President George W. Bush failed to serve in Vietnam, instead spending the conflict in Texas with the National Guard.
Yet Senator Kerry has resisted repeated calls, particularly from interest groups affiliated with Mr Bush's Republican Party, to release his wartime medical records to prove the circumstances surrounding the honours he received. Among them were three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action and two medals for valour, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star.
Internet petitions and postings elsewhere on the Web question how so many awards could have been given for such a short length of service in Vietnam - a third of the usual tour of duty.
Acclaimed historian Douglas Brinkley, the author of the only book about the senator from Massachusetts, Tour Of Duty: John Kerry at the Vietnam War, agreed last week Vietnam veterans were divided in their opinion of the presidential hopeful.
"A lot of veterans love Kerry and a lot dislike him," Dr Brinkley, the director of the Eisenhower Centre for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, said. "People who were in Vietnam in that period have different views of everything."
Those views were widened by the fact that after returning, Senator Kerry joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War and became a prominent spokesman for the cause.
Labelled a subversive by the FBI, he used his notoriety from the period to gain public office and a Senate seat in 1985.
Although Senator Kerry gave Dr Brinkley access to his extensive collection of letters, journals and notebooks written during and after the war, he did not let him see his medical records.
"If I have not seen his medical records - I don't think anybody has," the historian said.
"The person has to sign off on them. Kerry himself would have to allow them to be released," Dr Brinkley said.
He sees no significance in the fact that the senator received so many Purple Hearts, explaining that the awards were being given "left and right".
"People who earn medals earn medals," he said. "Some Purple Hearts were awarded for being in a more dangerous zone, but a piece of shrapnel goes into your arm and you get a Purple Heart. A few more inches and it could be an eye or a brain - that's how you get killed. The notion that it's not big enough is a little strange."
His assessment was backed by Vietnam war veteran Robert Kirkwood, who is now a commercial airline pilot.
Mr Kirkwood, in the air force during the conflict but assigned to the army's special forces as a forward air controller, said his section was "stingy with its Purple Hearts".
"Minor cuts and bruises just did not come under consideration," he said from his home in Colorado.
"However, I had an acquaintance at Phan Rang Air Base who was a pilot. He was rolling out from under his bed after a rocket attack and cut his arm on a piece of broken light bulb and went down to get a band-aid and he was given a Purple Heart.
"It really depends on the time and place and who was making those kinds of decisions."
He suggested, though, that Senator Kerry had served in the most dangerous location possible for navy service personnel.
The Mekong delta area was "as close to the front lines as you could get", said Mr Kirkwood, whose awards for the wars he served in include three Distinguished Flying Crosses and five meritorious service medals.
Senator Kerry enlisted in the navy in February 1966, a few months before graduating from Yale University.
In early 1968, he made a brief stop in Vietnam on the frigate USS Bridley during five months of service in the Pacific. Senator Kerry returned to the US for training to command a small boat deployed in Vietnam's rivers known as the Swift. He was promoted to lieutenant by June and at the end of the year was sent back to Vietnam and eventually commanded two Swifts.
Of the men who served at Senator Kerry's side, one of them - Steven Michael Gardner - has become a vocal critic.
He told the Boston Globe in a recent interview that Senator Kerry "absolutely did not want to engage the enemy when I was with him. He wouldn't go in there and search," he alleged. "That is why I have a negative viewpoint of John Kerry."
Christine Brennan, in USA Today (March 18, 2004):
The timing and the location of the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, could not be more ominous. Never has there been a modern Olympic Games situated in a worse spot at a worse time in history. There have been sadly ironic locations, such as Hitler's Berlin in 1936. There have been tragic locations, such as Munich in 1972. There have been controversial locations, such as Mexico City in 1968 and Moscow in 1980.
But thanks to al-Qaeda and friends, there has never been an Olympic location fraught with the potential for more terrible things to happen than Athens in August 2004.
It's sad but true: The upcoming Olympics are a home game for the terrorists.
Which means, of course, that these Summer Olympic Games, should they be held without incident, potentially could become the most meaningful sports event ever held on the planet.
"A journalist looking back on this 50 years from now might very correctly make such a defensible statement," said John Lucas, a noted Olympic historian and professor emeritus at Penn State. "For sporting reasons, for political reasons, (a successful Olympics in Athens) would be extraordinary."
For the leaders of the Athens Olympic effort -- the dedicated men and women who are furiously throwing brick upon mortar, figuratively if not literally, preparing for the event known as the largest peaceful gathering of the world -- the stakes have never been higher. They are racing against time just to make sure their earnest nation is ready for its grand moment on the world stage, then they get to hold their collective breath for 17 days as the best security detail nearly $ 1 billion can buy tries to prevent one nut, or a collection of nuts, from ruining the whole thing.
Ghada Karmi, a research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, and author of In Search of Fatima; in the Guardian (March 18, 2004):
It is not simply Israel's current hardline government that is to blame for the subjugation of Palestinians, but Zionism itself Israel's deputy defence minister, Ze'ev Boim, recently wondered whether there was a genetic defect that made Arabs terrorists. "What is it with Islam in general and the Palestinians in particular?" he asked on Israel army radio. "Is it some sort of cultural deficiency? Is it a genetic defect?"...
For those who have forgotten or never understood what Zionism meant in practice, the Israeli historian Benny Morris's latest revelations and comments - published in the Israeli daily Haaretz and in the Guardian - make salutary reading. They have raised a storm of controversy, perhaps because they were too honest about an ideology that some would rather keep hidden. Morris, who first exposed the dark circumstances of Israel's creation in his groundbreaking 1988 book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, explains the Israeli project with a brutal candour few Zionists have been prepared to display.
Using Israeli state archives for his recently revised study, he reminds us that Israel was set up by expulsion, rape and massacre. The Jewish state could not have come into being without ethnic cleansing and, he asserts, more may be necessary in future to ensure its survival. This bald assertion should shock no one, for it is entirely consistent with the basic Zionist proposition of an ethnically pure state. Palestine's indigenous population was a clear impediment to this aim, which is why the concept of transfer was so central to Zionist thinking long before 1948 - advocated by Zionism's leaders and expressed through a series of specific expulsion plans from the mid-1930s onwards. These led inexorably to the 1948 Palestinian exodus and the refugee tragedy that persists today.
In an attempt to evade responsibility, Zionists have long tried to suggest that, but for the Arabs' "unprovoked" attack on Israel in 1948, there would be no refugees. This idea is both pernicious and false. Between January and the end of May 1948, a mere two weeks into the war, a third of the Palestinian population (my own family included) had left, most of them expelled. The "war" itself was more of a civil conflict and could not alone have accounted for the mass exodus. The Arab armies were notoriously ill-equipped and poorly trained and no match for the superior Zionist forces. Though ultimately ineffective, they came to defend the hapless Palestinians and to prevent their territories from being totally overrun....
Though creating Israel entailed Palestinian suffering, Morris argues, it was for a noble aim. That is why Zionism is still a dangerous idea: at its root is a conviction of moral rightness that justifies almost any act deemed necessary to preserve the Jewish state. If that means massive military - including nuclear - force, unsavoury alliances, theft of others' resources, aggression and occupation, the brutal crushing of all resistance - then so be it. No one should be under any illusion that Zionism is a spent force, regardless of current discourse about "post-Zionism". That a benign Zionism, sympathetic to Palestinians, also exists means little while these basic tenets remain.
We must thank Morris for disabusing us of such notions. But a project that is morally one-sided and can only survive through force and xenophobia has no long-term future. As he himself says: "Destruction could be the end of this process."