Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
SOURCE: Daily Beast (10-27-12)
Andrew Romano is a senior writer for Newsweek.
Want to know what will happen to Barack Obama if he loses to Mitt Romney on Nov. 6? Just look at what happened to George H.W. Bush after he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.
You remember George H.W. Bush, right? You know, the other George Bush? The one who acted all wimp-like; who shattered his "read my lips" tax pledge; who presided over a recession; who could only muster a jobless recovery in response; who added more than a trillion dollars to the national debt; and who was finally, unceremoniously dumped by America after one lackluster term, making way (thank goodness) for President Clinton’s centrist blend of balanced budgets and business-friendly policies—a blend that was directly responsible, incidentally, for 116 consecutive months of economic growth, the longest stretch in U.S. history.
Yeah, that George H.W. Bush. Without a second term, Obama will end up like him.
There’s only one problem: that George H.W. Bush never really existed. We just remember him that way. In reality, Bush was responsible for cutting the deficit, lowering unemployment, and spurring much of economic growth that buoyed Clinton throughout 1990s. But even though these improvements began, slowly but surely, during Bush’s stint in the Oval Office, none of them fully took effect in time to ensure his reelection.
Right now, the president finds himself in much the same predicament...
SOURCE: The Diplomat (10-29-12)
Chuck Freilich is a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School, and the author of Zion's Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy.
The Middle East is undergoing a historic transformation. Parts of the region are up in flames, and Asia's primary powers either have no role or a destructive one. Pakistan, Indonesia and other Asian Muslim countries, as well as India, with the world's second-largest Muslim population, are largely uninvolved, as if events in the region have no bearing on them. Japan is preoccupied with its own domestic difficulties. Russia and China consistently support the "bad guys" and in the process are both undermining regional developments and harming their own long-term interests in the region.
In Syria, a heinous dictatorship, one of the world's worst, desperately fighting for its survival, is killing tens of thousands of its own citizens. While the Western reaction has been fainthearted, Russia and China have been outright obstructionist, blocking any effective measures in the Security Council or elsewhere.
Indeed, Russia, as in many other cases, such as the international intervention in Libya, appears far more intent on pursuing its own misguided crusade to stymie American influence around the world, than in resolving the issue. Russia is interested in preserving its one remaining foreign naval port, in Tartus, Syria, and Damascus remains one of the few remaining clients for Russian arms. Russia's support for the regime, however, along with Iran and Hezbollah, places it among Syria’s few remaining friends, hardly a prestigious club, and has already likely begun turning Arab opinion against it. With the Syrian regime's demise most probably simply a matter of time, and an Arab world in which citizens are increasingly empowered and determined to settle accounts with their malefactors, Russia's standing in the region will likely be undermined considerably. Signs are already apparent.
China, as part of its traditional reluctance to intervene in the internal affairs of foreign countries, has been less directly involved, but it, too, will be remembered poorly by the people in the region for its negative role in the Security Council. There is a point at which non-interference becomes complicity in mass murder...
Michael Wesley is an adjunct professor at the University of Sydney and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
A central theme in the Obama administration’s recent foreign-policy narrative has been that the United States is returning to Asia after a decade of distractions in the Middle East. It is easy to argue that Asia should be America’s highest foreign-policy priority. After the financial crisis, Asia emerged as the growth dynamo on which the hopes for the revival of the American and global economies are pinned. At the same time, this very economic dynamism produces huge bilateral trade deficits and is largely responsible for the steady decline of American manufacturing. And Asia is home to the United States’ most serious strategic competitor: China.
America is about to discover that Asia has changed dramatically over the past decade. Its main strategic competitor is now its largest creditor; its most important regional ally, Japan, has entered its third decade of economic stagnation, demographic decline and toxic politics; and once-estranged countries such as India and Vietnam have become promising but demanding partners. America has changed too. It is constrained by a war-weary population and a stifling government debt burden.
The big question is where the United States fits into this changed Asia. Its current approach appears to be a mixture of updated Asia strategies of old and tactical responses to various demands of Asian competitors, allies and partners—some wanting the United States to be a guarantor; others wanting it to be a balancer; and yet others viewing America as an opponent. What is missing is a careful reappraisal of Asia’s new strategic dynamics, a hardheaded assessment of what America’s Asian interests are and a considered approach to fulfilling these interests.
Such a reappraisal requires a proper understanding of the pillars of America’s successful Asia policies in the last quarter of the twentieth century. It should include an analysis of the fundamental changes that have undermined these pillars and will likely erode them further in coming decades. It must then identify American interests within the new Asia and find the best policy levers for securing them...
SOURCE: American Spectator (10-30-12)
Andrew B. Wilson, a frequent contributor to The American Spectator, writes from St. Louis.
The debate you are about to witness will not be televised, but it is indeed historic and it will provide some of the fireworks that were missing in the three presidential debates.
This is not said to disparage Mitt Romney's achievement as the clear winner of those debates.
In taking total command of the first debate, he connected with the American people for the first time. He showed that he was not the cold, heartless plutocrat pictured in the Obama ads and the mainstream media. He demonstrated that he could outthink and outtalk the president in any discussion of economic and foreign policy issues. And he looked and acted presidential. Barack Obama went from dopey and disengaged in the first debate to snarling and aggressive in the next two. But he didn't make up an inch of ground. More and more, over the course of the debates, men and women came to like and respect the challenger… and see the incumbent as the real impostor.
As good as that was, many Romney supporters were hoping for more. What Romney did not do during the three debates was to treat the thick-headed liberal/progressive mindset with the derision that it so richly deserves. The Obama administration has learned nothing from -- and cares nothing about -- its habitual mistakes and misjudgments, regardless of how costly they turn out to be. Why -- Bill Clinton pointedly asked -- is this election even close?
The president and his minions do not apologize for high unemployment, trillion dollar deficits, or the sacking of a U.S. consulate and the murder of an ambassador and three of his co-workers. They do not apologize for the most anemic recovery in more than 60 years, or for wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money on bankrupt "green" energy projects. Instead they run around saying how much worse this country would be without them and their high-minded ideas about "fairness" and "social justice."
How galling is that?
It's time for a further debate -- one that does more than establish Mitt's bona fides; one that really takes it to the opposition...
SOURCE: Forbes (10-29-12)
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
Washington has sharply reduced the number of American combat forces in Europe since the end of the Cold War, but a large U.S. military footprint remains. The Soviet "Evil Empire" has collapsed, Eastern Europe has switched sides, and America’s European allies now possess a collective GDP and population larger than the U.S. Why are American military personnel still stationed on the continent?
Regensburg once was a Roman garrison town and is a celebrated tourist site. More important for Americans, nearby sits the U.S. Army’s Hohenfels training facility.
Last week I participated in an Army-sponsored trip to Hohenfels. As always, spending time with American military personnel enhances my great respect for the Armed Services. From my time long (too long!) ago as an Air Force brat to now as a DC policy wonk I have found service members to be solid organizers, generous hosts, and impressive people.
At Hohenfels the Army trains not only American personnel but the armed forces of allied states, including the newer members of NATO. But it isn’t a NATO facility, an interesting anomaly...
SOURCE: National Interest (10-29-12)
Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group, which advises leaders of government and business, and senior adviser at Washington D.C.’s Atlantic Council.
Winston Churchill famously disliked puddings because they "lacked a theme." President Barack Obama and his administration inherited a series of rancid foreign-policy puddings from George W. Bush, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, unfortunately, President Obama’s foreign policies, like Churchill’s puddings, lack a theme.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the most visible foreign-policy issues as the new president took office. But the international agenda has been dominated by other problems as well, including Iran and its nuclear ambitions coupled with Israeli responses; the so-called rise of China; Russia; the international financial crises; the Arab Spring; and the fight against Al Qaeda associates and terror. And the pernicious domestic political environment, in which the number-one aim of Senate Republicans was to make Obama a one-term president, would prove unhelpful in the extreme.
These foreign-policy issues remain difficult if not intractable. And, given his inexperience, the president could not reasonably be expected to be up to speed from day one. Yet, even given these realities, three major flaws in Obama’s foreign policy persist today and have handicapped his performance in the international realm...
Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Alexandros Petersen is the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West (Praeger, 2011). This article is the result of a year of research across Central Asia, including Afghanistan, and is part of a larger book project. Their joint work appears at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
President Obama’s late 2011 announcement of his administration’s pivot to Asia marked a sea change in America’s geopolitical posture away from Europe and the Middle East to Asia and the Pacific Rim. Reflecting the growing strategic repercussions of China’s rise, the move presages a new era of great-power politics as the United States and China compete in Pacific waters. But is the United States looking in the right place?
A number of American strategists, Robert D. Kaplan among them, have written that a potential U.S.-Chinese cold war will be less onerous than the struggle with the Soviet Union because it will require only a naval element instead of permanent land forces stationed in allied countries to rein in a continental menace. This may be true with regard to the South China Sea, for example, or the Malacca Strait. But it misses the significance of the vast landmass of Central Asia, where China is consolidating its position into what appears to be an inadvertent empire. As General Liu Yazhou of China’s People’s Liberation Army once put it, Central Asia is "the thickest piece of cake given to the modern Chinese by the heavens."
For most of its unified history, China has been an economically focused land power. In geopolitical terms today, China’s rise is manifest particularly on land in Eurasia, far from the might of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Washington’s rimland allies—and far also from the influence of other Asian powers such as India. Thus, Western policy makers should be dusting off the old works of Sir Halford Mackinder, who argued that Central Asia is the most pivotal geographic zone on the planet, rather than those of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the great U.S. strategist of sea power. Greater attention needs to be paid to China’s growing presence in Central Asia if the United States is to understand properly China’s geopolitical and strategic rise...
SOURCE: TomDispatch (10-28-12)
In ancient China, the arrival of a new dynasty was accompanied by “the rectification of names,” a ceremony in which the sloppiness and erosion of meaning that had taken place under the previous dynasty were cleared up and language and its subjects correlated again. It was like a debt jubilee, only for meaning rather than money.
This was part of what made Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign so electrifying: he seemed like a man who spoke our language and called many if not all things by their true names. Whatever caused that season of clarity, once elected, Obama promptly sank into the stale, muffled, parallel-universe language wielded by most politicians, and has remained there ever since. Meanwhile, the far right has gotten as far as it has by mislabeling just about everything in our world -- a phenomenon which went supernova in this year of “legitimate rape,” “the apology tour,” and “job creators.” Meanwhile, their fantasy version of economics keeps getting more fantastic. (Maybe there should be a rectification of numbers, too.)
Let’s rectify some names ourselves. We often speak as though the source of so many of our problems is complex and even mysterious. I'm not sure it is. You can blame it all on greed: the refusal to do anything about climate change, the attempts by the .01% to destroy our democracy, the constant robbing of the poor, the resultant starving children, the war against most of what is beautiful on this Earth.
Calling lies "lies" and theft "theft" and violence "violence," loudly, clearly, and consistently, until truth becomes more than a bump in the road, is a powerful aspect of political activism. Much of the work around human rights begins with accurately and aggressively reframing the status quo as an outrage, whether it’s misogyny or racism or poisoning the environment. What protects an outrage are disguises, circumlocutions, and euphemisms -- “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture, “collateral damage” for killing civilians, “the war on terror” for the war against you and me and our Bill of Rights.
Change the language and you’ve begun to change the reality or at least to open the status quo to question. Here is Confucius on the rectification of names:
“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”
So let’s start calling manifestations of greed by their true name. By greed, I mean the attempt of those who have plenty to get more, not the attempts of the rest of us to survive or lead a decent life. Look at the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame: the four main heirs are among the dozen richest people on the planet, each holding about $24 billion. Their wealth is equivalent to that of the bottom 40 percent of Americans. The corporation Sam Walton founded now employs 2.2 million workers, two-thirds of them in the U.S., and the great majority are poorly paid, intimidated, often underemployed people who routinely depend on government benefits to survive. You could call that Walton Family welfare -- a taxpayers' subsidy to their system. Strikes launched against Wal-Mart this summer and fall protested working conditions of astonishing barbarity -- warehouses that reach 120 degrees, a woman eight months pregnant forced to work at a brutal pace, commonplace exposure to pollutants, and the intimidation of those who attempted to organize or unionize.
You would think that $24,000,000,000 apiece would be enough, but the Walton family sits atop a machine intent upon brutalizing tens of millions of people -- the suppliers of Wal-Mart notorious for their abysmal working conditions, as well as the employees of the stores -- only to add to piles of wealth already obscenely vast. Of course, what we call corporations are, in fact, perpetual motion machines, set up to endlessly extract wealth (and leave slagheaps of poverty behind) no matter what.
They are generally organized in such a way that the brutality that leads to wealth extraction is committed by subcontractors at a distance or described in euphemisms, so that the stockholders, board members, and senior executives never really have to know what’s being done in their names. And yet it is their job to know -- just as it is each of our jobs to know what systems feed us and exploit or defend us, and the job of writers, historians, and journalists to rectify the names for all these things.
Groton to Moloch
The most terrifying passage in whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s gripping book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers is not about his time in Vietnam, or his life as a fugitive after he released the Pentagon Papers. It’s about a 1969 dinnertime conversation with a co-worker in a swanky house in Pacific Palisades, California. It took place right after Ellsberg and five of his colleagues had written a letter to the New York Times arguing for immediate withdrawal from the unwinnable, brutal war in Vietnam, and Ellsberg’s host said, “If I were willing to give up all this... if I were willing to renege on... my commitment to send my son to Groton... I would have signed the letter.”
In other words, his unnamed co-worker had weighed trying to prevent the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of people against the upper-middle-class perk of having his kid in a fancy prep school, and chosen the latter. The man who opted for Groton was, at least, someone who worked for what he had and who could imagine having painfully less. This is not true of the ultra-rich shaping the future of our planet.
They could send tens of thousands to Groton, buy more Renoirs and ranches, and still not exploit the poor or destroy the environment, but they’re as insatiable as they are ruthless. They are often celebrated in their aesthetic side effects: imposing mansions, cultural patronage, jewels, yachts. But in many, maybe most, cases they got rich through something a lot uglier, and that ugliness is still ongoing. Rectifying the names would mean revealing the ugliness of the sources of their fortunes and the grotesque scale on which they contrive to amass them, rather than the gaudiness of the trinkets they buy with them. It would mean seeing and naming the destruction that is the corollary of most of this wealth creation.
A Storm Surge of Selfishness
Where this matters most is climate change. Why have we done almost nothing over the past twenty-five years about what was then a terrifying threat and is now a present catastrophe? Because it was bad for quarterly returns and fossil-fuel portfolios. When posterity indicts our era, this will be the feeble answer for why we did so little -- that the rich and powerful with ties to the carbon-emitting industries have done everything in their power to prevent action on, or even recognition of, the problem. In this country in particular, they spent a fortune sowing doubt about the science of climate change and punishing politicians who brought the subject up. In this way have we gone through four “debates” and nearly a full election cycle with climate change unmentioned and unmentionable.
These three decades of refusing to respond have wasted crucial time. It’s as though you were prevented from putting out a fire until it was raging: now the tundra is thawing and Greenland’s ice shield is melting and nearly every natural system is disrupted, from the acidifying oceans to the erratic seasons to droughts, floods, heat waves, and wildfires, and the failure of crops. We can still respond, but the climate is changed; the damage we all spoke of, only a few years ago, as being in the future is here, now.
You can look at the chief executive officers of the oil corporations -- Chevron’s John Watson, for example, who received almost $25 million ($1.57 million in salary and the rest in “compensation”) in 2011 -- or their major shareholders. They can want for nothing. They’re so rich they could quit the game at any moment. When it comes to climate change, some of the wealthiest people in the world have weighed the fate of the Earth and every living thing on it for untold generations to come, the seasons and the harvests, this whole exquisite planet we evolved on, and they have come down on the side of more profit for themselves, the least needy people the world has ever seen.
Take those billionaire energy tycoons Charles and David Koch, who are all over American politics these days. They are spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat Obama, partly because he offends their conservative sensibilities, but also because he is less likely to be a completely devoted servant of their profit margins. He might, if we shout loud enough, rectify a few names. Under pressure, he might even listen to the public or environmental groups, while Romney poses no such problem (and under a Romney administration they will probably make more back in tax cuts than they are gambling on his election).
Two years ago, the Koch brothers spent $1 million on California’s Proposition 23, an initiative written and put on the ballot by out-of-state oil companies to overturn our 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act. It lost by a landslide, but the Koch brothers have also invested a small fortune in spreading climate-change denial and sponsoring the Tea Party (which they can count on to oppose climate change regulation as big government or interference with free enterprise). This year they’re backing a California initiative to silence unions. They want nothing to stand in the way of corporate power and the exploitation of fossil fuels. Think of it as another kind of war, and consider the early casualties.
As the Irish Times put it in an editorial this summer:
“Across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, hundreds of millions are struggling to adapt to their changing climate. In the last three years, we have seen 10 million people displaced by floods in Pakistan, 13 million face hunger in east Africa, and over 10 million in the Sahel region of Africa face starvation. Even those figures only scrape the surface. According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed up by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 and the economic cost to rocket to $600 billion.”
This coming year may see a dramatic increase in hunger due to rising food prices from crop failures, including this summer’s in the U.S. Midwest after a scorching drought in which the Mississippi River nearly ran dry and crops withered.
We need to talk about climate change as a war against nature, against the poor (especially the poor of Africa), and against the rest of us. There are casualties, there are deaths, and there is destruction, and it’s all mounting. Rectify the name, call it war. While we’re at it, take back the term “pro-life” to talk about those who are trying to save the lives of all the creatures suffering from the collapse of the complex systems on which plant and animal as well as human lives depend. The other side: “pro-death.”
The complex array of effects from climate change and their global distribution, as well as their scale and the science behind them makes it harder to talk about than almost anything else on Earth, but we should talk about it all the more because of that. And yes, the rest of us should do more, but what is the great obstacle those who have already tried to do so much invariably come up against? The oil corporations, the coal companies, the energy industry, its staggering financial clout, its swarms of lobbyists, and the politicians in its clutches. Those who benefit most from the status quo, I learned in studying disasters, are always the least willing to change.
The Doublespeak on Taxes
I’m a Californian so I faced the current version of American greed early. Proposition 13, the initiative that froze property taxes and made it nearly impossible to raise taxes in our state, went into effect in 1978, two years before California’s former governor Ronald Reagan won the presidency, in part by catering to greed. Prop 13, as it came to be known, went into effect when California was still an affluent state with the best educational system in the world, including some of the top universities around, nearly free to in-staters all the way through graduate school. Tax cuts have trashed the state and that education system, and they are now doing the same to our country. The public sphere is to society what the biosphere is to life on earth: the space we live in together, and the attacks on them have parallels.
What are taxes? They are that portion of your income that you contribute to the common good. Most of us are unhappy with how they’re allocated -- though few outside the left talk about the fact that more than half of federal discretionary expenditures go to our gargantuan military, more money than is spent on the next 14 militaries combined. Ever since Reagan, the right has complained unceasingly about fantasy expenditures -- from that president’s “welfare queens” to Mitt Romney’s attack on Big Bird and PBS (which consumes .001% of federal expenditures).
As part of its religion of greed, the right invented a series of myths about where those taxes went, how paying them was the ultimate form of oppression, and what boons tax cuts were to bring us. They then delivered the biggest tax cuts of all to those who already had a superfluity of money and weren’t going to pump the extra they got back into the economy. What they really were saying was that they wanted to hang onto every nickel, no matter how the public sphere was devastated, and that they really served the ultra-rich, over and over again, not the suckers who voted them into office.
Despite decades of cutting to the bone, they continue to promote tax cuts as if they had yet to happen. Their constant refrain is that we are too poor to feed the poor or educate the young or heal the sick, but the poverty isn’t monetary: it’s moral and emotional. Let’s rectify some more language: even at this moment, the United States remains the richest nation the world has ever seen, and California -- with the richest agricultural regions on the planet and a colossal high-tech boom still ongoing in Silicon Valley -- is loaded, too. Whatever its problems, the U.S. is still swimming in abundance, even if that abundance is divided up ever more unequally.
Really, there’s more than enough to feed every child well, to treat every sick person, to educate everyone well without saddling them with hideous debt, to support the arts, to protect the environment -- to produce, in short, a glorious society. The obstacle is greed. We could still make the sorts of changes climate change requires of us and become a very different nation without overwhelming pain. We would then lead somewhat different lives -- richer, not poorer, for most of us (in meaning, community, power, and hope). Because this culture of greed impoverishes all of us, it is, to call it by its true name, destruction.
Occupy the Names
One of the great accomplishments of Occupy Wall Street was this rectification of names. Those who came together under that rubric named the greed, inequality, and injustice in our system; they made the brutality of debt and the subjugation of the debtors visible; they called out Wall Street’s crimes; they labeled the wealthiest among us the “1 percent,” those who have made a profession out of pumping great sums of our wealth upwards (quite a different kind of tax). It was a label that made instant sense across much of the political spectrum. It was a good beginning. But there’s so much more to do.
Naming is only part of the work, but it’s a crucial first step. A doctor initially diagnoses, then treats; an activist or citizen must begin by describing what is wrong before acting. To do that well is to call things by their true names. Merely calling out these names is a beam of light powerful enough to send the destroyers it shines upon scurrying for cover like roaches. After that, you still need to name your vision, your plan, your hope, your dream of something better.
Names matter; language matters; truth matters. In this era when the mainstream media serve obfuscation and evasion more than anything else (except distraction), alternative media, social media, demonstrations in the streets, and conversations between friends are the refuges of truth, the places where we can begin to rectify the names. So start talking.
SOURCE: OUPblog (10-29-12)
James L. Baughman is the Fetzer-Bascom Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of “There Were Two Gerald Fords: John Hersey and Richard Reeves Profile a President” in the latest issue of American Literary History, which is available to read for free for a limited time. He is also the author of four books, including Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America since 1941.
It has been more than 25 years since Gerald Ford narrowly lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.
Ford’s presidency has become a dim memory. “The more I think about the Ford administration,” John Updike wrote in 1992, “the more it seems I remember nothing.” Taking office after Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974, Ford struggled to restore the public’s faith in the presidency, badly shaken by the numerous illegalities associated with the Nixon White House.
Ford also had to contend with another Nixon legacy: a new, unrelentingly critical journalistic style.
I have been working on a book about American political journalism since 1960, focusing on certain candidates and reporters. Political journalism has changed over the past fifty years, mainly for the better. It is more interpretive and searching. Yet not all changes, in my view, have been good....
SOURCE: Lee Ruddin (10-26-12)
Lee Ruddin is Roundup Editor at HNN. He lives in England.
It has recently been reported that David Cameron declined to take a phone call from Barack Obama because he was finishing a game of tennis. The claim is made by Charlie Brooks, an old school chum of Cameron’s from Eton, who allegedly visited the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) official residence in Chequers – racket to hand – and was busy playing a tie-break, third set when the President called. Downing Street, not surprisingly, has been quick to deny the Racing Post’s report and questioned Mr. Brooks’ recollection of events, insisting that while records show the pair had indeed played a game in August 2010, no phone call was logged from the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) during match play.
Another recent report of interest to students of Anglo-American relations relates to the publication of Kofi Annan’s memoirs. In it (Interventions: A Life in War and Peace), the former United Nations (U.N.) Secretary-General claims that Tony Blair could have halted George W. Bush’s plans to ouster Saddam Hussein. In an exclusive interview with the The Times, Annan says that if Tony parted company with George after failing to acquire a second U.N. Security Council Resolution (S.C.R.), it would have given the Bush Administration ‘pause for thought’, so influential was the ex-PM’s standing inside the Beltway.
Both reports have attracted little readership to date but should be taken with a pinch of salt, cynics would no doubt say, since the two aforementioned authors are currently promoting books and eager to attract as much interest as possible. For me, however, the reports illuminate the true dynamics of the UK-U.S. “Special Relationship,” albeit in microcosm, and undermine the “poodle” thesis. Let me explain why I think Cameron is confident enough to snub Obama but only after illustrating why Blair was so integral to the invasion of Iraq.
First things first, Blair’s Britain could not have prevented Bush’s bellicose America from invading Iraq in 2003; the stench of death from 9/11 still hung over those in the Pentagon and few were surprised when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said ‘we can go it alone’ on the eve of war. This is not to say that Blair played no role, though. Indeed, as his Director of Communications records in the fourth volume of The Alastair Diaries: The Burden of Power – Countdown to Iraq, Bush left it to Blair to cajole Dick Cheney, a staunch unilateralist, into going down the U.N. route.
Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, was young, articulate and charismatic, as we all know – but so was Blair. Indeed, it was the latter who also cajoled the former into a pursuing a different (read: more activist) course of action in Kosovo with talk of deploying ground troops (which brought Slobodan Milosevic to the negotiating table) and recommended they radically overhaul (NATO) decision-making machinery. A month into the Kosovo campaign, Blair delivered a speech in Chicago outlining a ‘new doctrine of international community’ that explicitly rejected the narrow view of national interest and advocated intervention in the affairs of sovereign states, which, more than anything else, illuminated the difference between (say Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier, coauthors of America Between the Wars) Clinton’s ‘wobbly leadership and Blair’s steadfast resolve’ in an ever-increasingly dangerous and globalized world.
‘What Blair did in Chicago [at the Economic Club on 22 April 1999]’, historian Andrew Roberts writes, ‘was to expand the specific case of Kosovo into a general right to intervene if … criteria were met.’ So much so, in fact, the author of A History of the English Speaking-Peoples Since 1900 cautions against students and scholars displaying myopia when attributing the “revolutionary” doctrine of preemptive war solely to American neoconservatives:
Blair’s speech (the Blair Doctrine) in Chicago mentioned the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by name as a possible future candidate for removal from office, a full eighteen months before George W. Bush had even arrived at the White House, and nearly four years before the war against Iraq. To present Blair as a mere poodle of the Americans, therefore, represents a profound misunderstanding of the dynamics of the Special Relationship.
So influential was Blair on global events that journalists on the ground in Syria today (Luke Bozier, to name but one, writing in The Independent) ask not how Clinton would have reacted, or if Bush would have waged war, but rather: ‘what Blair would have done?’ This speaks volumes of the PM’s role as an international statesman and the impact he had on the formation of (White House and, in turn, western) policy for a decade.
David Cameron is an admirer of Blair (as Bozier reminds readers on 16 October), and infamously once described himself as “the heir to Blair.” Yet it is not only the latter whom should be proud of the former for taking charge of the intervention in Libya in 2011; most, if not all, Brits should be since – much like the occupant of Number 10 12 years earlier – a PM looked more assertive than an C-in-C and was a more articulate and convincing proponent of western action than American leaders.
Not for the first time in recent American history, the incumbent refused to take the lead in toppling a tyrant whom tormented his people. And, not for the time in recent British history, Her Majesty’s Government stepped in to fill the breach. Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal response to the Arab Spring and subsequent assault on rebels appalled cable viewers the world over, Obama included, but he was reluctant to act for fear of antagonizing the Muslim world. Cameron, on the other hand, set the tone of the response with Blair-style shuttle diplomacy and instructed the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to draw up plans for a no-fly zone. A similar move was initiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy days earlier and diplomats on either side of the English Channel were quick to come up with a U.N.S.C.R to authorize a no-fly zone, notwithstanding skepticism across the Atlantic from where U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, criticized ‘loose talk’.
The quick passage of U.N.S.C.R 1973 underlined the burden of leadership passing from an inert C-in-C to an increasingly influential PM. More importantly, though, it undergirded just how persuasive Cameron was in persuading the U.S. to back a no-fly zone, a course of action which Obama dithered over and was reluctant to view as anything other than a contingency measure, but one which his Administration fully supported when asked to vote upon.
While much has happened in Anglo-American relations these past eighteen months, the last month in particular – such as Attorney General Eric Holder formally complaining to Britain over Home Secretary Theresa May’s decision to block the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon; a prospective merger (between BAE Systems and the Franco-German company EADS) which could have weakened defense cooperation between London and Washington; clashes over the implementation of the controversial secret courts law and Britain being put “on probation” by America’s intelligence-gathering community; and an opinion piece by a group of UK defense chiefs reaffirming the ‘open concern in the United States Congress over British disarmament’ – Cameron continues to have influence with the White House, much like Blair, who was able to counsel Clinton and Bush at key moments in international affairs, and thus confident enough to actually snub Obama.
Kenneth M. Pollack is a contributing editor to The National Interest and a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
SOURCE: The New Republic (10-23-12)
John B. Judis has been writing for The New Republic since 1984 and has been a senior editor since 1994.
I prepared for writing about the third debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by reading about North Korea, Iran, Syria, the European Union, Mexico, Cuba, you name it -- well every place except Mali -- but I could have better spent my afternoon reading a novel or taking a walk. The candidates spent almost no time debating the substance of foreign policy. When they could, they detoured into domestic policy. I know I am supposed to say who won the debate, but I don’t think this was a conventional contest. Both candidates wanted to accomplish certain things; and they pretty much succeeded. And that goes for Romney, too, who many commentators think lost the debate.
Since the summer, Romney has been trying to play Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election between Reagan and Carter. If you close your eyes and listen to Romney telling Obama, “Attacking me is not an agenda,” you’ll hear the voice of Ronald Reagan in 1980 responding to Carter’s repeated criticisms. I would bet that Romney has listened repeatedly to that debate and attempted to emulate Reagan’s avuncular, reassuring, self-confident, witty style. Romney even made several awkward attempts at humor during this debate.
Romney adopted part of the Reagan script during the summer – his campaign people were talking about it at the convention – but he failed then to grasp what was essential to Reagan’s victory that year. During the summer, Romney adopted three elements of Reagan’s 1980 script; 1) the question, are you better off now than you were four years ago, 2) the charge America is falling behind, and needs to regain world leadership, and 3) the insistence that contrary to one’s opponent, Americans are not suffering from malaise, and America has nothing to apologize for. In the last month, Romney even found in the Benghazi terrorist attack a surrogate from Republican charges in 1980 that Carter was bungling the Iranian hostage crisis....
SOURCE: WSJ (10-22-12)
Mr. Stephens writes the Journal's "Global View" column on foreign affairs.
On Wednesday an Iranian-American named Manssor Arbabsiar pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring with Iranian military officials to blow up a restaurant in Washington, D.C. On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration and Iran had secretly agreed "in principle" to hold direct talks after the election, a disclosure to which the White House responded with a lawyerly denial.
And so it goes with U.S. policy toward Iran. They are at war with us. We seek bilateral negotiations and confidence-building measures with them.
That is a point that—as I write this column ahead of the final presidential debate—I hope to hear Mitt Romney hammer home when the subject of Iran inevitably comes up. Barack Obama told "60 Minutes" last month that "if Gov. Romney is suggesting we should start another war, he should say so." Sorry, Mr. President: When it comes to Iran, the mullahs started that war a long time ago. Wishing facts away doesn't change them.
Here's a list of the American victims of Iranian aggression...
SOURCE: Daily Star (Lebanon) (10-23-12)
Daoud Kuttab, former professor of journalism at Princeton University, is general manager of the Community Media Network in Amman.
On Sept. 13, 1993, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas met on the South Lawn of the White House to sign the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles, or the Oslo Accords. PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin then sealed the agreement with an historic handshake.
The Oslo Accords – the result of secret talks that had been encouraged by the Norwegian government and conducted in the country’s capital – called for a five-year transitional period during which Israeli forces would withdraw from the Gaza Strip and unspecified areas of the West Bank, and the establishment of a Palestinian Authority. Letters of recognition between the PLO and Israel accompanied the agreement. The ultimate aim, though never explicitly stated, was to create a Palestinian state roughly within the 1967 borders.
But the goals laid out in the Oslo Accords remain unfulfilled. In fact, the agreement is unlikely to survive 89-year-old Peres and 77-year-old Abbas, who are now presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, respectively. Several factors contributed to the deterioration of prospects for lasting peace...
SOURCE: Miami Herald (10-21-22)
Jeb Bush is the former governor of Florida. Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C.
Fifty years ago, the world was on the brink of Armageddon.
The Russians had secretly installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, aiming them at Washington and other American cities. Confronting the Soviet Union at the United Nations, the United States displayed photographic evidence and demanded the missiles be removed. On Oct. 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy ordered the Navy to blockade Cuba. Six days later Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev ordered the missiles dismantled.
How did that crisis develop? What lessons were learned that might be applied in these still-perilous times? The first lesson actually stems from Kennedy’s first meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna. Recently elected, Kennedy, 45, was young, dashing and charismatic. Khrushchev, 68, was a committed Communist who had been trained by Stalin, one of history’s most brutal tyrants. Sometime during the meeting Khrushchev concluded Kennedy was a light-weight and could be pushed around...
SOURCE: National Review (10-22-12)
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor, and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
How will this election be seen in history? Obviously, it depends on who wins.
If Barack Obama is defeated, the irresistible comparison will be to Jimmy Carter. A president was rejected for a second term after pursuing big-government programs amid high energy prices and attacks on America in the Middle East.
Actually, that’s not entirely fair to Carter. His budget deficits were minuscule next to Obama’s, and in response to the Soviet attack on Afghanistan he began the defense buildup that Ronald Reagan accelerated.
Carter supported airline deregulation, which made air travel widely accessible, as well as rail and trucking deregulation, which squeezed billions from the cost of goods and services. He signed a tax bill cutting capital-gains rates and establishing 401(k) deferred-tax retirement accounts.
Obama, in contrast, has made big defense cuts and suggested the sequestration process that threatens further cuts that his own defense secretary calls catastrophic. And in the face of voter disapproval, he pushed through Obamacare and has moved toward more regulation on almost all fronts...
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (10-21-12)
Edward Luce is the Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times, London.
We are in the closing days of the third US presidential election since September 11 2001. Yet the shadow cast by the Twin Towers attacks has barely receded. In the final debate on Monday night, the killing of the US ambassador in the Libyan city of Benghazi is likely to be the most bitter point of contention between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Christopher Stevens and three others died on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Mr Romney has been trying to make capital out of it ever since.
On Monday night Mr Romney will get what further help, or rope, he needs from Bob Schieffer, the CBS moderator. Mr Schieffer has allocated two-thirds of the debate to the Middle East. Of his six topics, two are devoted to "the new face of terrorism in the Middle East", which means Benghazi. Libya may thus get as much time as "The rise of China" and "America’s role in the world" put together. The other topics are Israel and Iran, and Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr Schieffer’s list highlights 9/11’s continued hold on the American debate. The 2012 election as a whole shows that the US has not yet left the George W. Bush era behind. The two nominees are essentially offering contrasting versions of Mr Bush’s presidency. Mr Romney promises a return to the unilateralism of his first term. Mr Obama will continue with the lighter touch of Mr Bush’s second. It certainly offers a choice. But it also reflects America’s weak appetite to talk about so many other challenges before it... ..
SOURCE: NYT (10-22-12)
GEORGE S. McGOVERN is, in some sense, the reason I exist. My parents met as radical community organizers in their early 20s, an idealistic honey-haired student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a scraggly wannabe farm boy from Brown University, knocking on doors for the now defunct Acorn.
It’s a typical 1975 story, except that they were pounding the pavement in Sioux Falls, S.D., a provincial little city at the edge of the upper Midwest and the Great Plains. Stranger still, they stayed in the state — my dad for nearly 40 years, my mom for 15.
It’s astonishing to think now, but South Dakota made sense as a destination for idealistic young liberals in the mid-1970s. Senator McGovern, who died Sunday at the age of 90, had run an inspiring but catastrophic campaign for the presidency three years earlier, bravely opposing the Vietnam War. The state’s junior senator, James Abourezk, was another liberal Democrat and the first Arab-American elected to the upper chamber. And Red Power activism was roiling the state’s Indian reservations; the Wounded Knee standoff on the Pine Ridge Reservation even captured the nation’s attention for several months in 1973....
We found a place amid a Plains liberalism whose patron saint was Mr. McGovern: Christian, populist, antiwar. Mr. McGovern, the son of a Methodist minister, had become horrified with war as a bomber pilot in World War II and studied theology when he returned home....
SOURCE: RootsAction (10-18-12)
Daniel Ellsberg is a former State and Defense Department official who has been arrested for acts of non-violent civil disobedience over eighty times, initially for copying and releasing the top secret Pentagon Papers, for which he faced 115 years in prison. Living in a non-swing state, he does not intend to vote for President Obama.
It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.
The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine -- progressives, especially activists -- to make this goal one of your priorities during this period.
An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”
I was startled, and took offense. “Supporting Obama? Me?!”
“I lose no opportunity publicly,” I told him angrily, to identify Obama as a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. “Would you call that support?”
My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him! How could you say that? I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”
My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better -- no different -- on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.
I told him: “I don’t ‘support Obama.’ I oppose the current Republican Party. This is not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive candidate. The voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years, or not.”
As Noam Chomsky said recently, “The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”
Following that logic, he’s said to an interviewer what my friend heard me say to Amy Goodman: “If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.”
The election is at this moment a toss-up. That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives -- a small minority of the electorate -- could actually have a significant influence on the outcome of a national election, swinging it one way or the other.
The only way for progressives and Democrats to block Romney from office, at this date, is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama: not stay home, or vote for someone else. And that has to include, in those states, progressives and disillusioned liberals who are at this moment inclined not to vote at all or to vote for a third-party candidate (because like me they’ve been not just disappointed but disgusted and enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).
They have to be persuaded to vote, and to vote in a battleground state for Obama not anyone else, despite the terrible flaws of the less-bad candidate, the incumbent. That’s not easy. As I see it, that’s precisely the “effort” Noam is referring to as worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans’ rise to power. And it will take progressives -- some of you reading this, I hope -- to make that effort of persuasion effectively.
It will take someone these disheartened progressives and liberals will listen to. Someone manifestly without illusions about the Democrats, someone who sees what they see when they look at the president these days: but who can also see through candidates Romney or Ryan on the split-screen, and keep their real, disastrous policies in focus.
It’s true that the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want. It’s even fair to use Gore Vidal’s metaphor that they form two wings (“two right wings” as some have put it) of a single party, the Property or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo says, the War Party.
Still, the political reality is that there are two distinguishable wings, and one is reliably even worse than the other, currently much worse overall. To be in denial or to act in neglect of that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet presently avoidable, victory of the worse.
The traditional third-party mantra, “There’s no significant difference between the major parties” amounts to saying: “The Republicans are no worse, overall.” And that’s absurd. It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended. It’s crazily divorced from present reality.
And it’s not at all harmless to be propagating that absurd falsehood. It has the effect of encouraging progressives even in battleground states to refrain from voting or to vote in a close election for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to act likewise. That’s an effect that serves no one but the Republicans, and ultimately the 1%.
It’s not merely understandable, it’s entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama. As I am. He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.” If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!) It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to “reward” him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval.
But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking. And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney’s taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.
To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day -- by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan -- would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party). And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That’s for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives -- through organizing, building movements and agitating.
In the eight to twelve close-fought states -- especially Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but also Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin -- for any progressive to encourage fellow progressives and others in those states to vote for a third-party candidate is, I would say, to be complicit in facilitating the election of Romney and Ryan, with all its consequences.
To think of that as urging people in swing states to “vote their conscience” is, I believe, dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive that if your conscience tells you on Election Day to vote for someone other than Obama in a battleground state, you need a second opinion. Your conscience is giving you bad counsel.
I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: “Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, “Resistance to Civil Authority.”
It still means that to me. But this is a year when for people who think like me -- and who, unlike me, live in battleground states -- casting a strip of paper is also important. Using your whole influence this month to get others to do that, to best effect, is even more important.
That means for progressives in the next couple of weeks -- in addition to the rallies, demonstrations, petitions, lobbying (largely against policies or prospective policies of President Obama, including austerity budgeting next month), movement-building and civil disobedience that are needed all year round and every year -- using one’s voice and one’s e-mails and op-eds and social media to encourage citizens in swing states to vote against a Romney victory by voting for the only real alternative, Barack Obama.
SOURCE: SusanEisenhower.com (10-18-12)
Susan Eisenhower is President of the Eisenhower Group, Inc, which provides strategic counsel on political, business and public affairs projects.
...In answering a question about the former president of your own political party, most of us might have expected that any criticism from Romney would, at the very least, have come with a qualifier. He could have easily said: “Although the Bush deficits were far too high, the president was dealing with a national emergency—September 11.” This would have been smart since Romney also challenged Bush’s record on China, another sensitive matter.
Romney owes the GOP nomination – in large measure – to the Bush family. As pillars of the current Republican establishment, they still wield enormous power. The Bush family could have demurred and refused to endorse anyone, making it probable that a more extreme candidate would have gotten the nomination and lost the general election. This would have left the window wide open for a Jeb Bush nomination in 2016. After all, if Romney wins this November, Jeb will be sidelined in 2016.
Instead, during the grueling GOP primary fight one Bush after another came forward to support Romney, against the tide of opinion within the party rank and file. In March, former Governor Jeb Bush went first. He was followed a few days later by former President George H.W. Bush. Both of these endorsements came after former First Lady Barbara Bush had already recorded robocalls for the Romney campaign. A few months later in May, President George W. Bush informally mentioned that he is backing Romney. This was noteworthy because the former president had decided to stand back from a formal endorsement, as immediate former presidents often do....