Historians' Take on the News: Archives 7-15-03 to 9-24-03






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What Bernard Lewis Thinks of Iraq Now (posted 9-23-03)

Tunku Varadarajan, commenting in the Wall Street Journal on an interview with Bernard Lewis, the Middle East historian (Sept. 23, 2003):

Of all the scholars of Islam, Mr. Lewis is the one whom Muslims would do best to heed. So I asked him recently if "What Went Wrong?" had been translated into Arabic. Not yet, apparently, though there's a version on the way. But "nine or 10" of his other books have been translated into Arabic, Turkish and Persian. Of one, "The Middle East and the West," published in 1968, he shares a charming story. "It was promptly translated into Hebrew by Israel's Defense Ministry, and into Arabic -- by Egypt's Muslim Brothers!" The latter, a fundamentalist group, published it in two versions, a full-length one, and as a shortened pamphlet to be sold outside mosques. The pamphlet's editor, in his introduction, paid Mr. Lewis an austere compliment, one he considers among the finest he has received. He wrote this of the professor: "I don't know who this man is. He is either a candid friend or an honest enemy, but in either case, one who refuses to deal in falsehoods."

In other words, he is frank without being transparent, a man of shades. Speaking of Iraq, he says, "I have different moods on different days. But overall, I'm cautiously optimistic. Some days there's more caution than optimism." U.S. troops had come under fire again on the day we met, and he was impatient to stress that it's time that "we put into effect an Iraqi government in Baghdad." He doesn't, emphatically, mean elections; those "should be the culmination of a political process, not its beginning." Instead, he'd like to see in place an administration of Iraqi "notables," responsible for overseeing the rule of law and freedom of expression. These last concepts, he says, "are not alien notions" in the Middle East. "What is alien is the idea of representation, and the notion of corporate or majority decision." Instead, there is a "tradition of consensus and consultation," one which was, in Iraq, devastated by Saddam's tyrannical rule. (The tradition of consensus, more generally, was destroyed in the Middle East by material changes: "Any tinpot ruler today has more resources at his disposal, and less need to consult his people, than Suleyman the Magnificent, or Haroun-al-Rashid.")

Lest you misunderstand, Mr. Lewis isn't a man who believes that democracy -- however alien -- cannot work in the Middle East. He believes it can. But he's a crusty realist: "Democracy is a strong medicine, which you have to give to the patient in small, gradually increasing doses. If you give too much too quickly, you kill the patient." But give you must. After all, "we've given the administration in Afghanistan, a place far more backward -- and Iraq is not, by the region's standards, backward -- an Afghan face. Why not the same for Iraq?" Of course the more complex devices of democracy -- such as federalism, with its centrifugal pulls -- must wait. "I'm not sure a federal constitution will work in Iraq. It's too sophisticated at this stage. Relaxation of authority has to come gradually. You can't create a functioning democracy overnight."

To his critics, this will confirm that Mr. Lewis is paternalist, a Western -- and they say this with distaste -- orientalist. But Mr. Lewis offers a refreshing contrast to the doom-mongers who extrapolate feverishly from every shootout in Fallujah, every dustup in which an American soldier is shot, or an Iraqi killed. Mr. Lewis has high hopes for Iraq. Why? Their "cultural and intellectual standards" -- set high in the years before Saddam -- have "miraculously, if precariously, survived his ravages." Also, the status of women is high in Iraq. As Mr. Lewis puts it -- perhaps paraphrasing a desert proverb -- "women are half the population and mothers of the other half." In the early formative years, it makes "a great deal of difference to have an educated mother." But his main reason for optimism is that "Iraqis have gone through everything, and are much less likely to be taken in by the fanatical groups in the region."

Although we "keep voicing fears that democracy won't work in Iraq, that's not what they're saying in the Middle East." There's a real terror there among the despots "that democracy in Iraq will work."

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Barry Rubin: The 3 Revolutions in the Middle East World (posted 9-23-03)

Barry Rubin, writing for MERIA (Middle East Review for International Affairs) (June 2003):

The politics and ideologies dominating the region can best be seen as the product of two great regime-changing revolutions: Egypt in 1952 and Iran in 1979, respectively. Explicitly or implicitly, these major innovations were taken as exemplars of the proper ideology and methodology for seizing and holding power. They were not merely political revolutions but also represented comprehensive worldviews and paradigm shifts.

Now advocates of a third revolution have appeared, though they are still far more prevalent in the United States than in the Middle East. This third revolution would be one which advocated as its main features: democracy, moderation, human rights and civil liberties, a more free enterprise economy, friendship with the West, and peace with Israel, among other features. It is the model that has basically triumphed in most of the world, but certainly not in the Middle East. The idea is that Iraq would be a starting point and would then become a model whose success would encourage others to follow in its path.

One could argue that the failure of the two old revolutions in their own countries would encourage--indeed, make inevitable--their abandonment as a model for other places. The fact that the Arab world and Iran have suffered so many failures and defeats in the last half-century, while not attaining any of their major goals, should be very persuasive arguments. That this has not happened is due to many factors, though it can be most simply explained by the regimes' determination and clever strategy in maintaining the beliefs that justify their existence.(1)

What is undeniable, though, is that even today, the overwhelming majority of Arabs--though, ironically, not necessarily most Iranians--still see the two frameworks represented by these past revolutions as the very foundation of their political views and even of their personal self-image.(2) Although the product of these two revolutions--Arab nationalism and Islamism--can be seen as rival interpretations, they also have a great deal in common. They seek to answer the same question, solve the same problem, and share the same goals. Their sense of right and wrong, friends and enemies, methods and prescriptions, overlap far more than they conflict.

Both movements spawned by these two different revolutions attempted to answer the same basic question and provide the answer to it: Why were the Arabs, Iranians, and Muslims in general behind the West? How could they catch up and surpass the West? While the prescriptions were not entirely the same, both rested on revolt, mobilization, and conflict with the West.

While both could be said to embrace value-neutral technology, and Arab nationalism took the ideology of nationalism from the West (as well as other techniques from the Communist states), both also rejected the basic path taken by Western Europe and North America. A path which includes embracing such concepts as democracy combined with free enterprise, an emphasis on moderation and gradual reform, and a defense of the individual's rights against the state.

In this process of surpassing the West, democratic rule and moderation in general were largely discredited as useful tools for Arabs or Muslims in pursuit of their dreams. Cooperation with the West and with the existing political order was seen as illegitimate, though in practice often pursued. The proper goals of Arab politics were seen as being the expulsion of Western influence, the unity of all Arabs (and of all Muslims for the later Islamists), the destruction of Israel, mobilization of the masses from above, a statist and socialist-style approach to economic development, all under the aegis of a charismatic leader.

Of course, there were also important differences between these two revolutions and their successors. What happened in Egypt in 1952 was a military coup in origin and it brought to the fore ideas such as: the armed forces would be the vanguard in transforming society, Pan-Arab nationalism, the belief in a charismatic leader who would unite the Arabs and bring them to victory, and a statist economic system. This model took power in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, while, at times, threatening to do so in many other countries.

For intellectuals, activists, and others, regime change meant to transform a traditional system into an Arab nationalist one. And the goal of the oppositions in countries already ruled by such governments was to produce an even more militant regime of precisely the same type.

But a quarter-century later, while still enjoying support from the majority of Arabs, this system could be judged a failure. It had not gained political hegemony in the Arab world, united the Arabs, brought rapid economic development, banished social problems, expelled Western influence, or destroyed Israel. But what was the alternative? Traditionalism and liberalism were discredited, and Communism never really caught on.

During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Islamic movements were seen as socially conservative, as pillars of the traditional order, which was largely true. Saudi Arabia promoted Islam as a counter to leftist movements; Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat backed it for a while in the 1970s for the same reason.

Thus, Arab nationalism continued to be the dominant model--and still is today--but there was ample room for an alternative, which also expressed radical discontent, the demand for quick fixes, the possibility of wide unity, a vision of utopian solutions, and the promise of total victory.

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Ibrahim al-Marashi: What Did Saddam Call this War? (posted 9-23-03)

Ibrahim al-Marashi, research associate at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Monterey, California as well as a lecturer at the US Naval Postgraduate School, writing for MERIA (Middle East Review for International Affairs) (June 2003):

While there has been massive coverage and analysis of the 2003 Anglo-American war with Iraq regarding the Western perspective of the fighting, relatively little attention has been paid to how the war was waged from the Iraqi side, tactically or conceptually. For example, the Anglo-American operation's official name was "Iraqi Freedom," and most Arab circles called it "al-Harb al-Khalijiyya al-Thalitha" (The Third Gulf War) but what did the Saddam regime call it?

The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 was not referred to as such in the official Iraqi discourse but rather as Qadisiyat Saddam, coupling the leader's name with the first battle ever fought in history between the Persians and Arabs, in which the Arab Muslims emerged victorious. The implication was that Saddam was fighting for all the Arabs and that he would win a tremendous and total victory.

That earlier battle, which took place in 637 AD, led by the Arab general Sa'd ibn Waqqas lasted for three days, resulting in the death of both the Persian general Rustum as well as the end of Persian Sassanian rule in Iraq.(2) The collapse of the Zoroastrian Iranian forces at al-Qadisiyya allowed the Arabs to spread Islam eastward, thus giving the battle a religious significance. As Ofra Bengio has written, "The myths woven around al-Qadisiyya are a most instructive example of the Ba'thi technique of using an event with a core historical truth that is deeply etched into collective memory in order to further the party's ideology of Arab nationalism and to appeal to the public by means of a challenge of great emotional power."(3)

Thus, by invoking the name of al-Qadisiyya, Saddam justified his war as a continuation of the struggle between Persian and Arab. Saddam's label of the Iran-Iraq war as al-Qadisiyya revealed his vision of how the war should end: a decisive Arab victory over the Persian masses, leading to the complete surrender of the Iranian nation.

The 1991 Gulf war was termed "Operation Desert Storm" by the Coalition forces, while Saddam used the term, "Umm Kul al-Ma'arik" or "the Mother of all Battles". This euphemistic title for the 1991 war reveals Saddam's emphasis on the scope and severity of the impending war with the United States. Nevertheless, the regime believed it would emerge victorious. In a military memo circulated among military units it states, "We are guaranteed victory because we are standing up to 30 nations, and that is a point of pride for us."(4) This statement infers that if the regime survives the "mother of all battles" that would mean a victory no matter what happened on the battlefield itself. And by this measure, the regime could well claim to have won the 1991 war.

Saddam euphemistically referred to Iraqi Operation Freedom as Ma'rakat Al-Hawasim, "The Defining Battle," to mobilize the Iraqi masses against the impending American attack in 2003. Perhaps the rhetorical use of this title indicated that this was the final, defining battle of the regime. Like almost everything that happened in Iraq between around 1973 and 2003, that matter was highly dependent on the mindset of Saddam Hussein.

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James M. McPherson: Bush Revisionism (posted 9-15-03)

James M. McPherson, in his column as president of the American Historical Association (Sept. 2003):

This summer the Bush administration thought it had discovered a surefire tactic to discredit critics of its Iraq adventure. President Bush followed the lead of his national security adviser Condoleeza Rice to accuse such critics of practicing "revisionist history." Neither Bush nor Rice offered a definition of this phrase, but their body language and tone of voice appeared to suggest that they wanted listeners to understand "revisionist history" to be a consciously falsified or distorted interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present. Or did George Bush and Condoleeza Rice mean to suggest only that those who now criticize the administration's Iraq policy have revised their earlier opinions? But few if any have done so. Almost all the historians I know of who maintain that the evidence for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or support for Al Qaeda is ambiguous or false were saying the same things six months or a year ago. All who then insisted that Iraq posed little threat to the United States or its allies and that a war with Iraq would endanger American lives, security, and national interest far more than a continuation of the policy of containment and UN inspections, have not changed their position.

Whatever Bush and Rice meant by "revisionist historians," it is safe to say that they did not mean it favorably. The 14,000 members of this Association, however, know that revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past. Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable "truth" about past events and their meaning....

The administration's pejorative usage of "revisionist history" to denigrate critics by imputing to them a falsification of history is scarcely surprising. But it is especially ironic, considering that the president and his principal advisers have themselves been practitioners par excellence of this kind of revisionism. Iraq offers many examples. To justify an unprovoked invasion of that country, the president repeatedly exaggerated or distorted ambiguous intelligence reports to portray Iraqi possession of or programs to develop biological, chemical, and nuclear "weapons of mass destruction" that posed an imminent threat to the United States. In his State of the Union message on January 28, President Bush made clear his acceptance of a British intelligence report that "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" to develop nuclear weapons. This assertion was "revisionist history" with a vengeance; the U. S. government knew at the time it was received that the intelligence was unreliable and learned soon afterwards that it was based on forged documents. Yet not until July did the administration concede its gaffe—and then tried to blame the CIA. That agency took the fall, but with respect to another administration justification for the war—Saddam Hussein's alleged ties to Al Qaeda—the CIA refused to provide any aid and comfort. An official in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research offered (in the New York Times of July 12, 2003) a pointed description of the kind of revisionist history practiced by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al: "This administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude: ‘We know the answers, give us the intelligence to support those answers.'"

In its foreign policy, too, the Bush administration has a strong commitment to this kind of revisionism. During his campaign for the presidency, Bush dismissed the previous administration's efforts at "nation building" with contempt. The government is now engaged in the most expensive experiment in nation-building in more than a half century—and so far the least successful. The Pentagon has constantly revised upward the cost of rebuilding Iraq—which at this writing stands at $180 billion and counting. Coming into office with a surplus in the federal budget and a commitment to a balanced budget, the administration is running the largest deficits in history, which will probably continue into the indefinite and seemingly infinite future. In his campaign for the presidency, Bush also insisted that as a superpower, the United States had an obligation to be "humble" in its dealings with other nations. Vive la revision!

For many of us, the term "revisionist historians" recalls distasteful memories from the 1970s of Holocaust deniers who called themselves "revisionists." One hopes that in resorting to this phrase now, the president's associates are not seeking to falsely and maliciously link present-day critics of the administration to those who misrepresented the past for nefarious ends. But even if they are not guilty of such an insinuation, by misusing the term "revisionist historians" to derisively deflect criticism, Condoleeza Rice and her cohorts are denigrating a legitimate and essential activity of historians.

The judgmental tone of Rice's derogatory reference to "revisionist historians" brings to mind a review of her book The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948–1983, in the December 1985 issue of the American Historical Review (p. 1236) when she was an assistant professor at Stanford. The reviewer claimed that Rice "frequently does not sift facts from propaganda and valid information from disinformation or misinformation." In addition, according to the reviewer, she "passes judgments and expresses opinions without adequate knowledge of the facts" and her "writing abounds with meaningless phrases." I cannot testify for or against the accuracy and fairness of this review. But I am tempted to wonder, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, whether we are experiencing deja vu all over again.

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Juan Cole: Is Israel in Violation of the Geneva Accords? (posted 9-15-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (Sept. 14, 2003):

Israel has been the occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, and as such its actions are judged in international law by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. All Palestinians under Israeli occupation are considered "protected persons" by the Geneva Convention. (Article 4: "Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.") If you have not read the Fourth Geneva Convention, you should, since it also applies to US actions in Iraq.

Israel's stance is that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply to its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, because these territories were acquired in a "defensive war" and involved taking them from other countries (Egypt and Jordan) that had "illegally" occupied them. However, the convention itself makes it clear that it applies to all situations in which a subject population comes under the authority of a foreign occupier. It does not matter who started the war. That is a red herring. The US military considers itself always bound by the Convention, in Bosnia and elsewhere. It is not required that the occupying country be an aggressor. Read the text. The United Nations Security Council considers Israel bound by the Convention in the Occupied Territories. The UN did not award the West Bank and Gaza to Israel in 1948, and has never recognized any claims to annex them. The UN Charter, to which Israel is signatory, forbids the acquisition of territory through warfare, and so Israel cannot claim to own the West Bank and Gaza, though its occupation of them is not necessarily itself illegal. It is tragic that Israel, a country born in reaction against the ineffable atrocities of the Nazi regime, should reject the applicability of the Geneva Conventions, which were intended to ensure that the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the Fascists were not repeated. This rejection is not consistent with the character of Judaism as an ethical religion, nor with Israel's best side as a contributor to human progress.

Moreover, the legislative history of the Fourth Geneva Convention makes it absolutely clear that the drafters intended it to apply to situations where there were national liberation movements, not just to conventional warfare. Since the Sharon government has now begun simply firing missiles from US-made fighter jets into occupied apartment buildings in its bid to murder leaders of the Palestinian militant groups, knowingly killing civilians along with the guilty, a mere detail like defying the Geneva Conventions, of course, is a small matter for it. (Note that although I just said guilty, no judicial proceeding had ever found them so; that is why it is legitimate to speak of them having been murdered; that is the word we use for extra-judicial killing).

If such protected persons in an occupied territory commit a criminal act, they may be tried and punished, but they must be tried and jailed in the occupied territory, not moved elsewhere. Amnesty International noted of previous Israeli expulsions of Palestinians:

"The Fourth Geneva Convention, which: - defines "unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person" as a grave breach of the Convention and therefore a war crime. (Article 147). - prohibits "[c]ollective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation" as well as "[r]eprisals against protected persons and their property." (Article 33) - stipulates that: Individuals or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons form occupied territories to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other county, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motives. (Article 49) - states that: Protected persons accused of offences shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentence therein. (Article 76)

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which reflects customary international law and: - defines deportation or forcible transfer of population as "forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law". - defines as a war crime in Article 8(2)(b)(viii) "the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory" by the occupying power. - stipulates that the deportation or forcible transfer of population would also constitute a crime against humanity, when carried out in a widespread or systematic way, as part of a governmental policy. (Article 7 (d))."

See http://www.amnesty.org.il/israel/pr_154.html

So, if Israel would like to charge Arafat and try him, they must do so in the West Bank, and they must jail him there, too, if he is found guilty. But they may not simply unceremoniously dump him over the border without grievously violating international law.

For a summary of the miserable human rights situation created by both the Israeli army and by Palestinian militants in the Occupied Territories, see Amnesty International's report.

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Is Osama a Fascist? Is Bush? (posted 9-14-03)

Alexander Stille, writing in the NYT (Sept. 13, 2003):

Not long after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Christopher Hitchens adopted the term "Islamic fascism" to describe Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and other forms of militant Islamic fundamentalism. More recently Paul Berman, in his book "Terror and Liberalism," uses the fascist analogy to defend the United States invasion of Iraq, applying the term to both the regime of Saddam Hussein and various manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism.

Meanwhile, in what many people see as a particularly far-fetched usage, some on the left are dusting off the political vocabulary of the 1920's and 30's to describe policies of the Bush administration that they find antidemocratic: aggressive unilateralism in foreign affairs, the doctrine of pre-emptive force and what they perceive as the abridgment of civil liberties in the war on terror. Just this week, protesters were flashing signs emblazoned with the word fascist during Attorney General John Ashcroft's speeches in favor of the antiterrorism laws. ...

Mr. Berman insists that there are genuine commonalities precisely because both the Baath Party and Islamic fundamentalism grow out of contacts with Europe. "They didn't experience liberal democracy as in Weimar Germany or in Italy but they did experience an effort to modernize their own countries according to the Western model," he said.

Mr. Berman and Mr. Hitchens also applied the term fascist to militant Islam because it seems to have an aggressive, fanatical hatred of the West, an apocalyptic vision of violent conflict and a cult of death that represents a danger that the world's democracies would be mistaken to ignore. They describe Sept. 11 as a historic moment like that in 1938 when Hitler's threats against Czechoslovakia and the peace negotiations in Munich divided Europe between the desire to appease or confront Hitler.

This interpretation does not sit well with most experts on Islam. "Fascism is nationalistic and Islamicism is hostile to nationalism," said Roxanne Euben, a professor of political science at Wellesley College. "Fundamentalism is a transnational movement that is appealing to believers of all nations and races across national boundaries. There is no idea of racial purity as in Nazism. Islamicists have very little idea of the state. It is a religious movement, while Fascism in Europe was a secular movement. So if it's not what we really think of as nationalism, and if it's not really like what we think of as Fascist, why use these terms?"

Victoria De Grazia, a professor of European history at Columbia, also emphasizes the contrasts. "What was so striking about the proclamations of Osama bin Laden after Sept. 11," she said, "is that they were so different from anything we are familiar with. He gave these long rants which were highly spiritual and which completely lacked the Western Machiavellian structure we are used to."

For Ms. De Grazia, the analogy to Munich says more about Mr. Berman's and Mr. Hitchens's audience than about the contemporary political problem. "Hitchens and Berman were writing for a left audience," she said, "and fascism is a threat felt particularly by the left and one that can only be dealt with by military force."

Maya Chadda, a political scientist at William Paterson University in New Jersey, agrees. "I think the whole Munich analogy is misplaced and gives a false impression of what's going on," she said. "Osama bin Laden is not motivated by that kind of logic. He is not trying to build a state but a movement to wake up Muslims worldwide. It's something very different."

To most, applying the fascist label to the Bush administration is entirely out of bounds, and even those who are making the analogy are careful to make clear that it is highly imperfect. "Obviously, the Bush administration is not a fully fascist regime with a single party, an end to elections and the setting aside of rule of law, but you can make a up a list of similarities and differences," Mr. [Robert] Paxton said. "In times of national emergency, you start with the demonization of an enemy — which is both outside and inside — and then you say we can't afford the luxury or all our freedoms in order to save our community from this emergency created by the enemy. You have a unilateralist foreign policy, the belief that a great nation cannot be bound by international treaties."

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Tzvetan Todorov: U.S. Policy Is Lacking Legitimacy (posted 9-14-03)

Alan Riding, writing in the NYT about Tzvetan Todorov, a Bulgarian-born historian, now residing in Paris, an author of a new book, The New World Disorder (Sept. 13, 2003):

In analyzing American national interests in the post-cold war era, Mr. Todorov takes the long view. "We have gone from the world of George Orwell, where large empires confronted each other, to the universe of Ian Fleming and James Bond, where a megalomaniac billionaire hidden in a cave sends planes against American cities," he said, referring to the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001.

 

But while this represents a major change, he believes that Washington's response has not served the best interests of the United States. He has the advantage that his book was completed after the American and British occupation of Iraq and, like many on both sides of the Atlantic, he now worries that "terrorism has been strengthened since the Iraq invasion, instead of being reduced."

But his principal reason for opposing the intervention in Iraq was that it lacked the legitimacy of, say, the 1991 Iraq war or the ouster of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. And it is this, more than anything, he believes, that has fed anti-Americanism: "It seems to me that Washington does not care enough today to give legitimacy to its acts in the eyes of the world."

While the United States has traditionally oscillated between isolationism and a desire to manage the affairs of the world, he said, what is new is the combination of self-righteousness and extraordinary military power.

But this approach, designed by what he calls the dominant "neo-fundamentalist" group in Washington, is doomed, he believes: "This mission of extirpating evil, of imposing good by force, is a policy that more closely resembles that of communism or the permanent revolution than a liberal agenda. For me, `liberal imperialism' is a contradiction. One cannot impose the liberal spirit by force, one cannot impose freedom at the point of a bayonet."

More relevantly, he argues, the United States lacks the will to intervene everywhere that freedom is threatened. "It intervenes only in certain cases that coincide with its clearly defined interests," he said. "This means that in the eyes of the world it intervenes to defend its interests, not to defend justice. But an empire cannot maintain itself only through force of arms. It also needs to impose itself through legitimacy."

 

Mr. Todorov accepts that there are occasions when the use of force is necessary, but he notes that the West did not intervene to halt the two greatest genocides since World War II, in Cambodia and Rwanda. More often, he added, other forms of pressure on a repressive regime are more effective and less dangerous, not least the containment policy used by the West against the Soviet Union. But for this, he believes, it is better for the United States to work hand in hand with a Europe that can also defend Western values and interests.

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Mary L. Dudziak: 9-11 Changed Us and Now the Meaning of 9-11 Is Changing (posted 9-13-03)

Mary L. Dudziak, writing in the Newsday (Sept. 7, 2003):

It has been two years since Sept. 11, the Sept. 11, two years since the day, we have so often been told, that "everything changed." This idea that Sept. 11 was a day of change has been ubiquitous. Perhaps it is a source of strange comfort. After all, how could such horror and sorrow not change all it reached?

So many months after, we still struggle to make sense of the world we came to inhabit that day. It is marked not as an event, like the blackout, or as a place, like the Oklahoma City federal building. Instead, we remember it as a date, as a moment frozen in time, a day that seemed to last so many more than 24 hours. Sept. 11 is remembered as a date that divides one era from another....

This new world surely required new security, and broad new authority for domestic surveillance was quickly given to the Justice Department. A "new kind of war" against an "axis of evil" justified reinvigorated American unilateralism and a dangerous new policy of pre-emptive war. Sept. 11 might have been thought to be an unspeakably horrific crime, requiring a global reaction to find and prosecute wrongdoers. Seeing it as a change that required these new policies was a matter of choice requiring its own justification.

A casualty of this approach has been the solidarity, at home and abroad, following the attacks. The American flag was, momentarily, a global symbol. Around the world in September 2001, many expressed a solidarity with Americans in their grief. The flags are gone now from most storefronts in Manhattan, car windows on LA freeways and front lawns in Minnesota. The flag took on a different meaning in the build-up to war. It was now a symbol of support for an exercise of U.S. military power. Here, some turned the stars into peace symbols on anti-war protest signs. Around the world, protesters burned the flag.

The trajectory of ideas linked with the flag is an example of a broader aspect of post-Sept. 11 political culture. In the aftermath of the attacks, the nation and the world have converged and diverged over the meanings of America. A moment of remarkable global solidarity has given way to new tensions with long-standing allies. At home, critics of Bush administration policy are called treasonous in a right-wing bestseller. The role of the nation in the world, a source of cohesion shortly after Sept. 11, has become the basis for division.

Was this a day when we all changed? Was this a marker between two eras? Whether or not we have truly crossed a threshold to a new moment in history, it would be best to consider the past in light as well as in shadow, in critical awareness as well as in mourning.

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Michael Ignatieff: The U.S. Has Fought Many Wars Unilaterally (posted 9-12-03)

Michael Ignatieff, writing in the NYT Magazine (Sept. 7, 2003):

From the very beginning, the American republic has never shrunk from foreign wars. A recent Congressional study shows that there has scarcely been a year since its founding that American soldiers haven't been overseas ''from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli,'' chasing pirates, punishing bandits, pulling American citizens out of harm's way, intervening in civil wars, stopping massacres, overturning regimes deemed (fairly or not) unfriendly and exporting democracy. American foreign policy largely consists of doctrines about when and where to intervene in other people's countries. In 1823, James Monroe committed the United States -- militarily, if it came to that -- to keeping foreign colonial powers out of the entire Western Hemisphere. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt added a corollary giving the United States the right to send in troops when any of its Latin American neighbors engaged in ''flagrant wrongdoing.'' Most Latin Americans, then and now, took that to mean that the United States would topple any government in the hemisphere that acted against American interests. Early in the last century, American troops went ashore to set up governments in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and chased Pancho Villa around Mexico. And this kind of intervention wasn't just confined to pushing around Latin Americans. Twelve thousand troops were sent to support the White armies fighting the Communists in the Russian Civil War that began in 1918. In the 1920's, during the civil war in China, there were 6,000 American soldiers ashore and a further 44 naval vessels in the China Sea protecting American interests. (Neither venture was much of a success. Both Russia and China eventually went Communist.)

Despite George Washington's call to avoid foreign entanglements and John Quincy Adams's plea that America should abjure slaying monsters abroad, splendid isolation has never proved to be a convincing foreign policy for Americans. First in 1917 and then again in 1941, American presidents thought they could keep America out of Europe's wars only to discover that isolation was not an option for a country wanting to be taken seriously as a world power -- which, from the beginning, is precisely what America desired. Intervention required huge sacrifice -- the haunting American graveyards in France are proof of this -- but American soldiers helped save Europe from dictatorship, and their hard fighting turned America into the most powerful nation on earth.

 

Americans may think that their troops used to stay at home and that intervention and nation-building used to be rare. In fact, regime change is as old a story in American foreign policy, as is unilateralism. Until the United Nations came along in 1945, the United States did all this intervening without asking anyone's permission. But after watching America be dragged into world war because the League of Nations had been so weak, Franklin Roosevelt decided to back the creation of a muscular world body. He was even willing to hand over some authority over interventions to the United Nations Security Council, leaving it to the council to decide which threats to international peace and security gave states the right to send in military force. Cold-war deadlock on the council, however, frustrated the Roosevelt dream. Besides, a substantial body of American opinion has always questioned why the United States should ask the United Nations' permission to use force abroad.

After World War II, the boys may have wanted to come home, but Truman kept American soldiers on guard around the world to defend free governments from Communist overthrow. This meant shoring up the Greeks in 1947 and sending troops to prevent South Korea from going under in 1950. But anti-Communism had its limits. It did not mean going to the aid of the Hungarians when they rose up against Soviet domination in 1956. When the Soviet tanks rumbled into Budapest, Eisenhower turned a deaf ear as the Hungarians begged over the airwaves for American help. Ike decided that intervention that risked conflict -- perhaps nuclear conflict -- with a great power was not worth the candle.


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Why It's Timely to Remember Franklin Pierce (posted 9-12-03)

Arthur G. Sharp, adjunct English teacher at the University of New Haven, writing in the Hartford Courant (Sept. 8, 2003):

History does repeat itself -- and not always in a positive way. Witness the parallels between the Democratic Party's 1852 and 2004 presidential nomination process. If history repeats the 1852 fiasco in 2004, the United States could be headed for trouble. That campaign gave us Franklin Pierce, the 14th -- and arguably most ineffective -- president in our history. (Ironically, 2004 marks the bicentennial of his birth.)

The Democrats were having a difficult time nominating a candidate for president in 1852. They had several highly qualified men from whom to choose; Pierce was not one of them. Allegedly, a la Al Gore and Hillary Clinton today, he was not interested in running for the office. Hah!

The list included James Buchanan, who succeeded Pierce in 1856; Lewis Cass, who had lost the presidential race in 1848 to Zachary Taylor; and Stephen Douglas, who is best remembered for his spirited debates with Abraham Lincoln in the 1858 race for one of Illinois' U.S. Senate posts and his subsequent loss to Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election. All three were eminently qualified to run for president. Unfortunately, party members could not decide among the three. So, they compromised.

The 1852 Democratic Convention was an exercise in futility for the delegates. They simply could not get the required two-thirds vote for one candidate. Forty-eight times they voted; 48 times they failed. Finally, they compromised and chose Franklin Pierce on the 49th vote.

Pierce was not unqualified for the presidency. He had served in the New Hampshire legislature and the U.S. Senate, from which he had resigned in 1842 because of his wife's dissatisfaction with life in Washington and his propensity to consume a few too many adult beverages at times. Alcoholism was a problem for Pierce. In fact, his death in 1869 from cirrhosis of the liver can be attributed to his alcoholism.

The party was not particularly enamored with Pierce. His legacy shows that he lived up to their expectations. He is best known for several "firsts" in the White House -- among them, the first central-heating system, the first bathroom with hot and cold water, and the first Christmas tree. And he managed to get arrested while in office for running over an elderly woman with his horse, although the case was dropped in 1853 because of insufficient evidence.

In all fairness, his legacy was not completely negative. For example, there was no turnover in his Cabinet during his tenure. And he was in office for the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, which involved the acquisition of 29,000 square miles of Mexican territory for $10 million to facilitate building railroads through southwestern mountains. He received some credit for the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which gave the settlers in those new territories the right to determine their slavery status for themselves. On the international front, he was in office when Commodore Matthew Perry negotiated a treaty with Japan in 1854. None of these were particularly significant historically, though.

Pierce's lack of accomplishments explains why historians are in agreement regarding his overall impact as president. In effect, he did not have one. That is evidenced by the fact that he is the only president in U.S. history who sought, but did not win, his party's nomination for a second term. Instead, the Democrats nominated James Buchanan in 1856. That proved to be a wise move, as he handily defeated John Fremont and Millard Fillmore. As for Pierce, he returned to New Hampshire and resumed his law practice.

So what is different today? We have at least nine eminently qualified major candidates running for the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2004. That is enough to form a baseball team. The question is whether any of them can get to first base for the ultimate nomination.

If history repeats itself, we might see the party cast aside the major candidates and compromise on someone who is not currently in the mix. Do the names Gore and Clinton ring a bell? Like Pierce, both profess to be uninterested at the moment, but that could all change if the nominating process becomes too cumbersome for the Democratic Party. I hope, if that comes to pass, whoever becomes the candidate will not emulate Pierce and strike out completely as president of the United States if elected.

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Doris Kearns Goodwin: After 9-11 We Didn't Have to Make Sacrifices (posted 9-12-03)

Elisabeth Bumiller, writing in the NYT about the ways 9-11 changed America (Sept. 7, 2003):

In contrast to World War II, when rationing and a new female labor force created a social revolution, the bigger change this time may be internal. "What's changed for many people is what's in our heads about America's position in the world, rather than the reality of daily life," said the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose son, Lt. Joseph K. Goodwin, is with the First Armored Division in Baghdad.

For Ms. Goodwin, a war that is a television abstraction to most of the country is deeply personal, and represents the first time she has been absorbed in military affairs beyond her research into the wars of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. "You read the paper every day with a different feeling," she said. "Every time you see the name of somebody who has died over there, it's a great pull on your heart."

As a historian, Ms. Goodwin added, she knew intellectually that the giddy times of the 1990's couldn't last, and that history had cycles. "But still, during that period between the end of the cold war and Sept. 11, in my heart I believed that maybe things would be different for a while, and that maybe for this next generation, things could remain peaceful," she said. "But that has been shattered."

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Is Howard Dean too Angry to Win the Presidency? (posted 9-12-03)

Craig Gilbert, writing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Sept. 7, 2003):

"It's my own opinion that Dean is going to be a difficult sell to say the least in a general election campaign," said Northeastern University political scientist William G. Mayer, and "there's at least some chance he could turn out to be a disaster."

While Mayer cites Dean's positions, others cite his style, suggesting he's too "hot," too bruising, too contemptuous in his attacks on Bush.

In a recent interview on his campaign plane, Dean accused Bush of pursuing policies that he knows won't work -- for purely political purposes.

"He's not interested in being a good president," said Dean, who speculated that Bush was "obsessed" with re-election because of his father's failure to win a second term in 1992.

Jacobson said Dean's disdain for Bush is "going to be a very hard sell" in a general election. "Average people who are not strong partisans don't think of (Bush) in the same hostile terms that partisan Democrats do."

McInturff likens it to the way Republican hatred for Clinton hurt the GOP with swing voters in the 1990s.

Mobilizing the voters

While the "angry Democrats self-destruct" scenario has some currency among political analysts and insiders, there's an alternative school of thought.

"I don't buy that for a minute," presidential historian Allan Lichtman said of the notion that anti-Bush passions are counterproductive for Democrats.

"I can't think of a historical example where the 'out' party has lost because it has come on too strongly against the incumbent," Lichtman said.

"You cannot win unless you get your base energized and mobilized. Let the Democrats nominate whoever they're most enthusiastic for and not worry about being too strident or too left-wing," he said.

In other words, the nominee will do what all nominees do: nail down the base, then adapt for the general election.

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Michael Oren: The Road Map Repeats the Oslo Mistake (posted 9-10-03)

Michael Oren, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 10, 2003):

On the evening of Sept. 13, 1993, I was working late in my Jerusalem office when I heard fireworks and drums. Peering out of the window, I saw that the festive commotion emanated not from the city's Western, Jewish side -- which was totally silent -- but from the eastern Arab sector. At precisely that moment, on the White House lawn, President Clinton was presiding over the "historic handshake" between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat. The scowl on Rabin's face and the smirk on Arafat's reflected the disparate moods in the two Jerusalems. While many Israelis cringed at the thought of dealing with a world-renowned terrorist, and feared the kind of peace he would deliver, Palestinians were flushed with the anticipation of victory and the return of millions of refugees. "We're in trouble," I thought.

Ten years later, the trouble wrought by the Oslo Accords -- so-called, after the city where they were mediated -- has been incalculable. Instead of a "New Middle East" with peace between Israel and an independent Palestinian state, war has ravaged the area, devastating economies, killing and maiming thousands. Rarely has an agreement been so celebrated -- Rabin and Arafat won Nobel prizes -- generated such vast expectations, and occupied so many presidential days, only to utterly fail. Now, in the wake of Mahmoud Abbas's resignation as Palestinian prime minister, one must asked why.

There are many answers, the most obvious of which is accountability. Israel was not held accountable for expanding its West Bank and Gaza settlements in excess of Oslo's proviso for their "natural growth." But while Israelis may have exploited the treaty's spirit, the Palestinians flagrantly disregarded its letter. No sooner had Arafat returned from Washington than he began smuggling explosives and weapons into the territories, harboring wanted terrorists, and educating Palestinian children to destroy Israel -- all blatant breaches of Oslo. In the mid-'90s, Arafat's Palestinian Authority failed to stop and in some cases abetted the suicide bombers who killed hundreds of Israelis. Yet, in spite of these gross violations, neither Arafat nor his Authority was ever called to task. Advocates of Oslo equivocated that the Palestinians would comply with the accords but only after they had achieved statehood, and until then, they were too weak to clamp down on terrorism or even to cease incitement. The many Israelis who died in the interim were dubbed, perversely, "victims of peace."

Another, subtler, reason for Oslo's collapse was the absence of mutuality. The accords called on both sides to "recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights," but while Rabin specifically recognized the rights of the Palestinian people, Arafat never acknowledged the rights or even the existence of a Jewish people. Had he done so, he would have accepted the Jews' claim to a permanent state in their homeland, and signaled his willingness to divide that land with them. Instead, he arrogated all of the land for the Palestinians and sought to transform Israel into a de facto Palestinian state through the mass repatriation of refugees. While "Palestinian people" and "Palestinian state" entered Israel's political lexicon, the words "Jewish people" and "Jewish state" never passed his lips. Privately, with President Clinton, he even denied that the Jews had historical ties to Jerusalem.

The next factor undermining peace might best be called thuggery. Rabin believed that democratic Israel was incapable of taking the draconian steps necessary to defeat Hamas and other terrorist groups, and so sought a Palestinian partner free, he said, "of civil rights monitors and the supreme court." That partner was Arafat, a strongman whom the U.S. and Israel essentially hired to suppress other Palestinian thugs. The assumption that a corrupt Arab dictator would suit the Palestinians was racist, but also politically unsound. Arafat pocketed the millions of dollars in payoffs but made no serious effort to combat Hamas. Rather than reigning in terror, he increasingly engaged in it himself.

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Roger Morris: America's Bloody Hands in Liberia (posted 9-5-03)

Roger Morris, writing in the LA Times (August 31, 2003):

As Liberia's civil war flashed in the media this summer — countless dead, more than a million refugees — there was ready sympathy for a people we'd probably first heard of, and last heard of, sometime in school.

President Bush reminded us of our special tie to the small West African country, when he referred in passing to its "unique history" as a nation founded by freed American slaves. But beyond ritual rhetoric, he was careful to take no responsibility for the tortured country's future, or its past.

For some of us who knew the story from the inside, that evasion was shocking. The president's stock, simplistic version of U.S.-Liberian relations hides the sordid reality I knew firsthand as a National Security Council aide for African affairs under presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. In fact, much of Liberia's agony can be traced directly back to American policy. The "unique history" Bush referred to holds a reckless patronage haunting both nations.

In the White House version, Liberia began as a "beacon of hope." Bureaucrats used to write the same cliché for the presidents I served. But then, as now, it falsified history. A "beacon" for some, perhaps, but certainly not for all. Backed by guns and money from a 19th-century white America eager to resettle them, our ex-slaves promptly set up a caste tyranny, even their own slave trade, over the indigenous tribes, beginning 159 years of divide-and-rule supported by the U.S. and relentlessly seeding today's communal chaos.

Liberia, says every U.S. government publication, is Africa's oldest independent republic. Well, it may be old, but it's not quite a republic or independent. The Americo-Liberian dictatorship effectively excluded 99% of the population politically and economically. From the 1920s, astride the world's largest latex plantation, the giant American multinational Firestone all but owned the nation as a rubber colony. The company and an accommodating regime rounded up young men from the interior in Gulag-like labor battalions, while their paramilitary thugs brutalized anyone protesting some of the worst exploitation in Africa. When I was on the NSC staff, Firestone executives — Liberia's real rulers — were far more important in dealing with the country than any Liberian or U.S. official.

During the 27-year reign of President William Tubman, who was a White House favorite when I worked there, Liberia was Washington's dutiful ward and slavish imitator, ceding listening posts, United Nations votes and other favors, turning into a veritable "mini-me" of the U.S. in West Africa, down to the adoption of the dollar as its currency. In return, Tubman got CIA-paid bodyguards and enforcers and the highest U.S. aid per capita in Africa, which went, we knew, almost exclusively to benefit the coastal elite, if not directly into their pockets. The CIA even flew Tubman regularly to Paris — a matter of national security, it was said — for (pre-Viagra) monkey gland implants to revive the aging despot's flagging libido until he died in 1971.

In the 1980s, according to the State Department, Liberia plunged into "unfortunate internal instability." But it was not solely internal.

Tubman's handpicked successor, William Tolbert, continued domestic repression but advanced a less pliant foreign policy — allowing Soviet and Chinese embassies, renegotiating the deal with Firestone, backing Palestinian rights — to the dismay of American officials.

In April 1980, Tolbert's rule came to an end when he was hacked to death in his bed by Samuel Doe, a semiliterate, 27-year-old Green Beret-trained sergeant from one of the persecuted tribes. Doe promptly replaced Americo-Liberian rule with his own clan repression of other inland peoples as well as the old U.S.-backed elite. The CIA had known the coup was coming but had somehow failed to inform Tolbert.

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Why We Should Be Remembering What Happened to Napoleon in Moscow (posted 9-5-03)

Tom Engelhardt, writing in www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute (September 4, 2003):

Quote of the day (from Alain Touraine, El Pais):"The US ... is building a world order, prepared by itself and justified only by being at the service of God, so that the US more and more resembles the regimes it threatens ... The Europeans [are] so indecisive, so apathetic - will they ever understand that they must oppose the American crusade, create a distinct relationship with the Islamic countries, and impose a return to multilateralism, after this warrior episode of US policy, which may end like Napoleon's expedition to Russia?"

Among the many historical analogies being bandied about, that's one I hadn't seen before - our troops in broiling Iraq as the frozen soldiers of Napoleon's retreating army (remember that the Russians had burned down Moscow to deny the French Emperor winter succor), harried by guerrillas across the icy steppes of Russia. And yet… let's not deny that this will end badly. Not least because the men (and lone woman) in the Bush administration are inching back from Iraq at a glacial pace. Only the other day the Pentagon's leading neocon, Wolfowitz of Arabia, took to the op-ed podium of the Wall Street Journal to remind everyone that the civilians in the Pentagon aren't backing away from their global dreams at all. He wrote what in the old Soviet Union would have been a party-line piece insisting that (Paul Wolfowitz, Support Our Troops):

 

"Just as in the Cold War, holding the line in Berlin and Korea was not just about those places alone. It was about the resolve of the free world. Once that resolve was made clear to the Soviets, communism eventually collapsed. The same thing will happen to terrorism -- and to all those who have attempted to hijack Islam and threaten America and the rest of the free world, which now includes Iraq. They will see our resolve and the resolve of the free world. Then they, too, will take their place on the ash heap of history."

I think it still remains a more than open question exactly who will join whom on that"ash heap of history." The new line in our press this week is that some of the Busheviks, the President included, are"swallowing their pride" and"returning" to the UN. We are finally on a"UN track," as the papers like to say, with the media equivalent of a straight, even a sober, face. As the New York Times hustled to suggest in its lead editorial today (A Bigger U.N. Role in Iraq):

 

"It is unclear how much authority Washington is willing to give the U.N., but the new resolution offers an approach all Council members should support… Fuller U.N. involvement would not only reduce the costs in American lives and dollars -it would also improve the chances for success."

This is, in fact, little short of a joke. Here, for instance, is what that softie, our Secretary of State Colin Powell, had to say about"sharing" the burden (of empire) in Iraq (Robin Wright, US Pushes for UN Resolution, Los Angeles Times):

 

"At a news conference today, Powell said the U.S. will 'play a dominant role in Iraq. But there is room for other nations in providing troops for security across Iraq. There are many roles to be played,' he said. 'We believe that every peace-loving nation in the world, every nation that would like to see a more stable Middle East, that would like to see democracy arise in that part of the world, would want to play a role.' He added: 'It's important for us to come together as an international community, and this is a further step in that direction.'"

A"further" step? Maybe it's just my fading brain, but I can't seem to recall the previous ones. Last night's ABC prime-time news reported that our staggering concessions to the international community would include letting the UN help the Governing Council we appointed in the writing of a new constitution, or help monitor a future vote. Gosh, even I feel empowered.

But what's actually going on here? Well, start with casualties. There have been all those rumors, faithfully reported here, about the under-reporting of American casualties. Now, Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post offers a full-scale assessment of this, calling"the combat injuries of U.S. troops in Iraq one of the untold stories of the war" and reporting that"almost 10 American troops a day [are] now being officially declared 'wounded in action.'" His conclusion (Number of Wounded in Action on Rise):"Since the war began, more than 6,000 service members have been flown back to the United States. The number includes the 1,124 wounded in action, 301 who received non-hostile injuries in vehicle accidents and other mishaps, and thousands who became physically or mentally ill." There have also, reported ABC prime time news last night, been nine suicides.

If we have about 140,000 troops in Iraq at any time, then over 6,000 flown out of action for"injuries" of any sort, mental or physical, or killed in Iraq means that, by my crude calculations, well over 4% of the American force there has been put of out action one way or another - and those figures include months when casualties were relatively low.

If I were the military I would be panicking too. Troops are exhausted. There have been numerous reports on low morale and high stress in the press, from the troops themselves and from their families. Many of our soldiers are in what Senator Robert Byrd has called a"shooting gallery" situation And the military is overextended globally. What they need (from their point of view) isn't international sharing, but troops, fresh troops - and if we can get Indians or Pakistanis to do our phone solicitations, why not our military junk work in Iraq too? In June, Byrd, our last Roman senator, asked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to assess"how a protracted mission in Iraq could affect our military readiness." And now we know. In a speech in the Senate, he reported in part:

 

"According to the advance copy of the CBO report that was delivered to my office today, if we are to rely primarily on the active duty Army to carry out the occupation of Iraq while maintaining our presence in Korea, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and elsewhere, we can only maintain 38,000 to 64,000 soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait over the long term.

"Even if the Pentagon takes extraordinary measures, such as depending on large deployments of the National Guard and the Reserves and using Marines as peacekeepers, the CBO report estimates that we could still only sustain 67,000 to 106,000 troops in Iraq for the long term. The annual incremental cost for a continuing deployment of this size, assuming that the security situation becomes stable, could be up to $19 billion per year… The CBO also reports that our troop levels in Iraq will have to start declining by March 2004 if we hope to preserve readiness in our armed forces."

On this one, you can do the math yourself, probably far better than I can. So can the President. It's not very complicated. Then think to yourself about the growing team of" critics," Republicans and Democrats alike, who want to send more troops to Iraq.

So the Bush administration is quite literally between a rock (their now increasingly ludicrous dreams of global domination from which they can't bear to be parted) and a hard place (the military and financial needs of Iraq and the needs of the military in Iraq). A front-page piece in the New York Times this morning claims that"Administration officials have also said over the last few days that they expected to ask Congress for an additional spending request of between $60 billion and $80 billion in the next fiscal year to pay for the reconstruction and some of the military occupation of Iraq." (I'd like to see exactly who is supposed to get how much of that money.) It's in this context that they are now trying to involve the United Nations - not of course in any meaningful way, but as a cover for convincing other countries to provide reinforcements, military and financial. As Dana Milbank and Thomas Ricks put it today in a long Washington Post report on how Powell and the Joint Chiefs trumped the Pentagon civilian command on a return to the UN (Powell and Joint Chiefs Nudged Bush Toward U.N.),

 

"At the same time, it was becoming obvious that the administration could not recruit enough foreign troops without U.N. support. 'The U.S. had gone around knocking on just about every possible door looking for money and troops, and they got the same answer everywhere: We need some kind of a new resolution,' a diplomat at the United Nations said.

"'All these strands came together and reached a critical mass,' the diplomat said. 'The coalition authority is broke. They need bodies. The administration finally understands that you can't have reconstruction while destruction is still going on.'"

Let's only hope that the world is not so dazzled by American assessments of American power that they in some fashion give in to this foolishness which will not help the Iraqis, nor, in the long run, our troops. Anybody who takes the assurances of this administration seriously on sharing even a shred of power in Iraq should just recall the"vital role" Bush and Blair promised the U.N. back when, and then consider what's happened since. I note that already today the leaders of France and Germany have criticized the U.S. draft resolution.

By the way, the right-wing Washington Times has just revealed the existence of a"secret report of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" on Iraq war planning that"lays the blame for setbacks in Iraq on a flawed and rushed war-planning process that 'limited the focus' for preparing for post-Saddam Hussein operations… The report is titled 'Operation Iraqi Freedom Strategic Lessons Learned' and is stamped 'secret.' A copy was obtained by The Washington Times."

But"rush" might not be quite the right word for it. The Times goes on to say (Rowan Scarborough, U.S. rushed post-Saddam planning):

 

"The report also shows that President Bush approved the overall war strategy for Iraq in August last year. That was eight months before the first bomb was dropped and six months before he asked the U.N. Security Council for a war mandate that he never received."

What I'd love to know is who leaked this report and for what purpose. I assume it was someone in the military and embarrassment of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon had to be at the top of the list (although it's also clearly an attempt to whitewash the postwar military failure to find weapons of mass destruction). But what's fascinating here is the confirmation that the plan for (and undoubtedly decision for) war was made eight months early. Eight months - all that discussion and"debate" to follow -- and yet no significant Pentagon planning for the postwar moment was undertaken until the postwar moment was upon them. What the report confirms is that Wolfowitz and the Don believed their dreams. They genuinely thought postwar Iraq, as Ahmed Chalabi had assured them, would be the Big Rock Candy Mountain of countries - no problems and lots of gum drops (or oil wells) for the picking.

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Joshua Brown: Stuck in the Mud (posted 9-3-03)

This illustration is by Joshua Brown, Executive Director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York Graduate Center:

 Illustration by Joshua Brown. Click to see his series, Life During Wartime

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Bernard Lewis: Fixing Iraq (posted 8-29-03)

Bernard Lewis, writing in the Wall Street Journal (August 29, 2003):

At first sight one would have expected that Afghanistan would be difficult, Iraq easy. In the one country, we ousted a religious regime, which had the prestige of having liberated the country from the plague of warlordism; in the other, we overthrew a universally detested Fascist-type tyranny. Afghanistan is a remote, mountainous country, with poor and difficult communications; Iraq consists largely of flat river valleys with quick and easy communication. Afghanistan has a strong tradition of regional independence and limited experience of central control; Iraq has known millennia of centralized government, run by a sophisticated and ramified bureaucracy. For these and other reasons, one might have expected that running Afghanistan would be difficult, running Iraq comparatively easy. In fact, the reverse has occurred. In Afghanistan, at first, things did indeed go badly, and there are still problems, both in the country and in the government, but they are manageable. Today with minimal help from the U.S., a central government is gradually extending its political and financial control to the rest of the country and dealing more and more effectively with the problem of the maintenance of order; in Iraq, after an easy and almost unresisted conquest, the situation seems to grow worse from day to day. While the Afghans are building a new infrastructure, Iraqis--or others acting in their name--are busy destroying theirs.

Why this contrast? America's enemies are the same in both places, with the same objectives. The main difference is that in Afghanistan there is an Afghan government, while in Iraq there is an American administration, and the cry of "American imperialism" is being repeated on many sides. Even the most cursory examination will reveal that this charge is ludicrously inept. America has neither the desire nor the skill nor--perhaps most important--the need to play an imperial role in Iraq. But the accusation--and its resonant echoes in the Western and even in the American media--serve a very useful purpose for those whose complaints and purposes against America are in reality quite different.

 

 

These anti-American forces fall basically into two groups. The first, and in the long run the more important, come from the camp of al Qaeda and related religious movements. For them, America is now the leader of Christendom, the ultimate enemy in the millennial struggle which they hope to bring, in their own time, to a victorious conclusion. In the writings and speeches of Osama bin Laden and of his allies and disciples, hatred of America is less significant than contempt--the perception that America is a "paper tiger," that its people have become soft and pampered--"hit them and they will run." This perception was bolstered by frequent references to Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia, as well as to the feeble response to subsequent terrorist attacks in the 1990s, notably on the USS Cole and on the embassies in East Africa. It was this perception which undoubtedly underlay the events of Sept. 11, clearly intended to be the opening barrage of a new war against the Americans on their home ground.
The response to this attack, and notably the operations in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, brought a rude awakening, and that is surely why there have been no subsequent attacks on U.S. soil. But the perception has not entirely disappeared, and has been revived by a number of subsequent developments and utterances. Compunction--unwillingness to inflict as well as to suffer casualties--is meaningless to those who have no hesitation in slaughtering hundreds, even thousands, of their own people, in order to kill a few enemies. Open debate is obviously meaningless to those whose only experience of government is ruthless autocracy. What they think they see is division and fear--and these encourage a return to their earlier perception of American degeneracy. Such a return could have dangerous consequences, including a renewal and extension of terrorist attacks in America. By terrorist attacks, they believe, they will encourage those whose response is to say, "Let's get out of here"--perhaps even procure the election of a new administration dedicated to this policy.

The other factor of anti-Americanism has quite a different origin, though there are areas of overlap. During the last few months the fear has often been expressed in Europe and America that democracy cannot succeed in Iraq. There is another, greater, and more urgent fear in the region--that it will succeed in Iraq, and this could become a mortal threat to the tyrants who rule most of the Middle East. An open and democratic regime in Iraq, inevitably with a Shiite majority, could arouse new hopes among the oppressed peoples of the region, and offer a corresponding threat to their oppressors. One of these regimes, that of Iran, purports to be Islamic, and was indeed so in its origins, though it has become yet another corrupt tyranny.

Some of these regimes are officially classified as our friends and allies, and dealing with them presents a number of problems. There are no such problems in dealing with Iran, an avowed enemy, and undoubtedly a major force behind the troubles in Iraq, in Palestine and elsewhere. Some have argued that the remedy is to "build bridges" to the present regime in Iran. Even if successful, the best that such a diplomacy could accomplish would be to establish the same kind of friendship with Iran as we have with Saudi Arabia--hardly model. More realistically, such overtures could certainly achieve two immediate results--to earn the contempt of the government and the mistrust of the people. The calculation of the present regime in Iran is well known, and dates back to the first Gulf War. If Saddam Hussein had possessed nuclear weapons, the Americans would have left him alone, and he would have kept Kuwait and probably other places too. It was then that the mullahs decided that they must have these weapons, which would enable them to enjoy the same kind of immunity as North Korea. They are working desperately to that end, and the Middle East situation will take a significant turn for the worse if they are given the time to achieve it. Opinions may differ on how to handle them, but surely the worst of all options is the line of submissiveness, which can only strengthen the perception of American weakness.

 

 

What then should we do in Iraq? Clearly the imperial role is impossible, blocked equally by moral and psychological constraints, and by international and more especially domestic political calculations. An inept, indecisive imperialism is the worst of all options, with the possible exception of subjecting Iraq to the tangled but ferocious politics of the U.N. The best course surely is the one that is working in Afghanistan--to hand over, as soon as possible, to a genuine Iraqi government. In Iraq as in Afghanistan, a period of discreet support would be necessary, but the task would probably be easier in Iraq. Here again care must be taken. Premature democratization--holding elections and transferring power, in a country which has had no experience of such things for decades, can only lead to disaster, as in Algeria. Democracy is the best and therefore the most difficult of all forms of government. The Iraqis certainly have the capacity to develop democratic institutions, but they must do so in their own way, at their own pace. This can only be done by an Iraqi government.
Fortunately, the nucleus of such a government is already available, in the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmad Chalabi. In the northern free zone during the '90s they played a constructive role, and might at that time even have achieved the liberation of Iraq had we not failed at crucial moments to support them. Despite a continuing lack of support amounting at times to sabotage, they continue to acquit themselves well in Iraq, and there can be no reasonable doubt that of all the possible Iraqi candidates they are the best in terms alike of experience, reliability, and good will. It took years, not months, to create democracies in the former Axis countries, and this was achieved in the final analysis not by Americans but by people in those countries, with American encouragement, help and support. Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress deserve no less.

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John Keegan: Iraq Isn't Vietnam (posted 8-25-03)

John Keegan, writing in the Melbourne Age (August 22, 2003):

The answer to the first question is comparatively easy. No, Iraq is not becoming another Vietnam, nor is it likely to turn into one. The situations are quite different, much as alarmists would like to draw similarities. Many factors differentiate the nature of the disorders, including terrain, politics and the strategic location of the trouble spot.

All American veterans of Vietnam carry foremost among their memories the hostility of the terrain. Although Vietnam is not completely covered by jungle, as in popular imagination, it is very densely vegetated. Tree and scrub cover conferred an enormous advantage on the Vietcong and made counter-insurgency operations difficult.

Most of Iraq, by contrast, is arid, offering little cover to insurgence and allowing a high level of aerial surveillance. It is the urban, not rural, areas that are difficult to control and they are small in extent.

Second, the opposition, so far as it can be identified, does not resemble the VC in organisation, leadership or experience. The VC, by the time it began to fight the Americans in earnest in 1965, had 20 years of military experience and was a hardened and highly capable guerilla army.

It had defeated the French, liberated half the country and brought the anti-Communist government in the south to its knees. It was based, moreover, on a mass political movement, with a structure that permeated almost every village. Its leaders, Ho Chi Minh and General Giap, were men of high ability and self-confidence.

By contrast, the Baath Party, so far as it survived, is a minority, not a mass organisation. In recent times it has been associated with defeat, not victory, and its leadership has either been destroyed or is in hiding.

Finally, the opposition to the coalition forces in Iraq does not enjoy a favourable strategic location. The VC, even when fighting the French, had an impenetrable sanctuary in the far north of Vietnam.

After their victory over the French, that sanctuary included North Vietnam, which was supplied with arms by Russia and China through ports that it controlled. In Iraq, there is no area of sanctuary and, even though Iran is suspected of allowing arms and fighters to cross into Iraq, the Iranian leadership is too frightened of America to act as an overt sponsor of a guerilla war.

The result is that the coalition in Iraq, as America never did in Vietnam, controls, if imperfectly, the whole operational area. What it faces is not a guerilla war, but an insurgency, and one supported by only a fraction of the population.

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MLK's Message to Palestinian Suicide Bombers (posted 8-25-03)

Gil Troy, writing in the Montreal Gazette (August 22, 2003):

Regardless of where they stand politically, good people throughout the world need to wonder what the latest Jerusalem suicide bomber was thinking in the last few moments of his life. Surveying a bus filled with dozens of babies, toddlers, pre-teens and teens, hearing their laughter and their cries, watching some sleep and some play, did he pause at all? Did he have any second thoughts before slaughtering at least six children and wounding as many as 40? Or did he, the father of two, husband of a pregnant woman, simply see more steps on his delusional ladder to heaven? In his perverted ideology, are children considered to be a particularly valuable target, or are they considered to be unlucky bystanders?

One wonders what kind of political culture breeds such a monster, who does not value his life or that of others, be they old or young. One wonders what kind of society could shoot off fireworks as some did in Hebron, distribute candy as some did in Lebanon, celebrating the deaths of Shmuel Taubenfeld, 3 months, Shmuel Zargari, 11 months, Tehilla Nathanson, 3, Issachar Reinitz, 9, Avraham Bar Or, 12, Binyamin Bergman, 15, and others.

Of course, over the last three years in particular, we have been told repeatedly to contextualize, to balance, even to sympathize with these supposedly poor, oppressed desperate bombers. It has become fashionable to remove the moral calculus from the equation, as everyone is secure in their haze of moral equivalence that there are outrages on both sides, and that each side believes its own propaganda and, thus, justifies its own motives and actions. The fact this murderer, studying for a master's degree at A-Najah University in Nablus, was well educated and at least reasonably comfortable, like so many other suicide bombers, including the Sept. 11 killers, is often overlooked. Even Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, while offering his "real sorrow" to the families of the victims, neglected the moral issue, only suggesting "this horrible act ... doesn't serve the interests of the Palestinian people."

[S]ocial activists throughout the world [are celebrating] the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's sublime "I have a dream" speech. As the whole world watched and a quarter of a million blacks and whites filled the mall in Washington in 1963, King's words rang out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Contrary to many revisionists, King was no namby-pamby preacher simply dreaming of harmony. King, in fact, was a revolutionary, who warned, "It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. ... There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights."

King, however, also warned his own people, "In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. ... Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

King's message resonated throughout the world because it said, regardless of the moral rights and wrongs of the origins of a conflict, how you fight is as important as why you fight.

Some Palestinians have not just ignored this message but inverted it, claiming why you fight can justify any way to fight. That distortion is dismaying enough. That their apologists the world over have forgotten this important teaching - and, thus, rationalized and implicitly encouraged mass murder, including the killing of children - is also unconscionable.

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Europeans Misapprehend Americans (posted 8-24-03)

Michael Petrou, a Canadian studying modern history at Oxford University, writing in the Ottawa Citizen (August 23, 2003):

Numerous times since my arrival in Oxford, a Briton or a European will hear my accent and assume I am an American. Upon hearing that I am Canadian, the typical reaction is a profuse apology, followed occasionally by a confidential confession of intense dislike for the Yanks. "Aren't they awful?" they ask, comfortable in the assumption that I must agree.

Are Americans from Mars and Europeans from Venus? The answer is no.

Most Americans are more ideological than Europeans. They believe, and I think they are correct, that democracy and market economics offer the most hope for the rest of the world, and therefore for the safety of the United States. Democracies, whatever their faults may be, do not go to war against each other. So Americans are keen to export this.

Therefore, Americans are imperial. Although to paraphrase historians Michael Ignatieff and Niall Ferguson, they are reluctant, even unaware, imperialists.

Americans are also more concerned than Europeans with results than with process. The comparatively stifling bureaucracy of a European social welfare state, or worse yet, the European Union, is repugnant to the freewheeling libertarianism of conservative America.

Democracy in America is devolved and decentralized. Individual states are reluctant to concede even the most basic powers of legislation to Washington. That Americans would ever allow a parliament in a foreign country's city, say Brussels, to dictate the size, shape and colour of vegetables local groceries are allowed to sell is incomprehensible. So America is, I argue, more ideological, imperial and results-oriented than Europe.

But is America more warlike, as befits a nation from Mars? No; certainly not in comparison with Europe.

Europe's supposed half-century of peace following the Second World War is a myth, as any stroll down memory lane makes abundantly clear: We have civil war in Greece and more recently Yugoslavia, and violent ethnic conflict in Macedonia; the British in Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East; brutal decolonization across Africa, most notably the French in Algeria; outright dictatorships only three decades ago in Spain, Portugal and Greece; the Falklands War; Cyprus. Of all the charges Americans most often level at Europeans, "pacifist wimps" is the most difficult to back up. Hypocrites might be more accurate.

Europeans are not from Venus. The problem is largely one of perception. But if The Simpsons television show and conservative tabloids such as the New York Post bear some responsibility for the perception in America that Europe is infested with weaklings, the left-leaning and virulently anti-American British press is equally responsible for the iconic image of an American as a rather stupid warmonger.

There are no more than four stories British correspondents in America write:

1) Americans are fat.

British reporters offer a host of dubious and contradictory explanations: Americans are too rich; or too poor. They're insecure; they're too confident. They're greedy; they're just dumb.

2) Americans are stupid.

"Americans can't even find Iraq on a map!"

"They think Saddam Hussein was behind the Sept. 11 attacks!"

Any evidence supporting, or appearing to support, the above allegations is seized on by the British press. A few reporters have even confronted new recruits to the U.S. Army with on-the-spot geography quizzes.

3) Americans are gun nuts.

I have visited the U.S. for almost 24 years and have even worked in Washington. In all this time, I have never met an American with a handgun. And yet apparently British correspondents run into these guys all the time, spilling over their too-small chairs in diners, where they eat super-size portions of apple pie and defend abortion clinic bombers.

4) Americans are religious fanatics.

This theme can often be found in stories about American foreign policy, where it blends nicely with another favourite obsession of an ugly fringe of the British left: that America is controlled by Jews. In the latest version, it is conceded that Jews may not control the Bush administration themselves (they do, after all, statistically vote Democrat). But Christian fanatics -- allied with Jews because of some loosely explained desire to bring about the Apocalypse -- run the show.

"The most astonishing -- and least covered -- story is in fact the alliance of Israeli lobbyists and Christian Zionist fundamentalists ..." the Independent's Robert Fisk wrote last summer in an article about the "Israeli lobby" in America.

The ideal article, of course, blends more than one story together. The Independent recently proclaimed: "Christians force Wal-Mart to ban British 'lad mags.'" The article doesn't explain exactly who these "Christians" are. But accuracy was never the point in this story. It was printed to point out the delicious irony that although Wal-Mart is banning racy magazines, it still sells bullets. That Americans prefer guns to naked breasts is proof of their stupidity. That these bible-thumping, gun freaks must also be fat is merely assumed.

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Kevin Baker: Let's Hope the Philippines Aren't a Precursor to Iraq (posted 8-22-03)

Kevion Baker, writing in American Heritage (August 2003):

All happy occupations may, like Tolstoy’s families, be alike; but each unhappy occupation is definitely unhappy in its own way. Of course it is too early to tell which our occupation of Iraq—not to mention Afghanistan—will be. As of this writing, the portents are ominous, with mounting numbers of Iraqis dead in violent street demonstrations, the Iranian-backed Shiite clergy clearly positioning themselves to make a power grab, and the remnants of the Taliban still conducting hit-and-run attacks in Af-ghanistan. We are only at the beginning of what promises to be a long process, however, and it remains to be seen what men of goodwill and patience can do.

The Bush administration, of course, prefers not to use the word occupation at all, and likes to point to our still-shining success in rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II. But these were largely homogeneous, industrial, Westernized states, with at least some past experience in democracy; Iraq is an ethnically divided, Arabic state jerry-built by the British Empire after World War I, following four centuries of Turkish rule. A more analogous occupation might be our very first exercise in nation building.

The Philippines came into our possession before most Americans knew where they were, an enormous, gorgeous, tangled archipelago of more than 7,000 islands and many different ethnic groups, religious sects, and aboriginal tribes, almost half the world away. They had been claimed by Spain since Magellan stumbled upon them in the sixteenth century, and their political history was often described as “Three centuries in a Catholic convent and fifty years in Hollywood.”

“Hollywood” arrived in the form of Comm. George Dewey, on May 1, 1898, just days after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Over the course of a morning Dewey destroyed a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, and we had our first colony—more or less. The only hitch was that Dewey had too few men available to occupy our new possession, and Manila was surrounded by some 30,000 Filipino rebels.

Spanish rule had become both vicious and senile, and the Filipinos had already been fighting for their independence for nearly two years by the time Dewey arrived. In the nine months that ensued, the United States and Spain negotiated a formal end to the war and America held a caustic debate over whether we should an-nex our first colony. President William McKinley used the time to send 22,000 American troops out to replace the Spanish in the fortifications around Manila—the first U.S. troop commitment outside North America. He also sent Brig. Gen. Thomas Anderson, who assured the rebels’ lead-er, a 29-year-old gener-al named Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy, that “in one hundred and twenty-two years we have established no colonies. I leave you to draw your own inference.”

McKinley was torn between a small but influential phalanx of progressive imperialists—led by young Theodore Roosevelt, fresh from San Juan Hill, who wanted the Philippines for a naval base to project American power, as a portal to the China trade, and, above all, as proof we were a real Western power, at last—and the anti-imperialists, as weird a collection of political bedfellows as ever lay down together, who feared that the islands would become an intolerable burden, or despised the Filipinos on racial grounds, or, like Mark Twain, believed that taking on a colony would permanently distort the principles the American Republic was based on.

In the end McKinley came down on the side of the imperialists. The Senate ratified the peace treaty with Spain by a narrow vote. With Americans and their sometime allies occupying trenches just a few yards apart, now only the smallest spark was needed to set off a new round of war, and it was provided when Nebraska volunteers fired on some drunken Filipinos who stumbled toward their sentry patrol and refused to halt.

The American troops, bored and disgusted with their long inaction, erupted from their trenches with all the fury of their own “shock and awe” offensive. Before the first day was over, they had broken the rebel lines and killed at least 3,000 Filipinos. A desperate Aguinaldo tried to offer a truce, only to be told by Maj. Gen. Elwell Otis, “The fighting, having once begun, must go on to the grim end.”

And so it did, degenerating into a savage and merciless struggle. Both sides resorted to torture, and when Filipinos ambushed and killed 54 American soldiers on the remote island of Samar, Brig. Gen. Jacob W. Smith actually proclaimed that Samar “must be made a howling wilderness” and ordered his soldiers to kill any Filipino they encountered over the age of 10: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better you will please me.”

Smith became “Howling Wilderness” Smith in the American press and was subsequently cashiered; but his tactics were not unique, and the war seemed to be sinking into what a later generation would know as a quagmire. By the summer of 1900 there were 75,000 Americans, or three-quarters of the entire U.S. Army, in the Philippines.

If all of this sounds eerily like a precursor to Vietnam, nothing appears more familiar than the seeming ambivalence of American troops and administrators toward the people whose land they were occupying. U.S. soldiers cursed the Filipinos continually as deceitful, lazy, “brainless monkeys,” “niggers,” and “gugus” and longed to go home. At the same time, they threw themselves into every sort of effort to improve life in the country they were occupying, building sewers, distributing food, vaccinating people against smallpox, and even reforming the Spanish judiciary by appointing Filipino judges. American soldiers started and taught in makeshift schools throughout the islands, bringing formal education to many rural areas for the first time.

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Robert Gildea: Occupiers as Liberators? (posted 8-21-03)

Robert Gildea, Professor of Modern French History at Oxford University, writing in the Guardian (August 21, 2003):

After the latest attacks on coalition forces and now UN personnel the US must be wondering why the original script, so persuasive in its simplicity, has become so distorted and bitter. Instead of freedom there has been a struggle of sectional, if not national, liberation against the occupying forces. What was supposed to be a re-enactment of the landing on the Normandy beaches in 1944 looks like the descent into the Vietnam quagmire after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964.

What has gone wrong? To begin with, the US message of liberation has never been unadulterated. It has been said that there are two Americas, that of the Declaration of Independence and that of the CIA and the Pentagon. "Our commitment to liberty is America's tradition", said George Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, but he also announced that "the United States upholds these principles of security and liberty in many ways". Of course all conquering nations argue that they are exporting liberty or civilisation or both, and end up exploiting them and suppressing opposition in the name of security. The French constitution of 1946 said that the French would never use force against the liberty of any people, and that at a time when they were putting down nationalist revolts in Algeria, Syria, Vietnam and Madagascar. But few are deceived by their own rhetoric of liberation as much as the Americans are, or so ill-equipped to understand that an occupied people might not see things in the same way.

The original script was that Saddam Hussein would be toppled by a clinical strike, and the Iraqi people would embrace freedom and the forces that brought it. But how separable is a dictator from the people he rules? And how far can a regime be changed without an impact on that people?

On May 1 Bush said that with new tactics and precision weapons,"we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians." This not only glosses over the huge number of civilian Iraqi casualties but also ignores the historical truth that if there is one thing that has triggered nationalist revolt it is foreign occupation. "No one likes armed missionaries," said Robespierre in 1792, even before French revolutionary armies surged across Europe, and within a generation French occupation had fuelled nationalist revolts in Germany and Italy, Spain and Russia that brought down the French empire.

In the absence of state power and regular armies, such nationalist revolts are undertaken by informal groupings and irregular forces. These may be denounced as terrorists, saboteurs and bandits by the forces of occupation, but one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Were the tactics of the French resistance any different from what we now see in Iraq? Even if they did not have oil pipelines to blow up, they sought to undermine the German military machine by cutting communication cables, bringing down power lines, derailing troop trains and throwing bombs into restaurants frequented by military personnel. They are hailed as heroes.

The German occupying forces responded to such attacks with a ruthless policy of collective reprisals. Oradour-sur-Glane, a French village near Limoges which was thought to be harbouring terrorists, was razed to the ground by SS troops in June 1944; 642 civilians were killed. Where the populations were considered racially inferior the reprisals were even more savage: there were 700 shot in the Greek village of Kalavyrta in 1943, 2,300 in the Yugoslav town of Kragujevac in 1941 and 23,000 Jews the same year at Babi Yar outside Kiev.

The Americans, operating as the occupying power within the Geneva convention, do not have this option.

Can the Americans, torn between the need to impose order while preaching the gospel of liberty, learn anything from previous occupations? The passage from occupation to liberation in France in 1944 was relatively smooth, for two reasons. First, while leading political figures associated with the puppet Vichy regime were purged, local government continued virtually intact. The playing-card figures are being rounded up in Iraq, but it would be unwise to purge everyone who has been identified with the previous regime. Deals will have to be done with politicians and notables who are not squeaky clean, because only they can provide the infrastructure that the country desperately needs. Second, the transition from dictatorship to democracy promised by the coalition must proceed as fast as possible. Of course there are risks in holding elections, but democracy, as Abraham Lincoln said, is government of the people, by the people, for the people, not on behalf of the people, for the Americans.

De Gaulle prevented the establishment of an Allied military government in France in 1944, and made possible the transition from servitude and division to national independence and unity. It is a pity that in Iraq the alternatives to the previous regime seem so divided and inadequate - that there is no Iraqi De Gaulle.

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Daniel Pipes: The Book that Claims the Koran Was Mistranslated (posted 8-20-03)

Daniel Pipes, writing in his blog (August 5, 2003):

The Quran and the Challenge to Newsweek. In a rare excursion into Qur'anic exegesis for a political organization, the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) published a response to Newsweek International's July 28, 2003 article,"Challenging the Quran." The Newsweek article reports on a 2000 book in German, Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur'ansprache, by a scholar using the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg. The details of Luxenberg's intricate and ambitious philological study are too complex to enter into here; for a detailed English-language synopsis, see the review by Robert R. Phenix Jr. and Cornelia B. Horn in Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies.) Suffice to say that Luxenberg's most famous conclusion is that the houris awaiting Muslim martyrs in paradise are not the anticipated wide-eyed virgins but white grapes. Newsweek concludes with the apt prediction that"Luxenberg may be ushering in a whole new era of Qur'anic study."

MPAC's staff, hitherto better known for justifying militant Islamic terrorism and promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories, goes mano-a-mano in Qur'anic exegesis with Luxenberg, fearlessly spouting such silliness as:

He challenges what he claims as the Arabic meaning of"beings with swollen breasts," while had he known Arabic, he would have understood the term as"beings of distinction."

MPAC's department of historical research must have also swung into gear for this particular edition of MPACnews, for it includes the dubious assertion that"there were about 100,000 copies of the Quran circulating in different parts of the world during the time of the second Caliph, Omar ibn al-Khattab (634-644)."

But most notable about the MPAC press release is its assumption that Luxenberg is attempting"to undermine the foundation of faith" among Muslims by challenging the authenticity of the Qur'an. MPAC says it can"only surmise" that a work like this,"attacking the authenticity of the Quran," seeks to destroy the Qur'an.

(In a similar spirit, Pakistan's information minister deemed the Newsweek article"insulting to the Quran." Raising the prospect that it could incite religious violence, he banned the entire July 28 issue. But at least he lacked the temerity to argue with Luxenberg over ancient Semitic philology, contenting himself with the comment that"Very strange things have been written about the Quran.")

Comment: I pointed to this defensiveness in the face of scholarship three years ago in"Who was the Prophet Muhammad?" noting that"pious Muslims prefer to avoid" issues raised by critical studies such as Luxenberg's."Their main strategy until now has been one of neglect - hoping that revisionism, like a toothache, will just go away. But toothaches don't spontaneously disappear, and neither will revisionism."

It is sad to see the self-appointed leadership of American Islam going down this route of willful ignorance, denial, and censorship.

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Juan Cole: Why the UN Compound Was Attacked (posted 8-20-03)

Juan Cole, writing on his blog (August 19, 2003):

The big question on people's minds is, 'why target the UN?'

There are two main suspects in the bombing, it seems to me. One is Baathist remnants fighting a rear-guard guerrilla war against what they see as the US occupation. If it was Baathists or ex-Baathists, they may have gone after the UN in bitterness over those years of economic sanctions, which weakened the Baath military and government. Although the UN did not go along with the Anglo-American invasion, United Nations agencies and NGOs have been providing aid to Iraqis of a sort that helps the reconstruction effort and therefore implicitly helps the Bremer administration of the country. And, it could just be that Baath agents noticed that the Canal Hotel did not have much in the way of security and so was an ideal soft target. De Mello is an unlikely symbol of the US occupation, but he is a symbol from a Baath point of view of the way world institutions have asserted themselves in Iraq since 1991.

The other possibility is Sunni Muslim radicalism, whether al-Qaeda (i.e. people who have sworn fealty to Osama Bin Ladin) or other, shadowy organizations that have some affiliation to al-Qaeda. One is Ansar al-Islam, a radical Sunni organization in Iraq that has al-Qaeda links. This bombing has some similarities to that of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad recently. Suicide bombings are not unknown among secular groups, but it seems to me that a religious terrorist is more likely to choose that path. And, al-Qaeda has a long-standing beef against the United Nations going back to the tension between its aid organizations and the Taliban in the late 1990s. Bin Laden denounced Muslims who cooperate with the UN in fall of 2001. Since the Sunni radicals operate in failed states, they often butt heads with the UN, which is the main international agency charged with getting failed states back on their feet. They may fear that the US will eventually hand Iraq off to the UN, and wish to forestall such a move. Or they may want revenge for past slights, like the UNSC resolution authorizing the US war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Kurdish party, the PUK, has said that al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan who escaped from Iran are now infiltrating into Iraq, and that the Kurds have intercepted some of these. Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that Saudi security officials are concerned about the disappearance of some 3000 young men in Saudi Arabia, suspecting that they went off to Iraq for jihad against the Americans. Since al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, who formed the 55th Brigade of the Taliban, are estimated to have been about 5,000 strong, it may well be that there are now as many Arab and al-Qaeda guerrillas in Iraq as there were in Afghanistan before September 11, 2001.

I don't think there is any doubt that the various guerrillas fighting the Bremer administration of Iraq are at the very least succeeding in creating the impression that the US does not control the situation. I personally think that the US is not in control, anyway, and that it would take 500,000 troops to get control. But it probably is the case that things on the ground are not quite as bad as the guerrillas try to make them seem. Still, the conflict has moved to a public relations phase, in Iraq, in the US, and in the wider world. There seems to me little doubt that the guerrillas are winning the public relations war, and that it is fairly easy for them to do so. All they have to do is commit symbolic acts, the import of which is that the US is not in control. And, their ability to sabotage oil pipelines, electricity generators, water mains, and so forth, makes it difficult for the US to look to the Iraqi public as though it is in control. I don't personally see an easy way for the US to get out of all this gracefully, and fear that things will end in fiasco. The only question is whether it will be a Haiti or Somalia-type fiasco, where things go bad again after the US leaves, but life limps along; or whether it will be an Iran-type fiasco (1978-79) where there is a revolution against the US fueled in part by nationalist resentment of US intervention. If the latter, I would concur that it is still some time off.

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Kevin Starr: What on Earth Is Going on in California? A Lot (And It May Not Be Crazy) (posted 8-18-03)

Kevin Starr, state librarian of California and University Professor at USC, writing in the LAT (August 17, 2003):

It will take time for historians and political scientists to tease out and understand the forces at work in the first gubernatorial recall election in California. As I take my towel from the ring, I have a suggestion.

As Marshall McLuhan foresaw some 40 years ago, the media revolution has expanded the bandwidth of politics. We live in an around-the-clock information environment in which radio, television, the Internet, newspapers, e-mail, instant messaging, entertainment, blogs, etc. are continuous and interactive. This situation has four major political effects.

First, people are becoming increasingly high-speed and interactive in the way that they absorb and process information. This is especially true of younger people, whose dexterity and speed in navigating the Internet can be breathtaking. Even Californians who came of age in the pre-Net world have broadened their sources of information. Just consider how often you acquire information by word of mouth from someone who picked it up on the Internet, hours in advance of radio, TV or newspapers.

By contrast, traditional politics, including state government centered in Sacramento, is guided by 18th century protocols and procedures and is essentially 18th century in its pace. Government is just too slow compared with the ways other sectors of society go about their business.

A continuous multimedia environment, secondly, has expanded the universe of governance to include entertainment celebrities, radio talk-show hosts, sports figures, electronic and print pundits, blogs and mega-wealthy activists. One doesn't have to hold office, in other words, to participate in governance. In these sluggish economic times, officeholders have less and less to give and, in this era of sharp blue/red political divisions, less and less room in which to maneuver. That's one reason why foundations are becoming, increasingly, an important component of governance in California. They actually can get something done, and they have something to give away. The Irvine Foundation, for example, is taking up the question of growth in the Central Valley, while the Packard Foundation is acquiring stands of redwood trees in Santa Cruz and subsidizing farmers in the Central Valley so they won't sell their land to developers.

In this new condition of fusion governance, entertainment celebrities have been the biggest winners. One recent example was Sean Penn, who conducted his own fact-finding tour of Iraq. Politics, film people are fond of saying, is entertainment for ugly people. Entertainment, politicians are increasingly being forced to recognize, is a form of politics for the good-looking.

The high-speed Internet- connected multimedia culture, thirdly, cannot be controlled at any one point. It is open, unfiltered and rabidly democratic. Now it helps spawn political candidacies. For example, Huffington said that one reason she's running for governor is because of all the e-mails she'd received urging her to run. Candidates open Web sites, not headquarters. The political debate is conducted in cyberspace, with blogs of virtually all political stripes and voters providing the dialogue - and it's instantly accessible. State politics, by contrast, is a largely closed system of noncompetitive seats, limited budgetary options and rules designed to impede action, with the development of leadership on a voter-imposed time clock. In short, politicians are playing on an increasingly smaller court at a pace that seems frozen by Internet standards.

The new environment, finally, demands a personal connection. In the early 1900s, pioneering film theorists - Hugo Munsterberg, Vachel Lindsay and William Dean Howells among them - contended that motion pictures offered audiences a form of collective dreaming in which contact between individuals on screen and in the audience was of a direct and personal kind. We do not merely watch our favorite film actors. We enter into subliminal dialogue with them.

Californians seem to be demanding a similar connection with their political leadership. This doesn't mean they want to press political flesh, though physical contact always seems to help. Rather, they look to media to provide the contact, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did with his fireside chats. Roosevelt exploited what McLuhan later described as the vivid intimacy of radio, second only to the telephone as a mode of person- to-person subliminal contact. Seen in this light, the "Arnold" phenomenon seems more than mere celebrity worship.

What seems to be going on in California, then, is not a political sideshow - and nothing to be defensive about. Almost accidentally, a political instrument conceived in January 1911, when there were no radios or TV sets, when telephones and typewriters were luxuries, has opened the door to a new political world. How ironic that the recall, designed for a sparsely populated state of 3.4 million that was slow to communicate, has accelerated and compounded the political effects of our Internet-juiced multimedia environment.

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Kenneth T. Jackson: Why the Blackout in 2003 Was So Different from 1977 (posted 8-18-03)

Kenneth T. Jackson, writing in the Wall Street Journal (August 18, 2003):

Twenty six years later, we had another blackout and millions were again inconvenienced. Yet looting was nearly nonexistent, and New Yorkers went out of their way to help not hurt one another. How do we account for such different results in apparently similar circumstances? I believe four issues stand out. First, because the 1977 blackout began after dark, there was far more panic and far less time for the NYPD to plan its response. By contrast, the 2003 blackout began just before the rush hour. The bad news was that at least two million people could not easily get home; the good news was that the NYPD immediately initiated a disaster response program.

Second, Mayor Bloomberg was much more proactive and reassuring than Abe Beame had been in 1977. Within the hour, Mr. Bloomberg was holding a news conference to assure us that the situation was under control, that power would be restored "in a matter of hours," and that the police and fire departments were perfectly prepared to handle any emergency.

Third, New Yorkers had experienced a real disaster on Sept. 11, 2001, and they knew that a power outage, especially one not caused by terrorists, was not likely to assume epic proportions. They remembered, and had often experienced, the random acts of kindness that became so common in lower Manhattan after the attack. Whether they were camping out together on the floor at Grand Central or pulling each other into the back ends of trucks, they worked for the common good rather than for their private gain.

Finally, and most important, the 1977 blackout took place when the city was reeling under the effect of municipal bankruptcy, filthy parks, and dilapidated trains. Crime was the most serious issue. The homicide rate was three times as high as it would be a quarter-century later, and the Son of Sam was still on the loose when the lights went out. By contrast, New York has now become the safest large city in the nation, and if road deaths are factored into the equation, it has become the safest city of any size in the U.S.

New York is not where we want it to be in 2003. Our system of distributing electricity is antiquated. Our schools discourage rather than encourage education. Our streets are the worst in the civilized world. Our bridges and sewers are crumbling. Our tax rates are too high. But as John Steinbeck reminded us many years ago: "Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no other place is good enough." The '03 blackout, far from being the disaster of '77, shows why Steinbeck was right.

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Rick Perlstein: The Rightwingers Behind the California Madness (posted 8-14-03)

Rick Perlstein, writing in the Village Voice (August 14, 2003):

When conventional Democrats get together to strategize, the conclusion is ever thus: The center must lead. By this thinking, gauging what the greatest number of Americans already believe, then convincing them that you've always thought exactly the same thing, is the only way to win. Just look at Clinton.

Republicans, led by their conservative wing, do things differently. They honor the example of history—which reliably demonstrates that lasting political success only rarely originates in the center. It more often occurs when ideas once considered extreme get successfully marketed as safely centrist ones. They deem risky notions worth the chance, because such ideas can secure the biggest victory of all: changing the terms of the political debate. Then conservatives can control the playing field, with all the attendant home-field advantages.

That's the lesson of Arnold Schwarzenegger's entrance into the special election for California governor on October 7.

The movement to yank incumbent Gray Davis, and to choose a successor if he's recalled, was born and bred on California's right-wing fringe. Its roots go back all the way to the 1960s, when anti-tax activists began their mad, Ahab-like quest to mobilize the state's instruments of "direct democracy" and make it all but impossible for politicians to carry out the kind of collective, deliberative decision making about sharing society's burdens that makes actual democracy healthy. They first succeeded in 1978, when conservatives got enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to decimate property taxes. Proposition 13 passed, and municipalities suddenly found themselves with a quarter less money to run their schools, fire trucks, sewers, and parks.

Prop 13 was authored by Paul Gann, who went on to form a "grassroots" organization, People's Advocate, that made a specialty of exploiting California's initiative process for conservative ends. The man who runs PA now, Ted Costa, is the author of the Gray Davis recall.

When Costa announced the attempt, less than 100 days after Davis won re-election by a significant margin, the experts greeted the idea the same way they had Proposition 13 in 1978—it was crazy. The loudest included the more centrist Republicans, who immediately turned their backs on the caper as a political distraction.

Soon the "sane" Republicans were able to enjoy what appeared to be a vindication when the recall attempt sputtered into spring, hobbled by a severe lack of funds. For it was, after all, a crazy idea.

The recall was rescued by a rather unconventional man. Darrell Issa, the once obscure congressman from California now notorious for his youthful career as an alleged car thief, infused millions of dollars into the recall drive (earned, naturally enough, in the car alarm business) to get the 897,158 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. A genuine right-winger—among California Republicans the litmus test is continued support for draconian immigration restrictions, even after the issue turned them into a minority party in the 1990s—Issa felt he had a chance of becoming governor himself in Gray Davis's stead. This is because, thanks to the unusual rules of recall elections, a winner could emerge even if he attracted a very small percentage of the votes.

 

[Then Arnold entered the race, giving the Republicans a centrist to run.]

...America's proud centrists—not least those in the pundit class—will pronounce themselves pleased that the madness out in California will likely settle down to some safe, respectable outcome: the replacement of one centrist by another. And—who knows—perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger will indeed prove to possess, alongside the qualities we already know (such as his propensity for ogling women's breasts), the stuff of political respectability.

It doesn't matter. When Californians go to the polls to choose whether to replace their governor on October 7, the Ahabs will have won. They have, in fact, won already. They have successfully marketed a fringe idea as a respectable one. The fact that Schwarzenegger has knocked the candidates to his right out of contention doesn't vitiate the fact. It confirms it. Because the original idea—that it's kosher to kick out a newly elected governor before he's finished out his first year just because you don't like his politics—remains as radical as ever.

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Eduardo Galeano: The President of Afghanistan (posted 8-14-03)

Eduardo Galeano, author of Memory of Fire, writing for TomDispatch.com and the Progressive (August 14, 2003):

In Afghanistan, the favorite mascot of the occupation forces is Hamid Karzai, who is pretending to be president.

Before Iraq, Afghanistan was the chosen site for bombardment in the new millennium's geography of evil. Thanks to the thunderous victory of the invaders, there is freedom now. Freedom for drug traffickers.

According to various specialized organizations of the European Union and the United Nations, Afghanistan has become the world's principal supplier of opium, heroin, and morphine.

Estimates from these bodies show that in the first year of liberation the production of drugs increased eighteen-fold, from 185 to 3,400 tons-the equivalent of $1.2 billion. And since then, it has continued to increase. Even Tony Blair recognized this past January that 90 percent of the heroin consumed in England came from Afghanistan.

The government of Hamid Karzai, which controls only the city of Kabul, is tight with Washington. Of its sixteen ministers, ten have U.S. passports. And Karzai himself, a former consultant for the U.S. oil company Unocal, lives surrounded by soldiers from the United States, which gives him orders and watches wherever he goes and as he sleeps.

The invaders were supposed to stay just two months, but there they remain. This is why: The incorruptible warriors of the war on drugs have set up shop in Afghanistan to guarantee the freedom to grow, the freedom to traffic, and the freedom to cross borders.

Of the reconstruction of this razed country, there is little mention any more. Ahmed Karzai, brother of the virtual president and prominent figure in the government, recently lamented: "What did they do for us? Nothing. The people are exhausted and I don't know what to tell them."

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Sam Tanenhaus: The Democratic Party Needs Those Passionate Activists the Establishment Is Afraid Of (posted 8-12-03)

Sam Tanenhaus, writing in the NYT (August 11, 2003):

A battle for the soul of the Democratic Party has broken out, pitting a predominantly liberal field of presidential hopefuls against moderate party leaders and political strategists. While Howard Dean and John Kerry have been stirring up crowds plainly eager to have at President Bush, Democratic officials have been trying to tamp the fervor down, warning that "extremists" will take the party back to the dark ages of 1972 and 1984....

[I]t is not at all clear that far-left ideology was the cause of past Democratic defeats — or that ideology plays a truly decisive role in presidential elections. While political strategists and pundits tend think in terms of sharply delineated issues, most voters do not. "The American Voter," the landmark study by University of Michigan researchers published in 1960 and still a very useful guide to its subject, found that only one-fourth of the electorate held a clear opinion on most issues and identified those positions with one party or the other. A mere 2 percent could be classified as holding a consistently "ideological" position on overall policy.

And to judge from recent elections, little has changed. In the 1980's the public supported the anti-Soviet, anti-government views of Ronald Reagan. In the 1990's the same public favored the globalist, pro-government politics of Bill Clinton. And neither president was held to the bar of consistency, whether it was the conservative Mr. Reagan creating huge deficits or the liberal Mr. Clinton dismantling welfare.

So, too, with President Bush, who now seems a small-government conservative (tax cuts for the rich), now a big-government liberal (prescription drug benefits), now a social liberal (favoring some types of affirmative action), now a social conservative (opposed to gay marriage).

But if abstract ideology plays a limited role in presidential races, the importance of ideologues and extremists — that is, of people who cling to strong beliefs — can't be overstated. It is they who bring passion and energy to politics, as Dr. Dean's Web-linked legions are now doing. Without these "radicals," parties can lose their way.

The Republican establishment learned this lesson almost despite itself in the 1964 election. Democrats would do well to study that campaign, too, since its circumstances were remarkably similar to those unfolding today.

Back then, of course, the positions were reversed. A strong Democratic incumbent, Lyndon Johnson, was buoyed by a national crisis that rallied the public behind him: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Republican Party chieftains, facing almost certain defeat, wanted to anoint a moderate candidate like Nelson Rockefeller or William Scranton, who could at least make a respectable showing.

But the party rank and file, tired of me-too politics and demanding "a choice, not an echo," ardently backed the conservative Barry Goldwater. Party moderates, sounding just like today's worried Democrats, warned that Goldwater was an extremist whose nomination might marginalize the party for decades to come. They mounted a last-minute offensive to stop him, but Goldwater squeaked through, shocking his adversaries (and thrilling his followers) when he declared in his acceptance speech: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. . . . Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." After that, most agreed, he was finished. And indeed he was trounced by Johnson.

But for Republicans this was not the devastating setback it appeared. On the contrary, it was the crucial first step toward a historic victory.

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Edward Said: Americans Are Blinded by Imperial Pretensions (posted 8-11-03)

Edward Said, writing in the Los Angeles Times (July 20, 2003):

The great modern empires have never been held together only by military power. Britain ruled the vast territories of India with only a few thousand colonial officers and a few more thousand troops, many of them Indian. France did the same in North Africa and Indochina, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Portuguese and Belgians in Africa. The key element was imperial perspective, that way of looking at a distant foreign reality by subordinating it in one's gaze, constructing its history from one's own point of view, seeing its people as subjects whose fate can be decided by what distant administrators think is best for them. From such willful perspectives ideas develop, including the theory that imperialism is a benign and necessary thing.

For a while this worked, as many local leaders believed — mistakenly — that cooperating with the imperial authority was the only way. But because the dialectic between the imperial perspective and the local one is adversarial and impermanent, at some point the conflict between ruler and ruled becomes uncontainable and breaks out into colonial war, as happened in Algeria and India. We are still a long way from that moment in American rule over the Arab and Muslim world because, over the last century, pacification through unpopular local rulers has so far worked.

At least since World War II, American strategic interests in the Middle East have been, first, to ensure supplies of oil and, second, to guarantee at enormous cost the strength and domination of Israel over its neighbors.

Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate. These ideas are by no means shared by the people who inhabit that empire, but that hasn't prevented the U.S. propaganda and policy apparatus from imposing its imperial perspective on Americans, whose sources of information about Arabs and Islam are woefully inadequate.

Several generations of Americans have come to see the Arab world mainly as a dangerous place, where terrorism and religious fanaticism are spawned and where a gratuitous anti-Americanism is inculcated in the young by evil clerics who are anti-democratic and virulently anti-Semitic. ...

Americans are sufficiently blind that when a Middle Eastern leader emerges whom our leaders like — the shah of Iran or Anwar Sadat — it is assumed that he is a visionary who does things our way not because he understands the game of imperial power (which is to survive by humoring the regnant authority) but because he is moved by principles that we share.

Almost a quarter of a century after his assassination, Sadat is a forgotten and unpopular man in his own country because most Egyptians regard him as having served the U.S. first, not Egypt. The same is true of the shah in Iran. That Sadat and the shah were followed in power by rulers who are less palatable to the U.S. indicates not that Arabs are fanatics, but that the distortions of imperialism produce further distortions, inducing extreme forms of resistance and political self-assertion.

The Palestinians are considered to have reformed themselves by allowing Mahmoud Abbas, rather than the terrible Yasser Arafat, to be their leader. But "reform" is a matter of imperial interpretation. Israel and the U.S. regard Arafat as an obstacle to the settlement they wish to impose on the Palestinians, a settlement that would obliterate Palestinian demands and allow Israel to claim, falsely, that it has atoned for its "original sin."

Never mind that Arafat — whom I have criticized for years in the Arabic and Western media — is still universally regarded as the legitimate Palestinian leader. He was legally elected and has a level of popular support that no other Palestinian approaches, least of all Abbas, a bureaucrat and longtime Arafat subordinate. And never mind that there is now a coherent Palestinian opposition, the Independent National Initiative; it gets no attention because the U.S. and the Israeli establishment wish for a compliant interlocutor who is in no position to make trouble. ...

Underlying this perspective is a long-standing view — the Orientalist view — that denies Arabs their right to national self-determination because they are considered incapable of logic, unable to tell the truth and fundamentally murderous.

Since Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, there has been an uninterrupted imperial presence based on these premises throughout the Arab world, producing untold misery — and some benefits, it is true. But so accustomed have Americans become to their own ignorance and the blandishments of U.S. advisors like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, who have directed their venom against the Arabs in every possible way, that we somehow think that what we do is correct because "that's the way the Arabs are." That this happens also to be an Israeli dogma shared uncritically by the neo-conservatives who are at the heart of the Bush administration simply adds fuel to the fire.

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Anatol Lieven: Blair's Embrace of Freedom as a Universal Value Is Naive (posted 8-8-03)

Anatol Lieven, writing in the London Financial Times (August 7, 2003):

Educated Americans often say rather mournfully that Tony Blair expresses American values and goals better than the current US president. Whether this is what a British prime minister is elected for is, however, questionable. For while many US values may be virtuous in themselves, they can also be terrifying in their naivete.

This is above all true of "freedom". Mr Blair stressed this theme in his speech to the US Congress last month: "Ours are not western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit and anywhere, any time, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same. Freedom not tyranny. Democracy not dictatorship."

He then went on, like most Americans, to identify these values specifically with the US: "Don't ever apologise for your values. Tell the world why you're proud of America . . . What you can bequeath to this anxious world is the light of liberty." In a speech punctuated by an embarrassing number of standing ovations, no lines were more enthusiastically applauded. For this is the basic, boilerplate stuff of American political rhetoric.

But this vision of a simple, eternal, universal and universally accepted version of "freedom" is not true and never has been true, not only internationally but within the US as well. Far from being straightforward and self-evident, the meaning of freedom has always been and remains ambiguous and contested.

As Eric Foner, the US historian, reminds us*, American definitions of freedom have meant very different things during different historical epochs, and still mean very different things to different Americans. Thus certain ways of thinking about freedom that are widespread on the American right are alien to ideas of freedom in most of the world's developed democracies.

This American tendency combines two apparently contradictory elements. On the one hand, there is a radical, libertarian insistence on particular forms of what Isaiah Berlin, the political philosopher, called "negative liberty". This means absolute freedom from government control or inspection, not only in the areas of gun ownership and use of land, but also radical laisser faire economics in general. Very few of Mr Blair's British compatriots think of freedom in quite this way.

On the other hand, there is a strong emphasis on "positive liberty": in other words, on the duty to exercise freedom in accordance with certain fundamental moral laws. These are seen by US conservatives as laid down by God, but historically speaking they are derived from traditional communal mores. Thus many American rightists demand unconstrained freedom to smoke tobacco and savage punishments for the consumption of marijuana.

The authoritarian rigidity with which American conservatives demand adherence to moral laws, and indeed seek to extend them beyond America's frontiers, is far in excess of anything to be found in Britain or Europe today - except for fundamentalist Muslim circles. They also clash radically with the version of freedom believed in by progressive liberals in the US itself.

In fact, one of the few times US rightists and progressives agree fully on the subject of freedom is in preaching it to the rest of the world.

The combination of unconstrained freedom for certain kinds of (chiefly male) personal behaviour with extreme cultural and moral conformism has been a very common phenomenon in many heavily armed traditional societies, whether in the Balkans, Afghanistan or the American south and west.

It is, though, unusual from the perspective of the developed world at the start of the 21st century. Historically speaking, the pattern was closely linked in the US with the exclusion from the national community and its freedoms of a whole range of racial minorities - something that has been corrected only in recent decades.

For most of their history, white Americans placed the safety and dominance of their racial community above any universal right to freedom; and unfortunately they were anything but unique in this.

Time and again, people have been willing to sacrifice political freedom for the sake of real or perceived greater order and safety, either for themselves and their families or for their ethnic group as a whole.

People have also been willing to forgo personal freedom in the cause of what they regard as freedom from outside domination for their ethnic group or nation. At the same time, they have tended to be very suspicious of other countries promising to bring freedom by force of arms - a lesson America is learning in Iraq. As even Robespierre admitted, "No one likes armed missionaries".

Americans need to profess absolute belief in their contradictory creed in part because a shared allegiance to it is one of the things holding their disparate society together. They are also relatively new to the business of empire and can be excused a certain naivete when it comes to the extension of their values. British public servants, with 200 years of imperial history, conquests and revolts behind their country, have no excuse for encouraging such illusions or such national messianism.

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Michael Klarman: Court Decisions Reflect the Times in Which They Were Made (posted 8-6-03)

Michael Klarman, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) (August 6, 2003):

Since June, when the Supreme Court upheld the use of racial preferences in university admissions in Grutter v. Bollinger, people on both sides of the affirmative-action issue have been scrutinizing the ruling and planning how to respond. What has been largely overlooked, however, is the broader context in which important Supreme Court decisions are made and what history might tell us about the ultimate impact of those decisions. What, if anything, will be the lasting consequences of Grutter?

A review of earlier rulings provides needed perspective, demonstrating that Supreme Court decisions generally reflect the social and political context of the times. The justices did not extend the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to cover sex discrimination until 1971, after the rise of the women's movement. The court interpreted the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to constrain public displays of religiosity only after the influence of America's unofficial Protestant establishment had significantly waned, around the middle of the 20th century. During the Red scares after the First and Second World Wars, the justices interpreted free-speech guarantees to permit the persecution of political leftists. The court shrank the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures" during the War on Drugs of the 1980s and 1990s. Today's campaign against terrorism has led lower courts to limit traditional civil rights and civil liberties.

This pattern does not mean that social and political context necessarily dictates the outcome of particular constitutional controversies. On many such issues, public opinion is split down the middle, and the justices could plausibly reach more than one outcome. That the court could not have realistically created an abortion right before the women's movement does not mean that Roe v. Wade (1973) had to be decided as it was. That the Warren Court's criminal-procedure revolution depended on shifting social attitudes toward race and poverty does not mean that rulings such as Miranda v. Arizona (1966) had to come out as they did.

The court's racial jurisprudence confirms the importance of historical context to constitutional interpretation. American race relations reached a post-Civil War nadir in the late 19th century. On average, 100 African-Americans a year were lynched in the 1890s. The Republican Party abandoned its traditional commitment to blacks' civil and political rights. Northern whites largely acquiesced to Southern whites' reasserting control over their own race relations. Most white Americans concluded that enfranchising blacks in the 15th Amendment had been a mistake. Reflecting that context, the court upheld racial segregation, black disfranchisement, and the exclusion of blacks from juries.

World War II proved to be a watershed in American race relations. African-American soldiers returned from fighting for democracy overseas to demand their own democratic rights, and they became the vanguard of the modern civil-rights movement. The war afforded blacks unparalleled opportunities for economic and political advancement. Millions of white Americans, repulsed by the Nazi Holocaust, re-evaluated their own racial (and religious) biases. The ensuing cold war inspired Americans to reform racial practices to rebut Soviet propaganda aimed at convincing third-world nations that democratic capitalism was tantamount to white supremacy. Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which invalidated racial segregation in public schools, was decided in this setting.

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Lawrence Wittner: Hiroshima's Lessons the Bush Administration Overlooks (posted 8-6-03)

Lawrence Wittner, writing in the Albany Times Union (August 6, 2003):

On Aug. 6, 1945, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima launched the nuclear age. Today is an appropriate time, then, to reflect upon how well we have coped with its profound dangers.
In retrospect, we have not done so badly. After the terrible incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, far-sighted people understood that the development of nuclear weapons placed the world in a fundamentally new situation, one in which civilization stood on the brink of annihilation. In the words of the novelist H.G. Wells, the future would provide "a race between education and catastrophe."

New organizations sprang up to meet the challenge. They included the Federation of American Scientists, the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and Women Strike for Peace in the United States, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain and comparable groups around the world. Prominent intellectuals such as Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer and Andrei Sakharov issued eloquent warnings about nuclear perils. And public opinion grew increasingly alarmed about nuclear weapons and the prospect of nuclear war.

As a result, although government leaders in many nations felt tempted to add nuclear weapons to their military arsenals, surprisingly few of them did so. Today, out of some 200 countries, only eight have developed nuclear weapons, with North Korea a possible ninth. Almost all of the rest signed the 1967 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, in which they pledged never to develop them. Moreover, four nations that once possessed nuclear weapons (South Africa, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Kazakhstan) have gotten rid of them.

Even the nuclear powers accepted far-reaching nuclear constraints, including the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty, the ABM Treaty, SALT I and II, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, START I and II, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Sometimes, they disarmed on their own, without bothering with treaty negotiations or verification....

It is this record of progress toward taming the nuclear menace that makes the Bush administration's nuclear policies so alarming. The President has withdrawn the United States from the ABM treaty, opposed U.S. Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and -- by embarking on the building of a National Missile Defense (i.e. Star Wars) system -- has rendered the START II treaty defunct. Furthermore, the Bush administration is promoting plans for a resumption of U.S. nuclear testing and for the development of new nuclear weapons -- weapons that it hopes will be more practical than the larger variety, now effectively stigmatized by world opinion.

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David Kaiser: A Guerrilla War in Iraq? (posted 8-4-03)

David Kaiser, writing in frontpagemag.com (August 4, 2003):

There is a guerrilla war in Iraq--an organized opposition, well-armed, which is undertaking regular military actions designed to make it impossible for the occupation force to remain in Iraq. At the moment it seems to have relatively little difficulty living among the population.

What we have now, as in Vietnam, is a struggle of the occupation forces and their Iraqi allies against the opposition to organize and control the population. Neither side seems as well organized, at this point, as the VC and the ARVN were in 1965, but anti-US forces seem to have the edge over pro-US Iraqis at the moment. I do not think our forces are large enough to control a country the size of California with more than twenty million people; indeed, I wonder how many Iraqis have yet to see an occupation soldier.

To win, we have to establish order and help create police and intelligence networks that can control more and more of the people and take away the base of the opposition. The opposition, on the other hand, like the VC, will be trying to infiltrate the institutions we create, and to terrorize Iraqis who cooperate with us (this is already happening.) Our political asset is Iraqi fear and hatred of the old regime; their asset is hatred of American occupation. The role of the Shi'ite majority, obviously, will be crucial, and some of its leaders are anti-American. In the end, superior organization and mobilization will win....

 

It is now becoming clear, based on a captured document or two, that the Iraqi leadership consciously abandoned large-scale resistance to American troops in favor of the kind of campaign that is going on now. I do not think that they will ever seek to move to large-scale ambushes, much less large scale combat--although they probably will try to figure out some way to detonate a few hundred tons of explosives within range of a substantial body of American troops. I suspect they will simply continue, and try to increase, their assaults on individual American soldiers and planting of mines. This is the consequence of our technological military revolution which Stan Goff discusses: fewer and fewer people will be dumb enough to take us on head to head. As in Vietnam, it's discouraging that our forces aren't getting more intelligence about mines. (They may be getting some, but we're setting off at least one a day.)

Secondly, our problem is not simply identifying a few malcontents and arresting them, nor is it economic reconstruction, which we are in no position to even begin. Our problem is establishing something we take totally for granted: a society in which people obey basic rules, from a mixture of coercion and consensus. We certainly aren't in as bad shape as the British in the American colonies in 1776: they faced a well-organized society whose institutions were in hostile hands. But on the other hand, Iraq is a lot less organized than South Vietnam was even at its worst moment. Our task is immense.

How big is the military problem? In my book on the early stages of the Vietnam War I used our own data on the number of VC attacks to chart the course of the insurgency. That information, today, is critical to understanding what we face, and the Pentagon is withholding it; attacks are not reported if they don't kill or wound American soldiers. A recent report referred to a dozen attacks a day. We all need to know exactly how many attacks there are, and whether they are increasing or decreasing. This is, I believe, an indirect indicator of the size and organization of the manpower on which the Iraqis have to draw.

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Juan Cole: The US Shouldn't Be Privatizing Anything in Iraq (posted 8-4-03)

JUan Cole, writing in his blog (August 4, 2003):

The US has brought in Yaqub Shonia, a director general of the ministry of industry and mining resources, who had overseen a limited privatization in the late 1980s for Saddam, to oversee the sale of 52 companies and 186 factories that had been state-owned. According to Bertrand Rosenthal of AFP, Shonia thinks it will be a daunting task. (The Iraqi stock market was burned in the looting after the war and will need to be reestablished; and there are no commerical regulations.) Other Middle Eastern countries like Egypt that have announced they would privatize have not had a big success in doing so. State owned industries mostly had artificial advantages granted by government tariffs or contracts or other favoritism. Abolish those, and the industries aren't usually actually very attractive to investors. Plus, in the Middle East it is very hard to fire anyone, so the new owners often have to take on bloated payrolls.

In some global South settings, moreover, some industries are better off in government hands and if they are set up right, with the right rules, they can do fairly well economically. American economic thinkers generally forget the huge role the state sector played in post-War France's efflorescence, 1945-1970 or so, or in Egypt 1955-1970. Yes. The government has sometimes actually made people better off, amazing as it is for those words to be spoken in the US. As for private industry, it has not significantly improved the average real per capita income of the average American worker since 1972. But it has been very good at increasing the wealth of the wealthy. So, Iraqis should retain a bit of suspicion about the Washington consensus.

What I don't personally understand is how the privatization can begin under the Anglo-American occupation. I read it as a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention for an occupation authority to alter the character of the occupied society. It is true that there was a Privatization Law under the Baath (which was used to throw private ownership to Saddam's cronies). It would probably be cleaner to put off a major privatization push until a proper Iraqi government is elected, which can make the decisions in light of what is best for the Iraqi citizens that are its constituents. Two of Bremer's people told al-Zaman yesterday that oil nationalization would not be pursued at this time, and that the Iraqi government will retain control of petroleum resources. You betcha. The US has Iraqi production up to 1.7 mn. barrels a day, and is counting on over $3 bn. in revenues from it this year, half of what will be needed to run the Iraqi government and start reconstruction (are US taxpayers paying for the other $3 bn?) All of a sudden, laissez faire folks like Bremer see the wisdom of government ownership of the petroleum industry . . . when they are running a third world government that needs the money!

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Max Boot: We Should Ask the UN for Help in Iraq (posted 8-4-03)

Max Boot, writing in the NYT (August 3, 2003):

It is easy to see why conservatives are suspicious of the United Nations. Any organization whose human rights commission could be headed by Libya hardly deserves the adulation that it receives in some quarters. America will never cede to the Security Council the exclusive authority to make decisions of war or peace. Nor would any other major nation.

There was nothing wrong with President Bush's decision to invade Iraq without United Nations blessing. President Bill Clinton and NATO did the same thing in Kosovo in 1999. The issue of whether to involve the United Nations in a particular problem should be based on pragmatic considerations: does it help or hurt in achieving America's foreign policy objectives?

Unfortunately, an excess of emotion in our politics has long made it hard to think rationally about this issue. Many on the left automatically assume that the United Nations is always the solution, while many on the right make the equally knee-jerk assumption that it is always the problem.

The reality is that the United Nations, while hardly a panacea, has its uses, especially in a place like Liberia where America has no intention of taking on the long-term task of nation-building. It's too soon to know whether Iraq falls into this category. Much will depend on negotiations over what form an additional Security Council resolution might take. But conservatives shouldn't try to short-circuit this process by ruling out United Nations involvement no matter what.

The primary objective should be to help Iraq and help America, not to hurt the United Nations.

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Daniel Pipes: What Should We Call the Current Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? (posted 8-1-03)

From the Daniel Pipes blog (July 2003):

Bret Stephens, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, opened his paper's pages on Sept. 20, 2002 to a discussion of how to name the Palestinian-Israeli war underway since September 2000. His panel offered a host of suggestions:

The War for a Palestinian Land (Naomi Chazan, Daoud Kuttab)
The War of the Borders (A.B. Yehoshua)
The Sixth War (Ehud Ya'ari)
The Camp David War (Michael Oren)
The Idealists' War (Richard Perle)
Operation Justice Recovered (Dore Gold)
The War Against Peace (Natan Sharansky)
Meoraot Tashsa (Amnon Lord)

These names have their virtues but none of them point to the key factor in bringing the violence on – the disaster of the Oslo round of diplomacy, 1993-2001. Two panelists do refer to that event. Norman Podhoretz offers "The War Oslo Wrought," but that is a bit heavy on the tongue. Yuval Steinitz offers the perfect moniker: "The Oslo War." It's short, to the point, translatable into every language, and it points like an arrow to the cause of the conflict.

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Perry Biddiscombe: Nazi Opposition to the Allied Occupation of Germany (posted 8-1-03)

Perry Biddiscombe, author of The Last Nazis; writing in History Today (October 2000):

AS WORRIES INCREASE about neo-Nazi and skinhead violence in Germany, it is worth remembering that this type of terrorism is a nasty constant in the history of the German radical-right. A case in point is the Nazi Werewolf guerrilla movement founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1944, which fought the occupying forces of Britain, America and Russia until at least 1947.

The Werewolves were originally organised by the SS and the Hitler Youth as a diversionary operation on the fringes of the Third Reich, which were occupied by the Western Allies and the Soviets in the autumn of 1944. Some 5,000 -- 6,000 recruits were raised by the winter of 1944-45, but numbers rose considerably in the following spring when the Nazi Party and the Propaganda Ministry launched a popular call to arms, beseeching everybody in the occupied areas -- even women and children -- to launch themselves upon the enemy. In typical Nazi fashion, this expansion was not co-ordinated by the relevant bodies, which were instead involved in a bureaucratic war among themselves over control of the project. The result was that the movement functioned on two largely unrelated levels: the first as a real force of specially trained SS, Hitler Youth and Nazi Party guerrillas; the second as an outlet for casual violence by fanatics....

The Werewolves specialised in ambushes and sniping, and took the lives of many Allied and Soviet soldiers and officers -- perhaps even that of the first Soviet commandant of Berlin, General N.E. Berzarin, who was rumoured to have been waylaid in Charlottenburg during an incident in June 1945. Buildings housing Allied and Soviet staffs were favourite targets for Werewolf bombings; an explosion in the Bremen police headquarters, also in June 1945, killed five Americans and thirty-nine Germans. Techniques for harassing the occupiers were given widespread publicity through Werewolf leaflets and radio propaganda, and long after May 1945 the sabotage methods promoted by the Werewolves were still being used against the occupying powers.

Several sprees of vandalism through stocks of art and antiques, stored by the Berlin Museum in a flak tower at Friedrichshain, caused millions of dollars worth of damage and cultural losses of inestimable value. In addition, vigilante attacks caused the deaths of a number of small-town mayors and, in late March 1945, a Werewolf paratroop squad assassinated the Lord Mayor of Aachen, Dr Franz Oppenhoff, probably the most prominent German statesman to have emerged in the occupied fringes over the winter of 1944-45. This spate of killings, part of a larger Nazi terror campaign that consumed the Third Reich after the failed anti-Hitler putsch of July 20th, 1944, can be interpreted as a psychological retreat back into opposition, even while Nazi leaders were still clinging to their last few months of power.

Though the Werewolves managed to make themselves a nuisance to small Allied and Soviet units, they failed to stop or delay the invasion and occupation of Germany, and did not succeed in rousing the population into widespread opposition to the new order. The SS and Hitler Youth organisations at the core of the Werewolf movement were poorly led, short of supplies and weapons, and crippled by infighting. Their mandate was a conservative one of tactical harassment, at least until the final days of the war, and even when they did begin to envision the possibility of an underground resistance that could survive the Third Reich's collapse, they had to contend with widespread civilian war-weariness and fear of enemy reprisals. In Western Germany, no one wanted to do anything that would diminish the pace of Anglo-American advance and possibly thereby allow the Red Army to push further westward.

Despite its failure, however, the Werewolf project had a huge impact, widening the psychological and spiritual gap between Germans and their occupiers. Werewolf killings and intimidation of `collaborators' scared almost everybody, giving German civilians a clear glimpse into the nihilistic heart of Nazism. It was difficult for people working under threat of such violence to devote themselves unreservedly to the initial tasks of reconstruction. Worse still, the Allies and Soviets reacted to the movement with extremely tough controls, curtailing the right of assembly of German civilians. Challenges of any sort were met by collective reprisals -- especially on the part of the Soviets and the French. In a few cases the occupiers even shot hostages and cleared out towns where instances of sabotage occurred. It was standard practice for the Soviets to destroy whole communities if they faced a single act of resistance. In the eastern fringes of the `Greater Reich', now annexed by the Poles and the Czechoslovaks, Werewolf harassment handed the new authorities an excuse to rush the deportations of millions of ethnic Germans to occupied Germany.

Such policies were understandable, but they created an unbridgeable gulf between the German people and the occupation forces who had pledged to impose essential reforms. It was hard, in such conditions, for the occupiers to encourage reform, and even harder to persuade the Germans that it was necessary.

By the time that this rough opposition to the occupation had started to soften, the Cold War was under way and reform became equally difficult to implement. As a result, both German states created in 1949 were not so dissimilar to their predecessor as might have been hoped, and changes in attitudes and institutions developed only slowly. Thanks partly to the Werewolves there was no German revolution in 1945, either imposed from above or generated from below.

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Niall Ferguson: Empire Building on a Shoestring Budget (posted 7-30-03)

Paul Kelly, writing in the Weekend Australian (July 26, 2003):

Empire expert Niall Ferguson, professor of history at New York University, is pessimistic about Iraq's reconstruction. "The US is attempting nation-building on a shoestring," he wrote in The Washington Post. "Back in April, administration officials talked as if the reconstruction of Iraq would somehow be self-financing. That seemed optimistic at the time; today it is simply incredible."

Ferguson highlighted the wide range of cost estimates involved. If $US100 billion ($150 billion) was required -- towards the lower end of estimates -- "it is hard to imagine the Bush administration paying more than a tiny fraction of it".

Every US politician knows why: the budget deficit is $US455 billion (more than 4 per cent of gross domestic product) and growing. This contrasts with a $US236billion surplus three years ago. The US cannot afford to finance an extensive Iraqi reconstruction. The cost of the war is about $US50 billion to date and may reach $US100 billion. With 150,000 troops in Iraq and no end in sight to the security problems, the cost of the Pentagon deployment is severe -- and this is before any contemplation of reconstruction costs.

Ferguson wrote that the administration "has so far spent next to nothing on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, where nation-building has supposedly been under way for a year and a half". Yet many intellectual journals in the US persist with their bizarre debate about a new US empire that does not exist and won't come into existence.

The Bush doctrine is no longer a theory; its implementation phase is under way. Now comes the dawn of realism. US military success in Iraq was stunning but, as many critics predicted, winning the peace is far more challenging.

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Matthew Battles: History of Book Burning (posted 7-30-03)

From a review in the Chronicle of Higher Education (July 30, 2003):

A glance at the summer issue of "The American Scholar": The historical precedent for book burning. [The article is not available online.]

Matthew Battles, coordinating editor of the "Harvard Library Bulletin," offers a brief history of book burning.

"The kind of violence seen most recently in the immolation of Baghdad's libraries stalks the history of the library from Alexandria to Tenochtitlan, from Cappadocia to Catalonia, from China's Qin dynasty to the dissolution of the English monasteries," he writes.

"The most famous book burnings occurred in Alexandria," where "fabled libraries burned several times," Mr. Battles says, while "the most infamous occurred in Baghdad" in the 1200s. A more recent example lies in Leuven, Belgium: The revered university library was destroyed by German troops, in 1914, and then again by Nazi forces, in 1933.

The sacking and burning of Baghdad's libraries this spring, then, should come as no surprise. "We have not only the lesson of the 13th century but a host of examples from more recent times," Mr. Battles notes. "By now we should know that in times of war, violence is visited on books; that wherever books are read, sooner or later they will be burned." The Cultural Revolution in China, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Allied firebombs in Dresden, Serb attacks in Sarajevo -- all of those conflicts resulted in untold burned volumes.

A few artifacts have been saved from the bonfires, and they have slipped from buyer to buyer in the underworld of fenced art and artifacts. But, Mr. Battles asserts, "there is no market for burned books, no market for lost ideas."

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Joshua Brown: Bush's Domestic Policy Revisionism (posted 7-28-03)

This illustration is by Joshua Brown, Executive Director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York Graduate Center:

 Illustration by Joshua Brown. Click to see his series, Life During Wartime

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Eric Alterman: Bill Kristol's Smear of Gephardt (posted 7-24-03)

Eric Alterman, writing on his MSNBC blog (July 24,2003):

It cannot possibly be a coincidence that William Kristol has chosen to defend President Bush and his slacker war against terrorism by impugning Richard Gephardt with the same phraseology that his father used half a century ago to defend Joe McCarthy. In this morning’s Washington Post, Kristol writes, “But the American people, whatever their doubts about aspects of Bush’s foreign policy, know that Bush is serious about fighting terrorists and terrorist states that mean America harm. About Bush’s Democratic critics, they know no such thing.” In the journal Commentary in 1952, during the McCarthy era, Irving Kristol wrote, “For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy; he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesman for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing.”

This is truly amazing. It explicitly links the Neocons’ exploitation of the threat of terrorism to that no-good drunken bum, Joe McCarthy, and his use of the charge of “Commie” to ruin lives on a whim through a deliberately stoked mass hysteria. I think there is a great deal of this going on right now, but even I would have been reluctant to go so far. But there it is. The charge worked for McCarthy — at least for a while — and Kristol now seems certain it will work for his team as well. Just one question: Have they no shame? At long last, have they no sense of decency left?

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Sam Tanenhaus: The Conservatives Suspicious of Bush (posted 7-24-03)

Sam Tanenhaus, writing in the LA Times (July 22, 2003):

Just how conservative is the Bush administration? This is a question liberals have no trouble answering. They point to many items on an agenda long associated with the activist wing of the Republican Party: a parade of ideologically driven judicial nominees, a tax plan that rewards the rich even as the working poor are being lopped off employment rolls and, above all, a go-it-alone America-first foreign policy.

But one notable group of critics has serious doubts about the administration's commitment to conservative ideals: American conservatives....

What alarms these conservatives, young and old, is not so much the specific policies of the Bush administration as its appetite for an ever-enlarging, all-powerful government, a post- 9/11 version of statism, the bete noire of conservatism and the subject of one of the movement's founding texts, Albert Jay Nock's "Our Enemy, the State."

Published in 1935, this manifesto analyzes centralization in the federal government under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with its expanding bureaucracies and new entitlements. In Nock's view, the New Deal bore disturbing resemblances to new dictatorships arising overseas. The connection seemed remote, because FDR was so genial and because Americans were "the most un-philosophical of beings," immune to doctrines of the kind espoused by Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.

But Americans suffer from a different weakness, Nock said. Our national temper is that of "an army on the march." Susceptible to grandiose crusades, we respond with emotion rather than thought and are easily swayed "by a whole elaborate paraphernalia of showy etiquette, flags, music, uniforms, decorations and the careful cultivation of a very special sort of camaraderie."

Nock had in mind World War I -- a war he opposed. But his description also applies to the mood created by the Bush administration since 9/11.

The ringing call for an all-encompassing yet ill-defined war on terror; the paraphernalia of a massive new Homeland Security Department; the showy drama of the president's Hollywood-style landing aboard the U.S. carrier Abraham Lincoln; the decorative images of Bush's features framed against the rocky visages on Mt. Rushmore -- all of it backed by stern reminders from the White House that criticism of administration policies may undermine our camaraderie, our national zeal.

For the moment, few elected conservatives seem concerned about Bush-style statism. There have been some grumblings about the ballooning budget, larded with entitlements. But most point contentedly to the president's handsome poll numbers and to the satisfying results of the off-year elections.

But modern conservatism, at its most serious, never tied itself to party loyalty. On the contrary, as the postwar movement took shape, conservative intellectuals were as tough on Republicans as on Democrats.

National Review, the magazine William F. Buckley Jr. started in 1955, was formed partly to organize resistance to Dwight Eisenhower, the first Republican to occupy the White House since Herbert Hoover.

A hero of the right like Ohio Sen. Robert Taft was a powerful legislator but constantly battled with his party's own establishment -- and as a result was repeatedly denied the presidential nomination.

And today, middle-aged conservatives fondly recall the 1976 presidential campaign and how the insurrectionist Ronald Reagan, the sworn enemy of Washington politics, nearly wrested the nomination from the moderate incumbent Gerald Ford.

These same conservatives are well aware that the current administration boasts holdovers from the Ford years, most prominently Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. This alone invites suspicion. Not because Ford Republicans aren't "real" Republicans but because Cheney and Rumsfeld have been comfortably perched for many years now within the Beltway establishment -- "the imperial bureaucracy," as Nock called it.

And Nock's brand of conservatism, rooted in ideas and fiercely contrarian, fears most the "monocrat" at home in either party.

"The exercise of personal government, the control of a huge and growing bureaucracy and the management of an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power," Nock wrote, "are as agreeable to one stripe of politician as they are to another."

These are words some conservatives are pondering today as they observe an administration that is avowedly Republican but is not, perhaps, truly conservative -- at least not if judged by the lights of the movement that did so much to revitalize American politics during the last 50 years.

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Tom Engelhardt: Counting Iraqi War Dead (posted 7-23-03)

Tom Engelhardt, writing in TomDispatch.com (July 23, 2003):

On a day when two more American soldiers have died in combat, a number were wounded, and the two brutal sons of Saddam Hussein have evidently died in a fierce gun battle in Mosul, it's not surprising to have casualties on the mind. In these postwar weeks, the tallying of American casualties has turned into a news story in its own right. Each day, for instance, a modest box labeled "Names of the Dead" -- yesterday with five names: Bertoldie, Joel L, Garvey, Justin W, Jordan, Jason D., Rozier, Jonathan D, and Whetstone, Mason Douglas -- is nestled on the inside page devoted to Iraq stories in my hometown paper the New York Times. Our casualties have, in fact, turned into a kind of countdown -- or count up -- though to what still remains in question.

Recently, when our combat dead from this war (and postwar) passed our combat dead of the first Gulf War, it was a story. And we are now counting up every precious life one at a time. About American deaths, we can be reasonably precise, though there can be arguments about how they are tallied and subdivided. In Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell points out, for instance, that "non-combat deaths," including suicides and vehicle accidents under unknown wartime conditions, are largely ignored in news reports, though few would have happened had our soldiers remained at home (Media Underplays U.S. Death Toll in Iraq). Of the tally of 85 overall postwar deaths at the time he wrote, however, he could say at least this much:

"An analysis of the 85 deaths by E&P reveals that nearly as many U.S. military personnel have died in vehicle accidents (17) as from gunshot wounds (19). Ten have died after grenade attacks and seven from accidental explosions, another seven in helicopter crashes. Six were killed by what is described as "non-hostile" gunshots, and three have drowned."

The significance to Americans of our wartime dead can hardly be in question. After all, over half a century after the Korean War ended, and despite heightened tension between North Korea and the Bush administration, we are still involved with the North Koreans in searching for the remains of missing Americans from that war; as almost thirty years after the Vietnam war we are still searching for our dead in Vietnam (with Vietnamese help). What could be more eloquent testimony to the need any country has to come to grips with death in war?

As Jack Miles makes eloquently clear, however, when it comes to Iraqi casualties -- the defeated enemy of a despised regime but also a people we were supposedly intent on liberating -- it's been another matter entirely. It was exactly in the context of an American need to tally the war dead, past and present, and to return their bodies (or at least knowledge of their fates) to grieving relatives and spouses that I found his piece particularly moving.

Our military has consistently indicated that any attempt to tally Iraqi war dead, civilian or military, would be of no interest to them. Some of this can certainly be attributed to a primal urge to denigrate one's defeated enemy; some to an urge not to publicize (here at least -- it can hardly be news in Iraq), the levels of death and injury our "precision" methods of warfare actually inflict, directly or indirectly; some to a desire to duck the essential nature of almost any colonial war between First and Third World countries anytime in the last few centuries. They are almost invariably slaughters in which, as in either of our Iraq wars, thousands upon thousands die on one side, and comparatively few on the other. (Even in Vietnam, where a staggering 58,000 Americans died, no location could house a Vietnamese version of a Vietnam Wall built to the same proportions as ours.)

But none of this puts it beyond the power of our military and civilian officials in Iraq to count or even imagine counting the dead of the other side or to treat them with the respect they deserve. Recently, Michael Gordon of the New York Times reported a story (U.S. Attacked Iraqi Defenses Starting in 2002) in which Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the chief allied war commander, revealed proudly that the air war against Saddam Hussein's regime had actually started in mid-2002, perhaps nine months before the official war began and long before the Bush administration claimed the decision was made to launch the war. (This, by the way, was obvious, at least by early 2003 and was discussed at the time in papers elsewhere, just not in the American media.)

A single odd paragraph in that story caught my eye:

"Among the disclosures provided in the internal briefings and in a later interview [with] General Moseley… Air war commanders were required to obtain the approval of Defense Secretary Donald L. Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike was thought likely to result in deaths of more than 30 civilians. More than 50 such strikes were proposed, and all of them were approved."

So it turns out we can imagine counting their dead when we care to. This is, to some extent, a matter of choice.

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Arthur Walworth: President Bush and Woodrow Wilson (posted 7-22-03)

Joseph P. Kahn, writing in the Boston Globe (July 21, 2003):

In 1919, a carriage carrying President Woodrow Wilson rolled through downtown Boston. Wilson had returned stateside from the Paris Peace Conference, where world leaders were negotiating an end to World War I. The president was seeking support for establishing a postwar League of Nations as an international peacekeeping body. His dream died in Congress, but that's another story.

Standing along the Tremont Street parade route was a 16-year-old Newton high school student named Arthur Walworth, whose career would be closely entwined with Wilson's as the century marched forward. Walworth went on to graduate from Yale University. After spending a year teaching in China and nearly 20 more working for Houghton Mifflin, he took up writing professionally. Though a staunch Republican and loyal Yale man, his fascination with Wilson - a Democrat and Princeton guy - never waned.

In 1958, Walworth published "Woodrow Wilson: American Prophet." The book examined the foundation for Wilson's political success and his belief in multi lateralism and self-determination among nations. "American Prophet" won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1959. Walworth wrote three more books about Wilson and his presidency, the last published in 1986.

On July 9, Walworth crossed the century mark himself, nearly 80 years after Wilson, who died in 1924, passed into the history books forever.

Walworth's milestone birthday was celebrated at North Hill in Needham, the retirement community where he has lived for 17 years. Governor Mitt Romney sent official greetings. A Red Sox telecast that night mentioned Walworth and his lifelong passion for Boston baseball. The first game he attended at Fenway Park, in fact, was Opening Day 1912, when the park was new and a World Series championship beckoned. But that, too, is another story.

Lately, more than parades and pennant races have been on Walworth's mind. Wilson's doctrine of multilateralism - institutionalized by the United Nations after World War II - was turned upside down during the buildup to the war in Iraq. Lacking the support of many traditional allies, the Bush team chose to act almost unilaterally during the military campaign against Saddam Hussein.

The costs of unilateralism in dollars and political capital have already been high, critics charge. (Discredited US intelligence reports and the ongoing hunt for weapons of mass destruction are separate, if similarly unresolved, issues.) Senator Edward Kennedy delivered a speech last week blasting the White House for "giving lip service to international participation" while freezing out partners such as NATO and the UN.

Walworth has watched this apparent undermining of Wilsonian ideals with dismay. As war with Iraq loomed, he became concerned, he says, that the Bush administration was pressing ahead without UN support while making promises to the American people that might prove hard to keep.

Radio talk-show host Tom Ashbrook of WBUR-FM met Walworth a decade ago and has frequently sought his counsel on politics and world affairs. "Arthur has been hugely important in introducing Wilson's viewpoint to a larger audience," says Ashbrook, "and what he sees as the core of Wilson's internationalism is what he's fearful of seeing America abandon." Walworth's century-long view is particularly valuable right now, says Ashbrook.

At his North Hill apartment not long after his birthday, Walworth sounded more cautionary than caustic, however, about recent turns in US foreign policy. Warning a visitor that he had trouble holding long conversations these days - his health had suffered a downturn in March - Walworth said he would do his best to answer questions about his interest in Wilson and how Wilson's views shadow today's geopolitics.

"Wilson is being exploited for modern political purposes," he began, offering a firm handshake. Dressed smartly in a blue checked shirt, blue necktie, gray slacks, and cardigan sweater, he sat in a chair next to his bed and bookcase, his eyes sparkling. Republicans in particular "have never really given [Wilson] credit for his work on behalf of peace," he continued, although George W. Bush, he said, is a "very, very smart cookie with high ideals - but not a lot of polish."

Though he believes Bush was sincere in wanting to avoid war and deserves credit for having gotten Congressional support, Walworth says historians will debate whether the administration's actions constitute a repudiation of Wilson's ideals. Today, the author said, no outsider knows what's going on behind closed doors in Washington. Nevertheless, certain judgments can be made.

"Wilson would have done a much better job of convincing the American public to go to war," Walworth stated firmly. "He was a very good arguer. It's crucial to get the support of your country." Comparing the 28th and 43d presidents in stylistic terms, Walworth added that whereas Wilson was a marvelous orator, "Bush certainly is not." Yet Bush, he said, "may be more sincere about taking effective action for his ideas."

Of Wilson and his legacy, Walworth argued for taking the long view.

"Over the ages," he said, sitting at his desk while a photographer snapped away, "Wilson will be remembered not for his idiosyncracies or stubbornness but as one of the prophets of peace. Whether a major prophet or a minor one, I can't say."

Among living Pulitzer winners, Walworth may be not only the oldest - no such records are kept, according to a Pulitzer spokesman - but also the least visible to the public. He never wrote a bestseller a la David McCullough or Robert Caro, or held a major academic post like many of his prize-winning peers.

A deeply religious man, Walworth has been guided more by humility and frugality than ego and ambition, say those close to him. Walworth says, for example, that none of his other published work was Pulitzer-worthy. "I don't consider myself an historian," he said with a shrug. "So I'm not sure what to call myself. A freelancer, I suppose."

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Mary Beth Norton: No, What's Happening in Iraq Is Not Comparable to What Happened in America After the Revolution (posted 7-21-03)

Mary Beth Norton, writing in the NYT (July 19, 2003):

When questioned about the difficulties American forces are having in rebuilding Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has taken to giving a history lesson. Several times he has spoken of another country in "chaos and confusion" during a period characterized by "looting, crime, mobs storming buildings, breakdown of government structures and institutions that maintained civil order, rampant inflation caused by the lack of a stable currency, supporters of the former regime roaming the streets . . ."

This picture should seem familiar to Americans, he says, because it is based on "historians' descriptions of the conditions here in America in 1783." Well, as someone who has spent three decades teaching and writing about that era, I recognize very little of the postrevolutionary United States in Mr. Rumsfeld's depiction.

First, the factual problems. His insistence that the new nation had to deal with roving loyalists, "many of whom had fought against the Continental Army," is simply not true. Virtually every person who publicly took sides against the Revolution left with the evacuating British forces in 1782 and 1783, and not just because they feared (with reason) for their safety. Most wanted no part of an independent United States. More than 100,000 refugees ended up in the West Indies, Canada or Britain itself.

Nor did a "breakdown of government structures" lead to widespread theft and looting. Historians have uncovered no evidence of a crime wave in the 1780's; states and localities never descended into chaos. The new states had all drafted constitutions by mid-1777 under orders from the Second Continental Congress. By the early 1780's some of those governments were being reorganized, but they never ceased to function.

Further, Mr. Rumsfeld seems to have conflated the problem of inflation during the war itself — when the Continental currency depreciated to worthlessness by 1780 — with postwar circumstances, when the states and national government began to get their finances under control well before the Constitution was drafted.

At least Mr. Rumsfeld is not one of those "revisionist historians" his boss, President Bush, has derided. In fact, the basic interpretation of American history he advances is so ancient it creaks. The idea that America under the Articles of Confederation (from 1781 to 1788) was a time of strife and ineffectual government was first put forward in the 18th century by supporters of the Constitution. It was perpetuated by 19th-century historians who wanted to portray the delegates to the Constitutional Convention as disinterested saviors of the nation. Historians initially challenged this dismal view of the 1780's early in the 20th century, and it has essentially been dead for at least 50 years.

There was, it is true, one major instance of violence in the Confederation years: Shays' Rebellion in western Massachusetts in late 1786 and early 1787. As Mr. Rumsfeld points out, Shaysite mobs did attack courthouses and an armed force assaulted an armory in search of guns and ammunition. But they were not challenging the new nation — they were opposed only to the harsh taxation and land-foreclosure policies in Massachusetts. The rebels (some of whom had served in the revolutionary forces) saw themselves as protecting "the liberties or properties of the people." Massachusetts rather easily put down the Shaysites, but the legislature then quietly acceded to most of their demands. Nothing in the incident seems comparable to events in Iraq.

This is not to say that the government under the Articles of Confederation was perfect or even adequate. It had many flaws — most notably, lack of national authority over commerce and taxation. The Constitution was designed to correct those flaws. So today's historical consensus views the Confederation period not as a time of chaotic confusion but rather as a stumbling first attempt to create a viable national government for what had been 13 separate colonies. Thus even if one ignores Mr. Rumsfeld's factual errors, his analogy with today's Iraq seems to hold little water.

For one, before independence, the American colonies had no unified government: the Revolution and its aftermath created the nation. Prewar Iraq, on the other hand, had a highly centralized economy and government, which has now collapsed.

The United States won its war. Iraq lost. Iraqis must now create a new polity under the supervision of an occupying power. There was no British Paul Bremer sitting in Philadelphia and telling us what to do in the 1780's.

Most important, perhaps, Americans in the 1780's had a tradition of self-governance and civil society stretching back more than 150 years, to the foundation of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619 and continuing within the individual states. Under Saddam Hussein, any semblance of civil society in Iraq was ruthlessly suppressed for decades.

As part of his education package, President Bush has proposed an initiative to improve the teaching of American history in the public schools. I wonder if his secretary of defense might benefit from a refresher on the revolutionary era.

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Joshua Brown: Bush's Texas-Sized Credibility Gap (posted 7-21-03)

This illustration is by Joshua Brown, Executive Director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York Graduate Center:

 Illustration by Joshua Brown. Click to see his series, Life During Wartime

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Thomas Powers: A New Policy of Assassination (posted 7-16-03)

Thomas Powers, writing in the NYT (July 13, 2003):

The campaign to kill [Saddam], frankly admitted and discussed by high officials in the White House, Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, has committed the United States for the first time to public, personalized, open-ended warfare in the classic mode of Middle Eastern violence — an eye for an eye, a life for a life.

American officials in the White House and Iraq have argued that Mr. Hussein's survival encourages resistance, and killing him is therefore a legitimate act of war. But the United States has never before openly marked foreign leaders for killing. Treating it as routine could level the moral playing field and invite retaliation in kind, and makes every American official both here and in the Middle East a target of opportunity.

Realists may scoff that war is war and that things have always been this way, but in fact personalized killing has a way of deepening the bitterness of war without bringing conflict closer to resolution. In April 1986 President Reagan authorized an air raid on the home of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya that spared him but killed his daughter. The Reagan administration never acknowledged that Colonel Qaddafi, personally, was the target, nor did it publicly speculate two years later that Libya's bombing of an American jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, was Colonel Qaddafi's revenge for the death of his daughter. But the administration got the message: after Lockerbie, Washington relied on legal action to settle the score.

It is impossible to know how, or if, Mr. Hussein's supporters will find a way to retaliate for the American campaign to kill the deposed Iraqi leader, but that effort inevitably reopens a long-simmering American argument over assassination, never embraced openly in so many words but never repudiated once and for all. Despite much tough talk of killing enemies since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration still shrinks from using the word assassination, and much of the public continues to oppose it as both dangerous and wrong — dangerous because it commits the United States to a campaign of murder and countermurder, and wrong because hunting people down, however it plays in the movies, excuses murder by calling it something else.

Mr. Hussein himself doubtless understands the first argument, since the man leading the effort to kill him now — President Bush — is the son of a man Mr. Hussein tried to have murdered a decade ago.

In the middle of the last century, at the height of the cold war, the United States often wished, sometimes planned and occasionally took concrete steps to kill foreign leaders. The best known of its targets was Fidel Castro.

At least three of the marked men were actually killed — Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic and Abdul Karim Kassem of Iraq — but apparently none were killed, or at least not provably, by Washington.

 

Unlike current efforts, these plots were wrapped in deepest secrecy and vigorously denied until the facts were finally exhumed by a Senate investigation under Senator Frank Church in 1976. The difference now is that the administration has quit arguing the rights and wrongs of killing enemies, and makes plain its determination to kill Mr. Hussein if he can be found.

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Douglas Brinkley: Bush's Credibility (posted 7-16-03)

Liz Marlantes, writing in the Christian Science Monitor (July 14, 2003):

Historians note that the original"Teflon" president, Ronald Reagan, saw his public support erode substantially when his credibility was questioned during the Iran-contra affair."Iran-contra did great damage to Ronald Reagan," says Douglas Brinkley, a historian at the Eisenhower Center for American Studies."If he had had to run for reelection again, it would have caused real problems."

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The Supreme Court's Revisionism on Gay History (posted 7-15-03)

Rick Perlstein, writing in the Washington Post (July 13, 2003):

Some court watchers have called Lawrence the most momentous civil rights decision since Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954. What hasn't been explained is the basis for Kennedy's landmark ruling. What has changed since Bowers was decided in 1986? The answer: nothing less than the historical understanding of laws regarding sexual conduct.

In the Bowers case, Justice Byron R. White wrote simply and assuredly that since "Proscriptions against [homosexual] conduct have ancient roots," an attempt to claim that such conduct was protected by the Constitution was "at best, facetious."

Kennedy, because he's a Supreme Court justice criticizing other Supreme Court justices, politely took issue with White's assertion -- and with a similar statement in Chief Justice Warren Burger's concurring opinion in Bowers -- that governments have long sought to curb homosexual behavior. Kennedy wrote: "In academic writings, and in many of the scholarly . . . briefs filed to assist the Court in this case, there are fundamental criticisms of the historical premises relied upon by the majority and concurring opinion in Bowers."

Concluding a historical analysis that took up nearly half of his ruling, Kennedy went right to the heart of White's and Burger's formulation. "[F]ar from possessing 'ancient roots,' American laws targeting same-sex couples did not develop until the last third of the twentieth century." In plain English: Everything the Bowers majority thought it knew in 1986 about gay history was wrong.

What happened to make assumptions that were obvious to one judicial generation so obviously wrong to the next? Credit the scholarly efforts of a group of history professors, toiling away in the nascent and controversial field of gay studies.

A careful reading of the majority opinion shows that it relied heavily on three amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs. These briefs are arguments submitted by parties interested in the case detailing why the justices should decide it their way. Many cases attract such briefs, which often play little role in the outcome. But these three -- filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute and a coalition of history professors -- are singled out by name in the majority opinion. Skip these briefs and you've skipped the essence of what is remarkable about Kennedy's ruling.

To follow the briefs' argument, the best thing to do is to quote directly from Kennedy's opinion. "At the outset," Kennedy writes, "it should be noted that there is no longstanding history in this country of laws directed at homosexual conduct as a distinct matter."

That's a stunning repudiation of what White, Burger and the rest of the majority stated so matter-of-factly in Bowers. On what did Kennedy base that statement? On the historical research outlined by George Chauncey of the University of Chicago, and nine other professors in the historians' brief.

Here is what the historians told the justices:

"In colonial America, regulation of non-procreative sexual practices -- regulation that carried harsh penalties but was rarely enforced -- stemmed from Christian religious teachings and reflected the need for procreative sex to increase the population. Colonial sexual regulation included such non-procreative acts as masturbation, and sodomy laws applied equally to male-male, male-female and human-animal sexual activity. 'Sodomy' was not the equivalent of 'homosexual conduct.' . . . The phrase 'homosexual sodomy' would have been literally incomprehensible to the Framers of the Constitution . . . ."

Kennedy's opinion adopts that history, as well as the scholars' assertion that states have only recently sought to criminalize "homosexual conduct." As Kennedy notes, ". . . according to some scholars the concept of the homosexual as a distinct category of person did not emerge until the late 19th century. See, e.g., J. Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality . . . ."

So much for ancient roots....

When the majority in Bowers reasoned that there was nothing in America's Judeo-Christian, common law or statutory heritage to establish a constitutional right to sexual privacy for gays, the historical errors were understandable. As a field, gay studies was still embryonic, marginal and distrusted even within the academy. In 1989, three years after the Bowers decision, Chauncey won a variety of academic awards for his Yale dissertation "Gay New York: Urban Culture and the Making of a Gay Male World." It took another three years for him to get a job offer as a professor. Still, even cutting-edge universities weren't certain what to make of this new field of historical study. Was it scholarship? Could it stand up to rigorous scrutiny?

Meanwhile the practitioners of what some called "queer history" were hard at work, undertaking one of the hardest and most valuable tasks that historians can do -- examining a set of assumptions so taken for granted, so apparently timeless, that they didn't seem to have histories at all. And fortunately for the eventual plaintiffs in Lawrence v. Texas, they gave Bowers the strictest of scrutiny.

There is irony here. When the work of Chauncey and his colleagues received attention in the past decade, it was often portrayed as part and parcel of those awful trends in intellectual life: "political correctness" and "special interest studies." Journalists even fueled something of a late-'90s backlash against gay studies. Not untypical was a 1998 "60 Minutes" segment on gay studies, in which Mike Wallace said that "some of what is being taught on college campuses today is for mature audiences only."

Now a majority of the nation's highest judicial body, no doubt aided by its younger and more open-minded clerks, has found merit in that scholarship. It has been judged sound -- bedrock, in fact, for settling the law of the land.

Some commentators may have skipped their homework in reporting on the historical foundations of the majority's decision. But the ruling should leave the rest of us cautious about what we assume is and isn't deeply rooted in our nation's history and tradition. And isn't that just what good history teachers are supposed to do?

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Historians Defend Revisionism (posted 7-15-03)

Letter sent to the editors of the NYT, Boston Globe, Washington Post, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle (July 14, 2003):

To the editor:

Last week, when his administration was criticized for justifying the Iraq invasion with forged evidence, President Bush accused his critics of attempting to "rewrite history." Then Ari Fleisher sneered at "revisionist historians." As historians, we are troubled by these remarks.

It is central to the work of historians to search for accuracy, and to revise conclusions that prove to be unsupported by evidence. Revision, based on fresh evidence, is a good thing. The argument about the use of misleading claims in the State of the Union address is not about revising history; it is about whether public statements were founded on honestly presented evidence.

Joyce Appleby, University of California/Los Angeles
Alan Brinkley, Columbia University
Linda Gordon, New York University
Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University
Michael Kazin, Georgetown University
Linda Kerber, University of Iowa
Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia University
Vicki Ruiz, University of California/Irvine
Richard White, Stanford University

(Institutions listed for identification only.)


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